The Leccese Baroque is an architectural style that developed in Puglia during the 17th and the 18th centuries when the bishops decide to reaffirm their power and authority. It is one of the flagships of the art here in the region, along with the Romanesque style.
The new architecture art developed in Lecce when the church decided to establish new religious orders, like Jesuits and Celestines. Puglia had suffered numerous Turkish attacks and invasions and the Church had lost power and credibility; they needed to reassert their power and to regain ground on a large scale and the art was considered a way to celebrate and reaffirm their glory, wealth and power. The city of Lecce was indeed the ultimate expression of this architectural style that later spread throughout the Salento sub region and other cities in Puglia.
The Leccese baroque is the result of the work and fantasy of architects and skilled craftsmen and masons who were able to work a valuable and unique stone, characteristic of the area: the local stone extracted in the countryside surrounding the town was a calcareous limestone, soft and easy to work. It was molded by skilled hands who created beautiful facades of churches, balconies, windows, doors and thousands of statues that still today adorn churches and palaces. All these art masterpieces were ultimately crowded with sculptures representing fruits, flowers, mythological references, human and zoomorphic figures. Architects and craftsmen used to soak the stone in whole milk to make it more resistant to weather (especially rain and humidity); this could compensate for the lack of marble and precious stones. Thanks to this process the stone could harden over the time, taking on that particular amber color which creates a lovely contrast with the sky especially during the starry summer nights.
The Baroque tour starts from Lecce, called the Florence of the South, defined a noble city for the cultural heritage reflected in its architecture, palaces and churches. Lecce is a Baroque gem and certainly the best expression of this architectural style in Italy. Here you can marvel at exceptional buildings such as the Church of Santa Croce which took over 100 years to be completed. Its wonderful facade was designed by Giuseppe Zimbalo (Zingarello), the maximum exponent of Baroque style in Lecce; it is crowded with strange beasts and allegories, cherubs, fantastical monsters and plants. Next to the Church is the convent of the Celestines religious order. To be mentioned also the Church of Carmine, Church of the Rosary, Church of St. Matthew, Church of St. Nicolò and Cataldo, Sant’Oronzo square and the Cathedral square with the beautiful courtyard of the Bishop’s Palace which was built in the 12th century.
There are many examples of Baroque art in whole Salento region. Moving towards the Ionic coast we found the town of Galatina with the beautiful parish church of St. Peter and Paul. Gallipoli, known as the beautiful city, with St. Agata Cathedral. Nardò with the beautiful St. Domenico church and Salandra Square. Galatone with the wonderful sanctuary of the “Crocifisso della Pietà”. Melpignano with the massive Augustinian monastery complex. On the Adriatic coast is the town of Otranto, famous for its beautiful castle and his oriental atmosphere. The wonderful Cathedral with its portal and rose window from the late 15th century with the floor covered by a huge mosaic built in 1163 and depicting the “tree of life”.
Leaving the Salento and heading north we find Martina Franca in the Itria Valley; an elegant city where the beautiful buildings of the old town are, in summer, the perfect set for musical and theatrical performances in the streets. Here we admire the facade of the St. Martín Basilica and the ducal palace of Petraccone V Caracciolo. Francavilla Fontana and Manduria where the Imperial family built two sumptuous residences. Taranto where we find the Cathedral dedicated to the patron saint of the city St. Cataldo. Built in the 11th century it was modified during the 18th century when the facade was reworked in Baroque style and the beautiful chapel of St. Cataldo was also built. Further north in Bari Land is where we find Barletta with the Palazzo della Marra which is house to the prestigious art gallery De Nittis. Local stone was used for the construction of the building and its facade is adorned with exuberant flowers, fruits, garlands and masks which alternate with the letters of the name of the family who founded the building.