Lucca: Tuscany’s little treasure

trav-luccatorredell'ore“WHEN I moved here 20 years ago, Lucca didn’t have tourists. Look at it now – foreign voices on every street!” my friend Fabrizio says with a mix of pride and surprise.

It’s not hard to see why this exquisite little city of northern Tuscany has so captured the hearts of visitors from around the world.

Enfolded in the protective embrace of its 4.5-kilometre ring of city walls dating from the Renaissance era, Lucca is a quieter, gentler cousin of its world-renowned neighbours Florence, Siena and Pisa.

Yet if Lucca lacks some of their wow factor, it has more than enough charm and beauty to have cut itself a sizeable slice of the tourist cake.

An ancient city, founded by the Etruscans, it became a Roman colony over 2,000 years ago and traces of its roots can still be found: the rectangular grid of its centre preserves the original street layout, the Piazza San Michele fills the site of the ancient forum and there are ghosts of the Roman amphitheatre to be seen in the broad space that is the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro.

Lucca is, perhaps, best known nowadays for its wonderfully intact walls. As they lost their original military significance, they became a pedestrian walkway, although they were used well into the 20th century as a car racing circuit.trav-luccaPiazzaAnfiteatro

Each of the four principal sides is lined with a different type of tree, and all around the old city there are pedestrian pathways inviting access to the walls. They provide a fascinating snapshot of modern life: an ever-moving kaleidoscope of strollers, runners and cyclists, family outings and courting couples: passeggiata on high.

Within the mighty walls, the largely traffic-free heart of Lucca has a tranquil air about it and the city’s small size means it is comfortably walkable.

trav-luccaancientcitywallsIf there are no truly eye-catching leaning towers or Florentine domes, there are enough interesting structures to keep the trippers and the snappers interested. Some of the soaring towers are open to the public – we climbed the 207 steps to the summit of the tallest, the Torre delle ore, for a panoramic view over the Lucchese rooftops.

It’s Italy so Lucca can also boast some very fine churches, most notably the magnificent Duomo di San Martino, and the quality of museums and galleries befits a city of such prestige.trav-luccahurchofSanMichele

For a small city – population is only 90,000 – Lucca, the birthplace of the composer Puccini, carries a reputation far exceeding its modest dimensions. Fabrizio is right to be proud of his city.

David Eidlestein