Made a quick trip to Lucca’s botanical gardens this afternoon. The fun sight were the turtles sunning themselves on the water lily leaves. Here are some photos that will make you smile. This last turtle that is lying on the leaf like a dog with his legs splayed out the back was only about 5 inches long. I tried to look up what kind of turtles these are and I think they are European pond turtles; emys orbicularis , If this is wrong and someone knows please put it in the comments.
Well how is that for a title of what we did today? We went to tour the Palazzo Pfanner ( a 1660 palace in Lucca). We had seen parts of the beautiful garden from our walks on the Lucca wall but the view from the ground was stunning. The Italian garden which was made in 1686 is described by Wikipedia perfectly; “With its lawns, its ornamental flowers, forest plants, and earthenware pots of lemons that accompany the monumental string of 18th century statues depicting the deities of Greek Olympus and the Four Seasons, the Palazzo Pfanner garden, ascribed to the genius of Filippo Juvarra, represents an excellent example of a baroque garden laid out in the heart of medieval Lucca” . When you go into the inside of this baroque mansion you are presented with; “The Residence has a permanent exhibition of medical-surgical instruments and ancient medical texts that belonged to Dr. Pietro Pfanner (1864-1935), the surgeon”. These medical instruments were from about 1860 to 1910. The ones I took photos of are the gynecological tools. They make my insides grip with terror just looking at them. To me 1910 does not sound like that long ago but remember there were no antibiotics and no MRIs. This first one was called an endocrine syringe. The long hook one was an decollation hook and craniotomy instrument that was developed in 1868 to remove a fetus who died in the womb. If you want to know how it worked look it up, I cannot write about it. And the final “y” shaped tube was the treatment for cystitis before antibiotics , it was called a double flow vesicle catheter. I am sure that when people in the future look at our medical instruments they will feel like they were primitive too, but these were used on my grandmother.
After this experience we went to a small private museum (3 euros) showing Roman ruins that lie underneath all of Lucca. They are about 10 feet below the street level. This museum is called Domus Romana Lucca and we had an excellent tour guide named Anna to explain what they found in 2010 under a current mansion. It was the remains of a 1 AD house. They located the under the floor drains that took out used water from the house to the gutters. The Romans were so far ahead of the Lombards, who invaded Lucca after them.
It was an interesting day in Lucca
One thing that I admire about the Italian culture is their sense of history and preservation of their historical buildings. They do not tear down old buildings but refurbish them to be used in a modern way. This is exemplified by the apartment we are living in. This is probably an 18th century building that has been divided into 4 apartments. New walls and IKEA- ized inside, and you have a building that is historical but practical to live in.
The same is true of the Villa Guinigi National Museum. This villa was built as the “pleasure palace” (translate summer fun) for Paolo Guinigi’s family in 1413 just outside the medieval city walls of Lucca, and practically next door to our building. It is a large, graceful villa with an extensive front and back garden which were behind fortified walls. ( This is a wooden model of what it looked like in 1420) Paolo was the city’s richest and most powerful man from 1400-1430. ( This is what he looked like, not the nicest looking man) He had 4 wives ( the beautiful Ilaria that I wrote about earlier was his second wife) and many children. When the citizens of Lucca decided that they wanted to return to being a republic in 1330 they arrested Paolo and threw him in prison where he died 3 years later. They confiscated all of his property ( including this villa) and everything was sold. Luckily, the city in 1924 decided to purchase it, repair it, and make it a museum with art and artifacts from Lucca’s history. In 1948 it became a state property and the current exhibits were arranged for the public.
Almost no one knows about this excellent museum. When I was there I was the only person looking at it. They have a good collection of Roman art, medieval art and baroque ( this is not my favorite so there are no photos of it). In the back garden this is a well which all medieval fortified homes had to have in case they had to hole up behind the walls for a while. It gives the viewer a good over view of the history of this place. I highly recommend it if you are in Lucca for more than a day.
Today I went to the San Frediano Cathedral here in Lucca to see St. Zita’s body in the church. I have to admit I had a morbid curiosity about seeing an actual body in a glass coffin. I had to borrow a photo from Wikipedia because my pictures were too dark. So here she is. I thinks she looks pretty good for a 700 year old body. I like her story; she was a house maid for a rich family in Lucca and she was always doing her job really well. The other servants did not like her too much because she worked hard, was cheerful and holy (a difficult combination for anyone to win a popularity contest), She was so good the family made her head housekeeper, and she worked for them until she died when she was 60 years old in 1272.
After one hundred and fifty miracles were attributed to her, she was canonized in 1696.
Her body was exhumed in 1580, discovered to be incorrupt, but has since become mummified.” (Wikipedia) She is the patron saint of domestic servants. It is also said that she is good at helping you find lost keys, that is something I could pray for.
The outside of the cathedral has a stunning 13th century golden mosaic designed in a Byzantine/medieval style. My photo does not do it justice. It glitters in the light. Here is a photo of the entire facade. Inside the church is a 12th century baptismal font that is quite beautiful. Here are some other photos from inside the church. It might seem like looking at all of these churches (Lucca is supposed to have 100 churches!) it would get boring. But each of these edifices has its own story to tell, and it is interesting to find out what it is. I would never have researched the story of St. Zita without going to this church. It was cool to see her still together and dressed so nicely.
Lucca is a very old city that lies within its Renaissance walls. Since we are living here for a month, I thought I would write and share photographs of what the city looks like. The streets in Lucca are mostly covered with old stones, though there are some large grassy parks and the wall is one large park. People tend to live in old buildings that have been converted into apartments. So there are lots of flowers in pots outside of windows and some vegetables in pots, especially now in the beginning of summer. They also hang ribbons on their doors when there is a new baby. Someone just welcomed a little girl today. There are many street shrines to the Madonna and saints. In front of their many churches there is often a large stone square. They seem to be used for lots of different events. One day it is empty; the next day there is a children’s basketball tournament going on. But the best part of the city are the gelato bars and here is my favorite one, Grom ! It has the best dark chocolate gelato with whip cream on top. And they have the nicest staff of young people to help you out on a really hot day! Thank you!
Lucca’s main claim to fame is its intact 4-mile Renaissance wall that completely encircles the city. This wall took a hundred years to build from the 15th to the 16th century, and it was never used to defend the city from outside attack. But it was turned into a wonderful tree-lined promenade that many people in the city walk, run or bicycle around in the evening before sunset. We have joined them in this relaxing tradition since we arrived. Since the old town has been completely enclosed, much of it has retained the 11th to 15th century buildings. The streets are still medieval and are so narrow that they can only be driven one way. Many people use bicycles to get around and have eliminated the need for a car. There are arches in the roads that lead to plazas and there are 12th century wall plaques like this.
There are not many famous sites here so we are really living in this city, not touring it. The pace of this adventure has slowed down a lot.
There is a 12th century cathedral on the edge of the wall that continued to be built and renovated until the 15th century. It is called St. Martin’s. We walked there today to see it. Due to the 300 years of building, the cathedral has architecture and styles from many periods that some how blend harmoniously together. Here it is with its bell tower on the side. It is a Gothic arrangement with 3 aisles and a transept. You can understand how medieval people were overwhelmed by the sheer size of the church. On the outside there are various statues and panels. This one of a lion and another creature is very strange. Neither David or I could figure out what he is doing. There are also 12 panels demonstrating the medieval tasks of each month of the year on the outside. From these images I would guess that you were supposed to store the wine in October and kill the livestock in December.
Inside the church there is a monument to a beautiful young woman named Ilaria del Carretto who died when she was only 26 . She was married at 24 to the town’s richest man, Paolo Guinigi, and they had two children. She died giving birth to the second child. Her husband had Jacopo della Quercia, a famous sculptor, make her tomb. He did a beautiful job as you can see. The irony is that she is not buried in the sarcophagus but in the Guinigi chapel in another church. She was Guinigi’s second wife, and he went on to marry 2 more times. It was a short life for women, even ones in the upper classes.
After visiting the cathedral we went next door to the museum, where they display liturgical vestments, silver and gold vessels and ornamentation, and some tapestries from the last 800 years … in a building that’s about 500 years old itself. It was a warm afternoon and we heard some gelato calling, so we headed for home … never a long trek in this tiny town.
We were sad to leave Florence this morning by bus but were looking forward to Lucca. We met some nice people on the bus who were also going to Lucca. They were from Australia and we talked all the way there.
Lucca is a small walled town nearer the west coast of Italy. We rented a 2 bedroom 1.5 bath apartment that is inside the walls but at the edge of the town. The cost is $1400 for the month. We are hoping for a quieter time here. There are no important places to visit so we will be taking day trips out of the city to go to places like Pisa, and the lake district. The idea is to see what it is like to just live here in Italy.
Our apartment is nice but there is a slight smell of cigarette smoke in the rooms. I am hoping that I either get used to it or it goes away. The only other problem is the almost vertical set of 32 stairs that go straight up 3 floors (no lift). I am used to stairs (there were 60 in Florence, but they were not so steep, and there was a lift for when we had supplies, etc.) but these are so steep that I have to hold on tight to the little railing. We were spoiled in Florence since the apartment there was centrally located next to the market and the supermarket.
One thing that we have figured out since starting this adventure in January is that we can live simply in a much smaller space than at home. We have also figured out that we can live for about the same cost (or maybe even a little less) in a major European city like Florence. We still love each other and do not find the constant companionship difficult. This adventure has been easier than we expected. It is kind of hard only since we have a large house and maintenance costs at home that still demand our attention over a 9 hours time difference.