The Lecce Baroque: men and monuments

In a previous article on this blog we have already analyzed the historical origins of the Lecce Baroque, listing some events and circumstances that favored its birth and development, from the Spanish presence in the Kingdom of Naples to the end of the threat brought by the Ottoman Empire up to the Council of Trento and the vast availability of precious stone from Lecce; each of these circumstances had a significant weight in the development of the architecture that redefined the panorama of the city of Lecce from the mid-sixteenth to the eighteenth century, but alongside the favorable circumstances and historical events, the Lecce baroque owes its fortune also to the vision , to the perseverance and commitment of some historical figures of the Salento capital, such as the bishop Luigi Pappacoda or the architects Giuseppe Zimbalo and Giuseppe Cino.

Luigi Pappacoda in June 1639 was called to govern the diocese of Lecce and remained bishop until his death in 1670. He held two diocesan synods in the city in 1647 and 1663 and in 1658 approved the election of the saints Oronzo, Fortunato and Giusto to the patrons of Lecce, restoring the ancient cult. In 1659 he laid the first stone for the construction of the new cathedral and commissioned numerous other works from the architect and sculptor Giuseppe Zimbalo. On his death he was buried in the Cathedral of Lecce, in the sepulcher near the altar of S. Oronzo.

As we have seen, the figure of the bishop Luigi Pappacoda is linked to that of the sculptor and architect Giuseppe Zimbalo, known as "the Zingarello" (the nickname is none other than the Italianization of the dialectal term "Zimbarieddhu" or the little Zimbalo, probably to distinguish it from father Sigismondo, also an artist of the stone) was the most famous and imitated architect of the Lecce Baroque. In the Salento capital the artist created the lower façade of the Celestini Convent, the Cathedral, the column of Sant 'Oronzo and the Church of the Rosario.

As for the architect and sculptor Giuseppe Cino, he worked in the Salento capital from the mid-seventeenth century, continuing the stylistic research of Giuseppe Zimbalo, whose construction of the Palazzo dei Celestini, for example, was completed. Cino was also responsible for the construction of the splendid Church of Santa Chiara, the Church of the Alcantarine and the Church of the Carmine, on which he worked until his death. He also designed the Seminary on commission of Antonio Pignatelli, at the time the new bishop of Lecce.

The Basilica of Santa Croce, together with the adjacent former Celestini Convent, constitutes the highest manifestation of the Lecce Baroque. A monastery had already been built in the 14th century in the area of ​​the current basilica, but it was only after the middle of the 16th century that it was decided to transform the area into an entirely monumental area and to have the necessary space all of them were requisitioned. the properties of the local Jews, expelled from the city in the year 1510. The works for the construction of the basilica lasted for over two centuries and involved the most important Lecce architects of the time. The first phase of construction lasted from 1549 to 1582 and saw the construction of the lower area of ​​the facade, while the dome was completed in 1590. The next phase of the works, starting from 1606, during which the three decorated portals were added to the facade , is marked by the commitment of Francesco Antonio Zimbalo, then Cesare Penna and Giuseppe Zimbalo worked on the final completion of the work.

The history of the Cathedral is very similar: a first cathedral of the Diocese of Lecce was built in 1144 by the bishop Formoso; in 1230, at the behest of the bishop Roberto Voltorico, the cathedral was renovated and rebuilt in Romanesque style. Subsequently, in 1659, the bishop Luigi Pappacoda gave Giuseppe Zimbalo the task of rebuilding the church in the Baroque style. The construction ended in 1670. The bell tower of the Duomo was built between 1661 and 1682, again by Giuseppe Zimbalo; was built to replace the Norman one, wanted by Goffredo d '

Altavilla, which collapsed at the beginning of the seventeenth century, and has a height of 70 meters; from its summit it is possible to admire the Adriatic sea and on particularly clear days also the mountains of Albania.

Also in the Piazza del Duomo is the Palazzo del Seminario built by the architect Giuseppe Cino between 1694 and 1709, commissioned by Bishop Michele Pignatelli. In the atrium you can admire a decorated well, also the work of Cino, while inside the building there is a chapel from 1696. On the first floor of the building we also find the "Diocesan Museum" and the "Innocenziana Library", so called by the name assumed by Pope Innocent XII, who had been bishop of the city. The library contains over ten thousand volumes, including from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

The Church of Santa Chiara is located in the historic center of Lecce, in Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II. Its first foundation, wanted by the bishop Tommaso Ammirato, dates back to 1429; it was subsequently almost completely renovated between 1687 and 1691. The construction of the church, which remained without the upper pediment, is also the work of the architect Giuseppe Cino.

The Church of Sant 'Irene dei Teatini is located in the historic center of Lecce and is dedicated to Sant' Irene da Lecce, protector of the city until 1656. It was built starting from 1591 on a project by the Theatine Francesco Grimaldi and was completed in 1639, year of consecration by the bishop of Brindisi. The Church of Sant 'Irene was also at the center of important non-religious historical events: in 1797 it was visited by King Ferdinand IV of Naples, while in October 1860 it hosted the plebiscite operations to decide Lecce's yes to enter the Kingdom of Italy. In 1866 the annexed Convent of the Theatines was suppressed, but the church was still open to worship.

There are obviously many examples of the Lecce Baroque style also in other municipalities of the Salento peninsula, such as the Cathedral of Gallipoli or the Mother Church of Casarano.

The Lecce Baroque: history and origins


Whitely gilded
is the sky where
on the ledges they run
sweet-breasted angels,
Saracen warriors and learned donkeys
with rich ruffs.

A fast-paced game
of the soul that is afraid
multiply figures,
defends itself
from a sky that is too clear.

An air of gold
mild and unhurried
he entertains himself in that kingdom
of useless gears including
the seed of boredom
it unfolds its arrogantly witty flowers
and as for bet
a stone carnival
simulates infinity in a thousand guises.

(from After the Moon, 1956)

Vittorio Bodini was an established Apulian poet and translator, he was born in Bari but spent his childhood in the Salento capital, he translated into Italian several Spanish writers including Federico Garcia Lorca and Miguel de Cervantes. In his poem "Lecce" we find a splendid and exciting description of the Lecce Baroque and we start from here to talk about this architectural style which in two centuries, between 1550 and 1730, changed the face of the city forever and made it the jewel it is today, capable of attracting visitors from all over the world.
Let's start from the words of an established translator of Spanish works for a specific reason, the link between Spain and Italy is not accidental if we talk about the Lecce Baroque, this style is in fact very influenced by the Spanish Plateresque, an artistic style that flourished in Spain. in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, characterized by many ornaments and composed starting from the imitation of silverware works (in Spanish “plata”), from which the name of plateresque derives. A few decades after the Spanish presence in the Kingdom of Naples contributes decisively to the customs clearance of this taste for details and decorations and therefore to the birth of the Lecce Baroque. There are also other historical reasons behind this Baroque spring in the Heel of Italy, such as the outcome of the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, which considerably weakened the armies of the Ottoman Empire, making southern Italy less exposed to raids by pirates and invasions by the enemy. Finally, the Counter-Reformation, or a set of measures of spiritual, theological and liturgical renewal with which the Catholic Church reformed its institutions after the Council of Trent. Following these measures, many churches were re-adapted at an architectural level to be more functional to the new post-Tridentine liturgies, many buildings of medieval construction were "renovated", through embellishments with stuccoes, marbles and various decorations, which made them assume

these look like baroque churches. But the Baroque was particularly lucky in Salento also thanks to the quality of the local stone used: the Lecce stone, which we have already talked about in this blog, or a soft and compact limestone with warm and golden tones suitable for working with the stonemason.

The Lecce Baroque is immediately recognizable even to less experienced spectators, due to its gaudy decorations that characterize the coatings of the buildings: precisely baroque exuberances, floral motifs, human figures and mythological animals, friezes and coats of arms. All this richness of agricultural and floral decorative elements is a metaphor for the "grace of God" and the beauty of creation. Among the most common fruits are the pine cone, a symbol of fertility and abundance, the apple, a symbol of temptation but also of redemption, the pomegranate, a symbol of the Resurrection, the vine, an attribute of Christ.

This new style, which at first only affected sacred and noble buildings, then spread also in civil architecture and therefore its floral motifs, figures, mythological animals, friezes and coats of arms also triumphed on the facades, balconies and on the portals of private buildings.

Until then Lecce had been a fortified city, almost austere, gathered around the severe bulk of the Castle of Charles V, but in less than two centuries it changed considerably, becoming that "... stone carnival, which simulates the infinite ”recounted by Bodini in his beautiful verses. In the next article of this blog we will see to analyze in detail each of the buildings resulting from this admirable architectural revolution.