Lucca originated as a Roman settlement at the intersection of three consular roads by the Serchio River.
In the Middle Ages it was a fierce rival of Pisa and Florence and prospered on textile manufacture and trade importing oriental silks. This period was the time of great building activity especially during the 13th century, when numerous churches in the striking style later known as Pisan Lucchese rose all over the city.
Except for a few sporadic intervals, Lucca remained an independent republic for five centuries.
During the Renaissance period, when banking became one of Lucca’s chief activities, great palaces and mansions where built in and around it. The city is impressive girth of walls date from a later period. In 1799, after having withstood centuries of attempts by the Tuscans to add Lucca’s territory to the grand ducal domains, Lucca succumbed to the French. Thereafter, it was a principality governed by Elisa Baciocchi, Napoleon’s sister, and later a Borbon possession, before becoming part of the kingdom of Italy. Two of Italy’s greatest composers, Luigi Boccherini and Giacomo Puccini where born here in the 1800s.
Its economic mainstays are agriculture with olive oil, some industry, paper, and tourism. Every two years the Italian cartoon and comics Festival is held here.
The original 11th and 13th century Romanesque building dedicated to St. Martin was rebuilt in the Gothic style during the 14th and 15th centuries. Its façade is from 1204 and adorned with impressive Romanesque sculptures.
The façade dates from the first building campaign. The portal sculpture is superb, especially the Nativity and the Deposition of the left portal, both attributed to Nicola Pisano. On the side is a massive 13th century bell tower. The interior is a treasure house of art works. To the right of the entrance is a 13th century Lucchese Lombard sculpture depicting St. Martin and the Beggar. A painting by Tintoretto, the Last Supper, adorns the third altar on the right-hand side. Many of the most important works are 15th century, like a Ghirlandaio altarpiece and the famous tomb of Ilaria del Carretto by Jacopo della Quercia in the sacristy, and a marble inlay depicting the judgment of Solomon on the nave floor.
Along the left aisle is the Tempietto del Voto Santo created by Matteo Civitali in 1498, which contains a much revered 11th century Byzantine Crucifix.
San Michele in Foro
The façade of the striking 12th to 14th century church, typically Pisan Lucchese in style, is topped by an immense statue of St. Michael. The Virgin and Child on the right corner is by Civitali. Inside the church are various works, including a 13th century wooden crucifix in the right transit, a Virgin and Child by Andrea della Robbia on the right transept, and a Filippino Lippi altarpiece in the left transept.
The Museum building is a 17th-century palace, called Palazzo Mansi, which still has much of its original furnishings. The collection comprising 16th to 19th century paintings, contains several fine portraits by Bronzino and Sustermans, two portraits and a scene of St. Mark Freeing a slave by Tintoretto, Peter the Hermit Before the Venetian Senate by Veronese, as well as works by Barocci, Andrea del Sarto, Furini, Salvator Rosa, and Schiavone.
Built between the 12th and 13th centuries, the church has a simple façade adorned with a great mosaic of the Ascension. The highlights of the interior are a 12th-century Romanesque font with fine riliefs, Della Robbia terra-cottas, and the lavishly decorated Cappella Trenta adorned with sculpture by Jacopo della Quercia.
Villa Giunigi National Museum
The Museum building is the recently restored 15th century brick villa Giunigi sporting a distinctive portico façade and a row of triple mullioned windows on the upper floor. Roman, medieval and 18th-century sculpture adorne the grounds. On the ground floor you can find the Ligurian, Etruscan, and Roman archeology and sculpture of the following periods: Early Christian, Romanesque, Gothic as well as Renaissance periods. Upstairs are carved wood choir stalls, alter frontals, and other wood church fittings of various periods, portrait of Alexander de Medici by Pontormo, three painted crucifixes, 14th and 15th century Lucchese school paintings, two Fra Bartolomeo altarpieces, furnishings, textiles and silver and gold as well as works by a local 18th century master, Pompeo Batoni.
These impressive city walls erected in the 16th and 17th centuries, never served as protection against enemy attack. Rather, they were instrumental in preventing the Serchio from flooding and conserved Medieval Lucca virtually intact for 300 years.
A pleasant way to tour the city is to walk along the approximately 4 km long, tree-shaded avenue which runs around the town.