My Sacred Italy: Lucca Tuscany


Today we are going to Pisa and Lucca, a private tour. We are supposed to meet our driver on Via Por Santa. It seems I have given the wrong address to the tour company. I call to see where he is. We are told to walk to Ponte Vecchio he will be there in a black Mercedes. Daniel, we are looking for. We walk over the bridge, no car no driver. We come back across and he is there, a young man in a black suit driving a back Mercedes.

We glance cautiously at each other then shrug our shoulders, laugh at our mix up of time and place and climb in the back. Daniel is our own private driver and he speaks great English. We leave Florence in the rain. He tells us he hasn’t done a tour in the rain yet. We are hopeful. The traffic is not so bad but the rain comes down.

We discover Daniel is a driver, not a guide. He cannot show us around. He can drop us off at particular points, direct us which way to go but we must go alone. We discuss bypassing Pisa, as we both have been a number of times. Lucca is where I want to go, Lucca which features heavily in The Book of Love. We have paid for a driver; he will take us where we want, within reason.

Daniel is 24 and from Poppi outside Florence. His father is from the UK and his mother from south of Italy. We discuss Mafia influence on Italian economy, Australia and getting to Australia. He is well educated and interested in a world outside of Italy. We chat easily.

Lucca is on the Serchio in Central Italy and famous for its intact Renaissance era city walls. We park in Napoleon Square. The rain is still around so we take umbrellas. Daniel gives us a map and sends us on our way. Coffee first in a café off the square, then we walk, following the map.

History tells us Matilda of Tuscany was most likely born in or around Lucca in 1046. She was a remarkable woman for medieval days. She instigated the construction of many bridges, buildings, churches and armies. She lent her power and support to the papacy and her knowledge of Latin Italian, German and French revealed her to be a complex woman of exceptional abilities.

The streets of Lucca are narrow cobblestone lanes. It is January, so quiet. We find San Martino Cathedral. Construction of the church began in 1063. Today the great apse and its tall columnar arcades and the bell tower are all that remain. It is beautiful inside…outside restoration work is happening.

I am looking for the Volto Santo, the Holy Face of Lucca and the labyrinth. The Volto Santo is a cedar-wood crucifix and image of Christ. According to legend Nicodemus, a contemporary of Christ, carved it. History writers tell us this is a 13th century copy of the original. Why then is it behind a free standing octagonal Carrara marble chapel, untouchable, almost unrecognizable. I take a photo because this is why I am here.

We go in search of the labyrinth. It is outside, behind scaffolding under restoration. It is on the portico of the cathedral. All I can do is take a photo through the wire. The labyrinth is a small version of the famous Chartres labyrinth, outside Paris, eleven concentric circles. There is a Latin inscription down the side, ‘This is the labyrinth built by Dedalus of Crete, all who entered therein were lost, save Theseus, thanks to Ariadne’s thread.’

There is a gift shop inside the Cathedral. I buy a labyrinth pendant and a Volto Santo charm. We stay a while then walk the city stopping for a lunch of warm soup. Soon we are back at Napoleon Square and Daniel. We leave Lucca and head to San Michelle Vineyard.

Fattoria San Michele A Torri is in the heart of Chianti. Paolo Nocentini is the current owner and the one responsible for developing the organic system of agriculture. Wine and olive oil are the main products of the vineyard. Recently they added salami, eggs, vegetables, bread, beans, honey, jams and flour, maintaining the wonderful Tuscan tradition of top quality and variety.

We toured the winery, saw in the cellar, tasted the wines and olive oil. Like so many places in Europe the winery and its surrounds has a fascinating history. The name San Michelle was first recorded in 1126. Documents from 1500’s and 1800’s signify it as a place of great importance.

In 1944 La Fattoria was the centre of a battle between the New Zealand and German troops.
At the time around 120 people took refuge inside the cellar, some inside the barrels. To this day the 30th July is celebrated as San Michelle Day.

After buying some wine and olive oil we head back to Florence. Daniel leaves us at our apartment. We thank him for a great day and wish him well for his future.

We drop off our things and walk to Piazza della Repubblica looking for a place to eat. Café Gilli sits on the perimeter of the piazza, a great place to watch Florentines and tourists alike enjoy their city.

Another day down…three to go.

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