Lizzanello lies on a wide karst porous valley, filled with thriving olive groves, and the first recognized settlement in this area dates back to the Rudiae refugees fleeing from the ravaging attacks of the Norman king William I of Sicily, named “the Wicked”. The urban centre was probably born in the 11th century around the ancient church dedicated to San Lorenzo, now reduced to dust. From the 13th century on, this fascinating town was home to the large landowners that would succeed one another, from the Maresgallo family, to the Garzia and Paladini families, and then to the D’Afflitto family, that owned that town until the end of the feudatory system.
The first two symbols of the temporal and spiritual powers were first built in 17th century, along with the town’s demographic increase. You will marvel at the historical and architectural beauty of the first symbol, the castle, built along the pathway heading to the sea, which would later be the main reference line for the following expansion of the town. The castle’s corner tower, with its machicolations and big mascarons, will not only mesmerize you, but it will bring you back in time, right when the castle was fortified. In a town with no perimeter walls, you will be fascinated by the edificatory habits of that time, back when the castle and its big tower, which also served as the town’s main lookout post, were the only measures against the constant threat of foreign attacks.
A few steps from there, lies the main symbol of the religious power in Lizzaello, the Mother Church of San Lorenzo, originally dedicated to “Santa Maria della Pietà”. This example of a sacred yet fortified building will make you once again relive the history of the whole Salento peninsula, historically characterized as a small community struggling daily to hold back the invaders’ attacks and robberies.
The town’s street sculptures also exemplify the deep and old religious sentiment that the people of Lizzanello share for their patron Saint, who reportedly put an ending to the a cholera outbreak in the town, back in 1867. Along with the Mother Church, the town’s square and the nineteenth-century monument, erected in memory of the cholera outbreak, are also devoted to the Saint. This last monument, built by the Michele, Antonio and Raffaele Rizzo, is made entirely out of Lecce stone and it is surmounted by a statue of the Saint looking over the Mother Church. In order to experience Lizzanello’s religious atmosphere at its best, you should visit the town during the two yearly events dedicated to the worship of the Saint, the first one taking place on January the 19th and known as focara – a commemorative event in which a huge pile made out of small pieces wood is set fire to – and the second one taking place on August the 10th.
Your tour of the town will include a walk through its narrow and uneven alleys, where you will have the chance to take a look at the facades of the peculiar nineteenth and twentieth-century single-level homes. The gracious internal alleys you will find there, hidden by their vaulted ceilings, will tell you more about scenes of the every-day life in the town than anything else ever will. Moreover, the small Annunziata and the Immacolata chapels will monopolize your attention, with their precious altars dating back to the 17th or 18th century, examples of the skills of the local craftsmen, who are able to turn Lecce stone into extraordinary works of art.
On a bulding’s frontal side in Via De Giorgi, lies a plaque commemorating the birth of the famous scientist Cosimo De Giorgi on February the 8th 1842, to whom we all owe the groundbreaking volume La Provincia di Lecce – Bozzetti di viaggio.
Throughout your tour in Lizzanello you will be accompanied by the remote scents of the local elixirs of this ancient land, the ‘vincotto’ and the olive oil. The first is made by slow cooking the grape-must obtained from Negroamaro and Malvasia Nera grapes, collected after a long withering process, while the second is obtained after extracting the olive juice.