Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Tuscan Trails: Lucca

The cathedral in St Michael's Square
Lucca is a charming town that still has its three- mile circumference city walls intact, much like Xian. And like the Chinese city, people can bike around the city walls, as the ones here are like a promenade complete with pebbles and trees.

The walls are quite thick, and the Romans made it into the best army base; it never really had to defend itself nor was it heavily destroyed during World War II.

Composer Giacomo Puccini
In 5 AD Lucca was the capital of Tuscany and in 1250 it was one of the richest towns in Europe, as merchants had to pass through this town. However it quickly lost its influence when Florence became strong in textiles, thus attracting talent, technical know-how and power.

As it gained strength, Florence also began conquering other towns except Lucca, which managed to become independent. But Lucca also managed to specialize in silk, in particular weaving gold thread into it.

These days it is best known for making shoes -- particularly sewing the leather uppers, which is why there are many shoe shops here and places to buy leather goods.

One of the most famous people to come from Lucca is composer Giacomo Puccini. Apparently his music is the most played in the world, with songs from La Boheme and Turandot. His childhood home was pointed out to us, and we got to see that he probably had a good view of the church in St Michael's Square, the centre of the town.

Along the top of the city walls of Lucca
The facade of the church is embedded with many images and messages for the common people on how to go on the path to purity. On top of the church is St Michael with a spear to kill the devil.

Somehow the town of over 80,000 people has over 50 churches. Our guide explained that during Roman times, the Romans did not get along with the Christians and so the churches were in a corner of the town. But soon afterwards they proliferated and many of the churches are in buildings that don't necessarily look like a typical church.

Many pilgrims come here to see "the Holy face of Jesus"... it is said in the Bible that Nicodemus took Jesus down from the cross and prepared him for burial. He was Jewish and could not create icons of God. But he had tried to sculpt Jesus' face and left the work unfinished overnight.

Can you see the graffiti from the 13th century?
Somehow the face was completed while he slept, which suggests it was done by an angel. It was proclaimed to have a "perfect face" that looks Syrian, with dark hair and narrow eyes. Unfortunately we weren't able to see it for ourselves; and on September 13, the residents celebrate the Luminara, the day of the crucifix, where the town is lit with candles and there is a procession to the sculpture.

In any event our guide wanted to point out that even in the 13th century there was graffiti on the walls. Graffiti is an Italian word that means "scratches".

We were then led to a square that was actually oval because before it used to be an amphitheatre and over time it lost its use and people modified the space into other more practical things, like a marketplace in the 1830s. Today it's a "square" surrounded by restaurants and touristy shops.

Some enticing buccellato in the pastry shop
Our guide tried to continually tell us that even though Lucca is an ancient town, it is still alive thanks to the inhabitants. And we liked wandering the streets and could have done so for a whole day.

To snack on, the best known food here is buccellato, a bread that is slightly sweet.


  1. Did you have the same guide throughout your Italian tour? He (or is it a she?) sounds very informative!

    1. Actually we had a guide with us the whole time who is from Montecatini, but at many of the spots we had local guides. The one for Lucca was a he! The one for Florence was a she...