The hill and mountain villages of Lucca province are clearly the ones that appear most attractive to us for a visit. They stand out like little fortresses and look out on to the most marvellous views. Who want then to arrange trips to the borghi scattering the flatness of the piana di Lucca, which increasingly is being transformed into a giant semi-industrial conurbation, especially to the east of the city?
How many of us have driven down that tedious road called Viale Europa which links Marlia with Porcari – a long, straight, traffic-ridden ribbon-developed segment, neither country nor town? But how few of us have decided to take a right or left turn and see what lies behind it?
I decided to turn left from the Viale and give Marlia a look yesterday on my way to the paint factory.
Marlia is one of the areas that make up the comune of Capannori. Here is a map of the comune showing all the frazioni.
People visit Marlia because within its confines is the Villa Reale with its beautiful landscaped garden and once the summer residence of Napoleon’s sister, Elisa Baciocchi, but few people explore beyond that.
There is a considerable quantity of churches from the early middle Ages in the territory of Marlia: S. Giusto, the oldest among the rural churches of Tuscany, and St. Martino in Ducentola, with wall hangings and ornaments of the Lombard period are just two of them.
The biggest church in Marlia (indeed one of the biggest in the whole province) is its parish church dedicated to the Virgin and to St. John the Baptist and first mentioned in a document of 918. The present church is the third building and was completed in 1844. The facade is impressive with its columns and statues representing the Theological Virtues. I loved the arched passage through the belltower. Looking at the exterior stonework I could see those parts belonging to the earliest church here:
Unfortunately, I couldn’t get far into the interior as it was being restored after some earthquake damage but I especially liked the neo-classical style and the curve of the apse (which so reminded me of Rennes cathedral in France).
There is a fine Serassi organ (the Serassi makers, originally from Como, made organs from 1720 to 1895) I don’t know what condition it’s in.
In front of Marlia’s parish church is a recently rearranged square which has restored the area to pedestrians. To one side I decided to sample the forno (bakery) and found its cheese focaccia and Farro (spelt) bread absolutely delicious. I’ll certainly be back again and revisit this stylish place.
There is also a plaque displaying specialist shops (botteghe) in the area.
Burton, wearing his archaeologist hat, dug at the Etruscan city of Misa near Marzabotto (which we visited during the summer at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/08/23/etruscans-v-celtic/) and helped lay out the Bologna Archaeological museum. In Capannori, where Marlia is situated, parts of an Etruscan road were discovered in 2004 dating back to the sixth century BC which linked up with Misa (otherwise known as Kainua) and the Etruscan ports at Spina and Pisa the two great commercial emporiums located in opposite sides of the Apennines.
This super highway of the distant past was used to transport materials such as iron ore, copper and silver – of which this area was once rich – to and from ports and mining areas and appears to be the oldest paved road in Europe. According to the ancient Greek historian Scylax one could get from Spina on the Adriatic to Pisa on the Tyrrhenian in just three days using this road and river communication!
I think I’ll give myself just a bit more time to do the boring stretch from Marlia to Porcari in my journey in future and explore a few more of the hidden wonders of this seemingly featureless and neglected area. It’s quite amazing what one finds out!