Duomo di San Cristoforo

At the highest point in the medieval hilltop town of Barga, the Duomo di San Cristoforo is well worth the climb.

1.Duomo di San Cristoforo

Built in the year 998, the white marble edifice was enlarged during the 12th and 13th centuries and has been modified further over the years.

2.Duomo di San Cristoforo

The arch above the main entrance is carved with acanthus leaf motifs, the bas relief above the door depicts scenes of a grape harvest. The two lions at the top of the columns symbolise the strength of faith.

3.Duomo di San Cristoforo

The castle-like belltower houses three bells that are still played manually.

4.Belltower

The first thing I noticed about the interior was the absence of seating. The second thing was the ancient faded fresco of Santa Lucia above an elegant marble font.

The stunning wooden ceiling replaced the old one, in the same style, in 1862.

7.interior

The nave is divided into two parts by a large barrier made from red marble slabs framed with decorated white marble.

8.marble pluteus

The 13th century marble pulpit is a spectacular work of art. The front section has an intricately carved depiction of the Annunciation and the Birth of Christ, a Latin inscription explains the symbolism.

12.pulpit,The Annunciation and the Birth of Christ

The other side represents the Adoration of the Magi, the three kings bearing their gifts for baby Jesus. Partially blocking them is a group of figures portraying the four Evangelists; Mathew as the human, Mark as the lion, Luke as the ox and John as the eagle. The human figure on the left is thought to be Joseph.

13.pulpit, The Four Evangelists

Four columns support the pulpit, each with a unique carved capital at the top.

There are two lions at the base of the front columns symbolising the triumph of Christianity over evil and heresy. The left one has a serpent (evil) between its legs and the one on the right is standing over a man (heresy) who is stroking the lion with one hand while stabbing it with the other.

One of the rear columns rests on the back of a midget (the pagan world) and the fourth rests on the floor (the Christian world).

20.midget, pulpit

The long, narrow stained glass windows have many more stories to tell.

A 9th century wooden statue of Saint Christopher, the patron saint of Barga, stands within a niche behind the main altar.

23.St. Christopher

Leaving the church

24.view from door

we lingered a while to appreciate the breathtaking vista across the rooftops to the mountains beyond.

26.view from cathedral25.view from cathedral

Le Grazie

When we first travelled to Italy, we didn’t get the chance to see Cinque Terre so this time we were determined not to miss out. When I started planning, I soon realised that staying in the coastal villages was nigh on impossible with a car to park. Instead, I found a B&B in Le Grazie that suited our needs, or so I thought. After driving around for an hour trying to find the place, it turned out to be virtually inaccessible to anyone with more than hand luggage, down fifty or so very steep stone steps. With no Plan B, we were very lucky to find Hotel Le Grazie had a room available for two nights, a very nice room at that.

1.Hotel Le Grazie

In need of solace after our ordeal, a short stroll around the corner rewarded us with the tranquil vista of Le Grazie harbour.

2.Le Grazie harbour3.Le Grazie harbour

Nestled in a sheltered inlet between La Spezia and Porto Venere, this gorgeous village seems to have escaped the teeming tourist numbers of the neighbouring towns. The inhabitants have a reputation for being proficient divers and have thrived for centuries on boat building and fishing. Adjacent to the boat construction yard, the pine wood offers a shady meeting place for locals. A war memorial honouring  partisans, civilians and military personnel and an old cannon remind us of a less peaceful time.

4.pine wood

The roundabout, marked by a solitary cycad, seemed somewhat superfluous on a straight road.

6a.roundabout Le Grazie

After a restorative Prosecco we wandered further, past colourful buildings

7.Le Grazie8.Le Grazie

and beautiful boats moored in the marina.

9.yachts, Le Grazie harbour10.yachts, Le Grazie harbour

The village takes its name from the Santuario Nostra Signora delle Grazie (Sanctuary of Our Lady of Grace). The church dates back to the 11th century when a group of Benedictine monks came from the island of Tino. The present church and monastery were built in the 15th century, though the monks were driven out in 1798 and the church became a parish church. The ancient convent is now a private residence and I am lost for words.

11.Santuario Nostra Signora delle Grazie

It seemed a good time to rest for aperitivo

15.aperitivo, Le Grazie

while soaking up the atmosphere and sunshine.

20.Le Grazie harbour

We continued along the promenade until we could go no further.

21.walkway

The Varignano Fortress, built in 1724, dominates the headland. Originally used as a storage facility and quarantine station, it then became a hospital before being taken over by the defence forces. Since World War II, it has been the headquarters of the Navy Divers and Raiders Group, named after Major Teseo Tesei who invented the human torpedo. No prizes for guessing how he died.

22.Varignano Fortress

With the descending sun glistening on the water, we ambled back to seek sustenance.

23.Le Grazie harbour

Ristorante Il Gambero was the perfect setting

to observe life in the village and harbour

27.Le Grazie30.Le Grazie harbour

31.Le Grazie harbour

while enjoying delicious fresh seafood.

There is only one way to end a perfect day.

35.crème brûlée

Palazzo Davanzati

While staying at Villa Boccella our lovely friend, Deb (not the same lovely Deb that lives in Launceston), escorted us on a day trip to Florence to share the wonders of a city she knows well. Without her, we never would have discovered Palazzo Davanzati. Built by the wealthy merchant Davizzi family in the 14th century, the palace was purchased by the Davanzati family in 1578, their coat of arms is proudly displayed on the façade.

1.Palazzo Davanzati

They retained possession until 1838 after which the residence was divided into flats. In 1904, antique dealer Elia Volpi rescued, restored and furnished the property before opening it to the public as a museum in 1910. Ownership changed hands again in the 1920s and eventually the Italian state took over in 1951. The museum has undergone major restoration in recent years, the result is nothing short of spectacular. We entered into an internal courtyard, instantly boggled by the grandeur.

2.looking up from courtyard

The rooms on the upper floors are arranged around the central courtyard, gazing upward the architecture resembles a labyrinthine puzzle.

6.looking up from courtyard

We climbed the worn stone steps to the first floor

7.steps

and entered the Great Hall, a room that would have been used for conducting business. The trapdoors in the floor in front of the windows open up to the loggia below so visitors can be identified before granting entry.

8.Great Hall9.Great Hall

The intricate ceiling detail is stunning, though I wondered about the comfort of the furniture.

Water can be hauled to all floors from the private well in the courtyard via pitchers on a pulley system.

On the same floor, the walls of the Parrot Room are decorated with a geometric patchwork design, motifs of the birds are painted in the lattice separating the blocks.

14.Parrot Room

The huge fireplace is adorned with the red and white Davizzi coat of arms with emblems on either side representing the Ridolfo and Alberti families who married into the Davizzi family.

15.Parrot Room fireplace

The frescoed wall of the adjacent bedroom incorporates coats of arms of families allied with the Davizzi. The beautiful bed cover is a copy of the Guicciardini Quilt, the only known surviving example of medieval quilts. The original, made in Sicily in the second half of the 14th century, resides in The Bargello less than a kilometre down the road.

16.Peacock Room

Even though it would have been a luxury at the time, the ensuite bathroom is small and not conducive to a good long soak.

19.ensuite

There is a room displaying sewing and spinning implements as well as exquisite examples of lacework.

Another room exhibits furniture from the 14th to 19th century: delicate porcelain, timber cabinets, chairs and storage boxes fill the space.

24.cassone

30.chest

26.armour cabinet, Audience Room

A small water closet hides behind a very substantial timber door.

31.water closet

Obviously, there is indoor plumbing, these appear to be breather vents

32.breather pipes

and the drainage pipe snakes its way down the internal courtyard wall.

On the second floor, the frescoes in the most sumptuous bedroom are inspired by the tale of the Chatelaine de Vergi (I love this version, I was enthralled), a tragic medieval story of friendship, love, loyalty, betrayal and the consequences of all the aforementioned. An unusual choice for a marital bedchamber or perhaps a constant reminder of the benefits of fidelity?

35.bedroom of the landlady

38.bedroom of the landlady

The addition of the ensuite bathroom was again unexpected.

39.bathroom

There is another bedroom on the third floor, as well as the kitchen, I don’t know why I haven’t got any photos of them. Interestingly, the kitchen is on the top floor to avoid cooking smells in the lower living areas and contain damage in case of a fire. Just when I thought we’d seen everything, a circular painting caught my eye. The timber platter is a birthing salver, circa 1450, originally used in Florence to bring food to pregnant women and then became symbolic gifts for a successful birth. The cherubs are engaging in a game of civettino where the players have to maintain a certain distance, the right foot of one touching the left of the other. The aim is to avoid being slapped by your opponent, although ‘slapping’ is probably not the most appropriate term to explain this depiction.

40.birth salver

Barga

On a perfect sunny spring day, we drove to the medieval walled town of Barga, an easy 45 minute drive from Lucca. We had learned it was easier to park outside these ancient towns and walk in rather than risk inadvertently driving into a pedestrian zone or the wrong way down a one way street. Crossing the bridge, we passed Parco Fratelli Kennedy, named in honour of American President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert, both of whom were assassinated.

1.Parco Kennedy

The old stone aqueduct was built in the 15th century to supply clean water for the fountains and crosses the original moat of the old village.

1a.aqueduct Parco Kennedy

Narrow streets and steep steps hinted at what was to come once we were inside the walls.

Beautiful buildings lined the main thoroughfare

4.beautiful building

as we made our way to Porta Reale, one of the three gates in the medieval city walls. Below the observation tower, the gate still displays the ancient coat of arms of the city.

5.Porta Reale

The layout of the town has remained virtually unchanged since the 8th century, buildings at impossible angles hug narrow lanes, mysterious alleyways and stone steps.

We set off through the web of streets with no real destination in mind, happy to amble randomly in the sunshine. An interesting sculpture caught our eye

10.sculpture

outside the Teatro dei Differenti, Barga’s main theatre. Constructed in 1668 it was deemed too small at the end of the 18th century, a new structure was built on top of the old one.

11.Teatro dei Differenti

Along with the theatre, the adjacent buildings have been beautifully restored.

We decided to head to the highest point in the town once we spotted the bell tower of the Duomo di San Cristoforo.

14.Duomo di San Cristoforo

Our quest took us past the immaculate garden of the Palazzo Salvi,

15.Palazzo Salvi16.Giardino di Palazzo Salvi

less opulent but equally interesting plots

17.garden

and the myriad doorways we had come to expect.

We finally reached the cathedral, a spectacular edifice that I will need to cover in a separate post.

30.Duomo di San Cristoforo

The views across the rooftops to the Apuan Alps and the shrouded peak of Pania della Croce were stunning.

31.view

33a.view

Tearing ourselves away, we meandered back to town in search of sustenance, discovering a memorial garden in Piazza Garibaldi, adjacent to the Museum of Memory. A large sculpture entitled La Vedette (in military terms meaning the forward observer) was unveiled in 2009 on the 4th November, a day celebrated in Italy as the anniversary of the end of  World War I.

We reached Piazza Angelio at lunch time, a popular place in summer for exhibitions and entertainment. The particular shape and almost perfect acoustics of the piazza make an ideal setting for international festivals such as “Opera Barga” and “Barga Jazz”.

16th century poet Pietro Angeli, nicknamed Bargeo, watches over the piazza from the corner of Palazzo Angeli.

The offerings on the blackboard at L’Osteria enticed us in, we weren’t disappointed.

41.L'Osteria

With much of the town still to see, we continued our wanderings in a different direction.

45.narrow street

Colourful homes lined the street

48.colourful houses

and some clung precariously to the edge of the cliff.

49.fabulous homes

All had magnificent views of neighbouring hilltop towns and verdant countryside.

50.hilltop town51.views

The aqueduct and Kennedy Park were behind us

52.aqueduct

as the outskirts of town stretched in front.

53.Villa Buenos Aires

The 17th century Chiesa di San Felice, was quite small and understated when compared to others we had seen on our travels.

54.Chiesa di San Felice55.Chiesa di San Felice

Outside the church was this memorial plaque, apparently dedicated to a Scotsman with an Italian name. It seems Barga has a strong connection to Scotland, with many residents emigrating there in the 19th century in search of work when industry in Tuscany suffered a decline. They won the Scots over with their gelato making skills and, coupled with a knack for cooking fish and chips, made great success out of their cafés and restaurants. Over the generations, some returned to Barga and now sixty percent of the town’s 10,000 residents have Scottish relations. The annual Festival of Fish and Chips, Sagra del Pesce e Patate, celebrates this connection for three weeks each July/August. I can’t find any clues as to the life of Mario Moscardini but I assume he made a considerable contribution to Barga.

61.memorial

Working our way along Via di Mezzo, we found an interesting little face peering out from the wall of a restaurant. It is known as a scacciaguai, a folk magic figure that protects from trouble and harm. Hopefully, the charm has worked for the restaurant of the same name.

62.scacciaguai

Three doors along, we paid a visit to Casa Cordati, a 17th century palazzo that was once the studio of local artist Bruno Cordati.

63.Casa Cordati

It is now owned by his grandson, Giordano, and offers rather sumptuous accommodation as well as an extensive gallery on the first floor. The rooms on this floor have been preserved as they were during Bruno Cordati’s creative years, the views were nothing short of inspirational.

Our exploration of this magical town had come to an end as we reached the Piazza della Santissima Annunziata and the 16th century church of the same name. The 19th century façade was badly damaged by artillery shells in World War II and was later restored.

72.Piazza della Santissima Annunziata

There was only one thing left to do to make the day complete.

73.gelati

Tramonte Trails

On an overcast morning, we set off to explore the walking trails around the Villa Boccella estate. The Old Tramonte walk follows part of the old road from Ponte a Moriano to the village of Tramonte.

We passed the main villa

3.Villa Boccella

and as we continued up the hill, the views would have been spectacular on a clear day.

4.Old Tramonte walk

I don’t know what was in the cute stone shed but it looked as though the firewood was well seasoned.

We stayed on the main path with an Acacia forest to our right

7.Acacia forest

and pine walk to our left.

8.Pine walk

Sporadic wildflowers added colour to the verdant setting.

The last thing we expected to find in the Tuscan countryside was bamboo.

15.Bamboo walk

We followed Bamboo Walk until, eventually, the woodland changed as we descended along Valley Walk.

16.Bamboo walk

20.Valley walk

Beautiful irises bloomed sporadically in the sheltered lowland.

The track led to the road, Via Tramonte, at the edge of the estate

and we could see the main villa

25.Villa Boccella

and Limonaia Piccola through the gates.

26.Limonaia Piccola

We followed the stone walled boundary of the grounds,

27.stone wall

past a patch of magnificent wild poppies,

28.poppies

to the entrance that would return us to the limonaie.

31.Via Tramonte

There was another walk that would have taken us across the river

32.River walk33.bridge34.river35.bridge

but lunch time was approaching, it would have to wait for another day.