During the Middle Ages, Lucca’s military power grew to rival that of Florence and Siena; Lucca was, in fact, the only Tuscan town that managed to escape Florentine conquest. In 1805 Napoleon conquered Lucca and instated his sister as ruler. The town also holds special rank in the history of opera, as the birthplace of Giacomo Puccini, and as such the area is home to popular opera events throughout the season. Located near the Ligurian sea, Lucca is an ideal escape from other faster-paced Tuscan cities.
Lucca has established a prominent role for itself in the textile and olive oil industries. The famed Lucchese olive oil has a complex flavor and superior quality,ranging from fruity in taste to surprisingly spicy. To complement Lucchese cuisine, three varieties of wine are produced in this town—the Colline, Lucchesi and Monte Carlo varieties are a must try for any visitor to Lucca. The town is also known for its honey production and chestnut harvesting.
Lucca’s duomo, the Cathedral of San Martino, features a facade in relief that merits a lengthy exploration, including a close look at Nicola Pisano’s Journey of the Magi and Deposition. Inside San Martino you’ll find works by Ghirlandaio, Tintoretto, Fra Bartolomeo, and the masterpiece in marble sculpture, Jacopo della Quercia’s Tomb of Ilaria Carretto.
Lucca’s perfectly intact, four-kilometer-long city walls once provided the city with much-needed defense against enemies; today they make for lovely explorations on foot or bicycle, and provide an excellent site for picnics. The tree-lined promenade offers some of the best views of the city.
A lively and active cultural life thrives in Lucca: every summer the Opera Theater of Lucca Festival takes place in June and July; the Teatro Communale del Giglio season of operas and concerts runs from September through May; and the Palio della Balestra, a crossbow tournament and medieval festival in honor of Lucca’s patron saint, San Paolino, takes place every July 12. Each of these events brings an added boost of energy to an already fascinating town. The recent addition of the annual Lucca Film Festival, held every fall, has served to further enrich and complement Lucca’s seasonal cultural programs.