It’s incredible how relatively few people wander up to the historic centre of Bagni di Lucca: Bagni di Villa, that collection of aristocratic mansions overlooking the main part of Villa and grouped around a square with the original Bagni di Villa thermal centre closing the top end. Yet it was in this area where distinguished visitors to Bagni di Lucca were hosted: Montaigne, Byron and Shelley among them.
There are three very notable villas in Bagni di Lucca and two of them are to be found here.
Villa Ada was the home of Sir Macbean, the British consul at Leghorn, who added to a formerly rectangular mansion the very distinctive tower one can see today. In 1975 Villa Ada was taken over by the Comune which turned it into an establishment for thermal cures but, unfortunately, it was closed relatively recently.
Villa Webb, bought by a Scottish banker in the nineteenth century from a noble Luccan family is the mansion where Byron was reputed to have stayed in 1822. I say” reputed” because I have yet to come across any definite documentation regarding this fact. A local resident is supposed to have inherited some of Byron’s possessions when living there but, again, I have yet to trace this resident.
How they could have spelt the first name of the author of Don Juan wrong I’ll never know…
Villa Fiori, which is outside this part of town, at Ponte di Seraglio, was the home of a rich industrialist family before it was taken over by the Local Health Authority who, unfortunately had to move out in the last five years because of the danger of falling masonry through lack of maintenance.
The Comune di Bagni di Lucca still owns these three properties, the largest and most magnificent villas in the whole area. They were up for sale in 2011 under the previous mayorship in an auction with a starting price of euros 250,000, a snip for a residence with over 1,000 metres of floors space! The auction never really got going, mainly because it was held in the middle of summer when Italians en masse migrate to the seaside or the mountains!
If you are still interested in increasing your floor space, however, click on
to get the auction details for one of the properties, Villa Fiori.
The reason why the three properties were put up for sale by auction was that the comune did not have the money to restore and maintain them. Indeed, all three are in various states of dilapidation with bits of cornice falling off the Villa Fiori and broken windows at Villa Ada.
I dread to think what state these des reses would have been reduced to in a metropolis like London where empty buildings are so much at the mercy of vandals, squatters and burglars.
Villa Webb seems to have fared the best of the three and, with a little sweeping-up, was chosen last week to host Bagni’s cross-bow competition. The competition has been extensively covered at http://bagnidilucca.wordpress.com/2013/06/17/dont-shoot-until-you-see-the-whites-of-their-eyes/
Villa Webb has a large front lawn and a secretive back garden, complete with a nymphaeum. Unless emergency gardening is done soon the bamboos and the acacias may get the better of it.
The Villa’s interior has rooms large enough to host theatrical performances and, indeed, at least until 2006, it was home to a theatre company: lo Spazio Vuoto. Not only are the rooms large: they have many original features and are full of interest, the kitchens and the entrance hall in particular. Presuming Byron really stayed there (and certainly not contemporaneously with Shelley, who took up a place close by in 1818) I imagine the great romantic would have made the most of his space and greeted one with theatrical flourish.
I ventured up to the Villa’s attic which I found somewhat dusty and filled with unwanted but recyclable clobber.
What will happen to this trilogy of villas I wonder? Will they fall into the hands of some Russian magnate or Hollywood actor or eccentric recluse or still remain the property of the citizens of Bagni di Lucca and be used for their benefit? I wonder…