Yesterday, we rented another Fiat 500 to do some more exploring at our own pace (which seems to be "fast"). We put our bikes in the back of the Cinquecento and headed for Lucca this time. Lucca was founded by the Etruscans and became a Roman colony in 180 BC. One of the things Lucca is known for is having fully intact Renaissance-era city walls. From Rick Steves Florence & Tuscany guide:
"With the advent of cannons, thin medieval walls were suddenly vulnerable. A new design — the same one that stands today — was state-of-the-art when it was built (1560-1650). Much of the old medieval wall (look for the old stones) was incorporated into the Renaissance wall (with uniform bricks). The new wall was squat: a 100-f00t-wide mound of dirt faced with bricks, engineered to absorb a cannonball pummeling. The townspeople cleared a wide no man's land around the town, exposing any attackers from a distance. Eleven heart-shaped bastions (now inviting picnic areas) were designed to minimize exposure to cannonballs and to maximize defense capabilities. The ramparts were armed with 130 cannons."
Lucca, from the wall:
The wall from outside the city:
A couple of bastions in the distance:
This path leads up to the top-of-the-wall path, and the tunnel goes under/through the wall, to the outside city:
Here's a map of our Lucca city wall laps (about 9 miles all in all):
We saw these two guys several times (since we did a few laps). One guy was walking (at a fastish pace) and the other guy was on a bike (at a slowish pace, smoking a cigarette) and they stayed right together, talking the entire time:
We rode down into town, grabbed an an espresso and a panini at a sidewalk cafe, and then headed on to our next destination: Pisa.
We arrived in Pisa and could see the tower in the distance as we approached (which felt a little like when I was a kid and we went to Disneyland…the moment the Matterhorn was visible in the distant skyline). We parked in a free parking lot, deployed the bikes again, and off we went. Pisa is cool! The tower is fabulous in person, as is the rest of the Piazza del Duomo:
I can't tell you how many people we saw taking "The Photo" — the one where someone is trying to hold up the arch. Hilarious. I'm guessing we saw hundreds of those photos being made. Hundreds. At least.
It's so much fun to be able to fit two bikes in the back of a Fiat 500. So. Much Fun. We feel pretty badass after each one of these little Fiat/Bike Friday excursions.
We decided next to visit the town of Volterra.
More than 2,000 years ago, Volterra was one of the most important Etruscan cities. Eventually (like many other cities) it was absorbed into the Roman Empire, and for centuries was an independent city-state. Volterra fought bitterly against the Florentines (there was a lot of fighting around these parts!) but like many Tuscan towns, it lost in the end and was given a fortress atop the city to "protect" its citizens. (More from Rick Steves' Florence & Tuscany)
We entered the city near the Medici Fortress (which is now, ironically, a maximum security prison). This prison houses only about 100 special prisoners. Word is that authorities prefer to keep organized crime figures locked up far away from their family ties in Sicily. There are big "no photos" signs all around but I didn't see them until after I took this shot. The guard walking the roofline perimeter didn't seem to notice.
We stopped in at a cute spot called La Vena di Vino to have a glass of wine (Ombra, syrah, from Volterra, very good and we brought a bottle home).
This place is super fun…owned by two brothers (Lucio and Bruno), and decorated in bras, it's a sweet little enoteca with a great selection of wines by the glass. More info here on Trip Advisor.
After La Vena di Vino, we explored town bit. Random little churches:
No gelato, dogs, or bare shoulders allowed:
Oh yeah, walking along the top of the wall…
You get this view of this insane Roman theater built in 40B.C.:
The stage wall was standard Roman design: three levels from which actors would appear. The first level was for mortals, the second level for heroes, and the third for gods. Parts of the first and second levels still stand (and maybe at the top there is a tiny part of the floor for the gods):
Next, we walked over to the Palazzo dei Priori, Volterra's City Hall, built around 1209. To the right of the front door there's a horizontal "cane" cut into the wall. For a thousand years this square hosted a market and this "cane" was used as the local yardstick:
"Etruscan" bronze for sale:
Typical street in Volterra:
Last stop in Volterra was the Porta all'Arco, or the Etruscan Arch. Built in the 4th century B.C. of massive volcanic tuff stones, locals claim this is the only surviving round arch of the Etruscan age, and most experts believe this is where the Romans got the idea for using a keystone in their arches. (!!!!)
The three protruding bits in the arch were heads that date back to the first century B.C. but they've suffered serious erosion (being outside for 2,000 years might do that) and are no longer candidates for facial recognition.
Imagine being the guy who lives here in No. 62, right next to this 2,000 year old arch!!
After Volterra we conquered some more of the Chianti countryside in our Fiat 500 before returning it and riding our bikes back to the apartment. We went (again) to our new favorite local neighborhood trattoria for dinner. Friday night is hoppin' in the Oltrarno!
More info about Volterra here (in Italian), but translatable (have fun with that!)