The origins of Lucca, a historical overview
The area of land surrounding Lucca is extremely diverse in terms of form and shape: the coastal strip of Versilia stretching from the Alpi Apuane to Lake Massaciuccoli, the Garfagnana, the plane of Lucca; different lands acquired in different times and ways. A decisive moment for the history of Lucca’s land formation was in 1186 when Emperor Henry 4th granted Lucca an independent jurisdiction. Lucca succeeded to develop its dominion of the areas surrounding the city, especially in Versilia and Garfagnana, reaching the peak of its expansion during the lordship of Castruccio Castracani, who seized the Valdinievole area from the Florentines.
Lucca’s rule proceeded with highs and lows up until 1400 when the Malaspina family permanently seized Massa and Carrara (1445) and several years later (1452) Higher Garfagnana as well, whereas Florence continued to wear away territories on the Versilia side up until the definitive subjugation of Pietrasanta in 1513.
The ancient trades of Lucca and its surrounding areas
The area around Lucca, but generally the whole of Tuscany, is highly attached to tradition. Its bond with the land has always been very solid, and has been the source of distinctive produce which has become world famous. The Tuscany region, due to these close ties, also decided to safeguard its ancient rural trades. The province of Lucca has always been attached to the land and rural activities, the ancient trades of Lucca, which are still surviving today, are predominantly linked to country life. Traditional oil pressing with millstones, cereal milling, flour and chestnut production.
Lucca and its architecture
In the province of Lucca, there is a much stronger influence of Roman architecture compared to other Tuscan cities. Its wealth of historical documentation has reported the presence of numerous churches from the 8th and 9th centuries, the majority of which were restructured in Roman times.
The culture of the Lombardy region had a particularly strong influence on the Roman architecture of Lucca, an obvious example of which would be the numerous heavily built bell towers, which are clearly of Lombard origin, despite being interpreted in Lucchese style in stone and terracotta with mullioned windows. The churches of San Frediano di Lunata and San Paolo, and the churches of Capannori and Santa Margherita are among the most noteworthy.
Lucca: a city of merchants
The Guinigi family first appeared on the maps of Lucca in the 11th century, when they began to consolidate their economic fortune achieved through dealings and banking.
The Guinigi lineage attached its name to Lucca between the end of the 13th and the start of the 14th century, first with Francesco di Lazzaro, then with Paolo Guinigi, lord of the city from 1400 to 1430. His dominion coincided with a focal period of artistic growth and a general development of tastes and fashion, at the height of the most prestigious Italian and Transalpine courts.
The most important commissions included: the silver cross known as “dei Pisani” (belonging to the Pisans), preserved in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo (Museum of the Works of the Cathedral), the suburban villa of the lord, which is today the seat of the National Museum, and the splendid monument in honour of the passing of Guinigi’s second wife, built by Jacopo della Quercia and preserved in the cathedral of Lucca.
The 13th century, on the other hand, gave rise to the two Guinigi buildings in the street named after the family, one of which is towered-over by the famous ‘torre coronate di lecci’ (oak-crowned tower), a must-see for visitors to Lucca.
Lucca’s local products: olive oil and wine form the hills of Lucca
The Lucchese countryside offers products that, due to their distinct features, have become highly regarded throughout Italy. The hills of Montecarlo, a medieval town approximately 6 miles from Lucca, is where the white wine Montecarlo label (1969) and the red label (1985) are produced. Since 1968 the red and white wines of the Lucchese hills have come from the hills of Capannori and Parcari.
Another highly esteemed product both nationally and internationally is the olive oil from the Lucchese hills. This extra virgin olive oil is pleasant and delicate in taste, and is produced by pressing olives which have just been gathered.
Other essential products for Lucchese cooking are unsalted bread, potato bread, sliced meats: ‘biroldo’, salted meat, salamis and cereals: spelt, beans, chickpeas… Typical deserts from Lucca include the local doughnut-shaped ‘buccellato’ and the ‘castagnaccio’ made from chestnut flour.
For more information: www.comune.lucca.it
The Lucchese villas, or villa-style buildings, can be found in the countryside and in the hillside that surrounds the plane of Lucca, which today represent its strikingly beautiful heritage. The villas of Lucca were built between the 15th and 19th centuries as summer residences for the more well-to-do classes, as an alternative to their winter homes. These prestigious residences are still for the most part privately owned, having been passed down through the generations.
The structure of Lucca’s villas is a real work of art: extensive gardens, archways, large halls, frescos and statues, parks with ponds and small lakes. Visitors find themselves in close contact with a multitude of elements that range from architecture and landscape, agriculture and traditional trades, which create a meditative and intimate atmosphere.
The Grabau villa is one of the most predominant Lucchese residences of the Renaissance, which has preserved period furniture and works of art. It was built by the wealthy Diodati merchants on the ruins of a medieval ‘borgo’ (hamlet). In 1868, it was passed onto Carolina Grabau, the wife of a rich German banker. The 22-acre park surrounding the villa with century-old trees and rare varieties of plant life is particularly noteworthy. The fine lemon grove dating back to the 6th century contains more than a hundred ancient lemon earthenware terracotta pots marked with the emblems of their original users.
The Bernardini villas stands as notable example of late Renaissance architecture. The residence commissioned by Bernardo Bernardini was completed in 1615 and has always remained within the family heritage. Scholars and enthusiasts have been particularly interested in the Bernardini coat of arms which is displayed on paintings and engravings on many items of furniture dating back to various periods. www.villabernardini.it
The Oliva villa, previously the Buonvisi villa, dates back to 1500 by request of Ludovico Buonvisi who commissioned the Lucchese architect Matteo Civitali. Over time, it was acquired by the Oliva family. The residence is comprised of two overlapping halls and an evocative open gallery with Matraia stone columns, which faces the magnificent 12 acre park. www.villaoliva.it
The Mansi villa has been an example of the culture of the ancient aristocratic republic since before the 16th century. The Mansi were a family renowned all over Europe in the silk trade, and had close ties with the Lucchese patrician families, thanks to whom they were able to acquire the Segromigno villa in the 17th century. The Mansi family endorsed the restructuring of the facade of the villa, which was overseen by the Lucchese architect Giusti, and the significant transformation of the garden through the work of Filippo Juvarra. Visitors are fascinated by the Mansi villa for its harmonious gardens and architecture, which once hosted kings, ambassadors and prestigious names such as Puccini and poet Borchardt.
The Torrigiani villa stands as the best example of baroque architecture in Tuscany. The villa and its park which date back to the 5th century, originally belonging to the Buonvisi family, were acquired by Marquis Santini, the ambassador of the Republic of Lucca to the court of Louis 14th, which brought about significant changes inspired by the architecture of Versailles. From the 19th century, the park acquired a more romantic appearance, a magnificent avenue of cypress trees, which is the gate to the impressive baroque style front of the villa, where precious original furnishings and Pietro Scorzini frescos have been perfectly preserved. Today the villa is still inhabited by the family descendent from Nicolao Santini through the marriage of Vittoria Santini and the Marquis Pietro Guadagni Torrigiani in 1816. The Camigliano villa has remained the heritage of the original family line through the marriage of Marquise Simonetta Torrigiani and Prince Stigliano Don Carlo Colonna in 1937. www.villelucchesi.net
More information: www.comune.lucca.it