Informazioni & Contatti
Via XXV Luglio, 73100 Lecce
Il Teatro, l'Anfiteatro Romano e il Castello Carlo V di Lecce sono gestiti dal Ministero della Cultura -Direzione Regionale Musei Puglia. Le visite guidate sono a cura dell'ATI Orione Politi.
Via XXV Luglio
Il Teatro e Anfiteatro romano di Lecce
e il Castello Carlo V
sono siti gestiti dal Ministero della Cultura
Direzione Regionale Musei Puglia
Audio guides for visiting the castle
and roman sites
1. The parade ground
The archaeological excavations conducted in recent years have brought to light many testimonies of the ancient history of the castle. The traces dated back to the Norman age allow us to date the first fortification, which was built with resulting materials, at the time of King Roger II of sicily during the 12th century. The fortress was then remodeled by the Emperor Frederick II. The two parallel walls placed next to an ancient paving and which probably consistute the entrance space to the Swabian castle, date back to the Frederick period. Between the walls you can see a granary pit for storing foodstuffs. During the Aragonese period the structures were leveled to create the parade ground, with the construction of a water well connected, through a long canal, to an ancient water cistern.
2. PATROL WALKWAYS
The patrol walkways made it possible to move men and artillery pieces for defense purposes. The trapezoidal shape of the fortress was surrounded by a dry moat no longer visible and allowed to minimize the effects o fan assault with the use of bombards. Furthermore, the firepower of the castle was enough to respond promptly to any enemy attack through the embrasures located in the ramparts and in some sections of the fortification.
The ascent ramp to the patrol walkways has a stairway designed to facilitate the tran sport of artillery pieces. From the top of the bastion you can see the thickness of the walls and the lanceolate shape. You can also appreciate the structures of the older fortification which, being decorated with Renaissance-style windows, give the castle a gentle elegance.
3. The throne room (Maria d'Enghien room)
The large hall, known as the Throne Room, certainly had important political functions: its walls were perhaps decorated with frescoes and tapestries, of which there is no longer trace. The only decorative element that can still be admired is made up of the corbels of the vaults, which represent the local Renaissance tradition. All the hanging capitals are characterized by projecting stone heads representing human faces, saints, mythological characters and representations of animals that refer to a symbolic universe both sacred and profane, with an apotropaic function. By apotropaic function we mean a type of magic intended to turn away harm or evil influences, as in deflecting mi sfortune or averting the evil eye.
This means that these figures served as a warning and at the same time represented an exorcism of the most obsessive fears. For examples the image of the Moorish man evokes the fear of the enemies of the Empire and recalls the massacre of otranto which took place in 1480, when the city was invaded and sacked by the turks.
Athena – Owl: the owl refers to the wisdom of those who judged, saved or condemned the actions of the men in the throne room. The owl was the sacred bird of the goddess Athena and was the symbol of philosophy and of wisdom.
The cricket: a small cricket is carved in the center of the only capital without decoration. The cricket, even if in rare cases it has been interpreted as a symbol of the evil, in reality is a symbol of intuition and good luck which drives away misfortunes.
4. Torre Mozza (truncated tower)
The tower is known as “torre mozza” due to its smaller height, compared to the Magistra Tower. The cross vault with almond shaped ribs was part of the medieval architecture of the tower. The ribs are supported by characteristic late Gothic capitals, two of which are decorated with acanthus leaves while two others with allegorical figures, difficult to interpret, which recall the late romanesque repertoire of the Abbey of St. Mary of Cerrate and the repertoire of the Church of St. Catherine of Alexandria in Galatina.
In the sixteenth century the floor of this room was raised. A niche houses a seventeenth-century fresco depicting the Pietà (italian for pity) with the dead Christ in the arms of his mother and the saints Francis of Paola and Paschal baylòn.
5. The roman amphitheater
Located in the heart of Lecce, in Piazza St. Oronzo, the Roman Amphitheatre bears witness to the degree of importance achieved by the ancient city of Lupiae during the Roman Empire. Discovered in the early twentieth century, about a third of the original structure is now visible, showing part of the arena and cavea, while the remaining portion is hidden below the surrounding square and the buildings facing it. The monument, already located at the end of the nineteenth century thanks to occasional discoveries, was partially excavated at the beginning of the twentieth century, as part of the radical remodelling of the centre of Lecce, which included the demolition of the buildings known as the Isola del Governatore to make space for the construction of the Bank of Italy building. The archaeological excavations, started in 1900 by the archaeologist Cosimo De Giorgi and continued until 1940, have allowed the city to reclaim the part of the Amphitheatre visible today.
The precise dating of the structure, used for gladiatorial combat and live hunting displays, is still debated today, but the most accredited hypothesis dates the original structure to the age of Augustus. Later restorations and improvements, including the building of the portico in summa cavea, would have been carried out during the reign of Hadrian.
During the Early Middle Ages the remains of the Amphitheatre were probably reused as part of the city’s fortifications. At least from the 11th century on, the arena’s decorative elements began to be dismantled, as we can see from the chalice capitals reused in the crypt of the Cathedral of Otranto. Between the end of the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth century, the remaining visible masonry structures were reused in the foundations of the Isola del Governatore complex, making the original remains invisible.
On February 1st 1906, the day after its rediscovery, the Amphitheatre was registered in the list of Italian buildings declared as “National Monuments”. The Amphitheatre, an elliptical circus structure, measuring a total of 102 x 82 metres, was able to accommodate between 12,000 and 14,000 people. The structure is partly built in square blocks and cement, and partly excavated to fully exploit the mass of Lecce stone beneath to support the stepped seating, thus creating the arena, the lower ambulatory and the radial tunnels.
The structure’s ground plan was divided into four sectors marked by four entrances that corresponded with the four main axes. At the level of the media cavea, access leads to the various sectors through a system of connecting stairs.
The outer wall originally consisted of 68 arches, of which 24 pillars remain. The perimeter gallery on the second floor was probably surmounted by a portico, attributable to the Hadrianic phase, which is assumed to be the origin of various fragments of architectural decoration in Pentelic marble found in the coverings.
The podium must also have been covered with marble slabs, while a continuous relief with venationes (hunting scenes) ran along the balteus, the parapet of the arena.
6. The roman Theater
Unlike the amphitheatre which is a typical Roman building, the theatre was known, and in a certain sense invented, by the Greeks. For this reason the theatre of Lecce was initially referred to as the “Greek theatre” (a name that has remained among local elders) when the first parts of the cavea (auditorium) were discovered.
However, there are substancial differences between the Greek and Roman theatre: while the Greeks used natural slopes and hills to dig and build the tiers, the Romans raised masonry structures thanks to the use of arches. In this way they were no longer limited by soil conformation but they were able to build theatrical buildings anywhere in the empire.
Like the amphitheatre, the theatre too was discovered by chance in the first half of the 20th century and it was built in the Augustan age with some alterations and enrichments in the Trajan and Hadrian age. Today only the lower cavea is visible and has elements of great interest.
The front scene was where the former convent of the Poor Clares currently stands, now the seat of MUST, the Historical Museum of Lecce, and it was particularly rich in the number and quality of its statues, being one of the most important on the national scene. The figures of the imperial family, from Octavian Augustus to Hadrian, were evoked in the representations of the divinities and heroes on the front scene: it was a real open-air museum with the copies of the most beautiful and famous statues of that age to express the maximum apotheosis of the Empire. Among these statues there is a very rare, even if headless, “Diana of Gabii” the only one at the moment in addition to that in the Louvre Museum.
The term “theatre” comes from the Greek “theaomai” which means to look, to observe. The Greek verb, however, refers not only to a simple observation but to an engaging involvement of the audience. It is evident that anything in the theatre must have an outcome in the spectator himself. So it was both in the Greek theatre, where comedies and tragedies proposed moral teachings, and in the Roman one, where on the other hand the architectural compositions and , in a certain sense, also the performances staged, had to recall the power of the imperial family and the prestige of those who offered the shows.
Before the front scene, which was covered by a canopy with terracotta decorations, the “pulpitum” or the actual stage rises. You can still see some grooves that had the function of supporting the wooden structure on which the actors performed, so that, as well as in current theatres, the wooden elevation could act as a sounding board and amplify the voices of the actors. The stage machines, where planned, moved on this structure.
The “ Auleum” closed the stage with the effect of a real curtain. Unlike current theatres, where the curtain is lowered from above or moves to the side, in the Roman ones it was fixed on poles that were in the stage pit (here in Lecce you can see the mouth of the pit but not its depth). The auleum was raised to cover the stage through a system of counterweights.
The orchestra, which in the Greek theatre had the role of housing the choir, here becomes the space for preliminary rites , so much that the square space in which the altar was placed is still visible. The first three steps, very low, were used to place marble thrones to host the prominent figures. These movable seats (“subsella”) were adorned with sculpted legs in the shape of a lion’s paw, parts of which were discovered in this theatre testifying their use.
A low wall, currently obtained with fragments of marble that were scattered over the area of the theatre, separates the orchestra from the cavea at the base of which the holes housing the supports of the velarium can still be seen.
Of the two entrances, the eastern one, used in the Middle Ages as a sewer passage channel, is still preserved.
In Roman times satire is preferred among performing arts and mime artists will be very successful allowing women to perform on stage.
A peculiarity of the theatre of Lecce concerns the architectural proportions. In the Roman theatre, the division in sections of the cavea and the staircases, as well as of all the constitutive elements of the various sectors, follows the scheme of Vitruvius which forms a dodecagon by rotating four equilateral triangles on a centre. The vertices of the dodecagon inscribed in a circle divide the quarter of the steps of the cavea.
The theatre of Lecce, on the other hand, does not use this scheme and instead of four, it uses only three equilateral triangles, so creating the geometric shape of the enneagon. Apart from the use of three or four equilateral triangles, which can be inspired by purely dimensional choices, the use of the triangle as a proportional instrument, which is typical of the Roman theatre unlike the Greek one which uses the square, includes the theatre of Lecce among those built according to the rules of “De Architectura” and so places it in full Augustan age as regards its architectural composition.