The Great Wall of Lucca

China isn’t the only country that built walls. Italy certainly crafted a few of their own over the centuries. However, there is one very special wall around the old center of Lucca in Tuscany, that might even win first place if we held a “cool walls” or a “most excellent” competition.

the famous tower

October 2013 marks the 500th birthday of the Lucchese defense wall. The city is hosting a complete year of commemorative events to celebrate, not only the construction, but also the fact that it still remains intact—incredible! Most walls crumbled, at least in part, a long time ago—you know: forces of gravity, decay, expansion, roads, modernization etc. But not at Lucca, where, the people have watched over the guard wall religiously, to fight its demise. We’re really glad they did.

We had to chuckle when we heard that someone had determined 2013 to be the special anniversary year. There’s NO WAY anybody knows the real dates! For example, was it the day the Duke made the declaration that a wall was to be built, or maybe the day they signed the contract with the local Renaissance brick and mortar company? Perhaps it was when they brought the first pallet-load of bricks onto the site. Maybe it was after one course had been laid and people realized that a second might follow. Then a third. Then a fourth. Finally: a wall. In any case, all accounts suggest that the wall we see today may not have actually been finished until 1645. Curious.

to be completed in a second time
to be completed in a second time

Our experience is that projects in Italy have a life of their own. They start and stop, and then start again. This strange timing has a phrase associated with it: “In a second time,” which means: if it doesn’t get done now, it can always be done LATER—later being the operative word. Sometimes work is even stalled long enough that the completed portion actually falls into ruin. When Italian roads cave in, a favorite solution is to set a rusty red and white striped sign in front of the hole so nobody drives into it. Then, the project is delayed for several years until the time is right. When EXACTLY is the right time? Does that warning sign constitute the beginning of the project? Anyway, for the sake of argument, let’s just say that 1513 was the year, give or take a few decades. Time to party!

Porta Elisa
Porta Elisa

Lucca has a very colorful past, which includes being part of Napoleone Bonaparte’s holdings. Legend has it that in 1804, he gave the city to his sister, Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi, while she was the “Queen of Etruria.” Four years later she was declared “The Grand Duchess of Tuscany,” so she commissioned a new, triumphal arch gate, the Porta Elisa, that opened and unified the city with the east (meaning Florence). The French influence is unmistakeable, permitting more light and air into the formerly dark, oppressive nearby neighborhood. It was a welcomed addition at the time and stands to this day as a permanent reminder of the Bonaparte influence in Lucchese history.

on top of the great wall
on top of the great wall

We can’t wait to join the festivities in October and have another leisurely bike ride around the top of the wall—maybe even take two laps to make it a real celebration. There’s nothing more beautiful than Lucca in the fall when the tree-lined path changes hue, turning orange, red and yellow, sending crisp shadows over the old medieval buildings. And while the drama of autumn casts its spell on all who love that charming city, the “great wall of Lucca” will continue to stand immovable and determined—guarding all that’s right and beautiful within that sweet Tuscan town.


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