This time I would like to talk a little about the city of Lucca in Tuscany, Italy. In order to make this article reach a bigger public, I prefer English to introduce this tremendous Italian town to my friends from different countries. Less known than Rome, Venice, Milan and Florence, Lucca has never been among the first options for those who travel in northern-central Italy. In fact, it is a town with a population less than 90,000. Nevertheless, this doesn’t implicate that it merits less attention: Lucca had been the second largest Italian city state (after Venice) before the Napoleonic conquest. Besides its historical importance, it still preserves an intact urban structure derived from Middle Age.
It took us two hours by car to arrive from Bologna to Lucca and we also had to pass by three main interchange spots: Prato, Florence and Lucca itself. The trip would take over 3 hours by train unless you take a high-speed one. So for those who would like to cross the Apennine in 5 days posting pictures and purchasing souvenirs, Lucca seems to be out of their reach and less attractive. To tell the truth, we didn’t see any Asian tourists in the whole course of our one-day trip.
We started visiting the city from the wall, a relic from the Renaissance Age and the trademark of the city itself. Being told many times of its uniqueness, I was still shocked by its overwhelming simplicity, which is the source of an ultimate beauty. I find it super precious not only because it is still in its entirety, but also because of the blessing the city has had to keep its wall the same way like it used to be throughout hundreds of years. Unlike churches and castles, which can be converted to modern use along with the progress of urbanisation, walls remain a purely block to any urban expansion or traffic circulation, given that their function of urban fortification had already terminated by the end of the Middle Age. In many cases, notwithstanding their survival after the World War 2, people demolished them so as to rebuild their hometowns faster.
Actually the most celebrated case is Beijing, thanks to the truce agreement signed between People’s Liberation Army and General Fu Zuoyi, who served Nationalist Party’s Army by then, escaped from being damaged in the civil war. Ironically, the intact city wall, the biggest of its kind in human history, was pushed down according to the urbanisation plan in the 50s by Beijing municipal government. Looking back to Lucca, it managed to develop its urban plan while keeping its own historic center: it really deserves my applause. What surprised me more, is that Lucca designers even transformed the city wall into a promenade with trees on both sides. Here the full nature integrates with locals’ living environment. As a result, the space occupied by the wall is no waste of resources, but it is a park in which people can spend their spare time in harmony with their traditions.
Walking into the city’s heart, a strikingly real sense of Middle Age came to me. Except for the pedestrians, everything seemed to keep in the way it had been for centuries. As you can see in this picture on the left, the church is called San Michele in Foro, covered by white marble encompassing the sense of purity of God.
On the square where the Duomo is situated, you can probably have a better perception about the power of time. For some unclear reasons, the buildings here are not perfectly polished on their surface, though we can observe that they stand firmly despite the time erosion. This affected my view towards the preservation of cultural heritage: at times you don’t have to keep it all in a perfect shape like it was just finished yesterday, what we need to do is only to consolidate its internal structure, the rest we could let it be. Indeed, just like when we try to dress our grandparents, we ought to make them look neat and proper rather than putting too much cosmetics on them.
On my way back to Bologna, quite a bizarre sensation came to me: I come from Hangzhou, a city in the coastal area of East China with more than 6 million inhabitants nowadays. Almost all the enormous changes my home city has experienced took place in the last 2 decades. Evidently, the place where I lived in my childhood is completely a different one in comparison with her current outline. The sense of community and the old neighbourhood that accompanied me during my growth, came back to me when I visited Lucca, an European town tens of miles away from my birthplace. Therefore I have to ask myself, did our modernisation come at a too high price?