Couchsurfing is such a cool thing :)
Trip Start Sep 01, 2006
31Trip End Ongoing
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
I travelled down to the Puglia region of Lecce the weekend before I left for Aus...down in the heel of italy which is often called "La Firenze del Sud" (The Florence of the South) because of the quantity of important Baroque monuments found there. The region of Puglia accounts for over a half of Italy's olive oil production too. It's renouned for a beautiful coastline but unfortunately because of bad weather and public holidays halting public transport I didn't get to explore it...however, meeting up with some new couchsurfers, Mimma and Danilo definitely made up for it - dinners, party's, eating yummy yummy Puglian sweets (pasticciotto - pastry pies filled with custuard, fruttone, dried figs stuffed with caramelised almonds etc etc), going to a discotec/restaurant which we wondered if it was in disguise of a stripjoint(!), going to a funny napolese play for free ("Quaranta..ma non li dimostra") in the local teatro and meeting other fun people.
Stayed in a very lovely B&B...again close to stupid bells!!, but the old part of Lecce is so quaint and soo clean with all the white Baroque buildings. With all the xmas decorations up, it was lovely to walk around the little alleyways, everyone rugged up, xmas lights and nativity scenes out. So much time and effort is spent in the preparation of Christmas, that it truly feels more special, real and significant rather than the rush and bustle of materialistic shopping just to find a present that nobody needs anyway!
According to the legend, a city called Sybar existed at the times of the War of Troy, founded by the Messapii Italic tribe. Later it was occupied by the Iapyges and conquered by the Romans in the 3rd century BCE, receiving the new name of Lupiae. Under the emperor Hadrian (2nd century AD) the city was moved 3 km to NE, taking the name of Licea or Litium. Lecce received a theater, an amphitheater and connected to the Hadrian Port (the current San Cataldo).
After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Lecce was involved in the Gothic Wars, during which it was sacked by the Ostrogoth king Totila. After the Byzantine definitive conquest of 549, it remained part of the Eastern Empire for five centuries, with momentary rules and conquests by Saracens, Lombards, Hungarians and Slavs.
After the Norman conquest in the 11th century, Lecce regained commercial importance, continuing to flourish in the subsequent Hohenstaufen and Angevine dominations. The County of Lecce was a fief of the Kingdom of Sicily from 1053-1463, when it was annexed directly to the crown. From the 15th century onwards Lecce increased its status of one of the most important cities of southern Italy, and, starting from 1630, it was enriched with precious Baroque monuments. The main danger were the Ottoman invasion, for which a new line of walls and a castle were built by King Charles V, also Holy Roman Emperor, in the first part of the 16th century.
In 1656 a plague broke out in the city, killing thousand of its inhabitants.
The most important building in Lecce is the Church of the Holy Cross (Chiesa di Santa Croce). It was begun in 1353, but works were soon halted until 1549, to be completed only in 1695. The church has a richly decorated fašade with animals, grotesque figures and vegetables, and has a large rose window. Next to the church if the Government Palace, a former convent. The Duomo (cathedral) is also one of the most important in Italy. It was originally built in 1144, and again in 1230. It was however totally restored in the years 1659-70 by Giuseppe Zimbalo, also designer of the 70 m-high bell tower.
The Roman Amphitheatre, built in the 2nd century and situated near Sant'Oronzo Square, deserves to be mentioned as well. In its time, the amphitheatre was able to host more than 25,000 people. It is now half-buried because other important monuments were built above it over the centuries. The column that holds the statue of Saint Oronzo (Lecce's patron) was given to Lecce by the city of Brindisi, it was given as a gift because Saint Oronzo cured the plague in this city. The column is important as it was one of a pair that marked the end of the Appian Way (all roads lead to Rome!) , the main road connection Rome to southern Italy.
Puglia is famous also for traditional houses called Trulli's. These gleaming houses (whitewashed each year) are curious, rounded structures with gray, stone, cone-shaped roofs. They are trulli, common in the province of Bari and Taranto, yet unknown in the rest of the world. A great number of trulli may be found in the town of Alberobello, which is nearly a city. The town's historical center is on a hilltop, amid the scent of almond and olive trees, and has been declared an International Human Resource by UNESCO. It is made up of a hundred trulli some 5 centuries old. The origin of their oddly-shaped, stone teepee design is unknown.
Although some theories date the Trulli back 5000 years, the favorite story of their creation claims that such buildings were first constructed during the Middle Ages. At the time, anyone who built a dwelling on the King's land was heavily taxed. With this in mind, the Pugliesi cleverly devised the drywall stone Trulli solely for purposes of tax evasion. As the story goes, upon word of the taxman's arrival (perhaps by means of a smoke signal), the Trulli were rapidly dismantled and moved out of sight. After the visit was over and that gentleman successfully ducked, the homes were re-erected.
Nowadays, Trulli are firmly planted and buttressed with stucco. A cone still comprises a single common area and the interiors, though charming, are spartan. With the exception of bathroom doors, the rooms are separated by colorful curtains in sharp contrast to the stark whiteness of the interior walls Mostly handmade furnishing of olive wood, quite beautiful by any standard, are representative of the work of the traditional peasant artisans of the area. The hearth remains the source of heat to this day. Luckily, Puglia is fairly warm and the cool stone Trulli provide relief from the hot summer sun.