Piazza Sant'Oronzo

Square in Lecce

Piazza Sant’Oronzo Lecce
CC BY-SA 1.0 / Bernard Gagnon

Few cities are as closely identified with their central square as Lecce is with Piazza S. Oronzo. For the people of Lecce, this square serves as the main gathering place, a hub of entertainment, and a prime location for shows and musical events, all under the watchful eye of Saint Oronzo, who has observed city events from atop his column for over three centuries.

In Lecce’s historic center, where urban spaces lack broad perspective views and monuments seem to appear around corners almost by chance, Piazza S. Oronzo stands out for its singularity. The scenery here is markedly different from other parts of the ancient city. Surrounding the square, one finds some of Lecce’s most valuable buildings, such as the Church of S. Maria delle Grazie, the Palazzo dei Tribunali, and the Palazzo di Città, interspersed among the other 19th-century and contemporary architecture.

In the center, the curvilinear medieval structures that once spiraled around the square are absent, having been demolished to make way for the Roman amphitheater from the imperial age. The ancient square, once known as “Merchants’ Square,” was vibrant with life amidst the ruins of this enormous monument, with enigmatic wall blocks emerging above street level. The citizens knew there was something mysterious beneath and believed that various tunnels connected to the ancient city of Rudiae.

In 1900, during the construction of the Bank of Italy, scholar Cosimo De Giorgi recognized the remains as part of a Roman building and began archaeological investigations throughout the square. Interest in glorifying the splendors of Roman Lecce, especially during the rise of fascism, led to the amphitheater’s further excavation and display.

In 1938, driven by a desire for magnificence, a demolition frenzy led to the rapid destruction of significant historical structures, making way for the amphitheater—a colossal building for Roman-era shows. This changed the square’s shape and orientation. Miraculously, three monuments were saved and now contribute to the square’s identity: the Sedile, the Church of S. Marco, and the column with the statue of S. Oronzo.

New buildings with a distinct rationalist style were erected along the perimeter: the INA building, the Banco di Roma, and the Palazzo della Borsa, all featuring porticoed galleries facing the square. This orderly arrangement of business buildings replaced the ancient Piazza dei Mercanti.

In the center of the square is a mosaic representing the city’s coat of arms with the “She-wolf under the Holm Oak,” created in 1930 by Giuseppe Nicolardi. Locals often avoid stepping on it for superstitious reasons.

On the façade of the current Banco di Napoli, you can see the “Clock of Wonders” in Art Nouveau style, made in 1955 by Francesco Barbieri from bronze and enameled copper. A recent restoration has returned it to its original beauty, highlighting its rich ornamental details and symbolism. Weighing 20 quintals, standing 10 meters high, and featuring 52 bronze castings, it has been described as “one of the largest clocks in the world.”

The Piazza Sant'Oronzo appears in our Complete Guide to Visiting Lecce!

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Visiting Piazza Sant'Oronzo

Address: Piazza Sant'Oronzo, Lecce, Province of Lecce, Italy
Duration: 20 minutes

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