Italy underground: 2,000 years of buried history in Lecce

Deep down in Puglia in Italy’s south and in one of the most underrated cities of this fascinating region, you will discover a museum like no other you have ever come across during your travels. Lecce, the capital of Salento, in  its spider’s web of streets doesn’t just offer architectural surprises at every corner, but also hides underground more than 2,000 years of history waiting to be discovered.

Beyond an unassuming and simple entrance in the old city centre of Lecce, you’ll come across a very special and privately owned museum called Museo Faggiano and if it hadn’t been for its mention on a Lonely Planet Guide, I would have easily missed it! It’s not just the treasure trove of remarkable archaelogical remains that will astound you, but the history behind the discovery of so many unique finds.

Entrance to Museo Faggiano, Lecce

Back in 2001 the owner of the building, Luciano Faggiano, who had always dreamed of turning it into a restaurant, had to demolish the flooring to change some old sewage pipes that were causing condensation problems. Luciano was not at all prepared for what he was to unearth and excavation works revealed, by pure chance, several interesting architectural and historical finds showing evidence of the presence of ancient populations on this site. He found an underground world tracing back before the birth of Jesus: a Messapian tomb, a Roman granary, a Franciscan chapel and even etchings from the Knights Templars in a rooftop tower!

Luciano also came across a stretch of underground path that linked the building to other sites and one that leads straight to the main square in Lecce, Piazza Sant’Oronzo, where a Roman amphiteatre was discovered below in 1901. No words can adequately describe what waits for you inside Museo Faggiano and for the mere price of 3 euros, I highly recommend you visit this very special and unique museum!

piazza Sant’Oronzo, Lecce

Lecce was once a critical crossroads in the Mediterranean, coveted by invaders from Greeks to Romans to Ottomans, Normans and Lombards. It’s hardly a surprise therefore, that you are presented with evidence of ancient history at every turn and you’ll want to go back again and again to uncover any gems you have missed the first time round!

Lecce is not only a feast for the eye with lavish architecture tucked in every corner, but also a very creative city with many unique artisanal shops, some of them specialising in papier-mache’ art and sculptures.  The city’s cartapesta culture originated in the 17th century when glue and paper offered cheap raw materials for religious artists who couldn’t afford expensive wood or marble. It was said that the barbers were the first to engage in this activity, merging art and craft. These artisans used the back of their shops as workshops, and in between haircuts they spent their free time modelling statues out of papier-mache’.

These days this art is still practised in Lecce and elevated to new levels of skill and craftsmanship in a number of traditional workshops, such as La Cartapesta di Claudio Riso. His sculptures are true works of art and are to be seen to be believed!

If you are keen to soak in the atmosphere of this fascinating city and explore the secret wonders that Puglia has to offer, I can help you plan a memorable stay and prepare for you uniquely tailored itineraries, packed full of all the insider information you need and won’t find in your average guidebooks. For any further information, check out one of my custom travel services, Magica Italia Package.

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Roman Theatre in Lecce

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