Last week me and my daughter went for a walk in town as usual, had a tasty ice cream, then went on to the city walls. After awhile we arrived at the spot where you can see the Botanical Garden from the promenade down below: then we thought to finish our day with a visit to the garden.
Now well, I must admit my poor knowledge of botany: I can tell a tree from a shrub, an ornamental plant from an aromatic bush, while I can tell succulent plants as just with or without thorns, so you can imagine that beyond some aestethic comment or information taken from the signs at the plants, I could not convey any great knowledge to my daughter, but..... I felt a sense of relief when we got near the picturesque “water-lily pond”: why that? Not because I could explain my child that “the tree in the pond is the bald cypress, that grows by the water or in marshes, and whose roots emerge from the soil and look like living sculptures” (in fact I found this description on the encyclopedia later at home), but because the pond in the Botanical Garden is the place where, according to one of the most famous and intriguing lucchese legends, a very beautiful noblewoman's life, Lucida Mansi, came to an end.
I knew that story very well, so I could tell it to my daughter and gladly I relate it here: according to the legend, which was handed down from generations, it is said that Lucida (a lady who really lived in Lucca in 1600, belonging to one of the lucchese outstanding families) was a woman of rare beauty, of likewise great cruelty, and a lover of luxury and lust. The story tells that she was always surrounded by host of men, young or old, handsome or ugly, noble or working people, educated or simple, who paid visit to her in the night either to her palace in town or to the villa in the country, and who, after making love, were dropped down trapdoors on the floor into pits bristling with sharp spears.
As was proper for noblewomen in those times, Lucida went to Mass daily: but they say she was so in love with her self and so obsessively centered on her look, that she had a mirror even in her Prayers' book. And one day during the morning Mass she perceived a very slight wrinkle on her face! Lucida went nearly mad about this, broke all mirrors in the house and cried desperately and for so long that eventually a very handsome young man appeared to her: he was the Devil in disguise, who in exchange for her soul promised her thirty more years of youth. Lucida accepted without hesitation, and then while the people around her got old , fell ill and died, she kept being young and charming and attending feasts and receptions, surrounded by admirers as ever.
The years passed one after the other, and Lucida did no more think of the agreement he had made with the Devil. On August 14, 1623, being the expiration date, the handsome young man appeared in front of her: then she suddenly recalled the agreement of thirty years back. In a desperate attempt to stay the time, Lucida rushed out of her palace, got on the coach and ordered the coachman to go to the Torre delle Ore (tower of the hours, Via Fillungo)
As soon as she arrived there, she ran breathless upstairs hoping to get there before midnight and stop the mechanism of the clock, but unfortunately it was too late and the bell started to strike the hour. So the noblewoman went downstairs back to the coach and headed for the walls that surrounded (and still surround) the city. The Devil flew into a rage and had a terrible thunderstorm broken out, with mighty thunders and lightnings so bright that the city was for awhile as luminous as on a summer day!
The horses, scared, started to gallop faster and faster, as going wild, the coach lost stability and its wheels squeaked, while Lucida was screaming with despair. Right above the Botanical Garden a lightning hit the coach making it roll on fire from the walls down into the pond.
Still today when there is a thunderstorm at night, they say you can see Lucida's coach on fire racing on the walls and hear the desperate screams of the woman trying to escape her master. And in the nights of full moon, if you go to the pond of the Botanical Garden, in the water you will see the reflection of the noblewoman's face, whose greed for beauty was so great as not to concede a single doubt: better a damned soul than a life without youth....
When I finished telling the story to my daughter the sun was setting, the gates of the Botanical Garden were being closed and to my great satisfaction she looked at me with her big eyes in admiration!