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The Assize Courtroom

Unification of government in the new Kingdom of Italy was accompanied by reformation and unification of the judicial system. In Lucca, the problem of reorganising the courts arose from the fact that the rooms in the old magistrates’ building in the Palazzo Pretorio were too cramped for day-to-day work to be carried out. The solution chosen was to rearrange Nottolini’s New Palazzina with the Assize Court on the ground floor.

From a letter sent by the President of the Appeal Court to Bernardino Poli, chief architect for the Province of Lucca, we know what the requirements to be taken into account in preparing the plans were. The new Assize Court was to have a large debating room that could also be used for general assemblies, together with carefully separated spaces and different doors for accused persons, judges, witnesses, lawyers and the general public, who would preferably enter the courtroom directly from the outside. Then there had to be a Deliberation Room with cloakroom and toilet facilities, connected to the judge’s bench. Also required were rooms for the Session President, a waiting room for defence counsel, two separate rooms for prosecution and defence witnesses, a holding room for accused persons in custody, a private room for the twelve jurors with attached toilet facilities, a room for the prosecutor, one for the clerk of court and a variety of offices for related business. Court administration and records offices required another fourteen rooms.

Bernardino Poli plans included all of the above and were approved on the 15th of July 1868. The Courtroom was to have a vaulted ceiling occupying the entire depth of the building and a little central courtyard and was to be the most ambitious part of the scheme. The large hall was to be decorated in a sober fashion with marble-framed doors, a granite dado, Ionic pilaster strips on the walls and a large plaster cornice. In the event, the ground floor area was not big enough for the whole Court complex and the court offices had to be accommodated in the south part of the intermediate floor. Work began immediately and was completed in the spring of 1870.