Lucca Things to Do
Monuments and Museums
The Renaissance Walls
The beautiful city of Lucca is surrounded by Renaissance walls, each approximately two and one-half miles long. Taking the place of the medieval walls as a better defense against the aggressive Firenze, the building of the circle of walls took from 1544 to 1650 to complete. The Torrione del Bastardo and the San Martino bastion have preserved their original XVIth century structure. A unique walking path, planted with tress and shrubs was added in the 19th century, encouraging citizens to stroll or ride along the walls and to experience an amazing view of the city.
Duomo of San Martino (The Cathedral)
A mixture of Romanesque style and Gothic architecture, the Duomo, dedicated to San Martino, was first built as a simple church in the 6th century by Bishop Frediano but became became a cathedral in the 8th century when Pope Alexander II officially consecrated it in the presence of 23 bishops and Matilde di Canossa.
Though its beauty remains, the Duomo underwent many periods of reconstruction; the main one started in 1372, when the number of the nave and aisles was reduced from five to three and the ceiling was modified with cross vaults. The facade, made by Guidetto da Como, dates back to 1204 with the main portal displaying relieves depicting the Stories of Saint Martin, the Months and S. Regolo's beheading, made by Antelami's disciples. Inside are famous works by Matteo Civitali (1435-1501) and other sculptures like Ilaria del Caretto's funeral monument, by whose marble looks like porcelain.
Church of San Michele in Foro
This church built of white limestone is an example of Pisa and Lucca architecture. Erected between the 11th and the 12th century on the remains of an ancient church dating back to the 8th century, its lower part is simple and the upper part extremely elaborated. The inside, containing one nave and two aisles, contains precious works of art, like a "Madonna with Child" made of enamelled terracotta by Andrea della Robbia and a painting by Filippino Lippi portraying Saints "Girolamo, Sebastiano, Rocco and Elena".
Basilica of S. Frediano
Built in the first half of the 12th century, the Basilica with a facade of white limestone rises over a high medieval church with a stunning mosaic at the top depicting Christ ascending in an almond carried by two angels with two Apostles. One of the original churches its interior with one nave and two aisles captures the attention for its beauty, the harmony of the colonnade crossing the whole church and the semi-circular apse illuminated by high windows. It contains a large number of important works of art, among them the baptismal font, masterpieces by Jacopo della Quercia (the marble altar and the stories of the Virgin and the Saints) and a beautiful painting by Francesco Francia, (Conception of Mary and the Saints).
Piazza of the Amphitheatre (or Market Square)
Dating back to the 2nd century AD this ancient site represents one of the most characteristic and original monuments of the city. This Roman amphitheatre, built on an elliptical shape with two rows of 54 arcades and a maximum capacity of 10,000 spectators was once a fortress agains the seize of the Byzantines. During the Middle Ages it became a group of houses and in the following centuries, a prison, salt warehouse and then a public slaughterhouse at the beginning of the 19th century.
It was restored in 1830 by Lorenzo Nottolini, who executed complex restructuring by enlarging the perimeter of the ancient arena to create a square and removed the arches and vaults of the ancient roman construction to replace them with stores. Today, this remains the center of cultural activities, music festivals, and fairs with warehouses, restaurants and markets.
Via Fillungo (Fillungo's street)
Via Fillungo, the heart of the commercial district, is a tree-lined medieval street of exclusive boutiques, shops, restaurants and cafes sitting amongst medieval towers, the oldest and most interesting being the Tower of Hours.
One of the remaining of the 250 originals built within the walls, the Guinigi Tower is the only enduring example of a Gothic nobility home. Its tower culminates in a small terrace crowned by seven trees, with views from the top breathtaking! A beautiful panoramic view of the city and the hills (Apuan Alps) beyond can be seen from this vantage point.
National Museum of Palazzo Mansi
From the beginning, this building purchased in 1616 by the Mansi family was destined to be one of the most luxurious palaces in the city. Transformed by the family between 1687 and 1692, its elegant interior is representative of the Baroque taste of the time and though most of the original furniture has been lost through the centuries, it still remains elegant. Restored in the mid 1900's it is today the home of The National Museum of Palazzo Mansi where 83 paintings on display include the works of Veronese, Beccafumi, Pontormo, Bronzino, Tintoretto, Vasari, and some Flemish painters. A handmade weaving laboratory and collection of old looms and costumes are also on view.
National Museum of Villa Guinigi
The art collections here are among the richest in the history of Lucca. At one time belonging to Paolo Guinigi, lord of the city in the 1400s, it is one of the most ancient and illustrious palaces in the town, displaying works representative of the development of figurative arts in Lucca and its region from the early Middle Ages until the 18th century. They document the activity of local as well as foreign artists who worked in Lucca on ecclesiastic or lay commission. In the archaeological section, sculptures, ceramics, gold productions from the Middle Ages and painted crosses in Byzantine style from the city and the surrounding area can be viewed.
The Cathedral Museum
This three-building complex consisting of a 13th century tower house, a 16th century church and a 14th main building houses equine and human stone heads and a Limoges reliquary containing stories about the life of St Thomas Becket. Also on display are altar cloths, liturgical objects, choir books, sacred silverware and paintings, all from the Romanesque Duomo.
Birthplace of Giacomo Puccini
The celebrated composer and Lucca's favorite son, Giacomo Puccini was born in this house on December 22, 1858. The last of a dynasty of musicians who dominated Lucca's musical scene, Puccini lived here through his childhood and early youth before moving to Milan to continue his studies. He remained forever connected to this house and assured that it remained the property of the family. Recently refurbished, the museum houses precious relics and memorabilia: drafts, scores, photos, letters, honors, paintings, the piano on which he composed the opera Turandot and several costumes from the American opening.
Piazza Napoleon and the Ducal Palace
In the center of the city is designer Bartolomeo Ammannati's Piazza Grande. Along the square is the Teatro del Giglio (the theatre) and the Ducal Palace, home at one time to Princess Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi. Known also as Piazza Napoleon in her honor, the Piazza is also the headquarters of the Provincial Administration and of the Prefecture of Police. The splendid Representatives Rooms, monumental stairway by Nottolini, the Gallery of Statues (imitations of classical examples), the General Council Room, the Staffieri Room (frescoed by Ademollo), and the original Loggia of the Ammannati are open to visitors.
Gates of the Medieval Walls
Today, two well-preserved doorways, Santa Maria dei Borghi and San Gervasio, remain along with the hinges of the gigantic wooden doorways that flanked the entrance to the medieval city. A few sections of the second ring of walls, created in the 13th century in anticipation of the city's expansion, may also be seen.
Spa and Relax
Bagni di Lucca
One of the oldest and most famous towns in Lucca, it was a fashionable meeting spot during the 19th century for poets like Byron, Shelley, Browning, Lever, Giusti, Monti, Carducci, Pascoli, Montale, for writers like Dumas, musicians such as Strauss, Listz, Paganini, Puccini, Mascagni and for politicians, saints and popes. Today it is a charming town with all the popular amenities -- restaurants, banks, a post office, shops, swimming pools, a tennis club and a twice-weekly market.
It is most popular for its thermal baths -- Terme Jean Varraud and Casa Bocella, that specialize in treating arthritis, rheumatisum, gynecologic pathologies and diseases of the bronchi, lungs and circulation, and for the two natural steam caves -- Grotta Paolina that consists of two cavities, each with its own source at different temperatures, and the Ouida Centre whose focus is on thermal beauty treatments and programs using the ancient cleansing techniques of the Roman thermal baths whose basic ingredient was the mineral-rich thermal waters. These natural caves with temperatures between 104 and 117 F attract visitors seeking health and beauty from around the world.
A huge antique market held on the third weekend of each month in the Piazza San Giusto.
Piazza San Giusto Craft Fair
On the last weekend of every month, an attractive craft fair in Piazza San Giusto.
Sagra Musicale Lucchese, April to June
Religious and classical music concerts held in the city's churches.
Festa of S. Zita, April
A festival in celebration of Saint Zita with displays and flower market.
Luminara of Santa Croce, September
Solemn procession of the Volto Santo and historical procession in connection with the "September Lucchese".
Lyric Season, Teatro del Giglio
Held in the winter months.
The Lucchese September Festival
Includes candlelit processions, jazz, classical and pop music festivals.
Palio de San Paolino, July
A medieval festival of costume parades, crossbow shooting events, and flag throwing contests, celebrating St. Paolino, the patron saint of Lucca.
If only for Lucca's homegrown foods like its splendid olive oil, wine, farro, porcini and mushrooms, the town would be worth a visit. But there's so much more -- traditional pastry shops and bakeries sit on every corner of the city offering simple sweets of the past, like the famous buccellato -- a sweet bread flavored with anise and raisins; local drinking establishments offer Elixir of China, a secret mixture of liquors served with pine nuts, originally known as Biadina of Lucca, an elixir created in 1855; historic cafes like the town's most famous Caffe' De Simo, a daily destination of famous locals like Puccini and Giovanni Pascoli, and the splendid shops and antique dealers on the charming Via del Battistero all offer an authentic experience of 19th century charm.