Italy has always been one of the most beautiful countries in the world, where you can have a romantic holiday. The region of Tuscany is one of these places, where there are wonderful destinations like Florence, Siena, and Pisa which are popular places in Europe. There is also the city of Lucca which is a neighbour to all these cities; an old and historical city located on the western coast of Italy, in the valley of the Serchio River with the Apuan Alps to the north and the west.
The city contains huge numbers of historical religious structures that is why it was called the city of a hundred churches. Through the centuries Lucca has been known for its unique architectural style of building that played an important role in the history of architecture in Italy.
History of Lucca:
Lucca has a long history with invaders like the Romans, Ostrogoths, Lombards, Franks, Verona’s Scaligeri, and Napoleon. The city was founded by the Etruscans and then became a Roman colony in 180 BC. It was located at the crossroads to Parma, Florence, Rome, Pisa, and Luni and was a prosperous city. After 476 AD, Lucca became the residence of one of the three Lombard Dukes in Tuscany. After the Dukes came the Frankish in 774.
In the 9th and 10th centuries, Lucca became the main city in Tuscany and led the major roads between Lombardy and Rome, the Via Francigena. Despite having many struggles with its neighbours and ambitious noble houses, the city of Lucca remained independent until it fell to the French in 1799. When the French ruled Lucca, it was held to Élisa Baciocchi, a sister of Napoleon from 1805 until 1814.
After the French, came the Congress of Vienna in 1815 who assigned it to the Spanish infanta María Luisa, widow of the former king Louis of Etruria, then came her son Charles Louis who ruled the city in 1824 until he gave it up to Tuscany in 1847. Lucca was finally united to the kingdom of Italy in 1860.
Lucca is well known as the city of a hundred churches, such as Lucca Cathedral and San Michele in Foro, there are also the city walls that show how the city was defended through the centuries. Next to the churches and the city walls, you will find museums, beautiful public squares, and many restaurants and bars.
Things to Do in Lucca:
The cathedral is located in the square of San Martino, the most famous square in Lucca, and it was built in the 11th century and was reconstructed and redesigned in the 14th century. It is a wonderful cathedral, when you visit it you will see in the front facade with beautiful arches and carved pillars, this is evidence that the cathedral is an important place and contains many valuable items. After seeing the front of the cathedral, you will enter the corridor which is decorated with amazing boasts created by Lombard artisans in the 13th century. In the main hall, there are four magnificent carved scenes from the life of St. Martin, by Nicola Pisano, dating back to the 13th century.
On the right side of the church, there is a campanile, which is 69 meters high with coloured travertine and brick. There is also a famous stone carving of St. Martin and the beggar which was made in the 13th century and it is well known that this stone carving is one of the best examples of Romanesque sculpture. Other famous interior carvings in the cathedral are the pulpit by Matteo Civitali, paintings in the sacristy by Doménico Ghirlandaio, and soiled glass in the apse since 1485. You will also find a statue of St. John the Evangelist by Iácopo della Quercia to the left of the shelter. Then we come to the left transept, where you will see the tomb of Ilaria Del Carretto and it’s a great work by Iácopo della Quercia from the 15th century. One of the most beautiful works in the cathedral is the Volto Santo, which is a monument of Christ on the Cross. The Lucca Cathedral Museum contains many valuable things like medieval hymnals and intricate goldwork, including a crucifix by Pisani. This is one of the famous places in Lucca that you will surely love to experience.
San Michele in Foro:
This is another beautiful church that is located in the centre of Lucca and one of the famous attractions in the city of Lucca, which has a unique front facade that is not in other churches in Lucca. The church of San Michele was built between the 12th and the 14th centuries and the facade of carved and inlaid marble is fascinating and you can’t find anything similar in any other church in Lucca.
The Romanesque character of the interior of the church has been protected and is highlighted by the terra-cotta Madonna and Child by Andrea della Robbia. You will find many details from the carvings on the columns, to the stonework around the rose windows. In the church, you will find an amazing painting which is a panel of saints Roch, Sebastian, Jerome, and Helen and that is one of Filippo Lippi’s finest works.
Piazza Napoleone is one of the main squares in Lucca. It is surrounded by many important and famous buildings in the city. The square is located near the Piazza dell Anfiteatro another famous square there. While you are in the square, you will see these buildings, some of which are on the west side, such as the Della Provincia Palace that was built in 1578, and some in the southwest of the palace like the Church of San Romano that was built by the Dominicans in 1280 and inside, you will find the tomb of St. Romanus.
If you go to the north side of the square, you will come across the church of San Giusto that was built in the 12th century with a facade of sandstone and bands of marble and was reconstructed in Baroque style in the 17th century. There are many other buildings in the square, including the Giglio Theatre, the museum of del Risorgimento, and the Prefettura Di Lucca. The square of Napoleone is a very interesting place with many things to do there; so we are sure you will have a great time visiting its many attractions.
The Town Walls:
The old town of Lucca is surrounded by walls about 4 kilometers long with eleven fortresses and six gates. These walls were constructed in the Renaissance and are still standing until now, and they are also one of the most complete and well-preserved fortifications in Italy. The walls were built by Flemish engineers between 1504 and 1645 to protect the town and they were 12 meters high and 30 meters thick at the base. Then when Maria Luigia of Bourbon, who was the sister of Napoleon, came and ruled Lucca, she converted all the fortresses into a public garden.
Visitors can have a walk or cycle there amidst the wonderful trees surrounding the place and enjoy the beautiful scenery of the old town. You will love seeing the old gates of the town of Lucca and especially the Porta San Pietro on the south side, the Porta Santa Maria on the north side, and the Porta San Donato at the west end.
Piazza dell Anfiteatro:
Another famous construction in Lucca dating back to Roman times, and still you can see the elliptical shape of the Amphitheater evident even if none of the original structure is. The Roman Amphitheatre was built in the 2nd century but unfortunately, it was destroyed during the invasions and its remains lie under the street level. In the middle ages, the houses were built in the square on the walls of the superstructure, preserving the oval outline of the arena. The buildings that surround the square have been constructed in the same elliptical shape and are all different heights and colors; the shades of yellow, cream, and white create an inviting open space. Near these wonderful buildings, you will find restaurants and cafes with seats outside in the square, where you can sit and relax.
Although Lucca is full of well-known towers, the Guinigi tower is perhaps the most famous one in town. The tower was built in the 14th century and it is a great example of Romanesque and Gothic architecture where it is designed with uncovered bricks with a series of arched windows. The tower is a part of the Case dei Guinigi which is a complex of two mansions belonging to the noble family that brought Lucca a period of peace and growth at the beginning of the 15th century. The Guinigi Tower is 45 meters high, and on the top, you can see many places around the city of Lucca and another interesting thing is its rooftop garden with beautiful Holm Oak trees that stand for the renaissance and have become an icon of Lucca.
The Palace was built in 1667 and inside the walls in the old town of Lucca. Pfanner Controni Palace is famous for its open two-story loggia with a staircase, a harmonious Renaissance creation. In the palace, you will find a wonderful garden that was created many years after the palace was built by architect Filippo Juvarra, who had done many works in Turin too. When you enter the garden, you will see monumental statuary, exotic trees, hedges, a lemon house, a pool, and a fountain in a harmonious arrangement that makes it seem much more spacious.
The church of San Frediano was built between 1112 and 1147 and dedicated to the Bishop of Lucca. If you are visiting the church you will see the lower part of the facade is plain but the part above it is a big mosaic of Christ flanked by two angels with the 12 Apostles below. If you went to other churches in Italy, you might not see a façade decorated in mosaics except in this church and San Miniato al Monte in Florence.
Orto Botanico Comunale di Lucca:
The magnificent Communal Botanical Gardens of Lucca is located on the southeastern side of the old town of Lucca. The garden was founded in 1820 by the Duchess of Parma and it contains lovely and beautiful types of trees, plants, and flowers. Also, you will find greenhouses, an arboretum, a herbarium, and several ponds and water features. This is a great place to visit for seeing wonderful views and relaxation.
Giacomo Puccini is a famous composer who was born on 22 December 1858 and his house is now converted into a museum that contains personal mementos of his life and work. Before you enter the museum, there is the statue of the composer in the courtyard standing there and when you go inside the museum you will find many posters advertising his operas, musical scores, letters, and furniture in the museum. If you visit the museum, you should look for Di Simo Cafè in Via Fillungo as it is a favorite place for artists and musicians and Giacomo Puccini was one of them. The café still looks the same as it was in old days and Puccini is a hero in this town so much so that there is a day in the year dedicated to his music.
Museum of Villa Mansi:
This villa was built by the Benedetti family in the 16th century and lies about 25 minutes to the northeast of Lucca. It has an amazing front façade with an ornate staircase and an arched portico. Also, the villa contains some beautiful flowers and a group of marble statues. The villa is another attraction in Lucca that you will love to visit especially in the afternoon sun.
The National Museum:
The villa Guinigi which is the national museum now was at first built for Paolo Guinigi, who ruled Lucca from 1400 to 1430. The villa is a wonderful building with a gallery room and a group of triple windows framed in arches in a Gothic style. The museum contains collections of Etruscan and Roman sculpture and these sculptures were discovered in a necropolis at San Concordio in 1982. There is also other art from Lucca’s middle age churches and a painting from the 13th century of the Crucifixion by Berlinghiero Berlinghieri. The National Museum is such a great attraction for art lovers and I recommend you to visit it if you happen to be in Lucca.
Aqueduct of Nottolini:
The Aqueduct of Nattolini is located on the side south of Lucca. The canal was used in the old days to carry water from the mountains into the city and it consists of 400 arches that are made from stones that extend for 3 km. Make sure to visit the Aqueduct of Nattolini and see its beginning at the Temple cistern until it ends at the Parco dell’Acquedotto. While you visit the canal, you will also enjoy the beautiful landscape surrounding the place and the wonderful construction of the canal.
Torre delle Ore:
The Torre della Ore is a clock tower, defensive fortification, and one of the tallest towers in the city of Lucca. The tower was constructed in the 14th century and it was a defensive tower in the old days and after a long time of no wars, it was transformed into a horological clock tower. While you visit the Torre della Ore, you can climb about 200 steps so you can check out the beautiful view of the city and many other towers, as well as the Cathedral and Basilica of San Frediano.
Church and Baptistery of San Giovanni and Santa Reparata:
The church was built in the 4th century, but through the years many restorations made it typical of Tuscan Romanesque style. When you enter the church, make sure to look at the columns and you will also see some recycled Roman stonework. The excavation that took place under the church will show more about the Roman history that surrounded its construction. You will find many remnants of Roman architecture like ruins and mosaic floors of a Roman home, thermal baths, and Longobard tombs from the 7th century. Visitors can climb the bell tower and see wonderful views and the church rings with Puccini arias, where many shows are held by singers and musicians who perform his work nightly.
The town of Carrara is located at the north of Lucca and it is famous for its marble quarries and also known for being the place where Michelangelo went to personally choose perfect pieces for his works. In Carrara, there is also the Cathedral of Sant’Andrea built between the 11th century and the 14th century, which has such beautiful Romanesque and Gothic facade with a precise rose window which is engraved from local marble. One of the other beautiful things in Carrara is the Madonna delle Grazie church, which contains beautiful marble decoration. The Marble Museum is another attraction in Carrara, the museum presents the history of marble from Roman times to modern days. In the museum, you can see many kinds of marble and also see Carrara’s translucent stone that Michelangelo used in his important works.
Da Pasquale Restaurant:
You can’t visit all these places without relaxing and having a good meal at Da Pasquale, one of the best restaurants in Lucca, specifically on the Via del Moro in the heart of the old town. The restaurant is well known for its seafood and also offers some wonderful Italian dishes, such as ravioli and pasta. You can enjoy a glass of wine with their delicious dishes as well.
Vinni Liquori Vanni:
This is the perfect place for wine lovers; its huge wine cellar contains large amounts of different kinds of wine. You can try some samples or participate in a wine tasting session. Vinni Liquori Vanni is such a great place to visit and spend some time for a different experience.
The Apuane Alpine Park:
The park is located just an hour to the north of Lucca. It is a huge landscape of natural beauty that also includes parts of the Apuan Alps Mountain. The mountain peaks include Monte Pisanino, Monte Tambura, Pania della Croce and Monte Sagro. It is a great place to explore, hike and climb, and it is also famous for its beautiful marble. Other interesting things you can do or visit in the park are the ancient marble quarries, the stunning Lipu Oasis, and the Casola Museum.
Everybody knows the city of Pisa, it is only 17 km away from Lucca, and so if you are visiting Lucca, you can go on a day trip to Pisa. If you go by train, bus or even car, it will only take you around 30 minutes. When you reach Pisa, you will find many wonderful places to visit on the River Arno and you will have the opportunity to take some wonderful pictures. Some of the lovely attractions that you can visit are the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Piazza del Miracole along with the many museums and galleries around the city.
Places to Stay in Lucca:
San Luca Palace Hotel:
It is a mid-range price hotel located inside the city walls that offers a scrumptious breakfast menu as well.
Il Seminario Bed & Breakfast:
A good budget hotel with family rooms and is known for its delicious breakfast pastries.
Alla Corte Degli Angeli:
It is located in a quiet street, so if you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, this hotel is for you. It is also affordable, with beautifully decorated rooms, hand-painted murals, and a tasty breakfast.
Lucca is such a wonderful town with many opportunities for outings and activities whether visiting one of its famous churches or parks to relax or even a place to have a great meal. You will be amazed by its beautiful architecture and buildings from centuries ago along with the blend of modern-day attractions and numerous restaurants.