Starting at the center of the old Roman town, before leaving the intersection take a look at the building on the southwest corner (when I was there it was a bookstore). You will notice a stone shelf on the walls of the building. Above the shelf are some ornate rings.You will notice a similar shelf and rings on many of the older, larger buildings.
These date from medieval times when merchants conducted business on the first floor of their houses. The rings were used to tie up the horses of visitors. The shelf, actually a bench, was used for people with business to sit on while waiting their turn to visit the merchant. These benches are still in common use today. In fact, they make a great place to take a break from walking and watch the people flow by.
Once you start heading north on the Via Fillungo you will notice a clock tower, the Torre delle Ore , one of the many, medieval towers in Lucca, across the street you will see another, but as dramatic. The Torre delle Ore has been a municipal clock tower since 1390. It does allow visitors to climb to the top (for a fee) and gaze over the city. You can get a combined ticket with the more famous Torre Guinigi.
The via Fillungo is a shopping street in Lucca, both sides have many small shops selling everything from dresses to truffles. As you walk north the street starts to curve to the right conforming to the outline of Piazza dell’Anfiteatro. This collection of medieval buildings were built on the ruins of the Roman amphitheater. The center of the piazza has several touristy restaurants and shops. The street that circles the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro does offer more authentic places to eat.
The north end of the piazza is across the via Fillungo from Piazza S. Frediano, home of Basilica San di Frediano . An old religious building well worth the time and money to visit.
The small piazza has a couple of outdoor cafes. The one on the right as you face the basilica was one of our favorites in Lucca. Not for exceptional food, it was very good, but for the fair prices and excellent service. The convenient location on the way from our hotel to many of the sites contributed to our visiting often.
If you take the street to the left of the basilica and then take the second street on the left (via Cessare Battissti) you will find the Palazzo Pfanner. The former residence of a brewer’s family, it now hosts events, is a boutique hotel and museum. The gardens can be visited as part of the museum tour. A nice change of pace from churches. After your visit retrace you path to via Fillungo.
Continue on the Via Fillungo for several paces past the plaza. At the next street corner, there is an Italian deli with meats and cheeses (la Grotto) and a wonderful gelato restaurant (Gelateria Veneta) we visited several times during our stay in Lucca. Turn right on this narrow street. A few more paces you will see an arched opening on your right. This is one of the entrances to Piazza dell’Anfiteatro.
After visiting the Piazza continues walking northeast on the via Fillungo. There are several eateries and shops along the street. a few block further you will see an arch, Portia dei Borghi. Via Fillungo ends or at least changes its name to via Michele Rosi. Past the gate (part of an earlier wall there is a small piazza with a couple of places to dine. However one of the places on the south side of the street must be some hangout for young adults because every evening as we walked through the piazza it was packed with young people talking, smoking and drinking wine.
Much further up the street enters a residential neighborhood with no real sites. It does lead to Porta di S Jacabo. there is an old church just past the piazza on the left, Chiesa di S Leonardo in Borghi. It appears to be very old. However the current church dates from 1821 with parts from the 1100’s. We never visited it other than to walk past.
Return to where the via Fillungo changed names and turn north. After a block or so several streets from many directions all come together at the Porta San Maria, one of the original gates. There are three portals, one inbound vehicle traffic, one for outbound traffic and the middle for foot traffic. On both sides of the gate are paths that lead up to the top of the famous medieval walls of Lucca.
The walls were built for defense, but slowly became ineffective as a fortification. Napoleon captured the city in 1805 and installed his sister Elisa Bonaparte as princess of Lucca. It was her who is credited with turning the walls into a city park. She is honored with a gate named after her. A walk along the top of the walls is enjoyed by many of the residents of Lucca. You will find hard core runners alongside elderly couples on a walk and families riding their bikes.
Climb the path to the top of the wall turn left and take a leisurely stroll with the citizens of Lucca. As you walk the modern city of Lucca is on your right side. You will see the ruins of defensive emplacement along the top of the wall especially near the gate. Shortly after starting the walk on the top of the wall, on your left you will see the gardens of the Palazzo Pfanner. If you skipped visiting the museum and gardens earlier in your walk, after seeing them from the wall you may reconsider.
As you continue your stroll you will see more views on your right of the grounds between the wall and the city, then on your left. However one building that intrigued us when we walked the wall is on your left just before you get to Porta S Donato. There is a walled compound on your left with what looks like guard towers. The sign was in Italian and it seemed to translate into something like National Guard Building. We later found out that it was what it looked like, a prison (Casa Cirondariala Lucca).
We will end today’s tour at the Porta San Donato, one of the gates. You can exit the wall down a path back into the old city and return to your hotel. Day 2 of the tour will be a separate article.