Cross-Bows at the Palazzo Buonvisi

A tournament forming part of the Italian league of ancient and historical sports was held outside the Palazzo Buonvisi (ex-Villa Webb) in Bagni alla Villa, Bagni di Lucca on Sunday, 18th September.  The ancient sport was on this occasion, cross-bow shooting (gara di balestra storica da braccio ) and participants came from many parts of Italy including Orvieto, Genoa, Città del Castello and, of course, our own Bagni di Lucca where the Vicaria della Val di Lima organized the event. The results of the competition were valid for the Italian championship in ancient sports.

Here are some photos I took of the event last Sunday. You’ll see that the sport is open to both men and women. The Ukrainian Orthodox Bishop of Milan was also invited to the event.

Inside the Palazzo Buonvisi is a fine example of a quick crossbow loader. All crossbows would be prepared by a loader ready for quick-succession firing like a machine gun thus avoiding cross-bow shooters to waste time loading their own. (Cross-bows are more accurate than long-bows but rather slower in the loading of arrows.) Virgilio Contrucci, a key person in the vicaria (and also in the terme’s bar) is the demonstrator:

The Vicaria Della Val di Lima has done sterling (or should we call it Euro?) work in sprucing up palazzo Buonvisi. The gardens have been cleared of brambles, the approach steps cleaned of moss and many beautiful architectural features have been revealed after years of neglect.

Here’s something about the palazzo’s history. It was built between 1518 and 1570 by the Buonvisi, perhaps the richest family of Lucca, as their summer retreat. On its entrance portico is a coat of arms with a cardinal’s hat recollecting the fact that the Buonvisi had produced no less than three cardinals in their family tree.

Among illustrious guests and lodgers of the palazzo were James Francis Edward Stuart, (otherwise known as the old pretender, alias James III, and father of ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie) and his wife Maria Clementina Sobieska.

The Buonvisi family sadly died out and the palace was sold to the noble Montecatini family who then vended it to John Webb in 1812. Webb was a rich merchant, originally from Hotwells, Bristol whose conservation society’s current chair is my former English master, Brian Worthington. Webb established a flourishing trading company in Livorno (Leghorn). Special exports from Italy included oil of bergamot, (presumably for Earl Grey tea?) and juniper berries (undoubtedly for London gin). Webb’s special imports included cane sugar from the West Indies and Jamaican hot red peppers.

John Webb is buried in Livorno’s English cemetery (which I still have to visit.) Among his coterie of guests was George Gordon Byron who struck up a close friendship and spent the summer of 1822 at the palazzo. (The plaque commemorating Byron’s visit appears on the right side of the palazzo façade with his first name spelt incorrectly in English (but correctly in German.)


In 1978 the palace was sold to Bagni di Lucca’s comune who restored it and used it as a nursery school. It’s also been used as a venue for the schools’ theatre season. Since 2010 it is the headquarters of the Vicaria di Val di Lima, our local historical enactment society. It’s a most worthy setting for the Vicaria, I feel.

The Vicaria di Val di Lima has a web site at

Unfortunately the web site is not kept up to date but I did find information about the event from the Bagni di Lucca Proloco web site at which has a pretty exhaustive list of events happening in our comune and also from the tourist office and from some bar posters.

The publicity may have scope for improvement but I feel that much of the inertia of the lack of spectators was due to the fact that maybe, especially on Sunday mornings, several inhabitants may have been indulging in other ancient and historical sports largely practised between their bed-sheets. (Please correct me if I’m wrong, however!)


PS For the three fascinating museums now housed in the palazzo Buonvisi see my post at:



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