LUCCA, 17km northeast of Pisa, is the most graceful of Tuscany's provincial capitals, set inside an imposing ring of Renaissance walls fronted by gardens and huge bastions. Charming and quiet out of season, Lucca's narrow streets become busier in summer, but never as thronged as those of Florence or Siena.
The city's heyday was the eleventh to fourteenth centuries, when the silk trade brought wealth and, for a time, political power. Lucca first lost its independence to Pisa in 1314, then, under Castruccio Castracani, forged an empire in the west of Tuscany. Pisa and Pistoia both fell, and, but for Castracani's untimely death in 1325, Lucca might well have taken Florence. In subsequent centuries it remained largely independent until falling into the hands of Napoleon and then the Bourbons. The city's most famous son, composer Giacomo Puccini, was born here in 1858. Today Lucca is among the wealthiest and most conservative cities in Tuscany, its prosperity gained largely through silk and high-quality olive oil.