Important Tourist Sights in Lecce, Italy
I would guess that all important tourist sights are no more than a one-mile walk from east to west and the same from north to south. Grab a map and brochures from one of the two convenient Information Offices and there you go. One office is located next to Palazzo Rollo on Via Vittorio Emanuele II and another at the Roman Colosseum on Piazza S. Oronzo.
Lecce is an easy walking town. Go on your own, or follow huge tour groups who will definitely hit the most important places.
According to legend, a city called Sybar existed at the time of the Trojan War and was conquered by the Romans in the Third Century BC. Emperor Hadrian moved the renamed city of Licea (Lecce) 3 kilometers/2 miles to the Northeast. Orontius of Lecce, locally known as Sant’Oronzo is considered to have served as the city’s first Christian bishop and is Lecce’s patron saint.
Three important Roman ruins stand right in the center of town:
- Colonna di Sant’Oronzo. It’s impossible to miss this column standing in Piazza S. Oronzo next to the Roman Colosseum and Information Office. Two Roman columns once marked the end of the Appian Way in Brindisi. When one crumbled in 1582 some pieces were rescued and donated to Lecce. The old column was rebuilt in 1666 with a statue of Lecce’s patron saint placed on top. Sant’Oronzo is venerated for supposedly saving the city of Brindisi from a 1656 plague;
- Roman Amphitheater or Colosseum. This restored Second Century amphitheater was discovered in 1901 by construction workers below ground level of Piazza S. Oronzo. It was excavated in the 1930s to reveal a perfect horseshoe with seating for 25,000. It is half-buried because other monuments were built above it over the centuries and is only used for different religious and arts events.
With many layers of history buried under existing towns and cities in Italy, it amazes me how they pop-up whenever there’s new construction. That’s the main reason why it takes so long to build anything in Italy. Relics are buried everywhere;
- Museo Teatro Romano (Roman Theater). This small Roman theatre was uncovered in the 1930s and has well-preserved Roman mosaics and frescoes. It is thought to be constructed between 27 BC-14 AD. Performances were often linked to religious celebrations and almost always included music. The theater was designed in three tiers in a semi-circle for acoustic purposes and could seat 15,000 people. There are good views of the theatre from the street that passes behind it or visit the Roman Teatro Museum and enter (admission charge); and
- Porto Napoli (Triumphal Arch) is one of the three gates entering Lecce’s historical city center. Erected in 1548 in honor of Charles V, it replaced an older gate, Porta S. Giusto. According to tradition, Porta S. Giusto lay over the tomb of its namesake saint. Two other gates entering the historic area were also built over pre-existing medieval gates; Porta San Biagio and Porta Rudiae, both in Baroque style.