Lecce

Apula (Puglia) means “without water”. It’s an arid region where people pray to the saints in charge of rain for a drop of water. Had I not known that, I’d never guessed – it rained yesterday almost all day and poured all day today. It’s lousy when you have to tour in the rain, especially, when the temperature is in the low 50’s, while the weatherman back home had promised 70’s, and you, a trusty soul, did not bring your winter coat.
Southern cities built of honey-colored stone don’t benefit from murky weather.
Lecce is, actually, a pretty town with several Baroque churches; and I would have loved to walk its streets paved with slabs of Lecce stone longer, if it weren’t for the weather.
As it was, we spent only several hours there, touring the churches and remains of a mikvah found in the basement of a former synagogue. Apparently, Lecce was once home to a thriving Jewish community that was not confined to a ghetto but occupied an area adjacent to the synagogue. In 1495, the Jewish life in Lecce ceased to exist. Unlike most European cities, from which the Jews were expelled in the Middle Ages, unlike Spain, where they were given a choice to convert or leave the country, the good people of Lecce just massacred their Jews, burned the Jewish quarter to the ground, and built a beautiful church on the ashes.
1490’s was a really bad decade for the Jews of Western Europe, I must say!
The mikvah now is being converted into a small Jewish museum. I don’t know how I feel about that. On the one hand, I should rejoice: the Jewish presence here and the crime committed against them were acknowledged; on the other hand, this is another museum to the extinct (in this area) tribe and simply a money-making opportunity for the people who don’t give a hoot about Jews.
Anyways, our visit to Lecce interrupted by the deluge and the fact that the city closed for a siesta for almost four hours, we went back to Maglie to warm up and dry our drenched feet. By the time we arrived in Maglie, the rain stopped, and we took a walk on the main street. With the stores, bars, and restaurants now open and people milling around, this little old town was perfectly charming. It has a couple cute piazzettas, a duomo, a few old churches, several stately mansions, and charming courtyards. All that is in the middle of a medieval town with narrow winding streets and old stone houses. Surely, not a destination in itself, but a very nice place to stroll around if you happen to stay here overnight.

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