Italy – Luca

Thursday 6 September

The wall around Luca is still complete and there are few gates through which we can drive to reach a car park. Rather than drive around the city looking for the name of the gate we should use, Peter relies on the satnav. It takes us into the ZTL and the city centre. This is not good. When we park I ask Peter to check with the Parking attendant if the disability permit allows us to have done so. She is very helpful and, with the help of a someone who speaks English and who offers to help, she contacts the local authority to provide details of my permit number, licence plate number and so on, so that any driving infringements will be waived.

On first impressions Luca is an unattractive town with little to recommend it. Its main attraction is its wall and the fortifications around it. The wall is wide. People walk, cycle and run here. It’s like a road with picnic areas, grassed areas and playgrounds dotted  everywhere alongside it. In most places trees line either side of the road. It’s much greener than most Tuscan towns. There are two restaurants and plenty of places to sit down and rest. It’s pretty. 

Before heading to the wall we check out two of what are described as Luca’s three significant churches. San Michaele has a very pretty facade made of white marble and a few stripes of green marble. Some of the marble columns between three levels are “plated” some have what look like simple black painted symbols or maybe marble inlay, others are pink marble, some are shaped. The columns and the surrounding statues have an oriental appearance. The church was built originally in the eighth century over a roman temple built in the third. Little remains of either because the church has continued to be modified from the eleventh to the eighteenth centuries. It’s a dogs breakfast. Almost no natural light enters because the window arches are filled in. The stained glass windows above are Little more than slits. Most frescoes have been destroyed during changes made to the church, although the few that remain are beautiful. The eighteenth century replacements and added chapels are typically ornate and over the top. I would say its a shame, but then I’m judging it by today’s standards. In the eighteenth century the rococo fashion was considered pretty. 

San Fernando, built in the eleventh century, has also been changed according to fashion dictates, however much more of the original art and architecture remain. The vault of the nave soars upward, and the ceiling is a beautifully simple wooden beam structure. The columns and walls are a simple grey stone. Here too chapels have been added in a rococo style. A rather gruesome curiosity is an encased corpse, clothed but with face and hands visible – this is no sleeping beauty.

We eat our picnic lunch on a grassed bank under the shade of oak trees. It’s warm and sunny. I nice place just to rest!

On the way to the duomo we stop at an exhibition under part of the fortifications and explore the tunnels that run under one of the bastions. The fortifications and tunnels were built by the Romans, were expanded in medieval times and could still be used today. The tunnels are built of small red bricks held together by cement. They are nearly three metres high with curved, ribbed arched ceilings.  It’s amazing how such a structure built by the Romans two thousand years ago is still intact!

The duomo was built in the thirteenth century, much later than the other cathedrals, and does not provide the main piazza in the city – San Michaele is more the centre of life in Lucca. It is unremarkable, but its museum has two wonderful paintings. One is by Ghirlandaio from the 1200s. The figures are three dimensional, and one, a monk, is looking directly at the viewer. The other is of St Jerome. The figure glows against a dark background. The composition is superb. The facial features, the skin, the musculature, the loincloth …  It was painted in the  1500s and is as good as any renaissance art.

In the middle of Luca is a tower on top which are growing oak trees! The trees are growing out of the tower from dirt that has accumulated there. Peter climbs the tower and says the view of Lucca from there is interesting. It’s a smallish area within the fortifications but is crammed full of dense buildings.

As we leave, the sun is beginning to set, casting a pink glow over everything. The facade of San Michele is luminous and I can see why the people who live here are so proud of it.

We drive back to Florence passing a few hill towns including one with many towers. I’ve no idea what towns we are passing. One of the attractions of driving through Tuscany is seeing these pretty towns nestling into, or perched on top of a hill. Or coming round a bend and a tower “pops” out of the forest. The speed limit is 130k and it’s an easy drive.

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