Lucca’s Walls

Next year it’s the five hundredth anniversary of Lucca’s walls – the latest walls that is – there are at least two previous sets of walls. The first ones in evidence are the Roman walls, bits of which you can still see near the church of Santa Maria della Rosa, the second are the mediaeval walls which produced those imposing gate towers of San Gervasio, dei Borghi and San Donato and the third, the renaissance ones we will be celebrating in 2014.

These last were started in 1514 and finished in 1645. Today there are six entrance gateways (originally there were only three but Elisa Bonaparte added Porta Elisa when she was princess of Lucca, one was added in the 19th century near the bus station and the last one – San Iacopo – as recently as 1930), eleven baluardi (bulkwarks) and several posterle, or sentry passages, which are now used by pedestrians.

The only enemy these formidable walls actually had to face were the flood waters of the River Serchio in 1812 when Lucca’s citizens were forced to stuff the gates with mattresses and hay to stop the waters leaking into the city. Elisa Baiocchi had to be hauled over the walls on a kind of crane to get to her palace on that occasion.

Lucca’s walls always had trees on them. This was a military and strategic provision in case of prolonged seige – at least the inhabitants had a ready supply of firewood!

The following photographs were taken during the summer of 2005. In a previous post on Catalani I mentioned that his memorial on the bastion used to be encircled by tall plane trees which later had to be sadly felled because of disease. Here you can see that memorial as it was with those beautiful green-robed senators  still standing – what wonders they were and how shady the place in the fullness of the summer heat. Of course, I could wait for them to grow again but then I’d be well over 150 years old!

Mediaeval walls – like those at Pisa – are thin and high to withstand siege ladders and bow and arrows. Renaissance walls are low and thick to withstand firepower. In both cases however the walls would have originally been encircled by a moat. I got the effect of what a moat must have looked like round Lucca earlier this year when persistently heavy rain flooded the exterior lawns around walls.


It’s rare to find moats still filled with water around fortifications today. I can only think of a few examples in Italy – Ferrara castle being one of them. In the south-east of UK, of course, we have the classic example of Bodiam and Leeds castles.

In Lucca there is still a sort of moat – “il fosso”, the channel that runs outside the old medieval walls was once their water defence. The fosso is now home to some very fat carp and some very lucky Muscovy ducks.

Next year there will be many events planned to celebrate the five hundredth anniversary of the third or renaissance circle of Lucca’s Walls. We are even promised the arrival of Pink Floyd, famous for their own Wall! I’m really looking forwards to that concert.


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