Lucca is one of the most beautiful and best-loved cities of art in Tuscany, a must-see on a classic itinerary discovering the region. Like many Italian towns, Lucca has a history of domination by a long list of invaders and rulers. The balanced mix of eras and lifestyles is astonishing: from the imposing Renaissance walls, to the rich 18th-century palaces, to the contemporary Lucca. And nothing is out of place in the magnificent urban context.
Visit Lucca: things to do, suggestions and attractions
The historical centre of the town has maintained its medieval appearance intact: the fine architecture, the ancient and numerous churches (Lucca is also called the city of 100 churches), the many towers, bell towers and monumental Renaissance palaces.
Let’s discover all the things to do around the town!
The city walls
The walls of Lucca (with a perimeter of 4.2 km, 30 metres wide and 12 metres high) are the symbol of the town; for that reason Lucca is also called the walled city.
The town walls were built by Flemish engineers between 1513 and 1645 to protect the city; they are still admired all over the world today because they are the only example of modern defensive walls that have survived intact to this day. Walking along the walls, it is still possible to see the gunboat areas, the moat and the dungeons. To come into the city centre, you have to pass through one of the six 16th-century gates.
Between 1823 and 1832, Maria Luigia of Bourbon (Napoleon’s sister, to whom he had given Lucca as part of the Duchy of Parma) converted the old fortifications into a public garden and that is the way it is now.
Today various events take place on these walls during the year: from music, to gardening, to sport and to historical re-enactments.
So don’t miss walking – or bicycling – on the town walls and on the tree-shaded ramparts.
The Cathedral of San Martino in Lucca
The Cathedral of San Martino – magnificent example of Renaissance Romanesque architecture – is one of the places not to be missed. It was rebuilt in the 13th century on the ruins of an earlier church, while the portico was decorated with fine sculptures by Lombard artisans.
Four beautiful 13th-century scenes from St. Martin’s life by Nicola Pisano make the main façade more attractive.
On the right side of the façade a labyrinth has been sculpted representing the myth of Ariadne and Theseus, a work that mixes sacred and profane. Besides, on the same side, the bell tower rises, 69 meters high, made of light-colored travertine and bricks.
Inside the Cathedral you can find one of Jacopo della Quercia’s masterpieces: the sarcophagus of Ilaria del Carretto. It is made of light-coloured marble and it represents the girl in a quiet air, her arms crossed over her chest and with a dog cuddled at her feet.
The Church of San Michele in Foro (Lucca)
The other symbolic Church of Lucca is San Michele in Foro, in the homonymous square. It is often mistaken for the Cathedral of Lucca because of its location in the centre of the town.
The Church was built between the 11th and 14th centuries and it is a masterpiece of Gothic-Romanesque architecture with a mixture of styles. It was built in the place of the former Roman forum (this is why it is called San Michele in Foro).
The particularly high façade is decorated with four orders of loggias, on the top of which there is a large marble statue of the archangel Michele defeating a dragon.
Strolling Lucca’s historic center, it is impossible not to come across the characteristic Piazza dell’Anfiteatro (Anfiteatro Square), with its unusual elliptical shape. It was built in 1800 on the ruins of the ancient Roman amphitheatre by the architect Lorenzo Nottolini and it is closed in an embrace of medieval houses.
Today Piazza dell’Anfiteatro is the centre of town life.
What better way to admire a small town than from above?
Guinigi Tower rises in the center of the walled old town; it was commissioned by the Guinigis, a rich and powerful family of merchants from Lucca in the 15th century. The tower is 45 metres high and has a small garden on the top, where beautiful holm oaks have been growing during the centuries: this peculiarity makes it unique.
Giacomo Puccini’s House
Lucca is also known as the birthplace of the great artist Giacomo Puccini. The house where he was born and has lived in his mature years is located in the heart of the historic centre, exactly in the delightful square Corte San Lorenzo, where the statue of the compositor stands.
The house is now a small museum, filled with personal mementoes of his life and work, posters advertising his operas, musical scores and letters.
Festival and events
Besides the variety of attractions and monuments, Lucca offers a rich calendar of annual events. Let’s talk about the three major and well-known festivals!
- Lucca Comics and Games
The Lucca Comics and Game takes place within the walled city, during the last weekend in October. It is one of the most important events in Europe dedicated to the world of comics, cartoons, games and video games. The event consists of an exhibition area with hundreds of stands and an area dedicated to role-playing games, staging of medieval games with people dressed in historical costumes and armour, and live performances. The setting deserves special praise: most of these performances take place above the town walls and in the underground rooms that were once the city prisons. But the most striking aspect is the cosplayers: hundreds of people dressed as cartoon or comic characters, wearing make-up and accessories in a way that is faithful to the original.
- Lucca Summer Festival
The Lucca Summer Festival usually takes place during the month of July. It is a series of musical events of the highest level, with internationally renowned musicians and singers creating unforgettable evenings each year. These are often unique dates in Italy – if not in Europe – and therefore unmissable opportunities. The concerts are mostly held on Piazza Napoleone, but sometimes the artists perform on Piazza Anfiteatro too.
- The March of Villas
The March of Villas (in italian Marcia delle Ville) is an unusual race that has taken place for 44 years in the countryside just outside Lucca, in the small hamlet of Marlia. It is a route through some of the most beautiful villas in the area, which have made the town famous throughout the world. The march includes various routes: from 3 km to 28 km in a landscape and architectural setting of rare beauty.
You can not say you have known a city if you haven’t tasted its typical dishes.
Lucca’s gastronomy is quite varied: traditional dishes are placed side by side with contemporary reinterpretations and renewed flavours.
A classic of Lucca’s cuisine are soups and tordelli (a type of filled pasta). As regards the dessert we find the torta con gli erbi, of peasant origin: a short pastry filled with bread, herbs, cheese, sultanas and pine nuts. Last but not least, the buccellato: the classic aniseed-flavoured ring-shaped cake.
What to see nearby
- Montecarlo (27 minutes by car)
Montecarlo is a little village, nestled in the hills of Lucca. With around 4000 inhabitants, it is a municipality rich in history, churches, monuments and still boasts a solid medieval fortress with walls. There are also numerous initiatives to promote the territory, such as the Wine Festival. In fact, the village is well known for its wine production.
- Castiglione di Garfagnana (about 1 hour by car)
Castiglione di Garfagnana is a fortified village dating back to Roman times, situated on the slopes of the Apennines. It is included in the Italian Touring Club’s association of the “Most Beautiful Villages in Italy” because it has preserved much of its past: such as the imposing turreted walls and the fortress.
- Carrara (49 minutes by car)
Carrara is a small jewel located in the Lunigiana area, surrounded by the Apuan Alps. The town is known all over the world for its marble production. In fact, everything here is linked to its presence, the white gold of this land: the history, the traditions, the life of the inhabitants and even the gastronomic specialities.
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