Completed in 1070 to house one of the most renowned artifacts in Christendom, the Volto Santo (more on that below), Lucca’s ornate Duomo does justice to its prized procession. On the facade, three arches open to a deep portico sheathed in marble; above it rise three tiers of arcaded loggias supported by dozens of little columns, each different. Legend has it that the Lucchese commissioned many artists to carve the columns, with the promise of hiring the best to do them all; they used all the entries and never paid anyone. A pair of binoculars will help you pick out the elaborate details of figures, animals, vines, and patterns in the loggias and on the portico. St. Martin, the former Roman soldier to whom the cathedral is dedicated, figures prominently—look for the statue of him ripping his cloak to give half to a beggar. A labyrinth is carved into the wall of the right side of the portico, for the faithful to make a figurative pilgrimage to the center of the maze, as if to Jerusalem, before entering the church. A Latin inscription reads, “This is the labyrinth built by Daedalus of Crete; all who entered therein were lost, save Theseus, thanks to Ariadne's thread.”

Inside, the handsome sweep of inlaid pavement and the high altar are the work of 15th-century Lucca native Matteo Civitali. He also designed the Tempietto, an octagonal, freestanding chapel of white and red marble in the left nave, where the famous Volto Santo is kept—a venerable crucifix said to have been carved by Nicodemus, the man who helped remove Christ’s body from the cross. The cathedral’s other great treasure is the Tomb of Ilaria Carretto Guinigi, the young wife of Lucca ruler Paolo Guinigi, who died in 1405 at the age of 26; she lives on, accompanied by a little dog (a sign of her faithfulness) in a beautiful image carved by Jacopo della Quercia, the Sienese sculptor whose work heavily influenced Michelangelo. An unseen presence is that of the great composer Giacomo Puccini, who was born nearby in 1858 and sang in the church choir.