What to see in Lucca - Top 10

Top 10 sights and attractions and things to do and see in Lucca

 

One of the first things to do in Lucca is going for a walk, actually two: one along its city walls (le Mura) and the other along Via Fillungo. In the introduction to Lucca we explained how the walls, which encircle the city centre, are a great way of getting a great overview of the city. They stretch for more than 4 kilometres, acting as a "kind" of elevated park overlooking the town. Their massive trees, offer a perfect place for walkers, particularly in the summer months. We will now look at Via Fillungo, one of the most picturesque and popular streets.

A walk along the Walls and Via Fillungo

Via Fillungo - Lucca A quick glance at the map and you will soon spot Lucca’s Roman past: a cross formed by the intersection of its two main streets: Via Fillungo and Via Cenami. These cross the city vertically and Via San Paolino / Via Roma / Via Santa Croce cross horizontally. A walk through any of these streets will reveal a wealth of monuments, quaint boutiques, cafés and chocolate shops, where you can stop off along the way for some shopping or just to have a break. Along the way are many historical shops, over a century old, with fine wooden cabinets on display. Of particular note is Francesco Lenci’s shop at number 69, la Profumeria Ristori at 83 and Carli at 95, a jewelers from the late 1600s. While there are fantastic shops all over the city centre, Via Fillungo, the ancient vein of the city, could certainly be described as the essence of shopping in the city.

Ebook di LuccaVia Fillungo is a long narrow street, always crowded , with libraries, Art Nouveau windows and the distinguished palaces of Boccella, Guinigi, Buonvisi, taking their name from many of the city’s famous aristocratic families. At the end or "al Fillungo", as the locals say, you will find San Frediano. This Romanesque basilica has a rare thirteenth century mosaic set on its facade, unnaturally oriented, almost theatrical. A symbol of the educated merchant elite who ruled from 200-600 AD , the basilica contains many stunning works of art, commissioned by prestigious foreign artists. This includes the chapel, frescoed at the beginning of 500 AD by the Bolognese Aspertini, as well as works of French art and sculptures by Jacopo della Quercia...Continue reading on: Via Fillungo.

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The places of Giacomo Puccini in Lucca

Casa natale Giacomo Puccini - Lucca Lucca is the birthplace of the famous composer Giacomo Puccini, the father of such immortal operas as La Boheme, Turandot, Tosca and Madame Butterfly. Many foreign tourists who visit the city are attracted by its association with Puccini, whose global popularity is often greater than that it enjoys in Italy itself. Along the Via San Paolino, before getting to the magnificent Piazza San Michele...Continue reading on: The places of Giacomo Puccini in Lucca.

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The most beautiful view in Lucca?

Torre delle Ore - LuccaA simple answer, the top of a tower! You can choose from the Torre delle Ore (the Clock Tower, along via Fillungo), and Guinigi Tower (in Via Sant'Andrea). The former’s 207 steps will lead you to spectacular views of the city from its highest vantage point. In addition, the public clock (of which the tower gets its name) dates from 1754 and was built by a Swiss, Louis Simon. It is hand-wound. The Torre delle Ore is not lacking a legend or two and comes complete with its own ghost!

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Guinigi TowerThe unmissable Guinigi Tower, with its oak trees growing out of the top, is one of the most striking sights in the city. Built of stone and brick and 45 meters high, it is located between the privately owned medieval towers; it is the only survivor of the city’s sixteenth century architecture, when all the towers were torn down or damaged. The Tower stands at the corner of Via Sant'Andrea and Via delle Chiavi D'Oro and is undoubtedly one of the strangest and unmistakable sights of Lucca. Adjacent to it is a fourteenth century building, named after its owners Michele and Francesco Guinigi, rich merchants and bankers of Lucca. This type of tower was designed to highlight the importance of the family owner, as well for defensive purposes. From the top they could throw or propel projectiles towards rival families or fellow citizens and/or their property nearby. Built closely around the towers were houses for the members of the family’s coterie, often with their own parish church. The entire complex, as is evident in this street, served as a compact urban retreat, whose narrow streets could easily be barricaded and defended. The great artist and Victorian art critic, John Ruskin, compared the Guinigi Tower’s beauty to several other notable Italian towers "The Guinigi here, Verona and the bell tower, and St. Mark's are all extremely beautiful."
Over time the tower, along with the city walls, has become a distinctive symbol of Lucca. With 230 steps, the panorama is worth the small effort; from here you will have views of the city, the Apuan Alps in the distance and the distinctive circular outline of the Piazza dell'Anfiteatro.

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A corner of Paradise

Palazzo Pfanner - Lucca On a map, or looking down at the city centre from above, you will spot a triangle, whose vertices are represented by Piazza dell'Anfiteatro, Chiesa di San Frediano and Palazzo Pfanner. Along Via Fillungo, to your right, you will find the first vertex of the triangle, Piazza dell'Anfiteatro, built right on top of a Roman amphitheater. It is a rounded square, which is overlooked by colorful houses and is very popular with tourists who can be found sipping drinks in one of the many cafés. After visiting the square, head back on via Fillungo, where you will discover a unique church. About 100 meters on the left you will discover the beautiful Chiesa di San Frediano which we have already mentioned, with its incredible mosaic silhouetted against the sky. Once you have visited the church exit and turn left. Have a look at the ceramic handicrafts on display in the shop on your left, then climb the city walls and enjoy the view from the top of Palazzo Pfanner and its monumental garden.
Continuing along the Via Cesare Battisti, you will notice the presence of many noble palaces: Palazzo Pfanner (Via degli Asili), Palazzo Lucchesini (home of the Machiavelli Classical School), Palazzo Andriani, Orsucci, Santini, and Minutoli Tegrimi, as well as the monumental Palazzo Tucci.

 

Palazzo Pfanner

via degli Asili, 33

Palazzo Pfanner - Lucca During your walks to the Walls of Lucca you can not help but notice the beautiful garden of Palazzo Pfanner, a building that seems to come directly from a fairytale from how impressive it is. This is one of the oldest palaces in the city, once belonging to the Moriconi family, a powerful family of local merchants, active in the silk industry. The building dates back to the second half of the seventeenth century (in 1660 to be exact)...Continue reading: Pfanner Palace.

 

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The Botanical Gardens and i Fossi

Botanical Gardens - Lucca The Botanical Gardens (L’Orto botanico), founded in 1820 by Maria Luisa of Bourbon (from an initial conception by Elisa Bonaparte in 1814), is Lucca’s most unique garden, suspended between the walls and the city itself. It extends over two hectares and is located in an area formerly reserved for ancient ball sports and a burial ground for heretics. The entrance is at the foot of the walls near the baluardo di San Regolo. Here you will find many precious plants from around the world, the beautiful greenhouse cactus and pond lilies. The Garden is divided into two major parts, one that includes the arboretum, the mound and the pond, the other the botanical school and botanical greenhouses. In the Cesare Bicchi Botanical Museum there are many interesting historical documents on cultivation to be found. Leaving the Orto gate, walk through Via del Fosso, divided in two by a water channel along its entire length, once used for the transportation of silk and now home to many children trying to spot a fish! The channel or ditch (Il Fosso), which gives its name to the street, connects to the old moat of the medieval walls. On the left, you can still see the large gateway of Porta di San Gervasio even today.

At this point, with the gateway to your left, you can choose to go straight on or turn right. If you go straight down Via dei Fossi to the end, you'll discover the statue of Madonna dello Stellario, dating from the 1600s (placed on top of a Corinthian plinth), and turning left, you'll find Piazza San Francesco, which we will discuss shortly.

On the contrary, if you turn right, after a while you will find the Chiesa della Santissima Trinità, and in front of this Villa Bottini, whose gardens are open to the public (a unique Christmas market takes place here every year). Continuing further, you will encounter the Chiesa di San Micheletto, rebuilt in 1700, and the former Convento delle Clarisse, now the headquarters of Ragghianti Foundation, a cultural point of reference Lucca, which promotes knowledge of modern art. Of note in this complex, is the beautiful Gothic cloister and the small but interesting library dedicated to the history of art. Further on your left, is the Chiesa di San Ponziano, with a large adjoining monastery, now home to a secondary school.

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The Re-naissance Piazza

San Francesco Square Lucca At the end of Via dei Fossi turn right towards the grand Re-naissance piazza, the beautiful Piazza San Francesco, once scarred by a car park, now fortunately, completely pedestrianized. Here you will find the second largest Franciscan convent in Italy, after Assisi. It is a large complex, perfectly restored, which now houses the IMT, a post graduate institute attended by some of the top students from all over the world. Thus, in the piazza’s bars you will hear the sounds of many languages! It is part of the Chiesa di Santa Lucia, where the remains of Ilaria del Carretto, whose famous tomb are buried lies inside the Duomo. The Chiesa di San Francesco, which among other things, houses the remains of the other great Lucchese composer Luigi Boccherini, has been beautifully restored and returned to its former glory. Now desecrated, it hosts concerts and events, and is open only on Saturdays and Sundays. Enter the door on the left of the church and you will find yourself in a little paradise: a charming cloister, very old and well cared for. Crossing it you will come to Parco Mazzini, a beautiful green space perfect for children.

Lucca’s antique market

San Francesco Square Lucca On the third Sunday of the month and the preceding Saturday, the main squares of Lucca, are filled with exhibitors and visitors with the Mercato Antiquario Lucchese. It involves over 200 exhibitors from all over Italy and is considered one of the most important in the country, not only for the quality of the exhibits, but also for its scenic setting in the streets and squares of the city. The market runs between Via del Battistero, Piazza Antelminelli, Piazza San Martino, Piazza San Giusto, Piazza San Giovanni and Piazza Bernardini. The antique market dates back to 1970, but the Lucchese antiquarian tradition is much older and was born in the Middle Ages, when noble families sought exclusive pieces throughout Europe to adorn their palaces, often competing at the highest level . In particular, be sure not to miss the exhibitors in Piazza San Martino. Head towards the fountain and stop off at the café-restaurants you find behind: from sun-kissed tables outside you will enjoy a magnificent view of the Duomo and the stalls. If it is not market day, the piazza is will still be there, with all of its charm. The recommended route for antique lovers is via del Battistero which has many antique shops open throughout the week.

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Cathedral of San Martino (Cattedrale di Lucca)

Piazza San Martino

Cattedrale di San Martino a LuccaThe Cathedral of Lucca is an excellent and captivating example of Pisan-Lucchese architecture and Romanesque architecture. The present church was probably built on the foundations of a previous Romanesque church and was completely rebuilt during the eleventh century. Only the facade, designed in 1204 by Guidetto da Como, in marble with alternating white and green colours, has remained technically unfinished. The structure, born with five naves and then reduced to three, is in fact the first example of Pisan-Romanesque architecture in Lucca. Inside you can admire in particular the works of Jacopo della Quercia, Nicola Pisano, Matteo Civitali, Ghirlandaio and Tintoretto. The interior is Gothic in style, with an elegant three-mullioned window of agile columns in the central nave, between round arches supported by strong pillars. The northern transept leads to the Sanctuary, which is characterized by the large fresco of the altar Madonna with Child and Saints Stephen and John the Baptist (Fra Bartolomeo, 1509). The Sacristy also contains an important pictorial work, the Madonna and Child surrounded by Saints by Domenico Ghirlandaio. There are several works of art preserved in the Cathedral of Lucca, which is best known for hosting an exceptional masterpiece: the tomb of Ilaria del Carretto, the work of Jacopo della Quercia, one of the finest examples of funerary sculpture in Italy. The body of the young woman, wife of Paolo Giunigi (who was lord of Lucca from 1400 to 1430) who died in childbirth in 1405 at the age of 26, has never been kept in the famous sarcophagus and rests in the chapel of Santa Lucia in the Church of San Francesco. Do not miss to admire the pillar adjacent to the tower of the church, carved in a circular labyrinth of the twelfth century, a symbol of the long and winding road to Christian salvation ... Continue reading: Cathedral of San Martino.

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Funeral Monument in Ilaria del Carretto

 

Monumento a Ilaria del CarrettoNo funerary monument, we read in the history of art books, equals the wonderful serenity, the intense and restrained lyricism of the funerary monument of Ilaria del Carretto, a true symbol of the city of Lucca.

It still seems to feel that rhythm of D'Annunzio, to stun the soul between ancient lordships and graceful girls. "Now women wear the white cornflowers closed in their clothes, lying on the lid of the beautiful sepulchre; and you had it mirrored, perhaps, your bank had its vestiges. But today Ilaria del Carretto does not rule the land that you bath, or Serchio [...] " (Gabriele D'Annunzio, Elettra)...Continue reading about the Funeral Monument to Ilaria del Carretto.

 

Piazza Napoleone

Piazza Napoleone - Lucca Turning right from Piazza San Michele, along Via Vittorio Veneto, you will arrive in Piazza Napoleone, named Piazza Grande by the locals, one of the main squares in the city. Piazza Napoleone is surrounded by tall ornate trees and along its perimeter are several Renaissance and Gothic buildings, such as Palazzo Ducale and many bars and shops. Every year in July, it hosts the stage for the Summer Festival, an international music festival which, over the years, has attracted some of the greatest artists on the world music scene.

Palazzo Ducale - Lucca Piazza Napoleone as you see it today, was built in 1805, by order of Elisa Baciocchi Bonaparte, Napoleon's sister (hence the name of the square). Elisa demolished 4 blocks to open up the space of the future square, something which was not very appreciated by the locals. To the side of the square is the town theatre, the Teatro del Giglio, born more than 300 years ago, by decree by the Council of the Republic of Lucca. The present name was given in 1819 by Maria Luisa of Bourbon, who inaugurated the square after a long renovation. The name of the theatre comes from the lily of France, a symbol of the Capetian King, who held a place of prominence in the emblem of the Bourbon dynasty and was the direct descendant of the Bourbons from the French house, to which the King, Louis IX and Carlo Magno both belonged. The square often hosts an old-fashioned carousel, to the delight of children, and is a meeting point for the city’s inhabitants. During the summer season it hosts many events such as the Summer Festival (rock music and international pop), whilst during the Christmas period, the square is occupied by stalls.

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Festivals and events

Lucca ComicsThere are many events in the city and September is no exception: a month of events which are part of an initiative called Settembre Lucchese. On the 13th September the Santa Croce takes place; a festival which is very dear to Lucca’s inhabitants. This religious celebration includes a procession, Il Volto Santo, in which a crucifix is carried through the streets which are lit up by thousands of candles. Also, Murabilia, a gardening festival, is held in early September on the ramparts of the city’s walls.
In October, LuccAutori, a literary festival takes place, as well as the Lucca Film Festival, devoted to experimental and independent cinema. Later in the month is the Lucca Comics Games, a world-famous comic and games events, with as many as 50,000 visitors a day. In December Il Desco is held, a food and wine festival dedicated to local products (particularly wine, oil, bread, vegetables, cheeses and meats), with workshops for children and the opportunity to taste local wines for adults. On the 27th April, the Feast of Santa Zita, a flower festival takes place. On the 12th July is the Festa di San Paolino, a festival for the patron-saint of the city, with archers performing in Piazza San Martino and a historical procession of people in costume. One for the calendar in July, is the Lucca Summer Festival, with previous guests such as Bob Dylan, Robin Williams, Elton John...

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Lucchese villas and surrounding area

Villa Torrigiani - Lucca After visiting Lucca, if you still have time, take a visit to the surrounding countryside and walk along the "Via delle Ville", to discover the most beautiful villas of the territory. Available to visit (at the time of writing, but it is always best to check) are Villa Mansi in Segromigno, Villa Torrigiani in Camigliano (Baroque), Villa Grabau and Villa Reale in Marlia. Often in winter visits are by appointment and it is always best to call to find out the opening hours, which vary according to the seasons.

Villa Torrigiani - Lucca My favorite is Villa Reale in Marlia, where at the beginning of the 1800s, Elisa Bonaparte satisfied her desire to purchase the neighboring properties, creating refined rooms and expansive, scenic parkland. In 1923 the property was purchased by the Count and Countess Pecci-Blunt, who commissioned a French architect of fame, Jacques Greber, to restore the park and gardens. He created forests, streams, and the lake that you see today, all adding to the sense of romance offered by the location.

Other areas surrounding Lucca that are worth visiting are: Nozzano, a small village with a castle dating to 1300, Borgo a Mozzano, a picturesque village on the road to Garfagnana, also famous for the humpback bridge dating back to 1000, the Ponte della Maddalena (also known as Ponte del Diavolo - Devil's Bridge) that crosses the river Serchio; Bagni di Lucca, a beautiful spa town which has been a destination for European artists for centuries and loved by English tourists; Barga, a beautiful city with well-preserved and picturesque steep streets and home to many cultural events. Also to discover is Garfagnana, the mountainous area of the province of Lucca, with mountains, hills and meadows, marked by the River Serchio and several very characteristic hilltop villages. There is so much natural and artistic beauty to this area, for more information please refer to the section on Garfagnana. Other beautiful places and so dear to Puccini are Torre del Lago and the Versilia, with its famous beaches, nightlife, carnival and love of art and culture. After visiting Lucca, if time permits, we recommend to discover Lucca's surroundings.

 

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