The palace in the middle of a thousand-year old forest

From Firenze University Press Book

University of Florence
4 min readMay 22, 2023

Susanna Caccia Gherardini, University of Florence

The Bourbon residences in the Versilia landscape
To a nineteenth-century traveller like Francesco Fontani, Lucca’s seashores must have appeared to be an interesting sample of elegant gardens alternating with the simplest “walled gardens”. This image is confirmed by various specific documents, including the deed of purchase of Palazzo Cittadella by Marie Louise of Bourbon in 1819: “on the sea side, for the full
extension of the palace, there is a vegetable garden surrounded by a wall with a well, which can be accessed from the public road leading to the sea, and a large area of arable land, part of which is divided into small vegetable gardens with hedges and fruit trees”. According to the grandiose design of the royal architect Lorenzo Nottolini, this palace, elevated to the status of a Bourbon royal palace, was intended as the intersection of more ambitious landscaping project conceived in close connection with the Pineta di Levante pine forest. The villa’s park, on the large estate purchased a few years earlier (1819) by the Duchess of Lucca, which Charles Louis of Bourbon had built after having abandoned his mother’s aspirations, was of
a different period. A wide avenue crosses the compact wooded vegetation dividing it into a system of circular paths leading to the main building; at the top of this “Mediterranean pine forest” is a small flower garden with a central fountain and a lemon house. In the hinterland, the garden-park corresponds to a large area cultivated with vegetable gardens and orchards
which, separated from the Bourbon residence by areas of scrub, introduces the vast expanse of the agricultural estate.

The extent of the connection between the city properties and those situated in the coastal scrubland is demonstrated by the “agreement” for the transfer of powers between Charles Louis, former Duke of Lucca, and his son Charles Ferdinand (Charles III), drawn up in Weisstrop (Saxony) in 1849, which describes, albeit generically, the “farm of Viareggio”: “made up of woods and fields, it is situated on the seashore and in the Sections of Viareggio and Torre del Lago, including a large stretch of marshland, a large manor building in the scrubland, a manor house in the town of Viareggio in Piazza Sant’Antonio, with several outbuildings used as Stables and Cellars, another house used as a Farm, near the Lodge of Viareggio and several houses of Salani in that town”. While on the one hand Charles Louis’ decision to retire to his residence in the pine grove “reflects the Sovereign’s reserved and shy character, on the other hand it reveals the new course of Viareggio’s urban history, no longer based on the celebratory image of authority, but rather inclined to provide references to the new bourgeois culture for the construction of the city”.

So the area of Marie Louise’s Royal Palace became the hub of collective facilities with the theatre, casino and municipal offices, while Charles Louis embarked on transforming the hunting lodge into a larger residence closely linked to the productivity of the region. The subsequent history of the complex is linked to national and international political events which saw the House of Bourbon swing between Parma, Piacenza and Europe. However, Charles Louis, who was forced to reign in Parma, a city he was not fond of, remained attached to the Viareggio estate where he returned in his old age to visit his heirs and pay homage to the tomb of his son Charles III, and where he himself was finally buried in 1883 by his niece Margherita who lived in the villa at the time. In the last decades of the nineteenth century, under the guidance of Margherita herself, the vast park was enriched until it was transformed into a theatre of greenery set among arable fields “surrounded by rows of pollarded poplars” geometrically ordered by French-style vines, according to a comparison between the overview provided by the 1855 estimate of the Bourbon assets and the subsequent one of 1880. In the Seventies and Eighties, the garden was divided into “two rectangles, one to the west and the other to the east of the building”, and specifically: “the garden to the west is the largest. It is intended solely for the cultivation of flowers and other ornamental plants […] it is intersected by meandering avenues maintained with gravel, featuring round baskets in the central lawn for flowers, and small basins for watering. Most of it is laid out in the English style”

DOI: 10.36253/978–88–5518–698–8

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