In its heyday, Bagni di Lucca, with its cool climate and great variety of hot springs had been a very fashionable European holiday resort and spa town. Beautiful elegant hotels had been built all around the spas. Villas, owned by heads of state and various ambassadors and dignitaries were crammed with antique furniture, musical instruments and rare books.
There were cultural centres, casinos, Anglican churches and cemeteries, restaurants and theatres. Famous poets, singers, playwrights, writers, actors and actresses used to flock there in the summer months. Presumably, many wars and marriages were arranged and important state decisions taken inside those thick stone walls, so far from indiscreet ears.
With the advent of fascism in Italy, renewed nationalism and World War Two, the “guests” of Bagni di Lucca suddenly became completely undesirable, and were later either deported or forced to flee.
Their properties were confiscated which meant that the local fascist bosses, for the most part rude uneducated thugs, suddenly had access to and became owners of luxurious properties full of rare works of art. There are tales of grand pianos being chopped up for firewood, rare books being transported to the local paper mills and being sold by the kilo, manuscripts being burnt on bonfires, and paintings being thrown out on to the grass where rain and sun eventually got the better of them.
Some of the villas miraculously passed into the hands of new owners. Deeds were drawn up, and illiterate mountain folk suddenly felt like princes and princesses. Some were used for more sinister purposes, housing torture and detention centres for political opponents, intellectuals and partisans or worse, boarding houses for Jewish and gypsy children before they left for their final destinations.
The grand rooms and theatres, which had housed great composers and musicians, were turned almost overnight into brothels or barracks for Mussolini’s troops.
At last! Many dignitaries thought that law and order has been restored. We are in charge again and those foreigners got what they deserved!
Of course, things didn’t quite turn out as expected. Italy did not get its empire, but instead a humiliating loss in which not only did it once again have to bow down to the overwhelming power of the Anglo-American armies, but it also had to sign really unfair future agreements, thus becoming a near slave to the foreign oil barons, military-industrial complexes, big Pharma religion and cars and motorways.
After the war there was no money for the upkeep and maintenance of the once magnificent hotels and spa complexes and anyway the whole of Italy was busy doing other things. People were emigrating in hordes, abandoning villages, hilltops and mountains for large industrial cities in the north, going to work in the booming car industries or in foreign cities.
The people were all working like busy bees for their new masters, building motorways and high rise blocks of flats, spraying clean fields, vineyards and fruit farms with toxic pesticides, getting rich and watching TV.
Bagni di Lucca became a ghost town. Gone were the shepherds and their flocks, the orderly rows of vegetables, the pigs, cows, geese and ducks, the large families and old traditions. Winters passed and vegetation covered the villages and country lanes. Vines grew over and smothered the beautiful old buildings until there was nothing left, except memories in books which no one ever opened.
Small factories sprang up in Bagni di Lucca: paper mills spewing out clouds of black smoke and colouring the rivers pink and blue, and the souvenir industry which exported plastic figurines to many parts of the world. The owners of these businesses became very wealthy and the only people left who had not emigrated elsewhere worked entirely for the “benefactors” who could therefore pay as little or as much as they liked, as people had no other alternative.
In the 1960s and 70s, people had started to talk about the possibility of starting up the tourist business once more but this was generally discouraged by the benefactors as it would have meant distraction for their workers. So by the time the international association arrived in town they were entering a world which might as well have been in a time warp.
Actually, as we later found out, they, being mostly highly intelligent and educated people, had vision and they had realised back then that it was time to flee the big cities before globalisation, the de-industrialisation of Italy, mass unemployment, climate change, wars for oil and water and social unrest hit us all. They were right about that, they just chose the wrong place.
Welcome to Tuscany.
Lord, Anna. Welcome to the Tuscan Dream: Italy’s Broken Heart (p. 63). Scribo Srl. Kindle Edition.