Benabbio’s Beauties

There’s yet another exhibition to feast one’s eyes in Bagni di Lucca Villa. The ‘L’ora Blu’ photographic group has selected some beautiful, mainly black and white, photographs from Benabbio.

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It’s not often realised that Benabbio has some of the greatest artistic treasures of any Val di Lima village. First is the Romanesque parish church dedicated to the Assumption of the virgin and consecrated in 1339. Its most valuable works of art are now housed in an adjoining museum which was once the oratorio of the most Holy Trinity. (See my post at for more on that museum.)

Benabbio also has its own theatre, the Eden (dating from 1780,) where such celebrities as Zacconi and Totò appeared and also where the princess of Lucca, Elisa Baciocchi, was part of its audience.

The castle of the Lupari has been the subject of recent intensive archaeological research by Pisa university. This has revealed its massive walls within which is the church of San Michele dating from 1218. Benabbio also has many amiable corners, its ‘Lucciola’ night-spot and an excellent eating place!

Famous people have been born in Benabbio including poet Pascoli’s Latin master Francesco Cianelli and its own most famous poet, Antonio Viviani, who held a position at the Napoleonic court in Rome. (For more on Benabbio’s famous people see my post at ).

Anyway we are here to celebrate Benabbio’s charms and these are a selection of the photographs on view:

My own favourite is this one:

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Benabbio’s Cribs

Every year Benabbio has its own special exhibition of presepi or Christmas nativity scenes.

Going to visit friends at the magnificent Casa San Rocco, a mansion which would require several posts to do it complete justice, (see, for the meanwhile its web site at ) we walked up the steep village and came across some delightful representations of the night of Christmas. These are just a tiny selection of over fifty of them!

For hard pressed-travellers there’s no better solution this one.

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Doors open onto Christmas too.

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Yes, Santa Claus does have his weaknesses as well!

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The olive groves surrounding the large village provide a suitably peaceful background for these larger representations. I’m glad the camel’s got a wrap on him. It wasn’t exactly warm that evening…

This lovely Benabbian cat we meet has nothing specific to do with the presepi but we always like to include one in our own one at home so here goes!.

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Have you seen the presepi at Benabbio this year? There’s a competition with a prize for the best one.

Perhaps a trip to the Holy Land?

Forest Kings at Bagni di Lucca

The new exhibition in Bagni di Lucca’s town hall foyer has works by Cesare Giannetti.

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Centrered in Benabbio, by far the most attractive of the artist’s works are those depicting street views of this sweet village which boast one of the great little Pievi (parish churches) in the Val di Lima.

Under Giannetti’s brush the Benabbio streets become a lively display of almost Van Goghian colour. In fact, Giannetti says he’s drawn most inspiration from the paintings of Antonio Ligabue (1899 – 1965).  Here is a tiger by Giannetti

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And here’s a lion  painted by Ligabue:


Both are entitled “King of the Forest”.

Giannetti is also much influenced by the traditional presepe (nativity crib).

The most remarkable thing about Giannetti is that he is entirely self-taught. This fact should inspire others who have never put oil on canvas (like myself!) to consider taking up an art which can only draw stimulation from the wonderful corner of the universe we live in.

You’ll have until 13th November to visit Cesare Giannetti’s exhibition.

No Mute Inglorious Miltons Here: Benabbio’s Claim to Fame

If anyone thinks that the villages surrounding Bagni di Lucca were inhabited by what Gray, in his immortal elegy on a country churchyard, referred to as mute inglorious Miltons, then think again. A series of conferences, started in 2010 under the aegis of the Fondazione Michel Montaigne and its director Marcello Cherubini (whose own father was a distinguished historian of the comune of Bagni di Lucca), continues to reveal the number of inhabitants who made a highly significant impact on the international scene, especially in art, literature and music.

The results of these study days will be presented next Saturday 27th June at 5.30 pm in Bagni di di Lucca’s library, otherwise known as the ex-Anglican church.

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I remember the conference on that extraordinary engraver,  Bartolomeo Nerici, at Crasciana last  year (see my post at, in 2012 the conference on Nicolao Dorati, the great renaissance composer born in Granaiola, and the amazing connections brought out between the English court at the Royal palace of Eltham where Chaucer was poet-in-residence and Pancio da Controne (see my post at

This year’s conference was held at Benabbio which is a large village on the way towards the passo Del Trebbio and, therefore, an alternative, mountainous route to Lucca. This may explain the extraordinary richness of Benabbio’s heritage, some of which I’ve described in my post at but which requires a lot more sites added to it, including the castle and the museum

Here are two exquisite statues of the annunciation by Jacobo della Quercia’s dad, which date back to the 1300’s.

Here are other items from this marvellous little museum in the hidden mountain village:

The conference was held in the very beautiful oratorio of the SS Sacramento, which dates back to the XVII century and has still part of its ceiling encased by a “cassettone” above the precious altar.

Benabbio has produced at least five important historical figures of which three were the subject of the conference.

This was the conference programme:


The conference was introduced by mayor Massimo Betti and coordinated by Bruno Micheletti.

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Antonio Nicolao (1753-1827 or 1830) was a historian and chronicler who produced Lucca’s first major history in several volumes, the last of which remains incomplete but which was to deal with the buildings of Lucca itself, including churches and palaces. The speaker, Tommaso Maria Rossi, is archivist of the diocesan archive of Lucca cathedral and was able to discover many new details, not the least of which is that we are not exactly sure when the great man died, 1827 or 1830. It would be good to get a reprint of Nicolao’s work as it is difficult to find and what he wrote sounds fascinating.

It’s significant that Nicolao became a regular cleric of the order of the Mother of God which was originally in the monastery of the church of Santa Maria Corteorlandini, the church Luccans popularly call Santa Maria Nera to distinguish it from Santa Maria Bianca , Santa Maria Forisportam. The order placed great emphasis on learning and, indeed, the Lucca state archives and public library are housed in the former monastery.

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Francesco Cianelli 1838-1910 was Antonio’s nephew and he too, was ordained as a priest. Francesco became a classics scholar and teacher at Lucca’ seminary and was the author of various epigram and inscription published together towards the end of the nineteenth century. He was also one of the great poet, Giovanni Pascoli’s, Latin mentor and friend. In fact, Pascoli refers to Cianelli with great esteem and affection. Pascoli should know for he managed to buy his lovely house at Castelvecchio Pascoli with the prize money obtained by winning various international Latin verse writing competitions!

Incidentally, Francesco Cianelli is buried in the local cemetery. Clearly, he is not one of the mute inglorious ones inhumed there.

Marcello Cherubini gave his talk on  Antonio Viviani 1770-1830, a poet to both the Pontifical and Neapolitan courts who wrote various dramas, poems and tragedies in a neo-classical style, with reference to Viviani’ chronicle of events in the area between 1799 and 1802.

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Both papers were not only interesting but fun too, especially Viviani’s account of what happened to the area during those momentous years 1799-1802, i.e. between Napoleon’s invasion of Italy and the peace of Amiens. The antagonism between the republicans and their tree of liberty, erected in Benabbio’s main square, and the religionist who opposed them chopping down the infamous tree and replacing it with a cross, only to have Lucca turned into a Napoleonic principality in 1802 with the arrival of Bonaparte’s sister, Elisa Baciocchi, gave rise to the closest the area had to an insurrection until that is, of course, the years 1944-5 with the battles between the partisans and the Nazi occupiers.

I would also add that Benabbio continues to host significant persons. Some of them have their ancestry there. Thecla Reuten, for example, the Dutch actress born in 1975 has a mum born in Benabbio and often returns to the village. And of course the great English painter Raymond Victor Mee (1945-2006) and his wife Julia Mee, also a highly regarded artist, fell in love with this almost hidden village which inspired their work as Tahiti inspired Gauguin and Barga, Bellamy.

However, it’s slightly disappointing that I have been unable to find details of any famous cultural contributions some other villages, like Longoio, have made to the world.

The conference was concluded by a short concert of music by Kreisler, Beethoven, Paganini (who was Elisa’s music teacher and lover) and Sgambati (who spent his summers in Benabbio) played by Carlo-Andrea Berti (violin) and Alvise Pascucci (keyboard).

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