Monday, August 2, 2010

The Turk and the Dragon

Facade, Basilica di Santa Croce, Lecce. Photo: Clifford A. Wright

Wherever you look in the Mediterranean lies an untold or unknown story for Americans not well versed in history. The Mediterranean is so rich in history it’s dizzying and sometimes one will feel overwhelmed especially if you go unprepared. The more you know the more you get out of a trip to the Mediterranean. Here’s one little example found in the unique Baroque style of the Basilica di Santa Croce in Lecce in Italy’s Salento Peninsula. The principals responsible for the structure were Gabriele Riccardi who began work in 1549 and Francesco Antonio Zimbalo, Cesare Penna, and Giuseppe Zimbalo who continued adding layer upon layer for the next 100 years. What you see today is the decorative symbolism creating an allegorical feast that can be digested only if you know the story.

This detailed photo of the exterior shows one of the Turkish prisoners from Battle of Lepanto (1571), one of the most important and significant battles in history. The dragon was the symbol of the Boncompagni, family of Pope Gregory XVI. Behind these stone workings lies a culture that appreciated the Baroque, yet the food of the town is not Baroque. It’s simple food based to a large extent on homemade dried pasta, even to this day, and simple vegetables such as chicory, fava beans, and other legumes. However, an appreciation of the food of Lecce, or Apulia for that matter, will be enriched by understanding the economic and cultural background of the people of the Salento Peninsula. This can be analogous to how much you would want to know about the Turk and the dragon on the façade off Santa Croce and what led men to build it.

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