HISTORY

A bird’s-eye view of Forci and its history

 

14th century - The Forci estate presumably has its roots in this century, and the same can be said with sufficient certainty for the initial unit of the villa, which was built mainly for hunting. The owners were the Buonvisi family, dating back to the time of Otto III of Germany, when mention is  made of one Buonviso - state counsellor of said Emperor -  who came to Lucca around the year 900 and settled there with his family.

The villa
15th century - First enlargement of the villa and, in all likelihood, purchase of land by the Buonvisi family.  Still visible from this period are the back windows  of the villa - rectangular mullioned windows with two panes - the two octagonal wells, and some farm houses.

16th century - Both the villa and estate attained their maximum splendour in all ways in the course of this century.  The villa was modernised, then further enlarged by adding the front part with the loggia designed by the architect Vincenzo Civitali.  Olive groves and new vineyards were annexed to the estate. The Buonvisis  prosper in the silk trade and other merchandise, and also with banking. They become Lucca’s leading family for wealth and the extent of their trade and banking relations, starting their own businesses and homes in Naples, Venice, Genoa, Lyons, Tours, Louvain, Antwerp and London.  Antonio Buonvisi becomes Henry VIII’s and the Tudor’s banker and is an intimate friend of Thomas More.
Simultaneously, the family’s resolute tendency towards learning  was taking shape.  The villa thus became the headquarters of a cultural and artistic circle on  a European level: a man of letters from Milan, Ortensio Lando, who was a guest of the Buonvisis for a full 28 days in the year 1532, wrote the “Forcianae quaestiones” in elegant Latin, recalling the scholarly conversations that were held there and the sumptuous dinners accompanying them, when women were not left out either from the dinners or from the conversations. Considerable importance has been ascribed  to this text dealing for the first time with the theme of spiritual equality of women.           
Also Montaigne, a great friend and guest of the Buonvisis in Lucca, was at Forci on an excursion: he recalls the loggia with the vine - which has been restored to its place today - climbing up the first column, he minutely describes the aviary, which was used for a special kind of bird shooting and is the only one among the ancient aviaries of the Lucca area to have come down to us preserved in full, and writes of his appreciation of the excellent dinners served under the loggia on Summer evenings, and of the “very white and clean linen sheets” on the bed in which he sleeps.
From Florence, Benedetto Varchi, in a sonnet of the year 1555, nostalgically remembers Forci and a group of friends: “Let it be that with Menocchio and kind Balbano and the others that are in my heart, I may again one day see Forci and Loppeglia”.

17th century - Though with less splendour than in the 16th century, life at Forci proceeds as before and the estate prospers. However, little by little the general crisis  in  trade ends up by overcoming even the Buonvisis who are the victims of an extremely serious financial collapse.  In Lucca there is still the saying “even the Buonvisis went broke”.  Forci manages to escape the crash, and the family recovers, though without returning to the luxury and the splendour of the previous century.           
Dating from this period is the clock with its great weight-driven machinery, placed over the front door at the centre of the loggia, in  which the Buonvisi family coat of arms - a comet - from the middle of the dial marks the time with the end of its tail as it turns around.  Another comet overhangs the peak of the roof.           
Mention should be made of the activity of the family’s last and most important cardinal towards the end of the century. Cardinal Francesco Buonvisi, at the time Apostolic Delegate in Vienna, proved himself to be not just a great diplomat, but also a great strategist.  He gave wise advice to rulers and military leaders when, in 1683, Mohammed IV’s Turkish army was about to invade the Danube river basin and even Vienna, with great risk for all of Europe. An energetic inspirer, his widely followed suggestions proved themselves to be effective, and nobody in Poland and Austria forgot this great prelate from Lucca. We too did not want to forget him and dedicated our finest quality wine “Cardinal Buonvisi” to his name.  In later times, although he was twice on the verge of ascending the papal throne, he personally prohibited his name from being included in the list of those eligible to the papacy, for reasons of political intrigue. Born in 1626, after a long period during which he gave his support to Pope Clement X in the Vatican, he was Bishop of Salonika in Greece, then Apostolic Delegate in Cologne, Warsaw and Vienna; he was elected Bishop of Lucca in 1691, returned to his native city where he remained and was buried in the Buonvisi chapel in the church of San Frediano.

18th century - In the early part of the century the villa underwent some modernisation and raising in its central part.  The original oratory was converted into a real church, and the work commissioned by the Buonvisis to Domenico Martinelli an architect abbot from Lucca who was well known abroad, particularly in Vienna and Prague.           
In 1714 Georg Christopher Martini, a German painter and writer of Italian origin - for this reason known as the Saxon Painter - was in Forci and described in detail all the different activities and equipment encountered, such as a system for dyeing silk and another for the distillation of orange blossoms, lilies and jasmine, which now no longer exist. He also described with great precision the oil storage room with the tanks lined in slate where the oil was and still is preserved.           
At this time a general revaluation of the farm was also carried out, a number of farmhouses were built, as well as a new olive-mill. The exceedingly agricultural rather than cultural aspect taken on by Forci is highlighted in the mythological themes of the two large frescos in the main hall of the villa: painted by Francesco Antonio Cecchi from Lucca, they represent the grape-harvest with the triumph of Bacchus and olive-gathering under the auspices of Minerva.
In 1782 also the poet of the Arcadian Academy, Filandro Cretense - the pseudonym of count Antonio Cerati of Parma - a guest of the Buonvisi family, in dedicating an operetta to “beloved Forci”, attracts attention to nature, even in its “negligent“ or spontaneous aspects, and on the countryside.  He nonetheless also recalls the magnificence of the past, and Lando, who over twohundred years beforehand - as told by Benedetto Varchi as well - “...spent happy quiet days in the company of a famed band of chosen friends, upon whom, like a faithful star, a Buonvisi shone with his favour”. He then concludes by saying - and we take it as a good omen and incentive - that “the names and merits of the Bonvisi and Forci will fly high forever”.

19th century - The Buonvisi comet sets, and the family dies out. It is the beginning of a period of decadence.

20th century - The villa fell into a state of abandonment going from hand to hand. In 1917 the estate was bought by count Vincenzo Giustiniani who went to live there and dedicated the last thirty years of his life to lifting up its fortunes once more. By establishing successful daily relations with the age-old local farmer families in a flourishing sharecropping system, he promoted and developed the crops, restored houses and farmlands, and succeeded in making it into a model country estate. He was also a great connoisseur and lover of art and contemporary painting. Himself a painter, he divided his time and his means between caring for the land and his passion for painting.  With him Forci returned once more to be a centre for the arts.
His work was continued after him with equal dedication by his daughter Carla and his son-in-law baron Zanetto Scola-Camerini. They too, faced with more difficult times due to incipient changes in agriculture, gave special moral and material care to its development.
At present Forci is cared for by his grandaughter Diamantina Scola-Camerini, who for twenty-five years, together with her capable assistant Armando Scaramucci, driven by her grandfather’s and later her parents’ same love,  has dedicated all her interests endeavouring to conciliate progress and tradition.
Today the estate is owner-operated with fixed wage farm labourers.
The main crops are the vineyards and the olive groves as before.
Its products are: wine, olive oil, vinegar, olives, pecorino and “ricotta” cheese, honey, grappa.
The most distinguished guests in the 20th century were in 1938 H.M. the Queen of Italy Elena of Savoy, on a private visit, and in 1986 the President of the Italian Republic Francesco Cossiga, on an official visit.

We are now on the threshold of the new millennium and Forci, after eight centuries of history, by mere chance, has come to be in my hands. My efforts are devoted entirely to its welfare and life, so that it may - intact and sound, without losing its original appearance which has come down safely through the ages - set out into the third millennium and face many more centuries.

April 2000

Forci and its soul

To have a good idea of what the Forci estate is like today, it would be best to take a long walk starting from nearby Lucca along the road that looks down over the plain where the city nestles, and on the other side up towards the Garfagnana mountains.  It lies amid vineyards and olive groves along the ridge leading from the parish of Pieve Santo Stefano to the little church of Vecoli, one and the other casting the outline of  their 13th century bell-towers against the sky.  Here one might stop to rest, sitting on the bare root of an olive tree, and let the eye wander down into the valley and over the wooded slopes, or far across to the Pisa mountains marching down towards the sea.  At this point, perhaps, the feeling of these surroundings begins to take hold: an age-old landscape, its most modern  buildings dating back to the early 18th century, where time has not come to a halt. Together in their timeless Mediterranean partnership, the olive and the vineyard tell their story inscribed in the deepest folds of the tree trunks and on the bark of the long vine-shoots.
Through the centuries thousands of olive trees climbing over these hills and vines changing colour in their orderly rows have given life to Forci, then as now.
October - Vineyards laden with ripe grapes after the long summer, herald a joyous harvest.  Juicy bunches, sweetened by the last rays of the autumn sun, gathered one by one with the loving care of time-honoured experience.  From the vine shoot to the vat room, surrounded by merry voices, then in the cellar, inside the warm wine casks, the wine singing and fragrant, bubbling softly in fermentation, preparing to bring cheer and pleasure  to tables everywhere and to celebrate all manner of events in people’s lives.
November - The fruit of the olive tree brings the yearly toil to a close.  From tree to press, the olive proceeds along a set path: expert hands shake the branches with caring attention for the fruit and the plant, gather the olives into the burlap bags, and  bring them to rest briefly upstairs in the long “olive hall” over the farm-house. The great 18th century olive press, dignified as an old sage, seems to follow and oversee the performance of the new up-to-date press with its nervous and monotonous voice. Finally, we come to the tasting of the oil in all its lively fragrance, and everything around us seems to speak of its past, from the oil jars to the jugs ranged along the walls, to the mills, the press, the winch.
The massively walled enclosure of the property joins together all of its parts - the church, the villa, the garden with its giant live-oaks, the open land and its people.  Inside it and outside, in a context that connects and ties everything up into a timeless though new, throbbing and living whole, maybe here one can feel the peace of mind that grows out of respect for this civilised environment which in turn shows such  respect for the measure of man and of nature.  

Hopefully somebody will also feel the continued effort of all those living and working at Forci to comply with the motto of the Buonvisi family, its first landowners:

“Tout le jour je pense à bien faire”
“Tutto il giorno penso a ben fare”.


Tenuta di Forci - Via per Pieve S. Stefano n.7165 - 55100 LUCCA - ITALIA - info@tenutadiforci.it - tel./fax +39/0583/349007