The birthplace of Puccini, Lucca is a beautiful and historical city situated in the centre of north-west Tuscany. It enjoys an enviable position a few minutes away from the sea and less than an hour by car from Florence, with excellent rail and coach links. Bordering on the province of Pisa, it is surrounded by the Apennine mountains and the spurs of the Apuan Alps. Only by walking along the narrow streets of the historic centre can one discover the mystery and magic of a past rich in history, culture and architecture. It is set amid a varied and generous landscape, abounding in life as well as silences, paths between the woods, rivers, valleys, meadows, and picturesque medieval villages.
Described as the most intimate and charming of all Italy’s towns, Lucca offers the visitor plenty to rival Pisa and Florence, its more renowned Tuscan neighbours. Forget leaning towers and domed cathedrals, Lucca has its own store of Renaissance gems for the independent traveller to discover! With a history of settlement dating back to the pre-Etruscan era, by the third century BC Lucca was recognised as an important Roman centre. The historic meeting between Caesar, Pompey and Crasso took place here in 56 BC. Goths saw it as the capital of Tuscia, and by the thirteenth century it had become a major commercial centre. The roads that follow the line of the Roman street plan now abound with an accumulation of spectacular Renaissance architecture, while the ongoing process of renovation and adaptation to meet changing needs gives the town its unique character of historic, but vibrant charm.
The massive walls originating from the second century AD were added to in an effort at self-defence, and remain as some of the finest extant examples of walled architecture. Although they could not avert the internal feuding between Ghibellinis and Guelfi, prevent periodic domination by Pisa and Florence, or impede the rampaging of Napoleon’s armies, they saved the town from the Great Flood of 1812, and have since served to stem the urban sprawl that characterises many European cities, contributing to its unspoilt (and largely traffic-free) atmosphere.
During its history up to 130 towers were built as monuments to the inter factional rivalry of the Middle Ages. The fevered one-upmanship resulted in a number of calamitous collapses, while many were demolished as their commissioners fell from favour.
However, relics of this turbulent past such as the Torre Guinigi (named after Paolo Guinigi, a lord of Lucca in the fifteenth century) remain, providing a marvellous public viewing platform from which to survey the walled city.
The scene takes in the wealth of Romanesque and Renaissance civic and church buildings with their treasure trove of artistic gems, such as Tintoretto’s Last Supper and Ghirlandaio’s Madonna with Child, examples of the marvellous collection of Renaissance art and architecture contained within its walls, beyond which lie the scattering of merchants’ villas nestling in the foothills surrounding the town, and the Apenine mountains beyond.
The Anfiteatro features a piazza formed by the construction of buildings following the line of the original Roman amphitheatre, built in the 1st or 2nd century AD, the ideal spot to sit in the Tuscan sun and sip a capuccino or a fine Italian wine made from the grapes of the region and watch the world go by. It is, perhaps, no mere coincidence that the city was the birthplace of many of Puccini’s greatest works – some of the most romantic music in history.