Village in the air

A fascinating slice of the Middle Ages that, for centuries, has kept watching over the Lima Valley, on the road between Pistoia and Lucca

C aught on a rocky outcrop, surrounded by woods and chestnut groves, with its stone houses huddled against each other and the fortress above, the village of Lucchio dominates the Lima Valley, offering visitors a fascinating glimpse. The first information on the settlement is attributable to the presence of the church of San Pietro, confirmed in ecclesiastical papers between late 1100s and early 1200s. The castle, however, is mentioned for the first time only in 1327, although the first fortification is definitely earlier. The origin of the name Lucchio, traceable to the Latin term “lucus” (forest), may suggest a Roman presence of which no other evidence has remained. Thus, it is more plausible to argue that an early fortification dates back to the period of the Lombard-Byzantine clashes for control of the Apennines. The fortress played an important role beginning with its conquest by Lucca, in the early 1300s. Because of its strategic position, Lucchio became one of the most important defensive strongholds along the Lucchese borders because, from the Pizzorne plateau, it controlled the road leading from Pistoia through the Oppio Pass to the Lima Valley and from there, along the Serchio Valley, where it reached Lucca from an route other than the Valdinievole one.

One of the most significant events in its history is probably linked to Castruccio Castracani, the condottiere who, when he became lord of Lucca, used the fortress as an outpost to wage war for dominance in the Pistoia Apennines. After Castruccio’s death, Pistoia, Florence and Lucca fought over the castle, until a peace treaty was signed in 1433 that brought it definitively under the dominion of Lucca. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Lucchio also kept an important part along the Lucchese border under surveillance, housing a military garrison until the mid-17th century. Subsequently losing its strategic-military role, the fortress was sold in 1826 to the Pacini family, which converted the building into a house and the lands into gardens. Today, among the ruins of the fort, which can be reached by a path, the walls that follow the irregular pattern of the rocky stronghold can still be made out, while only the the foundations and some walls of the garrison headquarters remain and the fort looks like a sort of large terrace offering a spectacular view.

lucchio 1 lucchio 2

At the foot of the fortress lies the medieval village that probably was established around the year 1000 after the arrival of troops of soldiers posted to defend the castle, or a group of farmers brought to these inaccessible areas to build the fort. Access to the lower and oldest part of the village is through a door in a massive tower, with a window looking across the valley. Entering the village, we find ourselves near the Church of S. Pietro, with a two-aisle plan. The smaller one is due to an early 20th-century enlargement. Inside, the blue vaults are defined by painted faux marble frames, the result of subsequent actions to return a medieval look. There is still an invaluable 18th-century altar and a baptismal font in pietra serena. For safety reasons, after the theft of two 16th-century paintings in 2006, the most important work of Lucchio is no longer exhibited in the church. It is a 14th-century silver processional crucifix, attributed to Andrea di Jacopo d’Ognabene, among the artists of the frontal of St. James located in Pistoia’s cathedral.

Walking through the streets of the village, the typical residential buildings in local stone with a marked vertical development to maximize the slope and the space available within the village can be seen. The steepness of the streets throughout the town is well described through some idioms typical of this area. “Lucchio’s hens have a basket tied under their tails to prevent the eggs from rolling away” or “ Lucchio’s children are tied to the door”. Aie makes up the part of the village built after the 17th century and is home to the church of the same name. In the past, it was first the village’s oratory and today is used by the community for religious services. Used until the 1930s, the picturesque old fountain remains unchanged, made up of a spring and a large tank whose earliest information dates to 1605, when it was forbidden to “wash clothes, sharpen tools, laze or cause damage”. After long years of neglect, the village is trying to return to life and pass on an almost intact slice of history, surrounded by a beautiful natural setting.

lucchio 6 lucchio 4

 

TEXT

Cristina Ciappei

Eleonora Meneghello

FAI Giovani Pistoia

PHOTO

Nicolò Begliomini

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