Bagni di Lucca’s Villa Gamba has already been the theme of one of my posts where I described the meeting between Giacomo Puccini and Baron Fassini Camossi. It was here that Puccini listened with fascination to certain Chinese melodies played on a carillon (or music box) belonging to his friend the Baron. Camossi had pursued a diplomatic career in China, was a veteran of the 1900 Boxer Rebellions there and probably acquired the box and other souvenirs in China at the notorious “loot auctions” that followed the Boxers’ suppression, when they met at the Baron’s summer house: that same secretive villa Gamba at Bagni di Lucca in 1920. Evidently Adami, the opera’s librettist, was also present.
To find out more about this extraordinary encounter which led to Puccini’s final, sadly incomplete, but certainly greatest opera, ‘Turandot’, you can read my post at:
Tomorrow, Tuesday 25th April at 11 am, in the Sala Rosa of Bagni di Lucca’s Circolo dei Forestieri, Villa Gamba will feature again. This is because there will be a presentation of finalists for the Premio Corsena (prize) for 2017. It’s the first national literary competition on the theme of aeronautical history. What’s the Villa Gamba connection this time then? It’s because the full name of the villa is Gamba-Calderara and Mario Calderara (1879-1944), one of Italy’s greatest pioneer aviators, lived there.
Calderara was the first Italian to get a pilot’s license in 1909 and was the builder of Italy’s first flying boat in 1911.
He was the son of the Alpini regiment General Marco Calderara and Eleonora Tantini. Attracted to a life on the ocean wave Mario joined Livorno’s naval academy where he graduated as midshipman in 1901. He became fascinated by the problems of flight and studied avidly the pioneering efforts of Lilienthal and the Wright brothers and corresponded with them.
Calderara began his first aeronautical experiments in 1907 and, on a biplane towed by a ship, managed to reach a height of over 50 feet, almost risking his life. Calderara got to know French inventor Voisin and worked with him on aeroplane design. In 1909 he managed his first unassisted heavier-than-air fight at Buc in France.
The big breakthrough occurred when Calderara and Italy’s aero club invited Wilbur Wright to Rome. Wright gave Calderara some flying lessons and, consequently, Calderara’s flights increased in length.
In 1911 Calderara built his flying boat, the largest in the world and managed to fly three passengers on it in 1912.
In 1917 Calderara started a training school for pilots and became one of the founders of what would become the Italian equivalent of the RAF.
There’s absolutely no doubt that Mario Calderara is yet another feather in the cap of those greats that have established Bagni di Lucca as a centre of past excellence. For example, our town was the first in Italy to have electric street lighting, the first one to found a Scout troop, the first to pioneer hydro-therapy, the birthplace of Puccini’s ‘Turandot’ (as well as the place where most of the maestro’s ‘Girl of the Golden West was composed. It’s great that Bagni di Lucca will now be remembered as the home of one of Italy’s greatest aviation pioneers and founder of its air force.
The programme for tomorrow includes, besides presenting prizes to the finalists, the unveiling of a plaque to the memory of Mario Calderara at the villa Gamba with a visit to the villa itself (an occasion not to be missed!), a lunch at the Circolo dei Forestieri and a conference on the great aviation pioneer who was Mario Calderara. Don’t forget to fly there!