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Posts Tagged ‘Day trips from Lucca’

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.

History

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

Interior

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.

IF YOU GO:

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.

Admission
• 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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Hillside near Lucca

Wealth, born of the silk trade between merchants in Lucca and the Far East, provided the means for a fortunate few families to build spectacular country estates in the foothills of the Apennine Mountains. Lucca is a city famous for its incredible wide wall, the understated elegance of its palazzi, city villas and churches.

The city was founded by Roman settlers in the first century B.C. From that time onward, the town grew in importance.  In a future post, I will provide more detailed information about the city, its history and culture.

I first met Wanda Martinelli, now a dear friend and guide from Lucca, during a visit with another friend from Florence. She is a true Lucchese, born and raised in the area of these lovely villas. She is a passionate and appropriately proud guide whose level of knowledge about the city and the country villas near Lucca is unmatched. Wanda is available for private tours of both the city of Lucca as well as any of the country estates in the area.

See “If You Go” below for information about how to contact Wanda directly.

Head to the countryside

When you leave the walled city, through one six gates, you can easily visit any number of incredibly beautiful, well maintained, villa estates. There is an exquisite balance of nature and architectural beauty in the villas near Lucca.

The area has been enormously popular with European tourists and property seekers for decades. It has only been in the last thirty years that Americans began to ‘discover’ a lovely city, its country homes and gardens.

My post includes my four favorite country villas, though there are many more.

Villa Oliva, Facade

Villa Oliva:

Of the four villas included in this article, Villa Oliva presents the smallest scale in terms of the home. It was commissioned by the Buonvisi family toward the end of the 15th Century based on a design by Matteo Civitali. Civitali, who studied at the Accademia in Florence, also designed numerous other properties across Tuscany.  Civitali included the use of a loggia, an arch supported covered porch, on the northern facing (private) wall of the villa.

The grounds of Villa Oliva, referred to as ‘the park’, were created to make use of abundant water supplies from nearby mountain aquifers. To underscore the use of water in the garden the “Fontana della Sirena,” which clings to a high wall on the northern edge of the garden, was built.

As was true of many villas in this area of Italy, the villa was damaged during World War II. The restorations have been completed so that you would never know that such was the case.

Villa Grabau

Villa Grabau, Facade

The origins of the Villa Grabau are unique among the country villas near Lucca. Evidence indicates that, unlike other villas, this property was built on the foundations of an early 15th Century building. At the start of the 16th Century, the property came into the hands of the Diodati family from Lucca. The family’s enormous fortune, built on the design and sale of silk cloth, provided the family with ample resources for a country home.

The Cittadella family purchased the villa from the Diodati in the latter part of the 16th Century. It remained in their hands until the latter part of the 19th Century when a family from Hamburg, the Grabau’s, purchased it. That family still own and manage the property.

The 18th Century Limonaia is famous for both its architectural style as well as its size. (Photo below)

This is an extraordinarily beautiful home and well worth a leisurely visit.

Villa Reale di Marlia

In 1805, when Napoleon’s sister, Elisa Baciocchi became sovereign over Lucca, she began a project to combine a number of smaller properties into one large estate. Not surprising as she had large blocks of central Lucca destroyed so that she would have ‘a view’ from her enormous home in the center of the city.

Villa Orsetti and other smaller estates were combined to create the Villa Reale di Marlia.

Several of the Orsetti property’s unique garden highlights, the open air theater and grotto to name just two, were retained in Baciocchi’s design.

Villa Reale di Marlia View

The villa’s history reflects that of its owners.

After Italy was united under King Vittorio Emmanuele II, the property was given to the brother of the last king of the Two Sicilies, Prince Charles of Capua. He and his wife died at the villa and are buried on the grounds.

Financial troubles followed their death, generated by the reckless behavior of the prince’s son. Trees on the property were sold for timber, the villa sold.  It was only due to the care of the current owners, and their heirs, that the park has been saved and restored.

Jacques Greber, a well-known French architect, was commissioned to complete the restoration of the grounds. The property is still privately held and is often the location of major events in support of the arts and music of Italy.

Villa Torrigiani

This is, by far, my favorite of all the villas near Lucca. When spring Camellias bloom or the colors of fall blaze in the hills above Lucca, my thoughts most often return to this villa. This was the first villa I ever visited with Wanda Martinelli and the impressions both she and the property made on me have never receded. Sabrina, who has for years guided small groups through the villa, adds a unique and passionate perspective to a place she clearly loves.

Villa Torrigiani Facade

The villa dates back to the Buonvisi family, from Lucca, in 1593.  The property was purchased by another wealthy family, the Santini. Santini became the ambassador to the Republic of Lucca from the Court of France. In deference to the Palace of Versailles, he rebuilt the façade and added two wings to the villa.

One of the things that differentiates this villa from all of the others in the area is the ornate and very Baroque façade and statues. He had the original front gardens replaced by a simple parterre with pools and he added a large pool to the grounds on the opposite side of the villa.

In 1816 Victoria Santini, granddaughter of the original owners, married into a wealthy and famous Italian family – the Torrigiani. That family still owns and maintains the property.

A gorgeous Limonaia, ‘Secret Garden’ designed by the Santini family in the mid -17th Century, ponds and lovely shaded garden walk await visitors. One of the uses of water in the grotto of the ‘Secret Garden’ are the use of “giochi d’acqua” or water games that were designed to entertain renaissance guests. Inside the villa, mementoes of a family’s long history are evident from photos of the recent marriage of the present prince to the wedding dress of his grandmother.

I have spent many pleasant moments talking with the owners over the years. Their love for, and care of, the villa and grounds is evident in every way.

If you have time to visit Lucca, be sure to add a day to explore the villas in the nearby hills above the city. The gracious beauty and style of the villas and gardens provide another surprising perspective on a stunning area of Tuscany.

IF YOU GO:

Note: You can reach Lucca by train from Florence in about an hour and ten minutes or from Pisa in about twenty minutes. You can walk into the walled city of Lucca very easily from the train station. However, visits to the country villas, if you do not have a car, should be prearranged with a private car service. Train schedules and details can be found on the Trenitalia web site.

Italian Rail System

For private car and driver services in Lucca, contact:

Lucca Limo

If you wish to enjoy the professional guide services of Wanda Martinelli while in Lucca, or while visiting the many country estates in the area, you can contact Wanda directly through her web site at:

 Wanda Martinelli

Click on map to enlarge

Villa Oliva:

Web Site: Villa Olivia

Villa Oliva

Via di Villa Oliva

55010 San Pancrazio, Italy

Tel: +39.0583.406.462

Entrance tickets are Euro 12.00 per person.

Villa Grabau:

Web Site: Villa Grabau

Villa Grabau Limonaia

Villa Grabau

Via di Matraia 269
55010 S.Pancrazio, Lucca, IT

Tel:  +39.0583.406.098

The opening hours and days vary according to seasons:

April 1 – June 30

10:00AM to 1:00PM and 2:00PM until 6:00PM

July 1 – August 31

10:00AM to 1:00PM and (note the long early afternoon closure) 3:00PM until 7:00PM

September 1 – November 1

10:00AM to 1:00PM and 2:00PM until 6:00PM

November 2 – March 31 (SUNDAY ONLY)

11:00AM to 1:00PM and 2:30PM until 5:30PM

Entrance tickets: Euro 15.00 per person

Villa Reale di Marlia:

Web Site:  Villa Reale di Marlia

Click on map to enlarge

Villa Reale di Marlia

Via Fraga Alta, 2

55014, Marlia, Lucca, IT

Tel: +39.0583.301.08

Visiting Hours:

1st of March to the 30th of November
Mornings from 10:00AM until 1:00PM and from 2:00PM until 6:00PM
Closed on Mondays, with the exception of holidays that fall on a Monday. Double check directly with the villa if you have any questions
All visits are scheduled and are led by a guide
In winter, guided visits are available only by pre-arranged appointment
Timetable of guided visits are on the hour from 10:00 until 12:00PM and again from 3:00PM until 6:00PM

Entrance tickets are Euro 7.00 per person

Villa Torrigiani:

Web Site: Villa Torrigiani

Villa Torrigiani

Via del Gomberaio, 3

55010 Camigliano, Santa Gemma, IT

Tel: +.39.0583.928.041

Visiting Hours:

March 5 – November 5

10:00AM to 1:00PM and 3:00PM to 7:00PM

NOTE:

Between February 1 and March 4 as well as 16 November and 7 January, the villa is only open to groups in excess of 10 people and by prearranged reservation only.

Entrance Tickets: Euro 10.00 per person

 

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