In the Terme Calde of Bagni di Lucca are two buildings desperately in need of decision-making. Are they to stand or fall down?
One of the buildings is the church of San Martino which, for as long as I can remember, has been behind scaffolding and has had a restoration works contract board stuck in front of it, to little avail. The church, which is of some size, was built in 1292 by Jacopo di Puccio and modified in 1800 under the ducal government of Tuscany. The restoration shows no sign of continuing, let alone finishing. At least, however, it seems that the building has been reasonably secured against further dilapidation. The road past San Martino, however, remains closed because of the scaffolding. One friend tells me that the church did have a wonderful organ. Goodness knows where it’s gone now.
The other building used to be a summer home of the grand duke of Tuscany, Leopold II , and later became the Bagni di Lucca Grand Hotel. His wife, Maria Antonetta, liked the place so much that she would stay there from spring to autumn. The grand duke, when in residence, had a cannon fire daily at midday so the population could not only know that he was staying in their town but also set their watches and clocks by it or, if they didn’t have a watch, know what time it was. The local paper reports that in August 1851 the grand ducal family was also serenaded by a local Bagni di Lucca choir and band.
There is a ginkgo (biloba) tree (commonly known as “Maidenhair” tree) planted in what used to be a delightful “English garden“ around the former residence, but is now hopelessly overgrown. In case you weren’t sure, the ginkgo is a living fossil of a tree and dates back 250 million years to the Permian era – not surprising when, after the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the only living things found to survive were six Ginkgo trees! The only other Gingko tree I can remember seeing in this part of the world is in the botanical gardens of Lucca. The seeds of the fruit are esteemed in Chinese cuisine – that is, if you can bear to collect them since their smell has been described as half way between very rancid butter and vomit. The fruit and leaf of the ginkgo look like this.
It’s a wonder the building’s whole façade has not already fallen down.
I would sorely like to know what will happen to these buildings and what is projected for them. If re-consecrated, the church could certainly be used for concerts. If de-consecrated I’m sure it could make an excellent gym attached to the centro benessere.
With regard to the grand-duke’s residence it must be more carefully secured. It could, at the very least, make an interesting romantic “folly” ruin in a park returned to its former glory, very much in the way that Christopher Hussey did for his place at Scotney Castle, Kent, UK. Whatever is proposed, things had better happen quickly, otherwise both buildings will be beyond feasible repair. Incidentally, the photographs were taken in August 2005 – not much seems to have happened since then…