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16 June 2020 - Day 66 – Brindisi and Lecce

Overcast day with showers in the forecast, I was up at 8, out and lumbering the suitcase down two flights so that I was out the door at 8:30. The walk down the straight street/promenade to the Bari station took 15 minutes, so I had plenty of time to cross to the far platform for the 9:01 to Brindisi. For the 115km, it took an hour and a quarter, so that, with a half kilometer walk to the hotel, I was registering at the Hotel Coronna before 10:30. They held my bag, as it was too early, but offered me a coffee, which I accepted.

Mid-winter, when speaking with neighbors in Florida, one who was from south Apulia had recommended a visit to Lecce. Half an hour from #Brindisi, I figured a two-hour visit might give me time to see the cathedral and some of the town center, so it was added to the plan. The next train was 11:12, so I had half an hour to make the return 10-minute stroll.

Exploring a bit, I walked to the round Piazza Cairoli, across and continued until it ended in a T. Making a left towards the train tracks, it only started to shower just as I approached the stairs to the tunnel to get to the other side.

A nice surprise, the train carriages were all new and sleek. The train to #Lecce made 4 stops over 40km, arriving in half an hour. The showers seemed to have followed me as far as Surbo, at which point there started to be breaks in the sky.

The cathedral was pretty much due north a kilometer, but the street layout took a few turns.

About half way there, a plaza on the left, Convitto Palmieri with columns creating a nice porch filling a U-shaped building. It appeared the building was under renovation, to become restaurants and retail, residences and office space. As I got close, the south transept and the dome next to the eastern apse arose in front of me, but I had to walk behind the apse to the end of the block, and take a left and another half block before the entry into the Piazza del Duomo. A large square plaza, the Seminario and Museo Diocesano d’Arte Sacra filled the west side, the (non-climbable) campanile of five levels was opposite with other buildings, and the north face of the nave shared a smaller plaza on the south side: the Cattedrale dell'Assunzione della Virgine and the set back bishop’s residence. Rebuilt in 1659 (original construction date is 1144) it is a baroque style structure.

There are two façades with entrances. The traditional western façade has 5 steps up to flat half-columns columns framing the central door, framed in stone, with a tympanum over a memorial. Flanking the columns are columns outside niches with statues of Sts Peter and Paul. The second level has an arched window in the center with niches containing statues. A triangular cap with an oval shield caps the front. On the northern façade, the primary entrance leading into the north aisle, 6 steps up from the plaza is a large double door. On the first level, smooth columns bracket the framing around the door, with a broad arched portico. Statues of Sts Giusto and Fortunato are in niches alongside these columns, with flat half-columns finishing the level. An entablature sits above this level with a short balustrade and freestanding statues of the city’s patron saint, St Orontius, with a shield above.

Twelve side altars line the side aisles, all highly decorated. Columns and pilasters support the clerestory windows of stained-glass, and the gilded and painted coffered vault. Two columns inside the west entry support an organ loft at the rear of the church. The presbytery begins under a dome, with transepts north and south. The Apse is rectangular, with a gilt and paint coffered vault; two large oil paintings adorn the side walls, while an Assumption by Orozo Tiso is behind the ornate marble and gold-plated bronze altar. Carved walnut choir stalls line either side of the chancel, and include the cathedra on the left. The main altar sits under the center of the dome at the middle of the crossing, its face painted in a floral motif.

Trains ran every half hour back to Brindisi, and it was just about 1pm. I could scoot back to Brindisi, or take a bit more time in Lecce. Looking at Maps, a nearby Roman amphitheater got the vote for Lecce.

Out of the cathedral plaza, I kept to that street and came to the tourist office in the Palazzo del Seggio, which overlooked the ruins. (For future reference, guided walking tours, in English and French are at 11:30 and 17:30, and Italian at 11,13,17 and 19.) I did pick up a hat pin!

A bit further east was the Castello Carlo V, a quadrangular fortress built in the 12th century and reinforced in 1539.

Turning back towards the station, I passed the Porta San Biagio (Gate of St Blaise) as I stuck to a broad pedestrian stretch with trees, benches, and strolling folk. At the corner with the archeological museum, Museo Sigismondo Castromediano, I turned to walk Viale Gallipoli a block and then took a diagonal which led to the station. I got there about a minute before the 13:43 train pulled in, so I boarded and sat, writing in my journal, for the 25-minute ride back.

Ten past two, and it was a kilometer plus walk northeast to the cathedral. Looking at alternate paths, if I took the straight two-turn rectilinear route probably favored by a taxi (5 minutes) as opposed to the tour through retail and residential land, there were 2 or 3 landmarks I might see, plus a diversion would put me at the castle on the waterfront. The cathedral was open until 9pm.

Via Cristoforo Colombo took me to the Vasche Limarie, the ruins of Roman holding tanks to settle the water brought in 10km from the west via aqueduct. I knew Rome had accomplished some major engineering, having seen remains of aqueducts in Segovia and Provence (Pont du Gard). I hadn’t realized it was in the heel of the Italian peninsula as well! A bit further on, at the Porta Mesagne e Bastione Aragonese, the actual tanks at the oldest gate (porta) had been modified by Carlo V when building the fortress (bastione).

At the Torrione dell’inferno, the “Hell’s Tower” which formed a section of the Swabian defensive wall, which in turn has become residences accessed outside the walls, I continued towards the castle and water.

The Castello Federiciano di Brindisi was originally an earthen fortress, trapezoidal in shape. Initially built at the command of Frederick II, it was later upgraded by Charles of Hapsburg, the future Holy Roman Emperor Carlo V. I followed the waterfront along until saw the Fontana dell’Impero and the Monumento ai Caduti d’Italia.

The fountain celebrates the Italian Empire, erected in 1940 of green marble from the Alps and local black marble. The monument to the fallen soldiers of the Great War, its location changed several times until 1940, when it was placed in the Piazza Santa Teresa. After crossing the plaza, I walked down a residential street and turned toward the Piazza Duomo.

The Basilica Cattedrale della Visitazione e San Giovanni Battista faces west onto the Piazza Duomo in Brindisi. Although originally built in the early 12th century, following an earthquake in 1743, it had to be rebuilt. Still romanesque on the western façade, there are five panels separated by flat half columns, with niches containing statues of saints for the outer pairs, and a doorway in the center. The doorway has a simple white stone trim, all this on the plaza level. A sixth section is the campanile on the south side, with a pointed archway passing through it, and two sections stepping back as it rises, with small balustrades. The bell tower has a square footprint, and is composed of the same stone as the façade. Four travertine marble statues and a simple gold cross top the cathedral façade.

The interior is similarly simple. Walls are white plaster, as is the flat vault. There are no shrines or chapels along the nave side aisles, however, on the south side, a transept with three chapels extends the width. These chapels are to St Leucio of Brindisi, the first bishop; St Francis of Assisi; and a Eucharist chapel with a painting of the Last Supper. The chancel is cut back from the presbytery, with walnut choir stalls on the back and side walls, and a cathedra to the left of the main altar.

Leaving the cathedral, I reflected on it in relationship to the city’s geography. The old city is sited on a bulge into a natural harbor, a narrow inlet which splits to either side of the city. Outside the inlet, the harbor deals with larger ships, but one leg inside is a naval port. Anyone seeking a beach might do best heading west. Smaller cruise ships can enter the harbor (it has deep water), but ferry service the 25km across the Adriatic to Greece and the Balkans is outside.

Just outside the plaza I found the Portico dei Cavalieri Templari, a loggia that give entry into the Ribezzo Archeological Musuem. The reference to the Templars dates to 18th century “erudition”. The cathedral was placed well for soldiers and pilgrims to get a final blessing before heading to the Palestine.

The weather was holding, so I really didn’t want to be inside after an hour in the cathedral. So I walked up to the seawall to check things out. The Lungomare Regina Margherita offered a good vantage point to the inlet and the ship traffic.

A bit further on, up a long flight of stairs were the Colonne Romane, once thought to be the markers of the end of the route from Rome, with the other now taken to Lecce.

At the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, I turned away from the water (it was getting into the cruise port area) and headed down Corso Roma. Heading in a southwest direction as it approached 5pm, the occasional trees provided some shade from the sun, which had come out, but there really wasn’t much protection. The Corso was lined, at least initially, with dining establishments, but gradually shifted into fashion retail and lodging.

Finally, the Hotel Colonna came in sight. When I went to the front desk, they were ready with my key, and had already put my bag in my room on the fourth level.

Nice clean space, I really didn’t need to get into my bag except to pull the toiletries and the light jacket, at least for now. I sat at the desk for about 90 minutes and finished the journal for Lecce and Brindisi, and even spent a half hour looking at email. As it was almost 8pm, I figured it was time for me to find food, especially since I’d once again skipped breakfast and lunch. Armed with my phone showing dining establishments, I headed downstairs to check with the front desk. They sent me back up the Corso to Rendez-vous Café Bistrot. And “plate of the day” was pretty much what I did. One thing off the printed menu, and the rest specials. And I got my favorite seat in the house, sitting at the kitchen bar, so that I could watch!

Hummus di ceci in cialda croccante to start, like bruschetta, but freshly made hummus on toasts with toppings. For a beverage, besides the carafe of water, I go a half carafe of white house wine. Next, the double fried artichokes, a different style and presentation than Rome, but still mighty tasty, and a bit easier to eat. These might be easier to duplicate and fit into the mini deep fryer. Keeping to the white wine foods, my third was orecchiette with broccoli. I figured the broccoli would be lightly steamed, or quickly sautéed – but no, it was chopped, like pulverized, before being tossed with garlic and seasonings (salt, pepper, and a pinch of dust from this bowl of micro green stuff) and olive oil that got lightly sautéed first, and then covered so it could steam briefly. Add the pasta and toss. Then from a bowl that seemed to contain the bits and pieces falling off the deep-fried veggies, he plated and drizzled a handful on top. Oh My Goodness! Texture for days! Flavor overload. I will try to make this when I get home.

My final dish was doomed to be a disappointment, as I didn’t think anything could match. I’d call it moules marinières in a tomato broth, with a deep-fried langoustine and toasts. Well, it wasn’t French or Belgian (or imitation US, which is what I get at home.) Definitely a different flavor profile in how the mussels were prepared, and the broth was made. Since all I saw was the mussels taken out of one pot, put into another over fire, and then tipped into a bowl of broth from the second pot, I have not a guess. But I was extremely happy.

They don’t make their own desserts, and, actually, there ws nothing else I really wanted. Thanking them all, I was out and walking back down the Corso to the hotel. Arriving, I asked about breakfast times, as this was one of the few where I had included breakfast, and they started serving at 7, which would work. While the camera was downloading, I pulled out my clothing for tomorrow, and then started writing the blog. I’ll decide on whether a jacket or slicker once I see what it looks like. Pictures are selected, blog done, and ready to push to the cloud.

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