Thru my “LENS” blog

Lucca- Walled Historic Center

Lucca is known for its Renaissance walls that encircle the historic center of this city lined with cobblestone streets and mostly closed to car traffic. This is the former home of Giacomo Puccini the famous opera composer. We loved this town and you can totally picture living here.  (Do you see a theme here? I think I said that in Ravello , then again in Positano, then again in Florence. My heart is in Italy no matter where I am.) We did not get to venture out of the historic walled center to the rest of the city however.  Next time!

Lucca is surrounded by high mountains and is a short drive from Pisa and located southwest of Florence. The walls were finished in the 17th century and remain intact. The city was built along the rectangular Roman grid formation seen elsewhere in Italy. Lucca became a Roman colony in 180 BC.

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Some of the fun sights are the Cathedral, the Guinigi Tower, the Piazza dell’ Anfiteatro, San Michele in Foro and of course walking, running, biking or just sitting and people watching on the wall. However, the best thing was just to wander the streets, get gelato, watch people and if you are lucky be here for the Lucca Music Festival. We missed Imagine Dragons by 3 days and at the end of the Festival the Rolling Stones! Bummer!

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The Cathedral di San Martino is a Roman Catholic cathedral dedicated to Saint Martin is located in a secluded area of the old city center. The Cathedral is Gothic and Romanesque style with a marble facade like the one found in Pisa. The front facade has 3 arches where pilgrims on their destination route to Rome traded. The marble inlay floor is a mix of religious themes like the floor we saw in Siena dating back to 1233. Next to the Duomo is the crenellated bell-tower finished in the 13th century.  Inside you see the famous crucifix bearing an image of Christ wearing a long sleeved garment. The Cathedral is found when walking on the main street called Via Fillungo filled with shops and restaurants.

Cathedral di San Martino

Piazza San Michele which including a statue of Puccini and the Church of San Michele in Foro is a Roman Catholic church built over the ancient Roman forum. What a fancy exterior on this church. There is a winged Archangel Michael standing at the top and there are also busts of Italian patriots. Built between the 11th and 14th centuries with its twisted columns, each different and carved marble details.  It is a very extravagant example of the Pisan-Romanesque style. There is an obvious lack of Christian detailing except the larger figure of St. Michael.

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Church of San Michele in Foro

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Guinigi Tower (Torre Guinigi) a Romanesque Gothic structure built in the 1300’s and one of the few remaining towers within the city walls is unique for the holm oak trees planted at the top to symbolize rebirth and renewal. It is the only remaining tower of the original four. From here take in the magnificent view of the entire city!

Guinigi Tower

Santa Maria Bianca is a Romanesque-style Roman Catholic church.  Each church has its own unique personality.

Church of San Frediano is a Romanesque church that dominates one end of the Piazza San Frediano.  It has a stunning 13th century mosaic that glows brilliantly with gold, blue and pale pinks and pastels.  It was begun in the 6th century and originally dedicated to St.Vincent.  The mosaic is of The Ascension of Christ the Saviour.

Basilica di San Frediano

The Piazza dell’ Anfiteatro is now a public square in the walled center. The square is elliptical shaped with four gateways and reveals the old structure of the Roman amphitheatre. This Ampitheatre originally held 10,000 spectators and was created for gladiator games and other events. Today it is surrounded by open air restaurants and shops and is a real lively spot in the evenings.

Piazza dell’ Anfiteatro

Palazzo Pfanner goes back to 1660 originally commissioned by the Moriconi family who when forced into bankruptcy in 1680 sold the building to the Controni family of silk merchants. They were responsible for the building of the grand staircase and upgrading the gardens. The Pfanner family became involved in the middle of the 19th century. This was the site of the historic Pfanner Brewery until 1929. They are responsible for the restoration of this property that is now open to the public. The gardens have extraordinary 18th century statues depicting the deities of Greek Olympus and the Four Seasons.  The baroque garden is visible from the city walls and the grand staircase and is right near the Basilica di San Frediano.

Palazzo Pfanner

Even I managed to have my share of gelato here in Lucca! I highly suggest Gelateria Veneta!

Have you missed any of the other towns? Pienza was the last town we visited but you can search the blogs by town if you are looking for one in particular.

Pienza – Val d’ Orcia

Pienza is a small town located in the Val D’Orcia, (2004 UNESCO World Cultural Landscapes) in the southeastern area of Tuscany. Situated between Montepulciano and Montalcino and South of Siena it is an easy day trip if your home base is anywhere in Tuscany. In 1996, UNESCO made the center of Pienza a World Heritage Site. I recently learned exactly what this means: “considering that the site is of outstanding universal value as it represents the first application of the Renaissance Humanist concept of urban design, and as such occupies a seminal position in the development of the planned “ideal town” which was to play a significant role in subsequent urban development in Italy and beyond” (source: VisitTuscany.com) 

Pienza is one of the best examples of a Renaissance planned town that has survived relatively intact from ancient times. The streets have such romantic names like Via dell’ Amore (love street)!

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It was the home of Pope Pius II who was born here. Pienza means “the city of Pius”. Construction began approximately in 1459 on top of the ancient hamlet that existed and lasted about 4 years. Check out the old well in the Piazza Pio II main square named for Bernardo Rossellino, the architect who had previously worked with Alberti on the facade of Santa Maria Novella in Florence.

This town was the first to be constructed using urban planning techniques and was planned around the Piazza and all the town’s main monuments are located on this square; the cathedral and three other palaces: Palazzo Piccolomini, Palazzo Borgia, and Palazzo Comunale.

Palazzo Piccolomini

The Roman Catholic Cathedral [Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta) built on the remains of a Romanesque church stands in the main square and includes many works of art including five altar paintings from the Sienese school. The facade is typical of Renaissance architecture. Supposedly the Pope wanted the cathedral to tower over the other buildings as a sign of faith. The Duomo is one of the first Renaissance cathedrals with stained glass windows and a classical interior.

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Palazzo Borgia is another important building on the square and now home to a museum.


Palazzo Comunale is the town hall and has a loggia and a facade decorated with a scratched plaster technique and a brick bell tower.

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This town is so beautiful as is the countryside surrounding it dotted with cypress trees, hayfields and winding roads.

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Pienza is the capital of pecorino cheese “sheep’s milk cheese” and has a distinctive sharp and salty taste acquired from a particularly aromatic milk courtesy of the sheep pastures in the Val D’Orcia region. You can be sure we brought some home!

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Be sure to walk around the views are amazing!

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Historical Sources: Wikipedia, Fodor’s and VisitTuscany.com

 

Did you miss Pisa?  Here is a link: Pisa

Pisa- more than just the Leaning Tower!

Here the Arno River continues from Florence dividing the city into 4 distinct areas as it flows to the sea. There is much to see in this city beyond just The Leaning Tower of Pisa!

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The area of Santa Maria is one of the most ancient districts and during the Roman Empire was a flourishing city. Surrounded by the 12th century wall the Piazza del Duomo consisting of the Cathedral, the Baptistry and the Tower complex is one of the most dramatic settings in Italy.

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The Piazza is also known as the ‘Field of Miracles’ or Campo deli Miracoli with its magnificent lawn.

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Pisa heralds from as early as the Bronze Age and was populated by Etruscans and eventually became part of the Roman Empire. It was an economic powerhouse in the Middle Ages and was a mighty Maritime city along with Amalfi, Genoa and Venice. The city was heavily damaged during WWII but thankfully the Duomo and the Tower were spared as well as some other Romanesque structures.

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This is also a city to explore on foot like many other Tuscan cities.  Be sure to explore the area around the Arno River after visiting the Field of Miracles and taking your kitschy picture trying to hold up the Leaning Tower.  You know you will!!!

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We only had a few hours to explore Pisa so our journey will have to continue on our next adventure.  The Gothic Baptistry is directly across from the Duomo and is known for the pulpit carved by Nicola Pisano in 1260. In a not to be missed event every half hour an employee will close the doors and chant demonstrating the remarkable, unbelievable acoustics in this amazing place. It was amazing!!!!!!!  Video below!

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The cathedral employs horizontal striped marble, a technique borrowed from Moorish architecture which is found in other Tuscan cathedrals. It is renown for the Romanesque panels depicting the life of Christ on the transept door facing the tower. Note the beautiful carved pulpit done in the 14th century by Giovanni Pisano.

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Look at this ceiling!!!!
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Striped marble facade

 

The Leaning Tower or the Torre Pendente rises high above the Field. Supposedly Galileo conducted experiments on gravity from the 187′ tower. Historians disagree- go figure! The story goes that the tower started settling when construction reached the third story. There was an attempt to compensate by making the remaining floors slightly taller than the leaning side but- alas- it didn’t work and only made the problem worse. You must have reservations to climb to the top.  Sadly, we didn’t know that so we couldn’t get up there but I understand the views are crazy!

Did you miss Montepulciano?

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