Lucca is and always has been a very elegant city and the Lucchesi women dress to impress. They are toned and preened and botox and plastic surgery are certainly not frowned upon. Lucida Mansi, a beautiful 17th century Lucchese noblewoman with a rather racy reputation, had to take even more drastic steps to keep the sagging and wrinkles at bay. Her only option at the time was to make a pact with the devil. He would give her 30 years of youth in return for her soul. There are numerous versions of this legend based on a woman’s vanity.
As you stroll around the famous 16th century walls of Lucca and look down into the botanical gardens created by Maria Luisa Borbone to a design by Elisa Buonaparte in 1820, you will note a large pond that it is fed by a ancient spring and filled with exotic plants. This may look like a peaceful place for the modern citizen to sit and contemplate but it harbours a much darker secret. The pond supposedly encircles the plant of death and indeed according to records is on the burial site of plague victims, non-believers and executed prisoners, indeed the hangman’s house is nearby on the wall above. It is in this pond that you apparently can see the beautiful face of Lucida reflected as in a mirror in the mysterious dark waters.
The legend has it that even in death Lucida isn’t at peace and that on dark stormy nights when the rains slashes the city, a fiery coach can be seen racing around the walls with lamentations and cries of agony coming forth until the carriage carriers off the walls and plunges into the dark pond’s waters. Lucida Mansi was in many ways a sad character. Widowed at 22 when her husband Vincenzo Diversi was assassinated, she married a much older nobleman, Gaspare Mansi, probably died of the plague in 1649 and was buried in the Church of the Capuchins, which stood where the gardens are today. During her lifetime Lucida had a reputation of being very vain and capricious, there were rumours of her many lovers and traps she set to kill them so that they couldn’t “kiss and tell” thereby ruining her reputation. A circle that can still be seen of the floor of her palace is thought to be where the traps with knives were set to ensnare her discarded lovers but others say it marks the spot where the devil pulled his victim into the abyss. Lucida like Snow White’s stepmother was obsessed by her reflection and made certain that she had mirrors everywhere so that she could admire herself and even carried one in her prayer book.
The ghost of this volatile egocentric woman has taken her place in history as one of the famous legends of Lucca and Tuscan ghosts.