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Lecce History

Legend has it that Lecce was once called Sybar, and it existed around the time of the Trojan War. The Cretan inhabitants, the Messapii, settled the region and city about eighth century BC.

Legend has it that Lecce was once called Sybar, and it existed around the time of the Trojan War. The Cretan inhabitants, the Messapii, settled the region and city about eighth century BC. In third century BC, the Romans conquered the Messapii and took the city, renaming it Lupiae. Emperor Hadrian (of the famed Hadrian’s Wall of Scotland) moved the city out two miles northeast of its original founding and renamed it Licea (though some dispute this and say it was Litium). It is at this time that the beautiful Amphitheater was built. When Rome fell, the Goths sacked the city before being conquered again in 549 AD by the Byzantines (a Greek-speaking fragment of the ancient Roman Empire). For the next five centuries, it would remain part of the Byzantine Empire, though the Saracens, Lombards, Slavs, and Hungarians would succeed in their brief conquests.
 
In the eleventh century, it came under the rule of the Kingdom of Sicily and there it blossomed into an important commercial and economic center. Lecce quickly gained trade prominence with its intensive commerce with Florence, Genoa, Venice, and the Near East. It was during this time that the cultural life bloomed and the city earned its nicknames “Florence of the Baroque” and “Athens of Puglia.” The fifteenth century saw Lecce’s architectural boom with the construction of city walls to repel Ottoman invasions, Charles V’s castle, and its precious Baroque monuments that give the city its distinctive look. It became the seat of the first Christian bishop, Orontius of Lecce, who later was venerated by the Roman Catholic Church and became the patron saint of the city. The city finally was able to declare administrative independence in 1799, but was eventually reversed by Cardinal Ruffo in 1848, after he formed a provisional government when he participated in the Italian Risorgimento (the unification of Italy). The city was prominent during World War II as a base for the Allies and its bombers.


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