The historic walls of Lucca were built in four periods of construction. It all started with the ancient Roman walls that were built in the second century BCE, of which few traced are left today. In the 11th and 12th centuries the construction of the medieval walls began, and work was completed mid 1300. The walls walls of Lucca were then extended due to urban expansion during the second half of the 14th century to the first decades of the 15th century. The last expansion of the wall took place during the 16th and 17th centuries. During this last stage the wall was improved and fortified with the help of military science, in order to guarantee better defence of the city.
Protecting the city from invaders or.. water
The walls never had to protect Lucca against invaders from outside. They did however protect the city in 1812 when the Serchio River flooded. All gates were closed and reinforced, protecting the city.
If you haven’t visited Lucca yet, it’s hard to imagine the immense amount of labour that went into her city walls. Around 2.000 men worked on the city walls of Lucca every single day, and on top of that people from the countryside were called in to Lucca to help out at least once a week.
Lucca walls distance
As said before, it’s hard to imagine the vastness of the city walls if you’ve never seen them in real life. The total length of Lucca’s walls is 4.2 km (2.60 miles) around. It counts 12 enceintes with ramparts, 11 bastions, and 6 main entrance gates, 3 other ancients gates, and some other smaller doors to get out of the historical center. The bastions hide underground pathways allowing you to walk and explore the walls from underneath. The only other walls in Europe that beat Lucca’s walls are the city walls of Nicosia, the capital city of Cyprus.
The city gates of the wall
In the past it was normal for fortified cities to have four main entrances: one on each cardinal direction. Lucca however originally only had 3 main entrances: on the northern (Porta Santa Maria), western (Porta San Donato), and southern (Porta San Pietro) cardinal directions. Why? Their number one enemy, Florence, lies on the east side of the city. It gave a direct message to Florence who tried to conquer Lucca for centuries without success: they were not going to give their city up without a good fight. The people of Lucca were prepared to fight against the attacks of Florence and those of the Medici Family.
The wall as we know it today counts 6 gates that lead you into the city
- Porta Santa Maria (1592) that opens up to Piazza Santa Maria
- Porta San Jacopo alla Tomba (1930) – the most recent gate
- Porta Elisa (1811) – dedicated to Elisa Baciocchi
- Porta San Pietro (1565) – the gate facing the train station
- Porta Sant’Anna (1911) – opened on Piazzale Verdi
- Porta San Donato – at piazza San Donato
A look over the city
Hiking or cycling over the walls allows you to have a look over the city since the walls are about 7 meters high. From the walls you can clearly see the Torre Giunigi, the tower of the Saint Martin Cathedral, you can view the gardens of Palazzo Pfanner, and many other beautiful sights of Lucca.
Cycling the walls of Lucca
In 1799 Maria Luisa of Bourbon inaugurated the walls of Lucca in a place to walk, as it was never used in warfare. She involved an architect to adapt the walls to its new purpose, which has been an enormous success. The walls have a lot of trees that now provides walkers and bikers alike some shade from the strong Tuscan sun in summer.
Personally My first encounter with the walls of Lucca was by bicycle, and I truly couldn’t believe my eyes when I drove over it. I realized that the massive walls must’ve taken a very long time and lots of hard labour to realize. But besides it begin massive and impressive, it’s also extremely elegant. When biking the walls you can stop at any of the 11 “parks” that you can find on top of the walls. Yes, that’s right: these walls host 11 parks. Originally these parks obviously weren’t there so people could host a nice family picnic on the defence walls: they are actually bastions and they served as defensive elements of the city walls.
When walking into any of the cities gates you’ll find numerous shops to rent bikes to go around the city walls. It’s honestly the number 1 activity I advise you to do because it’s just so much fun to do and it allows you to move around it quite fast. Of course you can also opt for walking the walls, which I highly recommend as well. My mom loves walking and when she visits she always goes for a walk around Lucca’s walls 🙂