The first time my husband and I wandered around the historic center of Lucca, like every visitor before and since, we were dazzled by the medieval towers, ornately-grand buildings and overflowing abundance of churches. Beauty, undeniable, lies at the heart of Lucca. Yet, it wasn’t until we got lost deep within the city’s labyrinth, that we began to discover another aspect: its profoundly artistic soul.
With every step on that hot summer day, toward the city’s eastern edge, we felt an inverse, and welcome, phenomenon: tourist bustle declines, neighborhood feel abounds. The silhouette of a towering statue caught my gaze and curiosity propelled us forward.
At a junction of seven narrow streets, we stared up in awe at Madonna dello Stellario, so graceful and embracing. As we entered the nearby square, Piazza San Francesco, sounds of a laughter and music filled the air, leading us toward the Church of San Francesco. We couldn’t believe the good fortune to have stumbled upon a free afternoon concert. Luck was on our side that day and she drew us on, deeper into the neighborhood.
With sweet music still ringing in our ears, we left the piazza, spotting a public water fountain at the end of a canal. There, from the mouth of a lion’s head, we drank water and felt renewed. We continued following the canal running down the center of the street, taking in the ornate – covered balconies hanging precariously over sidewalks – and the derelict – abandoned spaces and graffiti.
This is how we first became acquainted with Via del Fosso’s heady and alluring mix of the artistic and the industrial. My imagination was ignited and I began to wonder about the street’s history:
Who lived here before? What are their stories? What imprint and legacy have they left us?
Why is this fascinating street empty and quiet now?
What can be done to breath new life into this once-vital area?
Eight years later, and, now, I marvel at calling this city and neighborhood “home.” As I wrote in the article “500 Years of History in 500 Steps,” for the March issue of Lucca’s Grapevine magazine, this zone was once the epicenter of production for Lucca’s famed silk empire.
For centuries since, Via del Fosso (which means “street of the canal”) has served as a wellspring of inspiration for artisans and creatives of all trades. However, sadly, since the 80’s, the street began a downward spiral of neglect as businesses and residents moved to new horizons.
Thankfully, today, there is momentum to bring new life to this incredible area, while also shining light on its richly-woven past. An enthusiastic group – not surprisingly led by local artisans and makers – have picked up the thread with hopes of stitching together the past, present and future through unique art projects and events. No one is more passionate about the cultural impact of Via del Fosso than Lucchese painter Fabrizio Barsotti.
We recently chatted about events planned for this summer (beginning this Saturday, 15 May) along with the limitless potential for a revival on Via del Fosso. Barsotti recalls fond memories from childhood when the street was alive with artists and fairs as he evokes the street’s unique atmosphere, where water and light converge and spark. It’s no wonder that, century after century, the artistically-inclined are drawn in by this rich tapestry. Via del Fosso is a true Lucchese treasure.
Via del Fosso rests quietly on Lucca’s eastern edge, perhaps sleeping for now.
Yet, Barsotti, along with painters, photographers and artists of many backgrounds – this writer included – believe this is only a temporary state of rest.
For behind those eyelids, there are dreams filled with renewal and dazzling potential.
The full schedule is below and here’s an excerpt from my conversation with the artist (edited in English for clarity):
Jess: First, Fabrizio, will you share with us what makes Via del Fosso important and essential to the story of Lucca?
I have always been committed to enhancing this part of the city, Via del Fosso or Via dei Fossi as we Lucchesi say. I am a genuine Lucchese, born here on March 30, 1968. I began painting in the 80’s and am self-taught. My art studio on Via dei Fossi, 153, is located next door to the paternal house of my grandfather Salvatore.
When I was a child, Via dei Fossi was the hub of city life. The street was home to the blacksmith, the shoemaker, the tinsmith, the former Verciani laundry (now Ristorante il Mecenate), a grocery store, hairdresser, and gym (managed by Mr. Marchi, then taken over by Mario Rocchi until 1985).
Jess: Are there many other artists, today, living and working on the street?
Fabrizio: Currently, in Via dei Fossi, there are empty spaces for years in a state of neglect, characterized by rusty shutters. Among the old artisans remaining are the carpenter Volpi still in business, which is 100 years old, the restaurant Mecenate, my art studio, the photographer Lucio Ghilardi, some architects’ studios, and a beautiful space with sculptures by the Scapecchi family, but closed to the public.
The history of the street is immensely important as it is considered Lucca’s public conduit of the Silk Road that since 1376 fed silk production. Today, there are still examples where workers dried fabric on the old roof terraces.
Jess: Along with other artists, you have recently announced a series of events planned for this summer. Will you tell us about I Fossi dell’Arte and what visitors will find?
Fabrizio: The initiative I Fossi dell’Arte, which began in 2019 with six artistic and cultural events, book presentations, music, fashion shows and children’s workshops, resumes this summer, on the following dates:
I Fossi dell’Arte 2021
A Series of Outdoor Art Exhibitions, Free and Open to the Public
Location: Via del Fosso & Piazza San Francesco
All events will follow safety measures, including the wearing of masks, proper distancing and availability of hand-sanitizers.
Local artists will exhibit their work along Via dei Fossi, which will be closed to traffic, and in Piazza San Francesco. Photographers Elisabetta Tuccimei and Giuditta Pieroni are also part of the Vivi I Fossi Collective, with patronage of the Municipality of Lucca, Arci Lucca and Versilia. The collective’s logo was designed by Ale Sorbera.
It should also be noted that Via del Fosso is only a stone’s throw from the Lucca Center of Contemporary Art in Via della Fratta.
A Snapshot of the Works of Painter Fabrizio Barsotti
As Barsotti recently told Lucca Musica & Societa, the characteristic gold, red and white of his graphic paintings leap from black backgrounds to symbolize creativity springing to life from darkness.
“My works are the daughters of a reasoned and introspective path, I try to give shape to my being with my creations. I have always used a black background, because my thoughts emerge from the darkness and from the depths hidden in the soul. You can also see a reference to the symbolism of the head, because it is through that that I get involved, trying to create a stage where I bring out my dreams with various references. I use a few colors, red and something gold, other times white, while in the graphics and watercolors I use many more colors to give the observer a sense of greater lightness.”Excerpt from interview with Lucca Musica and Societa.
To read about the event in Italian, see today’s La Gazzetta di Lucca.