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History of Lucca

The origins

Lucca is the capital city of the Tuscan province after its name. The exquisite capital city is situated on the Serchio River, around 50 or 60 minutes driving from Florence, in a rich territorial area not far from the Tyrrhenian Sea. Lucca is also easily reachable by train, being situated on the line Florence-Pisa- Viareggio. By bus, there is an hourly service from Florence and several services a day connect Lucca with La Spezia, Marina di Carrara and Marina di Massa. Its first historical mention comes back from the 218 B.C., when the army of the Roman Republic, conducted by the general Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, was reorganized in Lucca's area after having been defeated by the Carthaginian army, conducted by Hannibal, in the famous Battle of Trebia. However, the city of Lucca had been founded by the Ligurians and by the Etruscans and it only turn into a Roman colony in the year 177 BC., because of the alliance signed between the Etruscans and the Romans, which obliged the Ligurian tribes to refuge into the Apuan Alps. In the year 56 BC, Lucca was the location elected by Julius Caesar, Pompeyand Crassus to redevelop the triumvirate (I Triumvirate). The current historical centre of Lucca is attesting the original Roman urban planning of the city. By then, the town was crossed from north to south by the "cardus maximo" - at present, the busy and elegant Via Fillungo- and from east to west by the "decumanus maximo", now the emblematic Via Santa Croce, while the current outstanding Piazza San Michele was the former site of the Roman forum.

The Middle Ages

The Roman scheme of consular roads, composed of the Emilia Scauri, Clodia and the legendary Via Cassia, turn Lucca into a principal military and trading centre as they connected the town with other chief urban points which pertained to the Empire. On account of, in the 10th century Lucca was not only the capital city of the Margravate of Tuscany - practically independent, nevertheless its alliance with the Holy Roman Empire- but at the beginning of the 11th century the town was already one of the most flourishing silk markets in Europe vying with Byzantium. During the middle ages, Lucca was as well one of the focal points of pilgrimage in Europe as the town was in possession of the "Volto Santo", the mythical cedar- wood crucifix and icon of Jesus Christ, carved by Nicodemus, which miraculously arrived to Lucca in the year 782. An ideal copy of the "Volto Santo" from the 11th or 12th centuries is currently displayed at the gorgeous San Martino's Cathedral. In those centuries Lucca saw a long period of cultural and economic increasing mostly due to the control of Matilde di Canossa, Countess of Tuscany. The countess had also a good name as chief driving of the fortifications and bridges in Lucca, like the still standing beautiful bridges called, respectively, of the Diavolo and of the Maddalena. In 1162, the Holy Roman Emperor Federico Barbarossa conceded to the town a series of great privileges, which represented the commencement of its independence. Barbarossa assured as well the city independence with the reconstruction of its legendary defensive walls, which were enlarged and strengthened between the mid of the 16th century and the first half of the 17th one, reaching more than 4 km. of imposing walls encircling the city of Lucca, which is considered a particular refined jewel in Tuscany. In the 16th century Lucca became an oligarchic Republic leaded by the main local families who built the magnificent palaces and villas which ornament its squares, streets and amazing surroundings. During the 16th century Lucca endured frequent and violent confrontations with its principal politic rivals: the Medici of Florence and the Este of Emilia Romagna. Nevertheless, the city was able to maintain its independence.

End of an Era

In the last decades of the 18th century the uneasy political situation of Lucca with other Tuscan states ended with the advent of the French Revolution and the subsequent arrival of the Napoleonic army in Italy. The oligarchic republic which had been ruling Lucca for centuries arrived finally to its end. The Principality of Lucca was headed by Maria Anna Elisa Bonaparte, married with the aristocratic corse Felice Pasquale Baciocchi. In 1805 Napoleon nominated her Princes of Lucca and Princes of Piombino. In 1809 after she withdrew from Baciocchi, his brother nominated her Grand Duchess of Tuscany. Anna Maria Elisa Bonaparte ruled Tuscany until the 1st February 1814. She established in Lucca the main lawful reforms which have been instituted by the Revolution in France, which among other important matters situated the Church into a secondary plan with regard to the State. Maria Anna Elisa was as well an enthusiast of art. Because of, during the time she was in power the city of Lucca, its palaces, villas and monuments and knew a new period of splendour. It is believed that in the course of the last four centuries more than three hundred villas of different sizes and styles were constructed in Lucca and in its wonderful province by the main local families. The traditionalist reaction that run after Napoleon I with the Congress held in Vienna, between September 1814 and June 1815, brought to Lucca the rule of Maria Luisa de Borbón, Infanta of Spain. So, Lucca remained under the Borbón power until the revolutions which shaked Italy and an important part of Europe in 1848, being subsequently annexed to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany awaiting the unification of the present Italy, which was brought to an end in 1870.

Other Pages about Lucca

Hystory and Origins

Must-See Monuments and Art in Lucca

- Il Duomo di San Martino - Palazzo dei Guinigi - Chiesa di San Michele in Foro - The native house of Giacomo Puccini

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