The fortified ring of walls around the city of Lucca is a magnificent artefact, and one of the most beautiful attractions that Lucca can offer to its visitors. The city is surrounded by 4 levels of the surrounding rings of walls; the last - external - extension of the walls represents more than 4 km long imposing embankment planted with trees.
This defensive apparatus was never used for military purposes, but did it best to protect Lucca from overflows of the Serchio river. For these reasons during the Napoleon era the walls were demilitarized, and since that acted as a public walkway.
The history of fortified walls of Lucca begins in 200 A.C. - with a classic square of walls that surrounded the city centre, and with part of it seen there up to today.
The second ring of walls is dating back to 1100 - 1200, when the perimeter of the city was increased from 3 sides (excluding the southern part - from the Pisa side). Parts of this circle - that included all the most renowned historical buildings of the cityís centre - can still be seen as the fortified gates of Porta dei Santi Gervasio e Protasio and Porta dei Borghi.
All the important buildings that had not yet been within the boundaries of the walls, were included in the third ring (1400-1500) - with the expansion only in the north-eastern direction. The belief in the power of fortifications compelled the Republic of Lucca to dedicate more efforts to the fortification of the walls. The Office for the fortification - in charge of the construction of the new defensive system - was instituted, being advised mostly by Flemings, whose knowledge in the military defense sphere were well known.
The works began in 1544 and were finished only a hundred years later, after completing of the last ring of walls - with more advanced defensive apparatus than the previous ones. Growing on the circle of walls are centuries-old trees, planted to consolidate the enormous mass of earth.
The access to the city was secured by several fortified gates- each equipped with drawbridge, floodgate and iron double doors. Today there are 7 gates in Lucca, and though all of them were constructed in completely different eras, they all share the same majestic tone of the architectural structure, and of the decorative elegance.
The most ancient gates are the Porta dei Santi Gervasio e Protasio e, and la Porta dei Borghi, - the only ones that mark two of the four access points in the second ring of walls. Apart from them, 3 other gates are present in the wall ring of the 1500: Porta San Pietro, Porta Santa Maria, and Porta San Donato, the most recent of all the gates.
Having disposed of the threat of any military attack, the quincentenary walls were equipped with new gates. The Porta Elisa gate was erected in neoclassical style in 1809, having been commissioned by Elisa Baiocchi. The 2 most recent gates were opened at the beginning of the 1900: Porta Vittorio Emanuele (1911), and Porta San Jacopo (1930).