This itinerary, which winds its way among the hills around Lucca, passes through some of the territory’s most characteristic and important towns. By following the river upstream, visitors can discover many small churches and chapels hidden in the countryside, bridges over ancient roads and historical villas.
The city of Lucca was first settled by the Romans and in fact, traces of their colonisation of the town can still be found today. For example, there is the forum, the amphitheatre and the quadrilateral city walls. The city’s most glorious moment however, came in the twelfth century, when the outer walls were added around the city. To the outside world, these walls were a powerful symbol of the wealth, culture and political supremacy of the town. Lucca is and was also an important stopping off point on the Via Francigena, the ancient pilgrims’ route that led from northern Europe to Rome.
Historically, this route was also used by merchants on their way to the north. In the surrounding countryside there are many aristocratic villas and buildings belonging to families like the Trenta and the Bernadini. Lucca is also home to many interesting churches, both large and small, such as San Martino church, San Frediano church and San Michele church. Today, the symbol of the city is still its 4km circle of impregnable walls. In 1800, an avenue was laid along the top of the walls and many plants and trees were added, making the walls the perfect place for a stroll with great views of the city and surrounding countryside.
Monte San Quirico – San Quirico di Moriano
In 1998, the Comune of Lucca created the Parco Fluviale Urbano (the Urban River Park) in the area along the river nearest to the city. The park stretches from the bridge of Monte San Quirico to the bridge of San Pietro. A pretty footpath winds its way through the park along the nineteenth century banks of the river and under poplar, willow and alder trees. In the Summer months it’s possible to swim in the river and sunbathe on one of the many small beaches. There is also a series of well-equipped picnic areas. Along the river near the city, there used to be a wooden bridge which was destroyed by the Florentines in a battle in 1336. In 1341, the city was attacked again, but this time by the Pisans who managed to occupy Lucca and the great fort of Angusta which made up a large part of the medieval city.
When the Luccans chased them out in 1370, the Angusta fort was destroyed and used to build the new bridge at Monte San Quirico.In the eighteenth century, on the summit of Monticello di San Quirico, there was a church which was completely re-built by bishop Anselmo da Baggio. He consecrated the church on the same day that he was elected as Pope. The building as it stands today dates back to the end of the nineteenth century and has a beautiful organ and several wooden statues from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.
The church of Santo Stefano was founded by San Frediano in the sixth century. The church was considered important enough to have been renovated several times over the centuries. The left side of the church maintains its Romanesque style, while the wide loggia, from which there is a wonderful panoramic view, is distinctly sixteenth century. Further additions were made in the eighteenth century and the building also includes a bell tower with Guelph battlements.
On the slopes above the town of Carignano, near the woods, there used to be many hunting lodges belonging to the Luccan nobility from the fifteenth century. The church of Santa Maria Assunta was rebuilt in that period and was subsequently enriched over the centuries with items such as the altar and the nineteenth century organ.
The most important building in the town of San Macario is the church of San Jacopo. All that remains today is the apse. Some time ago, the church was deconsecrated to be turned into private residences. In the twelfth century, this was one of ten ‘ospedali’, or wayfarers hostels in the Lucca area and was known as the Ospedale di Colle Beltrandi’.
In the ninth century, Count Eriprando, owner of the land along the banks of the river Serchio to the west of the city, decided to start a ferry service across the river. The spot he chose became known as ‘ad navem Eriprandi’. He may also have been behind the construction of one of the five pilgrims’ hostels in the area, documented from 1910. Today, the town of Nave is known for its mural decorations painted by the students of several Italian art institutes.
Ponte San Pietro
In the tenth century, the marquis of Tuscany, who lived in Lucca, built a bridge (‘ponte’) across the river to help pilgrims and merchants reach the city more easily. Since then, the San Pietro bridge has been re-built many times. It was rebuilt with stone columns in 1379 and with seven brick arches in 1492. It was destroyed during the Second World War and then quickly rebuilt again afterwards.
This castle has been destroyed and re-built many times, thanks to its strategically important position on the border with the province of Pisa and on the route that connected the plain of Lucca and Versilia. Along with the Pisan fort of Ripafratta, Nozzano Castello represented one of the most important links of the chain of defence and communication that connected the coast, the Luccan plain, the Serchio valley and all the way to the castles of Garfagnana.
How to get to Nozzano from Lucca
Leave Lucca through the Santa Maria Gate and stay to the right of the city’s ring road. At the roundabout, follow the signs for Camaiore and, once over the bridge, turn right at the crossroads – following the signs for San Concordio di Moriano, Arsina. From here, cross over the Freddana road. From the hill of Pieve Santo Stefano, go down towards Carignano and San Macario. Keep going on the Sazanese road to get to Nozzano Castle. The whole route is approximately 15km long, reasonably traffic-free and on asphalted roads and dirt tracks. It’s also possible to follow this route by bicycle and the route doesn’t require a high fitness level.