History of Lucca, Italy


See Lucca guide for highlights and historic monuments

The ancient history of Lucca in past centuries was shrouded in myth - according to Alessandro Streghi, who wrote a history of Lucca in ottava rima (a form of rhyming poetry), its origins date back to some exiled Trojans.

Ancient history of Lucca

At the beginning Lucca was called Urilia and was founded by Artomone [1]. The history of urban settlement of Lucca is very uncertain, but within the territory of Lucca there is sufficient evidence of human habitation here since the Paleolithic era.

The current site of Lucca was presumably founded by the Etruscans.

Archaeology has always stressed the Etruscan roots of the city, even if a deeply local ingrained belief has continued to attribute the most ancient settlements to the Ligurians of the northern Apennines, a people that were culturally and technologically influenced in this border region by the Etruscans, who settled to the south.

In the historical works the city was not often mentioned, but sufficient evidence exists to demonstrate its strategic and economic importance more than 200 years ago. Its population at that time, within the Lucca city walls, was about 10000 inhabitants, almost twice that of Pistoia [2].

Lucca in Roman times

The city was a Roman colony by 180 BC, and recent archaeological evidences suggest that it had a critical moment during the late Republic and the Roman Empire period, but it recovered both economically and demographically in the 4th and 5th centuries.

This recovery, which may have started as early as the second half of the 3rd century, is demonstrated by the restoration of the walls of the city and by the establishment of an arms factory.

Entering the Dark Ages

The decades in Lucca following the fall of the Roman Empire are no less obscure. At the time of the Ostrogothic kingdom, Lucca may have been the site of a military Gothic settlement, but the evidence is far from convincing.

In Lombard times there is the possibility, often disputed, that the Lombard Duke living in Lucca was the sole holder of the title of Duke of Tuscany. As a consequence Lucca has been interpreted as the capital of a Lombard Duchy that encompassed the whole of Tuscany or, alternatively, a more restricted region of north-west Italy.

Despite the strong clashes with historical rival Pisa, Lucca continued to thrive in the political, commercial and sericulture field.

Lucca from the Middle Ages

Tradition states that the period between the 12th and 14th century was a time of almost constant conflict between the city-state of Lucca and the surrounding country-side nobles. The area was ruled by the podesta (noble families) who were appointed and sent from Lucca, excluding the years when Lucca was governed by Castruccio Castracane [1281-1328], who was widely supported by the ruling class and the people of Lucca.

In the 14th century the city had a critical period. After 1328, Lucca passed, often by way of purchase, under the rule of a series of different rulers. For example, in 1529 Lucca was purchased for 250,000 ducats by the Lord of Verona, who ruled it for only nine months, and then the city was finally under the dominion of the Pisans [3].

Coming out of the wars between Guelphs and Ghibellines, Lucca was under the Lordship of Castruccio Castracane, and had a period of exceptional prosperity, even if temporary, because after the death of Castruccio Castracane, the city was again the subject of greed of the great Tuscan Lords.

Paolo Guinigi [1376-1432] took advantage of this situation, and in the early 15th century he ruled for thirty years, at the time increasing the city's artistic heritage. After the lordship of Paolo Guinigi, Lucca was attacked by Florence, but this episode did not damage the secular autonomy of the city, which in 1556 organized itself as an Aristocratic Republic.

This lasted until 1799, when it had to surrender to the French Army. In 1802, Napoleon gave the city a new status and it became a Principality, under the rule of Elisa, the sister of Napoleon. After the Napoleonic period ended, in 1817, Lucca became a Duchy, and passed to Maria Luisa Bourbon until the unification of Italy (1861) when it became part of modern Italy.

Etymology of the name Lucca

According to tradition, the name of Lucca derives from the Celtic-Ligurian root "Luk", meaning "marshy place".

The fact is that to many scholars it seemed strange that, in an almost exclusively Etruscan region, only Lucca had Ligurian origins. In fact, according to M. Zecchini, the place name is not derived from the Ligurian "Luk", but from the Indo-European root "Leuk" [= light]:

"Such an easy etymology has not been proposed before because of an inaccurate knowledge of the history of languages and cultures, which preferred unfounded etymologies, such as Lucca being derived from a Ligurian word" [4].

See also Lucca for a visitor guide to the town.

References

1. See A. Bratchel, "Medieval Lucca and the Evolution of the Renaissance State", New York, 2008, p. 1 and note 4

2. See A. Solari, “Topografia Storica dell’Etruria”, Pisa, 1920, Vol. II,  p. 309

3. See “Le relazioni degli ambasciatori veneto al senato”, Firenze,   1848, Volume V, p. 417

4. See M. Zecchini, “Lucca etrusca: abitati, necropoli, luoghi di culto”, 1999, p. 9 ff.