Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Carthusian Monastery in Calci near Pisa

In an unassuming little town called Calci just outside Pisa is one of the most important Carthusian monasteries in Italy. The monastery or Charterhouse was originally built in 1366 but was transformed into what is more of a Baroque palace from the 17th Century then the home of an austere closed order of hermit monks.

The monastery was abandoned in 1972 and is now a National museum giving us a unique insight into the monastic life of a Carthusian. The monks have been replaced by a colony of Cats not Chartreux cats but nevertheless I am certain the order would approve. 

Visits are guided around this incredible edifice and we were at first disappointed because despite ringing up we were not told until the tour started that part of the monastery had suffered storm damage and therefore was closed for a few weeks. However our initials disappointment was dismissed due to our lovely guide

The tour started in the pharmacy that despite being a closed order was also able to serve the local community though only men could enter an anti chamber and talk to the monks through grills. The wonderful apothecary jars are still on the shelves and some tomes are also on display including one on homeopathy from early 1800 .  


We then progressed in to the main part of the Charterhouse and were able to see the refectory, only used on special occasions with a fresco of the last supper by Bernardino Poccetti(1597). All the frescoes in the room are in perfect condition despite never having been restored. 

In one of the brother’s chapels there were a row of rather nifty little drawers below the pews it seems these where spitting drawers perhaps giving us a hint of the damp in the cold winters. 

The monastery despite its physical magnificence adhered to the strict rules of the order including no heating in any form. Unfortunately the famous cloister and gardens where the priests and monks cell where closed due to the storm damage. However our lovely guide told us there where luxury cells for the well off monks each with their own bathroom whereas 60 ordinary friars had to share one bathroom. 

Sadly for me the library was also closed but we could look out into the grounds, where there were olive trees and even a fish farm. This order was self-sufficient even growing wheat.

The wonderful marble pavements and also the visitors suite really gave us a tantalising look not only into this beautiful building but also the a way of life.

We shall certainly be returning many times not only to complete our visit after the repairs have been done but with friends.

The Monastery also houses the National History museum of Pisa, which has life size models of dinosaurs making Calci a perfect day out for all the family even on a rainy day.

Opening times :
Tuesday to Saturday :
8.30 9.30 10.30 11.30 12.30 13.30 14.30 15.30 16.30 17.30 18.30 
Sunday and Bank holidays
8.30 9.30 10.30 11.30 and 12.30

closed on Mondays 1st January 1st May and 25th December

Sunday, February 8, 2015

A Winter Sunday in Piazza Napoleone (Piazza Grande) Lucca

After a good Sunday lunch either at home or in a trattoria (family restaurant) a passeggiata or stroll is mandatory. The perfect translation for passeggiata is that wonderful little used word perambulation. A passeggiata means more than just a walk but a moment for the whole family to go out together, to meet people and to be seen. In Lucca many dress up and it is an important social event. There are several locations for the Sunday passeggiata in our bijoux city but a favourite for a cold February Sunday is Piazza Napoleone or Piazza Grande as it know by the locals. There is something and a corner for everyone in this large elegant French style piazza modelled by Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi (sister of Napoleon and ruler or Lucca).

The skating ring is still up from Christmas and the sporty can speed or totter around the ice. For the mini people or the romantic oldies there is the carousel styled on a traditional fairground model but in some ways even more appealing because of its way too shiny exterior and horses with feather duster plumes. The carousel also has little panels depicting Lucca’s landmarks, which add a certain cachet. I love the way it is controlled by what looks to me like the TV remote control. I remember on one  occasion one of the owners desperately shaking the control in the direction of the carousel trying to get it to move. The demented look at her face reminded me of my frustration when I can't get the CD player to work!

In the centre of the Piazza is a rather unremarkable statue of Maria Luisa di Borbone of Spain, who replaced Elisa both as the ruler of Lucca and the subject of the statue. The iron railing surrounding the monument not only serves to make this unmemorable centre piece more grand but as a perch where the middle school kids sit and eye up the opposite sex and make their first moves at flirting. It seems this spot has been used for this purpose by generations of fledging lovers! Unperturbed toddlers in carnival customs throw paper confetti and streamers about and run in circles. I love looking at their laughing faces and simple joy! The young adults and couples might stop in a cafĂ© or bar and observe or chat and only move on when the sun disappears and it becomes just too cold. This Sunday afternoon ritual is a perfect way to bump into friends and acquaintances without having to arrange anything. This casual sociability is one of the great satisfactions of small town Italian life and how reassuring it is that this gentile Sunday pursuit still continues.