Lucca

Lucca is situated some 20 km from the airport of Pisa and can be reached via the motorways (A12-A11 with toll) or through the SS12 (Strada Statale). The city is fully walled. On the ramparts, you can hike and bike over a length of 4,5 km.

Lucca was founded by the Etruscans. In the second century BC it became a Roman colony. In that time the city was walled in, but it was much smaller. The amphitheater was at that time (as indeed was common) outside the city walls, "to keep the hooligans out of town".

In the Middle Ages (12th century) Lucca became an independent republic, a status that it would keep until the 19th century.

The current city walls dating from the 16th and 17th centuries and were mainly intended as a defense against the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, which at that time was formed by the union of a number of city states. Lucca was the only independent city-state. Because the canons became more powerful, the ramparts to defend the city against the powerful neighbor needed to be strengthened. They therefore had gigantic dimensions: a total length of 4 kilometers, a height of 11 meters and a width of 30 meters. There were only three official gates. To the east, in the direction of Florence, there was no gate. Curiously the ramparts would never prove their worth. Florence indeed never attacked Lucca.

In the beginning of the 19th century Lucca was conquered by Napoleon, who donated the town to his sister Elisa. She turned the ramparts into a 'park'. She also realized the Piazza Napoleone, with the Palazzo Ducale on the west side. However, the planned statue of Napoleon was never put in place. In its place came the image of Marie-Louise of Bourbon.

The city is a true open-air museum; most streets are car-free. The main attractions are:

  • Duomo (1) : The cathedral was built in Pisan / Romanesque style, with abundant use of white marble. Inside there are also Gothic features (the pursuit of height and the galleries on the first floor, where the ladies in the early Christian period could attend Mass). The church is dedicated to Saint Martin.
    • On the front, the right arch of the façade is a bit smaller, a light mistake by the architect
    • Under the arches of the front, there are several bas-reliefs
      • St. Martin on his horse ripping his coat to give a portion to the poor.
      • Labyrinth, a symbol that you often encounter on the Via Francigena (Lucca is also on this pilgrim road to Rome).
      • Calendar with pictures of the months (middle left), including several references to the winemakers.
    • Inside the cathedral, the Volto Santo is kept. This is a cross of 4 meters high with a figure of Christ. It is said to be made by Nicodemus, one of the early followers of Christ. The legend goes that it landed after a difficult journey from the Holy Land in Lucca. It stranded on shore in a boat near Luni. However, the bishop of Luni could not get it ashore, something the bishop of Lucca succeeded in (a fresco of this scene can be seen in the San Frediano). On September 13, the crucifix is carried in a procession through the city.
    • On the right side of the church is a painting (the Last Supper) by Tintoretto on which the perspective was used for the first time. If you pass the painting from right to left you see this effect at best. Put a few coins into the machine to illuminate the painting.
    • The organ was played by Puccini. Puccini was born in Lucca in a family of organists (he belonged to the fifth generation). Puccini was primarily known for his operas. He died in Brussels but was buried in his villa at Lago di Massaciucollo at Torre del Lago, a town just south of Viareggio.
  • The Basilica di San Frediano, also in Romanesque style (12th century), was originally outside the city walls. When the city was extended in the 17th century, the church was situated within the city walls. It was thereby "reversed" to avoid the main entrance would be in the direction of the city walls. As a consequence, and contrary to what is customary, the altar of the church is not on the east side.

    The high middle part of the facade is a mosaic in Byzantine style, representing the Ascension of Christ. Noteworthy is that in the middle, the picture of Mary has been replaced by a small window with pointed arch.

    The basilica has a rectangular floor plan. Inside it is abundantly decorated with white marble. There are several attractions :

    • Beautiful font, decorated with scenes of the life of Moses. The small temple above the font is decorated with images that refer to the months of the year.
    • Chapel of the Augustinian (on the left) with frescoes of San Frediano and the Volto Santo (see the crucifix in the Duomo).
    • Family chapel Fatinelli (on the right), where the mummified body of the maid Zita lies. She was the maid of the family that smuggled bread outside to distribute it to the poor. When she was caught, there were only petals falling from her apron. When she was canonized, her body was exhumed and it proved surprisingly intact. Scientific research has found that this was a case of auto-mummification by a high concentration of lead in her body (which in turn came from the use of tin tableware).
  • San Michele in Fiore, with a beautiful façade on the top of which emerges the Holy Michael with the defeated Dragon. The original construction plans of the church have not been executed. The façade was built for a larger church.

Lucca - Duomo Lucca - San Frediano Lucca - San Michele

  • Torre : in medieval times, Lucca counted about 130 towers. They were like small castles within the city walls and were constructed to protect the inhabitants. The entrance was usually on the first floor, a moveable staircase being used to get in and out. The towers became always higher, but unfortunately they were not stable. Paolo Guinigi promulgated therefore, in the early 15th century, a law which imposed a maximum height. To make his own tower, the Casa del Guinigi (4), a little higher, he placed a small garden on top of it.

    The oldest towers were stone-built. Later ones were built in brick. In the Renaissance, they were then plastered. The upper floors of the towers often have smaller windows. They are the windows of the kitchens, which were placed at the top of the building so that in case of fire only the top would burn.

  • Piazza dell'Anfitheatro (5), is on the site of the Roman amphitheater, from which it has retained its oval shape. The amphitheater was originally outside the city walls. After the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century AD, it was used as a quarry. In the Middle Ages it was used as housing for the poor, later on even as a prison. On the east side you can still see some original remnants, including the monumental gate.

Lucca is also closely associated with Pinocchio. You see the little figure popping up in many souvenir shops. The writer of Pinocchio came from Collodi, a village between Lucca and Montecatini Terme. He was employed as a gardener at the villa Garzoni. He used the name of the village as a pseudonym. In Collodi there is also a theme park dedicated to Pinocchio. (Via Benvenuto Pasquinelli, Collodi). The gardens of the Villa Garzoni are open to the public. On Google Earth, it already looks fantastic. However, the comments on Trip Advisor are going from gorgeous to outrageous (and expensive - 13 EUR).


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