Magnificent Basilica di Santa Croce and Other Churches in Lecce

Tourists make a beeline to the incredible Basilica di Santa Croce after getting their fill of Piazza Duomo. Lecce is known as “Florence of the South” primarily for its numerous examples of baroque architecture. Although I can’t tell one style of architecture from another, it doesn’t matter. Prepare to ooh, and aah at each sight.

Completed in 1695 and primarily designed by Giuseppe Zimbalo, the first stone was laid in 1353 but work didn’t resume until 1549 when the most important architects in the Salento went to work on incredibly wild fantasies of cherubs, caryatids, statues of Faith and Charity, leaf rosettes, sheep, dodos, and beasts across the facade. Finish taking hundreds of photos outside and then walk into the Renaissance interior and continue clicking away.

 

 

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Basilica di Santa Croce, Lecce, Italy

Basilica di Santa Croce, Lecce, Italy

Basilica di Santa Croce, Lecce, Italy

Basilica di Santa Croce, Lecce, Italy

Basilica di Santa Croce, Lecce, Italy

 

Zimbalo also designed the former Convento dei Celestini, north of the basilica, which is now the Palazzo del Governo (the local government headquarters).


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You may think the Duomo and Basilica is more than enough “church” for any avid sightseer, but Lecce is filled with churches practically built jowl-to-jowl. Church of S. Irene next to the Information Office on Via Vittoria Emanuele II. Church of Jesus 1-1/2 blocks away. Church of San Marco, and the outstanding interior of Church of Saint Matteo.

Church of Saint Matteo, Lecce, Italy

Church of Saint Matteo, Lecce, Italy

Church of Saint Matteo, Lecce, Italy

Church of Saint Matteo, Lecce, Italy

Church of Saint Matteo, Lecce, Italy

Church of Saint Matteo, Lecce, Italy

 

  • Church of Saint Matteo (Santa Maria della Luce in San Matteo) is considered the “Pantheon of the Baroque Leccesse” (whatever that means). This church was built in 1667 in typical Baroque style. One of the two columns on the façade is only partially decorated since legend states that the jealous devil killed the sculptor before he could finish his work. Inside is a spectacular stone altar, accredited to the work of Cino and statues of the 12 Apostles.
stone altar inside Church of Saint Matteo, Lecce, Italy

stone altar inside Church of Saint Matteo, Lecce, Italy

 

Rebuilt between 1667 and 1700 by Giovanni Andrea Larducci and finished by Giuseppe Zimbalo, this church is considered the “Pantheon of the baroque Leccese,” with a complex, concave-convex façade, and an interesting elliptical shape. The altars are accredited to the work of Cino, while the statues of the Apostles are the work of the sculptor Placido Boffelli (1692).

map of Lecce old town, Italy

map of Lecce old town, Italy

 

  • And now for something different in the religious scheme of things. The Conservatory of St. Anne (Chiesa di S. Anna). While walking down Via Vittorio Emanuele II which becomes Via Giuseppe Libertini, we noticed the former Conservatory of St Anne. The building was originally an old residence from 1679.

The main Conservatory purpose was to take in Lecce noblewomen — virgins, widows and unhappily-married women — who wished to retire to private life, perform religious practices and other kinds of contemplative or active lifestyles. Don’t you love it? The old Palazzo stands on a very ancient site below which are believed to be underground cisterns and old grain storerooms.

Conservatory of Saint Anne, Lecce

Conservatory of Saint Anne, Lecce

Conservatory of St. Anne, Lecce

Conservatory of St. Anne, Lecce

 

Church’d out, there’s still more to see in Lecce.

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