Sunday, 29 December 2013

Lucca - one of our favourite towns in Tuscany

After the hustle and bustle of Cinque Terre, Lucca was a quiet haven.  Lucca is an ancient city founded by the Etruscans and became a Roman colony in 180 B.C.  Throughout its long history it was an important centre and had its share of political upheaval but its ancient walls remained intact. Apart from it being a historical town, it also looked like one that people actually lived in and have a life.  It is famous as the birthplace of Puccini and I was surprised to learn that Boccherini was also born there.

It is not a big town and we had thought a half day would have been enough.   We covered the highlights in the few hours we spent there but would have appreciated a more leisurely stroll through and the opportunity to see more of this charming historical town.

Lucca's city walls had remained intact since the Renaissance - you can walk all around the city on these walls

Porta Santa Maria where we entered

Streets of Lucca - pedestrian and bike friendly

You can see here at #67 Via Fillungo the remnants of a former 5 storey tower house - the stone stubbles sticking out of the walls were used to support staircases.  We happened to have lunch on the other side of the street and so had the opportunity to notice this detail, mentioned by Rick Steves.

Also on Via Fillungo, the main street, is the famous Clock Tower - climbing up the more than 200 steps to the top will give you a panoramic view of the city and its red roof tops
View from the top of the Clock Tower with the Guinigi Tower in the distance - it has oak trees on its roof

The original clock on the tower was still working and the clock mechanism was visible as well as a closeup of the 14th century bells

Statue of Puccini near his house.  You have to get tickets in the office near the statue before heading to the house where his apartment is located.  

Church of San Michele in the large square that used to be the Roman forum - an elaborate exterior with the statue of St. Michael the Archangel at the top but I love the plain romanesque interior

Historical jeweller Carli with its 19th century shopfront on Via Fillungo

We were attracted by this beautiful golden mosaic on the facade when we first entered the city and made a detour to come back to visit the Basilica San Frediano - another lovely romanesque interior 

The handsomely carved gold-plated organ stall stood out as did this unusual statue below - I was unable to find a reference to it but if it is a representation of the Virgin Mary, it is certainly very medieval in dress 

The Piazza dell'Anfitheatro - built on the ancient Roman amphitheatre site, retaining its oval shape 

It took us a long time to find the Cathedral and by the time we found it, we were tired and it became just another church.  The Duomo di San Martino is actually quite impressive but we missed an important detail inside - it is supposed to have a crucifix carved by Nicodemus, a contemporary of Jesus, in a standalone chapel inside the cathedral.  Too bad we didn't read up on it before we went.  For a picture of the Volto Santo (Nicodemus' crucifix) and interior details of the San Martino Cathedral, visit the Sacred Destinations website. 

Our last stop was the Botannical Gardens, at the far end of the city from where we entered. The highlight in this mostly unimpressive garden was the pond at the end with its creepy weird growth at the foot of the tree.  Posted here is the interesting Legend of Lucida Mansi - the story of a vain 17th century lady who sold her soul to the Devil in exchange for 30 years of youth.  The legend had it that the Devil came back to retrieve his prize but first dragged her in his flaming  chariot through the town so everyone could hear her harrowing screams before his chariot sank in this pond in the garden.  No doubt a favourite haunt during Halloween when one can purportedly hear horses' hooves and possible glimpses of the flaming chariot descending into hell.

And then this -
A charming house with a rather large niche (if it were even one) dedicated to the usually docile Mary but who in this instance might be threatening the sweet child with a baseball bat??
One of the reasons why I love Lucca!

Friday, 27 December 2013

Michelangelo's Marble

On the way to Cinque Terre, our driver pointed out the Carrara Marble Mountains with the precious white marble that had been used for some of the most remarkable buildings since Ancient Rome, including the Pantheon, and by sculptors like Michelangelo (for his sculpture of David). They are still in production after centuries of quarrying.  

We were told to note the colour of the mountains in the morning and the difference when we return in late afternoon with the sun shining at an angle on the mountains - the white marble was clearly visible from the highway.  If we had more time, it would be worth a trip up to the mountains to see the quarry where Michelangelo had actually quarried marble for his statues.  For an interesting article and photos on his quarry at Pietrasanta, visit Marc Levoy's project.

Marble mountains in the late afternoon with the marble clearly visible from the highway

Marble blocks from the quarry lined up for shipment

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Cinque Terre - Vernazza

From Manarola, we took the train to Vernazza, experiencing the crush of crowds from the cruise ships both on the train and on the narrow streets of the village, which was probably one of the larger villages in Cinque Terre. Vernazza, with settlement dating back to the beginning of the 11th century, actually had more than its 13th century church - there was the Castello Doria which gave a panoramic view of the area after a steep climb of many steps and then there was a beach reached via a tunnel.

We also had lunch in Vernazza and tried the local specialty, fish baked in salt.  (Visit Foodsparks for more details.)  It is undeniably very pretty and photogenic...

This looks like a film set!

With great seafood

Main street

Multi-coloured tomato plant - wish I could take it home!

The 13th century Church of Santa Maria d'Antiochia

Many windy streets - this was on the way to the Castello Doria 

View from the Castello Doria - have your euros ready for the climb, they charge you to go in after you've climbed many steps - very few people would say no after all that work!   And you want to see the view...

More steps take you up to the top of the 15th century lookout tower 

The terraced fields for grapes and olives are everywhere in Cinque Terre - in Vernazza, the indigenous wine vernaccia 

A surprise at the other end of the tunnel - the beach! 

Looking back from the other side 

Nice village!   Just be prepared for the crowds...

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Cinque Terre - Manarola

Our driver dropped us off at the top of the hill in Manarola and we strolled through a residential area down to the waterfront.  I always enjoyed seeing how the locals lived.

Here's a nice Tuscan cat secure in its own territory...

A whimsical bridge that led just to the one house - it did make me wonder who lived there...

Another bridge that looked quite old connecting another house to the main path over a pretty stream...

An interesting nativity scene...
Then we hit the town...
The main drag

Cinque Terre has a local wine and also limoncello, both in abundance in this tourist store...

The farmhouse store selling local produce

Church of San Lorenzo dating from the 14th century

Boats are parked like cars...well, cars are not allowed

You can see the waterfront trail from here - lovers' locks on the railing...Via dell'Amore?

The rugged waterfront - love the rocky shore!

Amazing how the houses stacked up!

And it had probably looked like that since the 14th century...

Waiting for the train to the next village...
Next stop: Vernazza