It was a bright and sunny day, blue skies dotted with fluffy white clouds as we drove merrily along through the Tuscany countryside, passing quaint villages adorned with Mediterranean Cypress and sprawling vineyards.
I was eagerly anticipating our visit to the old town of Lucca, but as we neared its walls, I was astonished when Papa announced, “Did you know that Lucca has one hundred churches?
“One hundred?!!” I exclaimed. “As in, two zeros?”
“Two zeros,” Papa ascertained.
That was quite difficult to process. How could a little town like Lucca possibly have one hundred churches? And did they really need that many?
“We’re not going to all of them, are we?” Micah asked anxiously.
Thankfully, it was a four-hour drive back home to Nice, France, which meant we didn’t want to spend too long in Lucca.
Mama and Papa laughed. “No, not all of them!”
We parked our rental car and hopped out, eager to see what the town had in store for us.
First up was the Church of San Michele in Foro, significant because of its front façade, the fact that it was built over an ancient Roman forum, and, for me, because it was first mentioned in 795 A.D. Now that’s old.
Its somewhat subdued, humble inside is probably due to its age, since I could see remnants of a once beautiful mosaic floor. It was a very impressive feat to be still standing after all those centuries of war and turmoil.
We then wandered around the narrow streets, charmed by cafes and small shops. It was peaceful and quiet, not many people about. In fact, for most of our meandering, we were alone, which did not prove useful when trying to find the next church.
Thus the benefits of a small town, a brisk walk, and a hundred churches, because we found one in no time: St. Martin’s Cathedral!
Its front façade was similar to San Michele’s, but this one had a very high bell tower that we could actually climb, and I simply adored the way the clouds blanketed the sky above it.
Inside was an assortment of pleasant surprises, such as an ornate ceiling, many bright and stunning mosaics, and a beautiful painting above the altar.
And then it was the moment I had been waiting for: climbing the bell tower! Before we started on our way, we got to see the attendant pull the ropes connected to the unseen bell far ahead, twelve strong, loud peals of majestic ringing for noon.
Then came the stairs. I lost count quite soon, but fortunately, my legs were in shape from all the tower climbing we’d been doing lately.
The walls of the stairwell were stone at first, but they gradually opened up to a platform with metal bars along the walls. From there I could see a flight of wobbly-looking, see-through stairs, wrapping around a rope that stretched all the way to the bells at the very top.
It was going to be a long climb.
But I finally made it, and was rewarded with an amazing view of Lucca, dotted with similar bell towers of the other ninety-nine churches, trees turning golden colours of autumn, and the Alps far in the distance.
There were, of course, the massive bells, heavy-looking ones made of rusted copper. It probably wasn’t as easy as it looked yanking on the ropes to cause such a clamorous ring from those bells!
Going down was perhaps more frightening than going up, because I was forced to, you know, look down. This might give you a perspective.
But in any case, we made it safely down and had just enough time for one more church. We found one after walking down a single street, Chiesa dei Santi Giovanni e Reparata, or the Church of Saint John and Reparata.
Turned out that this church together with St. Martin’s (the one we just visited) and another called the Baptistery of St. John were once one big complex thousands of years ago, back to the time of the Roman Empire. In the Church of St. John and Reparata, however, an archeological discovery had been made of ancient ruins beneath the surface.
Ancient ruins that were open to visitors!
Just a few steps down and I emerged into thousands of years in the past. The air smell both fresh and musty at the same time, and as I walked through the ruins I felt my bones tingling in excitement. I am usually not a big fan of archaeology, but these were so ancient yet so well-preserved that my imagination took off and filled in the details.
If I examined closer, I discovered astounding details still present after all those centuries, like mosaic tiles, etched columns, and even graffiti!
The tiles were my favorite, even though there was only a little rectangular section of them. The glimpse was enough, however, for me to imagine what the entire floor once looked like. Colorful, richly textured, detailed, and majestically Roman.
After we toured the ruins, we found a staircase and, as usual, were compelled to climb them to the bell-tower, even though the stairs looked menacingly dark and never-ending.
At the top, we climbed a ladder (which was far more fun than that sounds)…
…and got a very familiar view of Lucca from above!
When we spiraled all the way back down the stairs, our stomachs were growling and our feet were ready for a rest. There were practically no shops open, despite it being around noon, which we found out was because of a special celebration going on later. Still, we managed to locate a little restaurant serving food and ate an over-priced meal of pizza and spaghetti, which was delicious – as all Italian food is.
After lunch, it was time for the long drive back home to Nice, but as we left Lucca’s walls, I was able to snap a quick (and, let’s admit it, lucky) photo of a vineyard and Mediterranean cypresses. It was the perfect gift from this small but utterly charming jewel of Tuscany, Italy.