Unveiling Lucca: Exploring Ancient Roman Cities and Medieval Italian Wonder



Unveiling Lucca: Exploring Ancient Roman Cities and Medieval Italian Wonder


Welcome to the enchanting city of Lucca, tucked away in the picturesque region of Tuscany, Italy. Within its medieval walls, this charming city holds a hidden gem - the Piazza dell'Anfiteatro. This bustling square, with its unique elliptical shape, is a testament to the ancient Roman amphitheater that once stood here. In this article, we will embark on a journey through time to explore the fascinating history and architectural marvels of Lucca, one of the ancient Roman cities that has managed to preserve its rich heritage.

A Glimpse into the Roman Amphitheater

The Piazza dell'Anfiteatro, also known as the Piazza del Mercado, serves as a vibrant hub where locals and tourists gather to savor delicious food and drinks. However, beneath its lively atmosphere lies a story that dates back centuries. Once upon a time, this very spot was a stage for gladiators who battled for supremacy, captivating audiences with their daring feats of strength and skill. The construction of the amphitheater began in the first century, but it wasn't until later with the financial support of a wealthy resident that it reached completion. With its 18 rows of seating, the amphitheater could accommodate nearly 10,000 spectators, making it a significant center of entertainment and games.

Transformation and Preservation

Over the course of history, the amphitheater faced various transformations and challenges. During the Gothic Wars in the sixth century, Lucca and its surrounding areas were fortified, and the amphitheater itself was not spared. As time passed, houses and even prisons were built upon the crumbling ruins of the theater, obscuring its original form. However, between 1830 and 1839, architect Lorenzo Nottolini undertook a restoration project that would breathe new life into the site. Nottolini demolished several buildings that had encroached upon the arena's interior and meticulously restored its elliptical shape. Today, the base of the amphitheater rests about nine feet below the center of the Piazza dell'Anfiteatro, while the remaining vaults and arches have been skillfully incorporated into the modern shops, cafes, and houses that encircle the square.

The Enchanting Piazza dell'Anfiteatro

To truly appreciate the beauty and architectural grandeur of the Piazza dell'Anfiteatro, one must view it from above. The aerial perspective reveals the perfect elliptical shape that mirrors the original Roman amphitheater. However, stepping inside the buildings that line the square offers a unique vantage point, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the history and atmosphere of this ancient site. As you enter the Piazza dell'Anfiteatro through one of its four gateways, you'll be greeted by a magnificent bronze sculpture by Polish artist Igor Mitoraj, which has quickly become a popular backdrop for selfies among tourists.

Unveiling Lucca's Ancient Roman and Medieval History

Lucca is not only home to the Piazza dell'Anfiteatro but also holds a rich tapestry of ancient Roman and medieval history. Founded around 180 BC as Luca, it became a Roman colony and witnessed the formation of the powerful First Triumvirate alliance between Julius Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus. The streets of the medieval city still bear the imprint of the old Roman street plan, allowing visitors to walk in the footsteps of the past. Lucca served as the capital of the Republic of Lucca from 1160 to 1805, further solidifying its historical significance.

The Magnificent Walls of Lucca

While the Piazza dell'Anfiteatro stands as a testament to Lucca's ancient Roman past, the city's medieval walls are equally remarkable. As you explore the city, you'll encounter fragments of the old Roman walls, integrated into the construction of the Santa Maria della Rosa church. However, it is the Renaissance walls that truly captivate the imagination. Built between 1504 and 1648, these walls stretch for four kilometers, encircling the entire city. Considered some of the best-preserved Renaissance walls in Europe, they offer a glimpse into the city's defensive past. Lucca ranks as the second-largest fully walled Renaissance city, surpassed only by Nicosia in Cyprus.

Discovering the Guinigi Tower

Another marvel of Lucca's medieval heritage is the iconic Guinigi Tower. Standing tall at 45 meters, this bell tower was constructed during the 14th century. Climbing its 233 steps rewards visitors with a breathtaking panoramic view of the city. However, what truly sets this tower apart are the holm oaks that grace its rooftop. A symbol of status for the wealthy families of Lucca, these trees provide a unique and enchanting sight, making the Guinigi Tower a must-visit attraction.

A Side Trip to Pisa

Lucca's proximity to the famous city of Pisa makes it an ideal destination for a side trip. Just 15 miles away, Pisa is renowned for its iconic Leaning Tower, which stands as a testament to the city's architectural marvels. While exploring Lucca, consider extending your journey to include a visit to Pisa and witness firsthand the allure of its ancient Roman and medieval heritage.


As we conclude our journey through the ancient Roman cities, Lucca stands as a testament to the resilience and preservation of history. The Piazza dell'Anfiteatro, with its elliptical buildings and vibrant atmosphere, serves as a reminder of the gladiatorial battles that once enthralled audiences. Lucca's ancient Roman and medieval history intertwine seamlessly, with the city walls and the Guinigi Tower standing as testaments to its past. So, wander through the streets of Lucca, immerse yourself in its rich heritage, and witness the captivating beauty of this walled medieval Italian city.

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