Piazza San Michele in Lucca, also known as Piazza delle Catene due to the numerous marble columns connected by heavy metal chains, gets its name from the imposing church of San Michele in Foro, founded in the 8th century, when a hospice and a monastery also stood here. During the medieval period, a canal, la Fossa Natali, surrounded the piazza so to get inside the church you had to cross a wooden bridge known as Ponte al Foro.
The current appearance of the church combines the romantic style with elements of gothic style. The façade is made up of four order of loggias and a huge marble statue of archangel Michele defeating a dragon with a spear is placed on top: according to legend, on the brightest days you can see the gleam of the emerald set on the surface of the statue centuries ago.
On the right side of the church there is the bell tower, originally built in the mid-12th century but then it was cut down by Giovanni dell’Agnello, doge of Pisa, because it was too tall.
The piazza is bordered by medieval buildings which feature round arches and large windows. On the corner of Via Vittorio Veneto stands the Palazzo Pretorio, an amazing example of Renaissance construction in Lucca: the façade is embellished with a striking clock and the inside the loggia there is a monument to Matteo Civitali who was the main architect, busts of the explorer Piaggia and of the heroic Strocchi. The loggias of the palazzo often hold modern art exhibitions and enogastronomic events.
The centre of the piazza is dominated by a statue of Francesco Burlamacchi by Ulisse Cambi, put there in 1863.