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Barga Lucca

Italy > Barga Lucca

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 the valley.

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.

 
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