With the walls of the last circle that draws the outline of a large bean, Lucca tightens the limits of its ancient city, without hostility or jealousy. All green spaces around the walls just represent a residue of one of the most powerful defense devices of its time. Viewed from the exterior, the city itself seems to emerge within the walls with towers and steeples, between the trees.
Inside, the city has a plan that corresponds to a history textbook, which clearly indicates where the Roman part is, the medieval one, where the elements belonging to the Renaissance are and to the elements of the neoclassical period; we have gradually built without intrigue and barbarism, a continuous dialogue between forms and civilization.
Without any authority or Lordship imposes restrictions – the walls of Lucca can be considered a civic engagement during these 500 years – the city has folded on itself through a slow and gradual transformation, marked by economic prosperity; a prosperity based primarily on the trade art, banking affairs and common sense of a discreet people, careful not to expose his well-being to its neighbors.
Thus was born Lucca, in a place that was not favorable from the point of view of natural conditions – the presence of swampy places and a turbulent river – and constantly quarrel with the turbulent tribes of Liguria. It was born out of a Roman fort that was the site of a historic summit avant la lettre, when Julius Caesar, proconsul of Gaul, invited to Lucca, 56 BC, Pompey and Crassus to lay the foundations of the famous alliance that decided the fate of the Roman Empire.
Political events of antiquity had made of Lucca a sort of outpost; a place of frontier that was to be well armed and monitored. It is not then surprising the power of its Roman fortifications and the taking in possession of its surroundings: first recovering the muddy areas using Roman columns and then by a colossal work, the deviation of the Serchio river which, from the valleys of the Garfagnana, flowed furiously in the waters of the Arno. The Roman city, rather than being a heap of ruins, provides a framework for the development and consolidation of spaces and routes: the persistence of old urban areas in the center of Roman Foro, the presence of important sites such as the amphitheater, locked and hidden for centuries by many buildings, then rediscovered in the mid-nineteenth century, and given to citizens by the architectural genius of Lorenzo Nottolini; it became one of the most fascinating squares in the world.
From the walls and other Roman landmarks there is little evidence left: they are hidden in the factories built on the same place. It must be remembered that no building in Lucca was ever conceived – except some exceptional epic demolitions – but in consistent harmony with other structures. Thus emerges the city that was the capital of Tuscia Longombarda. In time, the city has expanded with ramparts considered medieval from which there are preserved today two beautiful gates and another stone section in the north, included by the last circle of walls.
The city began to be filled with beautiful churches, towers, palaces, great houses, shops and hotels. All squares stretch quietly outside the homes of noble families of merchants; it became the sign of a new cosmopolitanism recognized throughout the world markets of the West; the name of Lucca and its merchants became famous throughout Europe from the fourteenth to the sixteenth century.
The walls, always the walls. You can walk in Lucca, discover its artistic treasures, enjoy and visit the patrician mansions and country villas but it is difficult to avoid the impression that the key to the interpretation of the life and the history of this town lies in the function, largely symbolic, attributed to the perimeter enclosed by walls. Massive and towering walls.
We can see, writes Enrico Pea, they never had to endure the violence of armies. These are indeed walls without any crack; they are softened by tree-lined avenues that accompany all their way suggesting today that they were more than a defensive requirement.
A gigantic task: we can now say that it was not necessary to defend a city that no one – history shows us – ever chose to attack; it was meant to establish, avant la lettre, the inviolability of private life. In fact, these massive walls have never met an opportunity to have a military role.
And yet they have the key to the interpretation of the history of Lucca because they are the symbol of vigilance. For centuries, inside the walls, this people have grown their particular identity. An identity marked by a strong vocation of entrepreneurship that has helped them, in the fourteenth century already, to find their commercial function in a Europe that was free from cruelty and the immobility of feudalism and opened itself to requests from a new mercantile society.
It’s not really a coincidence that in this city, at the time of the Reformation, it has been consolidated one of the most powerful heretical communities, capable of supporting – by the sacred and the profane – an influx of refugees to the Calvinist Geneva. The names of some famous and powerful families of Lucca (Arnolfini, Cenami, Burlamacchi Micheli) have not only appeared in the records of citizens of the city of Calvin, but they have always provided their wealth and developed their businesses without cut the umbilical cord with the motherland. This is what supports the famous theory of Max Weber: the Protestant ethic is historically one of the factors that lie behind the development of capitalism (a true mutation for the analysis of Karl Marx); this theory can also be applied to the experience of the merchants of Lucca.
What is certain (and surprising at the same time) is that for centuries Lucca was able to preserve a particular cultural identity through its mercantile and mediator spirit: a great sense of independence governed by the common sense and a remarkable ability to stay out of the conflict.
This ability is converted in a foreign policy which has been pursued with such diplomatic scrupulosity that it should be studied as a special case in a political science course. If you talk with the people of Lucca, you will feel that this is all about their character and their story is only a natural consequence of their personal way of being: naturally a free and independent people.
Excerpt from “Ulysses”