Dwight Peck's personal website

The heel of the boot

Southern Italy on the trail of Stupor Mundi

It's mid-October 2011 and we've got some time off. We're all great fans of Frederick II, the Hohenstaufen Holy Roman Emperor and King of Sicily, so now's our chance.

You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.

Lecce for a base, and Galatina for the frescoes

Rob and Elke are off on their own mission, and we've gone south to Lecce -- extremely fortunate on the booking! this is the bedlecce flat on the Via V. dei Prioli at the far end of the old city from the train station, but charming Luciana picked us up and got us settled.

It's a penthouse flat, with its own rooftop patio, but, well, no elevator. So here we go, with Luciana carrying her fair share up the narrow stair.

Tastefully done -- two bedrooms and baths, kitchen facilities and what not, rooftop patio, reasonable price (in the off-season, anyway). We couldn't have been luckier.

It's even got its own crypt, which Kristin is bent upon exploring now.

Determined to see the crypt and will not be deterred

Nothing too horrible, anyway

We're out the Via Prioli for a walkabout.

Via V. dei Prioli -- the other end of the Via Prioli is the Guarda di Finanza fort, so the neighborhood is safe.

The church of Santa Maria di Constantinopoli was built in 1663 over a former medieval building. Lecce, known as the "Florence of the Baroque", is a beautiful place within the capacious city walls, but the best stuff dates mostly from the 17th and 18th centuries, so some of that, like this place, is not terribly interesting for Renaissancists. But they're dynamite for Baroquists.

The old town is a mix of many eras cheek by jowl, fascinating almost everywhere. Presently with ca.100,000 inhabitants, Lecce is one of the most important cities in Puglia and the most important city of the Salento Peninsula in the far south of the "heel" of Italy's boot.

There are fascinating out-of-the-way coins everywhere -- as we're making our way along to the Piazza del Duomo. The local sandstone is special: called pietra leccese, it's great for carving up but hardens with time and lasts longer. The baroque architectural styles that were enabled by those qualities are famous (Barocco Leccese) and ubiquitous in both public and private buildings throughout the old town.

The Piazza of the Cathedral, first built in 1144, nicely redone in 1230, and "restored" in 1670. Earlier in the 17th century, the piazza was notable for its famous market for fruits and toys. The cathedral looks like it will be very interesting, but first, our attention has been seized by . . .

. . . the Dotto Train waiting to get up a full load of appreciative tourists.

The Piazza del Duomo, and its belltower of 70.72 metres built in 1661-82, and its Dotto Train with only one carriage on it because it's October.

This is a Muson River model, called the Euro 5, usually with a 4-cylinder diesel engine by Iveco (Fiat) but with an electric version as well. Dotto (founded by Ivo Dotto in 1962) is based in the Treviso region near Venice and makes most of the neat tourist trains in European cities; only Germany's Tschu-Tschu is a serious rival. (The Muson River is a negligible channeled stream that flows through Castelfranco Veneto in the Treviso region.)

Kristin, exhausted by the unphotographable interiors, seeks additional marvels.

Strange things going on on the front of the Duomo. Lecce was supposedly a nice place uncountable millennia ago, but was conquered by the Romans when they consolidated southern Italy in the 3rd century BC.

We're wending eastwards along the main thoroughfare, suitably called the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, looking for just the right gelateria.

The Romans loved the place and built both an amphitheatre and a theatre here, and a port (called Hadrian's Port, now San Cataldo) on the coast, which in its time rivaled Brindisi for the Adriatic trade.

Here's the amphitheatre (seated 25,000 fans), just alongside the most central square, the Piazza Sant'Oronzo.

And this is the Piazza Sant'Oronzo, fitted out today with booths (and a rock-and-roll sound stage at the far end) for upcoming festivities. In 549, in the so-called Gothic Wars, a gentleman named Totila, a well-respected Ostrogothic king, successfully won Lecce (and the rest of Italy) back from Belisarius and his invading Byzantine hordes, and sacked it, but then died. The Byzantine Greeks scurried back, and Lecce remained under the Eastern Roman Empire for the next 500 years (many people in the area still speak the Griko dialect), until the Normans showed up in the 1050s.

This is the Roman theatre in Lecce (in funny light because we're walking back in the dark after dinner). In subsequent years, Lecce was an independent county under the Norman, Hohenstaufen, and Angevin bosses for a further four centuries, until it got absorbed into the Kingdom of Naples in 1463, worse luck.

Back from a late dinner, Kristin is trying to fit the key in the lock. We'll go help out.

Our commodious bedlecce kitchen (with WiFi). Though it's a self-catering flat, there were breakfastish odds and ends laid on, but it's better just to go downtown.

Kristin coming in from relaxing out on the rooftop balcony

The bedlecce livingroom -- there are three of bedlecce's flats in this building, this one is on the top floor.

-- The sun's down, dear; it's time to come in now.

"All change, Zollino". We're on our way on the locals to see the frescoes in Galatina, and it's not entirely straightforward.

But here we are at the stazione Galatina, which needs a vigorous brush-up.

We're racing all over Galatina, terrified that the church of Santa Caterina d'Alessandria might close for lunch.

The Romanesque church built in 1390 on the order of the del Balzo Orsinis, the counts of Soleto, is reputed to have astonishing 15th century frescoes all over the shop-floor, newly restored.

And here they are -- fabulous. It is ABSOLUTELY forbidden to take photographs here, even no-flash (presumably for the postcard receipts), so here is Kristin engaging one of the guards in an educational diversion.

The main vault of the church -- there are whole stories depicted in series: people going to Heaven and Hell (unhappily), Adam and Eve, biblical stories which can be very funny indeed, and a shakerful of saints and martyrs of course.

A lot of Adam and Eve work here at the end of the church

Ceiling motifs

A cloister round the back

Kristin contemplating the strange medieval religious imagination

A collection of proto-feminists very angry about something

The turban-people determined to do their worst

A saintly fellow re-attaching somebody's foot. Note the subject's skeptical attitude.

Now, back to the frescoes

Even on the ceiling

A luxorious lengthwise shot, since Kristin's got the guard showing her the way to the bookshop back by the cloisters.

This is a fabulous place -- but what it really needs is some kind of hoist to get you up closer so you can see what's really in the pictures.

The guy with the surreptitious index finger -- that's always John the Baptist, permanently pointing the way towards the Next Guy coming along soon.

You could spend days in here, but we won't.

Downtown Galatina, a small town of about 30,000 that's populated by very nice people (like the elderly gentleman who scooped us up off the road and drove us to the church before it closed at noon. Which it didn't anyway, but the gesture was a kindly one.)

The Mother Church. So-called. Previously Greek Orthodox, but regularized in 1633.

Kristin awaiting stragglers in Galatina

Schoolkids rushing home for lunch in 17th century surroundings

Festive artwork on the trains

-- All change, Maglie.
We're on our way to "The Castle of Otranto".

Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 28 November 2011.

Italy, 2011