Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Lucca: around the walls

Porta San Pietro

We first walked around the 4km-long walls of Lucca in 1997 and today we shall do so again, but this time clockwise. We enter Lucca through the Porta San Pietro, having taken the train from Pisa where we have come to spend some time with brother- and sister-in-law Ric and Gabriella who are over from Canada on a lecture tour.

The walls were built between 1500 and 1650, replacing earlier medieval ramparts. They are 12 metres high and link together 11 bastions. Trees were planted at the top to stabilise the earth that lies within the brick walls and four species are used in succession around the four sides: plane, lime, ilex and chestnut. When they were completed all trees and buildings within 200m were destroyed, leaving the grassy surroundings that you can see today. The walls never in fact had to withstand a siege and in the 19th century Duchess Maria Luisa of Bourbon had them converted into a public walkway.

We soon saw our first lion statue. It seems to be the symbol of Lucca - and there is one over the gate of San Pietro - but I haven't managed to find out why.

Soon the walls take on their classic character: a tree-lined promenade.

At one the first bastions there is a fine statue to Alfredo Catalani, a composer of opera who was born in Lucca. His most famous opera is apparently the wonderfully named La Wally (short for the Tragic heroine Walburga). According to a seemingly unironic entry in Wikipedia she "throws herself into an avalanche. It is seldom performed, partly because of the difficulty of staging this scene ..." It is a fine statue though, which my photo does not do complete justice to.

Further along the west side of the walls we come to the Porta San Donato, which is flanked by a pair of bastions providing cross-fire in the event of an attack.

Soon we turned into the long north side and reached a point where there is a fantastic view in towards the city. On the left is the campanile and apse of the 13th century church of San Frediano, an Irishman.

While on the right is the rear elevation, with its beautiful loggia, and gardens of the Palazzo Pfanner.

A bit further on, by the Porta San Maria, a massive street market was underway and we made a short exploratory detour. Soon we reached the east side and gained our first view of one of the things we remembered most vividly from 1997, the Torre Guinigi, a late 15th century tower with a holm oak (quercus ilex) tree mysteriously growing out of the top. We found it strangely reassuring that it was still there.

On the south wall, we passed the impressive Botanic Garden and before long came to the cathedral of San Martino. It dates from 1063, although the apse and the campanile are the only remaining parts of the original church.

As we approached the end, I looked back along another typical stretch of wall.

Conditions: warm and sunny.

Distance: 4 km.

Rating: five stars.

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