Italy > Barga Lucca
Travelling up the middle reaches of the River Serchio flowing through the
Garfagnana region, we might be forgiven for believing that the sweetness of
Tuscany must give way to harsher, alpine environments.
Instead, we find the exquisitely elegant little town of Barga, the former historic
and Garfagnana capital of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. Giovanni Pascoli, the
poet, describes this idyllic setting in his songs, Canti di Castelvecchio, "In
my corner, from where I hear nothing but the hum of the wheat, the sound of
the hours comes on the wind from the unseen mountain village .... " Barga
hangs perched at the end of a spur and retains its medieval form to this day.
Normally, one would think that a town like this would simply have adapted to
the landscape. However, the layout of the town, while counting all its centuries,
seems designed specifically. The lanes and driveways are closed in, but there
are plenty of squares and plazas providing new vistas at each varying altitude
and orientation. The ascent to the summit? of the hill is marked by these places
and the visitor might wonder if everything had been planned in relation to the
splendid Romanesque Cathedral and its courtyard, a balcony overlooking the Garfagnana,
from the Apuan Alps to Mount Giovo and the valley of Serchio and to the Pizzorne.
Pascoli, again, reminds us of the life of the local people of Barga centuries
ago who "survived by chewing chestnuts and built the Cathedral" as
if to say that lineage or wealth were of less importance than constancy and
faith. Thus, it became a masterpiece. Not everything in one go, but in four
breaths, according to the needs of worship, between the year 1000 and the seventeenth
century. The building is in the form of a three-aisled basilica but the main
front, in limestone rock, is formed from the side of the early church. In the
central nave is the jewel of Barga, a superb pulpit, attributed to Guido Bigarelli
or one of his students (XIII century). Five marble columns hold up the rectangular
case, but the decorations are what impress: the two front columns rest on two
marble lions, one of which is attacking a man lying beneath its mouth. A dwarf
forms the base of another column. The faces of the pulpit depict scenes from
the life of Jesus, the prophets and evangelical symbols. The symbolism of these
images must have impressed the faithful of Barga for centuries.
At the time when the church expanded, in the thirteenth century, the village
gradually took on a new role. The union with Florence in 1331, brought about
the replacement and renovation of buildings, which continued until the eighteenth
century with the construction of beautiful urban- style buildings, such as the
Theatre of the Accademia dei Differenti, built in 1795 and today the inaugural
hall of the annual Barga Opera Festival. The many examples of ceramics by Della
Robbia, conserved in the Cathedral, are another indicator of the positive influence
of Florence. The economy of Barga, at least until national unification, thrived
thanks to the production of silk, wool and felt hats.
Near the cathedral stands the building of the civic power, the fourteenth-century
Loggia del Podesta, where the geological and archaeological collections of the
town are housed. Going down the stairs next to the Cathedral, you come to Piazza
Angelio, where major cultural events are held, including BargaJazz, which, from
this stage, 'exports' the programme of musical events to the smaller towns of
Beyond the gates that once closed the town, lie the historic suburbs of Fornacetta,
Giardino and dei Frati, where there is a mixture of buildings from modest farmers'
and labourers' dwellings to the more sumptuous houses and villas belonging to
the local landowners and patriarchs. Roads, or rather mule trails, lead from
the suburbs to beyond the Apennines. Among these was the famous, 'Via dei remi'
(street of oars), designed to facilitate the exploitation of the grand ducal
woods beyond the ridge.
The timber, carried downstream and then floated on the River Serchio met the
needs of the Tuscan fleet in the Arsenal of Pisa.
Sights: the Cathedral - the Renaissance buildings of the historic
centre - the Praetorian Palace and its museum
Reason for awarding the Orange Flag
The town is distinguished by the presence of an efficient tourist information
service, a wealth of historical and cultural resources of importance (e.g. the
Cathedral), and for good urban maintenance. The visitor is offered a rich, varied
and well promoted calen- dar of events CASALE MARITTIMO Pisa - a fifth century.
B.C. grave and a Roman imperial villa were found nearby - Casale was not an
easy place to inhabit. The unhealthy air of the 'swamps' and pirate raids bred
a sense of insecurity in the town. Only the quality of the mineral waters and
gradual land reclamation led to an improvement that was sustained into the twentieth
century. Today, Casale is a little 'haven' for 'urban veterans' seeking a different
and more peaceful quality of life. And you could not find anything better.
The development of the town dates back to medieval times with two concentric
circular walls and beautiful stone built houses. A ramp rises to the 'castle',
the oldest nucleus, marked by the Clock Tower and the House of the Treasurer,
among the oldest in the town. A circular route follows the circle of higher
walls, formed by the outer edges of the building.