Tuscany Stories and Tips

A Walk Through Historic Lucca

View from a Tower Photo, Tuscany, Italy

Inhabited since the Paleolithic Era, Lucca gets its name from the Ligurian Celts. The word "Luk" means "area of marshes." In the 3rd century B.C., the Romans made Lucca into a piazza, and it began to grow in stature from that point on. Surrounded by walls, the structure is Roman-medieval, and the city is well suited to explore via foot.

When I wandered Lucca I first found The San Martino Cathedral, the largest and oldest church in town. It was first built in the 6th century--and rebuilt and changed several times over the course of hundreds of years. The entrance with its carved arches and huge doors is impossible to miss. Upon entry, the church is large, Gothic and wondrous. I found a modern feature, however, that truly disturbed me.

I always light candles in Catholic churches for my grandmother. When I went to do this here, I was bemused by the "candles" I found near the altar. You put your money in the box. Then you screw a lightbulb "flame" to make your modern candle glow. Kills the whole romance of the Catholic faith for me....

There is also a side room in the church at which you may pay a small entry fee to see the tomb of a saint and Ilaria del Carretto's sarcophagus. An elderly Italian gentleman in a long gray coat and bowler-type hat explained Illaria Del Carretto was married to a very important citizen in Lucca hundreds of years ago. She was much loved, and when she died in childbirth, she was greatly mourned. The dog carved at her feet signified her great loyalty and fidelity as a wife. Her body is not in the tomb having been buried before the sarcophagus was carved.

Look for the Volto Santo or Holy Face in the main Cathedral, too. This wooden crucifix was said to have been carved by a friend of Jesus--so is Jesus' actual face. It has been carbon dated to the 1st century. (Thank you, Guide Dawn, for pointing out this important religious artifact that I almost missed!)

After leaving the Cathedral, I found it very pleasant to wander aimlessly down the narrow streets of Lucca. I do not know if it is true, but one of my friends told me that at one point in Lucca's history there was a contest among the aristocracy to build the most beautiful tower. Numerous towers are all over the city. I paid a small fee (L.6.000) and climbed to the top of one of them (Torre Guinigi) for a magnificent view of Lucca. Pale orange roofs stretched beneath me, squares of green from gardens fitted neatly into the patchwork of color in the city.

Walking around looking in shops and churches and museums worked up my appetite. I ate a capricciosa pizza full of pomodoro, mozarella, prosciuto, artichokes, and mushrooms, at the Fuori di Piazza--Via Fillungo, 39--telephone 0583467673. I wondered at first why there were so many teenagers---most smoking, in trendy outfits, with face piercings (Ahh, the rebellion of youth knows no nationality!)---until one of my friends pointed out that there was a high school nearby. A fat, red dog wandered in from the street as we were eating. Several people fed him. A girl explained to me as the dog licked sauce off my fingertips that the dog belonged to the city. The city took care of the dog.

At another point in my walk I detoured into Loggia dei Mercanti Cafe where I enjoyed a wonderful scoop of Niccolo Gelato (mocha flavored) and coffee. A friend ordered a pasta dish as well as a light rain sprinkled outside the window. We wondered why the coffee and gelato were so expensive until someone remembered Italians tack-on a service fee if you stay at a table.

If you shop in Lucca, you will notice a lot of the stores are high-end. This is a good place to find those leather, Italian shoes! IgoUgo Guide Dawn also wrote to me and told me about a wonderful antique market held in the Piazza S. Martino in Lucca on the 3rd weekend of each month. Lace tablecloths and other unique items can be found for bargain prices at this time. Guide Dawn said the last time she was in Lucca, she found a morning glory gramaphone in a wood case for just $108 US at this antique market. I wish I had been able to take advantage of the lace maker she said sometimes appears to sell his wares!

Whatever you choose to do, if you are in Tuscany, do take the time to explore this quaint and lovely town.

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