The first thing you see as you near the city center in Lucca is the outer wall or Le Mura. Whether you arrive by train, bus, or car it is there right in front of you. To enter the Centro Storico, you pass through one of the main gates or portas’ as they are called here. They are Porta Elisa, Porta San Donato, Porta San Jacopo, Porta Santa Maria, Porta V. Emanuele/San Ana or Porta San Pietro.
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The medieval wall encapsulates the old city and is 4.2 kilometers (2.5 miles) around from one end to the other. It is the only fully intact wall of its kind left in Italy today. It is one of the most awe-inspiring sights I’ve seen in my 71 years of life. I often find myself just gazing at Le Mura and wondering what it must have been like living inside the walls while the neighboring cities tried to conquer Lucca.
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Lucca’s Three Walls
Lucca city center has three walls. The first one, built by the Romans lasted until about 1000AD. There are still pieces of the wall visible to see. A second wall was added as Lucca began to grow. This wall is known as the Medieval Wall. Parts of this wall still exist today, too. The last and current wall was built in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It was built to completely surround the expanded size of Lucca and as a fortress.
The new wall was built to keep out invaders from Pisa and the Medici from Florence. It worked. Pisa failed numerous times as did the Medici family. The Medici were so upset that they could not invade Lucca they had a family member made Pope and tried to conquer Lucca through the church. Fortunately for Lucca, that did not work either. Lucca is one of the only cities in Tuscany that never fell under Medici rule. Maybe that is one of the reasons why I love Lucca. You’ve got to love a city that stood up to the most powerful family in Tuscany and beat them at their own game.
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What Lies Beneath the Walls
One of the main features of the wall is the passages and tunnels throughout the structure. For defensive purposes, Lucca could move men, cannons, munitions, and food secretly. There are cannon batteries, gun/arrow, and guard stations so no troops would be detected above. Today the tunnels and passages are used as storage areas when needed but mostly for tourism purposes. Also simply just to get from outside the wall into the city center. Beneath the wall is a must-see if you come to Lucca, even if you are a Medici.
A Little History
With the unification of Italy in 1860, the wall was no longer needed for defensive purposes. At first, the new Italian government wanted it taken down but they needed money to run the new country, so Italy decided to sell the wall back to Lucca. In 1870, the city of Lucca purchased it back for the price of L. 112,350 (lira). With the advent of the euro, the wall cost Lucca approximately €58,03. I’d say that was one heck of a deal!
Today the wall is open for people to enjoy. On any given day you will see people walking, bicycle riding, sitting on the benches, or enjoying one of the four restaurants. For me, it is the perfect place to enjoy the sights and sounds of life in Lucca. And to think the Medici family never got to enjoy life in this marvelous city makes me very happy. Very happy!