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The Villa Reale of Marlia
and its Camellia

Photographs and text
Tina Archinto

Camellia japonica "Bellina Major""

Villa Marlia, an enchanting Renaissance residence located near Lucca, represents one of the treasures of the region. Its beauty is sublimated by the famous Viale della Camelie, where the visitor is captivated by the vision of over forty varieties of Camellia japonica, which with their elegant and showy flowers, declined in various shades of red, pink, white and pink, stand out among large bushes with glossy green leaves. The slight succession of the stream, which carries the fallen petals towards the valley, creates a pleasant sensation of freshness and a certain oriental atmosphere, capable of bewitching the visitor's senses.

Camellia is a flower native to East Asia, mainly China and later Japan. The first mentions of camellias date back to China in the third century BC, where the poet Hsu Fu wrote about a wonderful flower that grew in the province of Hunan. Subsequently its cultivation was introduced in Japan where it became particularly popular among the nobility for its beauty and symbolic importance. During the Edo period (1603-1868), camellias were grown in private and public gardens throughout Japan also for their variety of colors.


Camellia japonica "Francesca da Rimini"

In the West, camellias were discovered in the 18th century by the French Jesuit missionary Georg Joseph Kamel, who lived in the Philippines. Kamel discovered the plant and described it in his work "Herbarium Amboinense" of 1704. However, the actual diffusion of camellias in Europe and their popularity as an ornamental plant can be attributed to the Dutch since 1739. In the past the great innovator of poetry father of the haiku genre, Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), inspired by the nature and landscapes he encountered wandering around Japan one day wrote, "The camellia, sweet, solitary and unpretentious, more than any other plant, reminds me human beauty."  Today I'm not sure she would feel the same way about humanity, but the beauty of the camellia has certainly not withered over time.