Lecce is probably the main tourist centre in Puglia and indeed in the south of mainland Italy generally. It is sometimes called "the Florence of the South", which is inaccurate and does not do justice to either place. The centre of Lecce is a concentration of baroque, mainly religious, buildings, the result of an explosion of development mainly in the 17th century when the city was especially prosperous and both the civic and church organisations wanted to show off their wealth and power. The local limestone, an attractive light orange/yellow in colour,  is both weather resistant and easy to carve - so if elaborate decorated buildings appeal, Lecce is ideal - you will not come across more densely packed representations of saints, flowers, vases, animals, fish, angels, little boys (putti), dragons, etc. anywhere else in the world.

The city was founded in pre-Roman years by the Messapii, and ever since there have always been strong cultural connections with Greece. Sacked by the Ostrogoths in the years following the collapse of the Roman Empire, the city was then ruled by Byzantines, and then briefly by Saracens, Lombards, Hungarians and Slavs, before the Norman invasion after which it became an important part of the Kingdom of Sicily. From the 15th Century Lecce began to grow in prominence, culminating in its establishment as the major city of the region during the 17th Century. As you walk around Lecce centre, it is interesting to realise most of this was created round about the time of the English Civil War, Great Fire of London, Samuel Pepys etc.

Lecce is easily reached by train from all over Puglia, with direct trains from Foggia, Bari, Ostuni and Brindisi. It is the "end of the line" for the Frecciabianca trains from Rome and Milan and the Intercity trains from Bologna. If you arrive by train, just head straight ahead from the station along the tree lined Viale Oronzo Quarta, keep straight on as streets get narrower, and after a few minutes you reach the Duomo and Via Vittorio Emanuele.

Piazza Duomo is a large open space almost totally enclosed by the Duomo itself and related religious buildings. The main entrance to the Piazza is from Via Vittorio Emanuele, but this is surprisingly narrow, hiding this important public space from the nearby commercial life. The Piazza is overlooked by a 54 metre high Campanile.

The Cattedrale di Lecce (Duomo) is dedicated to Maria Santissima Assunta, and was first constructed in 1144, before being re-built in 1230, perhaps due to problems with the foundations. In the late 16th Century the cathedral was again suffering structural problems and the look of the building now, ornate inside and out, was largely determined over the following 100 years. All the buildings in the Piazza are interestingly decorated. Pay a euro to go inside the cloisters of the Museo Diocesano, formerly a Seminary;  this is worth seeing even if you don't want to pay the full price for the museum.

Via Vittorio Emanuele is a pedestrianised street with good shopping options and lots of bars and restaurants. It connects the Piazza Duomo with the Piazza Sant'Oronzo, the civic/commercial centre of Lecce. This Piazza is dominated by cars, either moving or parked. There is a new information centre there where you can pick up leaflets etc. The Colonna (Column) is the twin of one in Brindisi which marks the end of the Appian way, a present to Oronzo, Bishop of Lecce, in 1681 - he is credited with saving both towns (and Ostuni) from the plague. The bronze statue of Sant'Oronzo, who became patron saint of Lecce as well as Ostuni, was just popped on top in 1881.

Lecce - Roman Amphitheatre
Roman Amphitheatre

The unique feature of the Piazza is the Roman amphitheatre. In its heyday (1st and 2nd centuries AD) this could accommodate 25,000 spectators, small by standards of the time. It is still the base for frequent open air concerts etc., but no longer hosts contests between gladiators and wild animals.

There are about 20 significant baroque churches within a few minutes' walk of Piazza Sant'Oronzo; the most ornately decorated facade is Basilica Santa Croce, happily now just emerging from a long period of restoration. There are also imposing civic buildings and palazzi (residences of the rich merchant class), although quite a few of these were originally religious foundations.

Lecce - Basilica di Santa Croce
Basilica di Santa Croce

The large 16th century castle is also nearby. And as a relief from the streets which can get pretty hot in summer, we like the Public Gardens with their trees and fountains, though the courtyard of the Palazzo dei Celestini, also known as Palazzo della Provincia (next to Santa Croce).

Lecce is a place to wander around and explore casually if you are not a dedicated baroque enthusiast. There are various museums and galleries of course. The most interesting for the non specialist visitor is the Teatro Romano, only discovered in 1929. You can really get the feel of the place inside, and the small museum gives an excellent idea of what productions there were like.