Lucca, founded 180 B.C. on a lesser branch of the Auser, initially had the function of defending the surrounding territory that had been theatre of a violent conflict between Ligurians and Romans; for this reason the walls were rapidly built. In time numerous public and private buildings were built, among them a theatre and an amphitheatre.
Like all newly founded Roman towns, Lucca was built according to a regular plan in which the urban space was divided into rectangular blocks by orthogonal road axes, "cardus" and "decumanus". The occasional discovery of sections of ancient paving preserved underground, has allowed us to reconstruct the original plan of the ancient town and tell the standard measure of the blocks. In the course of time there have been slight shifts and changes to the roadbeds; only in a few cases, especially in the south-west sector of the town, the ancient network of roads has been entirely replaced by a new layout.
The Amphitheatre, where gladiatorial shows and games were traditionally held, was built in Lucca in the second half of the Ist century A.D.. The discovery, during the demolition of some walls, of which we have news in the 19th century, of coins belonging to the reign of Emperor Claudius, suggests that work on the building was begun after the middle of the century. However, the it certainly wasn't finished before the late Flavian Age, when funds were granted by an important citizen, Quintus Vibius, whose rank was that of a knight and who, according to an inscription in his honour, found inside the arena in 1810, donated 100.000 sestertii in ten years.
Progressively, the original function of the building was lost; with its proportions and position outside the town walls it became a threat to the town itself, as it risked falling into the hands of eventual enemies. It is likely that, from the VIth century A.D., during the Gothic wars and the siege of Narsetes, the amphitheatre was fortified for military purposes and its outer arches closed. Successively, other buildings, used as houses and, for a certain period, even as prisons, were added to the structures that had survived abandon and plunder. Between 1830 and 1839, following a project by the architect Lorenzo Nottolini, the buildings occupying the ancient arena were pulled down and the inner area, its profile slightly adjusted, became the present day piazza.
The remains of the Roman amphitheatre are preserved, incorporated in buildings bordering the present day Piazza dell'Anfiteatro, in the northern part of the town.
Like the whole of Tuscany, Lucca boasts marvellous churches:
The church of San Francesco is in the east side of the town outside the 12th century walls. The very simple building consists of a vast hall with brick walls; the roof, supported by trusses, ends with three chapels that have groined vaults. The entrance on the is a large portal with above it a lunette and a rose window. In the late Middle Ages the structure of the church remained basically unchanged: only some cloisters and small chapels were added.
The cathedral of San Martino in Lucca was built in the south-eastern corner of the Roman town. The faade is linked, through the bell tower, to the old building of the 'Opera del Duomo' and other parts of the cloister; along the south side are the sacristy and rectory; the apse portion was originally connected to the archbishop's residence through a series of buildings and gardens that were pulled down to make place for piazzale Arrigoni, the present day square. Next to it is the Cathedral Museum, housed in a complex consisting of a 13th century tower house, a 16th century church and a 14th century main building.
The church of San Michele in Foro in Lucca is ideally as well as physically in the heart of the ancient Roman town. It is a basilica with three aisles, transept and semicircular apse; the nave is supported by arches resting upon monolithic pillars and the whole building is covered by barrel vaults with lunettes. The bell tower is above the southern transept. The outside of the church is distinguished by a high ribbed and richly sculpted faade; the walls are mainly of perfectly squared limestone blocks.
The church of SS. Giovanni e Reparata in Lucca is in the southern part of the ancient Roman town. The complex was the first in town to serve as bishop's residence until, at the beginning of the 8th century, the neighbouring church of S. Martino rose to the dignity of cathedral.
It is a basilica with three aisles and a transept, covered by a wooden ceiling. Large part of the interior is covered with plaster and painted to imitate stone. The facade is in white limestone, while the rest of the building consists mainly of sandstone or brickwork. The transept, almost entirely made of bricks, communicates directly with the large baptistery; the latter has a square plan.
The Giacomo Puccini House Museum, established in 1973, is in the house where Giacomo Puccini, the last of a family of musicians that dominated the musical scene in Lucca, was born. The Puccini family had moved from Celle to Lucca in the first half of the 18th century. In this house, situated at Corte San Lorenzo, Giacomo Puccini was born on the 22nd December 1858. Orphan of father, he spent here the years of his childhood and early youth before moving to Milan in order to continue his studies. However, he remembered the house where he was born all his life and it was his will that it should remain property of the family.
Lucca's medieval and Renaissance features are enclosed in its thick sixteenth century walls.
The circle of walls has eleven bastions of different shapes and dimensions. Both the so called Torrione del Bastardo and the San Martino bastion have preserved their original 16th century structure. In particular inside the latter, open to visitors, we can examine in detail of one of these impressive constructions and see how the gunports used to be arranged. The San Paolino bastion, completely restored and open to visitors, proposes an unusual and winning solution for the reclamation and usage of large underground spaces.
The sorroundings of Lucca boast an unique "Villas Landscape". The Villas, or rather the palaces in villa, are historical country residences that the Lucchesi merchants built between the 15th and 19th centuries, investing the fruits of their business and banking activities in central Europe. More than three hundred Villas, large and small, are spread out over the arc of hills that both defines and brings to a close the geographical bounds of the Plain of Lucca. Among them: Villa Reale di Marlia, Villa Grabau, Villa Bernardini, Villa Oliva, Villa Mansi, Villa di Carmigliano.
Part of the Contents and Photos are courtesy of: Archivio APT Lucca and Provincia di Lucca