Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Itay Day 9--Lucca & Pisa

Today we ventured away from Florence and out into greater Tuscany.  We didn't just travel to one place though--we did a two part day trip!  We left our hotel a bit before 9 to catch the 9:10 train to Lucca, about an hour and a half train ride away.  Lucca was very medieval looking with tall buildings close to smallish streets--and a converted town wall!

We started our tour in the middle of the town, following Rick Steves' Lucca walk.  We skipped ahead a little and began with a church we thought would close soon for siesta, the Basilica of San Frediano.

The beautiful mosaic façade was added in the 13th and 14th centuries.

This Romanesque church was built between 1112-1147. 

Beautifully painted chapels were added in the 14th through 16th centuries.

Near the entrance is the huge 12th-century Romanesque baptismal font (the Fonte Lustrale).

Next we officially started Rick's walk in the Piazza dell' Anfiteatro, the site of an old Roman Ampitheater, which is today still circular, but is surrounded by shops and filled with cute little restaurants. 

We continued down one of the main shopping drags, which, because it was Sunday, was filled with closed shops. 

(Looking back towards the Basilica of San Frediano)

We also passed three versions of tower Palazzos, once owned by wealthy merchants.  Lucca was famous for silk and as a banking town during the middle ages--people on pilgrimages would stop here to deposit there money for safe keeping...and never return. 

Tower houses, like the ones in Lucca, would have wooden stairs on the outside to get to the different floors.  Those stairs are long gone, but you could see the stone supports.  The kitchen would be on the top of the house, with a veggie garden on the roof. 

(Torre delle Ore (clock tower) which worked since 1754...until a few years ago)

(The In Mondadori bookstore, marks the center of town, where the two original Roman roads crossed)

Our next stop was a piazza San Michele.

The center of the piazza is the  Church of San Michele in foro, built over the original Roman forum.

The 13th century façade is beautiful, with sculptures and inlays, crowned with the Archangel Michael.

After leaving the church, we continued with Rick's walk around the square and stopped at a bakery Rick recommended for a local pastry-Buccellato (a dense raisin bread lightly flavored with anise). 

We went down side streets from the square, and came across Puccini's House  (a famous opera composer),

and even a street market in the piazza Citadella! 

Even though the shops had been closed, we enjoyed the chance to wander around the market.

We then continued on Rick's walk, stopping in the San Giovanni church, originally built in the 12th century. 

The real draw of this church is underneath its floor, where excavations have revealed layers of Roman houses and early Christian churches.  Crazy to think the whole town was built on top of those ruins! 

We then finished the walking tour with the Duomo, San Martino.

Of the original 11th century structure, only the campanile (tower) and the apse remain.

(St. Martin on horseback between the two right arches)

The cathedral was rebuilt in the gothic style in the 14th century.

The cathedral contains the relic the Holy Face of Lucca, a cedar wood cross and image of Christ carved by Nicodemus in Jerusalem and set afloat in an unmanned boat, where it landed on the cost of Tuscany and was brought by wild oxen to Lucca in 782.

The cathedral also includes the tomb of Ilaria del Carretto by Jacopo della Quercia (1407).  The statute was nicknamed "sleeping beauty."  young ladies rub its nose for luck in finding a boyfriend--this it is partially rubbed off.

After a quick lunch nearby went went up to walk on the ramparts. 

This protective wall has surrounded Lucca for 2,000 years, but, when Napoleon came through, he took a liking to Lucca and gave it to Maria Luisa, the daughter of the king of Spain.  She rulled from 1817 to 1824, and turned the fortified wall into the pretty city part it is today. 

(looking down into the botanical garden)

There was a large farmer's market on the walls

with even a contest to find the biggest squash! 

From the ramparts there were wonderful views back into town.

(Guinigi's Tower, distinct for the trees growing on the top, in the distance)

After a quick break in a part to try our buccellato,

We headed back to the train station to catch the train to Pisa, a 20 minute ride.  Pisa has two train stations--we went right to the stop near the Field of Miracles.

As you can see, it isn't just the Tower that leans!

We first toured the Bapistry, started in 1152 and completed in 1363.

The Duomo, our next stop, was gorgeous!  I had actually forgotten how pretty until I started this post.

(View from upper level of Bapistry)

Construction began on the Duomo di Pisa in 1063.  It was built outside the city walls, showing that Pisa was not concerned with possible attack.

(Pulpit made by Giovanni Pisano, circa 1310)

We had also paid to see the Camposanto Monumentale (Monumental Cemetery). 

The cemetary had been bombed by the allies during WWII and, beyond just destruction, the bombs destroyed the frescos, which are still in the process of being restored.

Finally it was time for our tour of the Leaning Tower (you have to timed tickets--which I had purchased online before evening leaving for Italy). 

It was really strange--the tower leans this way then the next while walking up it!  The tower was built in 3 stages over 199 years.  Construction had gotten through the second floor in 1178 and was already leaning.  Construction stopped to allow the land to settle.  In 1272, construction began again, in the attempt to compensate for the leaning, with one side built taller than the other.  Construction stopped again and the tower wasn't completed until 1372.

We then walked through Pisa to their main train station, stopping at a place Rick recommended for frozen yogurt, before continuing on our way, crossing over the Arno River.

We caught a train back, then had dinner in Florence.


  1. Your travel posts are a great way to remember and relive your trips! I visited Pisa 10 years ago, but I'm embarrassed to admit that I don't remember going inside the Baptistry and I enjoyed your tour!

  2. Continuing on into the past... :-P.
    • Ooh, I love the mosaic on the outside of San Frediano. I don't think I really paid much attention to that, despite my weird mosaic obsession. Very cool.
    • Photo No. 17 is a cool photo. It's funny, now that I'm semi-conversational in Italian, I can translate some of these names. This tower is called the "Tower of the Hours"! *feels accomplished even though these words are super-basic*
    • I can't remember-- did we like the buccellato? It sounds good in theory but I have this vague sense that I wasn't a big fan. Maybe I was just disappointed that it wasn't gelato. :-P.
    • Your photos from the ramparts are pretty. It really wasn't what I had envisioned when we had talked about walking along the ramparts...
    • I love Photo No. 62! Also No. 63; the perspective is really neat.
    • And No. 68!!!!
    • LOL, I remember being SO nervous while standing in line waiting to climb the Leaning Tower, because the tickets warned that anyone with balance issues should not attempt the climb. And I fall down normal stairs on the regular. It wasn't terrible, but it was kind of disorienting and I remember being SUPER careful, especially on the way down. I remember descending right behind a couple who kept RUNNING down the stairs to get sufficiently ahead of us to stop and take silly photos, but all I wanted in that moment was to get down without my knees buckling and killing everyone in my path as I plummeted to the bottom like an out-of-control bowling ball. And I succeeded!
    • The view from the top (in general) wasn't all that impressive though. Not one of our best vistas, even with the Field of Miracles. :-P.
    • Those late afternoon photos along the Arno with the golden light are GORGEOUSSSSSS, OMG.

    I didn't really ~connect~ with Lucca and I don't know why. I feel kind of bad about it because Lucca is obviously totally picturesque and it seems like a city I'd love if I spent more time there just chilling out (while eating, obvs). The photos are lovely, though, and make me want to try again!


Thank you so much for your comment! I hope you have a wonderful day :)