From Pre-Roman Times to Capital of Tuscany
We do not know much about Lucca’s remote origins, except that it was founded near the Auser River (now renamed Serchio) at an unknown date between the 6th and the 2nd centuries BC, in an area between Ligurian and Etruscan territories.
Lucca was originally a Ligurian town, which later became Etruscan. In 180 BC Lucca became a Roman colony, according to the Roman historian Livy. The town’s Latin name is Luca.
The streets of Lucca centre still maintain the rectangular Roman plan. There are remains of the Roman amphitheatre, forum and walls.
Lucca was in a location particularly good for communications, at the junction of roads to Rome, Florence, Pisa, Parma and Luni. It was, and still is, a rich town, and became an early episcopal see.
After 476 AD, Lucca was conquered and ruled successively by the Ostrogoths, the Byzantines, and the Lombards, a Gothic people whose ancient name was Longobards. The Goths and the Longobards chose Lucca as the capital of Tuscany, an honour which was later transferred to Florence under the rule of the Frankish dynasty of the Carolingians. During the 9th and 10th centuries Lucca was the main city in Tuscany. The Lombards founded here the Ducato (Duchy) di Lucca, a beginning of modern Tuscany, which also included Florence, then small and cut off from communication channels. Later the Lombards established three duchies in Tuscany: Ducato di Lucca, Ducato di Firenze (Florence) and Ducato di Pisa.
The Duchy of Lucca became the usual residence of the king and a major road junction with the building of the Via Francigena, Europe’s most important communication route in the Middle Ages, on the pilgrim road from Canterbury to Rome, of which Lucca was a fundamental stage.
Lucca Independent and Prosperous City of Commerce
In 990 the Lombard rule ended and was replaced by the Franks. In the late 10th century Lucca started to lose importance and with the Holy Roman Empire Florence became the new capital of the Margravate of Tuscany.
The Franks were succeeded by the house of Canossa, whose rule ended with the death of Matilde di Canossa in 1115. In those years Lucca, a city of merchants and bankers, moved towards independence.
In 1118 the city was granted a charter of liberties, and the commune of Lucca was established.
In this period, an age of great economic and political prosperity began, and Lucca started expanding its markets and trades all over Europe. This was also the era of town planning and architectural improvements.
Like Florence and many other cities of Northern Italy, Lucca was a republic in its own right during the Renaissance. Despite many conflicts with its powerful neighbouring cities and with ambitious noble dinasties, Lucca overall kept its independence until it was conquered by the French in 1799.
In 1805 Lucca became a principality, Principato di Lucca e Piombino, assigned to Napoleon’s sister Bonaparte Elisa Bonaparte and her husband Felice Baciocchi. During the Congress of Vienna in 1815 the Duchy of Lucca was created, ruled by the Spanish infanta Maria Luisa di Borbone-Spagna, widow of the former king Louis of Etruria, succeded in 1824 by her son Charles Louis (Carlo Ludovico di Borbone), who ceded it to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany in 1847.
In 1860 it was united to the Kingdom of Sardinia, and when Italy was unified and became independent from foreign domination in 1861, Lucca became part of the newly-formed Kingdom of Italy.