Piaggione is that ‘model’ village one comes across if taking the Brennero road to Lucca. The village’s appearance is late nineteenth-early twentieth century and at first there seems to be nothing remarkable about it. Yet Piaggione is a truly pioneering project built by benevolent capitalists in the manner of such places as Bournville in the UK where, in addition to jobs, full social activities, adequate wages, education and decent housing were supplied to the workers in a war against such evils as the demon drink and inveterate gambling.
The name ‘Piaggione’ comes from ‘Spiaggione’ meaning ‘big beach’ since the village lies by the banks of the Serchio which at this point has a wide flood plain. The settlement was once known for its factory of cotton yarns which used the abundant water power of the area to run its mills.
After a long period of neglect in which even the railway station was closed (as recently as 2002) the old factory is being redeveloped as a small industries and warehouse centre and the hydro-electric station has been brought up to date supplying once again power to the national grid.
Among Piaggione’s focal points is its main street with a lively bar called Micheli which seems to host plenty of activities such as briscola tournaments and karaoke evenings:
the old proprietor’s villa shaded behind a lovely cedar:
and the parish church of Saint Andrew which always seemed closed until we passed by it last Sunday.
A fine neo-Romanesque building which I would date to the 1920’s I was always keen to see what the church’s interior was like.
Finally I managed to see it.
The interior is clean and well-proportioned with a single nave and a small transept.
There are too many churches which appear inaccessible to the public. The best way of visiting them is to see the times when the services are being held and get there in time for one of them. This is exactly what happened to us at Piaggione and attendance at a Mass was rewarded by a look at this fine example of a ‘model’ church.
It’s a pity I haven’t been able to find out more about who the building’s architect was or exactly when it was erected, however.
I remember some time ago while attempting to visit some lovely mediaeval parish churches in Cooling marshes in Kent by the banks of the estuarial Thames, that evocatively sinister setting for the opening chapters of Dickens’ ‘Great expectations,’ that I did find a parish church open, only to be told by the vicar there that the church was not a tourist attraction and that sight-seers were not welcome. We thought this was a little anti-social of him. After all we could have, at least, made a contribution to church funds.
We’ve never had this sort of experience in Italy but it would be helpful if a notice could be placed outside seemingly permanently locked ecclesiastical buildings of some interest informing potential visitors of times when they can visit such buildings, or a contact number and perhaps a short guide to the church. (Some churches do have a notice outside them giving some details of their history and features). There are so many churches I’d love to see the insides of. One such building is the charming Romanesque chapel of San Biagio at Poggio higher up the Serchio valley.