Piazza Sant'Oronzo is a good place to begin a stroll through Lecce. The 2nd-century-A.D. Roman column erected here, Colonna Romana, once stood near its mate in Brindisi; together they marked the end of the Appian Way. Lightning toppled this column in 1528; and the Brindisians left it lying on the ground until 1661, at which time the citizens of Lecce bought it and set up the pillar in their hometown. St. Oronzo, for whom the square is named, now stands atop it guarding the area. At the southern side of the piazza are the remains of a Roman amphitheater. Dating from the 1st century B.C., it accommodated 20,000 fans, who came to watch bloody fights between gladiators and wild beasts.
North of the piazza, Via Umberto I leads to the Basilica di Santa Croce (tel. 0832-241957). This ornate display of Leccese baroque architecture took almost 1 1/2 centuries to complete. Architect Gabriele Riccardo began work in the mid-15th century; the final touches weren't added until 1680. The facade bears some similarity to the Spanish plateresque style and is peopled by guardian angels, grotesque demons, and a variety of flora and fauna. St. Benedict and St. Peter are also depicted. The top part of the facade (the flamboyant part) is the work of Antonio Zimbalo, who was called Zingarello (Gypsy). The interior is laid out in a Latin cross plan in a simple Renaissance style. The basilica is open daily from 9am to 12:30pm and 5 to 7pm. Admission is free.
Down Via Vittorio Emanuele, the Duomo, Piazza del Duomo (tel. 0832-308557), stands in a closed square. The building, which has two facades, was reconstructed between 1659 and 1670 by Zingarello. To the left of the Duomo, the campanile towers 64m (210 ft.) above the piazza. The cathedral is open daily from 7am to noon and 4 to 7pm, and admission is free. On the opposite side of the cathedral is the Bishop's Palace (Palazzo Vescovile), where Lecce's archbishop still lives today. Also in the courtyard is a seminary, built between 1694 and 1709 by Giuseppe Cino, who was a student of Zimbalo. Its decorations have been compared to those of a wedding cake. A baroque well, extraordinarily detailed with garlands and clusters of flowers and fruit, stands in the courtyard.
The collection of bronze statuettes, Roman coins, and other artifacts at the Provincial Museum (Museo Provinciale) [ST], Viale Gallipoli (tel. 0832-683503), will keep your interest for a while. It's worth the time to stop by to have a look at the ornately decorated 13th-century gospel cover. Inlaid with enamel of blue, white, and gold, it's a rare treasure. There's also a small picture gallery. It's open Monday to Saturday 9am to 1:30pm and 2:30 to 7:30pm, Sunday 9am to 1:30pm. Admission is free.
For a selection of local crafts, including cartapesta (papier-mâché), ceramics, and terra cotta, go to Mostra dell'Artigianato, Via Francesco Rubichi 21 (tel. 0832-246758). And if you're interested in any of the wines and foodstuffs of the region, head for a food emporium that's been here as long as anyone can remember, Enoteca, Via Cesare Battisti 23 (tel. 0832-302832). Usually they'll let you taste a glass of whatever wine you're interested in before you buy a bottle.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.