Monday, September 26, 2016

Santini Historic Gelateria (Ice cream parlour) Celebrates 100 Years.

Gelato is a competitive business in Lucca these days. Both inside and outside the city walls there are many amazing gelato makers.  I use the Italian word gelato on purpose as gelato should not be confused with ice cream as they are not the same thing.  Gelato is a denser, smoother, less rich mixture served at a slightly higher temperature, which means the natural often delicate flavours become the main player on the taste buds.

On 26th of September, one of the oldest Gelateria in Lucca just across from the family house of one of Lucca’s most famous sons Giacomo Puccini celebrates its 100 birthday this year.  The Puccini family would no doubt cross the piazza and buy whipped cream from the Santini family  “latteria”  (a small shop selling milk and cream). I was very disappointed in Italian bought cream until I discovered the trick of buying it  from a gelateria, though it is a bit of a luxury. My first taste of this delicious indulgence, In Lucca, came from that same Santini Gelateria. The recipe for cream or “panna”  has remained unchanged since Puccini’s day and I can’t pinpoint how they make it so special .

The Santini parlour is run by the fourth generation of the same family, two sisters, Michela and Elisa with their parents Dora and Sergio. The  great great grandchildren of Pietro, who opened the shop during the war in 1916 with his wife can often be seen playing in the piazza.  The Gelateria now has 28 different flavours but originally before fridges, there were just four flavours, which were kept cool using ice. The Chocolate and Crema (a sort of custard) are still the flavours most loved by the Locals. The Gelati are all made from fresh ingredients, eggs and milk and sugar those more diet conscious can go for the fruit options which contain no milk or sugar. A truly healthy afternoon treat.

In Italy, a dessert is traditionally offered to your host at a dinner party and Santini have a wonderful selection of semifreddo delights including a variation on the Buccellato, the famous aniseed sweet bread in Lucca and there is also the famous Zuccotto plus much more. At Christmas, you can add a zip to your Panettone with a semifreddo version.

I for one am very happy to have been in Piazza Cittadella with Puccini statue  looking down on us celebrating this wonderful 100th anniversary with the Santini family. With so many historic shops closing in the city we should celebrate this families tradition and raise a cone of Crema di Puccini to them.  


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Story of The Luminara di Santa Croce and "Volto Santo", Centre of Events of The September Lucchese.

Every year many tourists come to Lucca for the Luminara di Santa Croce but what is the legend of the “Volto Santo” and why it is celebrated by a candlelit procession on 13th September in the city of Lucca? The “Volto Santo “ is literally a wooden cross with the sculptured face of Christ but what makes it so special and revered by the citizens of Lucca?
The legend of this ancient wooden cross and its arrival in Lucca is told in frescoes in a side chapel of San Frediano. Nicodemus, who defended Jesus at his trial and anointed his body supposedly carved the cross and figure of Christ from cypress wood in the Holy Land. The sculpture was complete except for the face when overcome by tiredness Nicodemus fell asleep. When he awoke he found that the face had been executed by a divine hand. The crucifix was discovered by Bishop Gaulfredo, who in a vision was instructed to load the huge carving onto a drifting boat. The boat landed in the Tuscan port of Luni. The locals tried to pull the vessel ashore but the boat would always float away. The Bishop of Lucca at the time a certain Bishop Johannes, had a dream and went to Luni. The boat came to him and he was able to unload the Volto Santo and bring the heavy crucifix  back to the city of Lucca on a cart drawn by oxen without a driver and place it in San Frediano.

However, Nicodemus's sculpture miraculously relocated itself to San Martino. The church was then declared the city’s cathedral.

The 13th September is the Procession for the people to revere this carving. In medieval times most citys celebrated their Saints with these candlelit processions but Lucca is one of the few cities that has continued this celebration for over a 1000 years. Why is the procession held in the evening and lit by candles? The answer is simple, wax was a valuable commodity. The route followed by the procession today is the taken by the “Volto Santo" on its miraculous journey, starting from
piazza San Frediano,
via Fillungo
via Roma
piazza San Michele
via Vittorio Veneto
piazza Grande
piazza del Giglio
via del Duomo
piazza San Giovanni
piazza San Martino.

The flickering candles outlining the windows takes the city back to another Lucca. The Volto Santo is no longer removed from the cathedral and indeed the one on display in the beautiful shrine designed by the Renaissance Lucchese architect Civitali, is a 13th-century copy. The original supposedly destroyed by overzealous pilgrims. Today as for centuries the parishioners from the surrounding area plus the local dignitaries and clerics make up the procession. They are also joined by Lucchese citizens from around the world and locals in costumes. The joy of being part of this day is that it is a local festival for the locals and still acts as a meeting place for friends from far flung corners of the province. The historical markets held on 14th, 21st, and 29th September are also a meeting point and Luna park returns every year to amuse the populace. This old fashioned fun fair seems like a parallel world.

The procession starts at about 20.00 hours on 13th September every year and finishes with a mass in the Duomo of San Martino and the Mottettone polyphonic music. The festival is capped off by fireworks at about 23.00 hours, best seen from the walls above the church of San Frediano.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Lucca City Gates

The most defining thing about Lucca is of course its complete circular Renaissance wall. This magnificent structure built as a defence system for the city looks impenetrable. The wall originally had only three gates but through the centuries with the expansion of the traffic a further three gates were added. These are large gates, which these days provide access to the city by car, however there are also other numerous passageways for pedestrians that wind through the ancient walls. I will start with one of the oldest gates or "Porta"  San Pietro but then go around clockwise.

Porta San Pietro
This is one of the oldest gates and was built in 1565/66, designed by the military engineer Alessandro Resta to provide an entrance to the southern part of the city. It was the only gate by which strangers could enter. All non citizens had to be registered and they had to relinquish all their arms except for swords. If outsiders were just passing through the city their guns could be retained but the strangers were escorted by soldiers through the city. The gate still has the original wooden studded gates and a portcullis. The gate is guarded by two magnificent stone lions, which were preserved from the medieval gate. Above the central arch is the motto of Lucca "Libertas". The gate underwent massive alterations in the 19th century including the addition of the two pedestrian side arches. This is the nearest gate to the train station.

Porta San Anna
Porta Vittorio Emanuele II  is in fact its official name but all the locals refer to it as Porta San Anna. The gate was constructed in 1910 and opened in 1911 but there was a lot of opposition. Many did not see the need for a gate so near Porta San Donato and its very plain modern design was not appreciated by the citizens. The architect was Francesco Bandettini. The reason for its construction was to link it directly to the new district of San Anna, originally there was a tram line that connected the new suburb to the city. Sadly the tram no longer exists but Piazzale Verdi just inside the gate is the hub for all the buses.

Porta San Donato
The gate of San Donato is one of the best preserved. Though the one you enter the city by today isn't the original, that stands a little inside the walls and houses the tourist office.  The new one is beautifully decorated, was built by Muzio Oddi between 1629 and 1637. The outside is adorned with marble framing the windows and the triangular gable. There are marble statues of San Donato and San Paolino. Inside there is a fireplace and a pit. Though has a central entrance flanked by what seems two smaller archers one is in fact false.

Porta Santa Maria
Santa Maria is the north entrance to the city.  Porta Santa Maria was built and designed by Ginese Bresciani  between 1592 and 1594 and was part of improvements to the defences of the north part of the city replacing another gateway. The main feature of the gate is a statue of the Madonna  by Giuseppe da Genova (1595), which is placed in a niche in the gate. There is also a statue of a panther which is an emblem of the city. Inside is also a fresco of the Madonna. The gate was named Porta Santa Maria because of a miracle that happened near the gate. The gate has three arches and and still has its massive wooden doors with metal studs and portcullis.

Porta San Jacopo
Porta San Jacopo was the last gate and the simplest built in 1931 it was nicknamed the hole by the locals despite originally have the grand name of Gate of Victory of the 4th of November.

Porta Elisa 
Porta Elisa was part of the neoclassical remodelling of the city done by Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi, sister of  Napoleon and ruler of Lucca. She wanted to open up a direct exit towards Florence. The architect was Giovanni Lazzarini and it was started in 1809 but not opened until 1811. Marble columns originating from a local church were used but the gate was not well received.


Friday, August 5, 2016

Whats on in Lucca and Bagni di Lucca area in August 2016

Events in Lucca and Bagni di Lucca Area August 2016

It is always difficult to know what is going on in Lucca city and I am always being asked so I have tried to put together a few events for August that tourists and longer-term travellers might enjoy. Of course this list isn't definitive but here is a selection. I find it very difficult to know what is happening and sometimes I find that even the local bars aren’t aware, so if you know of something interesting happening that you think I should add to the list please let me know.  Also sometimes in the city there are spontaneous events of dance and music so you might find a delightful surprise in a piazza or along the walls.  Bagni di Lucca on the other hand has a very good site listing all the activities in the villages, I have therefore added their link rather than re listing them

Summer Events in August Lucca City

Outdoor cinema – Villa Bottini

Puccini Concerts San Giorgio

Cartesia -  Celebration of paper including paper sculptures throughout the city (paper is a very important local industry).

4th August Tosca Arias Piazza Cittadella  18.30 and 21.30 ( tickets 10 Euro but you can sit at bar or stand for free)

5th/6th August “Suor Angelica” by Puccini - San Micheletto performed by opera students. (free)

20th/21st   August - Antique Fair

26-28th August Craft Fair selling locally produced goods directly. Buy from the creators. Opens 17.00 hours. On the  26th  Sortita Baluardo San Martino

27th August- Notte Bianca (many events free)

5th 7th 12th 13th 19th 21th 26th Il Canto degli Alberi – music in the botanical gardens

Outside Lucca

Continuing Until 13th August Festival Puccini –Torre del Lago 

5th 6th 7th  Sagra della Zuppa di Aquilea from 19.00

Bagni di Lucca Area

In the area there is a wealth of local festivals.
Visit the proloco site, which lists all the village festivals and ask for details at the tourist office.

Important Local festivals

Barga Jazz Festival

I hope this calendar and links enable you to find a event you might like during your stay in our beautiful corner of Northern Tuscany during August.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Events and Festivals Lucca : San Paolino 12th July

Every year Lucca on 12th July Lucca celebrates one of its Saints, San Paolino of Antioch. The question is, who is this saint and why is the Patron Saint of Lucca? The legend says that San Paolino was a disciple of Saint Peter and sent to Lucca to convert the population with a deacon, a soldier and priest and supposedly become the city’s first bishop. His companions names have been lost in time and nor is there any real evidence of San Paolino himself, but in 1197 relics were found in the church of Saint George, with a stone declaring them to be the relics of Paolino a holy martyr killed in 67 during the reign of Nero.

San Paolino’s sainthood however was bestowed on him due an incident in 1622 when a cannon being fired in his honour misfire and injured some pilgrims but because of his divine intervention there where no serious injuries.

San Paolino is a very important date in the cities calendar and celebrations include all the important traditions from the city spanning several periods, dancing, flag throwing and most perhaps most famous the crossbow competition.

Both locals and tourists enjoy these delights. At the mass in the church of San Paolino, in his district of the city offering are made. The feast not only serves to honour the saint but is also a way to pass the old traditions through the generations. One of the best parts for me is seeing kids as young as 6 throwing flags and cross generations parading and beating drums together just as it has always been done.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Lucca Antique Market

On the weekend of the third Sunday of every month antiques spill out of the shops and onto the cobbled alleyways and piazzas of Lucca . 

The main market is based around the antique district of the old town, Via del Battistero, Piazza Antelminelli, Piazza San Giovanni and Piazza del Giglio. Dealers from all over Northern Italy invade the walled city to hawk their wares.

I love to wonder around the stalls, there are certain dealers who have real bargains, while others have prices suitable for the chatelaines of the large villas. 
As a tourist you might think that this is not the market for you, as it is difficult to carry a carved church relic or marble statue on a plane, but there are also many stores selling vintage glasses, bags, clothes and tools, so fun can be had by all. You might even find the right crystal drop for an old chandelier .

Just in case you thought this market was a modern innovation to attract visitors, it was started in Medieval times, for the rich merchant families seeking unique pieces for their palazzi.