Lucca, about an 1.20 hour from Florence, is a beautifully maintained historical city. The center, mostly reserved to foot traffic, is full of boutiques and eateries. Lucca is also worth visiting for its architecture and historical sites. The symbol of Lucca though, is its fortified walls which enclose the center. They are the perfect place for a stroll, a bike ride or even a picnic.
The walls: a brief historical overview
The walls that now surround the city of Lucca are actually the fourth version. The first settlement in Roman times (more on the history of Tuscany) already had city walls fortifying the city. It is still possible to see some remains of the Roman wall near the Santa Maria della Rosa church. Most of the Roman and Medieval walls were destroyed to make way for the one we see today, that dates back to the Renaissance, and took more than a hundred years to build. Elisa Baciocchi (Napoleon’s sister and Princess of Lucca) decided to transform the walls and the area around them into a green space for the people to enjoy, thus creating the version we see today. Interestingly, the walls were never used for their original purpose (protecting the city from an invasion) but saved Lucca from a flood in 1812.
Facts about the walls
The Lucca city walls are over 4 kms long and 12 meters high. There are 6 doors that offer access into the city. Only three of these doors are the original ones built during the construction of the walls: Porta San Pietro, Porta Santa Maria and Porta San Donato. In order to go through the doors by car, you need special access which only Lucca’s inhabitants have. There are many car parks around the city walls to choose from.
The Lucca walls by bike or on foot
Though most Italian cities boast fortifications and city gates, Lucca is a rare example of perfectly maintained walls in their entirety. Indeed, it is possible to go around the whole city on foot or by bike and enjoy wonderful views of the historical center and the Apuan Alps. The walls are a perfect meeting point and place to exercise for the Lucchesi (Lucca’s inhabitants) on sunny days and Sundays. You will find bike rentals all over the city and especially near the walls. Porta Santa Maria is a good starting point to pick up a bike, tandem or even a quadricycle and access the lane at the top of the walls. The vast green belt just outside the city walls is perfect for picnics in the summer.
Entertainment on the walls
Lucca Comics and Games is an event held over 5 days at the end of October. Comic, anime and role playing fans flood the city for Lucca’s version of ComiCon. The walls become the event’s catwalk for cosplayers and spectators alike. If fantasy and anime are not your cup of tea, avoid the city from the 30th of October to the 3rd of November. In 2018, 251,000 people bought tickets to the event and though it is well organised, the whole of Lucca comes to a standstill. Only a true aficionado would brave such a crowd.
Lucca’s city walls offer a great compromise for history lovers and travellers looking for an original way to spend an afternoon. Get away from the crowded streets of the historical center and enjoy the fresh air and amazing views. Doing the full circuit of the walls is also the best way to understand and visualise the city as a whole.