“… the green forest-walk on the wall—
With the Apennine blue through the trees ;
. . . the palaces, churches and all
The great pictures that burn out of these.”
The Sword of Castruccio Castracane
ITALY is pre-eminently a land of cities. Hardly one among them, from the Apennines to the Ionian Sea, but has its individual charm. Some appeal to us by their past, some by their beauty ; some sit aloft and demand our allegiance, others by their modest reticence compel our love. Among the latter is Lucca, and the love she excites is a gentle and benign influence, irradiating both from her history and her outward aspect. Her history has been told in the preceding pages : it remains to give some account of her appearance.
Lucca still masquerades “in the guise of a forest,” as she did in the fourteenth century, when Fazio degli Uberti described her. She is a city of the plains, and lies hidden within the perfect circuit of her walls.
Nothing is visible above their fantastic curtains and bastions, scarps and counterscarps, save thick-set forest trees whose waving boughs ever and again disclose a tantalising glimpse of rugged towers. This hint of mystery is alluring, and it is a little in the spirit of the questing prince in La Belle au Bois Dormant that we pass through the frowning Porta S. Pietro into the quiet streets. And we can very well carry on the mood, for does there not lie a sleeping princess hidden away in a great and fair building, Madonna Ilaria del Caretto, in some sort the tutelary goddess of the city ?
Only the sleep she sleeps is a deeper one than that of the fairy king’s daughter, and she is not to be so lightly awakened. Jacopo della Quercia took care of that when he fashioned this perfect image of the long sleep of death. But she is a princess, and she sleeps, and has she not her court of silent attendants, like her fairy prototype, in the sweet creations of Civitah’s chisel that lie about her in quiet nooks of the Duomo.
In every Italian city one’s feet lead one instinctively to the Duomo, and here in Lucca it lies but a little way from the gate. The outside is like nothing so much as the page of a child’s picture-book, storied all over with the simple imaginings of the early Middle Ages. Inside it is a little bare, but graceful and sympathetic, redeemed from coldness by the flames of its eastern windows. It strikes the imagination rather as a beautiful background to our sleeping princess than as a thing apart. For eleven centuries it has been the guardian of the Volto Santo, that crucifix whose sanctity was so great that it alone could bind the conscience of the Red King of England. From the eighth to the fourteenth century, when its star paled before the growing popularity of the Holy House of Loreto, it attracted as many pilgrims as Compostella or Canterbury. Even now it has not a few devotees, and the gorgeous little chapel Civitali made for it is constantly surrounded by kneeling figures.
( Janet Ross e Nelly Erichsen, brano tratto da “The Story of Lucca – Illustrated by Nelly Erichsen” – London: J.M.Dent & Sons, Ltd, 1912 )