Fortunately, there is an escape from this week’s torrid heat in Italy when temperatures have touched forty degrees and it is not to the seaside which, I am sure, is now becoming too crowded for my liking. To enjoy the coolness and silence of oak and pine forests we can just climb up any of our mountain roads.
One of my favourite spots is the hermitage of San Bartolomeo above the village of Cune. Less than half-an-hour from Borgo a Mozzano’s Penny market discount store, which is surrounded by the sweltering heat of a car park, one can reach an enchanted spot eons away from the daily hubbub.
The hermitage’s chapel, dedicated to the Virgin, was once Cune’s parish church in a previous incarnation of that village. It has a single nave with the typical curved Romanesque apse which I described at
and which is similar to many other churches built in the diocese of Lucca during the twelfth century. The church’s simple but noble architectural beauty is underlined by the charm of the place in which it is placed: a centuries-old holm-oak forest near an ancient fortress of wattle, demolished in 1373. The exterior arcade has some mysterious faces carved on it.
In front of the facade the massive bell tower still stands.
Despite its isolation, the inhabitants of Cune continue to feel a special bond toward their old church, where, until a few years ago, Mass on Christmas Eve was celebrated. What a pity it has been discontinued – I would have loved to be there when the church (which I have never entered into because it has always been closed) is surrounded by snow.
The statue of Saint Bartholomew, an almost perfectly preserved fourteenth century painted wooden statue, is kept in the parish church of Cune itself.
Near San Bartolomeo are two other exceptional places.
One, the torre del Bargiglio, also known as the eye of Lucca, is an ancient watch tower built in a commanding position at the top of a hill. It served very much like a web hub today, sending and receiving messages (using either smoke signals or heliotropes) from Lucca to the surrounding towns and warning the whole area of any impending invasion from the enemy.
The other is the astronomical observatory from which several new asteroids have been discovered and given local names. The observatory has also revealed more supernovae (full list at http://www.oama.it/) and a dwarf star. You can visit it (weather for observation permitting) on the first and third Fridays of the month starting from 9.30 PM, free of charge, by sending an email to email@example.com or phoning 328 3915117 or 0583 888881.
How wonderful it is to have these beautiful spots so close at hand. My thoughts are with those poor people unable to escape from the scorching heat currently affecting many of Europe’s large urban centres, so far from the cool mountain forests which characterize areas like ours.