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Historic Centre of Lucca

Date of Submission: 01/06/2006
Criteria: (ii)(iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities
State, Province or Region:

Region: Tuscany - Province: Lucca

Ref.: 340
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To this day, the urban structure of the historic centre of Lucca clearly shows the transitions that indicate the various phases of the city's development.

The Roman imprint - Lucca was a Roman colony - is obvious in the regular street plan, in place-names such as San Michele al Foro (from Forum) and, most of all, in the very particular Piazza del Mercato, created at the beginning of the 19th century. The existing buildings, erected over the centuries on the ruins of the Roman amphitheatre, were pulled down and new ones built following the ancient monument's elliptical perimeter.

Under Lombard rule, Lucca became the capital of the marquisate of Tuscany and was a particularly important road junction for communications with the Northern regions. The transition from the Roman to the Lombard settlement brought no topographical discontinuity: all the main buildings were erected within the Roman city walls, in particular the curtis regia and the mint. Today, we have only documental data of these edifices but findings in several Lombard tombs (now preserved in the Museo Nazionale in  Villa Guinigi) and traces of religious edifices support Lucca's importance during the Early Middle Ages.

During the 12th and 13th centuries, silk trade and banking activities induced a significant economical development and Lucca became an international trade centre with monetary and fiscal privileges.  Prosperous economic conditions favoured a population increase and, consequently, the city's enlargement. In those years the city acquired a new structure, based on towers and tower houses, reserved to the richer families. Outside the city, East of the Roman settlement, several boroughs developed along the commercial ways, featuring lower buildings, gardens and parks.

The walls encircling these areas are nearly completely lost; however, eloquent traces are found in place-names, where piazza Santa Maria Forisportam, for instance,  indicates the limit of the first Roman circle. Parts of the curtain that still stand indicate it was nearly twelve-metre high strengthened by semi-circular towers such as those next to the two surviving gateways, Porta dei Santi Gervasio e Protasio and Porta di Santa Maria dei Borghi.

Lucca's economical power is also reflected in its Romanesque churches (the Duomo, San Michele in Foro, San Frediano) where Pisan influence was often moderated by the intervention of workmen from Lombardy.

This small republic's political independence, conquered in 1369 and fiercely maintained against Florence for over four centuries, is shown by the independence from Florentine influence of its architectural development. Up to the very first years of the 15th century the influence is that of Siena with Jacopo della Quercia, author of the celebrated Tomba di Ilaria del Carretto, and of several statues and religious decorations in the Cathedral and in San Frediano. It is only in the second half of the century that there is a moderate opening to fifteenth-century Florentine styles that are skilfully "translated" into an autonomous language.

Between the 14th and 15th centuries, brickwork begins to used as well as stonework; Palazzo Guinigi, with its wooded tower, and Villa Guinigi are among the greatest achievements in brickwork. The former, one of the city's symbols was erected on a Roman site, in a densely populated area; the latter, in a parkland just outside the ancient Medieval walls and today houses the Museo Nazionale. In those same years, this area  was enclosed by a new defence circle, also in brickwork.  Paolo Guinigi, the only "lord" of the city from 1400 to 1430, was the real protagonist.

The 17th century is a time of intense building activities: Lucca's cityscape is  completely altered by the great "palazzo" and the last circle of the city walls. The urban structure based on towers and medieval courts is deeply transformed:: houses are brought together, towers are partly or completely pulled down and new "palazzo" erected in their place. They are built with only very few exceptions within the city's most ancient nucleus and therefore conditioned by the existing street plan which is never destroyed. Consequently, the façades of several buildings are curved and sometimes offer a corner view. These "palazzo" are the characteristic of the 16th-century city, but they are not excessively grandiose, in other words no existing buildings are pulled down to make space in front of the new "palazzo". Construction of the great feat, the third circle of the city walls, is begun in the first half of the 16th century and will last more than a whole century. Maybe not essential defence-wise, only a deterrent, it was, however, important as a declaration of authority and reflected the city's political status of city state. Flemish and Italian designers and works managers went through the entire repertoire of defence works: the walls - twelve curtains, with earthworks, connecting  eleven brickwork fronted ramparts - are twelve metres high, thirty metres deep at the base and their perimeter is just over four kilometres. Today these walls are a vast and suggestive urban park with century old trees (planes, horse-chestnuts, hackberries, red oaks ...) that offers a charming entryway to the city and its territory.

French occupation and the Baiocchi Princedom changed the city's structure yet again: parts of several convents were "re-cycled" for public use such as the State Archives and the new prison; a whole block was pulled down to make place for Piazza Napoleone; a new gateway, Porta Elisea, was opened.

Lucca then became a Duchy under Bourbon rule up to 1847. Works in those years were aimed mainly at the improvement of the central areas: street lights in the streets and squares, plastering of most buildings, also the  Teatro Giglio was erected and the Medieval moat filled-in. The architect Lorenzo Nottolini played an important role in the implementation of this project. The development of the city's southern areas, following the introduction of the railway and the construction of the railway station, occurred in those same years.

In 1847 Lucca passed under the dominion of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and was later annexed to the Kingdom of Italy. The city maintained its function as organizational centre of the territory, although with a lesser degree of independence, as compared to other areas of the Kingdom of Italy.

After the unification of Italy, the historic centre and the suburban areas developed along separate lines; the centre's structure was maintained intact except for unimportant works carried out during the Fascist years, while the suburban areas developed separately on the other side of the wide avenues that surround Lucca. It must be said that these suburban areas, certainly as essential to the city's daily life as the historic centre, are also interesting in their own right from the outlook of the history of town-planning, both for the trend of development, indicator of the territory's specific economical and social conditions, and for the architectural styles and urban structures  that distinguish them, from Liberty  to the more modern styles.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The proposed site fulfils the criteria of authenticity as regards both the urban structure and the presence of perfectly preserved monuments and architectural complexes.

All the more important measures aimed at the safeguard and improvement .of the cultural heritage come under national legislation that were established by the Decree n.42 dated 22.01.2004 (Codice dei beni culturali e del paesaggio).

The Municipality of Lucca has adopted several safeguard measure, namely a Structural Plan which is the first part of the urban development scheme. Zoning regulations, in compliance with the Structural Plan,  prescribe maintenance and improvement of the historic .

Comparison with other similar properties

As opposed to the few other walled cities in Italy, such as Portoferraio, Ferrara and later Palmanova, or abroad, Malta and other North-European cites, where the walls were built at the same time as the city, Lucca's Renaissance walls were erected encircling a pre-existing city that had developed harmoniously for several thousand years. Furthermore, the walls of the above-mentioned cities are far less  homogeneous and well-preserved;  Lucca's intact, mighty defence works, apart from regulating the city's entire structure also have a profound social significance as the city's crown and ornament, which still survives as a splendid urban park.