The Villa Torrigiani at Camigliano has to be probably the most spectacular of the aristocratic country houses the Luccan nobility built for themselves, not only to escape the heat of the city’s summer but also to provide a farm where olive groves and vineyards could be cultivated and animals raised for the family larder and also to spread out a suitable back-cloth for festas, theatrical shows and large social gatherings.
The villa dates back to 1593 when it belonged to the Buonvisi family. (I don’t know whether this is the same Buonvisi family that used to own the mansion in Bagni di Lucca where Byron stayed). It was sold to Nicola Santini who radically rebuilt it. Inspired by Versailles Palace, where he was the Republic of Lucca’s ambassador, Santini had wings added, together with a new façade, grand staircase and a plethora of statues.
The interior is quite sumptuously decorated with frescoes and has an elegant stair-well. I rate it as one of the most satisfying of Luccan villa interiors with a feel of being lived-in which is often absent from other mansions.
The cellars are extensive and, besides store-rooms for wine and oil also have bathroom facilities:
Santini also re- designed the gardens in the formal French style in 1650 with parterres and straight tree-lined avenues. But in 1816 these gardens were largely done away with in favour of the “Giardino Inglese” – the landscape garden, formulated by the likes of Capability Brown, which had become all the rage on the continent.
Of the original layout only some features remain like the secret garden hiding a nymphaeum (or monumental fountain and pond) and another one with statues named after the main winds of Italy.
This might be a good place to go through the names of the various wind directions in Italy. Unlike the UK where we use compass points e.g. north wind, west wind etc. the Italians give them specific names. These are as follows. I have also added some of their characteristics
|NE||Grecale (Bora)||Violent and strong|
|E||Levante||Fresh and weak – rain-bearing|
|SE||Scirocco||Hot and maddening|
|S||Ostro||Warm and weak|
|SW||Libeccio||Warm and turbulent|
|W||Ponente||Fresh and rain-bearing|
|NW||Maestrale||Cold and dry – the strongest wind in Tuscany|
Not working any more (thankfully for kill-joys) are the jeux d’eau – water games used to amuse the owner and surprise unsuspecting guests when sudden bursts of water would spout out from nowhere and soak them. The guests might then seek shelter in a garden temple where there would be more water pouring on them from the ceiling.
Of course, the guests, out of politeness, could not complain and (hopefully) these amusements would only take place during the summer when a certain amount of cooling down was necessary. Yesterday, for example, I felt our garden had been influenced by jeux d’eau – the sun was still shining when a mist of water droplets fell upon me (which then developed into a considerable downpour). The sensation of coolness upon my heated skin was most pleasant.
The villa’s main drive is flanked by large cypress trees and extends almost a kilometer to the main Lucca –Pescia road. Outside the main entrance is a little village built specially for the owner’s servants.
There is also an adjoining private chapel with funerary monuments to previous occupants of the villa.
Our first visit to Villa Torrigiani, which took place in 2005, had a somewhat dramatic conclusion. I thought I’d ride the scooter to Villa Basilica via an unmade road, marked on my map, as a short cut. I got hopelessly lost, darkness began to fall and we were constrained to pass the night in a forest surrounded by the sounds of strange nocturnal animals.
The following morning did not get much better. The road reduced itself to a track and then became worse, plunging into dense undergrowth. We reached a brook crossed by a narrow plank and I did not trust my sense of balance to ride the scooter across it. Wading across the waters and supporting it above me with my hands I guided the scooter across the plank, eventually reaching a metalled road.
This experience taught me never to trust Italian maps, at least as far as their road diagrams are concerned. Many of these maps are hopelessly out-of-date and, frankly, there is very little remotely approaching the clarity and accuracy of the UK’s ordnance survey series of maps. I will say, however, that maps for walkers showing mountain paths are a lot more reliable, thanks to the Club Alpino Italiano.