Sunday, July 5, 2009

Lucca's San Michele in Foro

Located in the heart of Tuscany, Lucca is often missed for the greater tourist sites of Florence and Pisa nearby. Founded by the Etruscans, and later turned into a Roman colony in 180 BCE, Lucca played an important part in Italian history, being the site of a conference in 56 BCE which established the First Triumvirate. Much later, Napoleon gifted Lucca to his sister Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi and named her the Queen of Etruria.

Lucca is one of the most preserved walled cities in the world, and a favorite pastime of locals and visitors alike is walking or biking the circumference of the wall and enjoying lunch at one of the many parks located at intervals along its path. Lucca also offers more impressive vistas than the wall, for it is peppered with towers, a few of which are climbable, and the mountains and Tuscan countryside are more than visible and can take your breath away.

In the heart of this beautiful city, however, once used as a way station for pilgrims, lies San Michele in Foro, a church to rival the most beautiful in Europe. The church is mentioned as early as 795 AD, however, its current incarnation is a result of Pope Alexander during the 11th century. In typical Pisan-Luccan fashion, its facade is a fusion of Romanesque and Gothic architecture. The front of the church looks sadly incomplete as it is a flat panel adorned with a flattened statue of St. Michael. The most curious part of this church is seen when one starts to walk around the church to view the backside of the front facade. Stairs stretch towards the statue of St. Michael, and it is said that priests would climb the stairs to orchestrate St. Michael's wings springing to life, thereby showering Lucca with its very own "miracles".

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