Riding the wave


Viareggio and Versilia in charts of the XVI - XVIII century.

In Viareggio (29 July to 4 October 2006), in the frescoed rooms of the opulent Villa Pauline, was held the exhibition Mirabilia Maris. Lucca in marine paintings between the 16th and 18th century: charts and travel reports .

The exhibition, organized in collaboration with the Universities of Florence, Pisa and Siena, with the Museum of Science in Florence, and the State Archives of Florence and Lucca, has proposed a path marked by 66 pieces - including charts on different scales, some topographical and nautical instruments, and reports of ancient travelers - that illustrate the sea and the land of Versilia.

This variety of documents have highlighted how, up to the 18th century, the coast of Tuscany was very sparsely populated: there were towers and other landing points, while the settlements were scattered on the adjacent hilly area.

Lake Massaciuccoli in a drawing in ink and watercolor on paper, probably of the 16th century, kept at the State Archives of Lucca. Viareggio is represented with the tower Matilda, two rows of buildings parallel to the coast and in the distance, the castle.
The same features are barely discernible in a chart to a much smaller scale of Alessandro Resta, dated 1569 (ASL): the territory of Lucca is highlighted in green, with the city enclosed within its walls, while the Este area is represented in white, and the territory of Florence is in red. Pisa appears on both banks of the Arno, joined by a monumental bridge.

Particularly attractive are the documents relating to Viareggio that from the late 16th century onwards, is crisscrossed by rivers and canals of varying ranges, equipped with ports that allow the inland navigation and consequently the connections between the different towns.

Viareggio was in fact the only outlet to the sea of the Republic of Lucca and, with its fertile wetlands, from the 15th century onwards offered agricultural supplies to the city, which called for improvements to the river systems and land reclaimation, in order to encourage the development of a permanent settlement.

In 1513 the mouth of Viareggio is therefore equipped with a port-canal adjacent to the tower Matilda and stores, completed before mid-century.

The tower in a 1:50 model of F. Bazzichi

But to fully utilize the potentials of Viareggio, the development of a permanent settlement was to be encouraged, requiring a costly reclaimation scheme of the surrounding area.

Therefore an association (Maona) of 50 citizens was promoted in April 1488, under the supervision of an "Office for the Maona" which was granted the use of the reclaimed land, provided that it compensated landowners and shouldered costs of reclaimation and agricultural development.

Martilogio, 1604, the original map of the volume bears the initials of the author and the title: Martilogio del molto ill(ustrissim)o Officio d'Abondanza dell'eccellentissima Repubblica di Lucca, which depicts the buildings in the territory of the "Office" of Lucca and Viareggio
Map of Viareggio, by Filippo Cappelletti surveyor, 1686. It represents the development of the city according to a geometrial scheme, which includes warehouses and building sites on the stretch of land created by reclaimation.

Among the many cartographic documents, some attest the efforts made by the Republic of Lucca to reclaim the territory through different projects, ranging from diversion of the river Serchio into the lake Massaciuccoli and filling of the adjacent marshes, to the cutting of coastal scrub to facilitate ventilation.

Other projects illustrate the enhancement of the port area around the canal Burlamacca, the opening of new roads, the subdivision of public and private property.

Other documents show projects for the fortifications of the city, including forts, walls and ramparts similar to those of Lucca, and an octagonal castle.

Project for a fort at the mouth of Viareggio, divided into two parts: to the right the facade of the tower, to the left its plan. The cartouche on the left indicates the author in the person of Sergeant Freudiani; to the right the title
"Una torre ottangolare da collocarsi su la sinista dell'imboccatura del Mare ..."

The exhibition also some tools: a pedometer dating to the second half of the 16th century in wood and brass, attributed to Hans Christoph Schissler, to measure the distance between two places; a brass geometrical compass for military use of the early 17th century, by G. Galilei; a gilt brass compass for surveying, of the 17th century, author unknown, used to measure position angles useful for surveying; a division of Compass of the 17th century, of unknown manufacturer, made in brass and steel; an octant of the second half of the 18th century, attributed to Alexander Wellington; a topographic magnetic compass of the 17th century, made in Italy: the back is engraved with the names of Matteo and Giovanbattista Botti, from Cremona, which could be the makers.

All the objects have been reproduced and catalogued, with ample historical and descriptive introduction, in a fine catalog by Anna Vittoria Bertuccelli Migliorini and Susanna Caccia (Edizioni ETS, www.edizioniets.com)

Paola Presciuttini, 2006