16th Century


The Palace



The New Project

The Palazzo of the Elders at the beginning of the sixteenth century was very picturesque. It did not have a single architectural style but was a group of buildings of different periods and with different functions connected by passages and bridges. A new wing to the north, along the present façade, was added to the group surrounding the courtyard. At the north end of this was the Republic’s new customs building, the Gabbella Maggiore, rebuilt by 1517, with the General Council Chamber. Attached to it, to the south, was a building with a garden (now the Cortile Carrara) part of which was used to store salt and part as the Tax Office. Two bridges connected this with the old Palazzo of the Elders and the tower. In the same period, the west wing along the Cortile degli Svizzeri beside the old Palazzo was rebuilt from its foundations with the ground floor to be the armoury, the intermediate floor the documents office, and the first floor to be the Elders’ accommodation with a new chapel and a bridge to the Church of San Romano. The complex was so densely occupied by public offices that it was not considered a suitable place for Charles V in 1536 and he was accommodated in the Bishop’s Palace. During the night of the 28th and 29th of August 1576, lightning struck the little tower on the left side of the courtyard gate causing the gunpowder stored there to explode. The old Palazzo was completely destroyed, the adjoining buildings were badly damaged and a number of people were killed or injured. On the 11th of September 1577, Bartolomeo Ammannati was commissioned to draw up new plans for the Palazzo and these were approved a month later. Ammannati proposed building a large palazzo with a tower, set out round three courtyards of which the central one was to be the Cortile degli Svizzeri. The works continued from 1571 to 1586 and cost more than 45,000 scudos. By the end of the century, the new guards’ loggia, the open galleries in the Cortile degli Svizzeri, and the left half of the façade up to the central gate had been completed. In October 1593 a fire seriously damaged the top floor of the new building where, amongst other rooms, the prison was situated.


The City



The City State

In the space of a very few years, Lucca was obliged to abandon its pro-French policy against Florence which had been adopted because of the presence of Charles VIII and Louis XII of France on Italian soil. Lucca was an imperial city, its merchants did lucrative trade in Lyon and it was necessary to maintain a degree of neutrality in the clash between the Empire and the Kingdom of France. In 1509 the city had to stop supporting the cause of independence for Pisa. In 1513, with Pope Leo X (Giovanni de’ Medici) as arbitrator, the territorial disputes were resolved in favour of Florence and Ferrara. Pietrasanta and Motrone were judged to belong lawfully to Florence and the Garfagnana to Ferrara. It was in this context of having its territory reduced to these narrowest of boundaries that Lucca took the onerous decision to reinforce and then completely rebuild the defence walls according to the most up-to-date techniques for defence against firearms. In 1513 the villages around the walls were razed to the ground in order to create the tagliata, an empty space about 500 metres wide, which would provide a more effective defence in the case of a siege.


Conspiracies and Revolts

Life in the city was sometimes thrown into upheaval by conspiracies amongst the nobility and by popular uprisings. In 1522 some members of the Poggio family faction unsuccessfully attempted to bring about a coup d’état by murdering the GonfaliereGerolamo Vellutelli. A few years later, a crisis in the silk industry struck the poorest band of society, the weavers. The Government tried to reorganise the industry, which was overproducing, but discontent spilled over in 1531 with the revolt of the Straccioni (so-called because of the rag that was their flag). Master silk workers suggested constitutional reform that would allow the lower classes to have greater representation, but poor organisation and the excesses of some of those involved in the revolt meant that it was harshly put down without any concessions being made. A new uprising planned by Pietro Fatinelli in 1542 came to nothing. Finally, serious difficulties arose from the conspiracy planned in 1545 by Francesco Burlamacchi, the chief magistrate then in office, with his proposal to bring down the rule of the Medicis in Tuscany through revolt in Pisa, the support of exiled Florentines and the creation of a federation of Tuscan states under the aegis of the Emperor. The plan was discovered by Cosimo I de’ Medici and Burlamacchi was sent before Charles V who condemned him to death in 1548 despite the appeals of the Lucchesi.

Lucca and the Reformation

During the sixteenth century, the Reformation put down deep roots in Lucca. The merchants who lived in cities in the north of Europe were the means by which reforming ideas, proscribed books and the desire to improve the morality of the clergy spread here. In every family there was someone who supported or sympathised with the Protestants. These “heretics” were tolerated and their numbers minimised by the Lucchesi who knew the dangers that their Republic was exposed to. Repeated threats from Rome and the fear of a “crusade” from Florence against the heretical Lucca sent the Protestants into voluntary exile in Geneva and other cities to the north. The Republic was jealous of its own integrity and its sovereignty in its dealings with the Church and therefore did not accept any interference from outsiders in this matter. There were no trials or confiscation for the Protestant exiles, no Inquisition court was set up and no Jesuits were allowed to establish themselves in the city. This exodus, however, impoverished Lucca in terms of money and human and cultural resources. From 1556, withGonfaloniere Martino Bernardini’s reforms, public office was open only to members of the oldest families. Lucca became an oligarchic republic