The history of Bagni di Lucca

Historical research by Virgilio Contrucci

In the caves nearby Ponte Maggio have been found traces of the ancient civilisations of the valley date back to the Bronze Age, while more recent traces date back to the VIII sec.a.C have been found in the Ligurian tombs in Montefegatesi.

The area was populated by indigenous people, Etruscans in the low valley and Ligurian in the mountains. The Roman presence date back to the III sec.a.C but became more consistent only in the II sec.a.C. when Lucca became an important Roman colony.

The toponymy of the area is a sign of the Roman presence itself (Brandeglio, Villa Terenziana, Vico Pancellorum, Lugliano, Palleggio, Vetteglia, Casabasciana, Benabbio, Ponte a Diana, Corsena con la lapide del Centurione ecc.)


The legend talks about the cult of pre-roman Celtics divinities protectors of the thermal waters and the cult of Diana, over her temple was then built the actual church of S.Cassiano di Controni.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the valley was invaded by Barbarians bringing unspeakable suffering for the population. The mountains became a safer place to live only after 570 with the domain of the Longobards and the union of the Romans with the Germans.

The Longobards dominated until the advent of the Franks and the area has been divided into feuds until the commune of Luca was established.

The Suffredinghi controlled Fornoli and Lugliano, the Porcareschi Villa’s mountains, Montefegatesi, Corsena until Lucchio, while the Controne area was dominated by the Palleschi, finally, the Lupari controlled the area from Benabbio and Brandeglio, Casabasciana, Crasciana, Casoli, Cocciglia, Limano, and Vico.

In the State and Archiepiscopal archives of Lucca, we can find traces starting from the VII to the X sec.

The penetration of Lucca in the valley was completed by 1215 and in the Statute of the city, dated 1308, the valley was reunited under the name of “Val di Lima”. Even if not always pacific, this was the status quo until 1847.

The first information about our Baths dates back to the First Triumvirate in 56 a.C. in Lucca, when Cesare, Pompeo, and Crasso divided the “world” and then, according to the legend, enjoyed Bagni di Lucca’s the thermal waters. At the time of the Republican Rome, our Baths were already well known but were suddenly abandoned after the fall of the Roman Empire, when people had to leave the valley to find a safer place to live on the mountains.

The Longobards rediscovered the benefits of the thermal waters but it was only during Countess Matilde age that the Baths have been rebuilt and enhanced.

The Baths had a really strategic position near the road Francigena, used by many travelers, pilgrims, and merchants to reach Rome and France so that the Countess Matilde of Canossa built the “Devil’s bridge” to make the access to the Baths even easier.

The great benefits of the waters made the place known to be “miraculous to health” all around the world so that many medieval taverns and guest houses were built to host wealthy travelers.

Lucca, well aware of the value of the Baths like an ideal place for health cures and tourism, was in control of the thermal area since the beginning of the XIII sec as stated in Statute of the city dated 1308.

During this time, the place was already famous in between travelers, pilgrims, and merchants. According to the tradition, Countess Matilde ordered to give a free health bath and a meal to the people who needed and asked for.

At the same time, the Republic of Lucca decided to start regulating the gaming in the local taverns, a controlled area was established near the Baths giving life the very first Casino in the world.

According to the tradition the profits were used to sustain the Baths and in part given to the poor by the Countess. In this way, the crime caused by the gaming was suppressed and at the same time, the poor people living in the area were given help.

In the New Statute of Lucca dated 1331, an entire chapter was dedicated to the Baths, suggesting to the owner of taverns and hotels to be well supplied of food and beverages in the months in between May and October and to keep good hygiene to ensure tourists were happy and welcomed.

From the beginning of the XV sec and during all the Middle Ages our Baths became the most popular in Europe. Well-known doctors were regularly visiting, like Gentile da Foligno and Ugolino da Montecatini, who described in detail the thermal spas and the effectiveness of the treatment in his essay about waters in 1417.

Since 1469 several doctors managed the Baths in a successful way, the proper functioning of the system was mentioned in every Statute of Lucca Republic so that diplomats started to send bottles filled with thermal waters as a gift to every European court.

Until the first world war, it became very common in between the European courts to buy the thermal water to drink it or to use it as a remedy, for example, the Zar and Queen Vittoria used to be regularly treated with it.

Since the Renaissance and during the long period of peace guaranteed by the Republic from XVI sec to 1799, the nobility of Lucca started to build the finest summer residences near the Baths which became guests houses for illustrious guests coming from all over Europe.

Bagni di Lucca became the best summer destination, thanks to the great hospitality and nice weather. The most famous doctors of the time, like Montagne, Falloppio, and Redi made a big contribution toward the success of the Baths describing it as heaven on Earth in their writings.

Princess Elisa, who only reigned from 1805 to 1824 determined, even in a short time, a great development bringing international attention in the area that became a “Summer Capital”.


She hired architects like Maracci and Sanbouchy to renovate the Baths and, by the end of the nineteenth century, more than 80 hotels were working in the valley to host an increasing number of guests.

Another renovation was made by the Bourbons and during the Duchy of Carlo Ludovico from 1826 to 1847 making Bagni di Lucca the most important touristic Spa complex in Europe.

A new Casino was inaugurated in 1837, at the same time the first Anglican Church in Italy and the Club des Anglais, another gambling chips to play with English and French currency were opened making Val di Lima one of the favorite destinations for British that considered the area to be the Switzerland of Tuscany.

An academic theatre and the Circolo dei Forestieri opened in 1790, becoming the meeting point of the high society of the time.

In 1847 a very long decay time scale began, boosted by the Italian Unity that changed the status of the area from “Summer Capital” to simply the capital city of that municipality.

The two world wars, the closure of the Casino in 1953 and the choice to invest more in craft than in tourism, transformed all the hotels into houses or factories and led to the current situation of abandonment.

Just recently we noticed a little improvement that could bring our community back to the old prosperity.



- Establishment "Jean Varraud", 54° water, steam caves, mud therapy, hydromassage, inhalations and beauty treatments, the house of the very first casino and roulette in Europe. During the Middle Age, people used to come here to be cured with “showers”, an absolute novelty!

- Establishment “Docce Basse”, 42° and 46° water, great to treat gynaecological disease. Doctor Falloppio discovered here the functions of the so-called Fallopian tube. The legend used to say that “if you want your woman to be pregnant you have to send her to the Baths, alone”. The healing properties of this water, especially the source called “Desperate”, became famous for its effectiveness even on the worst pathologies.

- Establishment of Demidoff Hospital, 46° water, built by Prince Demodoff in 1828 to be a hospital for the poor.

- Establishment Bernabò, 40.1° water, great to cure skin diseases.

In 1510 Mr. Bernabò from Pistoia, a rich man with a terrible skin disease, had a bath in this water and came out completely healed. He was so satisfied that he paid for the construction of the whole establishment, which was named after him. The European high society used to come here to remove the signs of smallpox. Rebuilt by Princess Elisa in 1812 with a project made by Sanbouchy, it was considered to be the establishment with the best panoramic view in Italy.

-Bagno S.Giovanni, 38° water, was mentioned for the first time in 1307. The name came from the tradition for locals to have a bath every year on the day of the Saint name. The source was big enough to fill 6 tubes, each one dedicated to a different category of people: knights, citizens, women, Jews ,and servants. The tubes were big enough to host up to 50 people at a time. This is also the place where Heine was inspired to write his famous Reisebilder page.

- Bagno alla Villa, 39° water, renovated by the Republic in 1376. Bertini, director of the Baths, after a successful renovation in 1471, decided to cover the front entrance with a marble stone listing all the treatments (the very first advertising of a thermal spa in the world). Montagne used to treat his kidney stones here.

- Bagno Cardinali, 37.1° water, called Cova source, mentioned for the first time in 1775 and particularly effective to treat digestion problems. Before it was called Bagno Gualoppino, already mentioned in 1292 and used to cure horses. It was then renovated by Mr. Cardinali becoming a new establishment in 1858 near Regio Casinò, the only private establishment that worked until 1921 when it became a private house.

In between the several poets that used to go to Bagni di Lucca we can list, first of all, Dante followed by Richard Church who wrote a poem inspired by the nature and the benefits of the thermal waters.

In between the several poets that used to go to Bagni di Lucca we can list, first of all, Dante followed by Richard Church who wrote a poem inspired by the nature and the benefits of the thermal waters.


- Hannibal had to cross this area to arrive in Rome, protected by the Ligurians. When in between Lima and Serchio he decided to build a furnace used to bake bread but also to manufacture weapons.

- Both Boccaccio and Sercambi wrote novels that take place at Bagni di Lucca.

In between the sixteenth century and the Napoleonic period, the Baths had numerous illustrious guests like the Grand-Duchess Della Rovere who came here to treat her infertility together with her husband Falloppio and completely resolved her problem.

- With the arrival of the French court at Bagni di Lucca, a long tradition of carnivals began. Also, a theatre was opened hosting all the most important operas in Italy. A tradition that was kept until the end of the war, for example with Totò comedies.

- The very first Casino in Europe. In 1837 the new Casinò Regio was opened and became the first Casino not inside the Baths and not part of a theatre. The first roulette ever used in Europe was at Bagni di Lucca, at Casinò delle Terme, in the pre-Napoleonic age.

- After the Congress in Vienna, Metternich came to Bagni di Lucca with 7 German kings.

Particularities of the area:  

- The first Anglican Church was built here in 1840 and the first English cemetery in 1842.

- The first Anglican Church was built here in 1840 and the first English cemetery in 1842.

- The first public lighting of Italy, in 1886.

- The foundation of the Italian Scout movement in 1910.

- A place of inspiration for poets like Byron, Shelley, Heine, Lamartine, Quida, Giocosa, Tosti, Carducci, Montale, and composer like Rossini, Verdi, Puccini e Mascagni, to name only a few.

Bagni di Lucca is a land of princes and poets, a paradise for the arts, history, and architecture.