« PreviousContinue »
lofty cape of Sorrento, dividing the bay of Naples from that of Salerno, to the south. Several large towns occupy this gorge in the hills. Nocera has many churches. We were detained half an hour in its streets, to permit a long religious procession of both sexes to pass. They were all in white masks, with red stockings, and the usual badges of ecclesiastics. The choral chant from so many voices fairly produced an echo among the hills. La Cava is another populous town, with many handsome buildings. The main street is bordered on both sides by arcades, serving the double purpose of sheltering the inhabitants from the rain and sun. It contains many churches and convents. Some of the latter are occupied as extensive schools, for the education of females, who in Italy pass the first sixteen or eighteen years of their lives in retirement, without mingling at all with the world.
Between La Cava and the village of Vietri, an old aqueduct and bridge, stretching across a deep ravine on the right of the road, form a massive and highly picturesque ruin. Indeed, few regions can present greater variety and richness of scenery, than this unfrequented part of Italy. The traveller would be compensated for an excursion to Pæstum, were it only for the sake of the views along the way. At 1 or 2 o'clock in the afternoon, we emerged suddenly from the defile in the mountains, and the Bay of Salerno spread full before us in all its glory, slumbering beneath skies as pure and brilliant as its own waters. It extends from the Cape of Sorrento to Pæstum, a distance of perhaps forty miles in a right line. Between these two points, it sweeps inland with a bold uniform curve, forming a gulf nearly twice the size of that of Naples, and not inferior to it in beauty. The mountains on its borders are decidedly superior; and nothing can be more romantic than its comparatively solitary shores, exhibiting here and there a village upon the rocks, and washed by the brightest waves I ever beheld.
On the right of the pass, as it opens upon the sea, a cluster of buildings hang upon the cliffs; and still higher up a convent is perched upon the very apex. If any earthly consideration could tempt a man to turn monk, it would be such a retirement as this, where nature presents her brightest elements in the happiest combinations. The late King of Naples had the good taste to build him a neat lodge, between the outlet of the defile and Salerno; but the present monarch prefers the lava beds of Portici. An excellent road, a sort of royal corso, extends along the shore, built the greater part of the way on terraces. The town of Salerno stands upon the beach, with a small port spreading in front, and high broken hills in the rear. It has a population of 15,000, but little trade, and is said to be very unhealthy
in summer. The streets were full of importunate and clamorous beggars. An excellent dinner, consisting among other things of two kinds of delicate fish from the bay, green peas, oranges, and wine of a peculiar flavour, was provided for us at the hotel, the balcony of which commands an enchanting view. A visit was paid to the Cathedral, for the purpose of examining columns and other antiquities from Pæstum, deposited in the court. They present nothing particularly worthy of notice. Numerous sarcophagi were observed, ornamented with bas-relief, and inscribed with epitaphs in the Saxon character. They are evidently of the middle ages, when the Normans overran this country, and Salerno was a town of importance. It was at that period the seat of science, literature, and the arts. Its medical school was the most celebrated in Europe. From the door of the church, there is a charming view of a high broken rock back of the town, surmounted by the ruins of an extensive fortress.
At 3 o'clock we renewed our journey towards Pæstum, crossing a wide alluvial plain, bordered on one side by the chain of Apennines, rising in rugged, fantastic peaks, and on the other, by the sea. Several pretty streams water the plain. This is the country of Salvator Rosa, and his pencil never sketched any thing half so picturesque as its natural scenery. Some of his peasantry were seen in the fields by the side of the road, with their swarthy Calabrian faces, sunburnt limbs, short white kilts, and pyramidal hats. So far as our observation goes, they are gentle and inoffensive in their manners, though they have acquired notoriety for their indolent habits, vices, and crimes. Several of the threshing floors, such as are described by Homer, attracted our attention. They consist of smooth hard areas, in the open field. Cattle are driven round on them to tread out the grain.
We reached the little village of Eboli, sixteen miles from Salerno and forty-three from Naples, at 6 o'clock in the evening, and took lodgings for the night in an old convent, now converted into a hospice for travellers. Its accommodations are wretched enough; dirty and dangerous; without conveniences or comforts. Its present master is said to have been eighteen years at the head of a band of robbers, in which time he was engaged in fifty murders. He is accused of having been accessory to the death of Mr. and Mrs. Hunt, a year or two since, between this place and Pæstum. To our inquiries whether there was at present any danger upon the road, he replied-" No, thank God, those days are gone by." He is a stout, broad-shouldered, athletic man, with nothing of the bandit in his face or manner. Although the chambers are destitute of furniture, save a miserable bed,
I saw in one of them an image of the Virgin, seated in a little shrine with blue silk curtains, and a tiny lamp always kept burning before her. The chambermaid informed me, that this tutelary doll of the family cost thirty dollars, and was reckoned a good bargain. It is the only species of luxury in the house.
As we arrived at Eboli an hour before sunset, time was afforded for a charming walk to the village, at the distance of half a mile or more from our lodgings. The streets, houses, and inhabitants are in perfect contrast with the splendour of the skies and the luxuriant charms of the country. While the latter are as beautiful as nature can bestow, the former are as mean, dirty, and repulsive as ignorance, poverty, superstition, and vice can render them. Two or three rosyfaced priests, lingering at the door of a tippling-shop, stared at us as intently as if we had come to take possession of the village and route them from their stalls. A hill back of the town affords a delightful view of the broad plain, stretching from the base of the mountains to the sea. The rocks around us were crowned with convents, and shaded with hanging woods. On the brow of this hill is an extensive garden. The keeper threw open the gate, and invited us to stroll in its alleys, plucking for each of the party a cluster of roses. We lingered here till the sun had gone down, and twilight began to fade. The softest and the richest skies I have ever witnessed were beheld from the heights of Eboli. Claude Lorrain, with all the magic of his pencil, never produced tints so exquisitely delicate and beautiful, as the blushes of the west and the purple light of the firmament on this evening.
In returning to our lodgings, we met groups of the peasantry, loitering from the fields to their dirty homes, with rural implements upon their shoulders, and carolling with light hearts, notwithstanding their poverty. A scene entirely new to us all afforded not a little amusement. It was a goatherd milking his flock and penning them for the night. The animals knew their keeper, and walked up to him one after another, to have their udders drained, and then marched into the fold without bidding. Not one offered to go, before the process of milking was completed. The flock seemed quite as intelligent as the shepherd. A group of poor villagers stood round with their little mugs, ready to purchase the milk at a penny a pint. Such is a rural scene in Calabria. How different from the extensive farm-yards, the fifty cows, the rosy-checked lasses, and the foaming pails of our own country!
Early next morning we left Eboli and pursued our journey towards Pæstum, which is eleven miles beyond that village. The traveller here deserts the great road, leading to the straits of Messina, and en
ters an unfrequented path to the right, crossing a broad, solitary plain, which bears a striking resemblance to the Campagna di Roma. There is scarcely a house in the whole distance, and the very silence of the waste, independent of its having been the haunt of banditti, is almost terrific. A fox which crossed the way a few rods before us, was the only living creature seen for six or eight miles. The greater part of this desolate track belongs to the hunting-grounds of the king, who has a lodge, called Persano, in sight of the road. To the left rises Mount Alburnus, a bold, rugged hill, with its rocky acclivities slightly shaded with woods, and its top still white with snow! This phenomenon perfectly astonished us in a Calabrian climate, at a season when the weather was as warm as it is with us in the summer. The plain is watered by the Silaro, a considerable stream, the banks of which are in some places finely wooded with ilex. We crossed it on a bridge built by Murat. The toll for our fiacre was two dollars! Eustace says that "herds innumerable" wander through the recesses of Mount Alburnus, the Silaro, and the Tanagro, and enliven the silence of the scene by perpetual lowings. But he seems to have invented and introduced his cattle, for the purpose of stinging them classically by Virgil's gadfly. At any rate, there are now neither flocks nor herds in these dreary solitudes.
Notwithstanding the badness of the road, which compelled us to walk a considerable part of the way, we reached Pæstum at 8 o'clock, and drove through a breach in the old wall, called the gate of Aurora, though the portals have long since been levelled to the dust. A squalid peasant boy met us at the entrance, and presented a cluster of the far-famed roses, which bloom twice a year, in May and December-at least in the page of every tourist, from Virgil down to Mariana Starke. The site of the ancient town is so low, and so buried in the foliage of the plain, that no glimpses of it are obtained in the approach; and the three great ruins, which form the principal objects of the stranger's pilgrimage, came suddenly into view, exciting by their contiguity, their dimensions, their complexion, and above all by the loneliness of their situation, a very deep and strong emotion. With them, the ordinary course of nature seems to be reversed, and the eternal monuments remain nearly entire, while the nation by whom they were erected has vanished from the face of the earth, and its records have been swept into oblivion. Their origin and history have become mere matter of conjecture, to be drawn from an examination of their construction, rather than from any external evidence. The story of Pæstum itself may be told in few words. It appears to have been originally settled by a colony of Dorians, who were subsequently expelled by the Syba
rites, and the name of the city changed to that of Posidonia or Neptu nia. The latter was in turn conquered by their neighbours the Lucanians, and these by the Romans, who gave to the town its present appellation. In after ages, Pæstum was scourged by the Saracens and Normans, who left the three great temples standing, either from the difficulty of demolishing them, or out of respect to their venerable antiquity, where no stronger motive prevailed. Though the ruins never could have been concealed or entirely unknown, they seem to have attracted no attention, in a country so full of antiquities, till a Neapolitan artist brought them into notice about the middle of the last century.
In this long range of history, reaching back three or four thousand years, and divided into different eras by the conquests of half a dozen distinct nations, the mind is left free to ascribe the indestructible monuments to what period it chooses. The subject is involved in so much obscurity, that modern poets, even to some of our own countrymen,* have seized upon it as a fit theme for the embellishments of fancy, opening a field in which the imagination may range unrestricted by fact, and indulge in the wildest dreams of fiction, without contradicting probabilities. But my business is neither with poetry, nor learned speculations. I am not sufficiently versed in architecture and antiquarian lore, to attempt to reduce these massive structures to any certain period, nor have I enough of inspiration to add to the poetical images, with which they have been associated by the muses. A plain prosing narrative of our interesting visit will be despatched in as brief a manner as possible.
The three temples range along the solitary plain in a direct line, within the distance of less than half a mile, rendering it probable that they fronted upon the principal street, of which no traces now remain. They are designated by the names of Ceres, Neptune, and the Basilica, standing in the order they are mentioned from north to south. I know of no evidence either internal or external, which might lead with certainty to these appellations. The temple of Neptune is much the largest, and to this our steps were first directed, under the guidance of a local cicerone. It is in the shape of a parallelogram, two hundred feet in length, and eighty feet in breadth, with two fronts, one facing the east and the other the west, each supported by six massive columns. On either side are twelve pillars of the same dimensions,
*My readers probably need not be reminded of the Poem entitled "Pæstum," from the pen of a gentleman of Massachusetts.