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Comics and games

Lucca day five

View Birthday trip to Italy on ToonSarah's travel map.

Street art in Lucca

The clouds returned for our last morning in Lucca and there were a few spots of rain in the air. We had breakfast at our usual spot on the Piazza San Michele before going back to the apartment to pack. We had arranged with the owner to leave our bags at the B&B where we had checked in (just around the corner) when dropping off the key, so we did that and were then free to make the most of our last few hours in the city.

The Comics and Games festival

Comics and Games

From the day of our arrival we had watched as numerous marquees sprung up in the various squares around Lucca, and smaller tents up on the walls. We had cursed them from time to time for getting in the way of photographs and spoiling the cityscape, especially in the Piazza Anfiteatro. You can see them in the background of my photo taken in the Piazza Napoleone two days ago, and some of those in the gardens of the Palazzo Pfanner on the same day.

But now we got the pay-off. The marquees were the dispersed venues for a major comics and games festival which opened today, and the city was full of (mostly) young people, many of them in fancy dress. We started by grabbing candid shots on the streets, but soon realised that they were not only happy to pose but pleased to be asked and to have the chance to show off their costumes. Taking these photos occupied us very happily for the next hour as we strolled around, and later as we sat over a hot chocolate back in the Piazza San Michele - it was not only damp, but chilly!

Please indulge me while I share just a small selection of the many photos I took of these colourful young (mostly) and friendly (all) people.







Comics and Games festival attendees

Puccini Museum

When the rain got a little worse we sought shelter in the Puccini House, which we had skipped when we passed it earlier in our stay. This is in the house where the composer was born, on 22 December 1858, and lived during his early years along with his six siblings and parents. His was a musical family – his great great grandfather, great grandfather, grandfather and father were all musicians, and a Puccini held the position of Maestro di Cappella in Lucca for 124 years. The line was only broken on the death of his father when he was just six years old and too young to take up the position.

Reproduction of Cio-Cio-San’s 2nd act costume,
original production of Madame Butterfly

Giacomo Puccini left the family home to study in Milan, and it was later sold when the family ran into financial problems. He was able to repurchase it after the success of Manon Lescaut, and it has remained in the family ever since, who set up a foundation to manage it. Today it conserves furniture, documents, music scores, costumes and various artefacts belonging to the composer, including the Steinway piano on which he composed many of his works, including Turandot. Although not especially an opera fan, and knowing relatively little of his music, I found it interesting nevertheless to see inside the house. A keen opera fan, such as my friend Don, would no doubt spend hours here!

Tickets to visit the museum are sold in a nearby gift shop, so we bought these and then had to use an entry phone to get into the house. Although called a ‘house’, you are in fact visiting an apartment on the second floor, where the family lived, not the whole building – hence (I assume) the need for the entry phone. Even though the morning was wet we were for most of our visit the only people there, which surprised me a little.

Tours are self-guided, using a leaflet that comes with the tickets and following a set route through the rooms. These contain some original furniture but are largely devoted to display cases of significant documents (letters, photos, some music manuscripts). These I found less interesting (not knowing as much as I perhaps should about opera in general and Puccini in particular) but I liked seeing the décor of the rooms, in particular the tempera decoration on many of the walls, and the opera costumes on display, as well as the old photographs. Talking of photos, you are permitted to take your own provided you don’t use flash and they aren’t for commercial purposes.

The rooms include:

The music room, with the Steinway piano bought by Puccini in 1901, on which he composed much of his music, including his last opera, Turandot.

Puccini family tree, displayed in the music room

Tempera wall decoration in the music room, dated c 1910

The dining room, which is furnished as it would have been in Puccini’s time, including some original family furniture.

The kitchen, largely unfurnished, with old family photos.

In the kitchen

The attic, which has been decorated using a stage set for La Bohème, made by the Teatro del Giglio in Lucca. You can't go into this room but have to view it from the door, for obvious reasons!

Stage set design for La Bohème in the attic

The room where Puccini was born (his parents’ bedroom), with tempera wall decoration simulating a tapestry – this dates back to the second quarter of the 19th century (around the time when the Puccini family came to live here). The painted chest is a late 15th century wedding chest, but the bed is a copy, as the original is in the Puccini House Museum in Camaiore.

A corner of the bedroom

The Hall of Triumphs, where various medals, prizes and other items awarded to Puccini are displayed – I confess I found the mid 19th century tempera wall decorations more interesting, with their stylised birds and twisted blue and red ribbons.

Tempera decoration in the Hall of Triumphs

The one-time study and family library, which is now known as the Turandot Room and used to display the costume for Act II of Turandot, donated by Maria Jeritza, in memory of the first production of the opera at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York (1926). This is displayed behind glass, understandably, so is a little hard to photograph, but is gorgeous and worth the effort!

The costume for Act II of Turandot from the first production of the opera

Back on the city wall

When we left the Puccini house, the weather had brightened so we took a short walk on another section of the wall, this time on the west side of the city. This too was lively with the comics and games activities and the many fans attending them, so we took more photos of the most colourful.

Festival goers on the city wall

We descended from the wall at the Baluardo Santa Croce in the north west corner of the wall. This is one of the best preserved of all the bastions, with cannon emplacements and soldiers’ barracks under the battlements.

The Baluardo Santa Croce

Here we found some interesting sculptures, which like the piece we had seen yesterday in the Mercato del Carmine turned out to be left-overs from the Biennial. The figure of the gorilla and baby seemed to me at the time to be the work of the same artist, but again a bit of subsequent research has revealed the artist to be Laurence Vallières, and the work’s title ‘Mother’. The other figures are apparently ostriches with their heads in the sand, but I haven’t been able to identify the artist.

Art installations at the Baluardo Santa Croce

We walked back towards the centre, still passing, and photographing, all the festival goers.

More festival goers

Osteria del Neni

For a final meal in Lucca we had lunch in the same trattoria where we had eaten on our second evening, the Osteria del Neni. The service was friendly, to the extent that one waitress recognised us from that earlier visit and welcomed us back! The tortellini were freshly made, the sauces tasty and it made a pleasant ending to our stay.

In the Osteria del Neni

Time to go home

We collected our bags from the B&B and walked to the station, crossing the wall again. The train to Pisa was on time, the transfer there to the shuttle, Pismover, easy, and we were at the airport with more than enough time to have a drink while waiting to board.

The flight took off and landed more or less on time, but as we were at Gatwick’s North Terminal we still had to catch the shuttle to the South Terminal, the train to London Victoria, and the Tube, before we could consider ourselves properly home again. We'd had a super time, despite the rain. We loved Lucca, enjoyed being in Italy as always, and no doubt will be visiting our favourite European country again soon!

A final farewell from the Comics and Games Festival

Posted by ToonSarah 02:42 Archived in Italy Tagged art restaurant history italy museum music festival street_photography Comments (10)

A birthday in Lucca

Lucca day four

View Birthday trip to Italy on ToonSarah's travel map.

Piazza San Michele, after last night's rain

My birthday, and on getting up I found that Chris had brought a few easy to pack presents along to Lucca, including a very pretty silver bangle. And as an extra birthday treat, the rain that had been falling for much of the night stopped as we were getting ready to go out, and patches of blue began to appear in the sky. For the first time on this trip the sun shone on Lucca.

San Michele in Foro in the sun

We had breakfast on the Piazza San Michele again, and took the opportunity to get some photos of the church in the sunshine. But it was cooler than the previous days, so we popped back to the apartment to fetch scarves before starting today’s explorations.

We walked east to the Porta San Gervasio at the end of Via Santa Croce. We were retracing (in the opposite direction) part of the walk we had done on our first day, but nevertheless finding lots to photograph along the way, including re-taking shots from earlier in our visit now that the blue sky and sunshine made the scene more attractive.

Wine shop on Via Santa Croce

Halloween decorations in a shop

We passed the small church of San Benedetto in Gottella, built in the 10th century, and reconstructed in the 13th. It is home to the ancient Confraternita dei Legnaioli (the Confraternity of Carpenters) and we never saw it open during the course of our stay.

San Benedetto in Gottella

The church of Santa Maria Foris Portam was also still closed, as it had been on Sunday, but we could get better photos today of the colonna mozza, or broken column, on the piazza outside. This is believed to have served as the finishing post for a horse race which took part around the streets of Lucca in medieval times.

The colonna mozza, and house detail in the piazza

At the Porta San Gervasio we turned south down the Via del Fosso, with the canal running down the centre and an attractive water fountain where locals come to fill bottles with the mountain spring water.

Porta San Gervasio in sunshine, and nearby water fountain

The city walls

We had thought about visiting the Botanical Gardens, which were just about to open, but peering through the gates they didn’t seem exciting enough to wait for opening time or to pay the small fee charged.

Looking into the Botanical Gardens, and the old gate

So instead we walked up the nearby stone ramp to reach the path which runs along the city walls. Lucca is famous for these walls, which form a complete ring around the city, 4 kilometres, 223 metres long. The top is wide and grassy, with a path perfect for walking and cycling – which both locals and tourists really make the most of. If a city can wear its lungs on the outside, then these walls are indeed how Lucca breathes!

The path along the city walls

On the city walls

The wall that we see today is the last in a series, moving outwards in concentric if uneven circles as the city grew. The first wall was the traditional Roman square shape and was built around 200 BC. The second ring of walls dates from 1100-1200, when city’s perimeter was increased on three sides. The walls lost their square footprint, adjusting to take in all of the existing city buildings so that again almost all the important ones fell within the walls. When the third ring was built between 1400-1500 this expanded the north-east side so that all the main buildings were included. Building work on the fourth circle began in 1513 and took more than a century to complete.

The design of the walls reflects their Renaissance heritage. During medieval times, an attacking enemy’s objective was to scale a city’s walls, so walls were built for height. This gave the defending troops a better view over the surrounding area when on the lookout for attacks. It made them harder for attackers to climb, and easier to defend, as those on the top could throw stones or hot tar or oil at the climbing soldiers.

But the invention of the cannon changed all this. Walls needed to be able to withstand the constant barrage of cannon fire, so became squat and wide. And they became lower, in order to be less exposed. Even the towers were made round to be less vulnerable to artillery damage. Lucca’s walls are the only surviving example of a Renaissance defensive structure in the whole of Italy.

The walls have never actually been used for defence, or at least not from military attack – they did prove useful in protecting the city from the floodwaters of the river Serchio in 1812. They were demilitarised during the Napoleonic era and have been used ever since as public gardens and walk ways. These are enhanced by the many trees, which were originally intended to strengthen the walls and to provide emergency supplies of firewood in case of siege.

View of Lucca from the city walls

The walls have six gates: San Donato, Santa Maria, San Jocopo, Elisa, San Pietro, and Sant'Anna (officially Vittorio Emanuele). Of these, the Porta San Pietro, the Porta Santa Maria, and the Porta San Donato are the original Renaissance gates. Porta Elisa was opened in 1811, named after Elisa Bonaparte, and the remaining two are 20th century additions to facilitate vehicle access.

At intervals along the length of the walls are a number of bastions or Baluardi, many named for the nearest church: Santa Croce, San Frediano, San Martino, San Pietro, San Salvatore, La Libertà, San Regolo, San Colombano, Santa Maria, San Paolino, and San Donato. These were positioned so that from each of them the ones on either side of it could be seen.

City wall from the Baluardo San Salvatore

City wall with Baluardo San Regolo on the left and San Salvatore on the right

Baluardo San Salvatore and the new town

Our walk took in three of these bastions. We started at Baluardo San Regolo, built between 1600-1605. Part way round we passed Baluardo la Libertà (1607), also sometimes known as the Baluardo Cairoli after the bust of Benedetto Cairoli erected there. And beyond that we came to Baluardo San Salvatore, built between 1590 and 1592. The barracks inside this bastion are apparently intact and serve as a changing room for those who use this part of the walls as an outside gym.

The bastions provide larger open spaces; some have picnic tables, some have playgrounds for children, a couple have cafés (although the one we passed was closed, so I’m assuming they may only open for the summer season). In fact, you have all the facilities you expect of a city park but in a rather different shape (!) and with ever changing views as you walk.

View of Lucca with the campanile of San Michele in Foro

Mist over the mountains near Lucca

City view from the walls

Church in the new part of the city

Views of the Torre Guinigi and Botanical Gardens

We both took lots of photos up here, taking advantage of the brighter weather. We had great views of the mountains around the city and for the first time could get a sense of the topography of this area, with Lucca lying in a basin surrounded by the mountains.

View of the mountains from the city walls

Of course there were also the excellent city views, and in addition there were lots of details - a cheerful robin, a fallen branch reminiscent of a snake, and lovely autumn colours on the trees.

Friendly robin, and 'snake'!

Autumn colours

Piazza San Francesco

We had planned to make at least a half circuit of the walls, finishing somewhere around the Palazzo Pfanner so that we could see its pretty garden from above. But soon after we passed the bastion of San Salvatore the skies began to darken, and we could see that it was about to rain, so we descended from the wall, abandoning our original plan to walk round to the north of the city. Just as well, as soon after we reached street level the heavens opened. Luckily we were quite near a café where we could take shelter while the worst passed.

Shops in the Piazza San Francesco

We were near the church of San Francesco and the piazza of the same name. But some rain was still falling, and just west of the piazza is the Centre for Contemporary Art, which was showing an exhibition of photos by Henri Cartier Bresson taken in America, so we decided it was a good time to visit this and check out the work of one of our favourite photographers.

The exhibition was very good, although I was frustrated by the total ban on photography, even of the interior of the building, a 16th century palazzo. I fully understand the copyright issues involved in photographing works of art and had no interest in taking pictures of the works of another photographer, much greater than I, but there were some lovely frescos on the columns of a basement room which I asked permission to photograph and was refused on the same grounds of ‘copyright’.

The Piazza San Francesco

By the time we came out the sun was shining again so we could have a better look at the 14th century Chiesa San Francesco. We didn’t go inside the church but the façade (its limestone rendering added only in the last century I believe) was worth a few photos. I was intrigued by the painting of the Madonna and Child above the central door, as both are wearing ornate metal (copper?) crowns adding a little 3D relief to the image.


The Chiesa San Francesco

In front of the church in the centre of the small piazza is a tall column topped by the Madonna Della Stellario, which was looking great against the now blue again skies.

Madonna Della Stellario,

From here we walked slowly in the direction of the Piazza di Anfiteatro, taking photos as we went of course.

Artist at work in a shop near the Piazza San Francesco

Lemon tree, and vegetable delivery bike

On Via Antonio Mordini

On a house in Via San Nicolao, and locals chatting

Building detail near the Piazza di Anfiteatro

By now it was late enough to justify a lunch stop, and we enjoyed some good salami focaccia sandwiches and a glass each of red wine (a very good local Brunello) in one of the cafes here. Good timing, as there was another very heavy shower while we ate.

After our lunch it was dry again, so we wandered around the streets near the Anfiteatro taking some more photos while making our plans for the afternoon.

In the Piazza Anfiteatro (hoarding for comic and games festival), and another water fountain

We passed an old covered market, part of a former convent, Santa Maria del Carmine. A sign in the arched entrance tells its history in some detail. When the convent was dissolved in the 17th century the building housed various public services, such as a magistrates court.

Mercato del Carmine

In the Mercato del Carmine

In 1930 it was decided to move the Vettovaglie Market from its location in the Piazza Anfiteatro to this site, and unfortunately in the process the church was demolished. Since 2014 the market has been under renovation to remove asbestos, provide better cover and consolidate the structures, including the old bell tower. It certainly appears to need help, from what we saw, as it seems rather neglected apart from the installation of a single large sculptural work in wood. This was unlabeled, but a bit of subsequent digging around on the internet has revealed that it is the work of Franco-Peruvian artist Eugenie Taze-Bernard and is called 'Silent shell, chaotic shell'. It appears to be a legacy of the Lucca Biennial which took place in August and September and was this year (2018) focused on the theme of 'Paper' - so I guess this is not wood, as it appears, but paper!


On Via Fillungo

Torre Delle Ore

The return of better weather prompted us to head for another spot where we could get good city views. It had been dull on Sunday when we climbed the Torre Guigno, so another tower climb seemed a good idea.

The Torre Delle Ore is the tallest in the city at 50 metres. It was built, like the others in the city and elsewhere in Italy, by a wealthy merchant family wanting to show off their status and also be able to defend their home and property – in the case of this tower, the Quartigiani family. It was acquired by the city government in the 14th century after the family suffered political defeat, and in 1390, they decided to house a clock in the tower. It was this decision in part that ensured that this tower survived when many others in the city (there were at one time over 200) were pulled down.

Staircase in the Torre Delle Ore

The tower has 207 steps – fewer than the Torre Guinigi, despite being taller, because you stop on a platform below the bell rather than climbing to the very top. They did however seem a bit steeper to me, especially near the top, and therefore harder work to climb. Or maybe that was the effect of all the delicious meals and gelati I had been consuming?!

As you climb the stairs you can find good excuses to pause for breath in the many informative signs along the way which tell the history of the tower. For example:

Information board in the Torre Delle Ore

There are also small windows where you can start to get some idea of the views to come, and, towards the top, of the clock mechanism. This dates from 1754 when the previous clock (installed in 1699) began to display signs of wear. The city council commissioned a Genevan clockmaker, Louis Simon, who was considered the best in Europe at that time, to build this replacement which is described by the information board as having ‘an Italian-style striking mechanism (that is, which struck the hours and quarter hours)’. The tower was modified to accommodate the new clock, a new bell installed, needed to strike the quarter hours (presumably the previous clock had only struck the hours?) and the clock face restored with the paint being touched-up and a new gilded hour hand fitted.

Clock mechanism, Torre Delle Ore

Once we reached the top the views were fantastic, and we saw even more clearly than from the walls the surrounding mountains that shelter the city.

Panorama looking west from the Torre Delle Ore, with San Michele in Foro in the foreground

San Michele in Foro

The Duomo

Mountains around Lucca

Panorama looking north from the Torre Delle Ore, with the campanile of San Frediano

The huge bells rang while we were up there, chiming the hour at 2.00 pm. We were glad that another tourist, arriving at the top just after we did, pointed out the imminent chiming as we hadn’t noticed the time and I think the sudden noise would have made us leap out of skins!

Bells of the Torre Delle Ore

Lucca in sunshine

After our climb we popped back to the apartment, as it was so close, to use the bathroom and drop off the now unneeded scarves. Then we set off again to have today’s gelati in the same excellent gelateria we had visited on our first afternoon here, Del’ Cotelli. On the way we stopped for more photos in the Piazza San Michele where the bubble blower was again in action.

San Michele in Foro, with bubbles

Bubbles in the Piazza San Michele

After the ices we decided to retrace some of the route we had taken on Sunday morning, to get photos of the duomo and surroundings in the sunshine. We saw more preparations being made for the Comic and Games festival that was to start the following morning, with a graffiti artist decorating a shop window on Via Santa Croce and a giant yellow robot outside San Giusto!

On Via Santa Croce, and outside the Chiesa di San Giusto

We stopped off to get a sunnier photo of Garibaldi in the Piazza del Giglio, and an interesting perspective on San Michele in Foro from the Piazza XX Settembre.

Garibaldi in sunshine, and San Michele from the Piazza XX Settembre

We didn’t go inside the cathedral again but instead concentrated on getting photos of the exterior in this much better light.



Lucca cathedral in sunshine

We stopped outside the small deconsecrated church, the Oratorio di San Giuseppe, on the Piazza Antelminelli next to the cathedral museum, and enjoyed soaking up the sun while sitting on its stone steps and watching the activity in the piazza. The church is all that remains of a Jesuit convent founded in 1518. An exhibit linked to the Comic and Games festival was being set up inside, so we popped our heads around the door but didn’t go in.

Oratorio di San Giuseppe - entrance detail

Building in the Piazza Antelminelli, and birthday photo on the steps of the Oratorio di San Giuseppe

Above the door of the Oratorio di San Giuseppe

Santa Maria Annunziata dei Servi

On our way back to the apartment we spotted the small 14th century church of Santa Maria Annunziata dei Servi. Like others in the city it is now deconsecrated and used for occasional concerts and exhibitions. It too was being readied to host some exhibits for the Comic and Games festival that was to start tomorrow, but we managed to have a brief look around. I tried to stay out of the way of the workers while taking my photos and no one objected to our presence!

Old fresco in Santa Maria Annunziata dei Servi

The church dates from the late 14th century, when it replaced an earlier one on this site. The walls were frescoed in the 15th century but only a few traces remain. Perhaps because of the workers setting up the exhibits we missed noticing a plaque I have since read about which commemorating the beaching in 1495 of a huge whale on the Viareggio coast. The carcass was brought to Lucca and hung on the church wall at this spot.

After a quick look around here it was time to go back to rest up and refresh ourselves before my birthday dinner.

Il Grammofono

Il Grammofono

I had done a bit of research before coming to Lucca in order to identify somewhere a bit special for my birthday dinner and had settled on Il Grammofono. The cuisine sounded a little unusual, a fusion of Italian classics with Asian influences, and there were loads of very positive reviews. Chris made a reservation before we left, just to be sure of getting in, and although it seemed quiet when we arrived it soon got busy, so I think we were wise to book.

Il Grammofono

I really loved it here. The food was excellent as was the service, and the atmosphere cosy. The menu features some very interesting dishes which made a change from the other meals we had eaten during our stay, much though we both love Italian food. As much to preserve my memories of an excellent evening as anything else, I’m going to indulge myself with a much more detailed description of our meal than I normally share!

To start with we were served an amuse bouche – a pumpkin and ginger cream with salsa and croutons which was a bit like a mini bowl of cold soup except that it was served in a huge bowl! This came with an excellent selection of fresh-made breads.

Beef tartare
Rabbit ravioli

For his appetiser Chris ordered the beef tartare, served with a soft-boiled quail’s egg, which he really enjoyed. He followed this with the rabbit ravioli, a dish which has the rather theatrical title of ‘Pink is the colour of passion’. Despite the drama of that name, this was his least favourite dish of the evening, although still good.

Rice paper roll

Meanwhile I had started with the ‘Rice paper roll, BBQ pork ribs and Trapanese pesto’ which definitely leaned more towards the Asian end of the spectrum. The taste was lovely, although the portion a little large for a starter perhaps.

My ‘dish of the evening’ was my main course, another one with a colourful description on the menu: ‘Angus beef picanha in the zen garden, purple potato chips, grilled pineapple and Worcestershire sauce drops’. It proved to be a variation on one of my favourite Italian dishes, tagliata di manzo – a simple but delicious dish of marinated steak cooked very rare and sliced, then served dressed with the cooking juices and marinade, usually with a rocket salad. The Grammofino version added a bit of chilli heat to the marinade, plus chunks of grilled pineapple which really complemented the beef.

Angus beef picanha


We were brought a complementary ‘pre-dessert’ of ricotta cream with pear gel, which was light and refreshing. Chris had the very good cheesecake with pistachio nuts as his ‘proper’ dessert and I had the rather decadent hot chocolate soufflé ‘with a hint of Trapani fleur de sel, on a white chocolate ganache and yellow habanero powder’.

Chocolate soufflé

With a half bottle of excellent local red wine, sparkling water and a grappa each after the meal, this feast cost us €106 without service. I consider this very good value for the quality of the food and service, as a similar meal would cost twice as much at home in London!

We strolled back to the apartment along the Via del Fosso very happy with our night out.

Posted by ToonSarah 07:34 Archived in Italy Tagged churches food architecture history views restaurants italy city cathedral sculpture street_art ice_cream street_photography Comments (12)

More strolling around Lucca

Lucca day three

View Birthday trip to Italy on ToonSarah's travel map.

The Palazzo Pfanner from the garden

There was thunder during the night and heavy rain, but we woke to dry, if grey, skies, and despite a forecast that was the opposite of promising (97% chance of rain) it stayed dry until mid-afternoon, thankfully.

Piazza Napoleone

Our breakfast café in the Piazza Napoleone

We started the day with breakfast in the Piazza Napoleone, the old city’s main square. The square, often called simply the Piazza Grande by locals (for obvious reasons) has always been at the heart of the city’s political power and was formerly the site of the Augusta Fortress which once occupied a large part of the city. The fortress was demolished by the people of Lucca when the ruling Castracani family was cast out of the city in 1370.

The square was given its present-day name by Eliza, sister of Napoleon Bonaparte, who ruled Lucca between 1805 and 1815 and had the entire appearance of the square redone – hence its rather French (as opposed to Italian) style. The west side is dominated by the Palazzo Ducale and in the centre is a statue of Maria Luisa, Duchess of Lucca, who ruled after Eliza in place of the monument to her brother originally planned by the latter.

Unfortunately, like most of Lucca’s squares both large and small, it was not looking its best during our visit as there were white marquees going up everywhere in preparation for a major comic books festival that was to start the day we left. You can see these blocking the view of the square from the café tables in my photo, but the plane trees which line it were, despite the marquees and still dull weather, looking rather lovely and autumnal.

Corte del Pesce

The Corte del Pesce

After our breakfast we followed another walk from our small guidebook, ‘Strolling Around Lucca’, which focused more on the western side of the city. Our ‘guide’ pointed out the tiny courtyard Corte del Pesce reached through an archway on the north side of the Piazza Napoleone. This rather drab space surrounded today by residential apartments was where the city’s fish market was once held. Lucca was since medieval times famously good at all forms of commerce, and business was conducted in these small courts, each devoted to a different trade. Courts developed around the characteristic tower house and were usually owned by a single family. The court was enclosed by four walls formed by the surrounding buildings and inside was a well to be used by the family. The water could be taken directly to the higher floors through the use of pulleys. The ground floor of the building was, like the courtyard, used to conduct business while the family lived on the floors above.

Café flowers

The route then took us out of the Piazza in its north east corner to the much smaller Piazza XX Settembre with its memorial to the fallen of Italy which we had already photographed yesterday. A waitress was just setting up some tables outside a cafe, with beautiful vases of fresh flowers - she was evidently confident the dry weather would hold, at least for a while!

A café in the Piazza XX Settembre

Piazza San Giusto

Chiesa San Giusto -
detail of Atlas figure

Beyond this is another small square, the Piazza San Giusto, with the church of the same name. The church dates from the 12th century and has some ornate carvings on the façade, although some are sadly very worn. The pair of lions flanking the door are supported by some unusual twisted Atlas figures.

Chiesa San Giusto

The door was open so we looked inside, but there was a mass in progress so we didn’t go in. Instead we walked north along Via Cenami and its continuation, Via Filungo, the main north-south artery of the old town. We passed the Renaissance Palazzo Cenami, now a bookshop, and popped inside to photograph the ornate ceiling. The palazzo was designed in 1530 by Nicolao Civitali, son of the sculptor Matteo. It sits at the junction of Via Roma, Via Fillungo, Via Santa Croce and Via Cenami – a crossroads known as the Canto d'Arco. Like several other such palazzi in the city, the building has a stone ledge outside - a popular spot for locals and tourists to sit.

Palazzo Cenami ceiling

Outside the Palazzo Cenami

Passing also the Torre delle Ora, Lucca’s tallest tower (which we decided not to climb today) we came to the Piazza dei Mercanti.

Torre delle Ora, and the Piazza dei Mercanti

From here we started over towards the western area that was to be the main focus for our stroll. We turned down Via Buia or ‘Dark Street’, apparently so-called because its tall buildings prevent sunlight from reaching street level – although it seemed to me that this would be the case with many of Lucca’s narrower streets, had we only had the required sunshine to test the theory!

Shop window, and street art, Via Buia

We followed a zigzag route along Via del Moro and Via Cesare Battisti.


On Via del Moro

On Via del Moro we took a look inside the courtyard of the Palazzo Santini to discover some beautifully painted ceilings in the archway. This palace, built and extended between the 16th and 18th centuries, was once the home of the Santini, a noble and influential Florentine family of silk merchants, but today houses the municipal government offices.




Courtyard ceilings, Palazzo Santini

We decided to skip the Domus Romana on Via Cesare Battisti (where the owner of the property has created a mini museum in the cellar highlighting some artefacts found there during excavations) but instead found plenty to photograph at street level.

On Via Cesare Battisti

Doorway on Via Cesare Battisti

Via degli Angeli

Palazzo Pfanner

Our guidebook recommended a visit to this pretty garden and attached palazzo, and it proved to be one of the highlights of our day’s explorations.

The Palazzo Pfanner

Garden of the Palazzo Pfanner

The palazzo was built in 1660 for the wealthy merchant Moriconi family who traded in silk, but they were subsequently ruined through bankruptcy and sold it in 1680 to another family of silk merchants, the Controni, who had risen to the nobility. It was they who extended the building, adding the monumental staircase in 1686 and commissioning a redesign of the garden in the Italian style in the early 18th century. It was while it was under the ownership of the Controni family that Prince Frederick of Denmark stayed here while making a Grand Tour of Italy.

In the 19th century Felix Pfanner, a local brewer originally from Hörbranz in Austria, was invited by the then Duke of Lucca Carlo Lodovico di Borbone to set up a German-style brewery in the city – the first such brewery in Lucca and one of the first in Italy. By now the Controni family were also struggling financially and were happy to allow him to rent the cellars and garden of the palazzo and set up his brewery there in 1846. His beer garden, set out on the terrace between the house and the garden, was a popular drinking spot in the city until it closed in 1929. Over time, thanks to the proceeds of his brewery, Felix was able to buy the whole palazzo which subsequently took his name and became the official HQ of the Pfanner Brewery.

It has remained in the ownership of the Pfanner family ever since. They have restored it and opened some of the rooms, and the garden, to the paying public. You can choose to pay for a visit to the house or the garden or both, with the latter offering much better value (€6 for both when we visited as opposed to €4.50 for each if paid separately). So that is what we went for!

Views of the city wall

We started our visit in the garden, just in case the weather should turn wet again! This is a beautiful and peaceful spot, tucked just under the northern wall of the city. Perhaps because of the weather and the lateness in the season there were only a few other visitors there, adding to the sense of tranquillity (and making photo-taking relatively easy!)

Fountain with Greek Gods

Detail of the central basin, and garden walk

At the centre is an octagonal fountain-basin with gravel walkways leading to and from it, lined with box hedges, lemon trees in pots, beautiful flowers (yes, even in late October), several groves of bamboo and lots of statues of the Greek Gods as well as others representing the four elements and the seasons.

Zeus/Jupiter, and Ares/Mars, the God of War

Hermes/Mercury, god of traders and communications, and Artemis/Diana, goddess of woods and of the hunt

Statue of Winter, and Kubile/Cybele, goddess of mountains and towered towns

If it looks familiar that may be because you have seen it on the big screen – several films, most famously Jane Campion’s 1996 production of ‘A Portrait of a Lady’ with Nicole Kidman and John Malkovich, were shot here.

Lemon tree, and rose still flowering

In the bamboo grove

From the garden we ascended the grand staircase, built under a loggia on the outside (northern) wall of the palazzo, facing the garden.

The monumental staircase

Ceiling of the staircase landing

Relatively few rooms on this first floor are open to the public but enough to be of interest and give a sense of the grandeur of the palace. At the heart of these is the main hall which is adorned with frescoes painted around 1720 by Pietro Paolo Scorsini, in the then popular quadraturismo style which uses perspective to create the illusion of space.

The main hall

Messing around with our reflection!

The room is sparse, apart from a couple of display cases, but smaller ones to each side are furnished to reflect their former uses – a kitchen, a dining room, a drawing room and bedroom. The latter is where, according to the official website of the palazzo, where ‘in 1692 the tormented love affair between Prince Frederick of Denmark, future King Frederick IV of Denmark and Norway, and the noblewoman Maria Maddalena Trenta from Lucca took its course’.

Kitchen and dining room

As well as being worth visiting in its own right, the interior of the palace also offers some fresh perspectives on the garden below.

View of the garden from the staircase

Window detail

Chiesa Sant’Agostino

From the Palazzo Pfanner we continued to follow the route suggested in our little guidebook, which brought us to the church of Sant’Agostino, built by the Augustinians in the mid-1300s on the site of Roman Lucca’s theatre, and is little changed in layout since then, although the campanile is a 18th century addition.

Chiesa Sant’Agostino from the east

It was open so we went in to explore, prompted by our book’s recounting of an old legend attached to one of the paintings, the Madonna del Sasso or Madonna of the Stone. According to this story, a gambler asked the Madonna for help in a bet, which he subsequently lost. Furious, he threw a stone at this picture; the Madonna started to bleed and a pit opened up in the floor in front of the image through which the gambler fell to the pits of Hell.

Painting of the Madonna

You can actually see a mark on the Madonna’s shoulder where a stone might have hit her, and there is a trapdoor in the floor nearby with a plaque which reads:

Trapdoor and sign


Injuring and making the Virgin bleed
The impious man fell endlessly
Be merciful!

The legend also says that before the trapdoor was sealed the congregation would from time to time lower a dog down into the hole and pull it up again to find that it was a bit charred and smelled of sulphur – proof indeed that this was a gate to Hell!

I haven’t been able to find out much else about the church, which has some attractive modern stained glass and somewhat older paintings.

Stained glass and side altar

Painting in a side chapel

Not sure what this represents or how old it is, but I liked it!

We had hoped to visit another nearby church, Santa Maria Corteorlandini, but found it closed for restoration.

Above a side door, Santa Maria Corteorlandini

Another stone lion, Santa Maria Corteorlandini
- I was collecting them by now!

Piazza San Salvatore

So we carried on to the attractive Piazza San Salvatore. This has a nickname, Pupporona, meaning Large Breasts! It acquired the name when the statue of a Naiad was added to the stone lion fountain in the centre of the square. Locals were outraged at her scantily clad form and the bishop demanded its removal, but it was left in place and today looks pretty innocuous!


In the Piazza San Salvatore

A young boy playing in the fountain while his mother fetched water

As with other fountains in the city, the water here comes straight from the surrounding mountains and is pure and safe to drink. We saw a succession of locals coming to fill large bottles for their home drinking both here and at other fountains we passed during our stay.

San Salvatore

Side door of the Chiesa San Salvatore

This 12th century church is less ornate than some of the others in the city but has an attractive, modern, wooden carving of the Madonna, and some unusual candle holders in the form of black men, who appear to be wearing lipstick!


In the Chiesa San Salvatore

There was a café on the south side of the piazza with some empty tables so it seemed a good time to break for lunch, and the focaccia sandwiches we ate there were excellent. It was also a good spot for people watching so we took our time over the meal.

The guided walk led us next to the Piazza San Michele in Foro. We had already visited the church on our first day in Lucca, but there were some good photo opps on the piazza outside today, with a man blowing giant bubbles, to the delight of some children, so we lingered here some time.

Bubbles in the Piazza San Michele

Advertising poster near the Piazza San Michele

Walking west down Via di Poggio we came to the museum dedicated to Lucca’s most famous son, Puccini, in the house where he grew up. Not being particular fans of opera we decided this might be wasted on us, but we did stop to take a photo of his statue in the small square outside, the Piazza Cittadella.

Puccini, and Via del Toro, with the Palazzo Mansi in the background

We passed another palazzo, the Palazzo Mansi, which houses an art collection, but this was closed as it was Monday.

Chiesa di San Paolino

We had better luck with this church – indeed we found that most of Lucca’s churches were generally to be found open, and free to visit. It is named for Lucca’s first bishop, St Paulinus of Antioch, who was a disciple of St Peter sent to Lucca to convert the locals. He was so successful in this mission that he then tried to convert the people of the rest of the region, including Pisa. But his luck ran out and he and several other disciples were murdered in AD 69 on the border between Lucca and Pisa, supposedly on the order of the Emperor Nero.

In 1662 the city fired a cannon to honour San Paolino but by mistake it was aimed at a crowd of pilgrims who were entering the city. The cannonball hit the group but amazingly no one was injured, so this was declared a miracle. To commemorate the event Lucca holds a festival each year on 12th July with a costumed crossbow competition (which must be similar to those I have attended in Gubbio in Umbria, from the description I found online: http://luccaholidayhomes.blogspot.com/2014/07/san-paolino-celebrations-patron-saint.html), cannon-firing (of course!) and a torch-lit procession.

There are statues on either side of the main door – one is San Paulino and the other San Donato, whose church was demolished just before this one was built. I believe the one I photographed, on the left, is Paulino.

San Paolino, and inside the church

Inside it has some beautiful frescos and paintings, including one depicting the ‘Coronation of the Virgin’ which has a foreground scene of the city of Lucca with its many towers.

The 'Coronation of the Virgin'

Our walk was almost at an end, as the route took us past the deconsecrated church of San Romana (closed for restoration) and through the courtyards of the Palazzo Ducale, seat of the city’s government.

San Romana from the Palazzo Ducale, and inside one of the courtyards

In the Palazzo Ducale

From here we emerged on to the Piazza Napoleone where we had started. It was a little early for our obligatory afternoon gelati, so we decided to pop back to the apartment to download photos, change (it had turned a little cooler) and take a short break.


By the time we were ready to head out again the sky had turned black and rain was starting to fall. So we went no further than the café in the Piazza San Michele, which was fast becoming our regular. I felt that the ices weren’t quite as good as those we’d had elsewhere, but they were pretty good (Chris enthused about the chocolate one) and we had ringside seats to watch the storm break over San Michele in Foro.

During the thunderstorm - local cyclist, and neon reflections on the cobbles

Less fun though was the short walk back to the apartment, along a Via Santa Croce that had turned into a river and battling winds that threatened to turn my umbrella inside out and render it useless! But we made it, and settled in to dry off, sort those photos and relax before dinner.

Trattoria Da Rosolo

In the Caffè del Mercato

With the evening dry but a little cooler than of late, we decided to have our aperitivi inside, and chose the Caffè del Mercato on the north side of the Piazza San Michele. The drinks were good, the room cosy, and there were some interesting paintings on the wall, mainly nudes in a loosely expressionist style. Part way through our drinks, a lady sitting drinking red wine on a nearby table came over to introduce herself as the artist and give us a leaflet about her work. Her name is Cristiana Di Ricco and you can see some examples of her work on her website .

Red wine in the Trattoria da Rosolo

After our drinks we walked to a nearby restaurant that I had seen well-reviewed, the Trattoria Da Rosolo. Many of Lucca’s restaurants are closed on a Monday but fortunately not all, and this was a good find. We got a table in the rear room, next to a couple of Americans from Charleston, SC, to whom we got chatting.

The service was friendly if slightly brisk – this is a popular place so you can understand the need to turn tables. I started with some local cheeses with honey, and followed this with some excellent ravioli filled with spinach and ricotta and served in a walnut sauce. Chris’s swordfish carpaccio antipasto was also really good, and he loved the gnocchi with Gorgonzola and mint. We’d asked the waiter (the owner, I think) to recommend some red wine, and the local Lucca one he suggested was really great, and not pricey. Indeed the whole bill was very reasonable for the quality of the food, and we thoroughly enjoyed our dinner - a good end to our second full day in the city.

Posted by ToonSarah 02:00 Archived in Italy Tagged churches art rain architecture palace italy garden weather street_photography Comments (5)

Strolling around Lucca (still mostly in the rain)

Lucca day two continued

View Birthday trip to Italy on ToonSarah's travel map.

Lucca street scene

We had bought a small book before leaving home, recommended by a friend, ‘Strolling around Lucca’ and for the rest of the day followed, more or less, one of the walks from this. This took us from the Duomo which we had visited that morning past the Archbishop’s Palace (now the city archive) with its beautiful old door adorned with a pair of cherubs.


The Archbishop’s Palace door

Santa Maria della Rosa

From here we made the book's recommended detour to a church just inside the city walls, Santa Maria della Rosa. This church takes its name from a legend associated with this spot. The area just outside Roman Lucca’s city walls was used in the past for grazing cattle. A young shepherd, dumb from birth, noticed that his sheep were avoiding one juicy green bush so went over to take a closer look. To his surprise, because this was in January, he found a beautiful rose. He plucked the flower to take to show to his father, at which moment suddenly he could speak! When the bishop was told about this miracle he revealed that long ago there had been an image of the Virgin holding three roses at the spot where the rose bush grew. So a little oratory was created there, dedicated to the Madonna holding a rose, which later became this church.

Above the door, Santa Maria della Rosa

Carving details

There is a rose above the main door and others elsewhere in the carved decorations, including framing one of the side doors. The statue of the Madonna on one corner holds a rose – and also, it has to be said, possibly the ugliest Christ Child I have ever seen!

Madonna of the Rose, Santa Maria della Rosa

Opposite the church, a plaque on a house identifies it as the former home of a relatively modern saint, Gemma Galgani, who worshipped at this church and had many visions as well as apparently being able to levitate. She died in 1903 at the age of 25 and despite her relative obscurity is still revered here in Lucca.

Home of St Gemma Galgani

It was around now that I started to realise just how many, and how varied, were the ornate door knockers here, and to 'collect' photos of them.

Door knockers

Villa Bottini

We decided to skip the nearby botanic gardens, given the weather, but did detour into the much smaller garden of the Villa Bottini on Via Elisa, passing this rather lovely old drogheria on the way.

In the Via Elisa

The Villa Bottini is a sixteenth century palazzo now owned by the city and used to stage exhibitions and conferences. It was built by the Buonvisi family and at one time owned by Elisa Bonaparte, sister of Napoleon, who was installed as ruler of Lucca by her brother in 1805 after he successfully invaded this part of Italy (and was by all accounts a much more popular leader than Napoleon!) The villa is not in the best of conditions, and nor is its garden, but it’s free to wander around and was quite atmospheric in the dull conditions.

Garden of the Villa Bottini

Porta San Gervasio

Turning back along Via Elisa we came to the Porta San Gervasio. This is one of the gateways of the old city wall, which was demolished when the newer one, a little larger in circumference to accommodate a growing city, was built. The gate dates from 1255 and is decorated with golden stars and religious frescoes.


The Porta San Gervasio

Walking through the gate we found ourselves in the Via Santa Croce. We passed the church of Santa Maria Foris Portam which like Santa Maria della Rosa was unfortunately closed - unfortunately because our book had mentioned an interesting painting of Santa Lucia. She was the saint who famously gouged out her own eyes. The painting depicts her presenting them to heaven on a plate, but the artist was clearly too squeamish to show her as she would have looked, as she has both eyes in place!

There is also a camera obscura inside. A line runs across the floor and when sunlight shining in through a hole in the wall touches this, it is noon in Lucca. However, given the weather today I doubt we could have seen the effect even if we had been able to enter the church!


Santa Maria Foris Portam

The church’s name means ‘outside the walls’, which at the time of building (the 12th century) it would have been. It is sometimes called Santa Maria Bianca, ‘the White’, by locals because of its limestone facing, but when it was extended upwards in the 16th century the new brickwork was never faced.

Our walk now took us along Via Guinigi, named for one of Lucca’s most powerful merchant families and lined with medieval palaces.

Via Guinigi in the rain

Street lamp, and architectural detail, Via Guinigi

Door knocker, and graffiti, Via Guinigi

More graffiti

Torre Guinigi

Climbing the stairs

Like many medieval Italian cities Lucca has a fair number of towers, several of which can be climbed. I had passed on the opportunity to climb the cathedral’s bell tower, but this is Lucca’s most famous tower and I was determined to go up its 230 steps, despite the rain and my sometimes reluctant limbs.

Stairs of the Torre Guinigi

View west, with the Torre delle Ore

The towers were built to serve two purposes – to show off the wealth of the family (in this case the Guinigi) and to provide a place of refuge in case of attack. There would once have been several hundred dotting the skies of Lucca, but now only a handful remain, of which this is the most famous and something of an emblem for the city.

What distinguishes it from the other towers can be found when you reach the top, where a group of holm oak trees grow. It is thought the this was previously a kitchen garden, with the kitchen itself being located on the floor below, but some time in the 15th century the trees replaced the vegetables and herbs, and have been here ever since (albeit not the same trees). They are said to represent renewal and rebirth, so it is a bit ironic that the Guinigi family has died out, but not before the last surviving member bequeathed this tower to the city, in addition to the family palazzo which now serves as a museum.

Having made it up the stairs (which are relatively easy going for the first part but finish with a rather steeper section) you are rewarded with extensive views of the city and, in better weather than we had, of the mountains which encircle it. Watch your head though as you move around taking your photos, as the low branches of the trees can catch you out if not careful, as I found to my cost!

Panoramic view south west

View south, with the cathedral

Torre delle Ore from the Torre Guinigi

Descending the tower we walked on, past the church of San Pietro Somaldi (another church that was closed today). It was named for the bishop who founded the church in 763. Above the door is a carving of St Peter receiving the keys of the kingdom, and a rather worn fresco of the Virgin and Child, framed by some appealing stone lions.


San Pietro Somaldi

Another door knocker, and a bear with a view!

Rain in the Via del Portico

Piazza Anfiteatro

Street near the Anfiteatro

Many of the streets in this part of town have a markedly curved shape, unlike the straight lines elsewhere, and the reason for this becomes clear when you enter Lucca’s most distinctive piazza, the Anfiteatro, named for the Roman amphitheatre which once stood on this site, built during the reign of the Emperor Claudius. This was built with fifty four arches and could accommodate ten thousand spectators who came to watch all the popular Roman ‘sports’ – gladiators fighting various wild animals and each other, public executions etc.

When the Roman Empire crumbled the people of Lucca moved into the amphitheatre, building houses in the centre and filling in the arches to create a defensive wall. Over the centuries marble from the structure was taken to help build the city’s churches and palazzi, and by the 19th century a market occupied the central space. But toward the latter part of that century the added buildings were cleared to create the piazza and the original footprint of the structure restored with the elliptical group of cafes, bars, shops and houses we see today, pierced by four entrance arches, one of which we had walked through.

That distinctive shape was a little lost for us, unfortunately, as marquees had been erected in the centre for the comics and games festival which was to start in a few days’ time, but the overall effect was still very attractive and there were some more interesting architectural details to photograph.


In the Piazza Anfiteatro

Here we stopped for the day's obligatory gelati and found a very good artisan selection at one of the cafes - the lemon was especially good. As we ate our ices a very unexpected sight appeared - the sun! It was watery and intermittent, but it was there, and more importantly it had stopped raining. So once we had finished eating we strolled round the piazza, no longer encumbered by umbrellas although the puddles were still plentiful.

The well of Saint Zita

The well of Saint Zita

Leaving the Piazza Anfiteatro by another of its arches we made a short detour to the well of Saint Zita, another local saint. She was born near Lucca around 1212 and came here to work as a servant for the wealthy Fatinelli family of silk merchants at the age of 12.

Zita would often take bread from the kitchen to feed the poor. One day she was accosted by her employer who demanded to know what she had hidden in her apron. She replied that it was only some flowers, and sure enough when she revealed her load that is what it was found to be. On another occasion she left her chore of baking bread to tend to someone in need. Some of the other servants told the Fatinelli family what was happening; when they went to investigate, they claimed to have found angels in the kitchen, baking the bread for her.

The well where Zita came to draw water is now a shrine, marked with this carving of her giving water to the poor.

Basilica di San Frediano

Basilica di San Frediano

Frediano was an Irish monk who went on a pilgrimage to Rome, but reaching Lucca on his return journey decided to stop there and become a hermit, living in the nearby mountains. He was later made bishop of the city, which was regularly threatened by flooding of the nearby river Serchio. On one occasion the people appealed to Frediano to save them. After praying he took a rake to dig a furrow which he commanded the river to follow. It did so and was safely diverted away from the city.

Frediano had a church built on this site, dedicated to San Vincenzo. When he died he was buried in it and the church rededicated in his name. What we see today is its 12th century face-lift. Unusually it is built with the main entrance facing east, rather than the more usual west, owing to the proximity of the city walls.

The façade is unique in Lucca in being ornamented by a huge golden mosaic in the Byzantine style, which even on this dull day was gleaming. It depicts the Ascension, with Christ being raised to heaven by angels either side of his throne while the apostles watch from below. Originally the Virgin Mary stood in the middle of their line, but her figure was destroyed when an extra window was added.

This was the third church we were able to go inside today and as interesting as the others, with several significant sights. The aisle is lined with Roman columns taken from the nearby amphitheatre. Two still have the remains of the colourful frescos that once covered them all as well as much of the rest of the church.

Frescoes on the columns

The main feature here is the 12th century baptismal font, the Fonte Lustrale, the work of three different sculptors. It consists of a huge marble basin which contains a bowl resting on pillars and covered with a tempietto. The basin is carved with scenes from the story of Moses, by an unknown sculptor, as well as two other panels depicting the Good Shepherd and Six Prophets, by one Robertus, who added his own name: ‘ME FECIT ROBERTUS MAGISTER IN ARTE PERITUS’. His Byzantine style, with slim figures under small arches, is quite distinct from the Moses artist. The third artist worked on the central bowl and tempietto, and his work has classical elements, depicting figures of the Apostles and the labours of the months.

Looking carefully at the scene of the crossing of the Red Sea on the large basin, in which the soldiers of the Egyptian army are depicted as medieval knights, you can see that one of the riders appears to be facing the wrong way from the waist down – no one knows why!

The Fonte Lustrale
- the 'wrong way round' rider is near the centre, just to the left of the crack

Near the font is a glazed carving of the Annunciation, attributed to Matteo della Robbia, decorated with garlands of fruit and cherubs.

Matteo della Robbia's 'Annuncation'

Detail of the Matteo della Robbia Annunciation, and the main altar

Frediano is buried under the main altar, while a chapel to the right holds the preserved relic of the body of Santa Zita, whose well we had just visited. Zita is one of the ‘Incorruptibles’ – Catholic saints whose bodies have been miraculously found not to deteriorate. In 1580, her body was exhumed and found to be uncorrupted, so was put on display in a silver casket in the church where she had prayed while alive. She was finally canonised in 1696. Although her body is ‘incorruptible’, it is brown and wizened, most likely the result of natural mummification. Only her hands and face are uncovered for viewing, the rest is dressed as she would have been when alive. It’s a somewhat macabre but at the same time quite peaceful sight.

Relic of Santa Zita

Another chapel holds the remains of Richard the Pilgrim. He was a former king of Wessex, in south west England, but gave up the throne to make a pilgrimage to Rome. He had got as far as Lucca when he caught a fever and died. After his burial here miracles started to happen near his tomb; he was canonised and is still revered by the people of Lucca who sometimes refer to him as the King of England! Lorenzo Trento, a wealthy merchant with a particular devotion to Saint Richard, commissioned this beautiful shrine, which was carved by Jacopo della Quercia (who was also responsible for the tomb of Ilaria de Carretto which we had seen this morning in the cathedral).

Shrine to Richard the Pilgrim

Another artist we had encountered already today was Matteo Civitali, and San Frediano has his Madonna of the Annunciation, a colourful statue which depicts her throwing up her arms in surprise at the news brought by the angel.

Madonna of the Annunciation by Matteo Civitali

The church also houses a work by Civitali’s less famous nephew, Masseo – a painted wood altarpiece showing the entombment and assumption of the Virgin Mary.

Altarpiece by Masseo Civitali

Porta dei Borghi

Leaving the church we mistakenly turned north along Via Filalunga rather than south towards the centre of the city, confused for a moment by the unusual orientation of the church. But serendipitously this brought us to another of the old gates, the Porta dei Borghi. This is framed by towers which serve as private residences and has a frieze of the Madonna under the arch.

The Porta dei Borghi

By now we were weary (well, I was!) so we turned back towards the apartment following Via Fillalunga, leaving the last part of the book’s route perhaps for a later day. It was time for a rest before dinner, to sort photos and relax for a while.

Osteria del Neni

We had aperitivi in the same bar where we had enjoyed breakfast, on the Piazza San Michele in Foro For dinner we went to a nearby restaurant, the Osteria del Neni on the Via Pescheria to the south of the square. This proved a real serendipitous choice, with good down-to-earth food, nice wine (a Montepulciano), friendly service and slightly kitsch Halloween decorations.

Aperol time, and Halloween decoration in the Osteria del Neni

We shared the board of local cured meats and cheeses to start with, then Chris had gnocchi and I had a pasta dish with ricotta and parmigiana. We were too full for dessert, sadly, as the tiramisu here is particularly recommended. Our bill was really reasonable too, at just €54.

We strolled home through the piazza and along Via Santa Croce to the apartment, with the moon breaking through the clouds - a welcome sight after the earlier rain.

San Michele in Foro at night

Posted by ToonSarah 08:36 Archived in Italy Tagged churches rain streets architecture restaurant history italy doors garden weather details street_photography Comments (12)

Exploring Lucca, mostly in the rain

Lucca day two

View Birthday trip to Italy on ToonSarah's travel map.

A wet day on Via Guinigi

The forecast for today had not been good, and unfortunately it was right. We woke to dull skies that were soon to become drizzly ones, with occasional spells of heavier rain. Oh well, at least it was much warmer than at home, and we had come prepared with umbrellas.

In the Piazza San Michele

We started the day with a small but leisurely breakfast at a café in the Piazza San Michele in Foro, not far from our apartment - cornetto (the Italian version of a croissant), fresh orange juice and coffee. Then we walked south past the Piazza XX Settembre with its statue of a winged angel dedicated to those who died in defence of Italy.

In Piazza XX Settembre, and San Girolamo from the Piazza del Giglio

After taking a few photos here we carried on towards the Piazza del Giglio, the square of the lily. It surprised us a little that the square isn’t named for Garibaldi, like so many in Italy, as a statue of him dominates the piazza. Instead it takes its name from the theatre on its south side which in turn was named for the Duchess of Lucca at the time of its foundation, Maria Luisa – her family coat of arms was adorned with three golden lilies.

Statue of Garibaldi in the Piazza del Giglio

Cattedrale di San Martino

Just beyond this square to the east is the Chiesa e Battistero dei SS Giovanni e Reparata, formerly Lucca’s cathedral, but we left that for later and made our way instead to the present day cathedral just beyond. It was Sunday so we went to mass and afterwards lingered to explore (on a Sunday mass-goers are, it seems, spared the 3€ entry fee).

The cathedral is dedicated to St Martin and parts of it date back to the 11th century when it was founded here by the then Bishop, Anselm (who late became Pope Alexander II) – namely the impressive campanile and the apse.

Lucca cathedral and campanile

Cattedrale di San Martino, Lucca

The façade is especially interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, the columns really are all different here, and according to legend there is an explanation for their differences. The story goes that the city held a contest for the best column design. Artists came from far and wide bringing their sample column, but the inhabitants of Lucca decided to take them all, without paying the artists and used them all in the construction of the cathedral!

The labyrinth

Another interesting feature can be found by looking carefully at the right pier of the portico, where you can see this labyrinth or maze. Its history is uncertain but it is believed to date from the 12th or 13th centuries. A Latin inscription beside it refers to the ancient Greek legend about Theseus:


[‘This is the labyrinth built by Dedalus of Crete; all who entered therein were lost, save Theseus, thanks to Ariadne's thread’]

It is possible that this small carving may pre-date the famous Chartres maze, yet it follows (pre-empts?) the Chartres pattern that became a standard for mazes.

The large carving above the right-hand door depicts St Martin giving half his cloak to a beggar. The story goes that he had a dream that night that Jesus was wearing his cloak and the next morning woke to find the missing half had been restored. As with the Madonna outside San Michele in Foro, this statue is a copy – we will find the original (dating from 1233) inside the cathedral.

Statue of St Martin on the outside (on the left) and inside (on the right), Cattedrale di San Martino

The smaller carvings above the doors are by Nicola Pisano, the famous Pisa sculptor partly responsible for the Baptistery there. They depict other scenes from the life of St Martin, and also the months of the year and the tasks that had to be completed in each.

Carvings by Pisano on the façade

Carving details

Detail of the façade

Inside the cathedral

Inside there is plenty to be seen in addition to that original statue of St Martin and the beggar. The most famous by far is the city’s most precious relic, the Volto Santo di Lucca or Holy Face of Lucca. This cedar-wood crucifix and image of Jesus is housed in a small shrine or tempietto, the work of Matteo Civitali (who carved San Michele’s Madonna and many other works in the city’s churches).

The Volto Santo

It is said by legend to have been carved by Nicodemus, who according to St. John’s Gospel helped in preparing Christ’s body for burial. The legend explains that the hand of God took over from Nicodemus and carved the face. The crucifix was carried on a crewless ship to Luni, a Tuscan port, and thence to Lucca on a driverless cart. It was placed in the church of San Frediano, on the north side of the city, but the next morning had disappeared. A search led to its discovery in the garden of San Martino, which was interpreted as a hint from God, so the crucifix was given a permanent home here.

The Volto Santo

This is however just a legend, as the crucifix has been dated to the 13th century, but it is nevertheless a very precious object and the focus of worship in the city. Once a year its arrival here is celebrated in a torch-lit procession, the Luminaria di Santa Croce, following the route from San Frediano to San Martino; in the past the crucifix itself was paraded in a bejewelled robe, but is now considered too delicate so only the robe is carried while the Volto Santo remains in the cathedral.

There are lots of other legends about the Volto Santo. Our guidebook recounts the tale of the silver slipper. A poor minstrel came to Lucca and wanted to offer something precious to the relic, but had nothing. So he gave the only gift he had and played beautifully on his lute. Jesus rewarded him by dropping a silver slipper for him to pick up, which he did, but the authorities arrested him for theft, not believing his story, and condemned him to death. The minstrel prayed desperately for help and Jesus sent an angel who interceded for him and corroborated his story, with the result that his life was spared. The guidebook also mentions that the Volto Santo appears in the Divine Comedy. Apparently Dante was famous for populating his stories with people he didn’t like. One of these was Martin Bottario from Lucca, who Dante thought had once over-charged him. Bottario appears in the book in the fifth pit of hell, where sinners are immersed in boiling pitch and tortured by devils. The devils tell him there is no point in praying to the Volto Santo of Lucca because he is already in eternal damnation.

It is pretty difficult to get photos of the relic behind the ornate grille of the tempietto, but I tried!

Nearby is another work by Civitali, a statue of St Sebastian. Another famous artwork in the cathedral is the Last Supper by Tintoretto, a pupil of Titian, painted between 1592-94.

St Sebastian by Civitali, and The Last Supper by Tintoretto

There is also a ‘Madonna Enthroned with Saints’, by Bartolomeo della Porta (known as Fra Bartolomeo), dating from 1509, which depicts St John the Baptist and St Stephen. And another Madonna, with time with Saints Peter, Clement, Paul and Sebastian, by Domenico Ghirlandaio (1479).

‘Madonna Enthroned with Saints’, Fra Bartolomeo, and detail of Ghirlandaio's Madonna

The painted ceiling is stunning, as are many of the stained-glass windows. A saint in one of them appears to me to be holding the city of Lucca.

Ceiling of the Cattedrale di San Martino

Details of ceiling and stained glass

More stained glass

Tucked away in a chapel to the right of the altar is the cathedral’s most famous monument, the marble sarcophagus of Ilaria de Carretto. She was the second wife of Paolo Guinigi, Lord of Lucca from 1400-1430. They married in 1403 when she was 24 years old, but sadly she died in childbirth just two years later. The ornate memorial (her actual tomb is thought to be in the Guinigi family chapel in the cloister of San Francesco) is tribute as much to Guinigi’s desire to show off his status as it is to any affection he felt for her. It was carved by the Sienese artist Jacopo della Quercia and show her lying in the robes of a noblewoman, her little dog at her feet.


The tomb of Ilaria de Carretto, and statue of St Martin

I was also taken by a small marble carving of St Martin on the opposite side of the cathedral. At first I took it to be quite modern, and was surprised by the sign which dates it to the second decade of the 14th century.

Chiesa e Battistero dei SS Giovanni e Reparata

Leaving the cathedral we returned to the church we had passed earlier. As I mentioned above, this was once Lucca’s cathedral but is now deconsecrated and serves as part museum, part concert venue - performances of works by Puccini, Lucca’s most famous son, are staged here every evening. Perhaps because it is no longer a functioning church there is a small fee to pay for entry (the cathedral was the only other place of worship where we found that a ticket was needed).

In the Chiesa e Battistero dei SS Giovanni e Reparata

A church was first built here in the 5th century on an area of Roman settlement, and although the main structure that we see today is 12th century (and the façade from the 16th), the columns that support its impressive roof are nevertheless Roman in origin.

In the Chiesa e Battistero dei SS Giovanni e Reparata

Compared with the cathedral and San Michele there are relatively few works of art of any significance here – the main draw is the access it offers to the Roman and medieval remains beneath.

You descend an iron staircase in the north transept to the archaeological dig below, which exposes five levels of history going back to Roman times. If very interested you can hire an audio guide, but the most significant finds (such as medieval and Roman paving) are labelled, which was enough information for us. There is nothing here really impressive or extensive however – the one large and colourful section of Roman mosaic discovered on this site was removed and is now on display in the museum in the Villa Guinigi.

The archaeological dig

Roman pavement (1st century AD), and later mosaic

Early Christian mosaic from the 4th or 5th century

Caffe del Duomo

Perhaps because of the drizzle, and the challenge of juggling umbrella and camera, I didn’t take any photos of the façade of this church.

By now it was lunch time so we stopped for a drink and sandwich at the nearby Caffe del Duomo where the service was friendly, the food just what we were looking for, and the freshly squeezed orange refreshing.

Lunch at the Caffe del Duomo

Like us, you are probably in need of a break now, so I’ll continue with the rest of our day’s explorations on a subsequent entry.

Posted by ToonSarah 01:54 Archived in Italy Tagged buildings rain architecture history ruins statue church italy cathedral romans street_photography Comments (13)

Birthday trip to Italy

Lucca day one

View Birthday trip to Italy on ToonSarah's travel map.

View of Lucca from the Torre delle Ore

In the past few years we have developed the rather nice custom of spending our wedding anniversary in Italy, but this year we went to Germany for a change. So when Chris asked where I wanted to go for a birthday break, it had to be Italy. And with several friends having recommended Lucca, that’s where we went.

Our short break in Lucca started the evening before, when we took the train to Gatwick to stay overnight in the airport’s Hilton Hotel. With an early flight it made for a more relaxing start - no need to get up at the crack of dawn and no worries about whether there could be problems with the tube or trains. We had a pleasant meal and beer in the bar and an early night in our comfortable room.


I would like to be able to say that the alarm woke us at 6.30, but the truth is that I had already been awake for some time, as often happens when I know that it is important that I get up promptly!

By seven we were out of the hotel and walking across to the terminal, just a few minutes away. Security was really busy but eventually we were through, and with time to grab a quick coffee and muffin before our gate was called.

We were flying to Pisa with EasyJet and had paid the extra for speedy boarding, allowing us the luxury of two cabin bags! We boarded on time, but the plane was then held at the gate for a while, eventually taking off about 15 minutes late.

We flew out over the south coast, the Isle of Wight to our right. The weather was cold but clear, perfect for taking a few photos as we climbed.

Taking off from Gatwick

Over southern England


The flight went smoothly and the pilot announced that we would be landing at midday, just five minutes late. But as we approached the coast near Pisa the plane banked and turned back out to sea, and we were kept waiting to land for some time, finally getting on the ground nearly half an hour late. But we weren’t in a hurry, and the brief but great views of the city as we came in brought back happy memories of a visit here some years ago.

Pisa from the air

Arriving over Pisa

Pisa from the air

With no bags to collect we were soon on our way to the shuttle that takes you to the central station. I was surprised to notice that this ran on a cable, like a horizontal cable car! At Pisa Centrale there was just enough time to buy our tickets for the journey to Lucca, and a cold drink from a vending machine, before boarding the train. The ride took about half an hour and I enjoyed looking out at the Italian countryside, as I always do, despite the rather dull weather.

Arriving in Lucca we followed the path from the station to the city wall opposite. The path dog-legged through one of the eleven massive bastions (in Italian, a baluardo) that punctuate the wall, climbed some not very steep steps (although with bigger bags this would not be a recommended route!) and led down the other side, emerging near the duomo.

City wall and bastion

We had to pick up the keys to our studio apartment in Via Santa Croce from a B&B in a different street just around the corner, Via del Gallo, which we found after getting slightly lost in the old city’s maze of streets. We had told the owner that we would arrive some time after two; it was 2.15 and the door was locked, with a sign to say she would be back soon, so we stood and waited. After ten minutes however I called the owner and she sent someone to welcome us, at last, and bring us to the apartment. Called ‘Only One Suite’ (I have no idea why, as there are two studios here!), our room was a good size, decorated in a quirky but appealing style, and just what we needed for a few days stay.


Our studio room in Via Santa Croce


We decided to leave unpacking until later, so left our bags and headed out again in search of our first gelato of the trip. The skies might be grey, but it was much warmer than at home and anyway, in Italy I have a personal rule that I must eat gelato every day!

Our route took us past and around the large church of San Michele in Foro, exploring which we left until later. I did however pause to take a photo of a carving on the rear of the apse which caught my eye. I could swear this depicts a lion eating a crocodile and I can’t think of any biblical story or saint to which this could relate. Maybe the stone mason simply liked lions – or disliked crocodiles!

Detail of carving on San Michele in Foro

A few other things caught my eye too – the ornate carvings on an old pharmacy on the corner of the Piazza San Michele, a bizarre plastic chicken suspended from the awning of a nearby café, a pretty pot of cyclamens on the stone steps of an old house.

Façade of an old pharmacy

Lucca details

I had read a recommendation for a particular gelateria, Gelateria De' Coltelli in Via S. Paolino, and it was worth hunting out. A review displayed inside claimed they serve the best gelato in Italy, which may be a rather exaggerated claim (and who has eaten at every gelateria in the country anyway?!) but it was certainly excellent. The flavours are all natural and we liked all that we sampled - ginger, pistachio and pear for me, chocolate, strawberry and pink grapefruit for Chris. This is really a take-away place, but we perched on a couple of stools at a small counter inside to enjoy our ices.


In the Gelateria De' Coltelli

Gelateria De' Coltelli

San Michele in Foro

After the gelati we returned to the church we had passed earlier and went in to explore - with good timing, as a few drops of rain were falling. San Michele in Foro is sometimes mistaken for Lucca’s cathedral, it is so large and imposing. As the name suggests, it stands on the site of the former Roman Forum. There has been a church here since 795, but this building was commissioned by Pope Alexander II in 1070.

San Michele in Foro

The limestone façade is a series of elaborate tiers reaching high above the church. Seen from behind it is in a weird way a little reminiscent of a Wild West town with its false-fronted buildings, as it reaches way above the height of the main part of the church. This is not a deliberate design decision but a result of running out of money having spent so much on this façade – not enough was left for the rest of the building!

Look carefully at the façade – every column is more or less different. It is the work primarily of Guidetto da Como, a 13th century architect from Lombardy, with some sculptures attributed to Diotisalvi. The latter was the original architect of the Baptistery in Pisa, which was later completed by Nicola and Giovanni Pisano.

The statue at the top is about four metres high and is of the Archangel Michael defeating the dragon. According to legend the Archangel wears an emerald ring, which sparkles when it catches the sunlight. No one has ever found the emerald, although some claim to have seen the green sparkle! Certainly though there was to be no sparkle in today's dull weather.

Above the main door

Carving detail - is this a mermaid with two tails?

We went inside – there was no charge to enter and no signs restricting photography, although as always I avoided using flash (not only does it spoil the atmosphere for others visiting a church, whether as sightseers or worshippers, but I also believe it makes for less effective images).

Inside San Michele

The interior is not as ornate as the façade but has plenty worth seeing. The most notable artwork is this 1483 painting by Filippino Lippi depicting the saints Roch, Sebastian, Jerome and Helena. Saint Roch famously survived the plague and is always shown with a nasty sore – he is on the left here lifting his robe to show it off!


Painting by Filippino Lippi

Near the entrance, on your right as you go in, is a statue of the Madonna which looks very like the one on the exterior of the church. This one inside is apparently the original, brought inside to protect it and a replica put outside – although the one outside now looks just as worn as the one inside to me. It was sculpted in 1480 by Lucca’s second most famous son (after Puccini), Matteo Civitali, to celebrate the end of the 1476 plague. We were to see more of Civitali’s work over the next few days. He was born here in Lucca and became a leading figure in the early Renaissance.

Civitali Madonna -
replica outside on the left, and original inside on the right

A comprehensive description of the church on a notice inside (in both Italian and English) was helpful in pointing us towards some of the other major artworks. It told me that the painted cross above the altar dates from the 12th century, and the fresco of the Enthroned Madonna and Child (below) is part of the fresco decorations that once covered the church walls – it was painted in the mid 14th century but modified at the beginning of the 15th when the elaborate throne was added.

Fresco, and bell pull

In the large square outside is a statue of Francesco Burlamacchi, a 16th century politician from Lucca who is credited with having first conceived of a federation of Italian states. He was elected gonfalonier of the Republic of Lucca in 1533, the highest office of the state, and had ambitions to break the domination of the Medici in Tuscany . The intention was that Lucchese troops would attack the Duchy of Tuscany at the same time as anti-Medeci rebellions erupted in Florence, Pisa and elsewhere. But Duke Cosimo got wind of the plot, and then the emperor Charles V intervened in the dispute and asked that Burlamacchi be handed over to him to be executed for treason, having disturbed the peace among the Italian states. He was beheaded in Milan at dawn on 14 February 1547.

Statue of Francesco Burlamacchi

After visiting San Michele we walked back the short distance to the apartment to unpack and settle in properly.


In the evening we returned to the Piazza San Michele to have an apertivo in one of the bars on the square. The rain had come to nothing in the end, and it was just warm enough to sit outside and watch the passing passagiata.

For dinner we went to a restaurant very near our apartment which I seen recommended in several places, All'Olivo in the tiny Piazza San Quirico. We didn’t have a reservation but although the restaurant was full inside there was room on the terrace which was covered and heated with braziers. The meal that followed was really excellent, although it has to be said that the service was a bit patchy - too brisk at first and then really slow to bring desserts (we’d asked for a break of ten minutes, we got 30!)

To start with we were brought some nice bread and a small amuse bouche of a warm chunky tomato sauce with mozzarella and crusty bread. It was perhaps a bit of duplication that Chris had ordered the buffalo mozzarella starter but he enjoyed both nevertheless, while my starter of baby squid with white beans was delicious.

Squid and beans starter

We both ate primi piata for our main course - little ravioli with ragu Bolgnese for Chris, and gnocchi with a tomato sauce and small pieces of sausage for me. After the aforementioned break we were ready for dessert - Chris chose the ice cream with strawberries and Grand Marnier, which he pronounced very good, while I really enjoyed my citrus fruit semifreddo with orange sauce - so tasty!

Desserts at All'Olivo


We had a short stroll through a few of the back streets to let our large meals settle a bit, before walking back past San Michele to the apartment. We’d had a great start to our few days here in Lucca.

Posted by ToonSarah 02:19 Archived in Italy Tagged food restaurant hotel church flight italy details ice_cream street_photography Comments (17)

Anniversary in Leipzig

Leipzig days four and five

View An anniversary trip to Germany on ToonSarah's travel map.

Thomaskirche in sunshine

Our last full day in Leipzig, and also our wedding anniversary - 37 years and counting! So our day started with the exchange of cards before the usual excellent Fregehaus breakfast.

It was bright and sunny as we left the hotel, the air fresh but the promise of another hot day to come. We started off across the Marktplatz where for the first time I spotted a plaque set into the cobbles. It describes Leipzig’s important location on the intersection of two trade routes – the Via Regia (the most important link between eastern and western Europe) and the north-south Via Imperii. The market was established here at the point where the two routes cross.

Plaque on the ground in Markt

We passed the Thomaskirche, stopping for photos as the light was so good (even though we already had some from several previous occasions). We realised that someone had given Bach a flower to hold (we hadn't spotted it on previous visits!), so that meant more photos were necessary!

Bach with a flower

Neues Rathaus

For the first time we then walked beyond the church, along Burgstrasse in the direction of the Neues Rathaus, as its tower had appeared so striking in the views from the City Hochhaus yesterday, passing some interesting old buildings along the way, and some newer ones – some so new they were still under construction!

In Burgstrasse
Old water pump (one of several we spotted in Leipzig) and statue on a Bierhof

Wedding car at the Neues Rathaus

This ‘New Town Hall’ was built at the start of the 20th century to replace the old one in Markt, to cater to the needs of a growing city. One of the first things we saw as we arrived was the entrance on the west side reserved for wedding parties, with a portal decorated with little cherubs and a wedding car, an old Lada, just drawing up. I didn’t get a photo of the bride and groom (an older couple) but I did capture the beautiful flowers on their car - very apt on our own anniversary.

Little cherub above the entrance for wedding parties

The Neues Rathaus was designed by the architect and city building director, Hugo Licht, who also designed the Runde Ecke and the Priests’ House at the Nicholaikirche, both of which we had seen on our first full day in Leipzig. It was built on the site of the Pleissenburg, a 13th century castle which had in the past been used as a barracks, an administrative centre and an art academy. A condition of the award of the site for the new town hall was that the old Pleissenburg tower be incorporated into its design. Thus Leipzig’s Neues Rathaus has the tallest city hall tower in Germany, at nearly 115 metres.

The Neues Rathaus

I unearthed two very different interesting facts about this building. One, that it appeared as a backdrop in Alfred Hitchcock’s film ‘Torn Curtain’. And two, less pleasantly, that it became notorious as the site of numerous mass suicides during the last days of the Third Reich.

The architectural details here really appealed to me – lots of stone carvings which seem to have been heavily influenced by earlier medieval designs (perhaps from the lost Pleissenburg?) On the city’s website I found the following:

‘The facade is adorned with a variety of sculptural details - sculptures and reliefs thematically related to the city and its inhabitants. In addition to the lion as a heraldic animal, which is rich in variety, you will find here the city goddess Lipsia and allegorical figures for book printing, justice, science, music and crafts as well as countless animal and mythical creatures.’



Carving details

We were fascinated by the fountain, sadly without water, on the east side near the Rathaus Keller. The sign on its rear side said only that it was to commemorate the unveiling of the new town hall in October 1905, making no mention of the subject matter. My initial guess was that this was the Pied Piper of Hamelin, but on closer inspection I could find no rats among the various animals depicted, nor could I guess at a connection between that city and Leipzig.

Rathausbrunnen, and its column

Rathausbrunnen details

Later research shed only a little more light on this Rathausbrunnen. Many of the figures on the lower circle, which (when the fountain is functioning) spout water, are taken from fairy tales. The upper group was described as ‘consisting of a flute player with two boys playing at his feet’, which it clearly does. My source, the Leipzig Lexicon, goes on to say that because of this, the fountain is sometimes called the Rattenfängerbrunnen or ‘Pied Piper fountain’ after the fairy tale ‘The Pied Piper of Hameln’ – so I was not so far wide of the mark!


Leaving the Neues Rathaus we took a tram to Connewitz, an inner city suburb to the south of the old town which I had read was a good place to find street art and which also had a pleasant café. We started our visit in the latter, the Café Südbrause, where I had a lovely yoghurt shake with cranberries and blackcurrants, and Chris an apple juice, sitting in the pleasantly shady garden.

At the Café Südbrause, Connewitz

We then strolled round some of the nearby streets, coming across some street art but not a huge amount. But the architecture was also interesting - I liked this old school building, for instance.

Former school, and old apartment block, Connewitz




Street art in Connewitz

As in many other places where a previously rather neglected area has recently been ‘discovered’ by young professionals, artists and the middle classes, those who have lived in Connewitz for many years are not necessarily pleased about what the Germans call Gentrifizierung – gentrification.

Protest against gentrification in Connewitz

Völkerschlachtdenkmal - Monument to the Battle of the Nations

From Connewitz we took a bus to the Völkerschlachtdenkmal, a huge and rather bombastic monument to the fallen of the Battle of Leipzig (also known as the Battle of the Nations) in October 1813. This battle resulted in one of Napoleon’s final defeats, against a coalition of armies from Russia, Prussia, Austria and Sweden. Around 600,000 soldiers from more than twenty countries took part in the battle and 100,000 of these were killed or wounded. Furthermore a typhus epidemic broke out in Leipzig, killing 10% of the city’s population. Napoleon’s defeat saw him retreating to France, and when the Allies invaded the following year he was forced to abdicate and was exiled to Elba in May 1814.

Monument to the Battle of the Nations

The monument was built to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the battle. There had been talk of a memorial to the battle as early as 1814, just one year after it was fought, but for years it was just that, talk. A foundation stone was eventually laid in 1863, to mark the fiftieth anniversary, but still no monument was built. Eventually, in 1894, things started to happen. An association was formed, donations sought, and in 1898 construction finally began, to a design by Bruno Schmitz. The resulting monument stands 91 metres high and is one of the tallest monuments in Europe. It was inaugurated on 18 October 1913 in the presence of emperor Wilhelm II.

On the front of the monument is a huge figure of the archangel Michael, portrayed as a god of war. Other carvings are similarly war-like – an eagle in flight, a charging horse.

The Archangel Michael


Carving details

You enter beneath the feet of the archangel and start your visit with a look at the massive foundations which support this structure.

The foundations
[They are illuminated in this deep blue light - it's not a fault in my camera!]

It is usually possible to access the lower of the two outside viewing platforms by a series of lifts, but notices warned us that at the moment the lower lift wasn’t working so after viewing the foundations we had to climbed about 90 stairs to the crypt – a small challenge to my still bruised ribs but manageable.

The Crypt

Stained glass in the crypt

The Crypt is decorated with eight large statues representing fallen soldiers, either side of which stand the Totenwächter (Guardians of the Dead).

Guardians of the Dead

Small side rooms here display various artefacts, including Napoleon’s desk.

Napoleon's desk, and more stained glass

On the upper storey, known as the Ruhmeshalle or Hall of Fame, are four 9.5-metre statues symbolising the idealised German qualities of faith, fertility, bravery and sacrifice.

Looking up at the Hall of Fame - Sacrifice (I think), and Fertility

Looking up at the dome

The lift, which from this point on was operational, bypasses the Hall of Fame to whisk you to an inner viewing gallery from where you can look down on the Crypt and on those figures. The lift then took us further still to an outer gallery with great views towards the city and of the surrounding countryside. You can, if you prefer, climb stairs all the way to this point rather than use the lift – more about those stairs later!

Panoramic view from the Monument to the Battle of the Nations

View towards town

Towards the cemetery

After we had walked completely around the gallery Chris decided to go on up to the very top, but as that involves a long climb on steep and narrow stairs I decided that my ribs would be better served by passing on that. While I waited for him I circumnavigated the gallery a second time, looking not out and down but up, at the immense stone figures looming above me, the Wächterfiguren (Watching Figures, i.e. guards).


The Wächterfiguren

Meanwhile Chris was up above me also taking photos so that I could see what I had missed out on. The view was of course much the same, albeit from somewhat higher up, but he found it interesting to see the small cupola which tops the monument. He has given permission for me to share these photos here.

Cupola on the top - by Chris

View from the top - by Chris

Inside the dome, just below the very top - by Chris

When Chris returned we took the lift back down to the Crypt level, from where I felt able to tackle what looked like a short climb to the Hall of Fame, to get closer to the huge statues there. We started up the spiral staircase (one way only - another flight leads down) at the foot of which we had seen a sign with a cross-section of the monument showing the Hall of Fame as the next level. But in thinking that this meant that these stairs would take us there we were mistaken. The stairs went on and on, my ribs started to feel sorer, retreat (because of the one-way system) was impossible. Eventually we arrived at the top - only to find ourselves, unsurprisingly given the length of the climb, back up at the inner gallery, looking down on the very figures we had hoped to reach!

So we gave up, took the lift back down, and started towards the stairs back down to foundation level. Near the start of these we spotted an exit door to a lower outside platform, went to investigate, and there we saw what had previously not been at all obvious – the steps to the Hall of Fame went up the outside of the monument! So we got our close-up look at those massive statues after all!

In the Hall of Fame

Chris's hand on a toe of one of the statues in the Hall of Fame - to show the scale!

After all these exertions we decided to skip the museum, which we knew mainly focuses on the story of the battle - a story I could read later online, and which Chris, having little interest in history, was happy to know little about.

The sun had moved round during our visit, so on leaving we were able to get some better shots of the entirety of the monument. Its shape reminded us forcibly of the temples of Tikal, so much so that we speculated whether these had been an influence for the architect, although I have read that the main influences were Egyptian and Assyrian, especially the pyramids of the former.

The monument in sunlight

We caught a tram back to Augustplatz, which took us past the Russische Gedächtniskirche - the Russian Memorial Church. This was built in 1913 to commemorate the approximately 130,000 Russians who fought against Napoleon in the Battle of the Nations in 1813. I snatched a quick photo as we passed.

Our tram arriving, and the Russische Gedächtniskirche

On the tram

When we got off the tram we walked through to Markt, where we stopped for Kaffee und Kuchen, that wonderful German institution, at one of the cafés around the square - Chris got his favourite plum cake, Pflaumenkuchen, and I had an excellent concoction of chocolate sponge, cream and apricots.

Pflaumenkuchen, and chocolate sponge with apricots

Town Hall museum

Our final stop of the day was a short visit to the museum in the Town Hall, mainly because it would give us an opportunity to see inside a building whose external glories were hidden from us. We expected to have to pay, but the lady in the shop said it was ‘free today’ (she was unable or unwilling to explain why but I have since learned that there is free admission on the first Wednesday of every month – normally it costs 6€).

Town Hall detail

I was pleased to be told that photography is allowed here as long as no flash is used. The exhibits are on two floors. On the first they cover the period from medieval times until the Battle of Leipzig. At the heart of this floor is the large banqueting hall, with impressive stone fireplaces and portraits of all the city’s rulers around the wall. In the centre is an interesting and very detailed model of medieval Leipzig, in which we were able to pick out the roof of our hotel, the 16th century Fregehaus.

Banqueting hall and fireplace

Model of medieval Leipzig
[I have labelled some of the places of interest, and our hotel!

Also displayed in this room is a hand-written copy of the Sachsenspiegel, the 13th-century law-book and custumal of the Holy Roman Empire, one of the earliest texts in German. Although this isn’t one of the four surviving illuminated copies of this (these are in Heidelberg, Oldenburg, Dresden, and Wolfenbüttel) it is still pretty awesome to look at a book this old!


Side rooms display religious statues and altar pieces from various churches, including the Johanniskirche, St John’s Church, which was destroyed by an air raid in December 1943, and where Bach was originally buried. It was following this air raid that his bones were moved to the Thomaskirche, as I described in a previous entry: Some of Leipzig’s famous sons

Altar piece from c. 1500
[The central part depicts the Virgin Mary, with St Nicholas and St Barbara -
a sign explains that this would only have been opened on feast days

Romanesque church door, c 1200
A sign explains that the iron mountings symbolise heaven (tree of life) and hell (hellhound, devil and fire)

There are also Roman artefacts and some interesting objects and texts from the period of Martin Luther, when Leipzig was an important centre for publishing. Luther is known to have visited the town seven times.

Published sermon of Martin Luther

Somewhat weary (I with my aching arm and ribs, Chris with a distinct lack of interest in history!), we decided not to bother with the second floor, which covers more recent periods, but instead headed back to the hotel to rest and freshen up before our anniversary evening out.

Weinstock Leipzig

Having read consistently good reviews of this restaurant we had reserved a table when passing yesterday for this evening’s anniversary dinner. Before going to the restaurant we stopped off at Bellini’s, the bar where we had enjoyed our first beer on arriving in Leipzig a few days ago, for pre-dinner drinks. I had a pink gin with fresh strawberries and Chris a vodka tonic.

Pre-dinner anniversary drinks at Bellini's

We then walked across to the restaurant on the north side of the Marktplatz and were shown to a table just inside, with a view of the square.

In the Weinstock Leipzig

The menu here is what I guess you would describe as ‘modern German’, with some influences from elsewhere in Europe. We both enjoyed everything we ate - the complementary potato Schnitzel amuse-bouche; my salmon tartare with pumpernickel bread and scrambled egg to start, and Chris’s Parmesan soup; his Butterschnitzel with potato salad, my perch on a bed of spinach with lobster sauce; and the warm chocolate fondant with cherries which we both chose as dessert. I drank a very good dry Riesling and Chris a red wine from the Palatinate region, and we finished the meal with our newly discovered favourite, a Radeberg Bitter each.

My dinner at the Weinstock

We then had a little stroll around the market square before heading back to the hotel - tired, very full, and very satisfied with our last evening in Leipzig.

Postscript - homeward bound

Building in Markt

We made the most of our last Fregehaus breakfast the next morning, enjoying as always the selection of cheeses and meats with the excellent selection of rolls, and today with the addition of juicy fresh figs to accompany some sharp goats cheese.

We had an hour or so to kill before leaving and Chris wanted to buy a slice of his favourite plum cake to take home. We thought the market might be in operation (I had read that these take place on Tuesdays and Thursdays) but the Marktplatz was empty, so we walked past the Nicholaikirche one final time to a shop we had previously spotted near the Augustplatz, Lukas. We bought a couple of slices to go, and retraced our steps, taking a few last photos as we went.

We checked out of the hotel and caught the S-bahn from Markt to the airport, arriving in plenty of time for our flight. The plane (a Bombadier) was so small that our larger cabin bags were taken from us as we boarded to be put in the hold, to be returned to us on landing.

Bombadier at Leipzig-Halle Airport


Taking off from Leipzig-Halle Airport


Above Frankfurt

The short hop to Frankfurt went smoothly, and there we had time to grab something to eat - Frankfurters (appropriately!) with potato salad, my favourite German ‘fast food’. I also spotted a shop with an amusing sign - Jesus seems to have branched out from his traditional role and is now selling watches to make ends meet!

Shop at Frankfurt Airport

The in-bound flight was a little late landing, so we had a delay of about 15 minutes before boarding and were similarly late in taking off. Surprisingly for a short economy flight these days, we were served complementary food (not that we were really hungry) and drink. I accepted a cheese sandwich and enjoyed a beer with it. I amused myself during the flight with taking photos of some impressive cloud formations.



Clouds over Germany

Flying in over London City Airport

Soon we were landing at Heathrow and, with no bags to collect and no queues at the e-passport gates, were quickly on our way home by Tube. Another, short, holiday was over.

Posted by ToonSarah 07:01 Archived in Germany Tagged churches food architecture restaurant monument history flight city museum street_art street_photography war_and_peace Comments (14)

Different perspectives on the city

Leipzig day three

View An anniversary trip to Germany on ToonSarah's travel map.

Market day

Buildings in Markt

On Tuesdays there is a farmers’ market in the Marktplatz, so after another leisurely breakfast we strolled along to check out the stalls. All the produce looked very fresh and delicious, but photo ops were relatively sparse.


A sausage stall

Market day

Pasta stall, and honey stall


One plus point was that the buildings around the square were beautifully lit by the morning sun.

Buildings in Markt

Die Unzeitgemäßen Zeitgenossen

We walked along Grimmaische Strasse, stopping to take a few photos as we went. Some of our subjects duplicated yesterday’s efforts, as today the sun was out and everything looked brighter and better defined.


Details of buildings on and around Grimmaische Strasse

We managed, for instance, to get much better photos of the monument we had previously taken as being to the 1989 Monday Demonstrations. We were wrong! This is known as Die Unzeitgemäßen Zeitgenossen, the Untimely (or Outmoded) Contemporaries, and dates from just before that period, having been created by Bernd Göbel in the period from 1986 to 1989.



Die Unzeitgemäßen Zeitgenossen

The figures depicted are a pedagogue, a diagnostician, a rationalist, a city sculptor, and an art theorist. Some comments online do suggest though that this is a commentary on the GDR period, including one which said that Göbel gave the sculpture to Leipzig in 1990 as a gift to symbolize ‘the people that have plagued your city’. On the other hand, another description I found read that ‘the Socialist sculpture represents five of the working class of East Germany at the time’. I guess it’s all in the eye of the beholder!


City-Hochhaus and Paulinum


We had decided that this better weather made the Observation Platform of the City-Hochhaus an attractive proposition. This is a 36-storey building, the tallest in Leipzig (by some way, I would imagine), and was built between 1968 and 1972. The architect, Hermann Henselmann, intended it to look like an open book but I confess that was lost on me when I saw it – and on locals too, it seems, as their nickname for it is Weisheitszahn, wisdom tooth! It used to belong to the university but is now owned by Merrill Lynch, its offices rented out to private companies.

We took the lift to the 29th floor, paid the required 3€ and climbed some steps to the outside viewing platform. This is quite small but offers almost 360 degree views over the city and beyond. Signs on the parapets helped us to pick out many landmarks - the zoo, the Hauptbahnhof (Central Station), Nicholaikirche and Thomaskirche, new and old town halls, the Völkerschlachtdenkmal, football stadium (Red Bull Arena) and more.

View towards the southwest from the City-Hochhaus

Neues Rathaus and Thomaskirche from the City-Hochhaus

Our hotel from the City-Hochhaus
[It's the yellow building with the steep roof and dormer windows]

Völkerschlachtdenkmal in the mist
[and Russische Gedächtniskirche visible in the foreground

There is a small café up here but that was closed, although we could use its seating to take a break while admiring the view.


Our tram

Back at ground level we headed for the tram stops in the centre of Augustplatz. Checking the maps by the stops and information on the ticket machines we were able to plan a route to Eisenbahnstrasse. Chris had read in the Lufthansa magazine, on our way here, that this was an interesting up-and-coming area and we were keen to see something of Leipzig beyond the old town. So we took the tram (number 4] and then a bus to Herman Liebmann - Eisenbahnstrasse where we started to look around.

Not our tram!
Check out that slogan! Do you think the company puzzle over why so few English speakers are tempted to take their tours?

But the ice cream parlour recommended in the article, Molekühl, had closed down, and the streets were lined with the sort of businesses you see all over London, so not really any sort of novelty for us - a kebab shop, a couple of food shops, a couple more selling cheap clothes.

There was relatively little street art too, compared with what I had expected, although we unearthed a few photogenic spots.





On and around Eisenbahnstrasse

The Baumvollspinerei

We decided not to hang around to explore further afield, and instead got a tram to the Hauptbahnhof where we changed to the S-barn bound for Plagwitz. It was a pleasant ride past lots of summer cottages with their allotment-style gardens and old industrial buildings - some crumbling, others restored and re-purposed.

View from the train on the way to the Baumvollspinerei

Once we alighted at Plagwitz it was a short walk to our well-signposted destination, the Baumvollspinerei.

Sign to the Baumvollspinerei

Graffiti on the way to the Baumvollspinerei

This is an old cotton mill that has been taken over by small artist studios, galleries etc. Its website explains:

‘More than 125 years ago, Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei Aktiengesellschaft bought a plot of around 10 hectares on the western outskirts of Leipzig. By 1907, it had become the biggest cotton-spinning mill in continental Europe. This fascinating factory town, including workers’ homes, allotment gardens as well as the factory kindergarten, has survived intact to this day.’

It seems this was a model factory of its day, with its own fire brigade, public baths, a kindergarten, allotments, medical care for the workers and social activities such as a choir and music group. But working conditions were tough: ‘In 1887, 318 workers, working a maximum 77-hour week, processed a total of 6,200 bales of cotton into over 1 million kilos of thread. Only twenty years later, 20,000 bales of cotton were processed into 5 million kilos of thread by 1,600 workers working a ten-hour day.’

Baumvollspinerei chimneys

The mill was still operational at the time of Reunification in 1989. Again, from the website:

‘In 1989, there were still about 1,650 people working in the Spinnerei. Production continued throughout the first years after the Wall fell and Germany was reunified. Production of thread came to an end in the beginning of 1993, causing the business to be liquidated and workers laid off. In August 1993, the Spinnerei was sold to a West German buyer by the Treuhand (the trust responsible for the GDR’s formerly nationally-owned companies). Until 2000, the business produced cord for car tires; when production finally ceased, it employed about 40 people. From the early 1990s onwards, a completely new phase in the use of the site began … The empty rooms were used for alternative projects – a summer academy was opened, the first few artists set up studios, and architecture firms, workshops and exhibition rooms gradually moved in ... Clotho, goddess of fate, had spun a new thread of life for the place that was once the largest spinning works in mainland Europe, and whose history, after 125 years, has apparently not yet come to an end.’

As we arrived at the complex we spotted a shady Biergarten to one side - a welcome sight, as it was by now quite some time since breakfast. It was also a hot day, and sightseeing is thirsty work, so I was happy to see home-made ginger lemonade on the menu, which proved to be as delicious and refreshing as I hoped it would be.

After our break we went into the mill complex. It was interesting to wander round the old buildings which, despite (or perhaps because of) their occupation by artists, still had an air of disuse and decay which was rather photogenic. I was struck by the number of old clocks - presumably as a mill time-keeping had been important. Less so nowadays however - each was showing a different time!

Old clocks at the Baumvollspinerei

At the Baumvollspinerei

Stairwell in one of the buildings

Disappointingly however, none of the galleries was open to visitors - a couple were rehanging, others only open in the second half of the week (Wednesday or Thursday through to Sunday). And the people we saw here, some of whom at least I assumed were artists or craftspeople, seemed to be spending their time sitting around chatting to each other rather than creating art and welcoming visitors to their studios, as we had expected.

Relaxing at the Baumvollspinerei

So after an hour or so taking photos we headed back to the city centre, this time by tram (number 14).

The Red Bull Arena (football stadium) from the tram

By the tram stop in Leipzig -
the Evangelical Reformed Church, reflection and clock

By now we were hungry (it was mid afternoon) so we stopped off at the Milchbar Pinguin, almost opposite our hotel, where I had an ice cream sundae with caramel sauce and Chris a coffee with Apfelstrudel. Both hit the spot!

We wandered around some back streets and skirted the market (which was still going on, although some stall holders were packing up) and headed back to the hotel to relax a while.

The Johann S

Beer at the Coffe Baum

I had read good reviews of this restaurant next to the Thomaskirche so we decided to give it a try. On the way there we stopped off at the Coffe Baum for a beer and enjoyed people-watching and listening to the sound of the fountain.

It was a mild evening so like everyone else at the restaurant we decided to sit outside. I loved my salmon starter, as did Chris his carpaccio, but while he also really enjoyed his Wiener Schnitzel, my Klopse (meatballs) in a caper sauce were disappointing - the meatballs themselves far too salty and the white sauce rather heavy and thin on the promised capers. Still, the potatoes were very good and the Schwarzbier I drank also good.

The Johann S at night, and my Klopse

After dinner we strolled back past the church, taking a few photos as we went, and across Markt back to the hotel.

Thomaskirche at night

Posted by ToonSarah 07:13 Archived in Germany Tagged art food architecture restaurant history views city sculpture street_art Comments (4)

Some of Leipzig’s famous sons

Leipzig, day two, continued

View An anniversary trip to Germany on ToonSarah's travel map.


In the Augustusplatz, Leipzig

Leaving the NIcholaikirche we walked along what seems to be the old town’s main shopping street, Grimmaische Strasse, to the Augustusplatz. Here we found plenty to keep our cameras occupied! Firstly, as we arrived at the end of Grimmaische Strasse there was an interesting monument to the demonstrations of 1989, although we found it hard to get decent photos of this.

The Augustusplatz is the largest square in Leipzig, and one of the largest in Europe. It was also once considered one of the most beautiful, but most of the buildings surrounding it were destroyed in WW2 and it is now something of a hotchpotch, albeit with some attractive buildings and features. It has seen many name changes over the years. It started life in 1785 as the Platz vor dem Grimmaischen Thor but was renamed Augustusplatz in 1839 after Frederick Augustus, the first king of Saxony. In 1928 the city government renamed it Karl-Marx-Platz, although this name proved unpopular and was largely ignored. In 1933 the Nazis renamed it Augustusplatz, then in 1953 it became Karl-Marx-Platz again, and finally in 1990 (on the day of German reunification) it again returned to Augustusplatz.

The 1960s-built opera house on the north side of the square was, like the Town Hall, undergoing some restoration work, but giant ducks installed in the fountain pool in front of it celebrated 325 years of opera in Leipzig.


In front of the Opera House

Some of the benches around the square caught my eye, each marking the distance to another city (Leipzig’s twins, I concluded – and rightly so, it would seem from this list: https://english.leipzig.de/services-and-administration/international/twin-cities/)

Bench in the Augustusplatz

Dedication on the tree

The trees around the square are sponsored, most in memory of a loved family member, as you see in many places (including our own local park in Ealing).

One though stood out - it had been sponsored by fans of Michael Jackson, presumably after his death in 2009, and was marked with candles, flowers and cards to mark what would have been his 60th birthday on 29 August this year.

Tributes to Michael Jackson

On the south side of Augustusplatz is an impressive fountain, the Mendebrunnen, dating from 1886 – a rare remnant from the square’s past.

The Mendebrunnen





Mendebrunnen details

And on the west side we couldn’t fail to notice what looked like a very striking modern church. I was surprised to see this, as I hadn’t read in my planning research of a modern church in the city. When we went to investigate all became clear. This is one of the main buildings of the university, the Paulinum, and stands on the site of the former university church, dedicated to St Paul, the Paulinerkircher.

The Paulinum, and a model of the Paulinerkirche

This formerly Dominican monastery church was blown up under orders from the GDR government, dynamited to make way for the redevelopment of the university, eventually carried out between 1973 and 1978. Protestors against the blasting operation were arrested. However enough warning was given for a number of artefacts to be saved - ancient tombstones, statues of saints, fragments of stained glass and frescoes from the cloister. These are all now displayed inside this university building and anyone can go in to view them, as we did.

Tombstone rescued from the Paulinerkirche

Tombstone rescued from the Paulinerkirche
A rather sad sign explains that this is the tombstone of the five children of Tobias Möbius, three daughters and two sons, all of whom died between 1654 and 1660. Four died while still babies; only Maria Elizabeth, seen on the right, lived to the age of just four, although she is depicted here more like a young adult.

Items rescued from the Paulinerkirche


Frescoes rescued from the Paulinerkirche

Emerging on the far side of the building we found ourselves in a peaceful courtyard surrounded by the university’s lecture theatres, seminar rooms etc. A few students sat on benches here, and in one corner stood a statue of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, the German mathematician and philosopher, who was born in Leipzig on 1 July 1646. We also had good views from here of the City-Hochhaus, and resolved to go up to its observation platform later in our visit, if the promised better weather materialised.

Statue of Leibnitz at the Paulinum

On the statue's plinth

Views of the City-Hochhaus from the Paulinum

The Paulinum

We walked back down Grimmaische Strasse, stopping off at the Mädlerpassage, a rather grand shopping arcade from the early 20th century, to take photos and make a reservation for dinner tonight at the historic Auerbachskeller – more about that later!

On Grimmaische Strasse

Entrance to the Mädlerpassage

Mädlerpassage details

In the Mädlerpassage

By now it was mid-afternoon and we were peckish, having had nothing since that rather good breakfast. So we stopped off at the Café Kandler, near the Thomaskirche, for ‘Kaffe und Kuchen’ - raspberry and yoghurt cake for Chris, apple and poppy seed for me - both delicious!

The Café Kandler

Cakes at the Café Kandler


We then visited the church opposite, where no restrictions on photography were in evidence. The church is even more closely associated with Bach than the Nicholaikirche. He was music director here from 1723 until his death in 1750, and his remains (probably) lie in a tomb in the chancel.

There has been a church on this site since the 12th century but the current building dates from 1496. Martin Luther preached here on Pentecost Sunday in 1539. The tower was added in 1537 and rebuilt in 1702. The Baroque interior was remodelled in the Gothic revival style in the late 19th, so the church is not as Bach would have known it and very little remains from the composer’s time here. Other composers also associated with the Thomaskirche include Mozart, who played the organ here in May 1789, and Wagner, who was baptised here in August 1813 and later studied piano here.

The Thomaskirche

Someone was playing the organ, which added atmosphere to our visit, although this is not the organ Bach would have played, as that one was removed during the 1880s renovations.

We did of course see his grave, though were disconcerted to read on a nearby sign that it is by no means certain that it does hold his bones. A nearby sign explains that when Bach died he was buried in the hospital cemetery of St John’s Church in Leipzig. It goes on:

Bach's tomb, Thomaskirche

‘The renaissance of Bach’s works in the 19th century incites public interest in his remains. In 1894, anatomy professor Wilhelm His is commissioned to identify Bach’s remains out of a number of exhumed bones. His final assessment is as follows: “It is highly probable that the bones of an elder man found in an oaken coffin by St John’s Church on 22nd October 1894 are those of Johann Sebastian Bach.” On 16th July 1900, the bones are entombed in a stone sarcophagus in the crypt of St John’s Church.’

The sign goes on to explain when St John’s was destroyed in the bombing of Leipzig in 1943 it was decided to move Bach’s remains to his former workplace:

‘Master mason Malecki is hired to transfer Johann Sebastian Bach’s remains to St Thomas Church. On 28th July 1949 (the anniversary of Bach’s death), he finds the bones in an open casket of zinc in the crypt at the destroyed St John’s Church and decides upon an immediate transfer. He lifts the open casket on to his handcart and pushes it all the way through the city to St Thomas Church. It is said that he handed over Bach’s remains to Superintendent Heinrich Schumann with a succinct “Hello there, Superintendent, I bring Bach.”’

We visited a small exhibition in a side chapel with old bibles, church service books and musical instruments from Bach’s day.

A church book from 1721, in use during Bach's time here

In the main part of the church I admired the stained glass, and was surprised to note that the structure seems slightly kinked, with the choir area not completely aligned with the aisle.

Does it look kinked to you?

Stained glass in the Thomaskirche

I was especially taken by an epitaph on the wall just to the left of Bach’s grave. This is dedicated to Daniel Leicher, a town councillor who died in 1612. The stone carving on the lower part (in my photo right) depicts the Old Testament story of Leicher's namesake Daniel in the lions' den.

Daniel Leicher epitaph

Back outside we took photos of Bach’s statue and of the church itself.

Statue of Bach at the Thomaskirche

Outside details, Thomaskirche

Above the 'Good Shepherd' door

The Bach museum though was closed, being a Monday, and it was spitting with rain, so we decided to head back to the hotel to rest a little before dinner (my recently broken arm was beginning to object to all the photo-taking!)

Detail on the Commerszbank building, opposite the Thomaskirche


At first I wasn’t sure whether to have a meal at the Auerbachskeller, as I felt its fame might make it too touristy, or that the food might be disappointing if they rested on their laurels and relied too much on the story behind the restaurant / wine bar to drive trade.

That story goes way back. There has been a wine bar on this site since the 15th century – the first mention of it is in 1438. By the 16th century it had been incorporated into the Auerbachs Hof, a trade fair building complex, which was erected around 1530 at the bidding of Heinrich Stromer (1482–1542), a city councillor, professor of medicine, and rector of Leipzig University. He was popularly known as Doctor Auerbach after his birthplace, the town of Auerbach. The wine bar which he reopened in the basement of his new complex soon adopted his name – the Auerbachskeller.

But the bar is famous not so much for its age as for one famous drinker here. When Goethe was studying at Leipzig University, from 1765 to 1768, he came here often, calling it his favourite wine bar. Here he saw two paintings – one showing the legendary magician and astrologer Johann Georg Faust drinking with students, and the other showing him riding out of the door astride a wine barrel, something he could only have managed to do with the assistance of the Devil. Goethe would already have been familiar with the Faust story (a Faust puppet show was regular entertainment at local street fairs) but he credited the Auerbachskeller with inspiring him to revive the legend and even featured it in the scene ‘Auerbach’s Cellar in Leipzig’, in which Mephistopheles performs a trick, bringing forth wine from a table in which he has drilled holes.

When the medieval Auerbachs Hof was demolished around the turn of the 20th century, the Mädlerpassage was built in its place (1912-1913), again incorporating the Auerbachskeller, albeit rebuilt and expanded. Two sculptures now mark the entrance – one depicting Mephistopheles and Faust, and the other the Bewitched Students from the drinking scene.

Statue of Mephistoles and Faust in the Mädlerpassage

The Bewitched Students

The restaurant website seems keen that you don’t visit just because of the Goethe connection however, despite those prominent statues:

'Welcome to our historic restaurant at the heart of Leipzig's old city. Just like millions of guests before you. Goethe was here, too! Of course! But Auerbachskeller is not primarily famous because Goethe was here, Goethe was here because of an old saying:

“He who travels to the trade markets
of Leipzig without visiting
Auerbachs Yard must hold his peace.
It proves: He has not seen Leipzig.”’

Or in the original German:

“Wer nach Leipzig zur Messe gereist,
Ohne auf Auerbachs Hof zu gehen,
Der schweige still, denn das beweist:
Er hat Leipzig nicht gesehn.”

But what of our visit? Was I right to be cautious about dining here? Not at all!


In the Auerbachskeller

Faust and Mephistoles

When we arrived at the Auerbachskeller it was buzzing, so we were glad we had made that reservation. We were even more glad after our very good meal of tomato soup with mushrooms (which we both chose to start with), perch in a creamy sauce with grapes and Savoy cabbage (me) and mixed meat strips in dark beer sauce (Chris). Talking of dark beer, the Schwarzbier I had with my meal was excellent, while Chris enjoyed another local pils, the Radeberger. And to finish we just had to have Radeberger Bitter again as a digestif!

Tomato soup, and my perch

Beer at the Auerbachskeller

After our meal we had a little stroll. A very good string trio were playing in the Naschmarkt and had gathered quite a crowd, so we stopped to listen for a bit. We rewarded them with a few Euros after I had shot some video - mainly to capture their playing. I apologise for the picture quality – I was forced to take only my compact camera on this trip, as my broken arm couldn’t cope with the weight of my main one!

We walked over to the Nicholaikirchhof as a friend had told me that some of the cobbles were prettily lit up at night, but they were in darkness (the same friend later found out for me that the lights were off due to maintenance – click here) to see what we should have seen.

So we called it a night and headed back to the hotel through the city streets, very pleased with our first full day in Leipzig.

The Nicholaikirche at night

Posted by ToonSarah 07:53 Archived in Germany Tagged churches history statue restaurants city leipzig street_photography Comments (9)

Faces in stone

Leipzig, day two

View An anniversary trip to Germany on ToonSarah's travel map.

Opposite the Thomaskirche

Around six in the morning the one downside of our otherwise lovely hotel became apparent. This is an old building and a working one, with several businesses sharing the pretty courtyard, so from quite an early hour we heard the regular crack and bang of heavy doors opening and shutting. But never mind, we had at least slept well till then in the comfortable bed.

Breakfast room

Breakfast is charged extra at the Fregehaus but was highly recommended in several reviews, so we had decided to treat ourselves. And it lived up to expectations - a great selection of breads, meats, cheeses and various spreads, plus good coffee, fruit juice, muesli and yoghurts, boiled eggs and extras such as olives and tomatoes. All served in an attractive room next to reception.

The weather was still dull, though an improvement was promised for the afternoon, so we decided on an indoor activity for this first morning. Our first thought had been the Museum der Bildenden Künste (fine art museum) but this is closed on a Monday so instead we opted for the 'Runde Ecke' Memorial Museum, housed in the former headquarters of the Stasi in Leipzig.

On the short walk there we realised for the first time something that was to strike us again repeatedly during our stay in Leipzig - the high level of ornamentation on most of the older buildings in general, and the number of carved figures and faces in particular. Wherever you go here you are overlooked by these faces in stone. They became something of a theme underlying our explorations, and will be a constant thread running through my blog entries too.

On the way to the Runde Ecke

Runde Ecke

Here the Stasi, as the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit (Ministry for State Security) were commonly known, had their Leipzig Headquarters, and the building therefore was a focus for the peaceful protests that precipitated the fall of the GDR, known as the Monday Demonstrations.

Woven rug with Stasi symbol, and painting on display at the Runde Ecke

The Monday Demonstrations were peaceful political protests against the government of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) that started here in Leipzig in September 1989. They took place every Monday evening after the weekly Friedensgebet (prayer for peace) in the Nicholaikirche, at first just in the Nicholaikirchhof, and then as they grew in size, spreading to the nearby Karl Marx Platz (today restored to its original name of Augustusplatz). At that time Leipzig was slightly more open to influences from the west than were other GDR cities, because of its major trade fair, the Leipziger Messe, which allowed businessmen and media from West Germany to enter East Germany. One focus for the protests was the people’s demand to be allowed to travel outside the Soviet block.

By 9 October 1989 the gatherings at the Nicholaikirche which had begun with just a few hundred people had swollen to more than 70,000 (out of Leipzig’s total population of 500,000). The protestors marched right past the Runde Ecke. Although the state had mobilised thousands of soldiers and police forces to intervene, no order to do so was given, and the city authorities, with no instructions from East Berlin and taken aback by the size of the crowd, instead ordered their troops to withdraw.

On 16 October 1989, 120,000 demonstrators turned up, with military units again being kept on stand-by but not intervening. A week later the numbers more than doubled to 320,000. This pressure, added to the growing numbers of Monday Demonstrations in other cities, contributed significantly to the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989, and eventually to the end of the GDR regime.

Signs outside the Runde Ecke

The protests continued throughout November and December, piling pressure on to the crumbling regime and its institutions. On 4 December 1989 the protesters entered the Runde Ecke and occupied it, primarily in order to stop the destruction of files. Realising that their time was up and panicking about all the evidence kept in their files, the Stasi had begun to systematically feed the files into shredders. They used special ‘wet shredders’ which turned the shredded paper into a pulp, rendering it completely unreadable. This occupation of the Runde Ecke brought a halt to that process here in Leipzig.

Stasi shredding machine

That night the Bürgerkomitee Leipzig (the 'citizens committee of Leipzig'), was founded, with a mission to safeguard the evidence. This museum is the result of their efforts and is still run by the committee. This gives it a slightly amateurish and decidedly old-fashioned air, but that in a way adds to its appeal, as it feels very genuine and heartfelt in its mission to preserve what remained of Stasi activity and to expose it.

[Incidentally, the rest of this building is now used by the Leipzig branch of the Federal Stasi Records Agency responsible for sorting and archiving the files left behind by the Stasi. Citizens who want to know if the Stasi had kept a file on them can enquire about this here, and if there is one they can gain access to their file and read it.]

Stasi – Macht und Banalität / Stasi – Power and Banality

The permanent exhibition, entitled Stasi – Macht und Banalität (Stasi – Power and Banality), is set out in a series of rooms which otherwise remain much as the Stasi left them, with the original lino and curtains. As you walk through these corridors and former offices, you can experience the building as it was in the days when Stasi officers recruited their informers, wrote and filed their reports on citizens, opened letters arriving from outside the country, planted cameras and other monitoring devices in buildings, and interrogated their prisoners.

Entry to the museum is free, although even if a charge were made it would be well worth visiting. Displays cover various aspects of Stasi activity and their impact on daily life in the GDR. The extensive captions are all in German, but an audio guide (available in several languages) can be hired for 5€. We didn’t bother however, as Chris’s German is sufficient to translate most of the explanations and he was happy to do so.

One of the first rooms you see is a Stasi employee’s office, left almost untouched since the day it was abandoned.

Stasi employee's office

The remaining offices however, all small rooms opening off the one corridor, have been adapted to hold displays on various topics. Some of the sections which caught our attention were on:

The indoctrination of children through school and sports activities and involvement in the Free German Youth movement – the Freie Deutsche Jugend or FDJ

Freie Deutsche Jugend uniform

School poster

Opening of letters (both those written by citizens and those received from the West) - the letters were carefully steamed open using a range of devices, and resealed with special glue which mimicked that used on envelopes. There were separate devices for self-sealing envelopes.

Letter opening device, targeting steam along the glued edge

Old letters

The pressure put on ordinary people to spy on their neighbours as ‘Mitarbeiter’ (collaborators) - everyone was encouraged to play their part in maintaining the system .

Spy equipment such as tiny cameras (including one that was hidden in a false stomach, and another in a briefcase), listening and recording equipment (one disguised as a lady’s handbag), false noses and wigs, etc. Stasi members were trained to disguise themselves, for instance as a builder or an Arab, and were even trained to make their own false beards and hair extensions.

Miniature spy cameras

The ‘collection of smells’ – we didn’t fully understand the purpose of these jars of yellow cloth, other than that dogs were used to sniff out anyone whose smell marked them as a suspect. Returning home and doing a bit of research I found this explanation on the Dark Tourism website:

‘The story of the scent samples is also one of the most intriguing and appalling parts of the Stasi legacy. What they did was this: for interrogation they sat “suspects” on chairs which had been prepared with a yellow cloth secretly placed under the outer upholstery. Interrogation is of course a situation in which anybody is prone to some perspiration. That way they obtained the scent of the “suspects” in case they ever had to track them down again at a later stage using sniffer dogs. For that eventuality the yellow cloths were archived in sealed glass jars. Several of these jars are on display at this exhibition.’

Collecting smells

This seems an unscientific method for the identification of guilt, but one that was regularly relied upon

A mock-up of a prison cell (prisoners were in practice held in a separate building, hence the mock-up here)

Mock-up of a Stasi prison cell

A claustrophobic interrogation room

Interrogation room

On the way out we took a better look at the exterior of the Runde Ecke building, which was originally constructed for an insurance company in the early 20th century, in what is known as the Gründerzeit style. For a brief period immediately after the Second World War it was used by the US occupying forces, serving as the regional seat for their military administration. A small memorial plaque to the right of the main entrance commemorates the liberation of Leipzig by US troops in April 1945.

Memorial to the liberation of Leipzig by US troops

When Leipzig was handed over to the Soviets in July 1945 they also took over the administration building. In 1950 the newly-founded GDR security police, the Stasi, moved in, and were to stay for forty years.

Runde Ecke building details

Richard Wagner in Leipzig

We made a brief detour to check out the nearby statue of Richard Wagner, which caught our eye because it is unusually brightly coloured. This was erected here in 2013 to mark the composer’s 200th birthday. Made in bronze, it stands on a plinth dating back to the 1920s. This was the work of the famous Leipzig artist, Max Klinger, who had been commissioned in 1903 to design a monument to Wagner to stand here in the city where he was born. The outbreak of World War One interrupted his work, and although the half-made plinth was later finished by Leipzig sculptor Johannes Hartmann, the statue designed by Klinger never materialised.

Richard Wagner statue

The plinth, which depicts figures from Wagner’s work, stood for eighty years in a Leipzig park, the Palmengarten, before being moved here to the spot where it was originally intended to stand. The new statue, the work of Stephan Balkenhol, shows a young Richard Wagner standing in front of a black bronze plate in a shape that echoes Klinger’s original design for the statue.

Detail of the plinth

The figure above is Mime, from the story of Siegfried, in the third part of the Ring of the Nibelung Cycle, and is on the left hand side of the plinth as you face Wagner. On the front of the plinth the three Rhine water nymphs or Rheintöchter from the same cycle. There was some controversy at the time of its first unveiling because they are depicted unclothed.

City strolling

We had drinks in a pavement café, Zum Arabischen Coffe Baum, near the Lipsia Fountain on the Kleine Fleischergasse. Built in 1913 to a design by Max Lange (as part of a competition for the beautification of the city) the fountain was originally known as the Puttenbrunnen, named for the cherubs below the upper bowl of water, known in Italian as putti. But the popular name of Lipsia, taken from a nearby building of the same name, has stuck.

Lipsia Fountain details

The Lipsia Haus

Drinks finished, and with brightening skies and temperatures rising, we stopped off at the hotel to drop off our coats. This led to another detour, into the fascinating shop on the opposite side of the courtyard which sells antiques, collectibles and downright oddities - beautiful old lamps and coloured glass sit side by side with animal skeletons. Drawings of skulls, a lamp shaped like the Eiffel Tower (more than a metre high), another (smaller) like a crocodile with the bulb between its teeth, old toy cars and a dolls house, many many hats, a pair of worn ballet shoes … truly a treasure trove, of sorts! A sign at the door said no photos, but I sneaked a couple!

Shop in the Fregehaus

Returning to our explorations we strolled east from the Marktplatz, past the town hall shrouded in canvas and scaffolding. The first building of interest we came to was the old stock exchange, the Handelsbörse. A sign, in German and English, told us that it was:

‘Built in 1678/87 on the initiative of 30 tradesmen probably following drafts of the Saxon state master builder Johann Georg Starcke.
The house is the oldest meeting place of the Leipzig tradesmen and the city’s first Baroque building. The four sandstone figurines on the roof balustrade were created by Johann Caspar Sandtmann.'

The Handelsbörse





Handelsbörse details

In front of the stock exchange stands a statue of Goethe. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, to give him his full name, spent three years studying Leipzig (1765-68) so the city is perhaps more entitled than some to celebrate a connection (I recently had an interesting discussion with a friend about my blog entry on a visit to Vaduz in Liechtenstein, where he stayed just one night according to a plaque on the town hall: Collecting countries. As my friend Ingrid asked, ‘Is there any place in the world (or Europe) where he wasn't?’)

Statue of Goethe in front of the Handelsbörse

Handelshof shopping arcade

Anyway, this statue was erected in 1903, the work of Carl Seffner. Originally a marble statue was planned but this final result is in bronze. I read on the German Wikipedia page that a 28-year-old Leipzig gym teacher in theatrical costume served as a model for the young Goethe, but that as there were no images of the poet from his time here, his face is taken from later portraits.

From here we walked through the fascinatingly decorated Handelshof shopping arcade to emerge by the Nicholaikirche, the largest church in the city. Before going inside we stopped to photograph the large building that faces it across the Nicholaikirchhof. This is, I believe, the Priests’ House, built in 1886/87 according to a design by Hugo Licht – the architect also responsible for the Runde Ecke some 25 years later (and for the Neues Rathaus, which we were to visit and admire later in our stay in Leipzig).

Priests’ House, Nicholaikirchhof




Building details


Before exploring the church itself, it’s worth reflecting on the part it played in the Monday Demonstrations, the peaceful political protests against the government of the German Democratic Republic which I described above. While the church didn’t organise these protests, it did trigger them (through the regular prayers for peace) and provide support and a focus for communication between protestors. The column in the Nicholaikirchhof, erected in 1999 and a replica of the columns inside the church, is a memorial to the demonstrations. Its design symbolises how the ideas of freedom which started inside the church were carried out into this public space and beyond.

Nicholaikirchhof, and church spire

A sign at the door of the church said that photography was only permitted on payment of 2€ in the bookshop. I went to pay and was given a sticker to wear, but I soon realised that several other people were happily taking photos on their phones without paying. The same sign also said that photos shouldn’t be posted on the internet, but as I share them here to promote the church and not for my own commercial gain, and as there are already many photos posted by others, I choose to ignore that request, feeling I have done my bit by paying the fee that most other visitors avoided!

The original Nicholaikirche was built here in the 12th century, in the Romanesque style, following the granting of a city charter, and the right to hold a market, to Leipzig, and was therefore dedicated to St Nicholas, the patron saint of travellers and merchants. It was extended and enlarged in the early 16th century, in the Gothic style, and the Baroque main tower was added in 1730. It is the largest church in Leipzig

The interior was remodelled by the German architect Johann Carl Friedrich Dauthe in the Neoclassical style in the late 18th century, and the result is one of the most striking church interiors I have seen, in colours reminiscent of ice cream perhaps, or delicately flavoured cakes!

In the Nicholaikirche

Nicholaikirche ceiling

The organ

Even before the Monday Demonstrations this was a pioneering church. It was here in 1539 that the Reformation in Leipzig began with the first Protestant church service. Today the church is Lutheran. Johann Sebastian Bach was musical director here and at the Thomaskirche from 1723–50, and several of his works premiered here, including the St John Passion.

The apse, and bust of Bach

Fresco in a side chapel

OK, this is proving rather a long entry and no doubt is testing your stamina, as it is mine! I’ll take a break here and continue this day in my next entry.

Posted by ToonSarah 08:54 Archived in Germany Tagged churches buildings architecture history statue germany museum music author world_war_two Comments (12)

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