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Views A-foot - Chapter 41. Tivoli And The Roman Campagna Post by :jberg Category :Nonfictions Author :Bayard Taylor Date :May 2012 Read :1139

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Views A-foot - Chapter 41. Tivoli And The Roman Campagna


_Jan. 9._--A few days ago we returned from an excursion to Tivoli, one of the loveliest spots in Italy. We left the Eternal City by the Gate of San Lorenzo, and twenty minutes walk brought us to the bare and bleak Campagna, which was spread around us for leagues in every direction. Here and there a shepherd-boy in his woolly coat, with his flock of browsing sheep, were the only objects that broke its desert-like monotony.

At the fourth mile we crossed the rapid Anio, the ancient Teverone, formerly the boundary between Latium and the Sabine dominions, and at the tenth, came upon some fragments of the old Tibertine way, formed of large irregular blocks of basaltic lava. A short distance further, we saw across the plain the ruins of the bath of Agrippa, built by the side of the Tartarean Lake. The wind, blowing from it, bore us an overpowering smell of sulphur; the waters of the little river Solfatara, which crosses the road, are of a milky blue color, and carry those of the lake into the Anio. A fragment of the old bridge over it still remains.

Finding the water quite warm, we determined to have a bath. So we ran down the plain, which was covered with a thick coat of sulphur, and sounded hollow to our tread, till we reached a convenient place, where we threw off our clothes, and plunged in. The warm wave was delightful to the skin, but extremely offensive to the smell, and when we came out, our mouths and throats were filled with the stifling gas.

It was growing dark as we mounted through the narrow streets of Tivoli, but we endeavored to gain some sight of the renowned beauties of the spot, before going to rest. From a platform on a brow of the hill, we looked down into the defile, at whose bottom the Anio was roaring, and caught a sideward glance of the Cascatelles, sending up their spray amid the evergreen bushes that fringe the rocks. Above the deep glen that curves into the mountain, stands the beautiful temple of the Sybil--a building of the most perfect and graceful proportion. It crests the "rocky brow" like a fairy dwelling, and looks all the lovelier for the wild caverns below. Gazing downward from the bridge, one sees the waters of the Anio tumbling into the picturesque grotto of the Sirens; around a rugged corner, a cloud of white spray whirls up continually, while the boom of a cataract rumbles down the glen. All these we marked in the deepening dusk, and then hunted an albergo.

The shrill-voiced hostess gave us a good supper and clean beds; in return we diverted the people very much by the relation of our sulphur bath. We were awakened in the night by the wind shaking the very soul out of our loose casement. I fancied I heard torrents of rain dashing against the panes, and groaned in bitterness of spirit on thinking of a walk back to Rome in such weather. When morning came, we found it was only a hurricane of wind which was strong enough to tear off pieces of the old roofs. I saw some capuchins nearly overturned in crossing the square, by the wind seizing their white robes.

I had my fingers frozen and my eyes filled with sand, in trying to draw the Sybil's temple, and therefore left it to join my companions, who had gone down into the glen to see the great cascade. The Anio bursts out of a cavern in the mountain-side, and like a prisoner giddy with recovered liberty, reels over the edge of a precipice more than two hundred feet deep. The bottom is hid in a cloud of boiling spray, that shifts from side to side, and driven by the wind, sweeps whistling down the narrow pass. It stuns the ear with a perpetual boom, giving a dash of grandeur to the enrapturing beauty of the scene. I tried a footpath that appeared to lead down to the Cascatelles, but after advancing some distance along the side of an almost perpendicular precipice, I came to a corner that looked so dangerous, especially as the wind was nearly strong enough to carry me off, that it seemed safest to return. We made another vain attempt to get down, by creeping along the bed of a torrent, filled with briars. The Cascatelles are formed by that part of the Anio, which is used in the iron works, made out of the ruins of Mecaenas' villa. They gush out from under the ancient arches, and tumble more than a hundred feet down the precipice, their white waters gleaming out from the dark and feathery foliage. Not far distant are the remains of the villa of Horace.

We took the road to Frascati, and walked for miles among cane-swamps and over plains covered with sheep. The people we saw, were most degraded and ferocious-looking, and there were many I would not willingly meet alone after nightfall. Indeed it is still considered quite unsafe to venture without the walls of Rome, after dark. The women, with their yellow complexions, and the bright red blankets they wear folded around the head and shoulders, resemble Indian Squaws.

I lately spent three hours in the Museum of the Capitol, on the summit of the sacred hill. In the hall of the Gladiator I noticed an exquisite statue of Diana. There is a pure, virgin grace in the classic outlines of the figure that keeps the eye long upon it. The face is full of cold, majestic dignity, but it is the ideal of a being to be worshipped, rather than loved. The Faun of Praxiteles, in the same room, is a glorious work; it is the perfect embodiment of that wild, merry race the Grecian poets dreamed of. One looks on the Gladiator with a hushed breath and an awed spirit. He is dying; the blood flows more slowly from the deep wound in his side; his head is sinking downwards, and the arm that supports his body becomes more and more nerveless. You feel that a dull mist is coming over his vision, and almost wait to see his relaxing limbs sink suddenly on his shield. That the rude, barbarian form has a soul, may be read in his touchingly expressive countenance. It warms the sympathies like reality to look upon it. Yet how many Romans may have gazed on this work, moved nearly to tears, who have seen hundreds perish in the arena without a pitying emotion! Why is it that Art has a voice frequently more powerful than Nature?

How cold it is here! I was forced to run home to-night, nearly at full speed, from the Cafe delle _Belle Arti through the Corso and the Piazza Colonna, to keep warm. The clear, frosty moon threw the shadow of the column of Antoninus over me as I passed, and it made me shiver to look at the thin, falling sheet of the fountain. Winter is winter everywhere, and even the sun of Italy cannot always scorch his icy wings.

Two days ago we took a ramble outside the walls. Passing the Coliseum and Caracalla's Baths, we reached the tomb of Scipio, a small sepulchral vault, near the roadside. The ashes of the warrior were scattered to the winds long ago, and his mausoleum is fast falling to decay. The old arch over the Appian way is still standing, near the modern _Porta San Sebastiano through which we entered on the far-famed road. Here and there it is quite entire, and we walked over the stones once worn by the feet of Virgil and Horace and Cicero. After passing the temple of Romulus--a shapeless and ivy-grown ruin--and walking a mile or more beyond the walls, we reached the Circus of Caracalla, whose long and shattered walls fill the hollow of one of the little dells of the Campagna. The original structure must have been of great size and splendor, but those twin Vandals--Time and Avarice--have stripped away everything but the lofty brick masses, whose nakedness the pitying ivy strives to cover.

Further, on a gentle slope, is the tomb of "the wealthiest Roman's wife," familiar to every one through Childe Harold's musings. It is a round, massive tower, faced with large blocks of marble, and still bearing the name of Cecilia Metella. One side is much ruined, and the top is overgrown with grass and wild bushes. The wall is about thirty feet thick, so that but a small round space is left in the interior, which is open to the rain and filled will rubbish. The echoes pronounced hollowly after us the name of the dead for whom it was built, but they could tell us nothing of her life's history--

"How lived, how loved, how died she?"

I made a hurried drawing of it, and we then turned to the left, across the Campagna, to seek the grotto of Egeria. Before us, across the brown plain, extended the Sabine Mountains; in the clear air the houses of Tivoli, twenty miles distant, were plainly visible. The giant aqueduct stretched in a long line across the Campagna to the mountain of Albano, its broken and disjointed arches resembling the vertebrae of some mighty monster. With the ruins of temples and tombs strewing the plain for miles around it, it might be called the _spine to the skeleton of Rome.

We passed many ruins, made beautiful by the clinging ivy, and reached a solemn grove of ever-green oak, overlooking a secluded valley. I was soon in the meadow, leaping ditches, rustling through cane-brakes, and climbing up to mossy arches to find out the fountain of Numa's nymph; while my companion, who had less taste for the romantic, looked on complacently from the leeward side of the hill. At length we found an arched vault in the hill-side, overhung with wild vines, and shaded in summer by umbrageous trees that grow on the soil above. At the further end a stream of water gushed out from beneath a broken statue, and an aperture in the wall revealed a dark cavern behind. This, then, was "Egeria's grot." The ground was trampled by the feet of cattle, and the taste of the water was anything but pleasant. But it was not for Numa and his nymph alone, that I sought it so ardently. The sunbeam of another mind lingers on the spot. See how it gilds the ruined and neglected fount!

"The mosses of thy fountain still are sprinkled
With thine Elysian water-drops; the face
Of thy cave-guarded spring, with years unwrinkled,
Reflects the meek-eyed genius of the place,
Whose wild, green margin, now no more erase
Art's works; no more its sparkling waters sleep,
Prisoned in marble; bubbling from the base
Of the cleft statue, with a gentle leap,
The rill runs o'er, and 'round, fern, flowers and ivy creep,
Fantastically tangled."

I tried to creep into the grotto, but it was unpleasantly dark, and no nymph appeared to chase away the shadow with her lustrous eyes. The whole hill is pierced by subterranean chambers and passages.

I spent another Sunday morning in St. Peter's. High mass was being celebrated in one of the side Chapels, and a great number of the priesthood were present. The music was simple, solemn, and very impressive, and a fine effect was produced by the combination of the full, sonorous voices of the priests, and the divine sweetness of that band of mutilated unfortunates, who sing here. They sang with a full, clear tone, sweet as the first lispings of a child, but it was painful to hear that melody, purchased at the expense of manhood.

Near the dome is a bronze statue of St. Peter, which seems to have a peculiar atmosphere of sanctity. People say their prayers before it by hundreds, and then kiss its toe, which is nearly worn away by the application of so many thousand lips. I saw a crowd struggle most irreverently to pay their devotion to it. There was a great deal of jostling and confusion; some went so far as to thrust the faces of others against the toe as they were about to kiss it. What is more remarkable, it is an antique statue of Jupiter, taken, I believe, from the Pantheon. An English artist, showing it to a friend, just arrived in Rome, remarked very wittily that it was the statue of _Jew-Peter_.

I went afterwards to the Villa Borghese, outside the Porta del Popolo. The gardens occupy thirty or forty acres, and are always thronged in the afternoon with the carriages of the Roman and foreign nobility. In summer, it must be a heavenly place; even now, with its musical fountains, long avenues, and grassy slopes, crowned with the fan-like branches of the Italian pine, it reminds one of the fairy landscapes of Boccaccio. We threaded our way through the press of carriages on the Pincian hill, and saw the enormous bulk of St. Peter's loom up against the sunset sky. I counted forty domes and spires in that part of Rome that lay below us--but on what a marble glory looked that sun eighteen centuries ago! Modern Rome--it is in comparison, a den of filth, cheats and beggars!

Yesterday, while taking a random stroll through the city, I visited the church of St. Onofrio, where Tasso is buried. It is not far from St. Peter's, on the summit of a lonely hill. The building was closed, but an old monk admitted us on application. The interior is quite small, but very old, and the floor is covered with the tombs of princes and prelates of a past century. Near the end I found a small slab with the inscription:


That was all--but what more was needed? Who knows not the name and fame and sufferings of the glorious bard? The pomp of gold and marble are not needed to deck the slumber of genius. On the wall, above, hangs an old and authentic portrait of him, very similar to the engravings in circulation. A crown of laurel encircles the lofty brow, and the eye has that wild, mournful expression, which accords so well with the mysterious tale of his love and madness.

Owing to the mountain storms, which imposed on us the expense of a carriage-journey to Rome, we shall be prevented from going further. One great cause of this is the heavy fee required for passports in Italy. In most of the Italian cities, the cost of the different vises amounts to $4 or $5; a few such visits as these reduce our funds very materially. The American Consul's fee is $2, owing to the illiberal course of our government, in withholding all salary from her Consuls in Europe. Mr. Brown, however, in whose family we spent last evening very pleasantly, on our requesting that he would deduct something from the usual fee, kindly declined accepting anything. We felt this kindness the more, as from the character which some of our late Consuls bear in Italy, we had not anticipated it. We shall remember him with deeper gratitude than many would suppose, who have never known what it was to be a _foreigner_.

To-morrow, therefore, we leave Rome--here is, at last, the limit of our wanderings. We have spent much toil and privation to reach here, and now, after two weeks' rambling and musing among the mighty relics of past glory, we turn our faces homeward. The thrilling hope I cherished during the whole pilgrimage--to climb Parnassus and drink from Castaly, under the blue heaven of Greece (both far easier than the steep hill and hidden fount of poesy, I worship afar off)--to sigh for fallen art, beneath the broken friezes of the Parthenon, and look with a pilgrim's eye on the isles of Homer and of Sappho--must be given up, unwillingly and sorrowfully though it be. These glorious anticipations--among the brightest that blessed my boyhood--are slowly wrung from me by stern necessity. Even Naples, the lovely Parthenope, where the Mantuan bard sleeps on the sunny shore, by the bluest of summer seas, with the disinterred Pompeii beyond, and Paestum amid its roses on the lonely Calabrian plain--even this, almost within sight of the cross of St. Peter's, is barred from me. Farewell then, clime of "fame and eld," since it must be! A pilgrim's blessing for the lore ye have taught him!

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