Exploring Lucca. 12/17/18

The rain has stopped by 10 AM and we are ready to head out to begin our exploration of Lucca.  The first church we mean to visit is Santa Maria Forisportam. Although the church is inside the walls now forisportam means that it was originally built outside the original walls of the city. But we are not off to a good start as the church is closed. It has some interesting figures on its Romanesque facade and I wish I could find out more. 

This unusual Madonna, from what I can glean from the internet, is called a Byzantine Madonna and is heavily influenced by the Greek tradition. The head covering is different from how we traditionally see the Madonna.

Moving along we head toward the cathedral piazza and buy tickets to visit the complex.  The front of the cathedral is awash in columns, statuary, and bas-reliefs. There is also a rather outsized bell tower.

St. Martin’s Cathedral in Lucca

Figure of St. Martin dividing his cloak for a beggar

In the picture above there are many differently designed columns. According to traditional lore there was a contest to see who could make the most beautiful column. Instead of naming a winner they just kept all the different columns and used them on the front of the Church!

Here are some of the early/famous works in the cathedral –

Tintoretto, Last Supper, 1592-94. Tintoretto’s Last Suppers are always a play of light and dark with the table presented at an angle.
Ghirlandaio’s Madonna and Child enthroned with Saints Peter, Clement, Sebastian, and Paul, 1479
Most famous is the Volto Santo which was said to be miraculously carved by Nicodemus, a contemporary of Jesus, hidden away for 700 years and then rediscovered and brought to Lucca

After spending time in the cathedral we make our way to the museum of the cathedral where we see illuminated choir books, various paintings and even two sculptures of John the Baptist’s head on a platter.

Illuminated 15th century choir book

Sculpted heads in earlier (l.) and later styles

From here we make our way to the Baptistry, originally built in the 4th century and added onto and renovated somewhat over the centuries. It’s Roman origins can be seen in excavations within the Church.  It is an enormous space with various pieces of interest.

Looking across the cathedral piazza toward the Baptistry

Faded fresco

After stopping for a quick cup of coffee to perk ourselves up we head to the Church of St. Michael in the Forum.  This church is first mentioned in 795 as having been built over the old Roman forum.

Interior view of San Michele in Foro
12th century crucifix
Panel of Four Saints by Filippino Lippi

It is now close to 2 PM and we are all dragging. We make our way over to the oval site of the old Roman amphitheater hoping to find some lunch but we run into the usual tourist trap restaurants.

Looking across the enormous oval amphitheater piazza

We decide to head back towards the hotel in hopes of finding a local restaurant. Along the way we pass the famous Guinigi Tower with trees on top. The last time we were here Sarah climbed to the top. She is older and wiser this trip.

Sarah pointing out the Guinigi Tower

We are back to the hotel when John points out a small restaurant, Antica Drogheria, which he tells me he and I have eaten in before. I have no memory of it but that is typical. We gratefully sit down, take the mandatory beer pictures, watch the table of Asian tourists next to us dig into the enormous bistecca  Fiorentinas, and try some Luccan favorites.

John and beer
Sarah and beer
Nonna’s pezzole for the table – crepes filled with spinach and cheese

In the foreground is Mary and Sarah’s choice, tordelli with chianina ragu (sort of like a Chef Boyardee ravioli) and above it John’s tripe. Supposedly tordelli is a Luccan speciality.

At this point John and I are in an achy sightseeing stupor and stumble back to our room. I fall dead asleep. Sarah takes a walk back to the amphitheater to check out some stores. We meet downstairs later for a few snacks and all agree that no one wants dinner. I manage to stay awake until almost 9 PM working on the beginning of this post and finish it when I wake up at 4AM.

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