Barga, the small jewel of the Serchio valley

Barga, a beautiful medieval town in the Serchio Valley, located half way between Lucca and Castelnuovo di Garfagnana, is certainly worth a visit. The several awards received by this town (“orange flag” of the Italian Touring Club, title of “one of most beautiful villages in Italyand “slow city“), testify the value of Barga for its stunning views, life style and from a cultural, historical, architectural point of view . Barga still retains the typical medieval road system consisting in some main streets that lead to small squares overlooked by elegant Renaissance palaces. These streets are intersected by narrow stepped alleys (called “carraie“) through which visitors can explore an unusual Barga, characterized by stone houses and beautiful decorated palaces, by flowered windows and balconies, by curious details and traces of the past to capture in photos. You can reach Barga from many roads; One of the best ones to arrive is the road starting from the village of Fornaci di Barga , rising to Romeggio hill (on which Barga lies)and passing by the interesting romanesque church of Loppia dating back to twelfth century . As you enter in Barga, you can park your car in the square on your right (Piazzale del Fosso) flanked by the old town walls and characterized by the monument erected in honor of the Barga citizen, Antonio Mordini (one of the Garibaldi heroes during the “italian Risorgimento)”.

The main access to the town center is the old stone gate called “Porta reale“(or Marcianella); you will be facing 2 streets: Via di Mezzo (on your left) and Via del Praetorio (on your right) . Take the street on your left (Via di Mezzo), after a few tens of meters, you’ll see the Church of SS. Annunziata which is located in a small square in the lower position to the road surface,this is a religious building of the XVII century in which there are statues of the Annunciation as well as frescoes and paintings by the local painter Baccio Ciarpi.

keep walking, at a certain point, the narrow street Via Di Mezzo opens to a small square (on your right) that houses Barga Theatre (Teatro dei differenti) built in 1795 and expanded over the years. Today, it is home to many theater productions.

Keep on walking on the same street, you will encounter another square, Piazza Angelio (formerly known as Piazza dell’Ajaccia) which is often home to various local events such as the Opera Festival  of Barga, Barga Jazz, antiques and craft market etc … The square is bordered by elegant Renaissance palaces like Palazzo Angeli, whose façade is enriched by the marble bust of the local poet Pietro Angeli  and Palazzo Tallinucci, whose walls are characterized by elegant arcades covered by stone (it was home of the bank agency of “Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze“, now it houses the local tourist promotion association “Pro-loco“).

Continue your walk  to get to Piazza Salvi where you can see the Loggia dei Mercanti, Menchi’s Palace and the Pancrazi Palace. The Loggia dei Mercanti was built when Cosimo I Medici (the leading princes of Florence who were governors of Barga too) instituted the market of Barga (in 1546) where products such as salt and silk were sold . The lion that sits next to the arch of the Loggia is itself the symbol of the subjection of Barga to Florence. Another sign of the political influence of the Florentine Medici family on Barga is also their emblem located in the center of the square and supported by a stone column. Behind the structure of the Loggia there is  Menchi’s Palace which was bought, at the end of the XIX century, by the swiss family Capretz, who turned it into a popular Bar-Café with a panoramic area from where famous local people have spent their time such as Antonio Mordini (a Garibaldi hero born in Barga) and Giovanni Pascoli (famous italian poet who lived Barga for long times). Another building located in that square is Pancrazi Palace which houses  the town hall, an important archive and a library.

Few meters beyond Pancrazi Palace, you’ll arrive to Piazza Garibaldi on which you can see the monument dedicated to Giuseppe Garibaldi, one the main characters of the italian Risorgimento; beside that statue, there is the Balduini Palace whose façade is decorated by a large Medici emblem enriched by the crown of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.

The next visit is dedicated to the cathedral that is located on the highest part of the historic town center; the current building stands on the original nucleus of a church built around the XI century, then enlarged in XII and XIII century. In the XVI and in XVII the Duomo of Barga assumed the current shape with the addition of the two side chapels and the choir. The façade, built of travertine stone, is enriched, at the top, by a double series of small arches rested on brackets decorated with human figures, animals and friezes and, at the bottom, by a magnificent portal framed by two elegant pillars on which two lions rest (they represent the faith), above the portal, there is an arch decorated with acanthus leaves and with rural life scenes.

The interior of the Duomo, with its three naves, houses the beautiful marble pulpit of the XIII century (attributed to Guido Bigarelli from Como) supported by four columns;  the basements of the front columns are represented by two lions  symbolizing the power of Christianity. One of the two lions rests above a dragon representing the evil, the other lion holds under his paws a man who is stroking it with one hand and, with the other, he’s stabbing the animal (symbol of the heretics). One of the rear columns rest  on a midget (the pagan world) and the other directly on the floor (the Christian world).

There are several decorations on the pulpit panels: the front panel represents the Annunciation and the Nativity, the side panel contains the adoration of the three Wise Men and the lectern that is supported by an eagle, the back side of the pulpit is much simpler and it is decorated with a series of narrow arches, one of them frames the figure of the Baptist. Behind the pulpit, there is the chancel that is separated from the rest of the church by some elegant red marble panels framed by inlaid white stone. Inside the cathedral there are also a baptismal font placed at the beginning of the right nave and some holy water pots dating back to the XII/XIII century decorated with floral motifs and small human faces. Behind the altar there is a wooden statue of St. Christopher, Patron Saint of Barga, 3,5 metres high and dating back to the XI century. On the left side of the cathedral, there is Palazzo Pretorio, where the governor of Barga lived (1341-1859), a building dating back to XIV century in which you can see the”sala delle udienze”(the room where the governor met the citizens and administrated the justice), the old prison, the adjacent lodge whose walls are enriched by several emblems of Barga governors. Now, the structure houses the museum of fossils and other artifacts of the Paleolithic .

Between the Duomo and Palazzo Pretorio is the Arringo, a big lawn where the citizens met together in parliament in the past centuries  and from which you can admire a magnificent panorama over the valley and the surrounding mountains. Walk towards the steps beside the Duomo leading to Via del Pretorio and bordering the magnificent private garden of Palazzo Salvi, whose interiors are magnificently decorated with stuccos, frescoes and adorned with antique furniture.

After few meters, on the left, you encounter the Conservatory of St. Elizabeth, a former monastery dating back to 1456 later transformed into a conservatory from the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Pietro Leopoldo. The building houses several XVII century paintings and it has a beautiful cloister with a nice garden. The church of St. Elizabeth is just adjacent to the conservatory, it houses a large polychrome altarpiece in Della Robbia style . In the interior of the Church there are also some XVII century paintings, a wooden crucifix from the XV century and a circular bas-relief of the Holy Virgo with Child in Della Robbia style. The tour ends to the main town gate (Porta Reale ) where you started the visit. Outside the town of Barga, in Castelvecchio Pascoli village there is the house of the famous italian poet Giovanni Pascoli . He spent a long time there, devoting himself to the studies of classic literature and to poetry. This house is now converted into a museum. The individual visit costs 2 euros per person, guided tours (minimum 15 people) are made by appointment and they cost 3 euros per each visitor. More information on the official website of “Casa Museo Giovanni Pascoli“.

Curiosity:

  • The town of Barga is also called “the most Scottish town in Italy” (BBC video here) because of the strong flow of migrants to Scotland in the early XX century. Several ”Barga-Scots” had success and many of them returned back after some years of hard work, building several beautiful Liberty style villas around the old town center. Even today the links between Barga and Scotland are very close, as evidenced by the several scottish events accompanied by the sound of the typical bagpipes and by the inevitable “fish and chips”. Also Paolo Nutini, the famous scottish singer, has roots in Barga.