There are few objects more evocative of former times than the old picture postcard, first produced in 1894 when British publishers were given permission by the Royal Mail to manufacture and distribute them. The novelty quickly spread to other countries and Bagni di Lucca, as a popular destination for foreigners escaping from Florence’s torrid summer heat, has always been well supplied with these items. As a result of a successful exhibition last year a fascinating book has been produced by the Fondazione Michel de Montaigne which reproduces the old postcards. I attended its launch yesterday in the venerable surroundings of Villa’s Chiesa Inglese. The chair of the fondazione, the mayor and the cultural assessor all praised the work of the Istituto storico in searching and collating the book’s cards.
The proceeds from the volume will go to the restoration of Bagni’s Cimitero Inglese. (Already work is well under way in bringing the funerary monument of the once popular writer Ouida back to its former glory and others are already beautifully finished.)
Today, with digital photography, internet connections and Facebook pages at the reach of all, it’s sometimes difficult to realize that the usual way to communicate while on holiday to your friends and folks at home was through the medium of the postcard. Cards were also sent by local inhabitants to their emigrated relatives in far-flung places. I can only guess at the home-sickness of those receiving treasured images of their native places.
Of course, postcards are still on sale but they are mostly now sent just to one’s mother-in-law or those dear older relatives who have not connected to the web (and probably never will!). However, Mail art, a populist artistic movement which centres on sending one’s creatively-designed envelopes through the postal service is encouraging many to return to the old-fashioned system.
Looking at this finely designed book (a snip at only euros 25) I was fascinated by how little Bagni di Lucca has really changed over the years. When I compare the atrocious devastation wrought on my former place of residence, Woolwich, London, much of it since we moved there in 1979 (during that time they succeeded in demolishing an elegant Georgian terrace, obliterated General Gordon’s birthplace, bulldozed a fine early nineteenth century non-conformist chapel, annihilated the original Edwardian post-office with yet another Tesco’s etc. etc…. the list is too terrible to complete but I don’t think I’d recognize the place even though I only left in 2005) I am comforted by the fact that Italians do still regard their town landscape, especially “il centro storico”, as worthy of preservation – although sometimes neglected.
The one thing that has changed in Bagni di Lucca is the arboreal vegetation. Ponte a Serraglio’s war memorial square was much more verdant once. Just look at what surrounded it before the war. And the same went for the square of the Circolo dei Forestieri with its plane trees and the piazza at Ponte a Serraglio.
There were plenty more shops too. Look how busy Ponte a Serraglio was. Thank goodness the arts festival is refurbishing these now-abandoned shops for exhibition purposes for this summer.
Looking at the book’s postcards I’ve finally discovered the secret of the gothic towers in Villa Fiori: Villa Fiori had once the appearance of a gothic castle before it was modified in the twentieth century into its present classical style. So those towers would have gone very well with the original building!
It’s re-assuring also to know that the river-terrace tower of an acquaintance’s house in Ponte still stands after all those years despite the river floods and still serves its original purpose as a relaxing place to take tea or a glass of wine in summer’s heat while surrounded by the coolness of the river waters.
The book is divided into sections relating to the different parts of the territory of the comune of Bagni di Lucca – from the old hot baths to the chain bridge to the English cemetery to the several villages that surround it.
My only disappointment with the book’s selection is that no postcards were found to show me what the interior of the Anglican church looked like before its partial dilapidation and, as for the Teatro Accademico, I would have loved to gaze on its rococo decorations before they were ruthless torn away in a 1960’s “restoration.”
If you go the library or Petri’s you will be sure to find this very interesting and well-produced book on sale. You can go to Debra’s blog at
to see what the places depicted in the book look like today.