Monday, May 30, 2011

Mystical Lucca -The Curved stone Of Palazzo Bernardini

If you enter the city from Porta Elisa to get to the centre you pass through Piazza Bernadini. The piazza is full of residents’ cars and tourists might caste an eye in the elegant boutique selling Italian couture on the corner or stop to draw out some Euros from the cash machine just inside the imposing doors of the Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena. However if our wonderer just keeps going straight and casts his eye to the right of the piazza, he might just notice the imposing edifice of Piazza Bernardini with its magnificent door.

Nicolao Civitali, the son of Lucca’s most famous artist of the Renaissance, Matteo, designed the main section. The imposing architecture with its strong lines brings to mind a Florentine Palazzo.  A very attentive traveller might just notice, while admiring the beautifully crafted heavy iron grill on the window, just to the right of the man door, that the vertical stone support has a strange curve. The wanderer might indeed muse why such a great designer would allow such a mistake to remain or perhaps put the malformation down to some uprising or civil disturbance.  The reason it seems, is much more metaphysical. The Lucchesi say that the stone is a supernatural protest against the ruination of a sacred image that stood on that exact spot. Locally the stone is called either “Pietra di Bernadini”, “ Bernadini’s stone”,  “ Pietra del diavolo”, “the devils stone”. The local legend goes the workmen placed the jamb in position to support the lintel but the stone produced this strange curve. The stone was replaced but the second stone also refused to remain straight so it was clamped but the stone forced the clamps to rupture.

At this point the builders took fright and refused to replace the stone again so there it remains.

Related posts: Santa Zita

Monday, May 23, 2011

‘Frommer’s Tuscany, Umbria and Florence with your Family’.

This week Le Mura Villa takes the limelight. The Villa hits the bookshelves . A picture of the house taken by one of our lovely guests, Chris Jackson, was chosen to go on the cover of ‘Frommer’s Tuscany, Umbria and Florence with your Family’. The guide is now on sale. Congratulations Chris, your gorgeous son and Le Mura.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Cinque Terre

One of the great delights of living in the Lucca area is that we have such varied landscapes. You can go to the high mountains and experience an alpine scene or enjoy the long sandy beaches of the Versilia coast. There are those mediaeval villages full of wonderful undiscovered treasures or our own mini Amalfi coast, Cinque Terre, which is found just over the border in Liguria. This group of haphazard brightly coloured fishing villages are tucked into bays along the craggy coast just east of La Spezia, where Shelley drowned. Each of the five villages has a small port. In the high season tourists swamp these tiny fishing communities but in spring and autumn they can be savoured with their benign climate. The villages were made a National park and Unesco World Heritage site in the late 90’s. 

This winter has been hard and stressful and therefore when two special friends arrived just as our building work finished for the coming season Cinque Terre seemed a perfect day trip on a wonderful bright March morning. The beauty of these villagers is you don’t need a car. You can either take the train from Lucca but it does involve changes or leave the car at the station in La Spezia or Levanto, which is smaller but west of the group of villages. Out of the high season you can also leave the car in Riomaggiore, the first village east of La Spezia. Taking a boat from Viareggio is another option.

All the way along the coast is a train that acts like a local bus. In the summer months there are also ferries. I have never been when the ferries are working.  In March 2011 the ticket options hadn't yet been decided, the Italians don’t believe in planning ahead!  I think the nicest way is to take the train or boat to the furthest village Monterosso and work backwards unless of course you have left your car in Levanto in which case start in Riomaggiore. This means you can mix hiking with riding in the train when younger members start complaining or older joints don’t feel like tackling the steep bits. The flowers and cactus cling to the cliff capturing the perfect image of Mediterranean flora and fauna. If you wish to hike all the way the distances between the villages are between an hour and an hour and half except for the Via d’amore which is a paved walkway between Riomaggiore - Manarola and at points the paths are quite steep. There is a wonderful flight of steps to reach the village of Corniglia, and remember the sun beats down in summer. The village fountains provide wonderful cool water drinking water.

My trip however wasn’t about hiking and anyway most of the paths was closed due to winter landslides. Our party just enjoyed soaking up the sun the heat of the sun and looking at the flowers also ambling between the terraces looking at the vines just beginning to burst into bud ready to produce the famous SciachetrĂ  white wine. The grapes are harvested by using a mini monorail which can negotiate the steep terrace. The wonderful fat lemons are used to make limoncello. 

Our lunch was a wonderful local pesto eaten by the waters edge and the lapping blue waves put us in all in relaxed summer mode. 

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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Santa Zita , Patron Saint of Lucca

Saints still play an important part in modern Italian Life and Italians particularly in the south celebrate their onomastico or saint's day as well as their birthday. So children with modern names miss out on a second birthday. Every town and village has its own patron saint or saints.

In Lucca, 27th April is the day the Lucchesi celebrates Santa Zita one of the city's patron saints and also protector of housewives and domestic workers. Her church is the magnificent Basilica of San Frediano.  On entering the church, tucked in the corner behind a magnificent 12th century font and below a beautiful but musty Della Robbia, is the chapel dedicated to this much-loved character. Inside a glass casket is her tiny mummified body. The story goes that Zita in 13th Century was a maid for the local noble Fatinelli family, who was caught stealing bread from the kitchen to give to the poor. When confronted and asked what she was hiding in her apron she replied that it was only flowers. On further investigation it was found that the bread had indeed miraculously turned into flowers.
For this reason every year the Piazza and the Anfiteatro just across the way, are filled with plants and flowers. The locals buy bunches, have them blessed and then place them in their homes. The Lucchesi also purchase their geraniums from the market to adorn the terraces and balconies, so after this market the whole city is filled with blooms for the summer.

Santa Zita has her literary connections and is mentioned in Dante’s Inferno (XXI, 38) "un de li anzian di Santa Zita" (one of the Elders of Saint Zita) I am intrigued by another legend surrounding this diminutive figure, that one of her little toes was supposedly broken off and given as a relic to an English archbishop. I have tried to crick my neck but her left foot is hidden do I can’t verify if her toe is missing. The right is clearly visible. If anybody knows more, I would be fascinated.

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