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The Cape of Leuca is the southernmost point of Salento and ends into Santa Maria di Leuca, that village baptized by the Romans “de finibus terrae” because it rises right there where the land ends to leave room for the sea.
Cape of Leuca: the most beautiful towns
Travelling throughout the Cape of Leuca means discovering charming villages where the clock of time seems to have stopped, just as in Castrignano del Capo, of which Santa Maria di Leuca is a hamlet. What is most striking of this Salento town is Borgo Terra, that is the medieval town centre, built as a fortress with the aim of defending itself from the Saracens. You must also visit the eighteenth-century Church of San Michele Arcangelo, on which facade you can admire the beautiful portal decorated with bas-reliefs and the statue of the saint. Moving to the hamlet of Giuliano, you cannot miss the menhir Menzi right in the heart of the old town, where, in addition to the castle, there are beautiful churches such as the sixteenth-century Church of San Crisostomo and the Church of San Pietro, founded in the 10th century presumably by Basilian monks.
A little further north of Castrignano del Capo there is the village of Patù, famous for housing the remains of the ancient Messapian centre of Veretum. It is said that with the megalithic stones of the city was built the complex of Centopietre, colossal temple born around the I B.C. as heroon, and then transformed into a place of Christian worship. Inside you can see some Byzantine frescoes depicting thirteen saints.
A little more than 8 km from Santa Maria di Leuca is Alessano, the town where Don Tonino Bello was born. The town is worth a visit for the Church of Sant'Antonio, rich in elaborate baroque altars, and the Mother Church, within which there is a canvas by Caravaggio depicting Tobiolo and the Angel. A stone’s throw from Alessano there is the beautiful Presicce, whose symbol monument is the Norman Ducal Palace, with lovely roof gardens and the Baroque Church of Sant'Andrea Apostolo, flanked by a Renaissance bell tower.
From Specchia to Lecce
At the foot of Sierra Magnone, on a small hill, stands the village of Specchia. Its historic centre is a real jewel, among labyrinthine streets, staircases, wrought iron loggias, votive aedicules and beautiful portals in Catalan style. The monument symbol of Specchia is the Castle Protonobilissimo Risolo, overlooking Piazza del Popolo, such as the fifteenth-century Church of the Presentation of the Virgin. The Church of San Francesco Neri, with the Basilian crypt carved into the rock, and the Byzantine Church of Sant'Eufemia are also worth a visit.
Among the most beautiful towns in Salento you cannot forget Maglie, the birthplace of the great statesman Aldo Moro. This Salento centre is considered the economic heart of the territory, thanks to the production in particular of wrought iron artifacts, embroidery and lace. The old town, built almost entirely in “pietra leccese”, a stone from Lecce, houses jewels such as the eighteen-century Collegiate Church and the Capece Palace, donated by Francesca Capece, a baroness who greatly contributed to the cultural enrichment of Maglie.
On the road to Lecce, you must stop in Galatina, a wonderful village that preserves within its walls, built in the 14th century by Raimondo del Balzo, the wonderful Basilica of Saint Catherine of Alexandria. The church, built at the end of the 14th century, is one of the most vivid examples of Gothic-Roman art in Salento. Besides containing the sacred finger of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, the interior of the basilica enchants thanks to the frescoes from Sienese and Giotto school.
Last but not least, there is Lecce, the queen of Salento, the baroque city defined the "Florence of the South", thanks to its important historical and artistic heritage. It is not difficult to give credit to this recognition when you see the Basilica of Santa Croce with its highly decorated Baroque facade or when you come across Piazza Duomo, which appears as the setting of an ancient theatre. Piazza Sant'Oronzo, on the other hand, seems to be an open book on the history of Lecce, enclosing in a single space the Roman amphitheatre of the second century A.D. and the sixteenth-century Palazzo del Sedile, recognizable by the ogival arcades of the elegant loggia.