I’ve spent a lot of time walking round old city walls this year. York, Londonderry and now Lucca, a small Tuscan town just a half hour train ride from Pisa. All interesting in their different ways, but the walls of Lucca (celebrating their 500th anniversary this year) were an unexpected pleasure: a wide and completely intact wall with trees and parkland, providing an amenity for the city’s inhabitants. Visitors from the north of England might experience a certain sense of déjà-vu here: it is said that the walls of Berwick-upon-Tweed were built to the same design.
The Walls of Lucca: Defending the City
As you approach from the station, the wall looms in front of you, seemingly impregnable. A small unassuming entrance, almost hidden in a corner, takes you to a passageway that winds its way through 30-odd metres of wall before emerging into the historic town centre. It is narrow and dark: I reflect that it would be hard to lead an army through here.
The narrow entrance to the walls of Lucca would be a deterrent to advancing armies
That, of course, was the original point of the walls. Like any Italian town in the Middle Ages, Lucca had to defend itself against stronger and more powerful city-states. By the 16th century the medieval walls had become unable to withstand the changing techniques of warfare, and work began on a new wall in 1513. Fragments of earlier fortifications remain: a bit of Roman wall, the remains of a medieval tower, the old moat.
A Local Amenity
Almost as soon as the walls were completed they were used as an amenity by the local citizens, who would promenade along the broad grassy track. It is easy to see why: this is effectively a vast area of parkland where people could escape from the city without exposing themselves to the dangers of the surrounding countryside.
It remains an amenity to this day. Most of the people we encountered during the 4km walk were locals: cyclists, dogwalkers and groups of friends snatching a short walk in their lunch hour. And families with young children trundling along in rented pedalos.
A pleasant tree lined walk around the walls of Lucca
The path is lined with trees on both sides. On one side you can look down into the old city; on the other is a typical Tuscan landscape, with tall mountains rising in the distance. There are areas with children’s play equipment, and places for picnics. There are cafés, too, and even a small Museum of Money for the culturally inclined.
Around the City of Lucca
We walked slowly around the wall, enjoying the views of the town as we went. The Cathedral is visible from many angles, and there was an intriguing glimpse of the Palazzo Pfanner with its fountains and statues. But finally we were back where we had started and it was time to explore the city for ourselves.
Peering into the garden of the Palazzo Pfanner