Lucca and its Medieval Walls Become a Complete Fool
We headed out of Pisa and on to Lucca, another one of our planned but unplanned half day trips. Located a short distance northeast of Pisa, Lucca is called the most civilized of Tuscany's cities. Its greatest contribution thus far has been its music, with the city's "singing school" in existence since AD 787. Some of its prodigies include Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805), who revitalized chamber music in the 18th century and the more modern operatic composer Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924).
In AD 47, Christianity blossomed when Bishop Paulinas (one of Peter's disciples) brought third-generation Christians to the city making Lucca the first city to convert to this new religion. Centuries later in 1314, Pisa conquered Lucca but the city fought its way back to freedom and independence. Despite a few skirmishes in the years following, the city has remained mostly independent. In 1805, Napoleon handed the city over to his sister Elisa Baciocchi as a principality where she ruled. In 1815 it was absorbed into the Tuscan Grand Duchy.
This city is another in a walled city series but it differs slightly from the others... the 2.6 miles of wall surrounding the city can be walked around in its entirety. The wall is 60 feet wide at the top and is lined with chestnut, ilex and plane trees planted in the 19th century by Marie Louise Bourbon. The wall was built in a kidney shape around Lucca between 1544 and 1654 with overall dimensions being 100 feet wide at the base and 40 feet high. The ramparts once held 126 cannons until they were removed by the Austrian overlords. The walls are actually Lucca's fourth and most impressive set and are considered the best preserved in all of Italy.
Though the walls are impressive to see from the exterior, they were never actually used in battle. They did serve a purpose, when in 1812 the Serchio River flooded its banks and headed for the city and the surrounding valley. Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi was governing Lucca at the time from her villa outside the walls and rushed to the gates wanting to get within the safe confines of the walled city. Fearful of flooding out the city, the residents refused to open the gates and instead used a crane to lift up Elisa over the walls to safety.
Mio Babbino Caro
Speaking of Puccini, the opportunity to see his place of residence was too good to pass up. Giacomo Puccini was an almost modern day composer. His operas include Tosca, Madame Butterfly, Turnadot, Gianni Schicchi and La Boheme. He was born and raised at Via Poggio no. 30, a scant block away from San Michele in Foro, a church where he and two generations before him performed. Puccini himself sang here in the choir as a boy. A plaque is all that remains on the no. 30 location as the entrance to his home-turned-museum is around the corner at Corte San Lorenzo 9 then upstairs a few flights.
http://www.macmurph.com/photodb/picture.php?picture_id=4227 (San Michele)
http://www.macmurph.com/photodb/picture.php?picture_id=4225 (House #30)
For being an older establishment, it was surprisingly large and had a lot to see. The rooms were well preserved and all were wide open to the public... in that I mean there weren't wire cages and blocked off areas screaming don't touch!!!!! There were many photos, playbills and recordings from his various operas and the piano on which he composed the opera Turnadot.
http://www.macmurph.com/photodb/picture.php?picture_id=4220 (The Piano)
Though I am not all that familiar with Puccini's works, my most favorite song is Mio Babbino Caro from the Gianni Schicchi opera. I first heard this on a movie soundtrack and was so torn by the obvious pain in the singer's voice. I didn't find out the meaning of the song for many years afterwards but did discover the tone indeed reflects the meaning. For those of you who have never heard this one, it's a heart-wrenching song about a woman who desperately wants to marry the man she loves. She implores her father to take pity on her and proclaims that if their love is in vain she will throw herself off the Ponte Vecchio into the Arno River. She is tormented and wishes only to die. It's simply sappy and I love it. If I ever had the chance to sing one operatic song in my lifetime then that would be the one I choose.
http://www.macmurph.com/photodb/picture.php?picture_id=2862 (music sheet)
Reading through the bits and pieces of history here, the house was set up from private funds and donations and made possible by a modern day relative. Listening to parts of a conversation between strangers in regards to preserving pieces of history, it seems that Italy doesn't have all the monies available for something like this and so private donations and entrance fees are mostly what keep this place in business. I was pleased to see that this place survived and has flourished over the years.
I See Dead People
This city looks similar to most of the other cities in the region. The streets are narrow and somewhat marked street-wise, but only barely. Using a map and distinguishing north from south is a chore, but we ambled along slowly, looking for another of many points of interest. One such place was San Frediano, a church boasting a gorgeous 13th century exterior mosaic composed of gold-leaf tiles mixed with brightly painted colors. This fa�ade was in place of the columns that are so prevalent for most churches and we were fortunate to see this on a sunny day. The overall effect was stunning.
We walked into the church and it was a little dark and took us a few moments for our eyes to adjust. Looking around to the immediate right of the main entrance was a Romanesque baptismal font from the 12th century. It had been dismantled for a few centuries and rediscovered only a few decades ago and reassembled. The details were beautiful.
http://www.macmurph.com/photodb/picture.php?picture_id=4215 (Baptismal Font)
Behind the baptismal font and to the right we saw a gated but unlocked area area with a single open entrance leading into it. This led to the Cappella di Santa Zita or the Chapel of St. Zita. I have never seen anything like what I saw inside here and I don't suppose I ever will again. The shrunken body of a woman who performed miracles from centuries past lay here in full display, like some modern day Snow White waiting for her prince charming to come and awaken her from a deep sleep.
This addition to the main church was built in the 17th century and its sole purpose was to preserve the glass-coffined body of Saint Zita and display the surrounding frescos painted by Francesco del Tintore showing the miracles she performed in her lifetime. The frescos lined the walls of this smallish enclosure and were a little eerie under the low light. Zita is the patron saint of maids and ladies-in-waiting and was a serving girl in the 13th century. One evening she was caught sneaking bread out in her apron on her way to feed the beggars on the street. Her master asked her what she held in her apron to which she replied, "Roses and flowers." She opened her apron and lo and behold the bread had turned into roses and flowers. Every April 26th the Lucchesi, or residents of Lucca, carpet the piazza outside with flowers to celebrate the divine intervention and bring out her shrunken body to kiss and caress. At this point I thought, wow, that is truly devotion and a little bit more then I could handle. It was time to get out and explore some more of the city.
It was hot outside... sweaty and icky hot where all you really wanted to do was find a cold pool and soak in it. We sat for a few moments on the front steps of the church before we moved on to other places. The day was winding down but we still had some hours of daylight left over...
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Lucca and its Medieval Walls
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