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More strolling around Lucca

Lucca day three

View Birthday trip to Italy on ToonSarah's travel map.

The Palazzo Pfanner from the garden

There was thunder during the night and heavy rain, but we woke to dry, if grey, skies, and despite a forecast that was the opposite of promising (97% chance of rain) it stayed dry until mid-afternoon, thankfully.

Piazza Napoleone

Our breakfast café in the Piazza Napoleone

We started the day with breakfast in the Piazza Napoleone, the old city’s main square. The square, often called simply the Piazza Grande by locals (for obvious reasons) has always been at the heart of the city’s political power and was formerly the site of the Augusta Fortress which once occupied a large part of the city. The fortress was demolished by the people of Lucca when the ruling Castracani family was cast out of the city in 1370.

The square was given its present-day name by Eliza, sister of Napoleon Bonaparte, who ruled Lucca between 1805 and 1815 and had the entire appearance of the square redone – hence its rather French (as opposed to Italian) style. The west side is dominated by the Palazzo Ducale and in the centre is a statue of Maria Luisa, Duchess of Lucca, who ruled after Eliza in place of the monument to her brother originally planned by the latter.

Unfortunately, like most of Lucca’s squares both large and small, it was not looking its best during our visit as there were white marquees going up everywhere in preparation for a major comic books festival that was to start the day we left. You can see these blocking the view of the square from the café tables in my photo, but the plane trees which line it were, despite the marquees and still dull weather, looking rather lovely and autumnal.

Corte del Pesce

The Corte del Pesce

After our breakfast we followed another walk from our small guidebook, ‘Strolling Around Lucca’, which focused more on the western side of the city. Our ‘guide’ pointed out the tiny courtyard Corte del Pesce reached through an archway on the north side of the Piazza Napoleone. This rather drab space surrounded today by residential apartments was where the city’s fish market was once held. Lucca was since medieval times famously good at all forms of commerce, and business was conducted in these small courts, each devoted to a different trade. Courts developed around the characteristic tower house and were usually owned by a single family. The court was enclosed by four walls formed by the surrounding buildings and inside was a well to be used by the family. The water could be taken directly to the higher floors through the use of pulleys. The ground floor of the building was, like the courtyard, used to conduct business while the family lived on the floors above.

Café flowers

The route then took us out of the Piazza in its north east corner to the much smaller Piazza XX Settembre with its memorial to the fallen of Italy which we had already photographed yesterday. A waitress was just setting up some tables outside a cafe, with beautiful vases of fresh flowers - she was evidently confident the dry weather would hold, at least for a while!

A café in the Piazza XX Settembre

Piazza San Giusto

Chiesa San Giusto -
detail of Atlas figure

Beyond this is another small square, the Piazza San Giusto, with the church of the same name. The church dates from the 12th century and has some ornate carvings on the façade, although some are sadly very worn. The pair of lions flanking the door are supported by some unusual twisted Atlas figures.

Chiesa San Giusto

The door was open so we looked inside, but there was a mass in progress so we didn’t go in. Instead we walked north along Via Cenami and its continuation, Via Filungo, the main north-south artery of the old town. We passed the Renaissance Palazzo Cenami, now a bookshop, and popped inside to photograph the ornate ceiling. The palazzo was designed in 1530 by Nicolao Civitali, son of the sculptor Matteo. It sits at the junction of Via Roma, Via Fillungo, Via Santa Croce and Via Cenami – a crossroads known as the Canto d'Arco. Like several other such palazzi in the city, the building has a stone ledge outside - a popular spot for locals and tourists to sit.

Palazzo Cenami ceiling

Outside the Palazzo Cenami

Passing also the Torre delle Ora, Lucca’s tallest tower (which we decided not to climb today) we came to the Piazza dei Mercanti.

Torre delle Ora, and the Piazza dei Mercanti

From here we started over towards the western area that was to be the main focus for our stroll. We turned down Via Buia or ‘Dark Street’, apparently so-called because its tall buildings prevent sunlight from reaching street level – although it seemed to me that this would be the case with many of Lucca’s narrower streets, had we only had the required sunshine to test the theory!

Shop window, and street art, Via Buia

We followed a zigzag route along Via del Moro and Via Cesare Battisti.


On Via del Moro

On Via del Moro we took a look inside the courtyard of the Palazzo Santini to discover some beautifully painted ceilings in the archway. This palace, built and extended between the 16th and 18th centuries, was once the home of the Santini, a noble and influential Florentine family of silk merchants, but today houses the municipal government offices.




Courtyard ceilings, Palazzo Santini

We decided to skip the Domus Romana on Via Cesare Battisti (where the owner of the property has created a mini museum in the cellar highlighting some artefacts found there during excavations) but instead found plenty to photograph at street level.

On Via Cesare Battisti

Doorway on Via Cesare Battisti

Via degli Angeli

Palazzo Pfanner

Our guidebook recommended a visit to this pretty garden and attached palazzo, and it proved to be one of the highlights of our day’s explorations.

The Palazzo Pfanner

Garden of the Palazzo Pfanner

The palazzo was built in 1660 for the wealthy merchant Moriconi family who traded in silk, but they were subsequently ruined through bankruptcy and sold it in 1680 to another family of silk merchants, the Controni, who had risen to the nobility. It was they who extended the building, adding the monumental staircase in 1686 and commissioning a redesign of the garden in the Italian style in the early 18th century. It was while it was under the ownership of the Controni family that Prince Frederick of Denmark stayed here while making a Grand Tour of Italy.

In the 19th century Felix Pfanner, a local brewer originally from Hörbranz in Austria, was invited by the then Duke of Lucca Carlo Lodovico di Borbone to set up a German-style brewery in the city – the first such brewery in Lucca and one of the first in Italy. By now the Controni family were also struggling financially and were happy to allow him to rent the cellars and garden of the palazzo and set up his brewery there in 1846. His beer garden, set out on the terrace between the house and the garden, was a popular drinking spot in the city until it closed in 1929. Over time, thanks to the proceeds of his brewery, Felix was able to buy the whole palazzo which subsequently took his name and became the official HQ of the Pfanner Brewery.

It has remained in the ownership of the Pfanner family ever since. They have restored it and opened some of the rooms, and the garden, to the paying public. You can choose to pay for a visit to the house or the garden or both, with the latter offering much better value (€6 for both when we visited as opposed to €4.50 for each if paid separately). So that is what we went for!

Views of the city wall

We started our visit in the garden, just in case the weather should turn wet again! This is a beautiful and peaceful spot, tucked just under the northern wall of the city. Perhaps because of the weather and the lateness in the season there were only a few other visitors there, adding to the sense of tranquillity (and making photo-taking relatively easy!)

Fountain with Greek Gods

Detail of the central basin, and garden walk

At the centre is an octagonal fountain-basin with gravel walkways leading to and from it, lined with box hedges, lemon trees in pots, beautiful flowers (yes, even in late October), several groves of bamboo and lots of statues of the Greek Gods as well as others representing the four elements and the seasons.

Zeus/Jupiter, and Ares/Mars, the God of War

Hermes/Mercury, god of traders and communications, and Artemis/Diana, goddess of woods and of the hunt

Statue of Winter, and Kubile/Cybele, goddess of mountains and towered towns

If it looks familiar that may be because you have seen it on the big screen – several films, most famously Jane Campion’s 1996 production of ‘A Portrait of a Lady’ with Nicole Kidman and John Malkovich, were shot here.

Lemon tree, and rose still flowering

In the bamboo grove

From the garden we ascended the grand staircase, built under a loggia on the outside (northern) wall of the palazzo, facing the garden.

The monumental staircase

Ceiling of the staircase landing

Relatively few rooms on this first floor are open to the public but enough to be of interest and give a sense of the grandeur of the palace. At the heart of these is the main hall which is adorned with frescoes painted around 1720 by Pietro Paolo Scorsini, in the then popular quadraturismo style which uses perspective to create the illusion of space.

The main hall

Messing around with our reflection!

The room is sparse, apart from a couple of display cases, but smaller ones to each side are furnished to reflect their former uses – a kitchen, a dining room, a drawing room and bedroom. The latter is where, according to the official website of the palazzo, where ‘in 1692 the tormented love affair between Prince Frederick of Denmark, future King Frederick IV of Denmark and Norway, and the noblewoman Maria Maddalena Trenta from Lucca took its course’.

Kitchen and dining room

As well as being worth visiting in its own right, the interior of the palace also offers some fresh perspectives on the garden below.

View of the garden from the staircase

Window detail

Chiesa Sant’Agostino

From the Palazzo Pfanner we continued to follow the route suggested in our little guidebook, which brought us to the church of Sant’Agostino, built by the Augustinians in the mid-1300s on the site of Roman Lucca’s theatre, and is little changed in layout since then, although the campanile is a 18th century addition.

Chiesa Sant’Agostino from the east

It was open so we went in to explore, prompted by our book’s recounting of an old legend attached to one of the paintings, the Madonna del Sasso or Madonna of the Stone. According to this story, a gambler asked the Madonna for help in a bet, which he subsequently lost. Furious, he threw a stone at this picture; the Madonna started to bleed and a pit opened up in the floor in front of the image through which the gambler fell to the pits of Hell.

Painting of the Madonna

You can actually see a mark on the Madonna’s shoulder where a stone might have hit her, and there is a trapdoor in the floor nearby with a plaque which reads:

Trapdoor and sign


Injuring and making the Virgin bleed
The impious man fell endlessly
Be merciful!

The legend also says that before the trapdoor was sealed the congregation would from time to time lower a dog down into the hole and pull it up again to find that it was a bit charred and smelled of sulphur – proof indeed that this was a gate to Hell!

I haven’t been able to find out much else about the church, which has some attractive modern stained glass and somewhat older paintings.

Stained glass and side altar

Painting in a side chapel

Not sure what this represents or how old it is, but I liked it!

We had hoped to visit another nearby church, Santa Maria Corteorlandini, but found it closed for restoration.

Above a side door, Santa Maria Corteorlandini

Another stone lion, Santa Maria Corteorlandini
- I was collecting them by now!

Piazza San Salvatore

So we carried on to the attractive Piazza San Salvatore. This has a nickname, Pupporona, meaning Large Breasts! It acquired the name when the statue of a Naiad was added to the stone lion fountain in the centre of the square. Locals were outraged at her scantily clad form and the bishop demanded its removal, but it was left in place and today looks pretty innocuous!


In the Piazza San Salvatore

A young boy playing in the fountain while his mother fetched water

As with other fountains in the city, the water here comes straight from the surrounding mountains and is pure and safe to drink. We saw a succession of locals coming to fill large bottles for their home drinking both here and at other fountains we passed during our stay.

San Salvatore

Side door of the Chiesa San Salvatore

This 12th century church is less ornate than some of the others in the city but has an attractive, modern, wooden carving of the Madonna, and some unusual candle holders in the form of black men, who appear to be wearing lipstick!


In the Chiesa San Salvatore

There was a café on the south side of the piazza with some empty tables so it seemed a good time to break for lunch, and the focaccia sandwiches we ate there were excellent. It was also a good spot for people watching so we took our time over the meal.

The guided walk led us next to the Piazza San Michele in Foro. We had already visited the church on our first day in Lucca, but there were some good photo opps on the piazza outside today, with a man blowing giant bubbles, to the delight of some children, so we lingered here some time.

Bubbles in the Piazza San Michele

Advertising poster near the Piazza San Michele

Walking west down Via di Poggio we came to the museum dedicated to Lucca’s most famous son, Puccini, in the house where he grew up. Not being particular fans of opera we decided this might be wasted on us, but we did stop to take a photo of his statue in the small square outside, the Piazza Cittadella.

Puccini, and Via del Toro, with the Palazzo Mansi in the background

We passed another palazzo, the Palazzo Mansi, which houses an art collection, but this was closed as it was Monday.

Chiesa di San Paolino

We had better luck with this church – indeed we found that most of Lucca’s churches were generally to be found open, and free to visit. It is named for Lucca’s first bishop, St Paulinus of Antioch, who was a disciple of St Peter sent to Lucca to convert the locals. He was so successful in this mission that he then tried to convert the people of the rest of the region, including Pisa. But his luck ran out and he and several other disciples were murdered in AD 69 on the border between Lucca and Pisa, supposedly on the order of the Emperor Nero.

In 1662 the city fired a cannon to honour San Paolino but by mistake it was aimed at a crowd of pilgrims who were entering the city. The cannonball hit the group but amazingly no one was injured, so this was declared a miracle. To commemorate the event Lucca holds a festival each year on 12th July with a costumed crossbow competition (which must be similar to those I have attended in Gubbio in Umbria, from the description I found online: http://luccaholidayhomes.blogspot.com/2014/07/san-paolino-celebrations-patron-saint.html), cannon-firing (of course!) and a torch-lit procession.

There are statues on either side of the main door – one is San Paulino and the other San Donato, whose church was demolished just before this one was built. I believe the one I photographed, on the left, is Paulino.

San Paolino, and inside the church

Inside it has some beautiful frescos and paintings, including one depicting the ‘Coronation of the Virgin’ which has a foreground scene of the city of Lucca with its many towers.

The 'Coronation of the Virgin'

Our walk was almost at an end, as the route took us past the deconsecrated church of San Romana (closed for restoration) and through the courtyards of the Palazzo Ducale, seat of the city’s government.

San Romana from the Palazzo Ducale, and inside one of the courtyards

In the Palazzo Ducale

From here we emerged on to the Piazza Napoleone where we had started. It was a little early for our obligatory afternoon gelati, so we decided to pop back to the apartment to download photos, change (it had turned a little cooler) and take a short break.


By the time we were ready to head out again the sky had turned black and rain was starting to fall. So we went no further than the café in the Piazza San Michele, which was fast becoming our regular. I felt that the ices weren’t quite as good as those we’d had elsewhere, but they were pretty good (Chris enthused about the chocolate one) and we had ringside seats to watch the storm break over San Michele in Foro.

During the thunderstorm - local cyclist, and neon reflections on the cobbles

Less fun though was the short walk back to the apartment, along a Via Santa Croce that had turned into a river and battling winds that threatened to turn my umbrella inside out and render it useless! But we made it, and settled in to dry off, sort those photos and relax before dinner.

Trattoria Da Rosolo

In the Caffè del Mercato

With the evening dry but a little cooler than of late, we decided to have our aperitivi inside, and chose the Caffè del Mercato on the north side of the Piazza San Michele. The drinks were good, the room cosy, and there were some interesting paintings on the wall, mainly nudes in a loosely expressionist style. Part way through our drinks, a lady sitting drinking red wine on a nearby table came over to introduce herself as the artist and give us a leaflet about her work. Her name is Cristiana Di Ricco and you can see some examples of her work on her website .

Red wine in the Trattoria da Rosolo

After our drinks we walked to a nearby restaurant that I had seen well-reviewed, the Trattoria Da Rosolo. Many of Lucca’s restaurants are closed on a Monday but fortunately not all, and this was a good find. We got a table in the rear room, next to a couple of Americans from Charleston, SC, to whom we got chatting.

The service was friendly if slightly brisk – this is a popular place so you can understand the need to turn tables. I started with some local cheeses with honey, and followed this with some excellent ravioli filled with spinach and ricotta and served in a walnut sauce. Chris’s swordfish carpaccio antipasto was also really good, and he loved the gnocchi with Gorgonzola and mint. We’d asked the waiter (the owner, I think) to recommend some red wine, and the local Lucca one he suggested was really great, and not pricey. Indeed the whole bill was very reasonable for the quality of the food, and we thoroughly enjoyed our dinner - a good end to our second full day in the city.

Posted by ToonSarah 02:00 Archived in Italy Tagged churches art rain architecture palace italy garden weather street_photography

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Capturing a comment I loved from my friend Simone on Facebook:
'Wonderful page Sarah! I loved that you added so many every-day street live photos in the blog; made it feel like strolling through Lucca myself :)'

by ToonSarah

Just to let you know Sarah that I'm not getting notifications about your posts at the moment

by Easymalc

That's odd Malcolm - you're definitely on the subscribers' list. I'll see if the others have the same problem and f so will report it

by ToonSarah

Another great review Sarah. You capture the feeling of the place so well.

by Wabat

Thanks so much Albert

by ToonSarah

So much to see, never thought about that, since I never visited Lucca or other parts of Italy. I've only been to Rome and I urgently need to visit more cities ... especially the entrance to hell interests me, so I should pay a visit and see it for myself! :)

by Ils1976

Italy is my favourite country in Europe, Ils, but funnily enough I've never really fallen for Rome. I find it interesting for sure, but I can't love it as I do the other Italian cities I've visited, and her smaller towns too.

by ToonSarah

I only have been to Rome with friends from school because it was the capital. Time to see the rest I suppose!

by Ils1976

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