Lucca - Church of San Frediano
Lucca – Church of San Frediano

Inside Lucca Historical Centre

Lucca is a city in Northern Tuscany, Italy. It’s a big town of about 80,000 inhabitants, and the capital of Lucca provincia. It lies in the valley of the Serchio River and is almost entirely surrounded by hills, with the majestic mountain range of the Apuan Alps to the north and west.

It’s a very old city of art of pre-Roman origin, later to become a Roman city, as many Italian cities are. Its streets still follow the pattern of the ancient Roman city. It’s surrounded by huge, imposing, spectacular walls erected in the 15th, 16th and 17 centuries, still fully intact and solidly built. They are the greatest example in Europe of walls built according to principles of modern fortification which are completely preserved in their integrity in a city.

The walls were erected in three different periods. The Renaissance walls we see today are the third construction; before then there had been Roman and Medieval walls, remains of which still stand. Inside the walls a street, Via del Fosso, gets its name from the moat which protected Lucca city walls in the 13th century and still flows through the street today. From the walls there are outstanding views of the town, including stunning gardens. The walls are surrounded by trees and vegetation.

Map of Lucca area
Map of Lucca area

The part of the town within the city walls, that people call “Lucca dentro” (Lucca within), is remarkably preserved from the Middle Ages, with little narrow streets of great charm. It contains beautiful old palaces, churches, gardens, towers. Of particular note is Lucca’s 11th century Duomo (which in Italian means cathedral), or San Martino, one outstanding example of the exuberant Pisan-Romanesque style. Other major churches are San Michele in Foro, like San Martino set in a square by the same name, and San Frediano (see picture).

One of the most interesting sites is the Piazza del Mercato, built on the ancient Roman amphitheatre, and still retaining its arena shape. The archways around the piazza mark the points where animals and gladiators would once have entered the arena.

In Lucca, walk down the city’s main street, Via Fillungo, so called because it winds itself down a long part of the historical centre, full of elegant boutiques and great shops. Hire a bike and ride all over town, the squares, the alleys, and especially the walls.

Lucca has always been an important musical centre. In Lucca many composers were born, including Luigi Boccherini, Giacomo Puccini, Francesco Barsanti, Giovanni Lorenzo Gregori, Alfredo Catalani and many others. Puccini, who composed “La Boheme”, “Madame Butterfly” and many other operas, is one of most important figures in classical music; the house in Lucca where he was born has become a museum which can be visited.

In 1489 one of the world’s oldest banks, Banca del Monte di Lucca, was founded in Lucca.

Lucca Guinigi Tower
Lucca Guinigi Tower

Lucca Area

The modern part of town, outside the walls, is aptly named “Lucca fuori” (Lucca without), and is sprawling all over the surrounding countryside with rich villas and gardens. In fact, many of the most beautiful villas in Italy are around Lucca, like the renowned Villa Mansi. They can be visited by the public like a museum or gallery. In Italian, villa doesn’t mean what is normally meant in English, but a substantial residence which can go from rich abode to palatial style.

The area around Lucca is also of high beauty, extremely populated with natural and historical places of great interest to visitors. For archaeological relics visit Garfagnana, see the villas of the plain of Lucca, enjoy the miles of sandy beaches of the elegant resorts along Versilia Riviera like Viareggio, explore the magnificent Apuane Alps with their marble quarries named after the city of Carrara, hike along the paths of the Apuane mountains, visit Pinocchio’s splendid garden at nearby Collodi.

Olive oil
Olive oil
Click on the image or caption to see feature on olive oil

Lucca Olive Oil

Being a road and rail centre, Lucca is the market town of a region rich in agricultural production. A major exports of the area is high-quality olive oil.

One of the specialities of Lucca is the production of its olive oil, considered one of the best by Italians. The olive groves that provide its source grow on the hills of the whole province of Lucca, and the oil is manufactured by several companies in the town itself: Dante and Bertolli are the best known brand names.

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