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The fascinating archaeological itinerary of the Museo Provinciale in Lecce Founded in 1868 by the charismatic Duke Sigismondo Castromediano the museum, rich in archaeological finds, offers itineraries on various subjects: prehistory, the Messapians, Romans, the Middle Ages, Baroque Age and also works by contemporary artists by Antonio Cassiano
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Red figure Apulian amphora with Achilles
and Briseis

The traveler who arrives in Lecce should visit the Museo Provinciale where he will be able to admire what the town has not offered him, namely the striking Messapian civilization which was established between the 9th and 3rd centuries B.C., before the arrival of the Greeks and the Romans, or he will be able to revisit the splendors of the Middle Ages or the Baroque Age through paintings, sculptures, ceramics and other refined artifacts collected from 1868 by the Duke Sigismondo Castromediano.

Castromediano was the founder and first director of the museum. A charismatic personality of the opposition to the Bourbons, he was sent to prison and exiled. He returned to Lecce after the fall of the Francis II of the Two Sicilies and the end of the Kingdom of Naples, becoming a member of parliament in the new parliament of unified Italy. He then dedicated himself to the study of local history.

He collected the first finds and put them on display in some premises of the former monastery of the Celestini, where the museum remained until 1979, when it was moved to the present building which is a former boarding school built by the Jesuits at the end of the 19th century. After restoration by Franco Minissi between 1970 and 1979, it became the Provincial Museum and Library.

The visit can be carried out according to the itinerary one prefers: Prehistory, the Messapians, the Romans, the Middle Ages, the Baroque Age and contemporary artists.

The prehistoric archaeological sites tell us about the evolution of a land inhabited by man from the Palaeolithic Age. The result is a summary, from the Middle Palaeolithic to the Aeneolithic, from stone and ceramic working techniques with chronological references and how the artifacts were used. Some artifacts are particularly interesting such as the bone divinities depicting Mother Earth – called the Venuses of Parabita, from the place where they were found –, and the reproductions of some graves in their original state as they were discovered by archaeologists.

The archaeological itinerary continues with the Messapians, a population which probably originated from the Orient and established itself during the Iron Age. They developed a civilization that opened commercial and cultural contacts with Greece, from which they assimilated the alphabet – as numerous inscriptions kept in the museum show –, and also some ceramic shapes, developing at the same time some exclusive ones, such as the unique trozzella. From the Greeks the Messapians also adopted some social models, such as living in towns surrounded by large walls, as can be seen in the panels of the reproductions of Rudiae, Cavallino, Roca, Alezio, Ugento and other Messapian towns which are today known thanks to the archaeological excavations which are thoroughly illustrated in the museum.

Here all the types of materials (ceramics, bronze, terracotta, glass, etc.) are displayed with all the answers to all sorts of questions: how they were made, how they were used, how they were found and restored. Among those of greater value and uniqueness the following should be mentioned: the red-figure pelike (vase to contain wine and olive oil) depicting an event prior to the mythical war of the Seven against Thebes, that is to say Polyneices donating Harmonia’s necklace to Eriphyle, so as to convince her husband Amphiaraus to join the war against Thebes, still knowing that he would die there. The Panathenaic amphora depicting the conversation between Achilles and Briseis, a noteworthy work of one of the first and most talented artists, the krater with small columns imported from Athens with three Sileni in the act of squashing grapes with their feet, the bronze belts that were part of the defense armor, the brazier to roast meat and the strigils in bronze used by athletes to scrape their bodies and for depilation. Then one can see the black varnish ceramics with floral, geometric and figured motifs overpainted in yellow, white and red. The krater depicting a dancing Maenad is extremely beautiful and well kept.

Messapic ceramics are instead characterized by the absence of varnish and by decoration made in dark brown and red tempera with vegetal and geometric motifs.

Figures appear rarely, but in a trozzella found in Rudiae one can see Heracles in the garden of Hesperides.

In the most refined and elegant museum in Puglia, museography can be appreciated by the visitor. A sort of archaeological walk across Salento, from Lecce to Leuca, where the visitor can see the white marble statues from the Roman theater of Lecce, the painted stone doors of a hypogeum in Rudiae, the archaic capitals in carparo (local tuff) found in Cavallino, a caryatid in Lecce stone from a Messapic hypogeum in Vaste, as well as the excavation information material concerning all the archaeological sites in Salento.

On the third floor of the museum one can have an idea of how the baroque style flourished in Lecce and all the villages in Salento with the fascination of medieval heritage which is still present everywhere. The visitor will not regret having climbed the stairs to see the art gallery with its panel paintings, sculptures, ceramics and pictures which narrate of a town that has always been alive and culturally ambitious.