“In Lecce even the poorest houses are tasteful. In no other city have I seen so many doors, windows, loggias, pillars, balustrades all made of stone. Stone is easy to work here. “
(George Berkeley)

George Berkeley, famous theologian and philosopher considered, together with John Locke and David Hume, the father of empiricism, wrote some splendid words about Puglia and in particular about Lecce which he, in his “Travel diary in Italy” (1717), he defined in no uncertain terms “the most beautiful city in Italy”. The philosopher appreciated the architecture of churches, convents and noble palaces, as well as the surrounding landscape and also expressed convinced praises on the people who lived in the city, of which he wrote “civilized and educated people, it seems that they have inherited the amiability of the ancient Greeks who in the past inhabited these parts of Italy “, but as the quote at the opening of this article shows, only part of the beauty of local architecture escaped his gaze as a sensitive empiricist, beyond the mastery of the craftsmen who built them, it was also due to the quality of the stone used in the construction, the famous “Lecce stone”.

The Lecce stone, called in dialect “leccisu”, is of calcareous origin, is part of the group of marly calcarenites and its formation was identified by technicians in the Miocene period, or about 20 million years ago. Among its properties is the presence, in the formation itself, of shell fragments, small fossils that geologically enrich the structure, but also of clays, quartz and minerals that fortify it and make it even more unique. It is straw yellow in color, but the particularities of its composition enrich it with infinite shades that make it even more intriguing and spectacular.

In addition to characterizing it on a visual level, the very nature of the stone makes it very sensitive to the action of natural atmospheric agents, such as humidity or water stagnation, and also to agents of human origin such as smog. To make it more resistant, the master sculptors of the Baroque era used to treat the rock with milk, in fact lactose, penetrating inside the stone thanks to its porosity, endowed it with a waterproof protective layer, without altering its aesthetic qualities. This treatment also made it easier to process. Today the lactose-based treatment has not completely disappeared, but is joined by other more technological and modern treatments. It must be said that the wear of time sometimes enriches the Lecce stone, adding to its natural beauty a further very fascinating and warm chromatic range, with colors ranging from beige to amber and even, in some cases, to deep pink shades. The ease of processing Lecce stone, known for some time as the quote with which this article opens, is a feature that has certainly contributed to the local and later worldwide success of this precious material.

Lecce stone is mostly extracted in open-air quarries found above all in the municipalities of Lecce, Corigliano, Melpignano, Cursi and Maglie, at a depth of up to 50 meters; the hardness of the stone varies according to the depth of the extraction point and while the one extracted at more superficial levels is used above all to create sculptures and decorations, from the deep, harder benches, the material to be used in construction is extracted, to make plans and is also used as a refractory stone for fireplaces.

Lecce stone is part of the soul of Lecce Baroque, the architectural style born in the Salento capital between the end of the sixteenth century and the first half of the eighteenth century, recognizable for its splendid decorations that characterize the coatings of the buildings. The style, influenced by the Spanish Plateresque, owes its birth to the work of local architects such as Giuseppe Zimbalo (1617-1710) and Giuseppe Cino (1644-1722). The fruits of this peculiar style to be absolutely known are the Palazzo dei Celestini, the church of Santa Croce, the Church of Santa Chiara, the Church of Santa Irene and the Duomo, we will talk more about it on this blog. The Lecce stone enjoyed great success during the Baroque era, but it was already appreciated in the classical and pre-classical era.

Among the sculptors who have used and still use the Lecce stone today, we point out the work of Stefano Garrisi, Renzo Buttazzo, Antonio Margarito and Andrea Serra.