We were in Lucca for a short while yesterday and decided, among other activities, to visit two of its lesser-known attractions.
The Domus Romana or Roman house is one of Lucca’s newest lures. While restructuring the basement of a palazzo near San Frediano in 2010 builders came across ancient remains and the archaeologists were called in. Thanks to the family owning the palazzo what was discovered was not covered over and is now a centre, not just to see one of Lucca’s rare roman remains, but also to attend conferences or enjoy an imperial banquet with Pompeiian wine.
The name “Lucca” derives from a Celtic–Ligurian word “Luk” meaning a swampy place. The Romans took over the old settlement around 2000 years ago and built one of their new colonies there. The most obvious trace of Lucca’s roman past is in its amphitheatre market square which still preserves the oval shape of the original ancient entertainments centre. There are remains of roman walls near Santa Maria della Rosa and parts of the theatre are incorporated into the walls of Sant’Agostino. Roman baths and mosaics can also be viewed in the baptistery.
Apart from these there is not much of Roman Lucca visible today except, that is, if you look over the city, which still retains its roman-style grid system, and in some of its place names: for example, San Michele “in Foro” meaning that the church is built over the old forum.
The “Domus Romana” or “House of the children on dolphins” (named after part of a delightful frieze found during the excavations) is not likely to impress those who have visited Pompeii or Herculaneum but it is a valuable part of Lucca’s past and the owners are to be commended for preserving it and letting the public access and enjoy it; full marks too for its presentation and explanations.
Returning to our car we dropped into San Leonardo in Borghi – one of Lucca’s lesser-known churches but which has its only example of liberty-style (art nouveau) ecclesiastical architecture: the chapel dedicated to the Madonna created by artist Lunardi in 1917. The exquisite details, especially the side alabaster foliage sculpturing and the skillful use of different marbles, will delight lovers of this creative movement – it certainly is a rare find.
The great thing about Lucca, indeed, the whole of Italy is how one’s daily, and often mundane tasks, can be transformed into real delights: exiting from a supermarket one’s heart is lifted by the sight of splendid hills around; the boredom of carrying out essential errands in a city is dispelled by stepping inside a nearby church of rare beauty: chores and pleasures merge constantly together – this is one of the memorable things about living in Italy.