The Lucca walls may have been built to keep people out, but these days they are one of the reasons thousands of visitors flock here every year. They are unique in Italy and an imposing testament to the city’s glorious past. Wide and tree-lined, they make the perfect spot for a walk or a bike ride.
The dimensions of the walls are startling. 4 kilometres long. Nearly 30 meters wide. Made up of 11 different earthworks. By the standards of the day it was a masterful defence system.
The Lucca walls as a symbol of independence
There’s been a wall here since Roman times, when there were four openings, one for each point of the compass. It was rebuilt at the beginning of 1500 and took a procession of military architects 150 long years to finish. Its current incarnation has three doors (San Pietro, Santa Maria, San Donato Nuova), and a few that were opened later when defence was less of an issue. Aside from these and the absence of the drawbridge or wooden fences, it’s the same wall that would have faced an advancing army from 1650 onward.
Sadly for its builders however, this was never the case. The dreaded Florentine attack never came. The only time Lucca‘s walls were put to the test was when the river Serchio flooded in 1812. After the restoration of the Republic in 1430 Lucca remained the only independent city in Tuscany, enjoying wealth and peace until the French invasion in 1799. Napoleon gave it to his sister Elisa Bonaparte, and the Congress of Vienna in 1815 subsequently installed Maria-Luisa di Borbone as regent.
She was the one to convert the city’s walls into a walkway and the external spaces in parks that are still enjoyed today. Taking a stroll on these magnificent walls is one of the best things to do in Lucca.
Today the Lucchesi are still proud that their city never came under the control of the Gran Duchy of Tuscany, and today the walls are still a great symbol its independence. And a lovely spot to spend a sunny afternoon.
⇒ To see more pictures of the majestic walls and the other attractions of Lucca, check out our photographic journey through this charming city.
Why do the walls look like that?
During the Medieval period, an attacking enemy’s objective was to scale a city’s walls. Thus walls were built for height. It gave troops a better view over the surrounding area. It made them harder to climb. And easier to defend, by throwing stones at the climbing soldiers or covering them in hot tar.
But the invention of the cannon changed all this. Walls became squat and wide, so as to able to withstand the constant barrage of canon fire. And shorter, so as to be less exposed. Even the towers were made round so they were less susceptible to artillery damage. Lucca’s walls are the only surviving example of a Renaissance defensive structure in the whole of Italy.