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Lucca is the capital of the province of the same name in northwestern Tuscany. With approximately 85,000 inhabitants, Lucca is situated in a broad alluvial plain, 19 meters above sea level, near the Serchio River, between the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines, the Tyrrhenian Coast and the Pisan hills. It is an important city for art and traditional culture, presenting a vital historic center of extraordinary value, which has conserved almost intact the thick urban network of houses, towers, medieval churches, Renaissance palaces and 19th-century piazzas. Lucca today is a flowering commercial and industrial center and an important area for the paper, chemical, metal mechanic, textile and agricultural (olive and wine) industries.
Lucca, visited by the Ligurians and the Etruscans, became a colony in 180 A.D., and then a flowering Roman town (89 A.D.) in the 2nd to 8th centuries. It was the capital of the Lungobard Duchy of Tuscia. The conversion of the Lungobards to Catholicism manifested itself in the construction of many churches, from late Romanesque times up to the present. Lucca is called, in fact, “the city of 100 churches.” It became a free commune in 1162. In the 13th to the 14th centuries, it reached its period of maximum splendor, thanks to the imperial privilege of stamping money, to its intense mercantile and banking activity, and above all to processing and trading of the precious silk that was exported to markets all over Europe. The battles with neighboring Pisa and Florence for the control of transportation routes in the 12th to 15th centuries more than once necessitated the rebuilding of the walls. From the 16th century on, the city was a free oligarchic republic. In 1805, Napoleon made Lucca a principality, granting authority to his sister Elisa Bonaparte in Baciocchi. Elisa governed up to 1814, carrying out grandiose public works and making many radical modifications to the city’s appearance. After the Restoration, Maria Luisa di Borbone, who with her son Carlo Ludovico was distinguished for having built a new aqueduct, renewed the reforming criteria of the Baciocchi. In 1847, the city became part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, and then in 1860 it joined the Kingdom of Italy.
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The expression of a simple and plain country tradition, Lucca’s cooking maintains the substantial and flavorful character of its past. Rich in fantasy in its approach to old flavours and to the use of genuine primary materials, it is distinguished by its use of local vegetables and aromatic herbs in every dish. Together with mushrooms, these take a primary role. Among first dishes, minestrone made in the rural tradition is outstanding, as are vegetable soup “alla frantoia” (“of the olive mill”), farro (“spelt”) and bean soups, and “farinata” made with vegetables and corn flour. One of the richest first dishes is “tordelli lucchesi” with ragu sauce, served on festive and holiday occasions. Veal was once considered a dish for gentlemen. The more well known common dishes are in fact based on pork and poultry (pork roasted on the grill or with aromatic herbs, rabbit “cacciatore” with olives, chicken “al mattone”, and fried chicken with fried vegetables). Cooking based on river fish such as stewed Serchio eel, Garfagnana trout and baked mullet, or humble, flavorful baccala (cod) roasted with chickpeas or stewed with leeks, is also typical.
Strolling along the shady downtown streets, one can breath the true atmosphere of Lucca and the reserved but courteous character of the Lucchese. In the narrow streets, lined with ancient shops and artisans’ studios, the daily life of the city is swarming, hard working and lively.