Pre-roman period
Roman period
Medioeval age
Guinigi family
the towers
Elisa Bonaparte
The architects
Walls and Garden
Teatro del Giglio
The musicians
The holy face
The saints
The writers
Puccini
 
 
 

VILLA BOTTINI - Lucca

Villa Bottini, formerly Villa Buonvisi and known locally as 'al giardino'(at the garden), is one of the two villas within the city walls, Villa Guinigi nei Borghi being the other.

Due to its urban setting, it is quite different to the numerous other villas which are situated in the countryside or in the hills far from town. It is indeed one of the finest examples of Lucchese Renaissance architecture and it influenced the design of many other villas in the area.. If you take the Via Elisa entrance, you will be overwhelmed immediately by the simplicity of the villa before you: an austere quadrilateral building surmounted by an elegant roof terrace. This provides an architectural contrast with the high portico on the opposite fašade of the villa (later closed off with French windows) which allowed easy access to the gardens from the villa proper. Unfortunately, nothing remains of the original layout of the gardens apart from the unique entrance to the water-lily pond at the back, designed by the Florentine architect Buontalenti.

The discerning visitor will appreciate the three influences which contributed to the overall design of the estate: the architect who drew up the original plans of the villa (whose identity remains unknown to this day), Vincenzo Civitali to whom the design of the portal and windows are attributed, and Buontalenti mentioned earlier.Within the villa, on the ground floor, visitors can admire the striking beauty of Ventura Salimbeni's frescoes which depict mythological and allegorical scenes dating back to the end of the 16th-century. The roof terrace offers an extraordinary view of the town extending well beyond the walls to the hills north of Lucca. The original layout of the kitchen and the utility rooms can be seen in the basement. Over the centuries the villa has experienced good and bad times and was even abandoned for a considerable period of time. Since it became public property, however, it has been restored and opened to the public. At present, it houses the local Arts Information Bureau and from time to time conferences and Town Council meetings are held there.

If you would like to make arrangements to visit the villa then phone (+39)-0583-494066.

VILLA GUINIGI - Lucca

The property, now state - owned, has housed the Villa Guinigi National Museum since 1968. Paolo Guinigi, Lord of Lucca from 1400 - 1430 and husband of Ilaria del Carretto (whose beautiful tomb, sculptured by Jacopo della Quercia, can be seen in the Cathedral), had it built in true Lucchese style modeling it on the first manor houses built in the area in the 1300s.

Besides the typical rectangular shape, the key features of these 14th-century villas were the portico, mullioned windows and a saddle roof which rested on sturdy outer walls. Each of these distinctive characteristics can be observed in Villa Guinigi from the portico on the ground floor to the crenellated side walls and enclosure wall which highlight its Gothic aspect. Rather than standing at the front of the villa to admire it, one should try to obtain a lateral perspective. In so doing, one can appreciate just how Sercambi, a famous chronicler in Guinigi times, illustrated the villa in his miniatures.

Due to the numerous changes the villa has undergone throughout the centuries, not to mention the restoration work carried out to transform the building into a museum, the villa has lost its residential character. Nonetheless, a distinctive atmosphere of romance and grandeur pervades the villa and it remains one of Lucca's most important monuments. The museum houses a vast range of objects of historical and artistic.

The museum is open daily from 9 - 2 pm. For further information phone (+39)-0583-46033.

VILLA REALE - Marlia

The Dukes of Tuscia resided in this beautiful villa during the Longobard period. The property then passed into t he hands of the Avvocati family. Subsequently, it was owned by the Buonvisi family who, due to bankruptcy, sold it to the Orsetti family in 1651. Much work was carried out on the building at that time and the beautiful park and gardens date back to then. Not much is known of the actual layout of the villa as iconographic records are not on hand.

However, one can assume that the style was in line with the other Renaissance villas in Lucca. It was Napoleon's sister, Elisa Baciocchi Bonaparte, Princess of Lucca and Piombino, who gave it that regal touch at the beginning of the 19th-century when she obliged the Orsetti family to abandon the villa as she had set her heart on it.

However, most of the changes implemented by the Princess did not affect the beautiful 17th-century gardens whose key features include 'the water theatre' at the rear of the villa, the elegantly landscaped lemon garden and fountain area, and the unique 'teatro di verzure' or 'green theatre', so called as the box trees were pruned in such a way as to create the background to the grassy stage. Many plays, including Racine's "Fedra", were performed here, whilst Niccolo' Paganini's 'diabolic' violin virtuosos resounded often in this spectacular theatre. The violinist performed regularly for the Princess whose swooning caused such a stir that Paganini him self once declared, "on occasion the royal Princess faints at my playing and hence she often leaves the theatre so as not to deprive her guests of my music". The villa, on the other hand, underwent radical restructuring - new rooms were created and foreign architectural elements were introduced by the French architect BienaimŔ.

The ambitious Princess extended the boundaries of the estate even further by incorporating the nearby 16th-century Villa del Vescovo ( the summer residence of the Diocesan Curia in Lucca at the time) and its beautifully landscaped garden - one of the most magnificent in the whole of Tuscany - with its playing fountains and water lily pond designed by a member of the Florentine Buontalenti school. The villa became the summer residence of the Borboni family af ter the fall of Napoleon. They were succeeded by the Grand Dukes of Tuscany and later by Vittorio Emanuele II after the unification of Italy in 1860. When Prince Charles of Savoia was disinherited following his marriage to Penelope Smith, a British middle class lady, Vittorio Emanuele II parted with the villa. The couple spent their lifetime there and were laid to rest in the chapel on the estate. When their son, who was known as 'the mad Prince' due to his eccentric behavior and religious mania, died in 1918 the villa was sold to a group of local people in the hope of clearing the enormous debt he had accumulated over the years. These locals, in the hope of making some extra money, had hundreds of century old trees cut down and sold as firewood. Shortly afterwards, the villa was purchased by the Roman aristocratic family Counts Pecci Blunt and it has been in their family ever since.

The gardens had, needless to say, deteriorated over the years but were completely restored to their former grandeur by the French architect Jacques Greber. Moreover, a few modern facilities were added such as the swimming pool, tennis court and children's pavillion. However, at present the villa is not open to the public but guided tours of the park are offered. Hence, one can admire the beautiful fašade of the villa, which contrasts strikingly with the lush green lawns stretching into the distance, not to mention the hedged-in gardens and hidden corners all to be discovered on your tour of this microcosm of surprise and charm. Metternich, in a letter to his sister in 1817, wrote, "Marlia is indeed a divine place". He was obviously deeply affected by the charm of the area and it continues to this day to enchant the visitor with its stories, its history and array of people who have come and gone over the decades. The park is open to the public from March 1st to November 30th, but can be visited by appointment during the winter months. A guide is provided and daytime tours commence at 10, 11, 3, 4, 5 and 6 o'clock.

During the months of July, August and September the park is only open on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays and remains closed on Mondays throughout the year. For further information phone (+39)- 058330108 (+39)-0583-30009.

VILLA GRABAU - S. Pancrazio

Villa Cittadella, now owned by the Grabau family, is one of the five most important Renaissance villas in Lucca. A key feature of this estate, apart from the magnificent garden with its towering trees, English style lawns and trimmed hedges, is the beautiful lemon house which, although built for agricultural purposes, is a masterpiece of design.

If you are part of a larger group you can phone to Mrs. Francesca at (+39)-0583 406325 to arrange visit the park.

VILLA QUERCI - S. Pancrazio

The elegant fašade of Villa Querci, (originally Villa Cenami and subsequently Villa Bernardini) can be seen through the large entrance gates; however, these are kept closed to guarantee family privacy. On the opposite side of the road, descending towards the plains of Lucca, lies the long but alas no longer tree-lined avenue which gave access to the villa in the past. The estate is probably the most impressive and majestic in the area.

This is due in part to the layout of the park, less elaborate than others perhaps, but more in line with that of the Lucchese 16th-century villa, and in part to the acres of land used for farming and farm activities: hence the lemon house, the flour mill, the oil mill, the wine cellars and the stables. The villa was designed and built in the mid-16th-century and its key features remain the double staircase to the front, the architectural style of the main floor and the spacious portico to the rear from which the lord of the villa could command a view both of the hills and plains. At the beginning of the 19th-century, Bartolomeo Cenami, equerry of Princess Elisa Baciocchi Bonaparte, lived in the villa. In the hope of pleasing her, he added some modern elements, hence the neoclassical aspects: the bas-relief on the fašade, the terracotta balustrade on the eaves and the belvedere.

The Bernardini family, who purchased the villa in 1828, certainly took great pride in the upkeep of the estate and it is because of their work and that of the present owners that Villa Querci is so well preserved.

VILLA ARNOLFINI (La BADIOLA) - S. Pancrazio

This magnificent villa, (built in the 16th-century but extended subsequently) which nestles in the foothills of Matraia in a very secluded place, houses the Butori family olive oil and wine business. Luchino Visconti, the film director, was enamoured of the villa, so much so that he chose it for the setting of his last film "L'innocente", which was based on a novel by Gabriele D'Annunzio. In fact, La Badiola takes its name from the villa in D'Annunzio's novel. The owners intend taking up residence in the villa, so as a result it is not open to the public. However, it is well worth stopping to get even a glimpse of this stately abode and the family have no objections.

The telephone number is (+39)-0583-30633.

LA SPECOLA - S. Pancrazio

The neoclassical observatory building in San Pancrazio, better known as La Specola, has to this day never been completed. Designed by the Lucchese-born Lorenzo Nottolini, the observatory overlooks the plains of the River Serchio and, on a clear day, offers an excellent view of the villas in the area, not to mention the spectacular view of Lucca, its tree-lined walls and town centre. (Lorenzo Nottolini was born in Lucca in 1787 and worked mainly in his home town. Nominated Royal Architect in 1818 at the court of the Borboni,he was also famous as a civil engineer; he designed the local aquaduct in 1822 and the suspension bridge over the River Lima in Bagni di Lucca.

He died in 1851.) The building was part of an ambitious plan drawn up by Maria Luisa di Borbone, Duchess of Lucca, in her desire to introduce innovations to Villa Reale. Designed originally as a coffee-house, it was later transformed into an observatory after the restructuring work had been done. A depletion of funds led to work on the building coming to a halt: the rear with its look out tower was never completed nor was any ornament added to the plain fašade or the finishing touches put to the building as a whole. It is a perfect example of an unfinished building and remained abandoned for years. However, Giuseppe Ciambelli, the present owner, has since restored the building extensively.

For further information contact (+39)-0583-928441.

VILLA GUINIGI now VILLA PARDINI - Matraia

Vincenzo Guinigi had this building restored between 1546 and 1547 and his son Tommaso continued work on it around 1610. The layout of the villa, the various floors, the design of the windows and the Doric portico are identical to those at Villa Cenami Querci. Set on a natural terrace high in the hills, the villa overlooks the hills of Matraia and the surrounding land which has not been cultivated since the last century. The villa is not open to the public, but Francesca Pardini at Colleverde Farm may be able to organize a tour of the estate for you if one of the owners is available.

VILLA FATTORIA MAlONCHI - Tofori

Maria Pia Maionchi was, without a doubt, the person who set the ongoing trend towards opening up these beautiful Lucchese villas to the general public. An excellent host and businessperson, it is possible at her 'fattoria' to enjoy villa holidays, participate in organized excursions, consume light refreshments and purchase the 'fattoria's' own produce. High walls enclose the villa, which probably dates back to the 17th-century. Architecturally, it may appear austere and simple with very little ornament; yet few other Lucca villas enjoy such a superb setting and blend in so remarkably well with the surrounding countryside.

The garden is on two levels (access to the lower level is by an elegant staircase), and offers a splendid view of the hillside vineyard. The owners are great lovers of classical music and often organize recitals and concerts for their guests and friends in this delightful setting which is also congenial to pleasant conversation and rendezvous. The rooms in the farmhouse are pleasingly comfortable and charming and a convivial atmosphere pervades. Worth mentioning are the old bakery and the cellar, which have been fully restored, and the gazebo, all perfect places for pleasant conversation. Despite the villa being the private residence of the Maionchi family, respectful and discreet guests may ask to visit the gardens and mysterious cellars which are not usually open to the public.

If you require further information, just telephone (+39)-0583-978194 or (+39)-0583-978138.

VILLA FATTORIA DI FUBBIANO - Tofori

This 18th-century villa, square in design with a double staircase to the front, elegantly blends the traditional and the modern. The villa includes a large swimming pool set onto a natural terrace, which overlooks the village of San Gennaro to the east. Wine cellars, converted farm buildings and small farmhouses, restored with simple elegance, surround the villa and create this small residential complex set in tranquil scenic surroundings. (This is one of the rare cases where accommodation can also be arranged in the villa proper, upon request.) Four DOC wines produced, three reds and one white, extra virgin olive oil, delicious jams and preserves, along with the other farm produce, should be sampled. The telephone number is (+39)-0583-978011, (+39)-0583-978311.

VILLA FATTORIA GAMBARO - Petrognano

Due to the lay of the land, this villa, built in the 17th-century, faces north-west but it can boast the most panoramic view of the plains of Lucca and Valdinievole from its small rectangular-shaped, split-level garden. The grounds of the estate extend up into the hills, yet the villa proper is confined to a small area of land near the roadside. It is separated from a unique hamlet, which is also on villa property. It is worth stopping for a moment to admire the fountain, used in the past for washing clothes, before replenishing with refreshments at the Posto di Ristoro (open from May to September).

However, wine and olive oil produced at the Fattoria of Counts Gambaro can be purchased throughout the year, and if you phone (+39)-0583-978043 you can arrange to see the garden by appointment. In the summer it is possible to stay in one of the many apartments, but if you would like to make accommodation arrangements please phone the villa at (+39)-0583-978038.

VILLA ANTELMINELLI now VILLA MESCHI - S. Colombano

The central part of the villa dates back to the 16th-century, but the villa proper has undergone numerous changes since as can be seen today. It was known locally as 'the bishop's villa': Princess Elisa Baciocchi bestowed it to the Diocesan Curia in Lucca as they had unwillingly relinquished possession of the bishop's palace attached to the grounds of Villa Reale in Marlia.

It belonged originally to the Antelminelli family, who were distant relations of Castruccio Castracani. It was used as a meeting place for the Great Duke of Tuscany's emissary as far back as 1596 during Bernardino di Baldassare Antelminelli's trial. The villa developed horizontally over the years and boasts two square dovecote towers which were probably built during the first half of the 17th century. Curzio Franciotti, who purchased it in 1670, carried out extensive renovations, dedicating much time especially to the layout of the gardens. At present the Meschi family offer farm holidays to those interested - accommodation is arranged in the finely converted farm buildings.

A swimming pool on site is available. For further information phone at (+39)-0583-928357.

VILLA MANSI - Segromigno

This remarkably elegant villa is the symbol of Lucchese villa architecture. It is the most well-known of all the villas in the area despite it not being highly representative of the classical 16th century style. The greater part of the work done on this finely and intricately decorated villa as we see it today can be attributed to Muzio Oddi, the architect from Urbino who had been summoned to Lucca to design the third and final ring of walls around the town. Countess Felice Cenami, who was the owner of the villa at the time, called on Oddi in the mid-1630s to completely renovate the building on the advice of her brother-in-law, Paolo, who at the time was a monk in Paris. So it is thanks to this architect, a stranger to Lucca and its local culture, that Villa Mansi and the nearby Villa Santini Torrigiani built in the same period are so different from the other Lucchese 16th-century villas whose style is so much more austere.

These villas boast an elegance somewhat more in line with the elegant and refined taste of the period and can be seen as the prelude to the splendour and magnificence of that baroque style that never flourished in Lucca. Many other hands beautified the villa and its gardens during the 17th century. The Mansi family became the owners in 1675 and a member of their family is the protagonist of one of the most mysterious and fascinating legends in local culture. Lucida Mansi, a sort of female Faust, made a pact with the devil and sold her soul in exchange for eternal beauty. However, when called upon to honour him she was sent tumbling down off the Walls in her carriage by Evil. Ottavio Mansi entrusted Filippo Iuvarra, the great architect from Messina and a leading exponent of late European baroque style, with the layout of the gardens and the renovation of the grounds. The original Renaissance plan was completely altered giving way to an elaborate and very effective display of playing fountains, fish ponds, pathways and ever-changing perspectives which were without rival in the entire area. Most of Iuvarra's work was undone in the 1800s when the gardens were completely remodeled and left in their natural state. A visit to the interior - across the loggia and into the large reception room - is indeed quite evocative. The large canvasses by Tofanelli bear testimony to the neo-classical taste prominent in Lucca in the Baciocchi period. Both the villa and grounds are open to visitors daily, with the exception of Mondays, from 9.30a.m.-12.00 p.m. and from 2.00p.m. until dark.

If you require further information about the villa or any of the services offered (banquets, meetings, fashion shows, parties) contact any of the following numbers:(+39)-0583-920234, (+39)-0583-920096, (+39)-0583-920474.

VILLA TORRIGIANI now VILLA COLONNA - Camigliano

This building is indeed a synthesis of the splendour, refinement and elegance present in all the Villas of Lucca. From the end of the monumental avenue, flanked by century old cypress trees, a clear perspective of the ornate fašade of the villa can be obtained through the very decorative wrought-iron gate. Outside the villa a fortified village, French style, was built with look-out towers at each corner. It was infact called Borgo Parigi, i.e. Paris Village, and housed the gardeners and farmers who worked the land outside the enclosure walls of the estate as the land within the walls was landscaped in an elegant and stately fashion.

The so-called "di Flora" garden, second only to the gardens of Villa Garzoni in Collodi, bears witness to the excellent taste that the Lucchese landscapers were renowned for. It is such a pity that only part of the magnificent layout remains as this garden is a result of the sectioning of the secret garden in the 1500's . Thanks to the play on levels and to the beautiful architecture which graces the garden, the visitor is led into a tiny charming world of flowers, herbs and waterworks where that magical sensation of feeling enclosed yet never restricted pervades. Grottoes, water-lily ponds, grotesque sculptures, carefully selected rough and rugged materials all contribute to that fairy tale atmosphere which enthralls the visitor whose attention in the past was further captivated by the stunning waterworks, the hidden surprises and the fascinating perspectives. The original building dates back to the mid 1500's and was probably the Villa Buonvisi mentioned in the records of the trial for the murder of Lelio Buonvisi in 1593. Muzio Oddi carried out major work on the building a century later in line with Villa Mansi. The yellow tufa and grey stone brighten the composite fašade and highlight the marble statues in the niches . Decoration triumphs thanks to the work of a non-Lucchese architect Alfonso Torreggiani from Bologna.

The audacity of the then avant-garde commissioner, who agreed to the renovations, Nicolao Santini, a noble knight who travelled extensively and had relations with Paris, must also be recognized, along with that of his grandson Cesare Santini "a very kind gentleman who was well accepted in Lucca". The interior of the villa is quite stunning; it is heavily adorned with pinchbeck, friezes and baroque ornaments but softened by Vincenzo Dandini's paintings and by the fine decorations carried out by Piero Scorzini from Lucca. The two staircases and rounded walls are indeed breathtaking both for their design and effect and the lighting from above enhances the whole. The avenue continues into the cultivated hills to the rear of the villa, an indication of how cultivating the land was always an integral part of villa life. From the tree-lined avenue, framed in seven hundred century-old cypress trees, the view of the multicolored fašade of the villa is indeed spectacular and it is well worth leaving your car to walk up the avenue and enjoy this magnificent sight. The villa and gardens are open daily to visitors.

For further information contact (+39)-0583-928889.

VILLA DE VERA D'ARAGONA - Pozzuolo

This villa was built on the crest of a hill and is surrounded by olive groves, vineyards and chestnut trees. It offers a spectacular panoramic view of Lucca, a fairyland in the distance with its town walls lined with leafy plane trees. The central part of the building, which has two floors and an attic, is rectangular in design. The portico and loggia on the first floor were built at right angles to the main building. The villa is not, however, open to the public. However, as the garden at the front of the villa is of modest proportions, a view of the whole can be had from the outside.

VILLA BURLAMACCHI now VILLA ROSSI - Gattaiola

The original layout of the villa dates back to the mid 16th-century. It was built for Francesco Burlamacchi, the unfortunate hero who, in the name of federalism, planned a rising of the Tuscan towns against Medicean dominion. He was betrayed by a tip-off, however, and was consequently beheaded by the authorities. His statue reigns in Piazza San Michele in the centre of Lucca and is a symbol of that independent and reforming philosophy which has always found expression in Lucchese civilization. The villa was designed by Nicolao Civitali, son of Matteo, who also designed Palazzo del PotestÓ in Piazza San Michele. However, Francesco Burlamacchi never saw the villa completed as a result of the vicissitudes of his personal life. The building was purchased and completed in the 17th-century by the Santini family who also continued work on the interior. The frescoes depicting mythological and symbolic figures in the magnificent ballroom on the first floor are by Bartolomeo De Santi and date back to then as do the 'quadrature', the decorations on the vaults which create architectural illusions. The design of the villa is quite austere; it is an elegant quadrilateral building - almost a cube. The rear fašade of the building, however, opens onto a spacious portico which was beautifully decorated, along with the rooms on the first floor, with frescoes by Francesco Antonio Cecchi in 1720. Unfortunately, nothing remains of the original layout of the garden for during the last century it was re-landscaped 'English style' with tall trees, gentle sloping lawns and pathways for romantic strolls. There is also a Palazzina on the estate which was probably built in the 1800s when the landscape work was carried out. It has all the characteristics of a villa-farmhouse along with the adjacent greenhouses and Neo-Gothic farm buildings. Here again the rear fašade opens onto a double portico thus denoting its dependence on the villa proper. Ownership of the villa has been in the hands of many other renowned families besides the present one: the Santini family, the Montecatini family and the Altieri family. Even the very refined Count of Nieuwerkerke, a personal friend of Emperor Napoleon III, lived in this villa which has always been very well preserved.

If you would like to visit the villa and the estate, contact Mrs. Francesca Duranti Rossi at (+39)-0583-512177.

VILLA BURLAMACCHI now VILLA VIGNOCCHI - Vicopelago

A long cobblestone avenue, lined with cypress trees, leads to this building which was probably built by Nicolao Civitali in the 1540s. The villa boasts that same elegant air as some of the more stately Florentine Renaissance dwellings. It is a massive and impressive mansion which is clearly visible from a distance as some of the vegetation has been removed. The asymmetric portico on the right of the villa (designed as an exterior living area) adds an even more noble and original touch to the building, along with the blind arches on the left side of the fašade. To the rear of the villa lies Villa Martino Bernardini, whose view of the valley is obstructed by Villa Burlamacchi. Consequently, the latter earned itself the nickname 'Villa dell dispetto' or "Villa of disrespect", which has been passed on from generation to generation over the centuries. The gardens and avenue are open to the public - a telephone call to announce your arrival is appreciated.

The telephone number is (+39)-0583-379035

VILLA LA PRINCIPESSA - Massa Pisana

Villa La Principessa is situated on the site of the villa which Castruccio Castracani degli Antelminelli (lord of Lucca and legendary captain under Ludovico il Bavaro) had built in 1318 and which is rightly considered "the first Lucchese villa on record". An image of it immediately comes to mind as Sercambi, a local chronicler, depicted the scene of a murder in one of his miniatures and the villa appears, in full Gothic style, in the background. (It was, in fact, very similar to Villa Guinigi in the town centre which appears in Itineraries 1 and 2.) Nothing remains to be seen of the original building, however. The villa as we see it today is the result of various alterations over the centuries. Vast renovations were carried out in the 1800s by the Bourbons and the south wing and loggia quite probably date to then. The villa is hidden behind high enclosure walls and a screen of tall trees, hence it can only be seen from the 18th-century landscaped gardens. The interior of the villa has been completely refurbished in French 'relais - chateaux' style as the villa was transformed, in the 1970s, into an exclusive hotel and restaurant.

The telephone number is (+39)-0583-370037.