Puglia is a little-known (though recently on the rise) region of Italy taking up the heel and achilles of The Boot. This is the region my father hails from, and is peppered with hardy little towns amongst olive groves and beautiful, pristine beaches. On my last visit, I was able to visit a number of the small towns scattered about the rugged countryside.
A forlorn set of ruins in the countryside underneath an impressive evening cloud and light display.
One of the larger towns is Lecce, southeast of Brindisi in the tip of the Salento peninsula. With a population of around 100,00 people, it is a vibrant spot but doesn't overwhelm either. Filled with baroque architecture, it of course has a number of lovely churches but also boasts a small castle and a Roman Ampitheatre.
Lecce's castle is often simply referred to as the Castello di Lecce but more specifically Castello Carlo V. It was built in the 12th century, on orders from Charles V. It has served various purposes, from prison to military headquarters, but now is a well curated museum and architectural sight. The fairly utilitarian exterior belies a beautiful interior, which also hosts art exhibits from time to time.
While visiting, we were given the warmest welcome by two workers there. The lady (oh, how I wish I could recall the names!) gave us a personal, impromptu tour of the castle, including a special visit to the roof where evidently tourists are typically not permitted. Aside from a group of school children, we mostly had the place to ourselves, which was truly delightful.
After the Castle, we ambled into the old town, taking in the amazing baroque-style architecture strewn about the city. Apparently, kindness is not a rarity here. As I approached a church to peek through the open doors, I realized they were getting ready to close up - most likely for lunch, as it was about that time. The older gentleman kindly offered to let me in to have a look around. I'm so glad he did, as the amazing & intricate wood ceiling was absolutely worth it. I would have liked to stay longer, but did not want to abuse his kindness.
The aforementioned Roman ampitheatre is smack in the middle of town. While nothing compared to Rome's infamous Colosseo, this one seems small but still managed to seat 15,000 people. It is actually below street level, as it was only excavated in the 1930's. Even though the buildings surrounding this archeological site are far from new, they seem positively modern next to this Roman treasure from the 2nd century!
The remainder of our too-brief time in this little treasure of a town was spent simply wandering the streets. Following what intrigues you or simply strikes a chord is my absolute favorite way to soak up a place. The only thing I can think of that would improve that experience, is being in the company of a local who knows the little stories and tid-bits that add priceless context to the streets, alleyways, and buildings. Check out more snippets of this terrific place below!