Get up early to catch the best and biodiversity of Lucca’s walls

The Italians have a proverb Chi dorme non piglia pesce (he who sleeps does not catch fish), which has a similar meaning to the English proverb ‘the early bird catches the worm’. In terms of seeing the best of Lucca’s walls I think these proverbs ring true. So rise early, check when sunrise is due, and head for a walk on the almost deserted walls to see the sun rise through the trees.

Lucca’s walls form a continuous circle around the historic centre. They are 12m high and 4.2km (2.4miles) long, have 11 bastions, and were built between the mid-1600s and 1800s. On the top of the walls is a walking, cycling, running area lined with trees that provide shade in the heat of the summer. The wall offers residents and tourists, who may be living or staying in flats with no outside space, the opportunity to exercise and just breathe. They are a symbol of Lucca and for me they always provide a sense of coming home to their protection when I have been away. One of the most wonderful things about the walls are the views they provide of the city within and the countryside and hills that surround Lucca. Outside the walls are meadows, moats and canals which form part of the overall structure of these fortifications.

The bastions, meadow areas, verges and canals have never been sprayed by chemicals. This has created the opportunity for biodiversity to flourish with dragonflies, beetles, bees and other beneficial bugs proliferating. In 2020 the Commune of Lucca decided to create a 2.7 km ecological corridor along the canals between Porta San Donato and Porta San Pietro to help out this wildlife, and the egrets, ducks and herons who feed on the insects and amphibians seem very happy.

Recently, an agreement has been signed between the University of Trieste and the University of Florence to study and extend the biodiversity of the walls. This is part of a study of urban parks and how they can encourage rare plants to grow. There are already nine types of protected irises growing here as well as other rare flowers. The Commune has agreed to selectively mow the grass here to protect and encourage these further, so we can look forward to even more birds, insects and flowers in the future. Personally, I really look forward to the return of the swallows, which nest in Porta San Donato, as real heralds of summer.

Not all new fauna are welcome. The walls were recently visited by a flock of sacred ibis. These migratory birds have decided to settle in some areas on their migratory journey and where they settle they are highly damaging to native wildlife. Fortunately, this flock moved on.

In the early morning, after the rain, even the humble flowers such as the daisies and buttercups are beautiful. I like to walk with my camera as it helps me ‘see’ and focus on the present and the small things. Focusing on the moment – mindfulness – helps your mental health. So get up early and explore the beauty of the walls, as the sun rises over them and selectively lights the buildings in the historic centre. See you there.

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