Rogue Carver on the Loose in Italy
Part 2, The Really Great Walls of Lucca
By Tuesday of this week, the 8th of April, 2014, I was at last in a position to strike out from my convenient and comfortable base in Pietrasanta and reward myself with a day trip. And so after a great deal of thought I opted to catch the train and retrace the rail journey I had taken just days earlier from Florence, but this time I hopped off the train at Lucca in order to marvel at the formidable 500 year old walls that I had heard were possible to traverse by bicycle.
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Given that the only city walls I had ever encountered previously had mainly constituted either fragments, or a wall of sufficient width to facilitate perhaps three or four burly soldiers marching abreast, and you can perhaps imagine my delight and astonishment when I first laid eyes on the gargantuan fortifications, almost completely intact, that encompass the ancient city of Lucca; 500 years old and looking like they are good for another 5,000.
At this point I must confess a long fascination for ancient walls. As a very young child growing up in England I soon learned that if the walls were imposing enough it necessarily gave reason that there must be something darned interesting behind them; a prison, a castle, a palace… who knew what?
As a qualified stone mason I have the experience to appreciate the monumental human endeavor required in moving both stone and dirt, and I can tell you that to shift just one cubic yard of either requires an enormous amount of work. Multiplied by the countless millions, or billions, of yards of heavy dead weight represented by these walls and the numbers are mind-boggling, especially when you consider too that, back in the early 16th century, aside from the wheelbarrow technology was still rooted in its infancy; meaning that all this dirt, rock and stone was dug, quarried, shifted, and installed using primarily brute human and animal strength.
It simply beggars belief just how many hours of grueling human effort was poured into the making of these unbelievably massive fortifications. But what is perhaps even more astounding is that they remain intact practically as they were built some 500 years ago – and looking pretty fine too it must be said.
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For a hundred yards, at least, a vast blanket of grass provides a sumptuous green belt – a park if you like, right in the heart of the city.
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How odd that this product of war should produce the modern urban ideal, for people were jogging, children were playing; old and young, rich and poor… were all out and about strolling, looking cool and getting their blood pumping, it was quite the scene.
Pretty soon though I found myself mulling on the fact that these walls, though medieval in origin, now provide the ultimate in urban sophisticated cool.
Mercifully for the civilized world Lucca’s strategic importance was considered negligible to both allied and axis forces during World War Two. Considering roughly 40 percent of nearby Pisa was destroyed during this period must count as something of a blessing.
And so, after hiking half way around the walls I spied my first opportunity to rent a bike of my own and duly belted around the elevated bike path with pure joy and unbridled revelry – it was indeed all quite magnificent!
But too soon the day was over and I was left to ponder on the fact that: what if all urban cities had these beautiful wide elevated platforms? I was filled with envy for those locals to whom this marvelous, radical, beautiful facility is part and parcel of their daily lives, and was left wondering why, in this technological age we can’t construct this sort of pressure valve into the modern urban conglomerate. For on that wall I caught a glimpse of the joy, the sheer pleasure, and the quite natural desire that humans have to stretch their legs, to exercise, to just get out and simply rise above it all.
Here’s to Lucca and its really, really great walls.
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The Really Great Walls of Lucca: Rogue Carver on the Loose in Italy, Part 2
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