The Piazza dell’Anfiteatro in Lucca is today a bustling plaza where tourists can enjoy their food and drinks, but several centuries ago, it was in this very spot that gladiators battled for supremacy in front of rapt audiences.
Situated on the northeastern side of the ancient walled Italian city, the marketplace is surrounded by buildings constructed exactly on the lines of an old Roman amphitheater, using parts of the original structure, giving it a distinctive elliptical form and its name. The best way to see the plaza’s shape is from above but the view from inside the buildings also offers a different perspective of the plaza.
The construction of the amphitheater began in the first century but it wasn’t completed until much later with the financial help of a wealthy resident. The theater’s 18 rows could seat nearly 10,000 viewers, making it an important site of entertainment and games of strength.
During the Gothic Wars of the sixth century, the site, along with many parts of the city, was fortified, and later houses and even a prisons were built on the crumbling ruins of the theater. The plaza took on its current form between 1830 and 1839, when architect Lorenzo Nottolini demolished some of the buildings crowding the inside of the arena, and restored its structure by using the original elliptical plan. The base of the amphitheater is now buried about nine feet below the center, and the remaining vaults and arches have been incorporated into the modern shops, cafes, and houses that circle the plaza.
The Piazza, which is also called Piazza Del Mercado, can be reached via four gateways, each at the four extremes of the ellipse. A recent addition to the plaza, a massive bronze sculpture of a human head by Polish artist Igor Mitoraj, is fast becoming one of the most popular selfie backgrounds in Lucca.