In your wanderings around Lucca you’ll come upon many remarkable architectural landmarks. Most noticeable are the more than 4km (2 1/2 miles) of walls, some 18m (59 ft.) wide and topped with the Passeggiata delle Mura. You can circumnavigate this tree-shaded avenue on foot or by bike, peering across Lucca’s rooftops toward the hazy mountains and checking out the 11 bastions and six gates.
The most curious feature of Lucca’s street plan is Piazza Anfiteatro, near the north end of Via Fillungo, the main shopping street; this semicircle of handsome medieval houses stands atop what were once the grandstands of a 1st- or 2nd-century-a.d. Roman amphitheater. Rising nearby is Torre Guinigi, sprouting from the 14th-century palace of Lucca’s iron-fisted rulers and topped with a grove of ilex trees, one of many such gardens that once flourished atop the city’s defensive towers; climb the 230 steps for a spectacular view of Lucca’s skyline, the snowcapped Apuan Alps and the rolling green valley of the River Serchio (3.50€ adults, 2.50€ children 6–12 and seniors 65 and over; Apr–May daily 9am–7:30pm; June–Sept daily 9am–6:30pm; Oct and Mar daily 9:30am–5:30pm; Nov–Feb daily 9:30am–4:30pm).
The facade of San Frediano, Piazza San Frediano (tel. 0583/493627), glitters with a two-story-tall 13th-century mosaic that depicts the Apostles watching Christ’s ascent to heaven. Unlike most churches, San Fernando faces east, so the facade is a glittering spectacle when the mosaics catch the morning sun. As you stroll around town, especially along the main shopping street, Via Fillungo, notice how many shopfronts display early-20th-century Art Nouveau signs etched in glass, adding a modern grace note to the city’s medieval atmosphere. A splendid exception is the Renaissance cabinetry of fine wood and glass in front of Carli, at number 95, a gold and silver shop founded in 1651.
A Storied Crucifix
Throughout the medieval era, the legends of the Volto Santo attracted pilgrims to Lucca from throughout Europe. Tradition claimed that when Nicodemus was carving the crucifix, he did not complete the face, fearing he could not do the holy visage justice. He fell asleep—and when he awoke, a beautiful face had miraculously been carved on the crucifix. St. Nicodemus stashed the Volto Santo crucifix in a cave for safekeeping; centuries later, an 8th-century Italian bishop on pilgrimage to the Holy Land discovered it (apparently the location had come to him in a dream). The bishop put the crucifix adrift in a boat, which magically washed up on the shores of northern Italy; the relic somehow got into a driverless wagon pulled by two oxen, and all by itself it arrived in Lucca. It was first placed in the church of San Frediano, but the crucifix clearly had other ideas and transported itself to the cathedral. On May 3 and September 13 to 14, the Lucchese walk in a candlelit procession from San Frediano to the cathedral, where the famous statue awaits them, dressed in gold and wearing a gold crown.
O Mio Babbino Caro
Walking around Lucca, a Puccini aria could pop into your head at any moment—but the maestro comes most vividly to life in Piazza Cittadella, where the composer, in the guise of a bronze statue, sits, legs crossed, in an armchair. Puccini was born around the corner at 9 Corte San Lorenzo, and lived there until he left for Milan in his early 20s. The modest-yet-comfortable rooms of the Museo Casa Natale di Giacomo Puccini (www.puccinimuseum.org; tel. 0583/584028) display some of his scores, some random pieces of heavy furniture, and, most notably, the piano on which he often composed. It’s open daily 10am to 7pm May through September; 10am to 6pm in March, April, and October; and November through February it’s open Wednesday through Monday (closed Tuesday), 10am to 1pm and 3 to 5pm. Admission is 7€.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.