Lucca has four concentric walls built over several centuries to defend it against their traditional enemy – Florence.
The earliest and innermost wall was built by Romans and is mostly gone. The second – medieval –12/13th century has a drawbridge and two watch towers. The third circle is late 16th century. Fourth and the prominently visible circle was finished in the 17th century. The walls were so formidable that Florence never succeeded in breaching them. I found a stray reference to a 1440 incidence when Florence sent Brunelleschi to evaluate a plan to flood the walls by diverting the waters of Arno. The plan backfired and the walls remained unconquered.
The wall today has a tree-lined, double lane tarmac road on the top – where cars were raced not too long ago – and provides an exhilarating evening promenade.
On one side is 2000 years of history – immaculately preserved yet being lived in, on the other lush greenery credited to Elisa Bonaparte, Napoleon's sister and the Duchess of Lucca in the last 17th century.
We rented Rhea a bike and it took a lot of convincing to ensure her that she could ride it without a helmet. (“Rhea, your skull knows not to crack because it is in Italy”). The 4.3KM circumference ride took us past necking couples, open air chess clubs, artists freezing Lucca on canvasses, fitness fanatics in Nikes, kids on rollerblades trying their best to break their nec, and carabineiri in their nondescript garbs. A bhel stall would have completed the picture while satiating the palate.
Our guide in Rome had instructed us, “Look up, not down”. It is here that we understood him. Several houses, apartments – richly frescoed and painted – had been lit like a museum allowing a legal peep-in.
Lucca, oh Lucca!