In addition to its present-day Baroque beauty, Lecce has a long history stretching way back over 2,500 years. Nowhere is this legacy better seen than in the Roman amphitheater that forms the southern side of the town’s central Piazza Sant’Oronzo. The horseshoe-shaped theater dates from the second century BC, and although discovered in the early 1900s, it was only excavated in 1938. It lies well below the current street level, and more than half of it remains covered by the rubble of earthquakes and centuries of over-building.
It is estimated that when it was in its original state, the amphitheater was five stories high, could seat 25,000 spectators and was the scene of many gruesome gladiatorial conflicts guaranteed to entertain the legions of Roman soldiers billeted in the region. Beneath the arena, the pens that once housed the wild animals, prisoners and slaves can clearly be seen among the ruins. Under the watchful eye of the statue of Sant’Oronzo—the patron saint of Lecce—which sits atop a Roman column, it is currently used for more peaceful pursuits, among them a summer program of concerts and plays.
The amphitheater is at Piazza Sant’Oronzo in Lecce. It is free to walk around the perimeter at any time, while tours run from April through September. In April, May and September, there are tours from 10:30 a.m. to noon and from 5 to 7pm. In June through August, they run from 6 to 8pm.