Carinthia in Aulla

Anyone who had read that delightful memoir “A Tuscan Childhood” by Kinta (actually, Carinthia Jane) Beevor will want to visit the Fortezza Della Brunella near Aulla. My first visit to the fortress was in November 2005 when the following photographs were taken. One can get to it by train from Bagni di Lucca but on that occasion I travelled on my scooter, which is certainly not preferable as the road is long and becomes very twisty.

Brunella is, indeed, of a grim appearance and is similar in architecture to those other impregnable Medicean fortresses like Fortezza di Basso and Poggibonsi rather than any turreted fairy-tale castle. This is because it was built in the sixteenth century when fire-power had already come onto the battle scene and walls needed to be low, very thick, and windowless – rather like Lucca’s walls, in fact. It saw action more than once, most recently during the war of Polish succession in 1733 when it was conquered, after a three-week siege, by Spanish troops who had landed at La Spezia under Francesco Eboli, Duke of Castropignano.

Kinta’s mother was Lina Waterfield who also wrote a memoir, this time called “Castle in Italy” and describing, too, her time at La Brunella. But, Kinta’s memoir is much more spontaneously written, depicting her unusual home from the viewpoint of a girl growing up rather than a society lady. The book contains mouth-watering descriptions of food the house-keeper prepared for her which Kinta contrast very unfavourably with  the boarding school gruel she had to eat in the UK. In the obituary for Kinta (1995) she is praised for her cooking skills learnt in Italy and especially for her “particularly good” quince jam.

This memorial plaque not only commemorates the Waterfield family but recognizes all those locals who helped to maintain the fortezza for them:

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Kinta’s mother Lina, incidentally, was the daughter of Florence’s grand-hostess “aunt” Janet Ross’s sister-in.-law and, thus, grew up in the midst of artistic fin-de-siècle Anglo-Florentine society. She also was a co-founder of the still flourishing British Institute of Florence and wife to Aubrey, a retiring painter thought good enough by the likes of Sir Kenneth Clark. (I have yet to discover any of his paintings anywhere, however).

Together, the Waterfields did their best to make the uninviting Fortezza into an attractive home. They placed large windows on one side of the walls and even had Bernard Berenson design an attractive garden entrance. This is the interior of that part of the place as it was then and now.

The glory of the Fortezza was its roof garden, no trace of which, regrettably, exists today. Indeed, in her book Kinta is scathing about the subsequent attempts to “restore” the structure to its original historical appearance after they sold it to the Italian state in 1977. There are some old photographs, however, showing, how it used to look and the views of the northern Apuan mountains from this part of the fortezza are quite stunning.

Very little trace remains of the domestic atmosphere of the Fortezza and it has now been converted into a quite well-laid-out local natural history museum and council offices. Very little, too, remains of the old Aulla as it was largely flattened in the last stages of World War II.

Certainly, the Fortezza Della Brunella is worth visiting, just for its military architecture but if one wants to recapture the life the Waterfields once led there it is a somewhat sad experience.

Incidentally, it’s interesting to note that Kinta’s son, Anthony, is a distinguished military historian. I wonder if growing up in la Fortezza Della Brunella had anything to do with it…

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5 thoughts on “Carinthia in Aulla

  1. Certainly reading the book and visiting the Fortress are two unique and different experiences the feel about the place now is somewhat Gothic although I did greatly enjoy the Natural History contained therein the Flora Fauna Small Creatures of the area especially to learn about the river snakes forewarned is forearmed or so it is said!

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