After a few days in Cassano delle Murge, near Bari on the Adriatic side, as the guest of my friends here, I decided that I wanted to go further south. One of my other Italian friends, Antonio, owns a house in Lecce, and we hoped to meet there this year instead of at his year-round home near Rome. My friends in Cassano were disappointed that I was leaving after only 5 days with them, and I was also reluctant, so I rented an apartment with two bedrooms and we went off together to explore "the boot". They hadn't spent mich time in Lecce, and it was fun to discover a part of Italy with a couple of natives. Antonio was already there when we arrived, and the next day, he gave us a guided tour of the city where he spent part of his youth and where he now spends a couple weeks of vacation time.
Lecce is a really old city, dating back to the Trojan War, when it was a Greek colony. The Romans took over in the 3rd century B.C. Some people say that Lecce is the Florence of the South because of its rich architecture. Lecce is one of those cities that sings of its past...its buildings are carved from sand-colored limestone and it's loaded with Baroque architecture. There are a number of old gates like this that invite you to enter the old city, or centro historico.
I was happy to introduce my friends to each other, and we roamed the streets of the Old Town together for a few hours. This is Antonio and his lady friend Antoinette chatting on the street with Tina.
This was the first church we saw, and when it comes to Baroque, you'd have a hard time topping it outside or in.
We wondered how long it might have taken to build this church with its several ornate altars and impressive Baroque facade. Antonio said maybe 30 or 40 years because the stone used from this area is very soft and thus easier to carve. It also deteriorates more quickly and has to be treated periodically to protect it against the erosion of the elements, especially acid rain.
The Duomo here is also pretty impressive. It's in a piazza with a few old palaces that now serve a civic role.
One street we wandered down had some interesting door knockers. This one that Donato is demonstrating had double doors with a pair of hands as knockers.
And what self-respecting ancient Roman city would be without an ampitheater?
The old Roman road, the Apian Way, ended in this area, and this is one of the two columns that marked its terminal point. That's St. Oronzo, the patron saint of Lecce, perched at the top.
And here's the altar of yet another beautifully Baroque church. I was negligent in recording the names of the ones we entered.
Later in the evening, I went to see Antonio's house and to watch Antonio and Antoinette dance at a restaurant in the small nearby town where his house is located. We had a delightful evening together and I enjoyed watching couples of all ages doing ballrom and line dancing. The DJ/singer/trumpet player entertained us with a very clever routine that involved dancing with a dummy, once standing on a bottle, with a flourishing finale of flashing knives.
The next day, Tina and Donato and I explored the Adriatric coast south of Lecce driving first to Otranto, a touristy harbor town with a castle and lots of shops.
This gentleman was deonstrating his skill of basketweaving.
The streets here were already packed with tourists and I can't imagine what it would be like in high season. We were like sardines swimming in a tight pack through the narrow streets.
We wandered up the coast stopping now and then to walk by the sea.
The next day we were planning to drive to Gallipoli on the Gulf of Taranto, but I was suddenly struck with a bout of 24-hour flu, so we just hung around the apartment. We had to leave the next day and we just wandered up the coast back to Bari, but it rained most of the day and it wasn't picture taking weather.
Now I'm heading north to the lake district where I hope to enjoy some quiet time at Lakes Garda, Como, and Maggiore. There's rain in the forecast for the next four days, so I may just be doing a lot of reading!