Look up onto the hills that lie to the north-east of Bagni di Lucca and crowning one of them you can see a distinctive campanile.
That campanile was in danger of imminent collapse not so long ago but thanks to the indefatigable efforts of Claudio Gemignani, leader of Gombereto’s village committee (see my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/09/12/gomberetos-self-administration/) ,who organised both the fund raising and structural works, it will now dominate this part of the world for at least another hundred years.
I’d climbed up the interior stone staircase of the campanile, which belongs to the Pieve di Controni, some years back in the company of our local organist who warned me that there were several stone steps missing and that I’d have to leap across them if I didn’t want to fall to my doom. As it was also rather dark and I suffer somewhat from vertigo the climb to the top did not seem very auspicious but I made it and was blessed with one of the finest views of the Controneria.
Yesterday the campanile was specially opened to the public by Claudio with the intention of showing us the works that had been achieved to restore it to its full glory and make it safe again.
Before the now-not-so-perilous ascent Claudio introduced us to a few facts about this imposing campanile. The Pieve’s original bell-tower was in a different position, nearer the church façade, but by the mid-nineteenth century it was in a hazardous state. It was, therefore, demolished and a decision made to build a new one. At first this was to be in a different place from that finally agreed but the parishioners decided it should be seen and its bells heard by the whole valley and so the present siting was chosen as being the most suitable.
The campanile was begun in 1863 and, as with all such structures, the foundations were of major importance. Every local man, woman and child took part in its construction and voluntarily carted stones up from the quarry below to build it. The bell-tower was completed thirty years later in 1893 at a cost of twenty thousand lire (which would have been worth rather more than the ten pounds sterling before the euro stepped in). The campanile is one hundred feet high and its internal steps number one hundred too.
We climbed up to the top where one meets at first with the mechanism of the original clock. The circular windows were magnificently executed.
Then one steps up to the actual bell loggia where two fine bells were cast by the bell-foundry established by Giovan Battista Bimbi (and which has provided so many other bells in the Lucchesia). One of the bells is the largest one in the entire Val di Lima. You can also see the inspirer Claudio Gemignani and our local fine organist Enrico Barsanti:
The views from here are quite, quite stunning. The light of the beautiful autumn afternoon was sublime but a cold north wind did not make for any extended stay!
Incidentally, the campanile is NOT open to the public as a tourist attraction – there would be too many issues with personal insurance and health and safety. It can still, however, be admired, not only as a prominent landmark, but as a testimony to the faith and labour of those parishioners who helped to build it all those years back.
I don’t think there would be such clubbing together today – unfortunately we live in a different world, although in one aspect there is hope: the funds for the campanile’s restoration came from various sources. The major source was, of course, from the Bishop of Lucca but a very significant contribution came from a once-local family that had now emigrated to America and the few parishioners now left managed to rustle up five hundred euros.
The recent restoration was done in only three week last January and consisted largely of placing RSBs (reinforced steel bars) to support the stairs, replacing fallen stone stair-slabs with metal ones, redoing the electrics which today (in the absence of bell-ringers) operate the bells and reviewing the whole stone structure.
During the works there were heavy snowfalls and it is a tribute to all concerned that Pieve di Controni’s campanile will grace this lovely valley for at least another century. All it needs now is to be floodlit (like several other campanili in the valley) so we can also admire it at night!