Lucca, a City Encircling by Well-preserved Renaissance Walls

Lucca is one of the charming cities in Tuscany. Located on a plain at the foot of the Apuan Alp, the city is very easy to reach either by cars or by trains from Pisa and Florence. It doesn’t attract so many tourists like the other cities, for example Florence does. But it has many interesting facts that the other cities do not have.  Music festival, churches, street on the city wall, local food events etc. are the major attractions. It is also the birthplace of the famous Italian opera composer Giacomo Puccini.
In a recent 9-day trip to Tuscany, we spent a day in Lucca.  We wandered through the streets ans square, cycled on the city wall, listened tour guide talking about Giacomo Puccini etc. There are more to see, to do and to learn in Lucca.
The walk way to a Restaurant in Lucca, Tuscany
The walk way to a Restaurant in Lucca, Tuscany

Music festival

The first thing I noticed in Lucca was not churches or Piazzas but some posters about concerts information.  We were very curious of the information. Having checked around we learned that Lucca hosts many concerts annually. It is amazing that many international megastars, including Elton John, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Alicia Keys and even Lee Ryan will perform at the Piazza Napolene.  My husband saw one of his favourite band would also host a concert in Lucca.

But unfortunately the concert was on the day we left Italy. If we knew before our trip we could re-arrange our trip to join the concert. That was really a pity! If you plan to visit Lucca in July and would like to join one of these concerts, you need to prepare for it well ahead.  Tickets are sold months before. Some information is available at:   http://www.summer-festival.com/

Streets and squares

It is very easy to gain orientation in Lucca. There are two traditional street layouts. The narrow streets run north to south and wider streets running west to east.  Knowing the rule you would not get lost so easy.  All streets are well-maintained and flat, so it is easy to walk around even for people limited with mobility.
Street in Lucca, Tuscany
Street in Lucca, Tuscany
Those streets link many squares together. If you walk towards the centre, you will not miss the famous one Piazza dell’Anfiteatro.  The ring of buildings surrounding the square, follows the elliptical shape of the  Roman Amphitheater of Lucca. The square can be reached through four gateways located at the four vertices of the ellipse.
Piazza dell'Anfiteatro, Lucca, Tuscany
Piazza dell’Anfiteatro, Lucca, Tuscany
Buildings around the square are restaurants and some small shops. Other public squares are such as Piazzale Verdi, Piazza Napoleone and Piazza San Michele. It was the lunch time but we did see all restaurants were full.

The Clock Tower and the Guinigi Tower

During medieval times more than 130 towers dominated Lucca’s skyline. Most were parts of the private homes of rich merchant families, built for protection and as symbols of their power and wealth. Today only few still exists, for example the Clock Tower.  The Clock Tower is the tallest tower in Lucca.

You can climb up the steep and narrow stairs to the top to see Lucca’s Renaissance walls and narrow streets below. Looking around you have the views of the surrounding hills and mountains of the Tuscan countryside. Some people feel fun to observe the clock’s mechanism as well.

the Clock Tower in Lucca, Tuscany
the Clock Tower in Lucca, Tuscany
The Guinigi Tower is a typical example of local Romanesque-Gothic architecture. Its unique feature is the garden on the roof top of the tower. The garden is divided into three flowerbeds where Holm oaks were  planted. The ancient tree symbolizes the rebirth and renewal. There is a wonderful view of the city and surrounding mountains from the garden.
The Guinigi Tower was donated by the family’s descendants to the government. There is a museum dedicated to the family: National Museum of Villa Guinigi.
the Guinigi Tower in Lucca, Tuscany

Cycling on the medieval walls

The medieval walls circle the city completely.  On top of the walls it is very wide and becomes a pedestrian promenade. Since it’s also completely flat it is suitable for all aged people to walk around. There are many benches, small parks and even a cafe on the walls. Part of the walls lined up with tall trees.

We were able to rent bikes to cycle on the walls and had some wonderful views of Lucca without having sweated too much. There are several places for renting a bike.  The one where we rented our bikes is just opposite to the walls, near Piazza Mons. Emilio Maggini.

On top of medieval walls in Lucca, Tuscany
On top of medieval walls in Lucca, Tuscany

Casa di Puccini

The house of the opera composer Giacomo Puccini is located in the historical centre, Corte S. Lorenzo, 9. This was where the composer was born on December 22,1858. it is a museum today where you can explore the traces left behind by the great composer, discover the personality, the genius and the passion of the creator of extraordinary operas known throughout the world.

A tour group was standing in front of the Puccini’s statue. The statue is  several metres away from his birthplace.  We heard some interesting stories related to his childhood. Next to the statue is a Cafe called “Madama Butterfly”, a good place to have a break.

Puccini's statue
Puccini’s statue
Cafe "Madama Butterfly" in Lucca, Tuscany
Cafe “Madama Butterfly” in Lucca, Tuscany

A Puccini opera festival takes place between July and August each year.  You can get related information at the tourist office next to the parking places outside of the walls.

Churches

There are many medieval churches with richly arcaded façades and campaniles. Some are as old as the eighth century. Religion has always played a big part in locals’ life. In the past Lucca was a main stopover on the Pilgrimage route of Via Francigena. Therefore plenty of money made its way to the building of churches in great architecture in Lucca.

It is said there are around 100 churches in Lucca from many important eras, such as the renaissance and gothic, to medieval and Roman. It would be impossible to visit all the churches in one day.  But you can see some impressive ones in the main tourists sites, for example,  San Michele in Foro.  Its façade built in the 13th century has a large series of sculptures and inlays,

Church "San Michele in Foro" in Foroin Lucca, Tuscany
Church “San Michele in Foro” in Lucca, Tuscany

Duomo di San Martino is famous for its tall columnar arcades and the fine campanile. Next to the cathedral is a beautiful bell tower. I can see it from the walls.

Bell tower next to "Duomo di San Martino", view from Lucca city walls, Tuscany
Bell tower next to “Duomo di San Martino”, view from Lucca city walls, Tuscany

The third church I have taken a close look at is San Cristoforo.  It is located on the narrow Via Fillungo in the center. Therefore I could not picture it properly.  It serves as a memorial for those who lost lives in the wars.

Church "San Cristoforo" in Lucca, Tuscany
Church “San Cristoforo” in Lucca, Tuscany

The Comics & Games event

The Lucca Comics & Games event is a very famous one in Europe and takes place at the end of October each year. The event is divided into Lucca Comics and Lucca Games The first section is dedicated to comics and animations. The second section is dedicated to games such as role playing, board games or medieval games represented in historical settings created for the occasion.

Lots of special guests are invited to hold conferences, conventions, seminars and lessons. I can image the scene that many people dress up like cartoon characters and feel like being in the cinema. For more information on the event and full program please check out the official site for Lucca Comics & Games.

Tickets & tours

To rent a bike is a good way to explore the city and walls. There are two types of tours, a self-guided tour and a guided tour.   Lucca is also a port-of-call from Cruise routes.  When cruises dock at Livorno,  you can either join the excursion offered by cruise or find your own way to Lucca.  You can buy bus transfer from Livorno Cruise Port to Lucca and Pisa.  There are other tours for the area as well. Take a look if you could find one which suits your need.

Where to stay in Lucca

There are plenty of accommodations in Lucca via Booking.com.  In summer time because of many activities around Lucca, the hotels can be booked out very early. We were not able to find any one with a reasonable price two months before our holiday.



Booking.com

How to get there

The location of Lucca makes it perfect for anyone getting around solely on public transportation.

By train

The railroad station is just outside the old town walls.  There are no direct trains from Pisa airport to Lucca, so a transfer is required in Pisa central station.  Lucca is also on the main Viareggio-Florence Santa Maria Novella line, so there is direct service at least hourly from both cities.

By bus

There is a bus that travels directly from Pisa Airport to Piazzale Verdi in Lucca. You get the bus just outside the arrivals hall of the airport (buy your tickets beforehand at the ticket kiosk within the arrivals hall). The fare is cheap at about €4.

The bus ride is a scenic, pleasant fifty minute ride to Piazzale Verdi, which is inside the walls.

By car

Tourists have to park their cars outside the walls. The city has many car parks located outside the wall, the largest two are on the North and South side. The A11 (E76) Runs from the coastal A12(E80) Autostrada across towards Florence.

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