Lucca Aerial View

An aerial view of Lucca shows its ideal pedestrian aspect and extant city walls (from a local brochure).

Lucca is Tuscany’s ultimate walking city. Mercifully flat unlike most Tuscan towns, Lucca has been turned over to cyclists and pedestrians with few cars in the city centre, most banished to the fringes of the town or outside the impressive medieval town walls. Virtually every road, town square and laneway is shared as workers, vendors, visitors, locals, shoppers, prams, bicycles and hand-drawn carts meander the stone-paved streets which run to the very edge of the buildings and houses.

Lucca Piazza Amfiteatro

Built around an original Roman amphitheatre, the football shaped Piazza Dell’ Amfiteatro is a hub of people wandering, chatting and enjoying afternoon coffee.

Lucca’s Roman history remains strong with its rugby-shaped Piazza dell’ Amfiteatro being built upon the foundations of a Roman Amphitheatre (the eagle-eyed can still spot Roman remains) and the gridded street being easy to navigate, encouraging wandering of the narrow laneways without fear of being impossibly entangled in a web of mischievous medieval alleys. The familiar tunes of Puccini, Lucca’s favourite son can be heard gently wafting from the cafes with well known tunes of Tosca or La Boheme subtly emanating across the square. For opera buffs, his house is now a small museum.

Lucca San Frediano Church

The stunning fresco on Chiesa di San Frediano

Ensure that you wander from the oval-shaped piazza to the nearby San Frediano Church with its huge exterior mosaic which glistens in the Tuscan sunshine and creates a welcome visual relief from the plain white Romanesque facade.

Lucca San Michelle

The superbly colonnaded San Michelle sits over the Roman Forum.

By contrast, St Martin’s Cathedral (Duomo di San Martino) is smothered in intricate white marble columns and snuggles warmly against a bell tower built centuries earlier. Each column was individually carved by different local artisans creating a pot pourri of designs and ideas. Check out a superb Last Supper in the cathedral.

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 Town Walls

Town walls said to be designed by Leonardo da Vinci (is their anything that this man didn’t turn his hand to?)

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.

Lucca Vista from Giugini Tower

Panorama over Lucca (from Guigini Tower)

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.

Recommendations and Suggestions

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.

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Welcome to Travel Wonders
My name is Mark and I’m a keen traveller. In fact, over the last 25 years, I’ve travelled to every continent and over 80 countries. This blog is about the most memorable destinations – the places I regard as the travel wonders of the world. I’m also a keen photographer, and have taken nearly all the photos you’ll see. During my travels, I’ve met some incredible people, seen inspiring places, viewed extraordinary wildlife and scenery and had some amazing experiences, and I’m writing these stories not only to entertain but primarily to inspire others to discover their own travel wonders.
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