A tour of Lecce reveals a palpable sense of spirituality beneath its architectural marvels
The Baroque architecture that graces the facades of Lecce represents just one chapter among many in this historical city. There is a palpable sense of energy every place you go, and local storytelling will transform an ordinary walk into an enlightening experience.
Hospitality in Spades
Located in the former quarters of the Sant’Anna Conservatory, the historic building was converted into a charming luxury residence after forty years of silence – no one managed to enter the property prior to the arrival of Beatrice Baldisser and her daughter Martina Pisacane. A year-long, careful restoration process was required to understand the structure’s history, its logistic features, and hidden architecture. The result is a warm and generous space that retains the structure’s original purpose as a womb dedicated to quality time, rest, and wellbeing.
In order to neutralize the energies of the ground, Beatrice placed micro-crystals above the foundations and raised the flooring; guests are encouraged to walk barefoot and place their feet firmly on the earth – even during breakfast. Beatrice’s aesthetic sensitivity is uncanny. She has applied 25 years of experience in holistic therapy to design every single element in this sanctuary of hospitality, with rooms and suites each designed according to its distinctive energy and referring to the Hartmann Nodes to ensure the guest’s wellbeing. A ‘fil rouge’ of services complete the experience with homemade in-room snacks and natural juices, an in-house restaurant with experiential dinners, and an exceptional breakfast banquet made fresh every day, following the purest biological processes. What Beatrice has lovingly given to reviving the structure has returned to her in spades.
Noble is the Night
While the doors of private palaces open to the public in May, there is a more interesting way to explore what’s the crowds and at your leisure. With the help of local travel designers, the experience takes a more personal course with afternoon lunches, property tours, and talks with the owners of these intriguing homes. A custom itinerary curated by the Lecce-based travel designer Marialba Pandolfini, CEO and owner at Tourango, can open those doors, revealing intriguing personalities, moving family stories, and untouched historic residences still inhabited by family descendants who gracefully preserve their traditions.
Marialba is passionate about her work and is involved in creating a community of local people who specialize in what they do and combined with their skills, genuine life stories, and love for Puglia, are able to share the experiences with guests. “Don’t ask yourself what you want to do but who you want to meet,” says Pandolfini. Nothing on the outside prepares you for what is inside these magnificent residences. Halls that open into one another and photos cover every centimeter of the walls of centuries before. The kitchens are always a point of interest with guests curious to see what a typical Leccese household really eats – it’s actually quite humble. The gardens, surrounded by historic monuments and archaeological sites, are a place where discourse, dance, and music are often arranged for guests. The tour offers an authentic close-up of people’s lives with local traditions, cultural heritage, and healthy food all part of the experience. One of the palace owners, the descendent of a noble family, offers architecture tours around the city with stories of Lecce’s famous facades. The first lady of another family is a ceramic artist with a personal collection of handmade ceramic dishware and décor who also tends to the artwork on the walls of the palace. Lunch, dinner and aperitivo with a menu can be planned with Marialba and prepared by the owners or requested chefs. Together with the homeowners, architects, and chefs, you’re able to piece together a story that becomes your own – an eye-opening experience that centers on a grand love for people and hospitality.
During the Middle Ages, Lecce was home to a thriving Jewish community with active leaders such as Abrahamde Balmes, a man of high intellect who was also the sovereign’s personal physician. However, outbreaks of intolerance were frequent until the ultimate expulsion of the community in the late 16th century, essentially ending Jewish life in Puglia. It was only in 2006 that the 13th century orthodox Scolanova Synagogue in Trani was re-dedicated and opened for worship after being seized by the Roman Catholic Church in 1380. Since Lecce is a city built layer upon layer spanning thousands of years the oldest part is buried belowground, making remnants hard to find. Located on the lower level of the medieval Palazzo Taurino is the Jewish Museum.
What remains are the grounds of a 15th-century synagogue, the carved groove where the sacred parchment (mezuzah) was placed, and ritual baths (mikvaot) originally built in the center of the Giudecca(Jewish district) and adjacent to the Basilica of Santa Croce – all discovered during renovations for the opening of a restaurant. It is said that the Basilica of Santa Croce was also built on the former bustling market grounds of the Giudecca with the pavement left untouched since. The Jewish museum includes the story of the community that once thrived here, and ends in a dimly-lit screening room with the personal stories of families who lived in Salento.
After the visit, it is easier to imagine the life of the Jewish community with the toponymy of the Giudecca marked with bilingual Italian and Hebrew street plates in the neighborhood just outside. While there are more pieces lacking than the present, the energy that remains is intriguing, with enough history to fill a library. Books are available in English and Italian at the museum gift shop, as well as Judaica gifts and kosher Primitivo and Chardonnay wines from Puglia.
Tours with the museum director (Prof Fabrizio Lelli) can be arranged on request
Historic Jewish towns of interest:
- Santa Cesarea Terme
- Tricase Porto
- San Pietro in Lama
Palazzo San’tAnna Suites & Apartments
Medieval Jewish Lecce