Lucca, Tuscany

Once the capital of Tuscany, Lucca is the very picture of what a trip to this region of Italy brings to mind. With green, rolling hills, medieval cathedrals and even a cooking school, visitors will find an entire vacation’s worth of things to see and do here.

The city itself offers walls built during the Renaissance that are over two miles long. Many towns of the era were walled to provide defense during the many wars between Italian city-states. Today, they serve an entirely different purpose, giving Lucca the look of a huge, open castle where every tourist is king or queen.

The Duomo di San Martino is another, even older attraction of the town. The cathedral is a mixture of Romanesque and Gothic structure and will provide visitors with much to see. Originally constructed in the 6th century, it continued to evolve through the mid-14th. Inside are outstanding sculptures from the early Renaissance made of marble, including a funeral momument of Caretto, a local noblewoman.

Still earlier in period is the Battistero di San Giovanni e Santa Reparata. A 5th century bishop’s seat, the Romanesque building sports a white limestone facade covering sandstone brick. The combination is unusual even for the period. The carved wooden ceiling in the interior is especially interesting.

Visitors should be sure to see Via Fillungo. This tree-lined boulevard offers shops, restaurants and dozens of interesting sights. An authentic medieval area, cafes along the street offer a view of the Tower of Hours and other structures of the period.

After refreshment, one of the most interesting sights is still to come. The art collection at the Villa Guinigi is the envy of the region. Once the personal property of Paolo Guinigi, ruler of the town in the 1400s, the collection has been expanded far beyond his original holdings. There are figurative arts on display ranging from the Middle Ages up through the 18th century. Sculptures, ceramic objects, gold crosses and much more are housed here.

For opera lovers, a visit to Lucca is a chance to see the birthplace of the renowned composer Puccini. Creator of Madame Butterfly and many more popular works, visitors will get a good idea of where his lush romanticism first was aroused. The family house has been preserved and it is filled with memorabilia from his youth. Scores in the master’s hand, photos and even the piano on which he composed Turandot are on display.

But Puccini isn’t the only famous name associated with Lucca. Napoleon (born in Sicily) had a Ducal Palace here for his sister, Princess Eliza Bonaparte Baciocchi. Visitors can see many rooms, stairways and much more. Outside in the piazza is the Teatro del Giglio not far from the provincial police headquarters.

And, if one has a week to spend in Lucca (and an interest in the finest Italian cooking), it’s possible to attend classes at the renowned school here. Then head over to the Bagni di Lucca spa and imagine former patrons Byron and Shelley entertaining you with a verse while you get pampered in the thermal bath.

Only an hour from Florence, this centuries-old city still has much to offer the modern tourist.

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