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Napoleonic Itinerary

At the beginning of the 19th century, the princess of Lucca, Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi, embarked on a programme of renovation of the city, sometimes sacrificing historical spaces in favour of a more modern layout of the city, that would not have been the same without her intervention.

She renovated streets, palaces and the city walls themselves, promoted the foundation of female educational and research institutes, and brought new fragrances from all over the world into the gardens and palaces.


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Plane tree of Villa Bottini in Lucca

... that has been growing ever since in the garden of Villa Bottini. 
The 18th century villa, between the medieval and Renaissance city walls, has a large park like the country villas. It was the first residence of the princess while waiting for work to be completed on the palace in the centre. At the time, it was not customary to have such a large green space, synonymous with luxury and affluence, which could, however, be glimpsed through large windows in the surrounding wall.
Amongst the camellia bushes and rhododendrons also grows a large, centuries-old plane tree, which history says was planted by the princess herself. Plane trees are the most widespread tree in Lucca, with about 700 specimens in the gardens and avenues above the walls.



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Entrance to the Botanical Garden of Lucca

...which is the city's most precious garden.
The Botanical Garden of Lucca, created at the behest of Élisa, but developed during the duchy of Maria Luisa of Bourbon, together with the Royal Villa of Marlia, was the garden from which seeds of ornamental plants arrived fresh from all over the world. Cedars, araucarias, sequoias, and also the native osmunda regalis, irises, holm oaks, an infinity of camellias and even the cocoa tree, the coffee tree, the tea tree. In autumn, the spectacle of the golden foliage of the centuries-old ginko biloba is one of the most eagerly awaited and successful event of the season.



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Imperial dress at the National Museum of Palazzo Mansi in Lucca

...that stands up with pins thanks to the skill of a great seamstress.
From two rare and precious early Empire fabrics of silk tulle with silver foil embroidery, she has created an imperial gown with her skill alone, without using scissors and thread, and which hangs on the sumptuous cloak already on display in the National Museum of Palazzo Mansi. 
And it has not been an easy job because the ceremonial of the French Empire dictated very precise rules on the styles of dress of the Emperor and his entire court.



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Porta Elisa in Lucca

... which is a triumphal arch. 
Porta Elisa opens into the Renaissance City Walls of Lucca and, according to the plans, was to open onto a long avenue leading straight to Piazza Napoleone. All that remains of this project are the Elisa Gate, the palaces that adorn the crescent (the gardens can be visited in May on the occasion of Historic Houses Day) and the long portico that flanks Via Elisa, dedicated precisely to the princess. The Porta Elisa opens allusively in the direction of Florence, the princess's coveted destination, but also an invitation for the city to step out of the past and into modernity.



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villa Reale di Marlia in Lucca


which is outside the Walls, but worth the effort.
It is the restored park of Villa Reale, at the time of the principality seat of Élisa's court. In 1806, the Princess of Lucca and Piombino, Elisa Baciocchi Bonaparte, Napoleon's elder sister, bought the Orsetti country villa in Marlia and had the gardens and villa transformed into her royal summer residence. A major restoration still in progress has restored the villa and park to new splendour. A welcoming park that is a little hameu in the Lucca countryside. The blossoms that follow one another throughout the fine season, the foliage that greets the winter, every moment is the best for a walk in the park's avenues or to visit the villa's interiors, the Palazzina dell'Orologio with its large dolls' houses, the oldest nymphaeum in Lucca.


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Napoleonic re-enactment at Villa Reale in Marlia


 ... which is not now, but worth the wait.
Every year (not this year, the next date is in 2022) Villa Reale hosts a great historical re-enactment of the Napoleonic era. A step back in time at Villa Reale as it was in 1810 when Elisa, Grand Duchess of Tuscany, spent the summer there with a talented group of guests with more than 100 historical re-enactors from all over the world. Water games, card games, theatre rehearsals, tableaux vivantes and plenty of entertainment.



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cioccolata Foto di Bellergy RC da Pixabay


... that cannot be resisted. 
Princess Élisa, was fascinated by new botanical species and haute cuisine, had a sweet tooth for chocolate. A chocolate fountain was never lacking at palace receptions. Without exaggerating, but in the small chocolate shops in the historic centre of Lucca, one can find refined and delicious souvenirs. For those with a sweet tooth who instead do not want to wait and want to enjoy this goodness in the shade of the plane trees, chocolate in a walk-in ice cream version in the well-known historical and contemporary ice cream parlours: from the vintage 'Gelateria Veneta' and 'Santini' to the contemporary 'Coltelli', 'Opera' and 'Piero'.