Saturday, February 12, 2011

Sweet water and sweat

Friday, February 11
Whenever we pull into the stazione at Lucca, we see a sort of round tower on the south side, but it is not a normal tower with windows. It is larger than the average tower and looks a bit like a concrete silo, but fatter, and it has pillars around the outside, so it also looks something like a temple.
“Someday we’re going to go over there and find out what that is,” Lucy says.
It turns out that today is someday. The language school has planned an excursion this afternoon that will start at the stazione and will take us past the tower. We are told that we should bring a snack and be prepared to walk for several hours, and that we will see an acquadotto, an aqueduct. We could have asked more questions in advance, but we have determined to go on every activity the school offers, so we figured we’d find out more when we showed up. The afternoon activities are free and have already included a tour of the walled city and a viewing of the Italian movie “Io, loro e Lara.”
We meet Angelo in front of the stazione and he takes us and four other students under the train tracks to the south side, where we walk down a trail called Via del Tempietto, leading us straight to the fat tower. In fact, it turns out that a tempietto is translated as “a small, circular building resembling a minature temple,” and it once was a reservoir marking the end of a towering aqueduct that extends almost unbroken from Lucca into the mountains of Pisa. We had not been able to see the aqueduct from the train because it was hidden behind the tempietto, but it is spectacular and still in very good condition. We hike the length of it, more than three kilometers, which takes about an hour and half. We stop at the top for a snack before heading back.
We learn that the water for the city still follows the same path, but now it is underground. Along the way are many water faucets where we can sample the water. Where the trail crosses a road, cars pull over and Italians hop out with three or four demijohns and fill up with the cool acqua fresca of the mountains. Angelo also tells us that even within the city, there are fountains where people can drink or stock their demijohns for free, which is a rarity for Italian cities.
How does it happen that the aqueduct is still in such good condition? Well, it is not a Roman ruin or even an artifact of the Renaissance. After more than 100 years of planning, good intentions and at least one false start, it was built between 1823 and 1851 under the direction of architect Lorenzo Nottolini. The water passes through layers of stone and gravel at the top to become pure. An unfortunate side story, told to us by Angelo, is that the project bankrupted Prince Charles (Carlo Ludovico, Charles II), the popular ruler of the region, and in 1847, he had to sell Lucca to the province of Tuscany.
About two-thirds of the way into the return hike, Lucy and I realize that if we hurry, we can still catch the 6:39 train. I start to jog so I can unlock our bikes and get them ready to put on the train, while Lucy steps up her pace as well. At the end, she runs too, and we make the train with a minute to spare, albeit dripping with sweat. And then they announce that the train is in ritardo, late, so we wait on the tracks. It turns out to be only five minutes late, so we make it to San Salvatore at seven, tired but very happy we didn’t have to wait an hour for the next train.

1 comment:

  1. It's cool they can still get fresh mountian water at fountains.


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