The Lucca Plain was crossed in ancient times by the several branches in which the course of the Auser river (today’s Serchio) was divided. Human settlements have concentrated along its banks since the Bronze Age. The plain, made fertile by the river, being a major route of communication and trade, was intensely populated by the Etruscans since the eighth century BC, while the Apuan Ligurians settled in the mountains of the middle and upper valley since the fourth century BC. The city of Lucca was founded by the Romans in 180 BC, at the end of the bloody war against the Ligurians who strongly resisted the advance of Rome.
The city still maintains the Roman orthogonal planning, which divided in regular blocks the space within the walls in the second century BC, as evidenced by the network of streets of the historical centre. At the intersection between the Cardine and the Decumano Massimi, where the Forum was located, there is today one of the most important and striking squares of the city, where the church of San Michele in Foro stands. The Cardine and the Decumano Massimi still coincide with the main city streets: the axis via Fillungo - via Cenami and the Via San Paolino - Via Santa Croce.
The Augustan Age was the moment of maximum splendour for the Roman city, with the construction of the theater, the renovation of the Forum and a full urbanization. The most impressive public monument, the Amphitheatre, was erected in the second half of the first century AD outside the mighty walls.
The birth of the city
Still today, the origins of Lucca are the object of historical research. Some scholars attribute to the Ligurians the construction of the first settlement. The name "Lucca" might come from the Celtic-Ligurian word Luk, meaning "marsh". However, the same root as Luk brings to the word "light", meaning a clearing in the vegetation. Other scholars, based on recent archaeological discoveries, attribute the birth of the city to the Etruscans.
Lucca stood in a large marsh created by the passage of the ancient river Auser (Serchio). The river caused many problems to the city because of the frequent floods. Centuries later, to put a remedy to this, the bishop Frediano (elected in 560 AD) ordered to divert the course of the river. The work brought a significant environmental improvement, which found its climax in the complete reclamation of the plain during the Middle Ages.