When you visit places that are centuries old, you generally expect to find bits and pieces of ramparts. What is unusual about Lucca is that its defensive walls have remained intact. Four kilometres long, they enclose the entire historic centre.
When they were no longer needed for defence, rather than tearing them down to make room for urban expansion, the whole thing was transformed into an elevated public park. Reminds me of the High Line in New York City.
The walls are 30 metres wide. Plenty of room for pedestrians and cyclists of all ages.
I was intrigued by the palace and garden below the ramparts, but had no idea what I was looking at. Definitely not a beer garden. If it looks familiar, quite a few movies have been filmed here. Maybe you’ve seen Jane Campion’s 1996 adaptation of ‘The Portrait of a Lady”. Several scenes show the American heiress, Isabel Archer, strolling around the garden and lingering in the hallways of the palace.
Not surprisingly it didn’t start off as a beer garden. In the mid 1600’s one of Lucca’s wealthy merchants commissioned it as his residence in the newly fashionable Baroque style, which had just begun to replace the restrained elegance of the Renaissance.
Hops didn’t enter the picture until 1835 when the Duke of Lucca, perhaps fed up with second-rate suds, decided that the city needed a master brewer. He had wanted a German to oversee Lucca’s beer-making, but in the end an Austrian – Pfanner – won the contest.
When he first arrived, Pfanner could barely cover the rent for the lower floors of the villa where he and his family lived.
The fumes from the beer vats he installed in the cellar must have been awful, but maybe the constant smell reassured his family that better times lay ahead.
Pfanner wasn’t just a master brewer. He knew that sales would be even stronger if customers were provided with a setting conducive to the leisurely imbibing of his golden brew.
He set about creating one of the first beer gardens in Italy. It was a great success and before long Pfanner was the proud owner of the entire villa.