Lucca’s main claim to fame is its intact 4-mile Renaissance wall that completely encircles the city. This wall took a hundred years to build from the 15th to the 16th century, and it was never used to defend the city from outside attack. But it was turned into a wonderful tree-lined promenade that many people in the city walk, run or bicycle around in the evening before sunset. We have joined them in this relaxing tradition since we arrived. Since the old town has been completely enclosed, much of it has retained the 11th to 15th century buildings. The streets are still medieval and are so narrow that they can only be driven one way. Many people use bicycles to get around and have eliminated the need for a car. There are arches in the roads that lead to plazas and there are 12th century wall plaques like this.
There are not many famous sites here so we are really living in this city, not touring it. The pace of this adventure has slowed down a lot.
There is a 12th century cathedral on the edge of the wall that continued to be built and renovated until the 15th century. It is called St. Martin’s. We walked there today to see it. Due to the 300 years of building, the cathedral has architecture and styles from many periods that some how blend harmoniously together. Here it is with its bell tower on the side. It is a Gothic arrangement with 3 aisles and a transept. You can understand how medieval people were overwhelmed by the sheer size of the church. On the outside there are various statues and panels. This one of a lion and another creature is very strange. Neither David or I could figure out what he is doing. There are also 12 panels demonstrating the medieval tasks of each month of the year on the outside. From these images I would guess that you were supposed to store the wine in October and kill the livestock in December.
Inside the church there is a monument to a beautiful young woman named Ilaria del Carretto who died when she was only 26 . She was married at 24 to the town’s richest man, Paolo Guinigi, and they had two children. She died giving birth to the second child. Her husband had Jacopo della Quercia, a famous sculptor, make her tomb. He did a beautiful job as you can see. The irony is that she is not buried in the sarcophagus but in the Guinigi chapel in another church. She was Guinigi’s second wife, and he went on to marry 2 more times. It was a short life for women, even ones in the upper classes.
After visiting the cathedral we went next door to the museum, where they display liturgical vestments, silver and gold vessels and ornamentation, and some tapestries from the last 800 years … in a building that’s about 500 years old itself. It was a warm afternoon and we heard some gelato calling, so we headed for home … never a long trek in this tiny town.