Monday, March 27, 2017

A visit to the impressive villas of Lucca worth adding to one’s Tuscan itinerary

Our tour group: Else, Eduard, me and Lucy.
For anyone drawn to lifestyles of the rich and famous, Lucca has something for you. More than 300 historical country villas were built in the hills of Lucca during the 16th and the 17th centuries by rich merchants. Most of them were summer residences of noble Italian families and are vivid examples of different architectural styles in Tuscany.

We had the privilege to visit two of the the most famous this weekend: Villa Torrigiani and Villa Reale. Lucy and I, along with Lucy’s cousins Eduard and Else (visiting from Amsterdam) were escorted by Lucca native and tour guide extraordinaire Elena Benvenuti and her husband Davide Seghieri.
If you are touring Italian villas, don't forget to bring along knowledgeable native Italian
tour guides like Elena and Davide to enrich the experience.

Villa Torrigiani is an amazing 16th century estate in which baroque ornamental elements have been harmoniously added to the more simple original architecture. The main alley makes an impressive initial impression, with huge cypresses directing the eye to the multicolored baroque facade. The facade alternates stone grey, tuffa and yellow pillars and arches. It is adorned with marble statues of white, ochre plaster.

Lost in a secret passageway in the
gardens of Villa Torrigiani.
Inside, we toured the first floor, covered with vibrant frescoes and expensive oil paintings. Beds with silk canopies, marble tables and costumes of the servants allow an authentic glimpse into the lives of the wealthy families who have occupied the villa. Thick walls provide a nearly constant temperature year around.

The first mention of the villa dates back to 1593, when it belonged to  the Buonvisi family. It later passed to family of Nicola Santini, who rebuilt the south facade in baroque style at the end of the seventeenth century in imitation of the architecture of Versailles, where he was ambassador for the Republic of Lucca. In 1816 Victoria Santini married into the Torrigiani family, who uprooted the existing garden to make an English style park. Now the villa is owned by Fabio Colonna of Stigliano.

Grotesque art and unpredictable sprays
of water were provided to entertain and
surprise visitors at Villa Torrigiani.
Outside is equally appealing. Fountains, garden grotesques and hidden tunnels and grottos provided amusement and cool places for social gatherings and lovers trysts. Villa Torrigiani obviously was the place to be for a party a few hundred years ago. While sitting in an grotto decorated with grotesque tuffa statues, guests might be surprised and refreshed by a sudden spray of water. Elena said it even happened to her while she was giving a tour not long ago.

Teatro Verzura, the Green Theater (verzura is old Lucca dialect for verde).
We happened to be in the teatro at just the right time to
witness a solo musical performance by our singing tour guide.
While visitors are not allowed inside Villa Reale, it is most notable for its extensive grounds with take up most of the 16 hectares (nearly 40 acres). Home in the 19th century to Napoleon’s sister and Duchess of Lucca Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi, the villa includes numerous refined gardens and botanic rarities, as well as majestic buildings created over centuries. It features a splendid world famous Teatro Verzura, or Green Theatre, where the composer Paganini often performed for Elisa Baciocchi. The garden pathways are lined with camellia flowers and it is enriched by a lemon garden with a group of marble statues depicting Leda and the Swan, and a Spanish garden in art deco style. Several historic buildings add to the experience, including the 16th century Villa del Vescovo with its nymphaeum (sacred place of he nymphs), named the Grotto of Pan, and the elegant 18th century Palazzina dell’Orologio with its panoramic loggia.
The impressive Grotta di Pan.

I have to admit that my practical side prevented me from fully enjoying some aspects of the morning. As the owner of houses in both America and Italy, the issues of maintenance are never far from my mind. It’s the perplexing dilemma of having just enough money to buy a house but not being wealthy enough to hire other people to fix the crumbling plaster or leaky roof or to water and trim all the plants. But I tried to put my own issues aside and enjoy a vivid glimpse into this living history. And I’d sure like to add some of those beautiful grottos and fountains to my yard.
Our guides for the day, Davide and Elena, in front of a refreshing and surprisingly beautiful waterfall at Villa Reale.

1 comment:

  1. Elena and Davide have to be two of your most fortunate (for you) and valuable finds!



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