The Cathedral of San Martino
The most important church is the Cathedral of San Martino, a Roman Catholic cathedral dating back to 1063. Renowned for the Ilaria del Carretto tomb by Jacopo della Quercia of Siena (now in the adjacent museum) and Volto Santo. Il Volto Santo (Holy Face of Lucca) cedar-wood crucifix and image of Christ, according to the legend, was carved by his contemporary Nicodemus, and miraculously conveyed to Lucca in 782.
Very particular is its bell-tower, from which you can enjoy the magnificent view of the city.
In the square next to the fountain, there is a nice bar where you can have a drink at sunset. The position is ideal to admire the finely decorated façade turning orange/pink on a nice evening.
The square in front of the cathedral is also the site of an antiques market on the 3rd Sunday of each month.
San Michele Church
This is the second big church of Lucca, often mistaken for the Cathedral because of its size and centrality. San Michele Church is situated in the homonym square of San Michele, and built on the site of the old Roman forum. The main part dates from the 12th Century, but the most notable feature is the façade, which is richly decorated. In the spandrels, green mosaic huntsmen, hawks and hounds chase stags, boars and deer, while lions and dragons fight each other – a medieval bestiary in stone. Many of the capitals bear 19th Century additions – notably the carved heads of such heroes of the Risorgimento as Garibaldi, Vittorio Emanuele, Cavour and Napoleon III.
On the highest point of the church there is a 4 meters high statue of the archangel San Michele defeating the dragon, symbol of evil. By nightfall, from the corner of the square between via San Paolino and Via Vittorio Veneto if you look up at the archangel San Michele, you will be able to spot the light of a diamond ring on his finger.
The last church in our recommendation is San Frediano. This is a medieval Basilica with a splendid 13th Century golden façade mosaic of the Ascension. This church gives it best at golden hour, when the light enhances the color of the mosaic.
Inside, you may find several chapels with a lot of frescoes and the remains of Santa Zita, a well celebrated Saint in Lucca.
Located in the hearth of the historic center, this unique square is certainly one of the most attractive sites in Lucca.
Preserved as an open oval piazza, its name comes from the original 2nd century Roman amphitheater on the remains of which it was created. In the Roman era, people gathered here to watch gladiator shows and games.
Over the course of time the use of this space changed and it became a square for the town.
It was only in the nineteenth century that the architect Lorenzo Nottolini transformed the amphitheater into the city market place. The market was kept there until the first half of the twentieth century when it was moved to Mercato del Carmine. Nowadays it is surrounded by nicely restored medieval buildings (extremely picturesque), and is full of shops, cafes and restaurants where to eat or drink outdoors.
The Guinigi Tower - one of the few towers left standing in the city - is one of the most representative monuments of Lucca. It's most unusual feature is the hanging garden with 7 ancient holm trees.
In the early 14th Century - when it lay inside a much smaller surrounding wall than the present one - Lucca was extremely proud of its 130 towers and campanili, the majority of which had been destroyed during the years. As masters of the city, the Guinigi family decided to embellish their austere residences with a tower planted with trees, as a symbol of rebirth and of their power. It takes 230 steps to arrive at the top of the tower, but it is worth the effort: the scenery from the height is magnificent!
Torre delle ore
While shopping in via Fillungo, the main promenade street, you can take a break hiking up the 207 wooden steps of Lucca's 13th Century clock tower. With its 50m of height, it was the highest of the city's medieval towers.
Legend has it the Torre delle Ore is inhabited by the ghost of Lucida Mansi, a Lucchese lady who sold her soul to the devil in exchange for remaining young and beautiful for three decades. On 14 August 1623 the devil came after her to pay her debt, only for Lucida to climb up the clock tower to try and stop time. The devil caught her and took her soul.
Palazzo Pfanner is a stunning 17th Century palace. Its baroque-styled garden is irresistible with its ornamental pond, Belle Époque lemon house and 18th Century statues of Greek gods posing between potted lemon trees. The orangerie is the location for the well known Imbuto restaurant.
In 1820 the Duchess Maria Luisa of the house of Bourbon decided to create a botanical garden for scientific purposes and established an experimental laboratory in the area known as the Roman “Piaggia”. Throughout the years, the garden has enriched its collection of rare and exotic plants which were planted also in the gardens of the villas of the local nobility. A small lake adorns the garden in which you can see a rich variety of plants, typical of the mountainous area of Lucca, including medicinal and culinary plants.
In Summer, at the Botanical Gardens you can attend concerts and other musical events, which, in that particular place, create a very romantic and magical atmosphere.
Museum Giacomo Puccini
Puccini lovers can visit the Maestro’s natal home, which preserves the memories of the composer. This museum houses the piano on which he composed Turandot, drafts and costumes, as well as letters and a large part of the family photos.
National Gallery Palazzo Mansi
Do not be fooled by the semplicity of the exterior palace: the inside is an elegant space built around courtyards with shady loggias. The room themselves are opulent illustrations of the ancient wealth of Lucca. They culminate in a wildly rococo Wedding Room with a huge canopied bed hung with elaborately embroidered silk.
Palazzo Mansi, a real Museum-Residence, is a remarkable example of Lucchese merchant's mansion, tightly related to the peculiar vicissitudes of the local nobility. At the end of the 17th Century, the owners turned it into an "official palace" and renovated it according to the then-prevailing Baroque taste. It is now an example of a "museum within a museum".
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