Every summer I travel to Italy and am constantly awestruck by the beauty of this place. I stay in Lucca, a small town in the Tuscany region, just north of Pisa and Florence. From the countryside to the city, the history here is beyond compare. Being back in Philadelphia, a city prided on its history, I can’t help but notice many similarities to the city of Lucca. The cobblestone streets, historic architecture, artisan markets, and a true spirit of authenticity all made me realize how much Lucca is like home, and probably the reason I keep going back.
Lucca was founded by the Etruscans as a Roman colony in 180 BC. Since then it has been ruled by the Goths, Byzantines, and the Lombards, with a population remaining largely Lombardian. It was the principal city in the 9th and 10th centuries, largely independent but under the rule of the Holy Roman Emperor. Despite having very powerful neighbors, Lucca managed to maintain its independence until 1799 when it fell to France. In 1847 Charles Louis of Etruria ceded it to Tuscany in 1847, and was fully united into the Italian kingdom in 1860.
An Architectural Masterpiece
Encircled by a large wall built in the 16th century this city strongly proclaims its independence from its larger, more popular neighboring cities. Within these large Renaissance walls the city’s original rectangular Roman street plan still largely remains, along with several architectural pieces including the Roman amphitheatre – today piazza dell’Anfiteatro. Though largely Medieval, Lucca has an eclectic mix of varying architectural styles giving it a unique and enchanting persona. From the pedestrian-filled piazzas to Medieval towers and fountains to Gothic buildings and dozens of Romanesque churches, the architecture is a history lover’s dream.
So How is Lucca like Philadelphia?
Although Philadelphia is much newer than Lucca, the culture and ambience have strong resemblance. First is the outstanding restorations that have been applied to the many iconic buildings throughout the city. In recent years the city has implemented repairs to remedy structural damages and recover aesthetic appeal. The city of Philadelphia is no different. With many properties dating back to the 17th and 18th century, many owners work tirelessly to bring their homes back to their original glory. Meticulously detailed mouldings, cracking brick facades, dulled and scratched original wood floors – the work to be done is endless, regardless of home size.
Beyond the buildings, the layout of the town itself is like Philadelphia with its cobblestone streets, artisan shops, street markets, and festivals. Like Philadelphia, Lucca’s city plan has many squares, or piazzas, where locals and tourists alike roam shopping for authentic foods to unique treasures. Each piazza also has a very different feel, Piazza San Michele radiates history while the Piazza Napoleone is full of youthful energy. You’ll find the differences here in Philadelphia as well, Rittenhouse Square is posh hub while Washington Square is a whimsical nature walk.
Finally, the overall atmosphere Lucca is similar to Philadelphia. While our city may not have literal oversized walls around our city, there is for sure an understood boundary surrounding us we are often seen as unique outliers, separated and viewed as the underdogs. Lucca, who preserved their independence until 1847, is still to this day seen by many Italians as not “real” Tuscan. They too stand out in a crowd and is always competing with their stronger, larger neighboring cities, Pisa and Florence.
So you’re reading this and thinking I’m crazy, Italy is nothing like Philadelphia. And maybe you’re right, it’s a bit of a stretch. But you have to admit if a place this beautiful can remind me of home that must mean Philly is pretty special.