Sunday, July 10, 2011

Off the Beaten Path Lucca Italy

Imagine a beautiful little Tuscan town protected by massively thick 16th-century walls, featuring some of Italy's finest medieval and Renaissance architecture, superb dining, and antique markets.  

Welcome to Lucca, Italy the next stop on our 12-Night Greek Isles & Mediterranean cruise vacation.

We ventured off the beaten path  for our port of call in Livorno, Italy (Florence / Pisa).  Come along with us and enjoy an hour-long guided walking tour thru the streets of Lucca, followed by our independent exploration before returning to our waiting ship in Livorno.   This four-hour excursion offers a little bit of everything - a guided walking tour, free time, a visit inside the noted Cathedral of Lucca and plenty of photo opportunities. 

Our Facebook Fan Page albums:               Lucca - Walking Tour     

This charming little town is located in the heart of Tuscany, 46 miles west of Florence and 14 miles northwest of Pisa.  Lucca saw its first city walls built in 56 AD and later became a roman colony.   The beauty of this place is still mainly connected to its walled fortifications that still surround the city centre and were designed to keep the enemies away. The tree-lined garden boulevard is now the perfect location for a slow stroll around the city walls.

Our motorcoach dropped us off at Piazzale Martiri Della Liberta where we entered the city gates and walked through Piazza S. Maria to begin our exploration. Continuing along via Fillungo, the main street in the city, we made our first stop at the Roman amphitheater. We continued through the archway to Piazza dell'Anfiteatro.

Today this unique elliptical-shaped plaza, ringed by Medieval houses, (central image in collage above) is the center of the life for the citizens of Lucca. Little remains of the original amphitheater, but one can imagine being witness to spectacles and gladiator games in ancient times.

Our next stop was at Guinigi Tower (Torre Guinigi).  The Tower was built in brick; its imposing bulk was lightened by mullioned three-light and four-light windows and decorated by coats of arms, cornices and plaques. Since then it has been one of the symbols of the town.

Throughout the city we saw references to Giacomo Puccini, the renowned citizen of Lucca who lived from 1858 to 1924 and is famous the world over. As we stood in front of the Music school where Puccini studied, we heard music from the students who are following in his footsteps.

Continuing to the Piazza San Martino, we came to the Cathedral of St. Martin (Duomo di San Martino). It was consecrated in 1070 by Pope Alexander II. This beautiful marble cathedral features magnificent Romanesque sculptures on its façade and a much-revered crucifix and notable works of early Renaissance art inside.

The Baptistery of St. John, the church of Santa Reparata and the Duomo of San Martino are three different buildings in three adjoining squares, but form a single complex, both for their position and for their millenary history.

 The final stop on the guided-tour portion was at the Church of San Michele in Foro which is located in Piazza S. Michele. Dating back to the 12th century, this stunning example of Romanesque architecture features one of the most interesting facades in Italy. Outside, its four colonnaded levels of gleaming white marble are inlaid with a menagerie of real and mythical animals. 

The dimly lit interior hosts a painted wooden crucifix with the Virgin Mary and St. John dating from the late 12th century and a white enameled relief of the Madonna and Child, attributed to the famous Italian sculptor Luca della Robbia.

Free time in Piazza S. Michele

Now that the guided-tour was complete,  we had to stop for some Gelato and explore the other shops in the square.   Since we had made a purchase, the Gelateria owner allowed us to use their WC (restrooms).  We suggest you do so before returning to the meeting point to avoid having to pay to use the public WC. 

Continuing along via S. Paolino, we now enter Puccini territory. He not only worked as an organist at the Chiesa dei S. Paolino (1515) but in 1881 his first composition "La Messa a Quattro Voci" was performed here.  We walked a little further to  our pickup point - Piazzale Verdi where we waited for the rest of our group to return.  More details about are free time can be see in our photo album.

We hope you enjoyed your virtual visit to Lucca.   Should you find yourself near Florence or Pisa, we suggest you consider visiting this charming city.  We thoroughly enjoyed our visit along with the drive through Tuscany.

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