"Il passo sospeso" City of Lucca


Posted 2 CommentsPosted in Art Shows, Insider Sights




Morphing mammals, dismembered body parts, and reimagined classical figures stand in unexpected locations throughout the historic center of Lucca, Italy. They are part of an exhibit entitled: Il passo sospeso ~ Esplorazione del limite or The Suspended Step ~ An Exploration of Limits. The bronze works of over 40 international artists are featured among Lucca’s famed, park-topped Renaissance walls, and they make touring historical sites thought-provoking and even fun.

The show’s contemporary works, sponsored by the Fondazione Ragghianti of Lucca, explore the timely concepts of boundaries, borders, and limits, by forming connections between the sculptures and their positioning throughout town.

Figure 1: Gustavo Aceves, “Lapidarium.” On the rampart of San Paolino, Lucca. Photograph by Grace Roberti.

At the city’s principal gate, San Paolino, those who enter through it may feel threatened by the 30-foot tall equestrian guard on the rampart above them (Figure 1). After a glance around the city, he is not alone: Congo warriors and horses in various stages of disintegration fill the 16th century military staging area just behind him (Figure 2). Little boys shout in glee to see the swords, parents of all nationalities read about Gustavo Aceves’ work Lapidarium, and locals gaze approvingly on what appears to be preparations for some apocalyptic battle. For Aceves, this is a “work in progress [that] will grow with each installation until its final exhibition.” He intends each bronze work to represent a fragment of human history, creating a silent space of reflection available to all. From Lucca, the Lapidarium (previously in Rome’s Imperial Forum) will travel to Athen’s Acropolis, il Trocadero in Paris, Beijing, and finally, Mexico City, where Aceves plans to show 100 unique large scale sculptures.

Figure 2: Gustavo Aceves, “Lapidarium.” On the rampart of San Paolino, Lucca. Photograph by Grace Roberti.

Inside the ring of its park-lined walls, Lucca’s 9th century church of San Michele is an important destination for visitors because of its ornately decorated façade featuring the sculpted heads of important leaders from over the centuries. One can imagine them judging the merchants cutting deals in the piazza below, which was once the city’s Roman forum and chief marketplace. Now neo-expressionist Sandro Chia has positioned his sculpture, Offerta damore or “Love Offering” there. It features two 17th century-like figures passionately discussing a love offering, where farmers once came to sell their crops (Figure 3). Chia is a Florentine painter and sculptor with works on display at MOMA and the Tate Gallery.

Figure 3: A new type of bartering. Sandro Chia, “Offerta d’amore.” Piazza San Michele. Photo by Grace Roberti.

From here, a visitor would traditionally walk up the via Fillungo, the original Roman road leading out of town to the countryside. The ancient road is usually crowded with locals on their passeggiata, admiring one another and the fashionable shops that line the street. So, after a brief walk, it is a pleasant surprise for visitors to escape through a tunneled archway and discover an oval-shaped piazza, once a Roman amphitheater. Surprising even to Lucchesi is the sight of Tindaro in the center of the restaurant-ringed piazza. The sculpture, a towering bronze head in a neo-classic style by Igor Mitoraj (Figure 4), seems to dignify the setting of the ancient Roman amphitheater, soberly reminding tourists that in the past, the venue was hardly a dining destination. Mitoraj, who died in 2014, is well known in Lucca for his adoption of nearby Pietrasanta as his artistic home. Like Michelangelo and Henry Moore before him, the Polish-born sculptor appreciated the quality of its Carrara marble and set up a studio there.

Figure 4: Igor Mitoraj, “Tindaro.” Reminding visitors that Lucca’s Piazza dell’anfiteatro is oval-shaped, thanks to the Roman amphitheater that once stood there. Photo by Grace Roberti.

Many visitors to Lucca wisely rent bikes to ride around the top of the city’s walls to admire the views, and now they can also enjoy other artworks on exhibit there. Atop the elegant structure of Porta Elisa, an entrance and exit gate through the city wall, male and female figures Ikaro Alato and Ikaria also by Igor Mitoraj (Figure 5) seem ready to attempt another winged escape from earth.

Figure 5: Igor Mitoraj’s “Ikaria and Ikario Alato” appear ready to take off from the wall’s Port’Elisa. Photo by Grace Roberti.

Further along the walls, one can admire works by Greek sculptor Sophia Vari: Lhomme and La femme (Figure 6). These intentionally appear on a 17th century rampart scarred by the remnants of a 16th century defensive tower which sits alongside a barracks still in use today. The artist was attracted by the stratification of so many time periods within the space, a stratification akin to her use of polychrome sculpture.

Figure 6: Sophia Vari, “L’homme and La femme.” Mari create parallels between the statues’ construction and the stratification of rampart. Photo by Grace Roberti.

Other works seem to spring impromptu from forgotten spaces and galleries throughout the city, giving one pause, as the shows title suggests, to consider the possibilities life offers. Artworks are displayed at the Fondazione Ragghianti, and other locations as shown on the foundation’s map.

Alessandro Romanini curated Il passo sospeso to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the passing of the foundation’s founder, Carlo Ludovico Ragghianti, who educated present and future generations about 20th century art by exposing them to the perspectives of international artists.

The show opened on June 23, and runs through September 3, 2017. It is free to the public.

PARTICIPATING ARTISTS: Marina Abramović, Gustavo Aceves, Bas Jan Ader, Roberto Barni, Alighiero Boetti, Marcel Broodthaers, Enrico Castellani, Sandro Chia, Michelangelo Consani, Leone Contini, Vittorio Corsini, Gino De Dominicis, Aron Demetz, Giuseppe Donnaloia, Mario Fallini, Roberto Fanari, Davide Ferrario, Lucio Fontana, Luca Gaddini, Peter Greenaway, Emilio Isgrò, William Kentridge, Joseph Kosuth, Markus Lüpertz, Piero Manzoni, Marisa Merz, Igor Mitoraj, Jonathan Monk, Alexey Morosov, Luigi Ontani, ORLAN, Mimmo Paladino, Giulio Paolini, Massimiliano Pelletti, Marc Quinn, Enrique Ramirez, Bernardí Roig, Wael Shawky, Santiago Sierra, Giuseppe Uncini, Sophia Vari, Massimo Vitali, Guido van der Werve, Kan Yasuda

5 sites

5 Top Sites in Lucca

Posted Posted in Fun with Kids, Insider Sights

VISITING LUCCA FOR THE FIRST TIME? Don’t miss these 5 top sites:

TOP SITE #1. The city’s park-topped, Renaissance walls — aka, le mura.  

Rent a bike or go on foot: every meter of this 4.2 kilometer walk encircling the city is a pleasure for the senses.  Look out onto vistas of the city or the mountains beyond.  Admire bronze sculptures from around the world.  People watch couples on their passeggiata (daily walk), see families reconnecting as they peddle buggies, folks relaxing in the shade of hundreds year old trees, and joggers pushing themselves into shape.  Scope out what you’ll be seeing next…

Top 5 sites Lucca
Top among visitors & locals alike: the tree-lined walkway on Lucca’s walls with a bird’s eye view of the city’s beauty & is never more than 5 minutes from anyplace inside the walls.

TOP SITE #2.   The Church of San Michele in Foro

Admire the facade of the 13th century Church of San Michele set on the site of Lucca’s Roman forum. Look carefully at busts that decorate the tops of the columns: not all are original to the church — not all are even saints!

top 5 sites lucca
There are jewels up there… or so the legend goes. There are also definitely some heads of political and cultural figures that aren’t original to the facade. Can you find them?

TOP SITE #3:  The Torre Guinigi

Rise to the top: climb the 230 steps to the top of the Torre Guinigi & be cooled by the shade of its trademark trees as you take in the magnificent 360 degree view of the city and beyond.  The tower is part of a palace built by one of the city’s wealthiest signori, an international businessman, patron of the arts & leader of the independent Republic of Lucca who died in 1432.  His lovely villa (or country estate) was just outside the city’s medieval walls.  It is now a national museum worth a visit for its architecture. 

Top 5 sites Lucca
The tree-topped tower of the prominent Guinigi family makes a terrific outing, especially if you have energetic kids in tow.

TOP SITE #4.   The Cathedral of San Martino

It may look lopsided on the outside, but don’t discount this Duomo — there are treasures within.   Most beautiful is the tomb of Ilaria del Carretto — the young wife of the city’s leading citizen, Paolo Guinigi, who died in childbirth.  The tomb is his tribute to his love for her.  It’s a striking contrast to the frightening countenance of the Volto Santo (Holy Face) which stares down at visitors from a massive cross within a wrought iron gazebo.  The Volto Santo is said to have been carved by an eye-witness to Jesus’ crucifixion, Nicodemus.  The cross arrived in Lucca on an unmanned boat in the river Serchio.  It has been performing miracles for believers ever since — hence the golden crown, robes, shoes, and countless other tributes that surround the ebony and ivory figure — all are gifts from the grateful.   If you time your visit well, you can see an impressive candlelight procession  for the feast of the Volto Santo on the evening of September 13th, which attracts Lucchese pilgrims from around the world.

Top 5 sites Lucca
Candles illuminate San Martino and buildings along the procession route for the feast of the Volto Santo.

TOP SITE #5:  The Church of San Frediano

Look up at the gilded facade of this simply lovely 13th century basilica.  The eyes of Jesus seem to follow visitors as they enter and leave thanks to the architect’s tilting out of the upper portion of the mosaic–an early way to simulate perspective.  Yet the wonders of  San Frediano don’t stop there. Its simple interior is true to Romanesque style.  There you’ll find masterworks by Jacopo della Quercia, a baptistry font attributed to Andrea Pisano, and a beautiful lunette by Della Robbia.   A garden bursts into bloom in the piazza of San Frediano and the nearby Piazza dell’Anfiteatro (once the Roman amphitheater) during the week before April 27.  It celebrates the feast day of Saint Zita who lived just blocks away from the church. Don’t miss this beautiful holiday if you’re nearby!

Top 5 sites Lucca
Fireworks sparkle against the mosaic facade of San Frediano during the Feast of Santa Zita.


Narcissus, known as the flowers of Saint Zita, are everywhere for her feast day, as are flowers and fruit of all kinds.

Lucca's Top 5 sites in one dayLucca's 5 top sites in one day


So there you have them: the 5 Top Sites to visit in historic Lucca…

Check them out and let us know what you think.  Photos and reader contributions are always welcome.  Contact Us


Location, location, NOT

Posted Posted in Day Trips, Insider Food, Restaurants

It can be intimidating to defy SIRI and take the “road less traveled,” but the rewards can be huge.
On the way to Lucca from an errand in the Florentine suburb of Scandicci, we chose be different and take the Via Statale/State Route 66 (rather than the Autostrada 11) on the way home. While even my car’s GPS loudly insisted that I’d taken a wrong turn, we dove down a two lane highway between factories of furniture, fabric, and clothing, to discover one of the best authentic meals we’ve had in a very long time.

The Bar Giratempo in Quarrata (a suburb of Pistoia) is tiny, featuring nine tables in a clean modern setting (mostly outside). The fact that one end of the cafe` doubles as a resale shop of old clothes, may dissuade some, but in its quirky honest way Bar Giratempo brings back flavorful memories of the working class osterie that once served artists, bricklayers and other working class customers excellent meals at affordable prices in Firenze, so many years ago.

The kitchen prepared deliciously homemade Spaghetti alla Carbonara (customized, upon request, to a lower fat version with baked ham) and Gnocchi with Gorgonzola and Radicchio (photo below). The atmosphere was punctuated by jokes among truckers, and the occasional passing car on the nearby road. But considering we were seated on a terrace just 15 feet from the highway, all was peaceful. In fact we were impressed by the guests’ high expectations for lunch and felt a little slighted that the host hadn’t told us about the homemade tordelli (meat-filled ravioli) and super fresh ricotta that he happily offered to his regular guests… In addition to the great pastas, we had half a liter of house red, water, and a Crostata della Nonna for dessert, all for just 17 euros for two — definitely worth a visit if you are passing by.

Bar Giratempo, via Statale n. 172, Olmi Quarrata (PT) 0583 717369



Overcome Jet lag on the way to Lucca: Indulge in a drive on E80

Posted Posted in Day Trips, Fun with Kids, Insider Food, Insider Sights

Driving from Rome’s Fiumicino Airport to Lucca?
You’ve had a grueling time on the plane. Enough is enough. Indulge in some R&R on the way to Lucca. DON’T take the Autostrada del Sole – A11.
Drive north instead on the wind swept, tollway known as E80/SS1. The sea views will take your breathe away.

This highway, originally completed by Roman ruler Marcus Aurelius, has some of the best views on the Italian peninsula without sacrificing speed, since it is still a four-lane autostrada, which will occasionally require a toll. But because for bureaucratic reasons it isn’t completely refurbished and as fast as A11, it will whisk past summer beach resorts and yes, a few power plants and cities, exposing you to Italian history on fast-forward.

First up, the city of Tarquinia beckons with its claim to beautiful women and some of the country’s best preserved Etruscan necropoli — think Fellini’s Roma, before the frescoes faded… http://www.tarquinia-cerveteri.it/en/museum-and-necropolis-of-tarquinia/necropolis It’s worth a stop, if you have the time, or worth noting for a return once you are looking for a day trip.
This is Lazio where rows of umbrella pines punctuate the landscape in elegant rows, demanding attention. There was a time when my sons would spend hours smashing the seed pods of these trees with rocks, in order to extract their prize: a pine nut! If you stop for a break, you now know what to do…

In some stretches along the highway, the speed limit falls to 90 km/hr as the road drops to two lanes. The slow down should help you to admire the scenery, the sunflowers and wheat, cattle and sheep, mixed with gorgeous sea views. Stay the course and you will pass Orbetello and industrial Grosseto. If times allows, this is where you need to take a quick detour, to catch sight of Castiglione della Pescaia, and its resort sister: Punt’Ala.

Best of all this is a great place to grab a delicious lunch.

Exit at Grosseto and take route SP152 to Ponti a Badia where the restaurant of the same name serves exceptional tordelli (ravioli stuffed with fresh ricotta) covered with pomarola, a fresh tomato sauce. Also recommended: the vongole: mussels steamed in a lemony wine concoction.

After an espresso, continue on SP152 to Castiglione della Pescaglia, a picturesque sailing and boating town populated by Italians getting away from it all. After exploring the area, hop onto SP158, taking a left turn onto Strada Provinciale Tirli, and cruise by lovely homes and seascapes on the way to Punta Ala. At this point on the peninsula, literally named Wing Point, there is a nature park along the reef with stunning views that sometimes include dolphins and whales! You can park near the tip of the peninsula and explore it on foot. The private residences in Punta Ala’s resort community have access to beaches, sailing, horse-back riding, tennis and golf; but others choose to camp there in a setting that feels untouched, even if, in reality, it is just very well-maintained.

From Punta Ala, the road passes Follonica, and reaches Castagneto Carducci, a hilltop town named for one of Italy’s greatest poets, Giosue` Carducci, who had a home there in the 19th century.

Perhaps even more scenic is nearby Bolgheri, whose allee` of cypresses inspired Carducci to write a poetic ode that has been memorized by generations of Italian middle-schoolers. Nowadays, most know the area for its SuperTuscan wines, like Salsicaia by Tenuta San Guido, and the Antinori wine, Guado al Tasso.

Have an aperitif, but hold out for dinner in Quercianella. There, on the terrace of the unpretentious, kid-friendlyHotel Belsoggiorno (photo above), you can reward yourself by experiencing one of the best fish stews, known as cacciucco, anywhere around Livorno, where the dish was invented. The space is clean and simply summery. The service as warm as the sun. The windsurfers abound, and you can follow their progress on the surf well below you, as you gaze out on the islands of Gorgona and Capraia, Elba and more…

At this point, you have overcome your jet-lag and are ready for Lucca. Your destination is just 43 minutes away…