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Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Slow-Travel Road Trip in Italy: Puglia and Basilicata - Page 3

Written by Russ & Emily Firlik
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Our next base for ten days was in the city of Leece, a 115 km, 3 hour drive from Martina Franca. However, along the way there were a couple of planned towns of special interest to us: Ceglie Messapica and Mesagne. Messapica (pop. 20,000), with its typical trulli farms, churches, dry-stone walls, olive groves, vineyards, ancient oak trees and a few cattle pastures - So what is unique about this picture? First, it is one of the oldest towns in Puglia, dating back to the 15th century BCE; Second, the town is noted for its archaeological remains of Ancient Greek artifacts; Third, it looks different altogether from the towns we explored; it looks and feels Moorish. Having a slow walk around this alluring town, we find many palazzi, a couple of ancient churches, and the Ducal Castle which dominates the skyline. Totally unique, and a must visit.

Slowly, we move to the next town, Mesagne on our way to Leece, and 40 km from Messapica (pop. 26,000). Absolutely a treasure! Smack in your view is the 11th century castle, the existing 11th-15th century fortified walls, a grand Paleo-Christian church - a very rare find, and open! As you stroll along the narrow streets we easily find two 14th-16th century churches. Here, the major economic drivers are tourism, olives/oil and grapes. Another do not miss slow travel stop.

Six kilometers from Mesagne is the Baroque city of Lecce (pop. 95,000). Emily planned for us to arrive in the mid-afternoon, the best time to navigate in such a small historic center as everything is closed, and less folks about. Founded by the Romans in 1-2 A.C., and rebuilt in the 1500’s, Lecce confirmed its important position as an artistic and cultural center. It was in this period that the city began to build its magnificent Baroque architecture and art. Also to be noted is that numerous religious communities were established that brought in wealth to build the churches and monasteries. By the 17th century, Lecce reached its peak of artistic expression. There were four main gates opening to the ancient walled center. We were very fortunate to experience a bundle of appealing experiences in Lecce, especially the fabulous-intact-buildings and palazzi that are all around this historic center. Five main focal points – and ten days of absolute active learning joy.

(1). Piazza Sant'oronzo, once a Roman amphitheater (the well preserved 2nd century A/D Roman theater is in front of the Piazza), is the large civic center in the heart of town with ancient to modern buildings side by side;

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2). Piazza del Duomo Piazza Sant’Oronzo has unique interpretations of a familiar Italian Cathedral square: people, cafes, benches, fountains, views of the Baroque architecture, and plane trees for shade;

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(3). The Museo Faggiano was an archaeological treasure trove of 2000 years worth of archeological finds, dating from the 5th century BCE, including crypts, medieval walls, cisterns, Knights Templar frescoes, tombs, and a rooftop tower;

(4). The 16th century Medieval synagogue museum, that provided valuable information in the discovery of the history of the Jewish presence in Puglia during the Middle Ages. The church of St. Croce was built over the synagogue;

(5). The Duomo Cathedral (1114 -1230), was the most impressive Lecce Baroque style; unique in that it has two decorated facades. The Baroque period followed the Renaissance, and is characterized with highly ornate and often extravagantly decorated exteriors and interiors. Lecce’s Piazza de Duomo is the heart of the town, and is one of Italy’s finest.

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We spent a staggering amount of our days visiting churches, cathedrals, basilicas, and clostiers as we love their elegance, grace, harmonious proportions and ornate beauty. In addition, from a sociological and anthropological view, they were the centerpieces of social and economic life, and of significant cultural change.

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Last modified on Wednesday, 01 July 2020

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