Monday 29 July 2013

Articulate Ldn Lucca

Italy is one of those countries where you could close your eyes and still instinctively know  you were there. This couldn't be more true of the charming city of Lucca. There is something in the atmosphere, in the smells, in the sounds that tells you that you are a standing somewhere steeped in history. It is the kind of city that you just have to love at first sight.
I have just had the pleasure of spending two weeks there doing a Language course at the Lucca Italian School. So I felt that it was only right to temporarily leave the wonders of London behind and look Luccawards.

So here are my hotly contested top 5 must dos in Lucca

1.      Marvel at the Tomb of Ilaria del Carretto

This work of art is part of the reason that I chose to go to Lucca to study. One of the professors at York gave a paper on it and it has always stuck in my mind. Seeing it in the flesh I could completely understand the fascination. It is truly beautiful. There is an almost glacial calm to Ilaria’s face yet the beautifully crafted marble seems to emit warmth from its surface. The contrast of these two effects draws you in and the expression appears to take on a new aspect from every angle. While the docile puggish dog at the figures feet looks eternally loving towards its mistress.

Comissioned by Ilaria’s husband Paolo Guinigi it seems to paint an illusion of this husbands love and dedication to his second wife. However, bearing in mind that Paolo Guinigi had four wives in his lifetime this interpretation should perhaps be treated with caution. It is also important to bear in mind that although this tomb is found in an Italian church and bears tribute to a Italian woman it is probably not by an Italian sculptor. The style of the costume and the lightness and delicacy of the form is far more French in appearance. 

It is a truly enigmatic work and worth so much more that a fleeting visit. I had to return to the beautiful cathedral of San Martino three times to visit.

2.      Study at the Lucca Italian School

I researched a few different schools before I landed on this one. I chose it because it had some fantastic reviews and I have to say every word was true. The school was perfect! Easily situated a short walk outside the city walls in a nice building with good resources. There were after hours activities laid on every day except Friday. But the outstanding thing had to be the teaching. Every teacher that I met was kind, supportive and enthusiastic and tried to cater for your level of knowledge. I couldn’t recommend it more strongly!

3.      Go and bask in an hour of opera in the atmospheric Chiesa San Giovanni

As the birth place of Puccini it is perhaps unsurprising that the city appears to have a love affair with this composer. The passion for his work is epitomised in the Puccini festival which entails a nightly performance of his work at the deconsecrated church of San Giovanni. The singing was phenomenal and the acoustics in the church gave the performance an electricity and immediacy that can be lost in larger opera venues. 

Additionally if you head to the church earlier in the day you can go and explore the archaeological site underneath the church floor where you can see remnants of Roman baths and the original foundations of the church. All in all an experience I will never forget.

4.      Eat at the Trattoria da Leo

Amongst my friends it is no seceret that I love my food! So really Italy is my spiritual home as food is always of the utmost important. I loved this popular restaurant and returned there several times over the course of my visit. My favourite had to be the generous bowl of Zuppa di Farro a local specialty. Leo is frequented by locals and tourists alike and if you sit outside you can watch Italian life bustle around you with a view into the Piazza del Salvatore. A square colloquially known in Lucca as the Piazza Puporonna (piazza of the large breasts) in honour of the marble statue at the centre. If you do head to this piazza then take an empty bottle of water and fill up from the fountain in the centre like a true inhabitant of Lucca.

5.      Visit the church of San Michele in Forno

This church situated in the site of the old Roman Forum is the one that the city gravitates around despite not being the cathedral and during your stay in Lucca you will pass it daily. Do go inside there are some artistic treasures. My favourite had to be the stunning panel by Filippino Lippi showing Saints Girolamo, Sebastiano, Rocco and Elena (Jerome, Sebastian, Roch, Helen). The colours of this panel sing out in the slightly dark church and the paining includes all the little touches and details that are typical of Filippino’s work. Such as a small praying mantis perched on the ground at the feet of saint Roch. But it is not just the inside that is worth taking a good look at. 

Take the time to really explore the churches façade which is ornamented with numerous mythical beasts, watch out for the two tailed mermaid on one of the columns. The other intriguing detail about this church is that the statue at the top of the façade wears a ring which it is possible to spot only by the light of the moon when standing on a particular drain in the square. I was hugely sceptical about this when I was told by my guide as it sounds like a myth but to my surprise some friends and I tested it out on our way home one night and loe and behold it works when you stand on the inauspicious drain the light of the moon reflects off the ring and you can see a bright spot of light.

And a final few I just couldn't leave out

6. Walk/cycle/run the medieval walls
7. Locate the little church of San Pietro Somaldi and look at the beautiful painting by Michelangelo di Pietro Membrini
8. Eat lots of Gelato (goes without saying really)
9. Climb the iconic Torre Guinigi
10. Visit the Lucca Musei Nazionali in the Villa Guinigi

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