Lucca: history, nature art and sea

It could be said that the province of Lucca wants for nothing. The capital Lucca, has a plethora of splendid monuments that testify to the many and varied periods of Lucca’s history. The province has the Versilia seaside resorts, among the most noted in Italy for its beaches and nightlife; mountains, forests and enchanting rural villages – the Garfagnana – which also has one of the few caves in Italy that is open to the public.

Lucca is a city with Roman origins and the urban layout of the city reflects that of the Roman settlement which can be seen in the remarkable oval Piazza del Mercato is the ancient Roman forum, and the network of roads that meet here. The most striking characteristic of the city however is its intact circular Renaissance walls, with eleven bulwarks and the path which traces the entire ring of the wall.

Lucca’s greatest prosperity was experienced during the times of the Longobards and Communes and the cities oldest churches, Romanesque in style with facades in clear marble, wide porticos and levels of arches and windows. Some of these churches also show sections that date to the 2nd Century. The church of San Repartata for example is a patische of architecture. Remains from 5th Century church sit on foundations which date from the 2nd century AD. The church underwent radical renovation and rebuilding from teh 10th to the 12th Century and the facade was further modified during the 16th Century.

Most of Lucca’s churches however were built between the 10th and 12th centuries, San Michele in Foro and Santa Maria Forisportam to name a couple. In fact many citizens of Lucca maintain that one of the defects of Lucca is the abundance of churches.

Civil architecture also benefited from the city’s prosperity and wealthy merchant families commissioned houses and palazzi such as the Gunigi family’s beautiful Tower from the 13th Century that found in the street that still carries the name of the Gunigi.

The territory of the province of Lucca stretches to the sea, with a long coastline, the Versilia, that goes from Forte dei Marmi to Torre del Lago. The fortune of the Versilia began at the end of the 1800s but the characteristic look of the area is owed to a fire that destroyed older buildings which were then rebuilt in the distinctive Liberty style.

The Versilia is famous throughout Italy for its caf�s, shops and above all during summer for its beaches and nightclubs that are filled with scores of locals and visitors from all over Italy.

The main town of the Versilia is Viareggio. The name is often tied to Carneval time, when Viareggio becomes filled with visitors to see the colourful parade with dozens of papier mache floats created by highly skilled crafts people. The parade was started in 1873 and the neighbourhoods worked all year to design and mould the papier mache exteriors and build the internal mechanisms that gave movement to the characters on the floats. Today during Carnival ten’s of thousands of visitors come to see the parade and its a particularly good day out for families and children.

Less famous but just as entertaining, are the carnival celebrations in the neighbourhoods, where from Forte dei Marmi heading south, each town opens its streets for festivals that last for three evenings with food, wine, music and parades with floats.

Torre del Lago Puccini is one of the most southern towns in the province. Named after the opera composer who lived and composed many of his operas here. The Puccini Festival is organised every summer in his honour, and its a marvellous event for those of you who are passionate about opera really should not miss.

For the nature lovers among you, the area of the Garfagnana is a real treat. A sparsely populated mountainous area that extends over the upper reaches of the Serchio river, between the Appenine and Apuan mountain ranges. Forests of chestnut trees alternate with pastures, cultivated terraces, Medieval villages and parish churches. Villages like Barga, Castelnuovo and Careggine, maintain their delightful character. Borgo a Mozzano is known for its beautiful asymmetric Ponte della Maddalena bridge(Bridge of Magdalein). The bridge is better known as the Ponte del Diavolo and it is said that the devil built it in a single night.

The Grotta del Vento is one of the most fascinating places of Garfagnana to visit. Situated in the centre of the Parco Naturale delle Alpi Apuane, the Grotta del Vento is one of the most complete caves in Europe. Its name refers to the air flow that found at the entrance caused by the difference in temperature inside and outside the cave. There are guided tours into the cave to see the limestone formations, alabaster columns and crystals-encrusted lakes.

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