November 2, 2011 Lecce

Today we are planning on seeing the sights here in Lecce and do a little shopping. Tonight we plan on a nice meal at a good restaurant. But, of course, the best laid plans….

Lecce is an attractive small city. It is an odd mix of Roman artifacts and Baroque exuberance. Nearly right outside our hotel is a Roman amphitheater. It is about one quarter excavated. Unfortunately a church has been built over a lot of it and apparently churches trump antiquities. It is currently closed to the public due to restoration. We view it from various angles.

Roman amphitheater in Lecce

One of the most interesting things we see is the obelisk near the Roman amphitheater. It is dedicated to St. Oronzo, the patron saint of Lecce, who stands atop the pillar with his hand outstretched like he is trying to hail a taxi. Too bad for him, we are in a pedestrian zone. Anyway, it seems that the obelisk itself used to be Mile Marker One (or probably Mile Marker the Last) and stood in Brindisi at the end of the Appian Way. It was erected in the second century. Like many things in this part of Italy, it fell down in an earthquake in the 1500’s. The people of Brindisi decided not to re-erect it because, seriously, who needs another piece of ancient Roman architecture. So they gave it to Lecce and now the first bishop of Lecce who was appointed by St. Paul himself stands forever (or at least until the next earthquake) trying to hail a taxi in the center of Lecce.

St. Oronzo, patron saint of Lecce

After this we visit the Basilica of Santa Croce. It was built in the 17th century by the famous architect, Zimbalo. He has decorated every square inch of the facade and the inside with animals, angels, plants, saints, etc. etc. I am not a fan. The Counter-Reformation has not brought out the best in artistic expression in my opinion.

Basilica Santa Croce

Santa Croce interior

Then we do some shopping. We go to the flea market and look in the shops but I am unable to find anything suitable for a gift or for ourselves.

Then we check out the other Roman theater and the duomo.

Roman theater

Baroque Duomo interior (it was quite dark inside)

Since tonight is our big dinner and we have to eat late, we decide around 2 PM to have lunch. The nice lady at reception steers us to a place right around the corner. We plan on eating lightly but somehow this plan goes awry when a basket of tasty bread shows up with a couple glasses of wine. John has an antipasto of confited baccala. It is an enormous piece of fish on chickpea puree. He likes it a lot.

Baccala on chickpeas

I have a stack of eggplant, tomatoes and burrata cheese. It is served with a caponata and a sun-dried tomato puree.

Eggplant, burrata cheese and tomato

By the time we eat these, we are pretty much full. But we have ordered a primo as well. John has a Lecce specialty, cicera e tria, which consists of chickpeas, pasta and fried pasta.

Cicera e tria

I have spaghettoni with a red bell pepper sauce, mint, sesame seeds and burrata cheese. I am hoping that there will just be a little cheese on top but it is melted through the pasta and the red bell pepper sauce has cream in it. It is tasty but so, so rich. I can only manage to eat a little of it.

Spaghettoni with red bell pepper sauce, burrata cheese, sesame seeds and mint

We are stuffed. We waddle back to the room and decide to read our books for the rest of the afternoon. Around 5 PM we cancel our 8:30 PM dinner reservations due to being still stuffed from lunch. The rest of the evening is spent quietly digesting.

Tomorrow we head towards Sicily!

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