In Rome I saw no evidence of Medieval Times. There was the Roman Empire, which left behind the Colosseum, Palentine Hill, Apian Way and thousands of other remnants of what once was. Roman greatness did not return until The Renaissance, memorials, fountains and grand palazzo give evidence to this era of rebirth.
It was in Tuscany that I found the beauty of the Italian city-states that managed to thrive in spite of all their bickering, lusting after parts of one another’s comune, which is the city and its surrounding area, threats from the feudal lords to the north, and the bubonic plague. The darkness of medieval times had its bright spots, and much of that light shone in the city-states of Tuscany. Lucca, fiercely independent little Lucca, was one such city-state.
I hadn’t heard from the Lucca Italian Language School, and I was scheduled to begin classes the following week. Since they had told me they would contact me two weeks before my arrival, giving me the particulars of my home stay, I sent an email.
Their reply read something like: “It’s difficult finding a private bath (I had requested my own bathroom) within the walls. There is a young woman who has a bedroom in her apartment, but you’d share her bath. We’ll continue looking outside the wall.”
Outside the wall!? No, that wouldn’t do, I wanted to stay within the wall. Inside the wall and outside the wall is one of the ways of locating things in Lucca. I made a decision I wouldn’t regret. I’d stay inside the wall and share Alessandra’s one bathroom two bedroom apartment on Fullingo, Lucca’s main street.
“Tomorrow we run around the wall,” my new friend Alessadra said.
“No, we won’t,” I replied “You might, but we won’t.”
I’m not a runner. However, I did walk the wall. It was a surprisingly short distance. Alessandra says it’s 4.5 kilometers.
Founded by the Etruscans and Ligurians, who worked side by side building canals, Lucca became a Roman colony in 180 BC. The Romans built the first wall. After the fall of the Roman Empire Lucca was conquered by the Goths, Byzantines and others. In the 6th Century AD, the Lombards, a Germanic tribe, settled in the Tuscia region and made Lucca its capital and brought relative stability until the 9th Century.
In 1119 Lucca was constituted as a free comune with a republic constitution and a magistrate, known as a Pedestra, was assigned the task of administrating the comune. Power was in the hands of the mercantile class. It was around this time that construction of a second wall began. It was completed in the mid-13th century.
An important city in the silk trade, banking and a resting spot for pilgrims on their way to Rome. The city flourished and its wall expanded. By the 1300’s and the beginning of the Renaissance most city states had become petty monarchies, no longer democratic.
By the 15th and 16th Century these powerful principalities began expanding their territories. Nearby Florence threatened Lucca and she responded by beginning construction on a fourth wall. By the time it was completed, 100 years later, history had changed and there was no need for a wall thick enough to house cannons, munitions, horses and soldiers. Truth be told, Lucchese were never much for fighting and preferred to negotiate with their neighbours.
Lucca was the second largest Italian city-state, after Venice, with a republican constitution to remain independent over the centuries. That changed in 1805 when Napoleon, with consent of the Lucchese, took control of Lucca and installed his sister, Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi as "Queen of Etruria".
In 1815 Lucca became the Bourbon-Parma duchy then part of Tuscany in 1847 and finally part of the Italian State.
In 1899 Princess Marie Louise Bourbon, declared the wall to be a “passeggiata” (a place to walk) The rampant was barren and unpleasant looking, and so she planted trees. Today, the trees still grow strong and tall on top the wall. Leading poet Gabriele D’Annunzio gave Lucca the title “City of the Wooden Circle.”
The center of Rome is riddled with broken statues, columns and piles of stone that once meant something. I’d be a fool not to understand the preservation of monuments to the once great Roman Empire such as, the Colosseum, the Parthenon and the Palentine Hill. But, I saw so many other ruins and relics of the past whose significance appears to be lost somewhere in the annals of time. I wondered about the cost to tax payers and how these crumpled up landmarks detract from the beauty to the city. Although I wondered I was glad the decision of what to disband and what to keep was left to other. Archeologist, I assumed.
At a dinner party in Lucca I met an archeologist. “Rome is a mess,” she told me. “The Romans are crazy and insist on keeping everything. Here in Lucca it’s easy. If it’s inside the wall we preserve it. Outside the wall we forget about it.”
Inside the “wooden circle” you can find a once independent, wealthy and proud city-state. Viva Lucca!