Monday, 23 July 2012

The gateway to Tuscanny...

The civilised city of Lucca lies like a once powerful dreadnought now at rest; it's mighty walls and bastions that centuries earlier resisted the advances of Florence (and if I have this wrong, rest assured I won't in time) now given to trees and parkland where once cowed soldiery prepared to receive the brunt of neighbouring state's stratagems and aggressions. I was immediately reminded of the great Venetian defences of Iraklion on Crete, that for years held out against the Ottoman Turk or the citadel built by the Knights Hospitallers of St John on Rhodes before the Ottoman again forced their move to Malta in the 15th century.

Lucca was, for centuries, an important centre of pilgrimage because it is here, as of course you all know, that the Crucifix of the Holy Face is housed in the Duomo of St Martin. The original, surrounded by a raft of legend and tales of driverless carriages that transported it miraculously straight to the city like a scene from a Burton -Depp movie, was so powerful a symbol that it had to be replaced in the 13th century as the original had been chipped away by eager pilgrims in search of souvenirs or a piece of the wood for its allegedly healing powers. The crucifix, almost life size, has a forlorn look as it stares out inanimately at you with big doey eyes from its ornate cage.

Puccini also lived here, when he wasn't down at Torre del Lago, on the coast, which I somehow suspect was his preferred residence - and who, in his right mind, wouldn't want to live by the sea?

Lucca, for me, is the gateway to Tuscanny and tomorrow I stride into Chiantishire and the laps of the Ladies in Lavender as I head for landmarks like San Gimignano and, at the end of the week, Siena and Val d'Orcia.

Rome and 9th August is now but 17 days hence; already I find myself reflecting on what has been a long, varied and wonderful journey which, of course, is still to run its full length. Do not be fooled, it doesn't get any easier until that very last step in Saint Peter's Square. However, once again, yet another, of the many, great legs is to come, of that I am confident...

Photos: San Michele (angel atop); Duomo San Martin; the city walls; Lucca views

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