Top 10 sights Lucca

Top 10 sights Lucca - Must see place Lucca



1. The walls of Lucca


Mura di Lucca Over 4 km of walls surround Lucca, some of which are over 30 metres wide in places. It contains many underground tunnels which have been restored and can be visited by the public. Until the early 1990s they served as ring roads due to the practicality of their width. The walls of Lucca, once part of an ancient defense system, were created when the city was a Roman colony. They were later expanded and totally rebuilt during the Renaissance period. Today they serve as a large city park, among the most beautiful in the world; a raised parkland at 12 metres in height, lined with hundreds ancient trees. Read more about Lucca Walls.

The four successive and increasingly wider built walls have defended Lucca over the centuries. Originally constructed in the third and fourth centuries BC, in a square formation, they were later extended and raised. The second circle dates from around 1200AD; the imposing Porta di San Gervasio e Protasio (along Via dei Fossi) and the Porta Dei Borghi (or Santa Maria) at the end of Via Fillungo, can still be seen to this day. These large gateways, flanked by high towers, give us an insight into the defensive structure of the city in the past.


III circle

The third circle of walls, built between 1400 and 1500, saw expansions and reinforcements, with the addition of towers. The last and current fourth circle of walls was built after 1500AD. This structure incorporates the third circle and reflects the the Lucchese government’s priority to protect the city after the advent of gunpowder, and the spread of firearms. The work lasted more than 100 years and was completed in 1650; its construction witnessed some of the finest construction techniques and as overseen by some of the most and well known architects in the field of military architecture. The walls were fortunate enough to never witness a siege or actual attack. The only threat came when the Serchio River broke its banks in 1812, leading to disastrous flooding during which the walls took the brunt of the force.

Today, the circle of walls extends over 4 kilometers, is 30 metres wide and 12 metres high. It is completely intact and one of the best preserved in Europe. It consists of 11 ramparts (bulwarks), 12 curtain walls, 6 gateways and a pedestrian promenade; shaded by trees planted in two rows at the behest of Marie Louise of Bourbon in 1800. It was the latter who took the decision to transform the walls into a city park. The wall tunnels are particularly beautiful and since their conversion into galleries, shops, warehouses and wells, are well worth a visit.

Fortunately, unlike in other cities, the walls survived the unification of Italy and today are a true urban icon, preserved by the Town Council for the identity and history of the city. Nowadays, cyclists, joggers, skaters, as well as families, tourists and walkers can been found enjoying these surroundings.
Palazzo Mansi
Museo Nazionale Palazzo MansiMansi Palace is one of the most luxurious villas in Lucca and was built between the end of 1500s and the beginning of the 1600s. Purchased by the State in 1965, it was opened to the public as a Museum in 1977 and transformed into a national art gallery, with works from the Medici collections and other locations. The main floor features richly decorated rooms, with furniture from the 17th and 18th centuries and Flemish tapestries. On the ground floor you will find the temporary exhibitions, whilst on the second floor there is an exhibition of paintings and objects relating to the Lucchese textile industry, which for centuries served as the driving force for the local economy.


Much of the collection consists of 83 works donated to the town in 1847 by Grand Duke Peter Leopold II, after the annexation of Lucca to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. These works were donated to the city with the intent of enriching the decline in local artistic heritage, following the disastrous sale of the city’s palatine works by Carlo Ludovico di Borbone. Another section of the museum exibits part of the Mansi collection. Among the many paintings, two of the most important are the sixteenth-century works: Pontormo's Ritratto di Giovinetto (Portrait of a Youth) and La Continenza di Scipione (The Continence of Scipio), published in 1525 by Beccafumi. Also on exhibit are works by artists such as Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese, Guido Reni, Ghirlandaio, Andrea del Sarto, Vasari and Bronzino. Also evident are works by excellent Tuscan artists from the 1750s to the late 1800s such as: Pompeo Batoni, Cenami, Nocchi, Tofanelli, Ridolfi, De Servi and Marcucci. Highly recommended is Batoni, a painter well known throughout Europe at the behest of Kings and princes; particularly his "portrait of Archbishop Gian Domenico Mansi" of 1765 (he was one of the contributors to the Lucchese Encyclopedia of Diderot and Alembert). Also of note is a curious Mansi family tree on display, dating from the second half of the 1700s. Rooms to visit are the " Sala dell'Aria" from the end of the 1600s and "Sala della Musica" from the same period. Here you will also find a beautiful portrait of Puccini's 1903 opera by Luigi de Servi. The Museum’s address is via Galli Tassi 43.
Church of San Michele in Foro
San Michele in Foro a LuccaThe Church of San Michele in Foro is located on the ancient site of a Roman Forum (hence its name), built upon a stone foundation, with columns reaching skywards. Arriving from any direction towards the centre, the church serves as a striking image. The lower part of the Romanesque façade is accompanied by a higher section built in a Gothic style. There are four tiers of loggias which are surmounted by a large marble statue of the Archangel Michael; he is in the Act of defeat, a spear in hand and a dragon at his feet, flanked by two musical angels. Such a sculpture is unique among churches: at 4 metres in height, the statue dominates the entire square, holding a spear in his right hand and a crucified globe in his left. According to local legend, a strange shimmer can sometimes be seen emerging from the precious stone of the angel's ring.

The origins of the Church are ancient and date back to a period prior to 795, the year of the first documentation. The current structure is more recent, however. Pope Alexander II rebuilt the church in late eleventh century. The building’s construction building was staggered over many centuries, hence the ensuing architectural style seen today, is the result of many periods from Romanesque to Gothic. Today, the church seems like a timeless structure, almost like a modal placed there by some kind of divine presence. The latest structure built by Alexander II was a collaboration of several architects who now form part of Lucca’s history. The façade is the work of a Lombardese architect, responsible particularly for the entrance door with lintels ornately carved with motifs. The Lunette above the main door of the Church is decorated with the depiction of a wheel of fortune, flanked by a pair of lions. Under the bezel are reliefs representing a mermaid with two tails (the symbol of duplicity and deceit) and a Centaur (symbol of violence and brutality). Between the two you can see St. Michael slaying the Dragon. Among the figures decorating the arches on the façade, (the latter renovated and modified several times), are some of the key characters of the Italian Risorgimento, which served to replace some of the damaged figures (Cavour and Giuseppe Garibaldi, Vittorio Emanuele II, just to name a few).
What will you discover inside the Church?

The interior of the Church of San Michele in Foro has a Latin cross-shaped plan and houses many important works of art. Most famous is the Madonna col Bambino (Madonna and Child) by Matteo Civitali, which can be seen on the wall to the right as you enter. Another beautiful depiction of the Madonna by Andrea della Robbia can also be seen on a glazed earthenware artifact. It can be found on the first altar to the right. Another significant piece is the so-called Pala Magrini (it is unmissable due to its bright colours, found on the wall to the right of the transept), a masterpiece painted by Filippino Lippi, with depictions of the Saints Rocco and Sebastiano, Girolamo and Elena. The latter painting is typical of many from this period, showing the face of the Saint recalling the melancholy of idealisation, similar to that of Primavera by Botticelli. Significantly, at the time, Filippino Lippi was active in the Botticelli workshop in Florence. One last important work within the Church is the high relief of the Virgin sculpted by Raffaello da Montelupo, once a close associate of Michelangelo.

Three generations of Puccini have played the organ in this church, including the young Giacomo, who lived only 50 meters away, and who as a boy sang in the church choir. As you leave the church, turn left and in the centre of the square, you will see the statue of Francesco Burlamacchi, a Lucchese gonfaloniere, beheaded in 1548 in Milan for having plotted against Cosimo de' Medici, the latter fearing a federal Tuscan republic ruled from Lucca.
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Now time for a pit-stop and a little surprise. As you come out of the gate and turn right past the church, you'll find two bars. We recommend stopping off at second, il Caffè del Mercato, which offers excellent and well-priced snacks and both inside and outside tables with views of the Church. Take a breather, and as you watch the world go by, take a look at the statue on your left, the one that lies below San Michele at Palazzo del Vescovo. The Angel is half white and half black. Continue walking, as you follow the church around you’ll see the imposing apse (the apse is the back end of a round-shaped Church).
Look at the square with your back to the church. You’ll see the large, vivid painting by Filippino Lippi, la Pala Magrini, with Saints Rocco, Sebastiano, Girolamo and Elena.
Via Fillungo and Piazza Anfiteatro

Via Fillungo - Lucca We have already spoken of Via Fillungo, a highly recommend rout for a first impressions of the city and its ancient commercial way of life. From Piazza San Michele, we continue through Via Roma, in the direction of Via Fillungo. At the corner of Via Roma and Via Cenami, you will find an entrance to a large bookstore on your left, (once an old bank). Upon entering you will be surprised by the vast space, the height of the ceiling and the light coming from the multi-coloured windows. Today the building is homTorre delle Ore - Luccae to a plethora of books to suit all tastes, as well as a pleasant bar where you can order some of the finest hot chocolate in town.

Returning to Via Roma, we now head to Via Fillungo. This 700 metre long road is the so-called "parlour" of the city. Along the way you’ll discover the beautiful Church of San Cristoforo on the right, dating from the 12th century (deconsecrated and now used for exhibitions and events). Soon afterwards, on the right, is the thirteenth century civic Clock Tower.


Piazza Anfiteatro - Lucca Further on, you’ll notice an arch on your right; this is the entrance to Piazza dell'Anfiteatro. The great arch opens directly into the large elliptical arena of the square, surrounded by cafés and shops. The name comes from its location: in the 1st century AD a large Roman Amphitheatre occupied this spot. In the middle ages, a number of buildings were built over the remains of the previous structure, which nevertheless stuck to the original outline. The Amphitheatre was destroyed during the barbarian invasions and was used as a quarry for raw materials, needed for the construction of churches and buildings. The floor level of the original Amphitheater is located approximately 3 metres below the current pavement. Along the outer perimeter of the square, you can still see the remains of massive tufa stones and boulders from the Amphitheatre. With its size and location outside of the city walls, the building gradually went into decline. It eventually became a liability to the city’s security from aggressors who would potentially use it as a base for attacks. From around the 6th century AD, the Amphitheater was fortified for military purposes and its external arches closed.

During the Middle Ages this space became a square and was called " parlascio", a corruption of the Latin word "paralisium", Amphitheatre in Latin. As the structure eventually went into dilapidation, houses were built on the site, which gradually became a mill, a salt depot, a jail known as " carcere delle grotte" (prison of caves), as well as stores and eateries. The centre of the square was divided into sections and for a while was used to grow vegetables. The outline of the old complex, built above the Amphitheatre, was still visible in 1800, when the Duke, Ludovico di Borbone, commissioned architect Lorenzo Nottolini to redevelop this urban space. Today the Piazza dell'Anfiteatro is one of the symbols of Lucca; its distinctive elliptical shape and characteristic medieval building perimeter are visible on any map. The ground floor buildings are occupied by bars, restaurants and shops.

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The Amphitheatre’s twin. The Amphitheatre in Lucca has a twin in Venafro in the Molise region. Venafro, at the time of Augustus, was powerful, one of the most important cities in the Empire. Its Amphitheatre, similarly to that of Lucca, dates back to the first century BC and was able to accommodate over 20000 spectators. It became, over time, a square with houses built around its perimeter. Yet it was not as lucky to be as well preserved as Lucca’s. Thus, there are only two squares like this in Italy…and we know which one we prefer!
Church of San Frediano
Basilica di San Frediano - Lucca The Romanesque church of San Frediano is one of the largest and most beautiful churches in Lucca and is noted for the beautiful mosaic of its façade. It was built in the 12th century on the foundations of a previous 6th-century basilica by the Bishop Of Lucca, San Frediano, to whom the miracle of the Serchio River is attributed. According to legend, the Bishop was able to divert the course of the River, which often flooded the town, with a simple gesture. It is said that Frediano, by tracing a furrow in soil with a rake, directed the waters to the paths he wanted them to take. It was either the work of the divine, or the Saint’s knowledge of hydraulics, we may never know. However, it is documented that Frediano applied his knowledge in the neighbouring town of Migliarino in 575.
The Byzantine mosaics of its façade were designed by artists from the workshop of Berlinghiero Berlinghieri. The piece is striking for the array of colours and light emitting from the design.  The work depicts the Ascension of Christ with Angels carrying the throne upwards, and the twelve apostles watching the scene from below. The small Piazza San Frediano, facing the Church, offers a good view of the tower. The latter is peculiar given the growing number of windows on each level; at the bottom there is a single opening, but higher up there are four. The battlement style is a typical Ghibelline dovetail (other than the so-called "Guelph", the top of which is square).

The interior is divided by columns imported from classical ruins in Rome (as often happened in those days), while the capitals originate from Lucca’s ancient Roman Amphitheatre. The twelfth century Romanesque baptismal font is particularly charming, finely carved in stone.  The source, lost and then shattered during the nineteeth century, was rebuilt in the middle of last century thanks to existing drawings. In a chapel nearby, lies the tomb of Saint Zita (1278), whose mummified body remained untouched, and is still visible through the transparent casket. Zita was a devout Lucchese Christian and several miracles have been attributed to her.  Now she is the protector of households, housewives and bakers. Behind the baptismal font at the top of the wall, there is a glazed terracotta Lunette attributed to Andrea della Robbia (depicting the Annunciation), and a polychrome of the Madonna Annunciata by Matteo Civitali, carved in the fifteetnth century. Equally, " La Madonna col Bambino e i Santi Lorenzo, Girolamo e Frediano", 1422, by Jacopo della Quercia is very beautiful, as well as sculptures, paintings and pieces of furniture from the 1500s and1600s. Of particular note is the Renaissance organ. In the chapel of St. Augustine, two paintings which tell the history and legends of Lucca, are " La deviazione del fiume Serchio (The Deviation of the Serchio River) and the " Storia del Volto Santo, il trasporto a Lucca" (History of the Holy Face, Transportation to Lucca", both from the early 1500s.

At the back of the Church, the former convent of San Frediano was transformed into a bording school in 1809 by Baciocchi. As you enter the college, you are led to a cloister from the 1600s and then to another of an earlier period. Today, the complex is called the Real Collegio and various events are held here, especially in December when the cloisters host an exhibit of local foods and wine called " Il Desco".

Pfanner Palace and the monumental garden
Palazzo Pfanner - Lucca Take a walk along the walls of Lucca and you will notice the beautiful garden of Palazzo Pfanner, one of the oldest buildings in the city, impressive and elegant. The building, located in Via degli Asili 33, once belonged to the Moriconi family, a powerful local merchant family, active in the field of silk. The building dates from the second half of the 17th century and, by the end of that century, it changed hands to the Controni family before being bought, in the 19th century, by Felice Pfanner, an Austrian entrepreneur, who transformed it into a brewery. The brewery remained in operation until 1929. In the 1990s the Pfanner family, who still own the property, decided to open the Palace and gardens to the public.
The highlight of the whole complex is the Italian garden, which is characterised by the presence of several statues and fountains. Here you’ll find an impressive array of magnolias, pines and fruit trees. A beautiful lemon House (see picture) is bordered by walls on the outside. The garden was most probably created during the 18th century by Filippo Juvarra, one of the greatest Baroque 18th century architects (architect of the Basilica di Superga in Turin and the Escorial in Madrid).
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The Palace has been used as a film set several times, including " Il Marchese del Grillo", with the great Alberto Sordi and " Portrait of a Lady" with Nicole Kidman. As you descend the walls and head back into town, turn right onto Via Battisti, lined with beautiful palaces. This is an area little traveled by tourists, but very impressive. The Liceo Classico Macchiavelli is housed in a beautiful building on this road.
Piazza Napoleone
Piazza Napoleone - Lucca Around Piazza Napoleone, there are a number of key attractions, all within a short distance of each other. This is the largest square in the city, decorated with tall plane trees, surrounded by interesting buildings, including the Palazzo Ducale, built in the 16th century under the direction of the Florentine architect Bartolomeo Ammannati.
The square is situated where Castruccio Castracani’s Augsburg Fortress once stood, destroyed in the 14th century, and later the Citadel of Lucca, which was also demolished in the 15th century. The current structure was built in 1806 by the order of Elisa Baciocchi Bonaparte, Napoleon's sister (from which the square takes its name) and is the work of architects John Laird and Pierre-Theodore Bienimé. The Princess razed public and private buildings for four blocks to create the space needed for the square in front of her residence. A few years later she planted plane trees to create shade on three sides, still present in the square today.
On all sides of the Piazza Napoleone, aside from the Palazzo Ducale, there are shops, bars and restaurants, some with historical significance. These include l'Hotel Universo, dating from the mid-1800s and frequented by artists and learned alike, from John Ruskin to Puccini to Chet Baker. Also the Stella Polare bar, a meeting place for the city’s inhabitants. For the little ones, the square often hosts an antique carousel. The roads are closed to traffic, creating a safe space (except for some public taxi and car services). Besides its status as the locals’ favourite hangout, Piazza Grande is also the host for important events such as the Lucca Summer Festival, held in July, a festival of pop music and rock with many Italian and international stars performing on stage.
From this square, one itinerary of interest takes you to Palazzo Ducale, Piazza del Giglio and Piazza San Giovanni and then to the Cathedral of San Martino. After climbing the Walls in the garden behind the Cathedral, you continue to the next stop, San Regolo and then visit the Botanical Garden. As you exit, turn right, walk along Via dei Fossi and visit Piazza San Francesco along with its church and cloister, until you end up at the National Museum of Palazzo Guinigi. As you will see on the map, these locations (marked with a heart) are all very near each other.
The ‘follow your heart’ route: 8 Palazzo Ducale, 13 Teatro del Giglio, 16 Chiesa SS Giovanni e Reparata, 17 Duomo San Martino, then climb the walls and descend near il Baluardo San Regolo, 33 Orto Botanico, via del Fosso, 34 Complesso San Francesco, 35 Museo Villa Guinigi
Palazzo Ducale
Palazzo Ducale - Lucca Lucca’s Palazzo Ducale is one of the main historical buildings of the city. Also known as Palazzo della Signoria or provincial Palace, it was built on the foundations of Augusta, an ancient 14th century palace built by Castruccio Castracani. The present building which dates from the 16th century is large and was completely rebuilt under the direction of the Florentine architect Bartolomeo Ammannati in 1578. It was subsequently remodeled in the 18th century by Francesco Pini in a Baroque style.

As Napoleon expanded his empire, his sister, Elisa Bonaparte, came to Lucca with her husband. With the arrival of Felice Baciocchi and Elisa in 1805, there arose the need to adapt the building to the needs of the new Court. The building of the ancient Republic was austere and somewhat bare, and needed a makeover to represent the power of the Princes and their imperial rank. Lacking an outdoor space, in 1806 Piazza Napoleone was built to fit alongside the building. Local factories produced neoclassical furnishings to create a refined Lucchese decor. Contrary to popular belief, Elisa and her husband barely lived in the Palace, preferring to stay in the Villa di Marlia and later, when they became the Grand Dukes of Tuscany, at the Pitti Palace in Florence.

Maria Luisa di Borbone, former Queen of Etruria, arrived in Lucca in 1817 with the desire to erase every trace of rival Elisa, who had taken the throne of Tuscany. After the Congress of Vienna, Lucca became a Duchy, and the new Duchess, as opposed to Elisa, chose the Palace as her residence and remained there for some time. Lorenzo Nottolini was appointed court architect, helping to renew the image of the building, changing the interiors. Elisa had removed all furniture and objects; therefore Maria Luisa had to redecorate all rooms. Its precious tapestries and furniture disappeared in 1847 when her son, Carlo Ludovico di Borbone, fled Lucca in disgrace. With the death of the Duchess, in 1824, the Lucchese Ducale was one of the richest holds in Italy.
These original interiors, which can still be seen today, include the big staircase, known as " Scalone Nottolini", the Gallery of statues (at the top of the stairs), the Hall of the General Council, the Loggia by Ammannati (in the courtyard called "Swiss" for the presence of Switzerland in the Republic Guard barracks) and the Hall of Staffieri.

With the unification of Italy, the Palace became an asset of the Crown. The King, Vittorio Emanuele II, was not interested in keeping it and removed all valuable furniture; the building grew to accommodate the province initially and then became public offices. More recently, awareness of the artistic value of the building has led to some of the luxury apartments being opened to the public and it can now be used for exhibitions, conventions and public occasions.
Santi Giovanni e Reparata

Chiesa dei Santi Giovanni e Reparata - Lucca The complex, which consists of the small square of San Giovanni, the baptistery and the Church of San Giovanni and Santa Reparata, has its origins in the 5th century. The foundations of the Church were built over an ancient settlement of buildings and Roman baths. The current structure dating from the 12th century hides a much older origin: it is located on top of a church of Lombard origin, which until the 8th century served as the city's Cathedral which was in turn built on top of a paleo-Christian Church cemetery dating from the 5th century and 6th century. The baptistery and the Church were originally different buildings, joined by the Episcopal Church's role in both. The function of Cathedral was passed to the nearby church of San Martino from the 8th century.

The current church is made up of three central naves, supported by columns and capitals characterised by beautiful interior decorations, the baptismal font and the chapel dedicated to Saint Ignatius. The latter, built by Domenico Martinelli, is one of Lucca’s most interesting Baroque achievements and is completely covered in polychrome. The frescoes on its dome are attributed to Ippolito Marracci and depict the glory of Saint Ignatius. The dome of the Church is very unique, divided into eight parts and surmounted by a lantern dating back to 1393. The stained glass windows are fine works of art from the 1500s. Restoration work began in 1968 and lasted 25 years. During this time several ancient artifacts, as well as the original layout of the fifth century Basilica were unearthed, including an early Christian baptistery. The excavations under the baptistery have unearthed layers corresponding to different periods of Lucca’s history, from its foundations until the late Roman Empire, when the area gained its first cathedral. Among the oldest finds are: remnants of the paving from a Roman Domus ( 1st century BC), baths from the 1st-2nd century AD, the Lombard burials, as well as evidence of an early medieval Baptistery and Carolingian crypt. The archaeological excavations can be visited through guided tours.

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Puccini's music today. From March to October, the church hosts daily concerts at 19:00 devoted to Puccini. Puccini was baptized here on 23 December 1858. In winter, concerts entitled "Puccini e la sua Lucca" (Puccini and his Lucca) are held a short distance away, in the Oratory of San Giuseppe at the Cathedral Museum.
Lucca’s Cathedral

Cattedrale di San Martino a LuccaArriving in Piazza San Martino, the eye is immediately drawn to the striking Cathedral, one of the oldest and most interesting churches in Tuscany. The façade as you see it today was designed in the 12th century and is the oldest part of the Romanesque Church. The entrance to the Church lies under a porch with three arches, surmounted by a series of loggias with small, " ofitiche" columns, that is knotted together. Besides the statue of San Martino, another figure can also be seen on the façade; he holds a scroll in his hand dated 1204 and enscripted " to Guidetto from Como". This was the architect responsible for the design of the Cathedral.

Cattedrale di San Martino - Lucca Like the façade of the Church of San Michele in Foro, the Cathedral has some unusual features. First of all, it is highly skewed, and this is strange for the churches, which are usually symmetrical so to achieve divine perfection. Of the three arches, the one on the right is much narrower than the other two. Under the narrowest arch, lies a curious tile with the image of a labyrinth inlaid. The inscription roughly says: "This is the Cretan labyrinth built by Daedalus from which no one who entered it could exit, except Theseus aided by Ariadne's thread". The labyrinth is a mysterious image, but it should be remembered that Lucca was at the centre of the Via Francigena, the road traveled by pilgrims on their way to Rome, also named "via dei labirinti" (labyrinth road). The maze appeals to lovers of symbolism and may be subject to numerous interpretations. The image of the maze shows an intricate and difficult pathway; reinterpreted in the Christian sense it becomes the allegory of the perilous route that man faces to reach the salvation of the soul. Some may perceive the similarity between the labyrinth of Chartres Cathedral in France with that of Lucca, as well as the maze of Alatri in the Frosinone province.

The whole façade is richly decorated and carved with lunettes above the three gateways, depicting the "Martyrdom of St Regulus" (right), the "Deposition" by Nicola Pisano (left) and the "Ascension of Christ" in the Central bezel. On the right side of the façade is the statue of Martin on horseback, in the act of sharing his precious cloak with the poor.

To the side of the Cathedral, you will find Piazza Antelminelli, enclosed by wall of the Palazzo Micheletti garden, with giant magnolia that grows beyond its perimeters. In the middle of the square you will find a beautiful neoclassical fountain designed by Lorenzo Nottolini in 1832, an excellent example of the addition of a new decorative element in a pre-existing context.
Now we enter the church…

Once inside the Cathedral, one is struck by the expanse of space as the eye is drawn upwards. This church is impressive; 84 metres in length and width and a height of almost 30 metres. The Latin cross plan is divided into three naves. The Gothic atmosphere is embellished with Romanesque elements. You will notice the difference in height between the Central and lateral naves, another distinctive feature of this church. The ceiling is beautifully decorated, with an endless blue that is a joy to behold. Among the important works of art, the Volto Santo stands out, one of the most important relics of the Catholic faith, revered by Kings and pilgrims for millennia. Kept in the temple designed by Matteo Civitali, this famous funeral memorial to Ilaria del Carretto by Jacopo della Quercia. This monument is located in the right sacristy, and was described by the great Victorian art critic John Ruskin, as the most beautiful Renaissance sculpture.

In the Cathedral there are several masterpieces, including the great altar fresco " Madonna con Bambino e Santi Stefano e Giovanni Battista" (Madonna and child with Saints Stephen and John the Baptist by Fra Bartolomeo), 1509; in the sacristy; " La Madonna in Trono con Bambino e Santi di Domenico Ghirlandaio" (The Madonna enthroned with child and Saints by Domenico Ghirlandaio),1479; " l'Ultima Cena" (The Last Supper) by Tintoretto, 1590; to the right of the third altar, la " Crocifissione di Domenino" (The Crucifixion of Domenino), nicknamed " il Passignano", on the right of the fifth altar.

Leaving the Church, you should be sure to visit the Cathedral Museum, which exhibits interesting objects belonging to the clergy’s sacred historical collection, including a statue sculpted by Jacopo della Quercia, an 18th century crucifix by Francesco Vanni, a ceremonial robe traditionally used in the procession of the Volto Santo (Holy Face) and the famous silver Croce dei Pisani (discover more in the Cathedral Museum).

Let me tell you about Ilaria del Carretto ...

Monumento a Ilaria del CarrettoIlaria was Paolo Guinigi's wife, perhaps at the time the richest man in Europe. It was said she was beautiful, well-educated and of good dowry. She ended up marrying the Lord of Lucca for political reasons, but in reality was loved by the Guinigi and by Lucca. She was only 26 years old when she died in 1405, giving birth to a daughter, also named Ilaria. Guinigi was a man of power and culture who understood art and recognised its value. In order to express his passion and power, he commissioned a tomb for his wife, something which was uncommon in Italy. By placing the tomb in an abnormal position, inside his hometown Cathedral, he could forever remind Lucca of the Guinigi family’s power. A seigneurial chapel was built in the transept of the Church. The sculpture for Ilaria was built a few years after her death, by Jacopo della Quercia; on the woman’s face no suffering is apparent, yet nor is death represented; but instead the depiction of a peaceful sleep. Instead of showing you a picture of the monument, we recommend seeing the marble sculpture in person; here is a picture of Ilaria’s dog, however, which we will discuss below.
The small dog at Ilaria’s feet

The small dog at the young woman’s feet seems to look at her, pleading to be stroked; it does not accept the events, nor can it interpret them. We have no way of knowing if the dog ever existed. It seems to represent a symbol of marital fidelity, as was the custom of the time. This was especially the case in the courts of Northern Europe with which the Tuscan Lordships were well connected. From an artistic point of view, the position of the dog guides the viewer towards a broader and deeper perspective of the woman's face.
Recent studies have established that Ilaria del Carretto was never buried in this magnificent Tomb. Her mortal remains were buried in the Church of Santa Lucia, in the complex of San Francesco, Lucca. Central to these studies is the Guinigi chapel, in which several members of this noble Lucchese family were buried. Also in the Chapel, but separated from the rest, are tombs which according to studies contain the remains of Gionigi’s wives. He had four wives: Mary Catherine of Anterminelli, the first young wife (she was only 12 years old when he died in 1400 from the plague), Ilaria del Carretto, Piacentina da Varano and finally Jacopa Trinci, his last wife (she married in 1420 and died in 1422). One of these graves has a skeleton, aged between 20 and 27 years old, which is attributed to Ilaria del Carretto. Whether or not the body is that of Ilaria, the memorial to her name remains a splendid work and is visited every year by art lovers from all over the world.
We have the famous art critic John Ruskin to thank for the fame that Ilaria’s monument has received internationally. Ruskin repeatedly visited Lucca to visit his "Ilaria" and he painted four watercolours of her. After his first sitting in front of the sculpture he wrote:

"She sits on a pillow, with a dog at her feet. Her medieval robes are quite modest, tight sleeves a closed neck, a wide open neckline. The head is surrounded by a band of three star-shaped flowers and her hair is styled in the manner of Mary Magdalene, with a subtle curl that brushes her cheek.  Her arms are delicately set back gently on the body and her hands come together in the act of praying. The soft draping reaches her feet, almost hiding the dog".

From then onwards, Ilaria would always remain dear to the great critic, a love affair that lasted almost a lifetime. In fact 30 years later he wrote:

"I think back to my first sighting of the tomb of Ilaria del Carretto and to how I knew, from that moment, that for me  she would become the supreme model."

+++  Curiosities
Is Ilaria’s nose damaged? According to popular tradition, kissing the nose of the Ilaria sculpture brought fortune to the young ladies who wanted to get married. This belief continued over the centuries and gradually, in some kind of "Lucchese suiseki" started to wear away the statues beautiful nose. Don't try it nowadays as there is an alarm fitted!

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