When planning a visit to Tuscany; Firenze, Siena, San Geminiano and others come to mind, but often in Italy, small provincial cities are true jewels and deserve our attention.
Lucca in one such cities. I did visit Lucca many years ago, I had wonderful memories, and I just wanted to see it again.
Lucca is surrounded by walls, particularly well kept walls 4 kilometers and 223 meters long (about 2,5 miles), built in 1504 and completed in 1648. The walls were conceived as a deterrent against the “imperialist” ambitions of Florence.
Today Lucca’s extraordinary walls provide a beautiful promenade all around the town. The path above the walls is In fact used for walking, jogging, and all physical activity, but in the summer it also acts as a natural stage for shows and events.
Today there are six gates to access the city. Because of the walls surrounding the town, the monumental historic center remained almost intact in its original appearance, therefore there are various valuable architectures, and numerous medieval churches of considerable architectural wealth.
Piazza dell’Anfiteatro, born on the ruins of the ancient Roman amphitheater by the architect Lorenzo Nottolini, is quite unique in its architectural genre. It is a “round” piazza, today lined up with caffes and restaurants.
There are about 100 churches in Lucca; the Duomo is worth a visit. The bell tower is immediately visible from the walkway of the walls.
Equally interesting is San Michele in Foro. When I visited I could not enter the church. Because of a wedding it was disinfected and access was granted only to the guests (particularly the cute pageboys!)
San Michele has an imposing façade and it is nicely located in Piazza San Michele and near the beautiful Piazza Napoleon.
It is worth visiting the Sacristy of the Cathedral of San Martino where you can see the funeral monument of Ilaria del Carretto, second wife of Paolo Guinigi, who died on December 8, 1405, by the Sienese sculptor Jacopo della Quercia.
It is a particularly beautiful monument.
Ilaria lies stretched out on a base decorated with cherubs and festoons, of classical inspiration, with her head resting on a cushion. She has her eyes closed and appears to be portrayed in her sleep. Her dress is refined and elegant, with a particular shape, and probably corresponds to the one actually worn by Ilaria on her deathbed. At her feet a dog is depicted, a symbol of marital fidelity.
Love or Not?
When watching this beautiful monument you can think of the love of her husband for this young and beautiful spouse. However, Ilaria was the second wife, the previous Mrs. Guinigi also died prematurely.
The third wife, after Ilaria, Piacentina da Camerino, died “being still pregnant“; finally Jacopa da Fuligno, died a few hours after giving birth just like Ilaria.
But only for Ilaria Paolo did he make a funeral sarcophagus commissioned to the most famous artist of the time, Jacopo della Quercia who, to create it, interrupted the sculpture of the Madonna of the Pomegranate in the Cathedral of Ferrara. Ilaria’s beauty made the sculptor’s chisel fly, in two years Jacopo created this work of art, and then returned to his previous engagement with a soul reinvigorated by the enchantment of beautiful Ilaria.
We have two version of the story, we can pick which one suits us best. Love or not?
Tintoretto’s Last Supper
Before leaving Ilaria, it is worth looking at a panting by Tintoretto. It’s a “Last Supper,” what makes it interesting is the different point of view used to depict the scene, but most of everything the presence of women. Next to Jesus on the left, a woman—most likely a “waitress”—is listening attentively to what is said at the table, and in the foreground, on the right, a woman is breastfeeding an infant while also paying attention to what is going on with the guest at the table.
And talking about love. Lucca was also home to composer Giacomo Puccini. His house–now a museum–is in Corte San Lorenzo, and it can be visited. A statue of the composer is right in front of it, depicted with a sigarette in his hand.
A very heavy smoker, Puccini died of cancer at 65. Puccini loved music, women, sigarettes, cars, and speed, he was fined in 1902—I’m sure it was a rarity back then, and he had a few car accidents too.
Other than music, Puccini loved women as well, lots of them. The list is really very long. He probably would not get away with today’s #MeToo movement, although he had a penchant for noble women often already married and willing.
That is the pretty ocre-colored Lucca.
A quiet town of a human scale, where walks are particularly enjoyable because of limited traffic in its downtown area.