The city of Lucca is located in Northern Tuscany. Although it is surrounded by the lovely Tuscan hills, it is thankfully flat. This was good news for our feet. After traipsing and plodding our way through various hilltop towns in the area, we welcomed the relief of even ground.
We visited Lucca on Liberation Day, an Italian national holiday celebrated every year on April 25. The date commemorates the fall of Benito Mussolini’s socialist republic and the end of the Nazi occupation in 1945. It was interesting to be in Italy around that time, as the memory of World War II still pervades everyday life. Many historic monuments, buildings and villages sustained serious bomb damage and were restored. Invariably, a plaque points out that fact.
Since it was a holiday, many stores were closed. However, we managed to find a nice restaurant which seemed to be popular. Or maybe it was the fact that it was the only one open in the area. Anyway, we had a very pleasant lunch. I chose the seasonal dish of fave, fresh broad beans with pecorino cheese and olive oil.
Lucca is the birthplace of opera composer Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924). His childhood home is a museum, Casa Museo di Giacomo Puccini (Corte San Lorenzo, 8). Among other objects on display is the piano on which Puccini was composing Turandot at the time of his passing.
Lucca became a Roma colony in 180 BC. The Romans left their print in, among other things, the grid layout of its streets, which makes it easier to find one’s way around. The Piazza del Mercato has an unusual elliptical shape for a piazza because there used to be an amphitheatre on this site.
I was able to indulge in my love of ancient cathedrals in Lucca as well. The Cattedrale di San Martino, Luca’s cathedral and seat of the Archbishopric of Lucca, was begun in the 11th century. The nave and transepts date from the 14th century and the portico was added in the 13the century. The façade has reliefs representing the Labours of the Month, the jobs carried out each season in the fields.
Lucca’s cathedral is dedicated to St. Martin of Tours, a Roman soldier who famously ripped his cloak in half and shared it with a beggar. St. Martin is also the patron saint of my city, Buenos Aires, and, interestingly, he died one November 8, my birthday.
Another interesting feature of the cathedral is the labyrinth carved on one of the pillars of the portico. The Latin inscription below translates as “This is the labyrinth built by Dedalus of Crete; all who entered therein were lost, save Theseus, thanks to Ariadne’s thread” and has clear pagan Greek mythological references. Labyrinths appear in many cultures and mean different things. Jorge Luis Borges, the renowned Argentinean writer, used labyrinths in his work. I find it interesting that, being thousands of miles away visiting an ancient monument, I am reminded of his work.
Lucca is a fortified town. The thick walls served to keep the enemy away; nowadays they protect il centro istorico from traffic and pollution. The current ramparts were built between 1504 and 1645 during the Renaissance. In the 19th century the ramparts were made into a public park. Nowadays, people walk, jog and cycle along the walls and have picnics under the shade of the trees. We came in through the Porta di San Gervasio, a leftover from the earlier medieval walls. The gate used to have a drawbridge over a canal. The towers are private residences now. What an interesting place to live. I wonder if they can hear the echoes of battles fought long ago.
Practical information about Lucca
How to get there
- By plane to Galileo Galilei Airport (Pisa) and then a half and hour’s drive to Lucca.
- By car from Pisa or Florence via the autostrada A11.
- By train from Pisa and Florence.
Lucca Cathedral and Museum (Complesso Museale e Archeologico della Cattedrale di Lucca), Piazza Antelminelli