A Weekend of Art and Nature at The Villa Marta Hotel in Lucca with a Bicycle Trip along the Ancient Walls
By bike along Lucca’s city walls
The sixteenth-century city walls surrounding Lucca’s historic centre are perfectly preserved, and provide a beautiful tree-lined avenue about 4 km long that can be covered on foot or by bike; 11 bastions rise up at intervals along the walls, built to protect the walls and gates into the city. Looking into the city from the top of the walls, visitors can admire Lucca’s wealth of ancient buildings and churches. Outside, the walls are surrounded by green grassy areas, while the peaks of the Apuan Alps and the Pisan mountains can be seen in the distance. Beginning the walk along the walls at the S. Maria bastion, which can be reached from the nearby Porta S. Pietro, you come to the S. Colombano bastion near to the Duomo and the Casa Opera del Duomo; continuing in the direction of the S. Regolo bastion, before reaching the Cairoli bastion you come to the Botanical garden. The walk continues, passing above Porta Elisa, the other gateway into the historic centre, and reaching the S. Salvatore bastion, followed by all the remaining bastions.
On top of the city walls are centuries-old trees and plants, which have been used ever since the walls were first built to compact the huge mass of earth. In the nineteenth century, Duchess Maria Luisa of Bourbon entrusted the royal architect, Lorenzo Nottolini, with the task of making the walls into a public walk. Today they are still one of the most popular public areas in the city. From the city walls, visitors can easily get to the streets and piazzas of Lucca’s old city centre, so rich in history and art, in order to visit the old city and its monuments.
ART AND NATURE PACKAGE OFFERED BY THE ALBERGO VILLA MARTA. The package includes: 2 nights in a classic double room with breakfast; use of the hotel bicycles; a guided tour with an environmental guide along Lucca’s city walls; 1 dinner in the Villa restaurant, based on typical dishes of the area (drinks excluded). Price per person 195.00 euros. Additional night 72 euros per person. (The package is available for the whole of 2007).
(A supplement is required for individual guided bicycle tours).
The Villa Marta country resort
Villa Marta, a nineteenth century building five kilometres from Lucca, is a delightful Lucchese country house that has been turned into a hotel. Guests love the pleasant and relaxing atmosphere straightaway, and are charmed by the friendly couple who manage it, Andrea and Alessia Martinelli. The “happy wake-up menu”, a buffet with healthy, wholesome food, is served in the terracotta-tiled breakfast room, while for lunch and dinner the chef provides a selection of traditional dishes. The villa is surrounded by a large garden, with magnolias, camellias, pine trees, azaleas and box, as well as the swimming pool. There are only 11 bedrooms, and in each one the utmost care has been taken over every detail. Deluxe room 103 is particularly special, with an original tesseri mosaic floor and frescoed ceiling.
A little history of the walls
The city of Lucca’s fortification system possesses features that allow identification of four phases corresponding to four construction periods. The first ring, of which little remains today, consists of the ancient Roman walls. Between the eleventh and twelfth centuries, building started on the first medieval city wall which was finished towards the middle of the thirteenth century. As a result of urban expansion, the earlier city walls were enlarged between the second half of the fourteenth century and the early part of the fifteenth century. The final expansion of the walls (the fourth ring) is an important example of military expertise from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The construction of these city walls was decreed by the Republic of Lucca in 1504 to adapt them to the advances that had been made in military technology, and to guarantee a more secure defence of the city, which was nervous in the face of the expansionist thrusts of Medici politics.
The bastions, all with different shapes and features, incorporated the towers built between 1516 and 1522 at the corners of the medieval ramparts. Each bastion has a small building to house the guards, called the “casermetta", or little barracks, (still in existence). Large areas were created inside the bastion for the horses, soldiers and ammunition. The bastions and walls are covered with a facing of bricks, made in the Lucca furnaces. The entire circuit of the city walls was surrounded by a huge area without trees or houses, intersected by water ditches, which was called the “tagliata" or clearing (now greatly reduced in size).
The three original gates in the renaissance city walls are Porta San Pietro, Porta Santa Maria, and Porta San Donato, which were constructed during the second half of the sixteenth century. They consisted of fortified gates, each with a drawbridge operated by chains, a portcullis, and an inner and outer iron-barred gate. A fourth gate, named Elisa in honour of Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi, was opened up in 1811; it did not have the military features of the other gates, but is more in the style of a triumphal arch. A further two gates, called Vittorio Emanuele and San Jacopo, were constructed in 1911 and 1931 respectively.
The walls were equipped with an impressive array of military apparatus: the artillery consisted of culverins for long-range firing, cannons for firing metal cannonballs and petraries for firing stones. The cannons, made in a city foundry, were of bronze. The gunpowder was also produced in the city, in a saltpetre factory. This enormous defensive apparatus was never actually used for warfare. In 1799 the Austrians removed over 120 large-calibre cannons, and since then the walls have lost their military value.
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