Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Lucca City Guide

Lucca, the birthplace of Puccini is known as the Tuscany without tourists – forgotten squares, medieval meandering streets and chic shopping are bound to inspire and impress, this gothic gem is a must see!

There’s much more to this city than Puccini, Lucca’s most famous export! When walking the streets of Lucca everything you see is like a whispered Renaissance secret, hidden within mammoth Roman walls.

Lucca boasts an extraordinary history, even by Italian standards. The site was inhabited more than 50,000 years ago, and as a Roman municipum, it was the site of the First Triumvirate or regime between Julius Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus in 56 B.C. St. Peter's disciples brought a third-generation Christianity here in A.D. 47, making Lucca the first Tuscan city to convert. Ever popular with visitors it was a major stopping off point for pilgrims and crusaders coming from northern Europe along the Francigiana road – an ancient route from Northern Europe to Rome.

A much contested territory Pisa conquered Lucca in 1314, but not without a fight and a hometown adventurer Castruccio Castracani fought back until Lucca regained its liberty. Over the next 10 years, Castracani went on to conquer Pisa and expanded a Luccan empire over western Tuscany. However in 1328, just as Castracani was eyeing Florence, malaria struck him down. Disgruntled Pisa took over again until 1369, when Charles IV granted Lucca its independence. The proud, if relatively unimportant, city stayed a free comune -- occasionally under powerful bosses such as Paolo Guinigi (1400-30) -- for 430 years. A generous Napoleon gave it to his sister Elisa Baciocchi as a principality in 1805, and in 1815 it was absorbed into the Tuscan Grand Duchy.

Lucca attracts a more discerning Tuscan tourist than Florence or Pisa, being a little off the beaten track has meant that it’s civility and reserve remain intact – this is definitely a working city, but one of the most beautiful at that!

Top 10 Things to do in Lucca

1. Climb Tower Guinigi One of the best ways to get a feel for Lucca is to climb this 14th century tower. The great thing about this tower is that it has it’s own mini forest growing out of the top, over the years the trees have self seeded, providing welcome shelter on a typically hot day!

2. Marvel at San Frediano Church Church San Frediano is situated on Piazza San Frediano, by Piazza del Anfiteatro. A breathtaking example of Romanesque architecture consecrated by the pope in the 12th century, the golden mosaic on the exterior is truly breath taking, inside is filled with stunning white marble carving the shrine of Santa Zita (a local saint) in which several relics are conserved; among all the whole mummified body of the saint herself.

3. Be nosy at Piazza dell'Anfiteatro Piazza dell'Anfiteatro is a quirky oval shaped Piazza which originally served as an amphitheatre and still maintains that shape. Housed around the piazza are some great small shops and cafes, easily the best people watching spot in Lucca.

4. Take in a concert at Piazza Napoleone Piazza Napoleone (also known as Piazza Grande) is a fabulous large Piazza dedicated to Napoleon. When it was built back in the early 1800's, many buildings had to be destroyed to create this bright open space. Piazza Napoleone seems uncharacteristic of Lucca in it’s pristine execution and symmetry. During the summer months has played host to open air concerts from the likes of Leonard Cohen and the late Pavarotti, during the winter months the square is converted into a dramatic ice skating rink.

5. Peace and quiet at The Duomo di San Martino The Duomo di San Martino is the biggest cathedral in Lucca. It was completely rebuilt between the 12th and 15th century. In 1261 it was joined to the adjoining bell-tower, hence the unusual asymmetry of the façade and its smaller arch to the right. The Romanesque monochromatic striped pillars resemble giant liquorice sticks standing defiant in the vast square of Piazza Napoleone. The beauty of this ‘Duomo’ is it’s crumbing fading glory, it feels truly ancient!

6. Sip Cappuccino with Puccini at Di Simo. Di Simo, the former haunt of Puccini is a cute wood panelled retreat popular with locals – it can be found at Via Fillungo 58.

7. Shop for kitchen gadgets at Paris. Paris offer a plethora of kitchen gadgetry for the novice chef to the connoisseur. Snap up all the kit you need to recreate the Flavours kitchen at home, head along (with a credit card!) to Via Fillungo 100!

8. Eat at the oldest restaurant in town. Tuck into a minestra di farro alla garfagnana, a local speciality of bean soup cooked with wheat and wine at the oldest and most highly regarded restaurant in town, Buca di Sant Antonio, established in 1782. Wash it all down with a bottle of Fubbiano, a light local red. Be warned this place is closed on Sunday and Monday .Via della Cervia ( 0039 0583 55881)

9. Get out of town. A mere 9 miles from the city of Lucca is Collodi a must see if you were a fan of Pinocchio as a child! This pretty hillside town is the childhood home of the book’s author Carlo Lorenzini, if your accompanied by children on your travels the Parco di Pinccchio is a must! To get to Collodi take a bus from the bus station at the end of Via Vittorio Emanuele II, take the bus to Pescia and ask to be dropped at Ponte all’Abate - the park and town are a short walk away!

10. Take a romantic walk along The City Walls Take an evening stroll along the city walls, stop at the north east corner by Porto San Jacobo, the traditional site of every Luccase’s first kiss – the perfect way to end a day in Lucca.

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