Lucca and its patron saint Saint Zita have been sort of identified each other, since soon after her death. The famous Italian poet Dante, wrote of a man "from Saint Zita" to mean from "Lucca".
Saint Zita is the patron saint of housewives, housemaids and bakers. Saint Zita herself worked as a housemaid in a rich family's home in Lucca, where she died on 27th April 1272. She used to spare all she could, to give it to the poor, was very appreciated and loved by them for her generosity and by the family where she worked for her good work and good character.
According to the legend, another housemaid who worked with her, maybe jealous of the affection Zita received from everybody, told their master that Zita used to steal what she gave to the poor. One day her master met Zita while she was going to see a needy family, with her apron full of things for them. He asked Zita what she was carrying and she answered that she was carrying only flowers and fronds. When she loosened her apron, a lot of flowers fell at her feet.
To remember this event, every year there is the Fair of Santa Zita that lasts several days in the week including the 27th of April. It is a fair of flowers, very fascinating for all the colours of spring flowers, which takes place in Piazza Anfiteatro.
Piazza Anfiteatro is a very peculiar characteristic of Lucca. As the name says, the building used to be a Roman amphitheatre. During medieval times, people built their homes within its structure. So today you can see a series of houses all joined together in one very large building with an oval plan, with arcades at the ground level. This forms a very large square, often used as a market square.
When I first saw it, entering the square I felt a bit strange, I wondered "Why is this building like this?" (I didn't know its origin!). Then when I read the story on my tourist guide I could sort of see those ancient people trying to recycle a building that they no longer used as it was originally intended.
Lucca is in the Tuscany region, its altitude is 19 metres and has about 80,000 residents. It's not very far from both the hills and the Thyrrenian Sea, with the renowned towns of Viareggio and Torre del Lago where they organise the Puccini Opera Festival every summer, with open air Puccini's operas.
It was a Roman colony since 130 B.C. During the middle ages it was the capital of the duchy of Tuscany, then it became a comune and later, from 1369 to 1799, it was a republic. It remained for a short time under Napoleon first and the Borbone king later and in 1861 it became part of the newly unified Kingdom of Italy.
The 15th-17th century defensive city walls of Lucca are very impressive, they are intact, about 4,500 metres long, all around the town. They are also very thick (30 metres at the base), with a lot of trees to form a city park. You can even walk on top of the walls and enjoy two views: inside, the town and, outside, the hills and countryside.
Also don't miss the Torre Guinigi (Guinigi Tower), with century old ilex trees on its top.
Once you've wandered around the town, you can have a rest a enjoy a well deserved meal. Traditional is one of the many soups, like farro (spelt) soup, the oldest type of wheat used since Roman times, with beans and herbs, bits of ham and olive oil from Lucca hills.
Or try one of the pies with vegetables or my favourites, the desserts with chestnut (castagna) flour: the castagnaccio, with pine-seeds, raisin, orange zest, rosemary and oil, or the necci, sort of crepes filled with fresh ricotta cheese.