Since the dawn of time the history of Lecce is characterised by plunderings and destruction that have prevented its development and social and economic growth; it was an ancient Messapian and then Roman town and was plundered by Totila, king of the Ostrogoths, in 542, and by the Greeks in 547 and once again by Totila in 549, until being subject to the Oriental Emperors for a considerable time. It was once again destroyed by the Saracens and African pirates and only started to flourish again under the Normans who made it the County capital and encouraged its commercial growth. Under the Angioine rule a feud was declared by the Brienne lords, and city was adorned with public amenities and marvellous monuments. The city then fell into the possession of the Enghien and Orsini del Balzo families, to return into Aragonese hands and finally under Spanish rule who surrounded it with city walls and forts. The historic centre of Lecce dates back from this period: in the 1500s building began of Santa Croce and towards the end of the century the Sedile and Santa Irene were built. However, it was the 1600s that left a definitive imprint on the city. Before becoming part of the Italian State in 1860, Lecce took part in the 1821 and 1848 movements.
The city and its monuments
The citys historic centre is unique due to its charming architectural atmosphere that characterises it. Defined as barocco leccese, it is made up of sumptuous ornaments, twisted columns, curved, mixtilinear or wavy frontons, festoons and ribbons adorned with putti, flower and fruit vases, masques and caryatids: there is also the basilica of Santa Croce, with its facade built on two column sequences, covered with beautiful decorations. Inside it is characterised by a seventeenth century wooden ceiling with numerous decorations; other buildings include the church of Santi Nicolò e Cataldo, Palazzo del Governo, the Castle and the Obelisk. Finally there are Piazza SantOronzo and Piazza del Duomo, made up of gothic shaped portals and a large upper arcade.
The geographical area
Gallipoli can be divided into two parts: the lower headland that has been inhabited since modern times and the historic centre located on an island. Thanks to its strategic position, the town has been at the centre of numerous wars, starting with Magna Grecia, then the Byzantines and finally the Normans; Nardò has messapian origins and was particularly important during the Roman period. It is currently an important university and academic town. Porto Cesareo is a tourist centre that is widely appreciated for its long beaches, whilst the town itself has a historic centre of particular artistic interest and has a splendid archipelago of small islands. These can be reached by swimming and are a refuge for rare species of Mediterranean fish and birds. Finally there is Castro Marina, an important agricultural centre located on the Via Traiana around a historic village called Keracinaia.