Lucca a secret city behind its walls
Lucca is one of those cities in Tuscany that surprise its visitors for its astonishing architecture dated back to the Gothic era, just before the Renaissance. Lucca hides its treasures behind its city walls designed by Leonardo Da Vinci, nowadays used for nice walks or bike rides by the inhabitants.
In past I went many and many times in Lucca, for many different reasons, and all the times I go there, I discover a new different square, a new tower and a new church. Lucca is one of my favorite city of Tuscany, because is not overcrowded by tourists, and is still enjoyable for its elegance.
What you cannot miss to see in Lucca
- Torre Guinigi is the most important tower of Lucca, made in stone and bricks, and is one of the few remaining within the city walls. The most characteristic thing of this tower is that on its roof there is a hanging garden with seven holly oak. The Guinigi family during the 300s decided to build a tower to symbolize their power in the city of Lucca.
- Via Fillungo. If you are looking for a place for shopping or to have some relax, just walk through this main narrow street full of traditional shops and bars. Here is where you can taste the original “Buccellato”, the typical local cake of Lucca.
- Roman Amphitheater. Off the Via Fillungo and in Piazza Scarpellini there were the ruins of a Roman Amphitheatre. But during the Middle Ages some houses have been built and a square born on the area of the ancient amphitheater. Nowadays the “Piazza Anfiteatro” is famous for its particular round shape and to hosts many concerts and international performers for the Anfiteatro Jazz Festival.
- Duomo di San Martino is a Romanesque cathedral dates back to the 14th century, contains an important example of acheiropoieta, the “Volto Santo” (Holy Face), which is a wooden crucified Christ, which is said to have come into existence miraculously and not created by a human. This is a must see for who is traveling along the Via Francigena.
- Torre delle Ore is a clock tower and it’s the highest tower in Lucca (50 m, 164 ft). It was built in the middle age era, with the function to mark the time of the day, thanks to its bells and clock that you can see from Via Fillungo. The Torre delle Ore is tied to the legend of Lucida Mansi, the woman who sold her soul to the Devil to remain beautiful and young. The devil, however, would be back after thirty years to demand payment of the debt. At the end of thirty years Lucida Mansi, (during the night of the 14th August 1623) climbed the tower, ran panting to stop the bell, which was about to blink the hour of his death. At midnight, the Devil would take his soul. However, the legend is that Lucida did not reached in time the mechanism, so she couldn’t stop it and the devil took her soul away.
- Palazzo Mansi is a 16th century palace in Baroque style, which is hosting a National Gallery with a focus on Venetian, Flemish and Florentine painting, such as the Mannerist Pontormo and Paolo Veronese, Andrea del Sarto and Bronzino.
- Saint Michael’s Church is in the centre of the city in the homonym square Piazza San Michele that host also Palazzo Pretorio, a wonderful renaissance building. The basilica was started in the 12th century and finished in the 14th century and contains a larger-than-life size statue of the archangel Michael that crowns the gable.
- Saint Frediano’s Church is dedicated to an Irish pilgrim monk. Here you will find a gold mosaic with Christ in an aureole that dominates the façade, flanked by two angels with the twelve apostles in a row underneath. The interiors are Romanesque and I must mention the baptismal font from the mid-12th century with reliefs of the life of Moses around the outside. The fourth chapel of the left aisle, the so-called Cappella Trenta, contains a polyptych made in marble, with bas-reliefs by Jacopo della Quercia.
- Palazzo Pfanner was built around 1667 near to the northern fortification belt. It holds a Baroque garden with statues and fountains, where is possible taking a breath and enjoying the silence. The beautiful ornate staircase, connects the first floor to the second, where you can visit a small but precious collection museum of costume and accessories displays from the 18th and 19th.
- Piazza Napoleone is a large square with a monument of Maria-Luisa of Bourbon-Parma, who was really popular among the citizens of Lucca. The entire west side of the piazza is taken by the Palazzo della Provincia. It is a construction from 1578 where once lived Elisa Baciocchi, the sister of Napoleone. Here you can visit the Museo del Risorgimento, in the Cortile degli Svizzeri, that holds documents of Italian unification movement between 1851 and 1870.
Orto Botanico (Botanical Garden) is located in Via del Giardino Botanico, 14 in Lucca. It was established on 1820 by Maria-Luisa of Bourbon-Parma, and is a heart of green and calm just behind the city walls, which lead the visitor around the world in a few steps, thanks to its sounds, colours, and perfumes.
A legend says that once, the Devil kidnapped Lucida Mansi to bring her in the hell, to be repaid of the debt of having sold her thirty years of youth and beauty. He loaded her on a burning carriage, which went through the whole city from the Torre delle Ore. After making the round of the city walls, because all citizens of Lucca could hear her heart-rending cries, she disappeared in the pond of the botanical garden. Some say that diving in the waters of the pond you can still see the face of Lucida Mansi asleep on the bottom of the lake. Others claim that on the night of October 31 just before midnight, in the silence, the wind gets up and you may hear the hooves of horses running to rush toward the pond. The lucky ones may even catch a glimpse of the fiery carriage, launched in her eternal and unbridled race to hell.
- Domus Romana or “Casa del Fanciullo sul Delfino” is an archeological site in the center Lucca, discovered in 2010. This is the place where you can admire finds and walled structures dating back to the Roman Empire of the 1st century B.C., but not only. In fact the history path continues through the Longobards, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
Did you know that …
- Lucca remained an independent city state until the end of the 18th century.
- Giacomo Puccini, the famous Tuscan opera composer, was born in Lucca.
- The garden of Palazzo Pfanner was filmed in the 1996 movie of Jane Campion The Portrait of a Lady, with Nicole Kidman, adapted from the novel by Henry James.
- Every year, at the end of October, Lucca attracts thousand of colored and masked tourists for the Lucca Comics and Games. It’s the second biggest festival in the world of comics, games, and cosplay, after the Comiket of Tokio in Japan.
- In July, the city center hosts the biggest music festival in Tuscany, the Lucca Summer Festival. Every summer, international stars go onstage of Piazza Napoleone. Robbie Williams, Elton John, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Lenny Kravitz, The Eagles, Stevie Wonder and many many others played here.