There are a surprising number of cani (dogs) here in Lucca—lots of purse dogs and small dogs carried in people’s arms. Today is the Sant Zita Flower Festival, and there are thousands of people wandering the narrow streets. As the story goes, Zita was a housemaid in a wealthy household who, despite it being against the rules, smuggled leftover bread out in her apron at night to feed the poor. One night the police stopped her and asked what she held in her apron. She said flowers. When they made her open her apron, it was indeed flowers—a miracle. Thus she was made a saint.
We had lunch at the restaurant L’isola che non c’era (the island that wasn’t there) and I opted for a salad nicoise after four days of pasta. I have never eaten so much in my life—honestly! Every meal has at least three courses, and often five or more. Tonight we attend a Puccini concert in one of the cathedrals, followed by an eight-course dinner at La Norma, our host Karolina’s favorite restaurant.
Puccini, who was born in Lucca in the mid-1800s, was a brilliant composer (“La Boheme,” “Madama Butterfly”). But he was also a braggadocio fashionista who flaunted his wealth and angered people in his hometown. After he took up with a married woman, Puccini was driven off. At least that’s the story our guide, Paola, told us during our walking tour.
Luca has a long and storied history that stretches back thousands of years. It is been continuously occupied since its founding and you can still plainly see remnants of the original Roman walls built around the early city. Today the walls reflect those built in the Medieval years, while the modern city of Lucas stretches beyond them. The city was at one time the capital of the Silk Road, and when Napoleon conquered Italy, instead of destroying Lucca, he gave it to his sister, Elisa, so she could be a princess. She did many good things for Lucca, Paola explained, including building an aqueduct to bring water into the city. But she also did bad things, Paola said, notably razing an old cathedral in front of her palace because it interfered with her view. An annual music festival is held in July on the site, which this year features Elton John and Sting, among others.
There are a number of towers in Lucca, and in the Middle Ages the higher your tower, the more money and power you had. The most famous tower—Torre Guinigi—was built by the Guinigi family, which planted trees on top (which are still there), to make their tower appear even higher than it was.
Next up: a visit to San Gimignano, the historic Town of Fine Towers.