The Hidden Gems of Lucca and Pisa

January 18, 2013| Italy | Lucca| Cities

Pisa is an enchanting city with wide streets, the peaceful flow of the Arno, and bright sunny days. When the sky is clear, you can see the Apuan Alps and the famous marble mines in Carrara. Thanks to its strategic position close to the seaside, Pisa used to be trade center of Tuscan cities and faraway countries, attracting even businessmen from overseas. In the past, the city was full of foreign sailors and merchants. Today, its streets are full of tourists and students from all around the world, who study at the University of Pisa.

In the Middle Ages, Pisa was an important trade port and a powerful naval state. It constantly, and successfully, fought with Genova, Venice and Amalfi to gain control over the Mediterranean, and grew to become the leading power of the region. At those times, the city built Piazza dei Miracoli, the Square of Miracles, that turned into the center of business, politics and culture.

The Square of Miracles is considered the major work of architecture of the Tuscan Romanesque style. It is a large grassed space with impressive marble buildings.

Of course, the most famous sight of Pisa is the Leaning Tower. Its construction began in 1173. The soft subsoil soon started to collapse when they built the third floor of the tower. Today, the tower has eight floors and was finished in the middle of 13th century. Since middle ages, many have tried to stop the tower from leaning, but today, experts claim it's stable.

Climb the 294 steps of the tower up to the seven bells, and you will discover a stunning view of the city. A legend says that at this place Galileo Galilei tried to prove the laws of gravitation by throwing two cannon balls of different weight down from the tower.

Believe it or not, this tower is not the only leaning tower in Pisa. There are at least two more. The tower of the church of San Nicola, and the tower of the church of San Michele degli Scalzi.

You may be surprised to hear that if you want to taste a typical product of Pisa, it is bread - very special salt-free bread. In the past, Pisa was in dispute with Florence, and blocked the salt trade. Therefore, the people of Tuscany had to do with unsalted bread that they ate with delicious sausages and cheese.

Lucca is a lovely and very romantic Tuscan city with typical red roofs that has kept its historical atmosphere especially thanks to the well-preserved fortified walls. Its old center is one of the most precious gems of Italy. Undisturbed by modern buildings, it is full of narrow paved streets, luxurious old palaces and many unique churches. The façades are often brightly colored - blue, yellow or pink.

If you want to enjoy a stunning view of the city, climb to the top of Guinigi, a defensive tower from 15th century. It used to belong to the house of the most influential family in the city.

Local inhabitants love their medieval brick fortified walls. It's a great place to go for a walk, jogging or cycling. The quiet, peaceful path is surrounded by majestic platans and chestnut trees.

However, Lucca is not only a city of history and architecture. It is situated in the middle of Tuscany, in a region rich in old olive groves and vineyards. Here, many rich citizens built beautiful villas surrounded by amazing gardens. The most extraordinary villas are Villa Reale di Marlia, Villa Grabau, Villa Mansi and Villa Torrigiani. If you should visit just one of them, go to Villa Reale. Why? Its garden hides a treasure of garden architecture: A grandiose baroque garden theater with yew bushes twining around the stone seats. The stage is decorated with terracotta statues of commedia dell'arte.

The most famous child of Lucca is Giacomo Puccini, one of the most famous Italian composers. Every year in July and August, you can visit Puccini's open-air festival in the nearby city of Torre del Lago. The theater is situated on the shore of the lake of Massaciuccolli and offers a beautiful view of Apuan Alps. Here, you can breathe in the atmosphere that inspired the great composer.

The surrounding countryside offers a unique opportunity to explore local food and wine. You can visit dozens of farms that produce wine and excellent virgin olive oil. After all, Lucca is a famous producer of excellent-quality olive oil.

If you're a gourmet, make sure to try zuppa di farro, a heavy spelt soup and one of the oldest Italian dishes. You also shouldn't miss tortelli lucchesi, bright yellow pasta filled with marinated meat, poured over with ragout. And if you have a sweet tooth, have a piece of buccellato, a ring-shaped cake with raisins and anise.

And before you travel to Lucca, a quick reminder. Borrow a bicycle, the most favorite means of transport of the citizens of Lucca. It's the best way to discover the secrets of this charming and very unique city.