Lucca is a city and comune in Tuscany, the north-west of Italy, situated on the river Serchio in a fertile plain near the Tyrrhenian Sea. It is the capital city of the Province of Lucca. Among other reasons, it is famous for its intact Renaissance-era city walls.
After the death of Matilda of Tuscany, the city began to constitute itself an independent commune, with a charter in 1160. For almost 500 years, Lucca remained an independent republic. There were many minor provinces in the region between southern Liguria and northern Tuscany dominated by the Malaspina; Tuscany in this time was a part of feudal Europe. In 1805, Lucca was conquered by Napoleon, who installed his sister Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi as "Queen of Etruria". After 1815 it became a Bourbon-Parma duchy, then part of Tuscany in 1847 and finally part of the Italian State.
The walls around the old town remained intact as the city expanded and modernized, unusual for cities in the region. As the walls lost their military importance, they became a pedestrian promenade which encircled the old town, although they were used for a number of years in the 20th century for racing cars. They are still fully intact today; each of the four principal sides is lined with a different tree species. Completely surrounding the ancient city, the walls we see today date back to the 17th century. Now, no longer used for defense, they are crowned by 4 km of green parkland, and are a lovely place to walk, cycle or stop for a picnic. Just another example of how, over the centuries, though buildings last, their roles metamorphose as times change.
Likewise, via Fillungo, the main street in the city, was also born with the Romans. Though it was meant to be the Decumano (a straight main street) and though still central, its narrow, winding path and typical medieval characteristics testify how the shape of Lucca has been altered since antiquity.
- The Cathedral of St Martin Was begun in 1063 by Bishop Anselm (later Pope Alexander II). Of the original structure, the great apse with its tall columnar arcades and the fine campanile remain. The nave and transepts of the cathedral were rebuilt in the Gothic style in the 14th century, while the west front was begun in 1204 by Guido Bigarelli of Como, and consists of a vast portico of three magnificent arches, and above them three ranges of open galleries adorned with sculptures. In the nave a small octagonal temple or chapel shrine contains the most precious relic in Lucca, the Volto Santo di Lucca or Sacred Countenance. The chapel was built in 1484 by Matteo Civitali, the most famous Luccan sculptor of the early Renaissance. There is a legend to explain why all the columns of the façade are different. According to the tale, when they were going to decorate it, the inhabitants of Lucca announced a contest for the best column. Every artist made a column, but then the inhabitants of Lucca decided to take them all, without paying the artists and used all the columns.
- The Ducal Palace. The palace is located on the site of the Fortezza Augustan, the residence of condottiero Castruccio Castracani, where also was his palace, perhaps designed by Giotto. The large complex, which occupied some one fifth of the city, was destroyed by the populace in 1370. The fortress was restored and used as residence by Paolo Guinigi in 1401; after his fall in 1429 this was again partially dismantled and later became the Palazzo Pubblico ("Public Palace"). After a period as the residence of Duchess Elisa Baciocchi, it was the seat of the Lucchese state government until the Unification of Italy in 1861, when it was acquired by the province of Lucca.
- Piazza Anfiteatro. Built on the site of an original Roman amphitheatre, Piazza Anfiteatro is another ‘must-see' in Lucca. Some original Roman elements remain, particularly within the outer walls. This ancient site constitutes one of the most characteristic and original monuments of the city. The ancient amphitheatre dates from the 2nd century A.D. It was built on an elliptical plan with two rows of 54 arcades and a maximum capacity of 10,000 spectators. Beginning in the Middle Ages, houses were built over the ruins. Over the course of time the piazza developed its characteristic elliptical shape, with buildings all around it. The ancient remains are still quite evident today. The colorful piazza was restored in 1830. Enlivened by shops and cafes, it is still at the center of cultural activities, music festivals, and fairs.
- The Torre Guinigi rises above via Sant'Andrea, crowned by holm oaks to symbolise rebirth. It was added by the family in the late 1300s, with the aim of giving a refined look one of the houses, in a period when numerous bell-towers were going up within the walls of Lucca, as were the towers, an emblem of prestige of the richest families. The Tower was built in brick; its imposing bulk was lightened by mullioned three-light and four-light windows and decorated by coats of arms, cornices and plaques. Since then it has been one of the symbols of the town. Today the Tower is owned by the Lucca town council and is a place not to be missed in the town: going up it is a must, and its top is one of the most fascinating points to stand in the shade of the holm oaks, admiring Lucca's little architectural jewels from above.
- San Michele in Foro is a Roman Catholic basilica church, built over the ancient Roman forum. Until 1370 it was the seat of the Consiglio Maggiore (Major Council), the commune's most important assembly. It is dedicated to Archangel Michael. The church is mentioned for the first time in 795 as ad foro (in the forum). It was rebuilt after 1070 by will of Pope Alexander II. Notable is the façade, from the 13th century, with a large series of sculptures and inlays, numerous of which remade in the 19th century. The lower part has a series of blind arcades, the central of which includes the main portal. The upper part, built using plenty of iron materials to counter wind, has four orders of small loggias. On the summit, flanked by two other angels, is the 4 m-tall statue of St. Michael the Archangel. According to a legend, an angel's finger would have a huge diamond. On the lower right corner of the façade is a statue (1480) of the Madonna salutis portus, sculpted by Matteo Civitali to celebrate the end of the 1476 plague.