Thursday, October 27, 2022

Still more good news about future plans for the Tower of Spadoni

Breaking news! The Spadoni/Spada/Sandonnini tower is going to get a second makeover next year. After falling into disrepair for hundreds of years, the tower received a much-needed facelift in 2013—and now the Comune di Capannori has decided that was not enough and is set to spend another 150,000 euro.

According to an article published in the online newspaper Luccaindiretta, the tower—which is referred to by city officials as the Torre dello Spada—will have its exterior refinished and repainted again. But beyond that, lights will be installed below and above, and best of all, a spiral staircase will be installed to permit visitors to climb the three floors and enjoy the view from the top. All of this was announced this month at a public meeting of the municipality of Capannori.

Me at the tower in 2015.
“We are satisfied with the great participation registered in the meeting, because this confirms that the Torre dello Spada is truly recognized as a symbolic monument of our municipality and an element that characterizes the Capannorese rural landscape,” said city planning councilor Giordano Del Chiaro. “This project is part of the process of enhancing the identity of the territory and its most significant places and monuments that we are carrying out in view of the Bicentenary of the Municipality, which will occur in 2023. The tower was subject to interventions on the outside a few years ago, but the new project provides for a complete redevelopment. The goal is certainly to preserve it, but also to make it accessible to citizens and tourists. The installation of a spiral staircase inside will allow visitors to climb to its top.”

The tower is owned by the family of Umberto Borgioli, and he enthusiastically endorses the project. “We are satisfied with the synergy created with the municipality for the presentation of the redevelopment project,” Borgioli said. “Although the Torre dello Spada is owned by us, we consider it a monument of great symbolic value for the territory of Capannori and for its rural heritage and therefore of the public. Our family has always had great affection for Parezzana and for the tower, and therefore it is important for us to preserve and enhance this monument. On our part, there is the utmost willingness to undertake a path with the municipality and associations to ensure the opening of the tower at least on some days of the year to make it open and accessible.”

Historian Nicola Laganà also spoke at the city meeting, explaining that the tower was built between the 1400s and 1500s. I had hoped that he would be able to shed further light on how the tower acquired its several names, but the article only said he believed it to have been built by the Sandonnini family and that it perhaps later came under the ownership of the Spada family. Both of these families had wealthy and noble branches in the Lucca area during the middle ages and beyond, and the tower is located on via Dello Spada. Where the Spadoni name enters is not mentioned, but my own personal opinion is that Spadone was the nickname of a member of the Spada family tied to the tower, and that his heirs took on the surname Spadoni. I have written more about this theory in Is the Tuscan surname Spadoni tied to the wealthy Spada family of Lucca?

The tower is roughly in the northern area of
what once was the Lago di Bientina.

Laganà did offer some hypotheses on the original function of the tower, though that too is still a matter for debate. He said some maintain it was born as a lighthouse in a swampy area, others that it was a watchtower to guard the territory from the incursions of the Florentine army, and still others maintain it was an agricultural depot. Looking at old maps of the area, I believe the lighthouse theory to be most likely, as the tower is in an area that ancient maps show as the Lago di Bientina (also sometimes called Lago Sesto), a lake that no longer exists, though the land around the tower is flat and becomes swampy during heavy winter rains. An extensive series of ditches and canals rendered the lake extinct several hundreds of years ago.

In any event, and for obvious reasons, I prefer the name Torre degli Spadoni, and I’m delighted to see that it is being further restored. It has the potential to become a popular tourist attraction and is certainly an important part of the area’s history, even if we don’t know for certain exactly how that part played out. Maybe I just need to make up a good story about how my Spadoni ancestors saved the city of Lucca by turning off the watchtower light at an opportune moment, thus drowning an invading army from Pisa. I suspect that history already has a number of heroic stories that never truly took place, so what harm can one more do? File it under future projects?


Sunday, October 16, 2022

Credit where it is due: The Spadoni tower has a new, more detailed sign!

Here’s some happy news about the Tower of Spadoni. When I included a visit to it during our family reunion activities in May of 2022, the plaque on the outside wall referred to it only as the Torre di Parezzana—this despite the fact that all the newspaper articles about its restoration referred to it as the Torre degli Spadoni, Torre dello Spada or Torre di San Donnino. Well, guess what? Thanks to the encouragement and positive actions from a number of relatives, the sign has been updated. Now it gives credit to the historical names as well as its location near Parezzana.

I won’t go into detail here about how that came about, but I will say that the solution was not nearly as complicated as I had previously believed it to be. Thanks, cousins, for your support.

And if you are hearing about our tower for the first time, you should read this blog entry that I posted in 2015: The Tower of Spadoni has been restored to its former splendor.


Saturday, October 15, 2022

Is there a Seghieri family crest in Pescia? It seems to me there is

It’s pleasant to feel a sense of belonging, of having roots, and that’s one of my favorite aspects of living in Montecarlo. I am constantly being reminded that my dad’s ancestors were from this area—and recently I made another surprising discovery: I found what I am almost certain is another Seghieri family crest.

We stopped by to visit cousin Grazia in the morning and then to see Enrico and Enza in the afternoon, though unfortunately Enrico was not home. Between those two social calls, we went to the centro storico of Pescia to enjoy some pizza and gelato and just appreciate the ambiance of one of the cities where my grandfather Michele Spadoni and great grandmother Maria Marchi were born.

Palazzo del Vicario in Pescia
We walked past the Palazzo del Vicario, the central office of the municipality, an attractive ancient building. I had been there before to request birth certificates for some ancestors, but I never took time to admire the building’s interesting exterior. It is covered with stemme, crests of wealthy or noble families placed on the walls around the year 1600. Certain that my branch of the Spadoni family was not wealthy or noble and had no true family crest, I had zero expectation of seeing something I would recognize. I did find a crest on the side of the building facing Piazzi Mazzini that has two crossed swords, though, which potentially could have some connection to the Spadoni name. Regretfully, I neglected to snap a photo because I figured the probability of a connection was low, and anyway I would have no way to know what family it represented.

Does this stemma in Pescia look like the
Seghieri family crest in Montecarlo?
Then we walked to the side of the building facing the street, and wow! Doesn’t that one up there look a lot like the Seghieri crest found in Montecarlo? Lucy agreed, yes, it does. I took a photo and compared it to a photo I already had of the crest that is above the door of the former Seghieri house near the Porta Fiorentina in Montecarlo. They are not 100 percent identical, but very close. There is a lion—a symbol of strength—with a saw crossing it diagonally. The crest in Pescia is older and more worn than the one in Montecarlo, so the saw teeth in the former are barely visible because of weathering. The lion’s tail is positioned differently, and there is some other unknown symbol in the upper right of the Pescia crest. Could that be the tail? It seems out of place and unattached, but perhaps so.

I knew that the noble branch of the Seghieri family had ties to Altopascio and Montecarlo, but this is the first indication that a branch of the family also resided in Pescia—or at the very least contributed to the construction of this palazzo.

The Seghieri-Bizzarri stemma in Montecarlo.
We went into the building to see if someone had a key that would identify the various crests. We were directed to the city cultural office in Piazza Mazzini. The gentleman there said he was not aware of any key to identify the crests, nor did he know anyone who might have more information. I asked him if I could have his email address in the event I had any further questions. At least I could send him photos of the crest in Montecarlo in case he found someone interested in identifying the crests. Really, I find it hard to believe that there is not a history buff around who has already tried to do this, and if there is, perhaps he or she would be interested in my observations. The official gave me his address, and then I asked also for his name, which gave me another sense of connectedness. He is Luigi del Tredici—almost certainly another distant cousin. My great great grandmother—the mother of Torello Seghieri—is Maria del Tredici. I will mention that to Luigi when I send him photos of the two crests later.


Wednesday, October 12, 2022

"Discover Lucca with Elena" tourist services now better than ever

Well, the best tour guide in Lucca has upped her game. Elena Benvenuti recently fulfilled a long-time dream of buying a house in Lucca that serves as a second home and doubles as a workshop for her cooking classes, an office and a place to sleep when she needs to stay in the city overnight.

All right, full disclosure: Elena is our friend and is married to my cousin Davide Seghieri, so I could be accused of some bias. But consider this. Out of 137 reviews on TripAdvisor, she has 132 5-star reviews. TripAdvisor also lists her as number one out of 14 “things to do in Montecarlo.” Elena and Davide live in Montecarlo, but she grew up in Lucca, and a large share of her tours take place there, so it has been a goal of her to have an operational base in Lucca.

Now if she works into the evening and then has another tour the next morning, she can save driving time by staying overnight in the second home. Another important benefit is that she no longer needs to rent a kitchen for her cooking classes. I can personally attest that these classes are fun and informative, and the money she saves by using her own property allows her to offer classes below the rate charged by other chefs.

Custom made
book shelf made
of old pallets.
Lucy and I were able to see her house today and we were impressed by all the custom work that she and her brother and husband have done. Reportedly, it was in pretty rough shape when she bought it at a bargain price, but now it is freshly painted with new fixtures, soundproof windows and a sparkling new kitchen. She is gradually adding new furniture, some custom-made, as well.

In my humble opinion, a trip to Lucca is not complete without at least one tour and a cooking class with Elena. You can find out more about what she has to offer on TripAdvisor or on her website: Discover Lucca with Elena.

Saturday, October 8, 2022

South Africa is truly a treat, but are the benefits worth the travel time?

Outside the lighthouse at Cape
of Good Hope, South Africa.
Why would someone in the northern hemisphere want to take a vacation in South Africa? Flying from Rome to Cape Town takes 14 hours, even though both cities are in the same time zone, and it would take much longer if one first had to make it to Rome. In our case, we took the slow and cheaper regionale train from Pisa to Rome, then flew to Ethiopia before transferring planes and arriving in Cape Town. Add in that we first had to walk down the hill from Montecarlo and take a train to Pisa, and finally that we had to drive from the Cape Town airport to Simon’s Town, and we were in transit for about 30 hours.

Simon's Town viewed from a hiking trail.
This was all worth it primarily because we were able to spend a week with Dan and Sandra and (most of) their family. The destination makes more sense for them because they are already stationed in Africa (Ethiopia but in transition to Nigeria). For us, it was feasible because we were already in Italy, and despite the hardships of travel, we have no regrets because of the time spent with family.

These penguins were in the aquarium, but
we also saw some on the beach and even
crossing the street in Simon's Town.
But beyond all that, what are our impressions of South Africa? For sure, it is the most modern and comfortable African nation of the many we have experienced. The roads are wide and smooth. English is the primary language, at least in the urban centers we visited, and we found everyone to be friendly and welcoming. We were entertained on several occasions by street singers and dancers. It was also refreshing to see so many different ethnic groups mixing comfortably together now—the polar opposite of a situation that South Africa was infamous for in the not-so-distant past.

“I was pleased by how beautiful, peaceful, calm and uncrowded it is,” Dan said. “Pollution is not a major problem, and the dollar is doing well, so that also helps.”

“If it wasn't so far away, it would be a nice place to live,” Lucy said. “It has a really complicated history which is so recent that you’re not really sure you want to be part of that. You feel like some of the comforts you enjoy are not really okay considering the cost to some of the populations here.”

Admirals Waterfall near
Simon's Town.
We stayed all week in a three-bedroom Airbnb about a five-minute walk from False Bay in the Indian Ocean. We were only a half hour drive from the Cape of Good Hope and dozens of beaches on both the Atlantic and Indian oceans. We saw penguins, guinea fowl and lots of baboons. We visited a beautiful aquarium in Cape Town, a lighthouse at the end of the cape and took scenic hikes to waterfalls and small mountains. We saw new constellations and the man in the moon upside down. And we relaxed, talked, played games and shared meals together—the best part, in my opinion.

I also filled the washbasin and let the water settle for a few minutes and then pulled the plug. The water formed a counter-clockwise whirlpool, as I had read that it would in the southern hemisphere. However, this hemispheric gravitational force is very weak, because the first time I tried it I didn’t let the water settle enough, and the whirlpool went clockwise because the water was still moving slightly in that direction after I turned off the faucet.

One of the several groups that entertained us
during our walks around the streets of
Cape Town and Simon's Town.
It is quite unlikely that Lucy and I will ever come here again, but that’s only because of the distance. It might be nice to come here in January, when it’s cold and rainy in Washington but summer in South Africa. Nice, but not nearly nice enough to justify the estimated two days of travel time. Bye, bye, South Africa.

A beautiful peninsula on the rugged Atlantic side just south of Cape Town.