It you are a lover of Tuscan Renaissance gardens and Grottoes, you won’t want to miss a chance to tour of some of the historic villas that surround Lucca. These sprawling estates were commissioned by rich merchants trying to outdo each other in conspicuous consumption and intricate waterworks. The sites were chosen to optimize the water flow so that gravity was all that was needed to animate the fountains and water works—and for the great views of the countryside north of Lucca.
Villa Oliva was built in the late 15th century as country residence of the Buonvisi family. We arrived after a fine lunch at nearby Antica Locanda di Sesto.
We rang the bell at the gate and after a few minutes were greeted by a groundskeeper followed by his ancient and arthritic dog. He lead us to the inviting two-story portico and took our money, 6 euros each.
It was as if we had arrived by coach to a distant destination tourists couldn’t reach easily enough.
If we zoom out a bit from the picture above, we get the whole effect:
Each of the columns is made from a single block of Matraia stone (sandstone with siliceous binder, according to the lit).
While most visitors here expect a copious cover of flowers in springtime, the estate seems a bit barren in that regard. It is unworthy of its bad reviews, however, as it has recently been spiffed up for use as a place for weddings and receptions. The fountains are quite wondrous. Here is one:
In the Renaissance they didn’t have hissy-fits over exposed breasts, so…
And they liked their putti. Putti have appeared in all manner of art from Greco Roman times and have evolved to have different meanings. They are like the thought bubbles of sculptors, allowing them to add a sort of spiritual depth to the story they’re telling in their works. To the left is a putto riding a rather large seahorse.
The conception of the putto reaches back in art to the ancient classical world, where winged infants were physical manifestations of invisible essences or spirits called genius, genii, that were believed to influence human lives. Love putti (erote) were familiars of Eros and Venus. In Bacchanals, which were celebrations of Dionysius (Bacchus), putti represented fertility, abundance, the spirit of the fruit of life and were often depicted in wild revelry. Most intriguing was the ancient creation of the larvate-putto (to be explained later.) ~ Angels in Art (a very interesting history of the putti in art).
We enjoyed our laid-back stroll of Villa Oliva. There are fine views of the hills, fine places to take a rest, and there’s access to many of the buildings like the carriage house.
Map of Historic Lucca Villas Oliva, Torrigiani, and Grabau
Villa Oliva is the purple marker on the map:
If You Go
Via delle Ville, 2034, 55100 San Pancrazio LU