While Lucca’s town centre is packed with churches, it is worth a quick visit to 12th century San Giovanni Church. Underneath the church (enter from inside) are fascinating and ongoing archaeological excavations dating from times before Christ through the 11th century and include an early Christian church, medieval crypt and Roman remains.Lucca’s compact city is contained by intact city walls. Intricately designed by Leonardo da Vinci, the walls remained unbreached in medieval times, the city remaining free until Napoleon’s army marched on the city in the 19th century. Built broadly rather than as simple walls, the tops of the walls are tree-lined with a footpath and parkland area, the walls can be comfortably walked or cycled (around 4 kilometres). Six city gates and several bastions remain along the walls. While the city walls offers excellent vantage points overlooking Lucca, the best vista is gained by clambering up the 100+ steps of Guinigi Tower. In a narrow street of its namesake, Torre Guinigi surprises with a rooftop oak tree offering relief from the Tuscan heat while enjoying the wondrous view over the red-tiled rooftops and surroundign rolling farmlands.
Lucca is a poster child for pedestrian-friendly cities and warrants a day visit to wander the narrow lanes and enticing piazzas enjoying the sweet aromas of delectable Tuscan food and marvelling at the superb vistas from Lucca’s imposing Renaissance walls. Join local Lucchese on their afternoon passeggiata avoiding the thronging masses in neighbouring Siena (though don’t miss Siena cathedral and superb Il Campo piazza) or Pisa, munching on a fruity gelato soaking in life around medieval architecture and richly decorated churches.
The nearby small town of Barga, north of Lucca is considered one of the most beautiful and unspoiled medieval walled cities in Tuscany and yet seems to remain off the tourist map. With strong historic links to Scotland, don’t be surprised to find tartan draped across some of the shops and the echoes of brogue-ish English.
The author is fascinated by the life of Leonardo da Vinci. An earlier four part blog series traced his life through travels in Italy and France and can be found at In the Footsteps of Leonardo da Vinci.