In and Out of the City Walls

The Berkeley Circle was dazzled on its visit to the restored city walls by the revelation that Lecce had a new dimension. The city has always offered a cozy casbah of an old central quarter and much in the way of baroque architecture secular and religious. But of spaciousness it had little. The Villa or small central park was always under siege by a mentality that saw space as a deficiency that had to be filled with something, kiosks large or small, statuary, the odd merry-go-round and cement as needed. A good part of the year, the town’s showpiece piazzas are equally encumbered with staged entertainment or fairs and other commerce. Tourists understandably felt the need to rush to the seaside to take a deep breath.

 

Thought has now been taken to make the northern entry to the city genuinely grand. Stately is the word for the vast lawn that covers the ex Carlo Pranzo area with breathing space galore. Green stretching from the roundabout turns the color of stone as it reaches the uncovered moat, the remains of a Roman road and the stern fortifications. A long rising walkway providing fine views on all sides takes you onto the walls where you stand above the ancient Giaconia Garden now devoted to Mediterranean plants. The Giaconia Palazzo is on your right as you descend, walk through the garden and exit into the entangled narrow lanes of the old town. Who wouldn’t envy the tourist who has a first acquaintance with Lecce by this airy approach that ends with a plunge into the tight-packed, stoney labyrinth still humming with the domestic life of centuries.

 

The official tour or, more dramatically, “The Wall Experience” is organised by the FAI (Fondo Ambiente Italiano) and begins in the Welcome Centre in via Leonardo Leo. English or Italian speaking guides are provided. The project, still a work in progress, promises to be completed by a series of displays that will relate the city’s history and European events that accompanied it. Nevertheless, proceeding through the St. Francis Bastion, “the most representative section of the bastion fortification,” it was good to see the splendidly restored stone on its own without any furnishings or information panels in the way. The vaulted ceilings and beautifully curved walls themselves display the superb stone masonry that marked the city for centuries. You could almost hear the hammers strike. The beauty of the enclosed spaces was almost too good to be obscured by anything at all. The tour went on bringing us out of what seemed like the bowels of the city to its wind-swept top. The wall experience was indeed dramatic, a thrilling series of contrasts, intimacy enclosed in stone and sudden openness to the infinite blue sky.

 

Berkeleyite opinion was as always varied. The tour was approved thumbs up and hands down. However, there were questions about details. Some wanted not only information posted but figures in period dress, maybe a collection of armour. Others wondered how the very English lawn would fare in July and August. Was water so plentiful? Wouldn’t the space of ‘The City Wall’s Park’ have been better planted with local vegetation than with grass? And if the grass thrived, would we be allowed to picnic on it? Another question was whether the path in by the walkway and out into the Centro Storico would be open daily for the public, say, with the same hours as the Villa park. Time will tell, but this first look at the walls in and out had been a joy.

 

Peter Byrne

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