Pian Della Rocca, previously dismissed by me as being of little interest in a post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2015/08/03/rock-hard/ in favour of the much more picturesque old settlement of La Rocca which lies above, is worth a second look. The monumental hydro-electric generating station referred to in that post is a major contribution to Italian fascist architecture as well as being part of one of the country’s most ambitious hydro-electric schemes.
Amazingly built in 1942 when Italy was in the thick of the Second World War and when the Gothic line was being constructed nearby, Pian della Rocca’s generating station lies opposite the village’s only bar (good coffee, friendly service and sports and newspapers to read). I suspect Pian Della Rocca was built to house those working on the project.
The Francis turbines (invented in 1848 by English engineer James Francis and using centrifugal force to generate their energy) use the waters of the Turrite Cava torrent, which is a tributary of the Serchio River, to generate electric power. There is an example of one of these turbines in the grounds of the station:
If you go towards Fabbriche to Vallico you’ll see the dam holding back the waters of the Turrite Cava which form a lake. Both these and the waters descending down in a huge tube towards Gallicano are used at Pian della Rocca’s generating station.
It’s not often realised that the majority of the villages in our area only received electricity in the last fifty odd years. The channelling of torrents and natural underground waters into a complex system of tunnels and reservoirs, begun before the last war but only completed in the 1960’s, form part of a great scheme of harnessing water power in an environmentally friendly way. Indeed, the whole scheme was awarded the Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) certification in 2007.
The Pian della Rocca generating station was thoroughly overhauled and restored by ENEL in 2011 at a cost of 23,000,000 euros.
Although not open to the public (I’ve made a request to visit it, however) the main building is the work of one of Italy’s greatest art nouveau architects, Ugo Giovannozzi. Not only that, but the beautifully proportioned structure, if not quite in the class of those ‘temples of power’ mentioned in architectural historian and erstwhile school-mate Gavin Stamp’s book of the same name, is certainly one of Italy’s most beautiful ‘pievi di potenza’ (parish churches of power).
Giovannozzi (Florence 1876 – Rome 1957) has been completely revalued in recent times. Of his most significant works are several of the spas at Montecatini, in particular the well-known Tettuccio establishment.
Rocca’s station’s main hall is characterised on its exterior by three statues by Angiolo Vannetti, a sculptor from Livorno. (I’m sure the central reclining lady must represent the Serchio river). Angelo Vannetti (Livorno 1881 – Florence 1962) was one of the greatest art nouveau artists in Italy. Later his work developed into a variety of art deco and his statues are to be compared favourably with the work of Aristide Maillol. He studied at Florence’s Accademia delle Belle Arti and was particularly influenced by trends in French and Belgian art.
In the 1920’s Vannetti worked extensively in the Far East, especially in Vietnam. Recently a beautiful statue of his in Tripoli called the source of life – a nude lady representing water with a gazelle symbolising the union of the two provinces of Libya, Cyrenaica and Tripolitania – was seriously damaged by (inevitably…) jihadists in 2014.
Vannetti worked closely in conjunction with art-nouveau architect Giovanni Michelazzi. Anyone who has visited the horticultural gardens near Florence’s Piazza delle Cure can’t have missed this lovely Vannetti sculpture of a pair of deer:
Michelazzi himself was for long neglected so that several of his buildings were wantonly destroyed in those vandal years of the sixties and seventies. However, he embellished Florence with some of its finest liberty style buildings. Who hasn’t admired this glorious house, casa Vichi, when passing near the church of Ognissanti on the northern lung’ Arno in that city, for example?
So make it a point of not by-passing even Rocca on your way from Garfagnana to Lucca on the Lodovico road. There are some of the most startling treasures to be found in the most unassuming location and that is for me one of the greatest pleasures of life.
And don’t complain too much about your ENEL electricity bill! Some of it must surely have been gone on not just on keeping your house lit up but also in maintaining ENEL’s beautiful engineering architecture in our area, another wonderful neo-classic example of which can be found just outside Ponte a Moriano: