Camaiore: A City of Organs

Camaiore is one of my favourite Tuscan towns and is within easy striking distance from Bagni di Lucca. Not to be confused with Marina di Camaiore which is its nearby bathing establishment – and is one of the few around here with a public pier:

Camaiore has many points of interest and could be combined with a day at the beach which is less crowded than the one at Viareggio (hopefully!). At this moment, however, I doubt there’s anyone swimming. Snow is actually forecast on our mountains. Is May by any chance near?

To get to Camaiore the easiest way is to head towards Lucca, turning right just before reaching the EsseLunga roundabout.

You can also get to Camaiore from Castelnuovo by doing the dramatic route up the Turrite Secca valley and via the Cipollaio tunnel through the Apuans. This is a great way as you pass many picturesque places including Isola Santa

and the now disused Henraux marble quarry.

The first part of the former route is along a beautifully wooded valley road which then rises to reach the heights of Montemagno before descending into the Versiliana plain, approaching Camaiore via a handsome tree-lined avenue.

Stile Liberty (Italian Art Nouveau) devotees shouldn’t miss out on the church of San Martino in Freddana which dates from 1904.

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Camaiore was originally an Etruscan and, subsequently, Ligurian settlement as archaeological finds in the area show. (There’s an archaeological museum in the town but it always seems closed. Its site is at   http://www.comune.camaiore.lu.it/page/uffici/index.asp?IdUfficio=18 but the opening hours are stated as ‘still to be defined’. The museum was originally opened in 1986 but has been ‘under restoration – an ominous phrase in this country – for some years.).

Camaiore was then colonised by the Romans who established a castrum or camp with a typical grid pattern which still exists to this day.

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It was the Middle Ages however which truly brought glory to Camaiore. The town became an important hospitality point on the Via Francigena, the great pilgrim route which links Canterbury to Rome.

In fact, Sigeric the Serious (ordained as priest at Glastonbury and subsequently archbishop of Canterbury from 990 to 994) in his description of the itinerary to Rome to receive his ordination from the Pope mentions Camaiore as stage 27 on the journey. He called it ‘Campmaior’ (major camping ground…). Sigeric stayed at Saint Peter’s monastery just outside Camaiore.

In the thirteenth century Camaiore came under the definitive control of Lucca which strongly fortified it, (parts of the defensive wall still exist), as it led to the City’s secure route to the seaport of Motrone.

When we first visited this delightful town the monument outside Saint Peter’s monastery now known as the Badia (abbey) di Camaiore had recently been unveiled. It commemorates all the pilgrims who ventured (and still happily venture) on the Via Francigena to reach their Papal destination, the basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican City.

This notice states that ‘with the Papal Bull of 21 June 1505 Pope Julius II communicated to the Holy Roman Empire to have given the charge to Canon Peter Von Hertenstein to lead two hundred Swiss soldiers with their captain Kaspar von Silenen ‘to protect our territories’’. The recruits entered Rome on 22 January 1506. Blessed by the Pope the guards began their duties on the same day. Thus were the Swiss Guards of the Pontifical state born.

(PS the word ‘bull’ here refers to the lead seal (bulla) attached to such documents. It’s got nothing to do with the horned variety…)

The church itself presents a characteristic Romanesque basilican plan with nave, two aisles and a semi-circular apse.

However, the first monument to grab one’s attention when entering is the baroque tabernacle to the Madonna of Piety to the left.

There is a copy of a painting by Francesco d’Andrea Anguilla on the left wall. (The original is in Camaiore’s ‘Museo d’arte sacra’).

DSCN0290The atmosphere is wonderfully calm and meditative. We have returned to this beautiful building a number of times. On one occasion there was a wedding being celebrated. What a perfect location to have one!

Camaiore’s town centre streets are full of character and there is a very convivial square on which the Collegiata di Santa Maria Assunta is to be found. It’s Camaiore’s main place of worship. I love the fishy fountain in the square.

The Collegiata is, again, of Romanesque architecture. The church was ‘baroquized’ in the seventeenth century but was largely restored to its original appearance last century. By its entrance are a beautiful mediaeval font and a marble water tank.

The Pieve di Santo Stefano is Camaiore’s original church and one of the oldest in the whole Lucchesia, dating back to around 700. Its main feature is the Roman sarcophagus intelligently recycled as a baptismal font. From Death to Life it seems to state!

We have also visited the Museo d’arte sacra (museum of sacred art) which is well worth seeing. (Opening details at http://www.museoartesacracamaiore.it/orari.htm )

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We hope to return to Camaiore in the summer when its biggest event takes place. It’s the Organ festival celebrating the wonderful musical instruments many churches possess in this part of the world, some of which date back several hundreds of years. Details of the festival (translated into English by LuccaMusica magazine team member Francis Pettitt i.e. me) will soon be shown at http://www.luccamusica.it/events/category/festival-organistico-citta-di-camaiore-en/

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Do be sure to visit Camaiore if you’re on your way to Marina di Camaiore. It’s not to be missed!

 

 

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