Wandering is the Miller’s Joy!

Water and wind power are all the rage now – in both sense of the word since there are strong views for and against their development. Traditionally, however, natural forces were used as a matter of course in my area, providing energy for mills grinding everything from wheat to chestnuts to olives..

The water-mills of the Val di Lima were in full use until after the Second World War when mass emigration and the introduction of new technologies proved their death-knell. Today there are very few water-mills remaining in use in Lucca province – one of the best examples is at Fabbriche di Vallico. There is also another one I visited near Pieve di Fosciana. But it is astonishing to think that once there were up to seventy-four working mills in the comune of Bagni di Lucca alone!

Wandering through the valley floor it is possible to find traces of old water mills in various states of ruination. One of the best places to seek them is in the valley below the eagle’s nest village of Lucchio. We first went on a visit to this area in 2005 with the expert guidance of Graziano Serafini, a member of the Lucca industrial archaeology association.

Lucchio also had something unique for this area: a real wind-mill of which only the base now remains. However, an interesting model reconstructing its original appearance was made by Signor Serafini, who demonstrated it when our group entered Lucchio:

 

It is a great pity that, with the return to a philosophy of renewable energy resources to power our machinery, the old mills in the Val di Lima were so completely abandoned. I hope that at least one mill may be able to be reconstructed and used to provide an example of how these amazing pieces of pre-industrial technology operated.

It is also a great pity that Graziano has been unable to continue his incredibly engrossing guided trips to the mills for three years now as, due to a lack of personnel through cut-backs, it has proved impossible to maintain a sufficiently safe route to them for the general public – mills can be dangerous places to get to situated as they are in steep valleys and gorges.

This set of photographs of the Lucchio water- mills (we saw four examples) dates from our visit there in the summer of 2005. The complexity of channels directing the stream waters to the original milling mechanism, the holding reservoirs in case of drought, the very picturesque locations and Serafini’s great enthusiasm for this type of Val di Lima heritage will all be discerned:

Our visit continued to the impossibly sited village of Lucchio where the streets are so steep that houses showing a single storey on one side show up to five levels on the other and where hens (we were told by one local) have to wear knickers when laying eggs to stop them rolling down the slopes! (To say the truth we didn’t see any hens in knickers). The crowning glory of Lucchio, however, is its magnificently sited fortress – built in the once dangerous border country between the powers of Lucca and Pistoia – which, although, now in a ruinous state is still able to impart something of its former grandeur. Needless to say, the views from it are quite marvellous.

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3 thoughts on “Wandering is the Miller’s Joy!

  1. Pingback: “There is a Mill, an Ancient One” | From London to Longoio (and Lucca and Beyond) Part Two

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