One of the pleasures of carrying out often boring, but necessary, errands in Lucca is that one can slip inside the walls and, swanning around, discover (or rediscover) delightful things.
Yesterday, I had to bring my scooter to have its service tagliando (service) – necessary under guarantee – carried out. An hour to kill (horrible phrase)? Not if you’re in Lucca! The first thing that gave me intense delight was a liberty (art-nouveau) style villa on the avenue surrounding the city’s formidable bastions. (In my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/08/01/art-nouveau-lucca-style/ I describe more about the art-nouveau wonders Lucca can provide).
I then entered the walled city via a gleaming white gate, the Porta Elisa, begun in 1809 and completed in 1811. The Porta was one of the latter additions to the gates of Lucca’s walls. It was a part of a grand scheme of town planning which foresaw the building of a colonnaded processional avenue all the way to the newly formed Piazza Grande (now known as Piazza Napoleone) created by demolishing a large area in front of the Palazzo Ducale (including three mediaeval churches!)
The Porta Elisa also became essential since an entrance on the east side of the city was desperately needed (there had been no entrance on this side before since it was facing the direction of Florence by whom the Luccan had been constantly in fear of being attacked. For the porta Elisa, too, a convent (Convento del Carmine) and a church (chiesa dei Cappuccini) were demolished.
These urban renovations were typically French in their attempts to transform Lucca into a minor capital of Napoleon’s empire but were not much appreciated by the local populace who didn’t want the character of their beloved city so radically altered. Fortunately Elisa’s reign did not last long enough to completely turn Lucca into a Tuscan Paris!
For the five-hundredth anniversary of the completion of Lucca’s walls the Porta Elisa has been completely overhauled and restored and now looks like the mini-triumphal arch it was projected as and is, in my opinion even reminiscent of the visionary architecture of Boulée.
.Its inscription can now also be easily read. Latinists please help! Inside the gateway the only bits of the processional way to have been completed are on the left and form a nice exedra and arcade reminiscent of the Rue de Rivoli.
Returning to the walls is the delightful church of Santa Maria della Rosa which dates back to 1309 and was so beloved of that highly misunderstood saint who has enrolled most of her devotees from abroad, largely from Spain – where her heart is preserved – and from London’s Irish community. Indeed, saint Gemma is known as Lucca’s unknown saint – the inhabitants seemingly far preferring to place their devotions in saint Zita whose ugly mummified face can be seen in the San Frediano basilica – see my post for Gemma at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/04/10/saint-gemma-galgani-mystic-saint-or-mental-patient/and my post on Zita at at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/04/30/from-flour-to-flowers-festa-di-santa-zita/ .
One of the lunettes of the aisle would make a delightful christmas card.
Just inside the church on the left is the part of the pew occupied by Gemma at church services. It’s cordoned off out of respect and the label says she used to sit here because moving nearer the altar would warm her heart too much through God’s fire. There is also a passage quoted from one of Gemma’s marvellous ecstasies so dutifully written down by her family members. A great pity such girls today would be recommended for intervention by social services – how mightily we have fallen into an ordered, health & safety and rational society!
Incidentally, the old Luccan Roman walls, of which only fragments exist outside, are best seen inside the church. They form part of its left wall!
Ouside the church is the house where Gemma, in the words of the memorial tablet, received her creator’s embrace in 1901.
I them proceed via a pedestrian passage through the walls where, in the fosso, a couple of ducks were paddling and back to the garage to retrieve my perfectly serviced scooter and drive back home to the cats, ducks, rabbits and a nice hot vegetable soup.