Il Baluardo di Lucca

Il Mammalucco is the name given to Fornoli’s cultural association. This means that, in that part of the comune of Bagni di Lucca, anything from a concert to a dance evening to children’s activities is likely to be organised by’ Il Mammalucco’ whose facebook page is at

What a name for an association! What does ‘mammalucco’ mean anyway? In common parlance it means a dolt or an idiot but it’s really a bit more subtle than that. It also means the willingness to be made a fool of, or risk doing something which could turn out either way – a resounding success or an abject failure.

The etymology of the word is also subject to different interpretations. It could derive from ‘Mamluk’, which is Arabic for ‘the king’s slave’. In fact, the Mamluk became the leading warrior class under the Ottoman Empire obeying the king’s orders unto death. Presumably, their willingness to die for their master in unthinking obedience during the mediaeval saracenic raids against Italy may have seemed a bit stupid to Italians, so the term was applied generically to anyone who didn’t have a brain to think for himself.

A second interpretation is more fanciful and relates to the ‘figurinai’ or statuette sellers from our Lucca region who emigrated to America with their craft. (A well-worn urban myth says that when Christopher Columbus landed on the new continent he was immediately greeted by a figurinaio who was itching to sell the captain a souvenir statuette.) According to this interpretation children, excited by the little statuettes the Lucchesi were selling in the streets of New York and other cities, would cry out ‘Mamma look!” in an effort to attract their parents’ attention and get them to buy a statuette.

Whatever the origins of the word the Mammalucco association is doing a fine job of enlivening social life for its inhabitants. This July 14th for example, it invited ‘Il Baluardo’ choral group to perform in front of Fornoli church. Together with the Coro delle Alpi Apuane it’s one of Lucca’s premiere folk-song choirs.

Founded in 1989 ‘Il baluardo’ has participated in over five hundred concerts. They have performed in the UK, Germany, France, Switzerland and Spain and have established ties with other Italian and foreign choirs. Directed by baritone Elio Antichi the choir also includes guitarist Gabriele Cinquini and keyboard Tiziano Mangani. ‘Il Baluardo’ repertoire consists of traditional Tuscan folk-songs which they perform in a cappella style. They also include folk-songs from other regions of Italy and several European countries.

In addition’ Il baluardo’ includes performances of such items as French renaissance chansons and contemporary pieces.

The concert we heard at Fornoli was a delight. The first half was a sequence of Italian work folk-songs which were cleverly brought together with a narrative and some lively inter-acting between the choir members.

The second half consisted of more ‘classical’ repertoire including French chansons, crusaders’ ballads and more modern pieces.

The choir was introduced by the inspirer and organiser of the Mammalucco association, Marco Nicoli, who is also a noted journalist of ‘La Nazione’ newspaper and writes many articles on our area bringing to the public’s attention important issues and sparkling events (like the Fornoli carnival, for example).

We are glad to have such public-spirited figures as Marco in our midst and that evening he did us and the association proud by bringing along a truly inventive and highly enjoyable choir.

For more information on ‘Il Baluardo’ and forthcoming concerts see

PS ‘Il Baluardo’ means bulwark and clearly refers to Lucca’s walls in which lovely city the choir is based. At least we have a well-defined origin for that word!


1 thought on “Il Baluardo di Lucca

  1. Pingback: Korea in Lucca (and Lucca in Korea) – From London to Longoio (and Lucca and Beyond) Part Three

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