Archive for the ‘Lucca’ Category

L’isola Que Non C’era

Not many months ago, I had the opportunity to enjoy lunch at a new restaurant, L’Isola Che Non C’era. Located in the heart of Lucca, it is just steps off of the most famous street in the city, Via Filungo.

I have returned many times since!

For over fifty-three years, Roberto Isola and his wife Lory owned and operated a very successful delicatessen in Lucca.

Riccardo, their son, now managers this  lovely two level restaurant on the Via degli Angeli.

During a recent visit I went for lunch with a dear friend, Wanda Martinelli – who also happens to be the best guide in Lucca and the surrounding hills!

Roberto and Lory

Roberto greeted us with a great smile and easy manner. He gave us a brief tour of the restaurant. Downstairs offers ten tables inside as well as a few tables, weather permitting, on the front terrace. The deli counter displays tavola calda specialties along with shelves packed full of exceptional products; Olive Oil, Pasta and a selection of local Lucca region wines. Upstairs are a large, brightly lit, dining room and kitchen.

While not fancy, this is a very good trattoria in the city.

Lunch was a selection of cold cut meats and antipasti, the perfect light fare for a warm summer’s day in the city. The food was exceptional and the price for two of us was very reasonable.


Lory and Riccardo

Their full menu offers various pastas(all fatta in casa, home made), lasagna, eggplant parmesan, salt cod with leeks, roast beef, roast potatoes, farro salad and seafood salad, to name but a few of their exceptional dishes. Dinner menu items range from Euro 10.00 up to Euro 22.00.

When you are in Lucca, be sure to stroll down the cool and inviting Via degli Angeli for a flavorful meal at L’isola Che Non C’era!


The “Deli” showcase – Makes you salivate!

Photography Credits: Foto Fiorenzo Sernacchioli, Lucca


L’Isola Che Non C’era

Via degli Angeli, 7LuccaItalia

Tel: +39.0583.49.26.33

Hours: Monday – Saturday 102:00 Noon to 22:00 (10:00PM)

Sunday – Closed


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Bargello View from Uffizi Firenze

Museo Nazionale del Bargello Florence – View from Uffizi Gallery

On an early spring day in 1475, a young girl sat on a stool in the workshop of the Italian master, Andrea del Verrocchio.  A fresh bouquet of wildflowers had been given to her just before she sat in the master’s studio.

Born Andrea di Michele di Francesco de’ Cioni, Verrocchio was well known in the halls of Medici power in Florence during the early Renaissance. His study of this particular young girl rests on a stand in what is now called the Sale Verrocchio  – a small second floor gallery in the Bargello Museum in Florence.

The question that, even today, occupies the minds of many art critics and historians about Verrochio’s bust of that Tuscan girl is “Who created the bust of Dama col Mazzolino?”

Museo del Bargello, in the heart of Florence’s Medieval city center, seems an austere and perplexing location for yet another extraordinary collection of art. This was the seat of the Podesta, the Chief magistrate of the city for centuries and the place of execution for nearly an equal number of years.  Bargello’s imposing crenelated tower, which competes in scale with its nearby neighbor the Badia Fiorentina (Abbey of Florence),  pierces the skyline of the city.

To climb the long exterior staircase of the courtyard is to literally rise above Michelangelo (a collection of Buonarotti’s works occupies the ground floor gallery) and arrive in the the midst of invaluable art patronage: Donatello’s David, the gallery of the Della Robbia workshops, and much more.


Main Stairway Bargello Florence

Many visitors to the Bargello are, by the time they arrive at the Sale Verrocchio (The Verrocchio Room), too tired to pay much attention to the beauty of the works contained therein. The late afternoon sun shimmers through the wave-aged windows as noise rises from the streets below and on top of fatigue, the heat often erodes interest. My advice? Take a break and study, in particular, this singular cinnamon-hued marble masterpiece.

Dama col Mazzolino

Dama col Mazzolino

Now, the mystery.

One of Verrocchio’s students was a young man from the village of Vinci, one Leonardo. Verrocchio also worked with Perugino, Botticelli and Ghirlandaio – an incredible collection of the best artists of the day.

As art historians have studied the young woman, a number of experts began to doubt that only Verrocchio, and perhaps not Verrocchio at all, carved the bust. On several of Leonardo’s works there is a nearly identical style to the hands he painted.

Here are some examples, next to the Damma Col Mazzolino.

Verrochio Hands

Damma Col Mazzolino
Hand Study
Verrocchio 1475

Lady With An Ermine Da Vincie 1489-1490

Hands-Lady with an Ermine-DaVinci 1490

Note the striking similarity in the position of the hands. The elongated stretch of the fingers are nearly identical. One additional remarkable note about the resemblance of Da Vinci and Verrocchio’s work are from Da Vinci’s most famous fresco, Il Cenacolo, the Last Supper in the refectory of Santa Maria della Grazie Convent in Milan.

During a recent visit to that Convent, I noticed the hands of St. Phillip, who stands three disciples to the left of Christ in Da Vinci’s fresco.


Hands of Phillipus
Il Cenocolo, Da Vinci

Note, again, the nearly identical position of the saint’s right hand in this fresco to the hands in the works detailed above. Was it simply coincidence that these similarities exist? Many art historians and critics believe that if Leonard did not actually carve the hands (at a minimum) on the young girl holding flowers, Verrocchio’s influence on Da Vinci’s style was both remarkable and deep.

Such, perhaps, is the ‘science’ of art. While technologically advanced equipment can assess the age and condition of works of men and women, the true gift of the artist is in the mystery of their vision. Whether you agree with the discourse on these works of art, I believe those who take the time to study them will come to more deeply understand the effect of the Florentine masters, and their studios, on their students.

My vision, when I study the young Tuscan girl in that small gallery in Florence, is of a young Leonardo, fired by talent and desire, absorbing and learning from every mark of his master’s chisel, every stroke of paint on canvas. Da Vinci’s contemporaries, like Perugino and Ghirlandaio, were at hand to watch, sketch and stare in wonder at the creative energy so perfectly expressed by their teacher. Each of Verrocchio’s pupils learned to create their own work, while paying homage to the genius of the man who taught them.

I will conclude this post with two images. One by Verrocchio, discussed in this blog, and the other by one of Verrocchio’s students.

Yet another opportunity to compare and consider the comparative work of masters: Verrocchio and . . ?

AII58286Girl - by Verrocchio Studen

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Monterosso al Mare View

Fragrance of lemon blossoms, the taste of salt-tainted breezes and the wash of persistent sea greet me when I descended to Monterosso al Mare, the northernmost village on the Cinque Terre.

Lane, Monterosso al Mare

This is the largest of the five villages and I find that what the local’s refer to as Old Town and New Town are not substantially different. As I walked through the tunnel which now links the two areas of town, the arc of a sandy beach stretches before me from the breakwater to the small peninsula which juts into the sea on the southern end of the village.

Unlike the other towns along this stretch of coastline, Monterosso is easily reached by car. From the A12 autostrada that connects Pisa with Genoa, and beyond, there are well-marked exits that will lead you to the largest of the villages on the coast.

Please read the “IF YOU GO” section below regarding driving to Monterosso as well as parking challenges near the village.

Historically, the story of Monterosso is not dissimilar to those of the other Cinque Terre Village. Genoa subjugated the residents along the stretch of sea for centuries.

Long on the Italian summer holiday list of popular places to get to the sea, the narrow streets and beaches are always busy in the ‘high season’.

Monterosso Umbrellas

It seemed appropriate that my articles about the Cinque Terre would end in town with two huge statues.

In 1910 the sculptor, Arrigo Minerbi of Ferrara created a nearly 45 foot tall statue of Neptune, complete with Trident and Nautilus. As a result of  bombings during World War II, the “Gigante” was heavily damaged. Still, it stands at the southern limit of the beach, looking over the sea from whence he came.

Neptune of Monterosso

In 1962, Silvio Monfrini, a sculptor who was born in Milan, created a large bronze statue of St. Francis petting a dog. The statue occupies a gorgeous terrace high above the village near the Conventi del Cappuccine. While the steep stairs may tax your muscles, the view from the terrace is breathtaking. Well worth the effort!

Statue of Saint Francis above Monterosso al Mare

As I departed the village on my way north to Genoa, those two statues haunted me. Neptune, who no longer holds his Trident nor Nautilus, hunches armless over the cerulean blue Mediterranean. The five villages that cling to the shores of the Cinque Terre were for many decades falling in to disrepair, nearly forgotten save for the thousands of tourists who descended before and after the war.

Monfrini’s 20th Century work stands high above the village, an ever present reminder of the role of faith and church in the lives of the men and women who have, for centuries, survived on the richness of soil and sea.

The villagers have created bountiful lives through the gifts of faith, sea and soil. Statues may suffer, even disappear, yet the beauty of this precipitous coastline remains to be enjoyed and shared by visitors in years to come.


Driving to Monterosso al Mare:

From the A12 Autostrada, heading either north of south, the exits for Monterosso al Mare are well marked. Follow the signs toward Levanto and, from there, to Monterosso. The road between the Autostrada and the village is treacherous and narrow, so I advise extreme caution especially if you are driving a large rental car or van. Parking in the village is challenging. There are a few public garages, most notable above the ‘new town” , where you enter the village.

Some hotels offer temporary parking for registration and/or departure. Do NOT park if  you are not sure you are allowed to. The local police do ticket and, believe it or not, the tickets always catch up with you.


Angelo’s Boat Tours

My first experience with Angelo and his lovely wife, Paula, a few years ago. Clients I was traveling with were just leaving the port on Angelo’s boat and Paula invited me up to her incredible hillside garden where, from time to time, she leads small group cooking classes. The roses, the oleander, the lemons all conspired to make me want to sit and never leave.

The tours are available through pre-booking on their web site – see below. For information on Paul’s cooking classes, you can contact her directly, via email, on angelosboattours@yahoo.com.

Angelo’s Boat Tours, Monterosso

These are incredible journey’s along the coast and I highly recommend, as part of your visit to the Cinque Terre, to enjoy one of their unforgettable boat tours.

Hotels Monterosso al Mare

A brief word about the Hotel Porta Roca. This would be the splurge of your time on the coast – but the views from the sea-facing rooms, the level of service and the comfort are simply unmatched in any other hotel on the Cinque Terre. This is one gorgeous hotel!

Hotel Porta Roca 

Località Corone, 1  19016 Monterosso Al Mare

Province of La Spezia, Italy

Tel: +39.0187.817.502

Hotel Pasquale 

Via Fegina, 4  19016 Monterosso Al Mare Province of La Spezia, Italy

Tel: +39.0187.817.477

Hotel Villa Steno   http://www.villasteno.com/

Via Roma, 109  19016 Monterosso Al Mare Province of La Spezia, Italy

Tel: +39.0187.817.028

Restaurants Monterosso al Mare

Given the size of the village of Monterosso, your options are varied and numerous. These are only a few where the food and fair pricing have brought me back numerous times. Enjoy!

Ristorante Miky (web site, as of this writing, not linking)

Via Fegina, 104  19016 Monterosso Al Mare Province of La Spezia, Italy

Tel: +39.0187.817.608

Ristorante L’Alta Marea (no Web Site)

Via Roma, 54  Monterosso al Mare, Province of La Spezia, Italy

TeL: +39.0187.817.331

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Arno River and City of Pisa

If you read the previous post about the Charterhouse of Pisa, you can follow the easy directions in this post to locate the parking area at the Campo dei Miracoli near the Leaning Tower.

On To Pisa!

For those of us who have driven the confusing streets of Pisa, finding a simple way to the parking area near the Campo dei Miracoli, the Field of Miracles where the Duomo, Baptistery and Campinele (Bell Tower – the “Leaning Tower”) are located, is often a mind-boggling challenge.

From the Charterhouse of Pisa, you simply retrace your drive back to the intersection of the main road you came on from Lucca. When you reach the intersection with the SS-12, turn left on Via Statale Abetone (SS-12) toward Pisa. Typical to roads and streets in Italy, the SS-12 changes names as you approach the center of Pisa. You will drive on the Via Statale Abetone, the Via Lucchese, the Via Brennero and the Via Contessa Matilda and all are the same road!

Parking Area, Campo dei Miracoli, Pisa

As you enter Pisa, proper, you will  drive along a tall brick wall on your left and, when you come to a traffic circle, look for signs pointing to a parking area (“P”) and the Campo dei Miracoli/ Torre Pendente (Leaning Tower). Follow those signs and you will find the parking area entrance about 100 meters from the traffic circle on your right.

Plan on leaving your car there for the day. This parking area does not permit overnight parking, so be sure to check the open/close times before leaving for the sights of the city. (NOTE: This parking area is open from 6:30AM to 11:30PM daily. Cost is Euro 2.00 per hour, or portion of an hour. Push the button on the entrance gate kiosk. You will receive a round green token. KEEP IT WITH YOU. Before leaving the parking are, you must present that token for payment.)

The Campo dei Miracoli

What more needs be said about the most famous engineering failure in the world? They got it wrong and the world comes to see the bell tower as it leans precipitously over the Museum of the Works of the Duomo. Tickets to enter and climb the Leaning Tower are only available on the day you visit and are strictly controlled. For those of you who suffer from vertigo, keep in mind that there are few handrails, particularly out on the various colonnaded levels of the structure…and its a long way down.

Duomo Pisa, Western Facade

If you have at least two hours to spare, especially during the summer months, you may be able to purchase tickets to visit the tower.

The Duomo of Pisa (1063 -1360) is a huge, gloriously carved, building. The western facade is covered with marble carved statues and busts, the interior an awe inspiring and cavernous space. With Giovanni Pisano’s restored pulpit (1302 – 1311) as a centerpiece of the nave, black and white stripped columns and huge altar, this is a place sure to impress.

My best recommendation while at the Campo is the enter the Bapistery, find a place to sit and wait. Every twenty minutes, or so, the guard of the Baptistery will call “Silenzio” (Silence), close the entrance door and will stand at the base of the Baptismal font. He will begin to sing various notes and the echoes of the Baptistery create their famous magic. I will say no more, other than to go and experience.

Marco’s Recommended Top Nine Things to See in Pisa

1. Museo delle Sinopie and the Camposanto

Museo della Sinopie, Pisa

During WWII, a bomb hit the Campo Santo, the cemetery located on the grounds of Campo dei Miracoli. As roof lead melted from the ensuing fire,  all but a few of the Renaissance frescoes that once covered the interior walls of the cemetery were destroyed. In a few rooms of the cloister are a few restored frescoes by Benozzo Gozzoli, one of the most famous Renaissance fresco painters. Viewing them gives visitors an idea of what was lost as a result of the bombing.

Sinope, a red paint, was used to outline the design by the master or one of this apprentices before a fresco was

Frescoes, Camposanto, Pisa

painted. Much like a ‘cartoon,’ these designs were all that was left of most of the frescoes after the fire. The museum offers a unique and unusual opportunity to view these ‘remains’ of what was an incredible collection of invaluable Renaissance art. It is rarely crowded.

I’ve also included with this number One on the list, the Camposanto (“Holy Field” – Cemetery) of the Campo dei Miracoli. As mentioned, the Camposanto was badly damaged during the war. A few of the frescoes were salvaged after the fire, and these can be viewed in rooms of the Camposanto. Even a brief visit to these rooms will give you an idea of the beauty that once covered the walls of the cemetery.

2. Walk from the Campo dei Miracoli to the Orto Botanico

It is a surprising fact that of the hundreds of thousands of visitors to Pisa each year, few

Orto Botanico, Pisa

even know that a University even exists in the city. The walk from the leaning tower into the heart of the University and beyond is an easy and fascinating opportunity to learn more about this surprising and historic city.

The Via Santa Maria heads south away from the Duomo and Leaning Tower. You will find the start of the Via Santa Maria just past the store called Barsanti G et Fighli and almost across the street from the Museo del Opera del Duomo (Museum of the Works of the Duomo). Head down the Via Santa Maria and turn right in front of the church of San Giorgio ai Tedeschi. Follow the signs to the Botanical Gardens.

In 1544, Cosimo di Medici funded the first ever Botanical Garden in Europe for the University of Pisa. Though the garden has been moved twice since its founding, it now offers a much larger planted space and is a delightful alternative to the paved streets of the city. Entrance is free. See “If You Go” below for further details.

As you exit the Botanical Gardens, continue straight ahead on to the Via dei Mille. This short street ends at the Piazza dei Cavalieri, one of the most beautiful squares in Pisa.

3. Piazza Dei Cavalieri (with three more of the “Nine Top Things to see in Pisa”)

The piazza was once the hub of commercial and political activity in the city. Built on the remains of the ancient Roman Forum, it is a huge space – second in size to the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele on the south side of the Arno River-and offers stunning views of three incredible and historical structures.

Palazzo della Caranova, Pisa

4. Palazzo della Carovana

The large Palazzo (Palace) that fronts the square is famous for its etched exterior walls, referred to as ‘graffiti’. Designed by Georgio Vasari, a famous Renaissance architect, the building was established by Cosimo di Medici (Florence) as the home of the Knights of St Stephen, a religious and military order. The Palace is also called the “Palazzo della Carovana,” which translates to the Palace of the Convoy. Initiates into the order endured a three year training period that was called “The Convoy,” hence the name.

The palace is now home to the Scuola Normale Superiore, the school attended by the most academically gifted students preparing for university studies.

5. Palazzo dell’Orologio

Palazzo dell’Orologio, Pisa

Also facing the square is the Palazzo dell’Orologio. This beautiful building was constructed between 1605 and 1608 by combining two towers.

A clock (orologio) was built in the structure that connects the two towers. The combined buildings were used to house the aged members of the Knights of St. Stephen. There are stories, some included in Dante’s Inferno, about terrible events that befell Count Ugolino della Gherardesco during that family’s imprisonment in 1289. Absent those stories, it is a lovely building.

You can read of the Gherardesco history in the 33rd Canto of Dante’s Inferno.

6. Church of Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri

On yet another part of the Piazza is the Church of Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri. The church was constructed as the place of worship, the home church, of the Knights of St. Stephen. Construction took place between April of 1565 and December 21 of 1569, the date of the church’s consecration.

When you leave the piazza, follow the Via Frediano Curatone toward the Arno River.

You will pass directly in front of a main building of the University of Pisa.

7.University of Pisa

Ponte Solferino Pisa

Founded in the middle of the 14th Century (most scholars agree that 1343 was the founding date) the University is one of the oldest in both Italy and Europe. Despite turmoil during the Renaissance, the university has survived and thrived, now listed as the best university in Italy. The unique architectural style of the buildings, and the ease of taking time on the campus to explore, gives visitors a fascinating perspective on this historic and famous educational institution.

As you continue along the Via Frediano Curatone, you will come to the Arno River. This wide and muddy river cuts through the center of the city,

eventually emptying into the Mediterranean Sea at Marina di Pisa.

Turn right and walk along the river. The bridge you see up ahead is the one you use to cross the Arno-the Ponte Solferino. The bridge was damaged beyond repair during the floods of November 1966.  Construction started again in 1969 giving the bridge its present form.

8. Santa Maria della Spina – The Gothic Jewel

As you cross the Arno river, look to your left and you will one of the most beautiful Gothic churches in Europe, Santa Maria della Spina. It was constructed in 1230 and is named for a thorn (Spina) that is believed to have crowned the head of Christ at the crucifixion. To protect the building from further water damage, it was moved, stone by stone, in 1871 to its present location. The church’s exterior is far more ornate than the starkly beautiful interior. This church is often missed by visitors and I highly recommend a visit.

9. Arcades of Central Pisa:

Arched promenades in Italy are relatively rare. Much like those of Bologna, the covered

arcades and walkways of Pisa provide protection from both summer sun and winter rains. Along both sides of the Via Francesco Crispi, the street you will enter on the south side of the Arno, are numerous shops and galleries offering everything from housewares to fine art. This is the main shopping area of Pisa and is a delight to experience, regardless of the time of year. Cafes and restaurants abound as well so this is a great place to find an outdoor table and enjoy Pisan life.

Here are a few additional places I love to visit when in Pisa.

Piazza Vittorio Emanuele

As you approach the end of the Via Frediano Crispi, you arrive at the largest piazza in Pisa, named for King Victor Emmanuele II, first King of a united Italy. Very close to this piazza are three places worth visiting.

Church of Sant’Antonio

Founded in the early 13th Century, the building suffered major damage during World War II. In 1952, the church was reopened for services.

Church of San Domenico

This small and unassuming building was built in 1395 and was once the church for a convent of Domenican nuns. The structure was nearly destroyed during World War II bombings. Currently used by the Knights of Malta,  the restored building was finally reopened to visitors in 1998.

Domus Mazziniana

Domus Mazziniana

The Nathan-Roselli home houses the Center for Mazzinian Studies. Giuseppe Mazzini was a hero of the unification of Italy. There are several rooms that house memorabilia of his life and times. A huge library with over 25,000 volumes is available to those doing research on the Italian

Renaissance. Again, a little-known and often overlooked corner of Italy.

A recent restoration of the house included the Young Italy Oath, which Mazzini wrote, inscribed over the facade of the building. The oath was written as a means of uniting the youth of Italy at the time of unification. You can read the entire text at this link-

Oath of Young Italy

The photo shows the current appearance of the house.

Leaning Tower and Duomo, Pisa


First, keep in mind that a number of the widest and loveliest streets in Pisa are now pedestrian only. This makes driving in the city nearly impossible, particularly in light of the many (MANY) cameras which photograph violators of the city’s control  vehicles entering the historic center. Residents, service and public vehicles are issued a reader – and rental cards do not have them.

It is a much better idea to park at either the Campo dei Miracoli, at the parking areas near the train station or at the airport, then take a taxi or bus into the city. You need not  risk the Euro 120.00 per violation ticket in Pisa. Rental car companies sometimes take up to eighteen months to track down violators, and they do catch up with you!

Walking Map of Central Pisa


1. Museo delle Sinopie

Museo del Sinopie, Campo dei Miracoli


Tickets for the structures and museums in the Campo Dei Miracloi are combined as follows – prices are indicated at the end of each grouping.
1 monument among Battistero, Camposanto Monumentale, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Museo delle Sinopie 5,00 euro
2 monuments among Battistero, Camposanto Monumentale, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Museo delle Sinopie 6,00 euro

4 monuments among Battistero, Camposanto Monumentale, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Museo delle Sinopie 8,50 euro

Walk on the walls: 1,50 euro

Opening hours
January, February, November, December: 9:00-16:30
March, October: 9:00-17:30
April, May, June, July, August, September: 8:00-19:30
Closed on January 1th and on Christmas Day

For further informations:
Ph: +39 050560547

2. Botanical Gardens of the University of Pisa

Open weekday mornings

Entrance free

3. Piazza dei Cavalieri

(no web resources needed)

4. Palazzo della Carovana

Sculoa Normale Superiore

5. Palazzo dell’Orologio

Palazzo dell’Orologio Information

6. Church of Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri

Chiesa di Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri Pisa

7. University of Pisa

Information about the University and its history

8. Santa Maria dell Spina

Lungarno Gambacorti, I-56100 Pisa, Italy

March 1 to October 31: 10am-1:30pm, 2:30pm-6pm; Sun: 10am-1:30pm, 2:30pm-7pm; Sat: 10am-1:30pm, 2:30pm-7pm; Closed: Mon
November 1 to February 29: 10am-2pm; Closed: Mon
Domus Mazziniana

Campo dei Mircoli-Pisa

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Charterhouse of Pisa
Calci, Tuscany, Italy

Few tourists know of the road that connects Lucca with the small village of Calci. Nor do many visitors know of the monumental surprise that awaits them – the Charterhouse of Pisa.

My recommendation is to not take the A-11 autostrada from Lucca to Pisa. Rather, as you arrive at the Lucca Ovest (West) interchange follow signs to the SS-12 (Strada Statale-State Road) toward San Giuliano Terme.

As you drive toward San Giuliano Terme, you will pass through the village of Santa Maria del Giudici then enter a tunnel. After you leave the tunnel and drive into San Giuliano Terme, watch for a turn to the left ttoward the town of Calci. Once you are on the road to Calci, the signs directing you to the Certosa (Charterhouse) of Pisa make the rest of the trip very easy.

Why go?

Charterhouse of Pisa
(Monumentale Certosa di Calci)
Tuscany, Italy

This is an enormous complex of buildings, many of them restored after World War II. The remote and beautiful setting, once referred to as the “Valle Graziosa” or “Pretty Valley,” allows visitors the opportunity to enjoy a visit to a beautiful church without the crowds that are found below in the city of Pisa proper. Though the charterhouse is located only about six miles from Pisa, you may as well be a hundred miles from such a large population center.


It was in 1366 that Carthusian Monks established their hermitage near Calci. The Carthusian order derives its name from the location of the first heritage established by Saint Bruno. The Chartreuse Mountains, located east southeast of the French city of Lyon is where Bruno began his religious life.

Gorgona, a small island located about twenty miles off the port of Livorno, is part of the Tuscan Archipelago. (On very clear days,you can see the island from a few of the small seaside villages north of Livorno – Tirrenia and Marina di Pisa). In 1369, Pope Gregory XI expelled a group of Benedictine monks  from the island. Some of the monks from Calci were sent to repopulate the island, even as their population grew at the Charterhouse. In the mid-15th Century, due to threats of possible attack by Saracens, the monks on the island brought all of their valuable documents to the Charterhouse.

Cloister, Charterhouse of Pisa

The current architectural style of the buildings is owed to Baroque work of the 17th and 18th Centuries.

After Napoleon’s suppression of religious orders, in 1808, the Carthusian order at Calci was forced to disband. The majority of the monks moved to the Vallombrosian Monastery in Pisa. Most of the silver and gold pieces collected from the religious community were sent to Florence to be melted and used for other purposes. Contents of the library, records, archives and many valuable paintings were sold.

In 1814 when the Grand Dukes of Lorraine permitted the return of the order the Charterhouse, their financial support assisted in the purchase of items that had previously been sold.

A few years after the unification of Italy, in 1866, the government decreed that all works of art, the library and other important documents were to be removed. The buildings and land, then, were assigned to the new Ministry of Education.

From 1946 until 1963, a group of Carthusian monks from the Netherlands attempted to establish a group of monks at the Charterhouse, with the hope of reestablishing their order in their home country. Their efforts yielded no success. When the last of the two Carthusian monks were moved from the monastery in 1972, the state took over responsibility for the maintenance and care of the buildings.

In 1981  the Natural History Museum of the University of Pisa was moved into one wing of the Charterhouse. The collections, started in the mid-16th Century, primarily include paleontological and mineral specimens collected over the centuries.

Choir Stalls, Charterhouse of Pisa


The major construction work on the buildings occurred after the monks returned from the Island of Gorgona (1425) and during the 17th and 18th Century. Monk’s cells, the main chapel and other parts of the building, to include a natural pharmacy based upon the research of herbs grown in the Charterhouse’s “Giardino dei Semplici,” were completed in the early part of the 16th Century. The garden, similar in purpose to one established in 1545 by Grand Duck Cosimo di Medici in Florence, was intended to investigate and research plants that might be used for the cure of disease and infection.

The interior of the church contains some of the finest hand carved choir stalls in Italy. Giovan Francesco Bergamini began, and his son Alessandro (1665-1686) completed, work on a beautiful altar made from Carrara marble. One of the few remaining original works is one of San Bruno (founder of the Carthusean order)

Baldasarre Franceschini (Il Volterrano)

offering the Charterhouse to Our Lady (1681) by Baldassarre Franceschini, called Il Volterrano. An interesting note about the work is that San Bruno holds a model of the Monastery as it appeared before Baroque era changes.

This is an incredibly beautiful building, little known by the millions of tourists who flock to a certain tower in the city of Pisa. If you are in Lucca, or Pisa, and seek the opportunity to explore an historic and beautifully preserved site, visit the Charterhouse of Pisa.


Here are some on-line resources for your information before a visit.

Charterhouse of Pisa

Opening Times
• Tuesday to Saturday: from 8.30am to 6.30pm
• Sundays and public holidays: from 8.30am to 12.30pm
• Closed Mondays and 1/1, 1/5 and 25/12.

• Full Euro 5.00
• For 18 to 25 year old visitors Euro 2.50

Natural history Museum of the University of Pisa

NOTE: This is a very popular place for school visits, so you may be a bit surprised to see so many children crowded at the entrance to the Charterhouse. Those groups usually only visit the Museum and do not enter the main religious structures for a tour.

Information about the collections

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Rooftops of Lucca

Let’s see . . . it was in 2004 that I was walking in front of Sant’Alessandro Maggiore in central Lucca with Alessandro Tombelli, a friend from Florence. He saw one of his acquaintances, Wanda Martinelli, standing with a group of tourists. She was able to wave and speak briefly before moving on with her group.

For the past eight years, our small group tours with Private Italy Tours have visited Lucca and Wanda has always been our constant companion during those visits. A Lucchese by birth, she is passionate about her city and shares an incredible level of knowledge during the day that we spend with her. She has become a dear friend.

It has been in the course of those years, visiting Lucca with and without clients, that I have come to deeply love and respect the history of this incredible walled city. There are so many places to visit and sights to see. This post shares some history as well as impressions of my favorite places within a beautiful, and rightly famous, Tuscan city.

From Roman occupation to Silk-A Brief Overview

It is relatively easy to imagine the most important moments in Lucca’s long history by walking inside the city walls. In 177 B.C. a Roman colony was established along the banks of the Auserculus (Orzieri) river. As with all Roman colonies, there were four gates that permitted access to the city along the two main roads.

It was during the 2nd Century A.D. that a large amphitheater was built just outside the northeast gate of the city. By the end of the 2nd Century, there were over 10,000 inhabitants in the area. The main commerce routes of the city were connected to the Via Cassia (linking Rome and Florence) as well as other roads that lead to the sea (west) or to Bologna (north).

Lucca Street View

It was when the silk trade was established with the Far East that Lucca became enormously wealthy. Numerous families used their fortunes to create incredible country estates in the hills outside the city. (see A Day Near Lucca for further details and information about the villas and gardens.)

From the time of the Romans, through the Dark Ages and into the Renaissance, Lucca has retained the words that represent the spirit of the city: Libertas (Liberty).  The city has never been militarily nor politically subdued until the unification of Italy in the latter part of the 19th Century.

Inside the walls – The Conservative Lucchesi

Ostentatious displays of wealth, with the exception of Lucca’s churches, were forbidden at the time that the growth of the silk trade made the city extremely wealthy.  When you visit the city you will notice that the exterior of the largest family palaces is, architecturally, conservative while still showing, by size alone, the importance of the owners.

The list of these incredible city villas reflects the names of the wealthiest families: Mansi, Pfanner, Micheletti, Bernardini, Diodati-Orsetti to name but a few. The Palazzo Ducale, now the seat of the Lucca Provincial government, was once the private home of Elisa Baiocchi. Who was Elisa? She was Napoleon’s younger sister. In 1805, and already titled the Princess of Piombino, she was given the Republic of Lucca to govern.

Enormously unpopular among the residents of the city, she tore down blocks of buildings in what is now the Piazza Napoleone so that she could enjoy ‘views’ from her palace.

As you stroll the streets of the city, the sheer number of these huge villas cannot fail to impress upon you the incredible power, and financial resources, of Lucca.

Churches, Churches, Churches

Lucca was once referred to as the “City of One Hundred Churches”. Today, the number has dwindled, yet the style, grace and beauty still impress.

Sunset, San Michele in Foro, Lucca

San Michele in Foro

One of the most beautiful churches in the city is San Michele in Foro, built on the ruins of the ancient Roman Forum that once stood at the intersection of the two main streets of the colony. A façade of four levels, with forty-eight individually designed and carved columns surmount the main entrance of the church. High atop the façade, two angles flank a nearly fourteen foot high statue of Saint Michael.

San Frediano

Opening to a relatively large piazza, the façade of San Frediano never fails to impress visitors with its glass, gold and precious stone inlaid mosaic.  The Basilica was built during the 6thCentury and the current appearance of the

Facade Mosaic
Basilica of San Frediano, Lucca

church, very Romanesque in style, was completed in the 12th Century.  Named  for an Irish Bishop of Lucca (Fridianus), the interior of the church is striking in its austere simplicity.

Duomo (Cathedral) of San Martino

This is one of the most visually stunning churches in all of Italy. When the Bishop of Lucca, Anselm, began construction of the building in 1063, little could he have known (even after becoming Pope Alexander II) that the church would appear as it does today.

There are, much like San Michele in Foro, three levels of colonnaded façade. Thrity-seven individually unique columns support the levels above the portico entrance of the cathedral. A copy of San Martino, Saint Martin, adorns the façade. The original sculpture was moved inside the cathedral several years ago.

Volto Santo di Lucca. Within the vast interior of the cathedral is a gold clad “temple”. The contents of this temple were what brought thousands of religious pilgrims as they made their way along the Via Francigena, the main pilgrim route between Canterbury and Rome.

Duomo of San Martino, Lucca

Nicodemus, who helped bring Christ’s body from the cross and tomb, wanted to carve a likeness of Christ while it was still fresh in his mind. He began working on a large piece of Lebanon Cedar, but fell asleep when he prepared to carve the face. As he slept, an angel came and completed the carving for him.  The wooden carving made its way by boat from the Middle East, eventually arriving on the shore of the Mediterranean near Pisa. From thence, it was brought initially to the Church of San Frediano, and then to its current location in the Duomo.

In the 15th Century, Matteo Civitali designed and had built the chapel in which the Volto Santo today rests. Civitali, a well-known Renaissance architect built the structure from Carrara marble and specially forged, gold covered, iron.

On September 13th each year, the entire walled city is lit only by candles as a procession honors the Volto Santo. The sculpture, heavily adorned with priceless jewels, was carried through the city. To protect the aging wood, the sculpture now remains in the chapel. The jeweled decoration remains throughout the period of the festival.

This is truly an astounding piece of art and further underscores the religious importance of Lucca.

There are many more churches to visit in Lucca. For a complete list, see

Churches of Lucca

The Walls of Lucca

Walls of Lucca

There have been three main walls constructed to protect the city of Lucca. The first, during the Roman era, the second in the early Middle Ages and the final – the ones we see today – were completed in 1644. Though designed to protect the city from armies, the structures were never bombarded or scaled.

Today, the wide promenade atop the walls affords visitors and locals alike to stroll in the shade of countless Chestnut trees while taking in views of both the private gardens of villas and palazzi inside the walls as well as the city and hills outside the fortifications.

There are seven gates into the city: Porta dei Santi Gervasio e Protasio, Porta dei Borghi, Porta San Pietro, Porta Santa Maria, and Porta San Donato, Porta Vittorio Emanuele and Porta San Jacopo. If you arrive in Lucca by train, the Porta Santa Maria will be the gate you most likely will use to enter the city.

Piazza Amfiteatro

In the course of Rome’s demise, the amphitheater that once accommodated 10,000 spectators fell into disrepair. The marble façade was taken

Piazza Amfiteatro, Lucca

down, its slabs of marble used for the construction of churches and other buildings in the city. Homes were built around the now empty oval space. What remains today is truly the most unique ‘square’ (piazza) in Italy, the Piazza Amfiteatro.

The area, once notorious for prostitutes and crime, was cleaned up and became the location of the Lucca farmer’s markets. That activity was moved out the city after World War II and the piazza now offers lovely cafes and shops.  It is a wonderful place to just sit, enjoy a pizza and glass of wine for lunch and people watch.

Torre Guinigi View, Lucca

Torre Guinigi (Guinigi Tower)

As the wealth and prestige of the Guinigi family grew, they built a number of city villas along the Via Sant’Andrea and the Via Guinigi. During the latter part of the 13th Century, they built a high tower to represent their status in the town. Typical to that era in Italy, towers were being built for churches and by private families as symbols of economic and political power.

Holm Oaks, symbols of rebirth, were planted at the very top of the tower and remain to this day. The climb is well worth the effort and the view is unforgettable.

The town of Lucca now owns the tower and you can visit. See “If You Go” for details about open times and entrance fees.

At Long Last, Puccini!

Puccini, Statue with Family Home
(Left Background)

A visit to Lucca would be incomplete without paying homage to the city’s most famous ‘son’, Giacomo Puccini. He was born in 1858 into a famous musical family. His famly home, in the center of Lucca, has  recently reopened after a lengthy and complicated restoration.While Domenico Puccini, his grandfather, was the most famous of the family’s musicians, it was Giacomo enormous talent (and ego!) that Italian’s love.

Creator of such favoirte operas as La Boheme, Madama Butterfly, La Fanciulla del West and Turandot, Puccini’s fame brought him great wealth during his lifetime. In 1891, to find some quiet away from the city and his demanding schedule, he built a lovely home at Torre del Lago, about fifteen miles from Lucca and closer to the sea. From 1900 – 1921 he lived there with his family. He died in 1924 and is buried in a chapel at Torre del Lago.

Even if you are not interested in Opera, a visit to Pucini’s home – and the bronze statue of him that sits in front of his home – is a rewarding and informative experience.  See “If You Go” below for further details about the Puccini home in Lucca and visits to Torre del Lago.

A Stroll Through Lucca

There are many afternoons when, while the shops of the city center are closed for a long lunch, I have walked the shadowed lanes of the city. While church facades and famous family towers loom overhead, the ancient cobbled streets harken to a peaceful past, of successful merchants and of political stability.

Whether in the spring of each year, when Camellia blossoms burst from gardens in the area or in the fall when a golden shower of leaves accompany an evening stroll around the top of the tree-lined city walls, the ‘feel’ of Lucca is one of ease. Unlike Florence, Rome and the numerous other large cities of Italy, Lucca affords visitors both peace and time; gifts indeed from a city built on the premise of liberty and wealth.


Lucca is easily reached directly off of the A12 Autostrada between Florence and Pisa. If you are visiting Florence, and do not have use of a car, trains run nearly every hour from both Pisa’s and Florence’s train stations. Round trip fare in second class averages Euro 10.40 per person.

Information and schedules can be found at: www.trenitalia.it

From the train station, exit the main doors, and turn LEFT when you arrive at the main circuit road that surrounds the city walls. You can cross the street at a traffic light at the Porta San Pietro (Gate of Saint Peter), the first large city gate you will see within the city wall.

Once inside the city gate, veer to your left along the street and turn right at the second street – the Via Vittorio Veneto.  This street will bring you into the Piazza Napoleone and the Palazzo Ducale. From there, you can easily navigate the city.

Guided Tours of Lucca and surrounding country villas and estates

Wanda Martinelli is the best guide in the region. She can be reached directly through her web site,

Lucca Tours

Whether you seek an escorted walking tour of Lucca, or a full day or more exploring the city and countryside, Wanda and her team offer the finest services available. I cannot recommend them highly enough!

Church Entry times:

San Michele in Foro

Summer (May – end of October):  9:00-12:00/15:00-18:00
Winter (November – end of April):  9:00-12:00/15:00-17:00

Tel: +39 0583 419689

Basilica of San Frediano

Summer (May – end of October):  9:00-12:00/15:00-17:00
Winter (November – end of April):  9:00-12.00/15:00:18:00

Tel: +39 0583493627

Duomo of San Martino

Summer (May – end of October):  8:30-18:00
Winter (November – end of April):  9:00-12:00/15:00-17:00

Tel: +39.0583.494.726

Torre Guinigi

Web Site: Torre Guinigi

Entrance tickets: Euro 3.50 per person

Opening hours:
March: 9:00-19:00
April-May: 9:00-21:00
June-September: 9:00-24:00
16 September-31 October: 9:00-21:00
November-February: 9:30-18:00

Tel: +39.0583.316.846

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