Fifty years ago, on October 9 1963, Longarone, a town and comune on the banks of the Piave in the province of Belluno, in North-East Italy, was completely destroyed in a terrible event known as the Vajont dam disaster A colossal landslide plunged into the lake, formed by the dam situated above Longarone, and forced fifty million cubic metres of water over its top. Living in the path of mud and water sweeping into the valley virtually all of Longarone’s two thousand inhabitants were drowned. (Incidentally, the owner of the dam’s construction company had been Mussolini’s finance minister – another example of how ties with fascism were never really broken in Italy’s post –war republic.)
I mention Longarone, not only because of the fiftieth anniversary of the tragedy, but because it is twinned with our comune of Bagni di Lucca and has been ever since the then mayor of Bagni di Lucca (and now its poet laureate) Mario Lena, offered help and accommodation to victims of the disaster. Friendship ties increased and, within a few months, the two communities were officially twinned. Over the years this twinning has grown from strength to strength.
Indeed, as one enters Bagni di Lucca the twinning connection can clearly be read on the road signs.
Although the twinning was started up as a result of a very generous contribution by Bagni di Lucca in helping out a greatly-stricken community there is not really very much similarity between the two towns. Longarone is not a spa town while Bagni di Lucca is. Longarone is an agricultural community while Bagni di Lucca largely depends on its summer visitors. Longarone does not have an entertainments and gameing past like Bagni di Lucca. Today the difference is even more marked with the completely rebuilt town of Longarone and its Michelucci church contrasted with Bagni di Lucca’s bygone architecture.
Of course, twinning need not only be with one town and certainly not with a town with similarities. Barga has four twinnings: Glasgow, East Lothian, Hayange and Gällivare (Sweden). There may not much resemblance between Glasgow and Barga but the twinning was inspired by the number of Barga emigrants to the Scottish city during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
I would suggest that Bagni di Lucca could expand its twinning to include another town more comparable to it in development and atmosphere. My choice goes to Llandrindod Wells in the Welsh county of Powys which we know rather well having partly lived in Wales for a time. The administrative centre of Powys, Llandrindod Wells was developed as a spa town in the nineteenth century, when the healing qualities of the local spring waters attracted many famous visitors (Elgar – c.f. Puccini in Bagni di Lucca – Tennyson c.f. Pascoli) to the area resulting in an economic affluence with the building of many hotels and guest houses – rather like Bagni di Lucca in fact.
Again, like Bagni di Lucca, Llandrindod Wells suffered a decline in the twentieth century, only to be revalued in the twenty-first.
Llandrindod Wells’ “season” was between May and mid-September when visitors would take the waters at the pump rooms at the Rock Park and Pump House Hotel and be entertained by an orchestra. Again, rather like Bagni di Lucca’s historical season at its terme and, especially, its casinò.
Llandrindod Wells has an amateur dramatics festival in May at its theatre, the Albert Hall, which attracts groups from all over the British Isles and achieves high performance standards. Again, compare with Bagni di Lucca’s school groups drama festival at around the same time in the Teatro Accademico.
Llandrindod Wells hosts annual scrambler bike trials in June and a walking festival. Bagni di Lucca has its car rallies and Giri Del Prato Fiorito e delle Terme!
One event which Bagni di Lucca could emulate is Llandrindod Wells’ Victorian Festival, known locally as “Victorian Week”, at the end of August which brings many visitors to the town.Locals and visitors wear Victorian and Edwardian dress and many of the town’s shops window-dress in the spirit of the event. The festival also offers street theatre and music, a fairground, a craft fair, an historical re-enactment, entertainments and exhibitions of “things old-time”. Some of these kinds of events are, of course, well-known here and Bagni di Lucca certainly does have its festivals but why not foster one which pays homage to its hey-day as the resort for the crowned heads of Europe and where people wear nineteenth –century dress?
Last but not least, both Bagni di Lucca and Llandrindod Wells are surrounded by the most gorgeous hill and mountain country with gushing streams, thick woods, rocks, great path itineraries and plenty of wild flora and fauna. That certainly must attract both communities to each other.
Anyway, this is just a suggestion. I feel that, with the resurgence of spa towns throughout Europe after a period of decline and lethargy, Bagni di Lucca could twin itself with at least one other of the same ilk (e.g Llandrindod Wells) to its very own benefit.