Building Bridges in the Lucchesia

One could write so much on our area’s bridges. The Ponte Del Diavolo (more appropriately called Ponte Della Maddalena) is, of course, the most famous example of bridge building in the area and is a veritable gateway to the upper Serchio Valley. Built by command of the great ruler Countess Matilde di Canossa it dates back to the 11th century.

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Bagni di Lucca’s Ponte delle Catene is probably Italy’s first suspension bridge. Designed by Nottolini in 1840 it was finally completed in 1860.

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Sadly, many bridges were destroyed by retreating German forces in World War II. There used to be, for example, an ancient bridge at Calavorno but only a part of its ruined piers remain today.

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(Remains of old Calavorno bridge just downstream from the new bridge)

 I’ve managed to find a photograph of the old bridge in a book by Arnaldo Bonaventura published in 1913 as an illustrated monograph in a series entitled’ Italia Artistica’. The ‘Ponte a Calavorno’ was one of the oldest bridges spanning the Serchio. Dating from 1376 it was built by the Orlandinghi, feudal lords of Loppia, who were patrons of the old Ospedale (or traveller’s hostel) of San Leonardo in Calavorno. Its two arches of different sizes recall a little the very disparate arches of the Ponte della Maddalena.

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Happily, however, there are still many old bridges remaining in the valleys leading off from the Serchio. The pretty one at Fabbriche di Vallico is the best known of what in England would be called a pack-horse bridge. From spring-time onwards it’s decorated with overflowing geraneum boxes.

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Just past the artificial lake on the left side of the road leading to Fabbriche to Vallico in the Turrite Cava valley is a further example of packhorse (or packmule?) bridges.

Known as ‘il pontaccio’ the bridge crosses the Turrite Cava stream and gives its name to the nearby small community (which also boasts a restaurant ‘Il Laghetto’ serving some of the best wild boar I’ve come across). It’s an arched bridge which had become somewhat dilapidated but was expertly restored in 2004.

The arch is 36 feet in span wide and reaches 16 feet at its highest point above the stream. The road across the bridge is 5 feet wide.  It’s thought to date from at least the fourteenth century and is built with stones from the stream itself.

Il pontaccio may look a picturesque but humble little bridge. However, it once served a very important role in linking the old state of Lucca with the Garfagnana territories ruled over by the Estensi family. Goods were traded between the two countries over this bridge.

At this moment, when the frontiers of Europe appear to be clamming up against each other, bridges of all types have assumed a particular importance. After all, bridges are the first things to be blown up in hostile situations – bridges between people, communities and countries. We should be grateful; therefore, that il Pontaccio was spared to survive to this day as a symbol of unity and strength.

Postscript:

Since I landed in this part of the planet eleven years ago three new bridges have been built in our area. They are the bridges that cross the Serchio at Fornaci di Barga, Pian di Coreglia and Rivangaio. A fourth one is planned across the same river to link up with the new hospital at San Luca and avoid having to go into town – a sort of northern by-pass in fact. Not bad going but one must consider that Italy is, indeed, a nation that truly invented bridge building starting with the Roman arch.

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(The Roman Bridge at Rimini – First Century AD)

 

 

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