Lucca is one of Tuscany's most beloved artistic cities, an essential part of any tour of the region. Nicknamed the town of a hundred churches on account of its incredible number of places of worship, it is unique among city-states for having maintained its independence up until 1847.
Lucca sits in the center of the Lucca plain, a breathtaking landscape that was sculpted by the river Serchio and is dotted with medieval towns.
Lucca was built to a medieval plan, and much of its architecture bears witness to the various historical ages that it has lived through. Historical circumstances demanded that Lucca fortify itself, and so its immense artistic and architectural heritage is ringed by a massive circuit of defensive walls.
Explore the streets of the historic centre
The historic center of Lucca will be one of the most delightful memories of your trip. Walking hand in hand or cycling one after the other, you will be smitten by the elegance at Lucca's heart, its intricate web of little streets and piazzas, and its vibrant colours.
Permit yourselves a long look through the shop windows and into the boutiques that line via Fillungo, Lucca's principal shopping street.
Among the greatest pleasures of your visit is simply strolling the pedestrian lanes, getting into the flow of local relaxation, where long-time residents come out to see friends and spend time chatting, catching up on the news, enjoying the good life.
There are numerous benches built into buildings that invite folks to sit and chat. Nearly all of the central area is an automobile-free zone where you can walk without fear of getting run over.
Notice how many bicycles are being ridden here by young and old, with ideal conditions of smooth paving, flat terrain and wide lanes. This is ideal territory for endless walking, surrounded by buildings of great beauty and shops with enticing temptations.
A most notable attraction is the Roman amphitheater - converted into piazza dell'Anfiteatro by architect Lorenzo Nottolini.
Piazza dell'Anfiteatro is one of the most iconic and beautiful places in Lucca. Built on the ruins of an ancient Roman amphitheatre, the famous oval-shaped piazza is today one of Lucca's most favoured meeting spots, especially on a sun-kissed Sunday. In piazza dell'Anfiteatro you can also expect to find many bars and trattorias that serve aperitifs and traditional local dishes.
The Roman amphitheater, now about three meters underground, was built outside the walls in the 1st or 2nd century AD. Elliptical in shape, it had on the outside two superimposed orders of fifty-five arches on pillars that supported the auditorium, formed in turn by twenty steps and capable of holding ten thousand spectators.
The building, which fell into ruin during the barbarian invasions, became for centuries a kind of quarry for building materials : not surprisingly, during the Middle Ages it was referred to as "caves". In particular, it was stripped of the entire cladding and of all the columns. Later on the remaining ruins began to overlap houses and buildings which, using the residual structures of the Amphitheater, perfectly preserved its shape.
The current splendid square , singular and unique of its kind, was built by the architect Nottolini (from 1830) who had some buildings built in the center demolished and created around it the street called the Amphitheater.
The magnificent and intact circuit of walls was built in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. They run for more than 4 kilometres and are strengthened by no fewer than 10 bastions; you can walk along the top of them too. They are still the best vantage point over the city. From here you can have a peaceful, relaxing walk, surrounded by the panorama of the hills.
Lucca’s historic walls were built between the mid-1600s and early 1800s and are still intact today, representing a valuable cultural resource not only for the city but for the territory as a whole. The walls today are actually the fourth version, the first one having been built by the Romans in the 2nd century BCE, the second one dating to the Middle Ages, finished in 1270, and the third stared at the end of the 1500s and was similar to the current walls.
When considerable advances were made in military technology, it was decided that the walls should be improved and fortified. Add to this the fact that Florence’s dominion in those days stretched as far as Altopascio, just 15 km from Lucca, and by 1544, renovations were underway, led by Italian and Flemish experts.
Interestingly, the work was so vast and intense, that nearly 2,000 workers were needed per day and people from the surrounding countryside were required to lend a hand at least once a week! The walls count 12 enceintes with ramparts, 11 bastions and 6 dates (there were only 3 originally) and stretches for 4.2 km around. They were never used for defensive purposes, in the end, apart from one occasion, though it might not be what you think! When the River Serchio flooded in 1812, all the gates were closed and reinforced, saving the city of Lucca.
When the new Duchy of Lucca was entrusted to the Borbone family from Parma in 1815, Duchess Maria Luisa appointed the architect Lorenzo Nottolini (who also designed the famous Piazza dell'Anfiteatro) to transform part of the walls into a green space, which was later turned into a full-blown public park in the late 1800s.
The walls encircling the old town remain intact, even as the city expanded and modernized, unusual for cities in the region. Initially built as a defensive rampart, once the walls lost their military importance they became a pedestrian promenade, the Passeggiata delle Mura Urbane, a street atop the walls linking the bastions. The walls boast many spots to play and relax, especially around the bastions and ramparts, equipped with benches, tables, drinking fountains and games for children.
One of the city's jewels is without a doubt its cathedral, the Duomo di San Martino, whose Romanesque façade is strikingly off-kilter: one of the arches in its portico is smaller than the others, cramped for room by the pre-existing bell tower. Inside San Martino you can admire paintings by artists as important as Tintoretto and, above all, the famous funeral monument to Ilaria del Carretto, sculpted by Jacopo della Quercia.
The foundation of the Cathedral of San Martino at Lucca is, according to tradition, attributable to Saint Frediano, the Bishop of Lucca who died in 588. Bishop Giovanni I decided, in 780, to bring the body of Saint Regolo here from Populonia, leading to the construction of a crypt and a new, sumptuous presbytery decorated in marbles and metallic gates. As early as 855 the facade boasted a porch which was destroyed in 905 and rebuilt in 928. Between 1060-1070 the church was completely rebuilt at the wish of Anselmo da Baggio, who became Pope Alessandro II (1061-1073) and who consecrated the church in the presence of 23 bishops and Matilde di Canossa.
In 1308 Bishop Enrico II gave 14 braccia at the east end of the church allowing them to construct the present day tribune and apse. During the 14th century it was decided to undertake a reconstruction of the entire church, work which intensified around 1374, executed by Florentine architects and finished in 1476. At that point the interior was re-embellished with works by Matteo and Vincenzo Civitali, Giambologna and Muzio Oddi.
The façade has a typical Lucchese Romanesque style and was built in 1204 by Guidetto da Como. The most evident characteristic of this style is that the three large arches, supported by imposing pillars, have varying widths. Other features of the cathedral include a mysterious labyrinth sculpted into the pillar supporting the narrowest arch, alongside which is an allegorical quote that refers to the way out of the darkness.
Piazza San Martino
An evocative corner home to the city’s cathedral. Piazza San Martino is located in the center of Lucca and is often used to cultural events, like the antiques market held on the third Saturday and Sunday of the month. It takes its name from the cathedral, dedicated to San Martino – St. Martin of Tours – and vaunts an asymmetrical façade that dominates the entire piazza. According to tradition, the church was founded in the 6th century by Saint Fridianus, rebuilt by Anselmo da Baggio in 1060 and renovated in the 12th and 13th centuries.
Opposite the cathedral is Palazzo Bernardi, built in the mid-15th century using a project by Bartolomeo Ammannati.
If instead you would rather have some tender moments before one of the city's most beautiful panoramas, climb to the garden on top of the Torre Guinigi, which was built in the second half of the fourteenth century by the Guinigis, a rich merchant family.
It’s one of the few remaining towers in Lucca, a city which in the fourteenth century was crammed with these ancient skyscrapers. A tower’s height reflected the prestige and importance of the family that it belonged to and in fact, families competed to have the tallest tower. The Guinigi tower is typical with its Romanesque-Gothic architecture in the local style, and decorative cornices and coats of arms.
What makes this tower unique is the small garden at its summit. The Guinigi family planned this garden to represent rebirth and renewal. The garden is divided into three flowerbeds where Holm oaks are planted. There is a wonderful view of the city of Lucca and surrounding mountains from the garden.
There is also an ancient legend surrounding the tower: the tallest tree was planted by Paolo Guinigi who was captured and imprisoned in the castle by Francesco Sforza. It is said that before his execution, all the leaves fell off the tree.
As you walk through the city streets, you will also come across the façade of the basilica of San Frediano, and then the piazza and sumptuous church of San Michele. The capitals on the façade of this latter church are sculpted into portraits of Italian heroes, including Garibaldi.
The current appearance of the church combines the romantic style with elements of gothic style. The façade is made up of four order of loggias and a huge marble statue of archangel Michele defeating a dragon with a spear is placed on top: according to legend, on the brightest days you can see the gleam of the emerald set on the surface of the statue centuries ago.
On the right side of the church there is the bell tower, originally built in the mid-12th century but then it was cut down by Giovanni dell’Agnello, doge of Pisa, because it was too tall.
Piazza San Michele in Lucca, also known as Piazza delle Catene due to the numerous marble columns connected by heavy metal chains, gets its name from the imposing church of San Michele in Foro, founded in the 8th century, when a hospice and a monastery also stood here. During the medieval period, a canal, la Fossa Natali, surrounded the piazza so to get inside the church you had to cross a wooden bridge known as Ponte al Foro.
The center of the piazza is dominated by a statue of Francesco Burlamacchi by Ulisse Cambi, put there in 1863. The piazza is bordered by medieval buildings which feature round arches and large windows. On the corner of Via Vittorio Veneto stands the Palazzo Pretorio, an amazing example of Renaissance construction in Lucca: the façade is embellished with a striking clock and the inside the loggia there is a monument to Matteo Civitali who was the main architect, busts of the explorer Piaggia and of the heroic Strocchi. The loggias of the palazzo often hold modern art exhibitions and gastronomic events.
Don't miss the long, narrow Via Fillungo, which contains all the city's chicest outlets; also make sure you see the rooms of the Palazzo Ducale in Piazza Napoleone. Outside the walls, you will find a beautiful district of Liberty-style villas, just next to the inhabited centre.
Visit the Giacomo Puccini Museum
If you are interested in music history you cannot pass up a visit to the birthplace of the great composer Giacomo Puccini. Among the rooms, you will find traces and relics from his work and pieces, in addition to his and his family's furniture and belongings. Then, immediately outside the museum, don't forget to take a photo of the composer's statue. Finally, if I were you, I would go and buy myself a present from the extremely well-stocked bookshop in the same piazza. Lucca has become a shrine for music lovers in recent years, thanks to the Lucca Summer Festival, which gets some of the most famous international artists in the world.
The Museum and Archaeological Complex of SS. Giovanni e Reparata preserves some of the most important traces of the history of Lucca, from the Roman era to the present day. The excavation and restoration campaign began in the late seventies, ending in the nineties with the transformation of the entire complex into a museum.
With a single entrance ticket, you can visit the Church and Baptistery of Santi Giovanni e Reparata, the adjacent baptistery, the bell tower and the archaeological excavations plus the Cathedral of Lucca and its bell tower.
The visit begins by entering the Romanesque basilica through a monumental portal, the only element of the church that remained intact in the reconstruction of the facade in 1622. The interior space, used as a museum and a stage for cultural events, allows you to appreciate the medieval volumes, to which frescoes and sacred furnishings were added in the following centuries, mainly from the seventeenth century and modern-day.
The adjacent Baptistery, which has always been connected to the church and enriched with modern furnishings and surviving frescoes, documents an evolution parallel to the church, which ended with the construction of the monumental late-14th century vault.
Inside the church, you can also admire the Chapel of Sant'Ignazio, a late seventeenth-century Baroque masterpiece designed by Domenico Martinelli, and a Roman sarcophagus dating from the second century AD.
The archaeological area located in the foundations of the church and the Baptistery is one of the most important archaeological sites in the city. A metal walkway path crosses the structures of the historic city cathedral, formerly dedicated to Santa Reparata, and the Baptistery, which has always been connected to the church. The evolution of Lucca from its foundation in Roman times to the Middle Ages is documented through the stratigraphic succession of the structures. The oldest part is the remains of a late-republican domus (2nd century BC), of which part of the mosaic flooring is still visible in the Baptistery area.
The Lucchese cuisine is one of Tuscany's tastiest. The stuffed pasta called tordelli is an absolute must-try, as are befanini biscuits, torta co' becchi and the traditional sweet bread buccellato. The saying goes: "Chi viene a Lucca e non mangia il buccellato è come non ci fosse mai stato" (anyone who comes to Lucca and doesn't eat buccellato might as well not have been there). The Tuscan cigar is another of Lucca's prides and glories.
The preceding information is from the Tuscany Official Tourist Information website.
HISTORY (from Wikipedia)
Lucca was founded by the Etruscans (there are traces of an earlier Ligurian settlement in the 3rd century BC called Luk meaning marsh in which the name Lucca originated) and became a Roman colony in 180 BC. The rectangular grid of its historical center preserves the Roman street plan, and the Piazza San Michele occupies the site of the ancient forum. Traces of the amphitheatre may still be seen in the Piazza dell'Anfiteatro.
At the Lucca Conference, in 56 BC, Julius Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus reaffirmed their political alliance known as the First Triumvirate.
Basilica of San Frediano: Frediano, an Irish monk, was bishop of Lucca in the early sixth century. At one point, Lucca was plundered by Odoacer, the first Germanic King of Italy. Lucca was an important city and fortress even in the sixth century, when Narses besieged it for several months in 553. Under the Lombards, it was the seat of a duke who minted his own coins. The Holy Face of Lucca (or Volto Santo), a major relic supposedly carved by Nicodemus, arrived in 742. During the eighth-tenth centuries Lucca was a center of Jewish life, the community being led by the Kalonymos family (which at some point during this time migrated to Germany to become a major component of proto-Ashkenazic Jewry). Lucca became prosperous through the silk trade that began in the eleventh century, and came to rival the silks of Byzantium. During the tenth–eleventh centuries Lucca was the capital of the feudal margraviate of Tuscany, more or less independent but owing nominal allegiance to the Holy Roman Emperor.
After the death of Matilda of Tuscany, the city began to constitute itself an independent commune with a charter in 1160. For almost 500 years, Lucca remained an independent republic. There were many minor provinces in the region between southern Liguria and northern Tuscany dominated by the Malaspina; Tuscany in this time was a part of feudal Europe. Dante’s Divine Comedy includes many references to the great feudal families who had huge jurisdictions with administrative and judicial rights. Dante spent some of his exile in Lucca.
In 1273 and again in 1277, Lucca was ruled by a Guelph capitano del popolo (captain of the people) named Luchetto Gattilusio. In 1314, internal discord allowed Uguccione della Faggiuola of Pisa to make himself lord of Lucca. The Lucchesi expelled him two years later, and handed over the city to another condottiero, Castruccio Castracani, under whose rule it became a leading state in central Italy. Lucca rivalled Florence until Castracani's death in 1328. On 22 and 23 September 1325, in the battle of Altopascio, Castracani defeated Florence's Guelphs. For this he was nominated by Louis IV the Bavarian to become duke of Lucca. Castracani's tomb is in the church of San Francesco. His biography is Machiavelli's third famous book on political rule.
Occupied by the troops of Louis of Bavaria, the city was sold to a rich Genoese, Gherardino Spinola, then seized by John, king of Bohemia. Pawned to the Rossi of Parma, by them it was ceded to Mastino II della Scala of Verona, sold to the Florentines, surrendered to the Pisans, and then nominally liberated by the emperor Charles IV and governed by his vicar. In 1408, Lucca hosted the convocation intended to end the schism in the papacy.
Lucca managed, at first as a democracy, and after 1628 as an oligarchy, to maintain its independence alongside of Venice and Genoa, and painted the word Libertas on its banner until the French Revolution in 1789.
Lucca had been the second largest Italian city state (after Venice) with a republican constitution ("comune") to remain independent over the centuries.
Between 1799 and 1800 it was contended by the French and Austrian armies. Finally the French prevailed and granted a democratic constitution in the 1801. However, already in 1805 the Republic of Lucca was converted into a monarchy by Napoleon, who installed his sister Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi as "Princess of Lucca".
From 1815 to 1847 it was a Bourbon-Parma duchy. The only reigning dukes of Lucca were Maria Luisa of Spain, who was succeeded by her son Charles II, Duke of Parma in 1824. Meanwhile, the Duchy of Parma had been assigned for life to Marie Louise, Duchess of Parma, the second wife of Napoleon. In accordance with the Treaty of Vienna (1815), upon the death of Marie Louise, Duchess of Parma in 1847, Parma reverted to Charles II, Duke of Parma, while Lucca lost independence and was annexed to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. As part of Tuscany, it became part of the Kingdom of Sardinia in 1860 and finally part of the Italian State in 1861.