Lucca, the Devil’s Bridge and some navel-gazing

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The Devil’s bridge

The City of the Day today was Lucca, and this was one of the rare occasions when there was an echo of Rome. In fact the town predates the Romans, having been settled by the Etruscans, but became a Roman city in 180BC. Lucca is a walled city – or should I say still is a walled city. Most towns had walls which remained until they burst at the seams and the walls came down. The original wall here was Roman, but it was built on and expanded. Lucca became one of Italy’s powerful, independent city states, in constant rivalry with Pisa, in particular.

Then when Napoleon overran Italy he had his sister, Elisa, take over government in Lucca. She planted the trees on the city walls, which now are places to walk or cycle. The city has expanded beyond the walls but the people who live within the walls consider themselves more “Luccan” than those who live outside.

Taken from the city walls

Our local guide took us for a walk through the streets, pointing out the remains of the Roman Colosseum which is now the city ‘square’. There’s a beautiful medieval church, it’s edifice lined with marble (of course). We were told the story of St Zita, who worked in a noble household. She used to give bread to the poor, effectively stealing it from her master. One day the man thought to catch her and made her open her coat where she’d hidden the loaves. Lo… the bread had turned into… no, not wood, that was St Emilion in France. Zita’s loaves turned to flowers.

(I did wonder, in both cases, why the master didn’t ask why he/she was carrying wood/flowers inside his/her coat… but oh well.)

Saint Zita’s mortal remains lie in state in a casket in the church, a bit like Sleeping Beauty. In one of the miracles, when she died her body did not decompose, it mummified. Here’s her story.

Apart from St Zita, Lucca’s most famous denizen was the composer, Puccini. His statue, cigarette in hand, stands in one of the many squares.

One of the little streets. It’s Sunday and everything is closed. Except the church
It’s now apartments but the circular wall of the colosseum is obvious

Lucca was lovely, much less overrun by tourists than most of the other places we visited. It was also the one place where I found something other than a ham and cheese panini or focaccia, or pizza, to eat for lunch. The little café where we ate offered small bread rolls shaped like a croissant filled with smoked salmon and cream cheese.

From Lucca we went to see the Devil’s bridge. You can see the height of the arch in the photo at the top of the post and it was quite a scramble to the top. It dates back to around 1100 and is a feat of medieval engineering. Our guide told us the local builder had little success in finishing this bridge. He couldn’t get the arch to stay put, and time was running out. As he tossed and turned in his bed the Devil came to him and said he would finish the bridge – but in return he would take the soul of the first one to cross it. The builder agreed. The next morning, the bridge was complete and the builder was hailed for his work. But there stood the Devil on the far side, waiting for payment. Nobody wanted to cross – and then one man had an idea. He found a haunch of meat and a hungry dog. When he tossed the meat across the bridge, the dog followed – and the Devil was forced to take his price.

Of course, that’s rubbish. Everybody knows all dogs go to Heaven.

After our bit of exercise we went to visit some fortifications from the Gothic Line, a tunnel system which the Germans built in Italy after the Italians swapped from the Axis to the Allied side. I gathered the museum we entered hasn’t been around for all that long. Italians appear to be a bit ambivalent about WW2. A few volunteers set up this little museum and still run it, remembering a difficult time. Overnight Germans they’d fought with were suddenly enemies. There were acts of real heroism, like the Italian girl who carried photos of the plans of the tunnels through the German lines every day. She said in an interview she didn’t feel brave. She was 21 and indestructible.

That short visit had me thinking. I didn’t take photos. The museum was very personal, about the people and their memories.

And tomorrow we’re back to tourist hell – the leaning tower of Pisa.

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