Lucca is a very special town in Tuscany, essentially split amongst two very different areas. Surrounding the old town is a busy, modern place that’s full of cars, noise and people. Yet as soon as you venture through one of the gates, going through the huge stone wall that surrounds it, you enter a place of utter delight. It’s like stepping back in time to a quieter place, much like San Gimignano.
The ramparts built around the city in the 16th and 17th centuries are now a splendid promenade, with many vantage points overlooking an admirable urban landscape. The city inside the walls was built on the pattern of the Roman army camp from which it originated, before the Christian era. After passing through the gates, one enters a world of narrow streets, with wrought—iron grills over the windows, opening onto large squares which, in the evenings, remind one of the setting for a Fellini movie, particularly during the night-time procession, held each year, in honor of the Volto Santo (Holy Face), the sacred image which is stored in the treasury of the Duomo. According to legend, this miraculous cruciﬁx was the work of Nicodemus — a statuette of Christ after the crucifixion. The face was said to have been designed by an angel. History sometimes sounds just like a legend.
The large Piazza Napoleone honours the memory of Elisa Bonaparte, the sister of the French emperor, who showed such great organizing skills that she came to be known as the Semiramis of Lucca. The statue of Nlaric-Louise de Bourbon, in front of the Palazzo della Prefettura on the Piazza Napoleone, commemorates the institution of the duchy of Lucca, after the fall of Napoleon. The Duomo is dedicated to St. Martin. Its sumptuous facade has three galleries of slender columns, supported by three arcades in the Pisan style. The low reliefs around the central porch relate the life of St.Martin and depict each of the months of the year. A crenellated campanile stands next to the Duomo, which is also worth visiting for the statues and funerary monuments which it contains. The oratory of Santa Maria della Rosa, a short distance from the Piazza San Martin is an elegant, triple-nave structure in the Pisan Gothic style.
Other buildings worthy of the visitor’s attention include the Palazzo Pretorio, with its 15th-and 16th-century arcades : the 12th-century church of San Michele, which has a 13th-century facade : the church of San Salvatore and Santa Maria Corteo— landi, partly of the 13th century, with a Baroque facade; the Romanesque church of San Frediano, whose facade includes a Byzantine-Romanesque mosaic ; San Francesco, with a wealth of interesting tombstones and a number of others which testify to the importance of this town, which is the local archdiocesan seat.
The beautiful gardens of the Villa Reale de Marlia, five miles from Lucca, were laid out by Elisa Bonaparte, while those of the Villa Torrigiani were the work of Le Notre, who built them for the ambassador of Lucca to the Pontiﬁcal Court and the court of Louis XIV. The villa has had some distinguished guests, such as Georges Pompidou, who stayed there in 1972 on the invitation of the Italian Government.
Tuscany’s Lucca is a place you won’t forget in a hurry, whether you are visiting on holiday or for business. Catch it in the summer months and the warm climate helps to bring about an atmosphere that just can’t be beaten. Savour the fine Italian foods and enjoy the extremely tasty gelato ice creams. Lucca is splendid!