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Liberty style or Art Nouveau all around Tuscany

Florence, Montecatini Terme, Lucca and Viareggio are the main Tuscan towns where Liberty architecture can be admired today

Here's an off-the-beaten-track idea to explore Tuscany following the traces of the beautiful examples of Liberty style - also known as Art Nouveau - architecture: private houses, stores, and public buildings in Florence, Lucca, Montecatini Terme, and Viareggio. Liberty flourished from 1880 to 1930, but with a particular intensity in the first two decades of the 20th century. In Florence and Lucca, this style can be mostly found in private homes, like small villas (villino), sometimes in residential areas just outside the city walls. Viareggio and Montecatini Terme had their heydays at the right time and now have many Art Nouveau buildings in their main streets, from spas to hotels.

Liberty in Florence
Tepidarium, Florence
Tepidarium, Florence - Credit: Philip Mallis

In the center of Florence, Piazza della Repubblica shows some minor evidence of the eclectic style, but you really have to get outside of the city walls to see the best examples of Liberty applied to domestic architecture. Here's an itinerary that takes you to see three houses, a greenhouse in a garden and an unusual church - pack a picnic and either walk or get a day ticket for the ATAF bus. Starting from the station, go towards Viale Milton to find the colourful orthodox russian church, built 1899-1903 from plans of russian architect Michele Preobrangensky and carried out by Florentines Boccini and Paciarelli. Cross the Mugnone stream to see a not too over-the-top house on via XX Settembre and continue in the direction of Porta Rossa to the  Horticulture Garden. This garden one weekend a year hosts a flower festival, every Summer becomes an open air bar and the rest of the time is populated by locals and their children. The garden's tepidarium - a glass greenhouse - was built for the first national Horticultural Exhibition in 1880 on a plan by Giacomo Roster. 

Crossing piazza Libertà and heading to piazza Savonarola, there is villa Ciuti: a small house built around 1910, tucked in on the left on via della Robbia. The most influential figure in Florentine Liberty architecture is Giovanni Michelazzi, who loved ornamental whims. Two houses on via Scipione Ammirato are by Michelazzi - Villino Ravazzini and the Broggi-Caraceni home. This last one is trimmed with green majolica garlands that are considered highly original and unique. Here and elsewhere Michelazzi often used ceramics and wrought iron by Galileo Chini-a polihedral artist, owner of the small factory L’Arte della Ceramica in Florence and one of the main protagonists of italian Liberty.

Liberty in Lucca
Jewellery sign in Liberty style, Lucca
Jewellery sign in Liberty style, Lucca - Credit: Gianna Elena

Lucca's historic center is a tight medieval maze, though they managed to add some Liberty buildings inside the walls. The best examples are a number of stores on via Fillungo, including that of Oreficeria Pellegrini, a jewelry store with a big bronze mask above the entrance door. Outside the city walls if you take the exit closest to the duomo you'll find yourself on the wide streets that circumnavigate the town. On viale Giusti there are four liberty villas, and you'll find more if you continue along the outside of the city walls towards and beyond the train station on via Cavour and via Carducci.

Liberty in Versilia

With its long white, fine sand beaches and the cool pinewoods of the coast, Versilia has been, since the early 1900’s, the favourite holiday destination of Aristocracy, who built liberty villas all along the coast. Versilia is also an important cultural district, not far from cities like Lucca and Pisa and also near historical roads such as the Via Francigena. Along Viareggio seaside you can see Grand Caffè Margherita, the Balena bathhouse, the Caffè Concerto Eden and several others buildings trimmed with enamels, lacquers and ceramics typical from ‘20s and ‘30s. Galileo Chini, who had lived in Bangkok, gave an important contribute adding an oriental touch to the rooms and the walls of the already luxurious palaces of Viareggio. Today many of these buildings now house fancy hotels but they still keep intact their vintage details. In Lido Di Camaiore you can find the holiday house of Galileo Chini in perfect liberty stile, with the original paintings and frescoes preserved in an art gallery dedicated to the painter. 

Liberty in Montecatini Terme
Tettuccio Thermal Baths in Montecatini Terme
Tettuccio Thermal Baths in Montecatini Terme - Credit: Richard Barrett-Small

Art Nouveau characterizes also the city of Montecatini Terme, with ornaments like nature and neoclassical concepts. Here you can see examples of Liberty art inside the Gran Hotel & La Pace: the frescoes of the banquet hall, the large windows of the old entrance and the frieze in maiolica above the new entrance. Not far from the Grand Hotel you can see the Palazzina del Sale, built in 1903 in order to sell tamarisk salts, decorated with frescoes by Galileo Chini. Another masterwork in Liberty style is the inside part of the Terme Tamerici: floors, walls and the tea room are adorned with maiolicas. But the real symbol of Liberty art in Montecatini Terme are the Tettuccio Thermal Baths which took the shape of a temple. The frescoes inside the building are by Gallielo Chini, Basilio Cascella, Sirio Tofanari and Ezio Giovanozzi. 

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