Lucca is one of my favourite smaller cities in Italia. While writing my last post, I realized that I have not yet dedicated a whole post to Lucca! Founded by the Etruscans as Luk, meaning marsh, Lucca became a Roman colony in 180 BC. In the 12th-13th centuries, the silk trade and banking were responsible for economic development and population increase. Lucca was an independent republic for 500 years, until Italian unification. Today the population is 88,000 and Lucca has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2006.
Lucca does not have 1 or 2 monumental sites-the city itself is the attraction! Lucca is best known for the well preserved, intact Renaissance walls encircling it. The complex defense network is still mostly intact, 12 m high and 30 m wide, with 6 porte – entrance gates and 10 ramparts. The only thing missing is the moat, which was filled in the 1800’s.
On top of the walls is Via delle Mura Urbane, a wide 4.2 km tree lined pathway that is popular for walking, cycling and running. When entering Lucca, the 16th C walls from can be seen from below. Bike rentals are available near most of the entry gates.
Lucca has a real ‘lived in’ feel to it. Walking through one of the gate tunnels is like stepping back in time. Lucca is flat, with a random street layout. Most of the centro storico is pedestrian only and full of biciclette to photograph. The streets are narrow and flanked by tall, narrow buildings. The many towers and other landmarks are often not visible from below, so it is easy and fun to get lost among the historic architecture and cobblestone streets.
The main street, Via Fillungo has beautiful storefronts and buildings. It connects Piazza Anfiteatro and Piazza San Michele. Piazza Anfiteatro’s oval shape is the ‘ghost’ of the 10,000 seat Roman amphitheater that once stood there. Entrance to the piazza is through brick tunnels.The stones were looted to build other structures, but the tall buildings in shades of yellow and cream with green shutters were built following the shape of the former amphitheater.
As in San Gimignano, defense towers were a status symbol for Lucca’s wealthy families in the 1300’s. Lucca’s skyline has several towers, the most famous being the 45 m Romanesque Gothic red brick Torre Guinigi. Built in 1384 by the Guinigi family of silk merchants, the tower is 45 m tall with 7 Holm Oak trees growing on top, symbolizing rebirth. The rooftop was originally used for dining, with the kitchen on the floor below. Imagine carrying dishes the 232 steps to the top! Admission is €5 single/ €8 family. A 2 day combination ticket can also be purchased that includes Torre delle Ore and Orto Botanico
At 50m Torre delle Ore is the tallest tower in Lucca. It started as a personal defensive tower, and when defense was no longer needed, it was turned into a clock in 1390. The present clock mechanism is from the 1700’s. It even has its own resident ghost legend-in 1623, a Lucchese woman who had sold her soul to the devil ran up to the top to try to stop time, but she didn’t make it. Climb the top to see rooftop Lucca and the best views of Torre Guinigi. In the photo below you can see Torre delle Ore and the campanile of San Martino.
Lucca has over 70 churches. The Gothic/Pisan Romanesque church of San Martino was started in 1070. It has a mismatched 14th C campanile-the top is white like the church, but the lower half is red quartz stone. The church façade has 3 levels of open arches and each of the 37 columns are different. There was a contest for the design of the columns and each artist submitted one. Instead of awarding a winner, all of the columns were used without paying the artists. Che furbi! San Martino is home to the famous relic, a cedar crucifix known as il Volto Santo di Lucca (the holy face) and works of art by Jacopo della Quercia, Ghirlandaio and Tintoretto.
Like much of Lucca, the church of San Michele in Foro was built on a much earlier structure. Piazza San Michele was formerly the Roman Forum. The façade has 4 rows of ornate arches and columns, similar to San Martino. I do not think artists contributed these columns for free! San Michele has works by Tuscan superstars Luca della Robbia and Filippino Lippi.
Lucca is the birthplace of Giacomo Puccini, and the house where he was born is now Museo Puccini. Admission is €7. If you are in Lucca in the evening, it is common to hear music coming from churches, piazze and the opera house Teatro del Giglio.
Lucca is beautiful to visit any time of the year……except for the first week of November! Unless you are attending, avoid visiting during Lucca Comics and Games. Lucca is NW of Firenze, closer to Pisa. The train station is right across the street from Porta San Pietro, one of the entry gates, making Lucca an easy day trip -90min from Firenze and 30 min from Pisa. Lucca really deserves a few days of its own though, and also makes a great base to see the rest of Toscana.
The photos in this post were taken on 4 separate visits over a 15 year period, which explains the dramatic weather fluctuations!
Photos of San Martino and San Frediano from wikimedia commons.
Buon viaggio, Cristina