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All Around The Mediterranean:
The Southern Atlantic Route
The Atlantic Islands
The Spanish Ports
Naples And Sicily
( Originally Published 1926 )
Be good to Italy when the steamer moors at the stone quay in the harbor of Naples! It was she, and she alone, who rediscovered old Father Greek, who dominates all the spirit of this cruise. To me Italy is Petrarch, the motive power of the Italian Renaissance. It is difficult to comprehend the amazing fact that not a word of Greek was known throughout Europe in 1300. Due to the urgency of Petrarch, the works of the Latin masters had been dug up out of libraries and monasteries throughout Italy, but yet there remained, behind all that loving rebirth of humanitarian letters, the sealed book of the parent that had given it all life, Greek thought, Greek art, Greek drama. Petrarch lived to see his dream come true, to see Chysoloras brought from Byzantium and installed, as a sort of king in Florence, to teach Greek to the eager humanists. Old and young flocked to his classes that opened the key to all that was worth learning, our immortal heritage that is Greece. It meant the revival of civilization, picking up the thread after seven centuries of neglect. And it is to Italy that we owe it.
At Naples you will be met, most likely, by fleets of motor cars bent on taking you to Pompeii. I would collar the chauffeur and make him drive me to Amalfi, for you can see some-thing of Italy then, and get back to the steamer in time. Once on a time I explored this famous Drive, my mind open for a settling-place, anywhere—so long as it was not Capri. You follow the wondrous shore line, with Vesuvius al-ways towering to your left. In due time Sorrento is reached, a collection of hotels perched on a cliff, and there are shawls to buy. But we paused not, noting the orange groves of Sorrento and the painted cart of the peasant as we wound over the hills, cutting off the point toward Capri.
The Drive regains the Mediterranean again in the Bay of Salerno. Far below is the eternal surf, and above to the skyline the flanks of the mountains. One winds around coye after cove. You see Capri, a bare and gaunt island to the west. And presently we passed through a curious little artist's town tucked away in a cleft of the hills, the colored buildings strewn up and down the face of the earth, and an old cathedral with tiled dome of green faience giving on a water gate below. It looked, and was, ancient; but it possessed one good hotel (the Margherita) which is quite enough for any traveler ! The town is called Positano, and here we stopped for three months.
Not, however, without continuing the drive to Amalfi first. We saw all the sights there, and nearly selected a villa, which, with the convent above it, slid down into the sea in the rains a few months later. Villas in Italy are a fraud. There is not one earthly comfort in them, magnificent marble palaces though they be, and heated by a poisonous charcoal braggia. The hotels are just as cheap. But Italy in winter is itself a snare and a delusion. Beware of high mountains, anywhere l They mean wind and cold. Also beware of any spot marked on the rain map 0f the world with a dark shading signifying over ninety inches of annual rainfall. Such a district exists around Naples. Positano is picturesque and colorful enough to delight an artist—until about the fifteenth of January. From then on, rain with-out ceasing. We stood it until the middle of February and then packed up and moved to a civilized place, Tunis, to be precise. After which the Amalfi Drive became washed out in numerous places and all these towns were isolated from the world and had to be fed by torpedo boats. This bit of history as a warning not to be put out in case the famous Drive is unayailable during your particular cruise.
In that case, by all means see Pompeii and the Marine and Art Museums in Naples. It is not always possible to see Naples and Capri in the limited time at Naples, but an optional side trip has been arranged. The place is reached by boat, one of those small steamers of the Nationale whose pier is riot far from the steamer's quay. A boat leaving at nine o'clock will reach Capri about twelve, the fare a few lira. To me it is a bare and overpraised island, but some artists like it. You will engage a guide at the Capri pier and be shown the famous Blue Grotto and the castle on the cliff and all the rest of the sights. The afternoon boat, returning via Amalfi and Positano, will call in time to get back to the ship at night. The boats roll like torpedo craft, so don't attempt it if "addicted !"
Rome is becoming popular as an optional side trip, reached genet-ally by rail from Genoa while the steamer is plying down the coast and rejoining her at Naples. If taking it the other way, the two-o'clock afternoon train from Naples reaches Rome at nine in the evening, so that you can do the Naples museums before going on.
One usually "does" Rome with numerous books and a Baedeker. I spent a month there without exhausting it. If you have only one day to it, I would take a car direct to St. Peter's first and see it and the Vatican galleries. At the Vatican there are certain of the world's masterpieces that you are on no account to miss. Raphael's famous "Transfiguration" is there, and near it the "Last Supper of St. Jerome" (the European one). Then in the Sistine Chapel is Michael Angelo's "Last judgment" covering the whole ceiling in a marvelous mural that is the admiration of even the artists of to-day.
In sculpture do not neglect the four master-pieces in the Belvedere, the "Laocoon," the "Apollo Belvedere," the "Antinous," and the "Venus." I have not space to enumerate more than these few, but you must see them, and give them time to really sink in. It is an experience of the soul that will last a lifetime. Impressions like these are what we travel for and their effect is enduring.
Those of you who wish to do reverence to His Holiness, the Pope, will see the proper authorities at the Vatican. It is too much to ask an audience, but there are times when he can be seen from afar during certain ceremonials and you may be lucky enough to be present. Ask the guide. He will know if there is any opportunity that day.
This will take at least the morning. Then drive from there down the Corso Vittorio Emanuele to the Forum and the Coliseum beyond it, taking a side turn at the Via del Tor Argentina to stop for a brief while at the Pantheon. At the Forum discharge the car. It is a dusty and stony plain of ruins, this forum, and you will want to see everything in the leisures of walking. Nero's column and the Arch of Constantine are near the Coliseum. You will pass through the Arch of Titus to visit them. The vast baths of Caracalla are up beyond the Monte Palatino and some distance from the Coliseum to your left when facing back toward the Forum. Best to take a car at the Coliseum and drive to them. Thence to the Capitoline Hill, and you have done about all that one day will allow. If having another day, I would see the Lateran collections and the triple church of San Clemente, present, early Christian, and Roman temple—one under the other.
Then the Barberini Gallery, the Quirinal Palace, the Medici Villa, and the Pincian Hill, reaching there in time to hear the famous vespers of the nuns at four o'clock; after which a sunset over distant St. Peter's from the Pincian Gardens. Two days in Rome will be a life-time's sensation. All the world is crowded into this one spot. It is so filled with the relics of the past, even now, that one can almost forgive Attila the Hun for carrying off nine-tenths of what was Roman. To the artist the Forum is a rather tiresome place. Judging from its restorations, it was all imitation Greek and no-where done with that superb artistic completeness that characterizes Athens. There is a deal to forgive in every building. . . . But to most people it is the Eternal City, great in government, law, and religion. It is still great, and Mussolini tells us it will be greater. Much could be done in clearing space around the monuments of the past. Let us hope that he will attempt no restorations!
A few words on Herculaneum and Pompeii, to supplement what the authorized guides may tell you. Reached by railroad in half an hour from Naples to Pompeii station or by car, Pompeii is the place most visited and the one most extensively excavated, for the reason that it was buried only some twenty feet under ashes and pebbles while Herculaneum was overlaid sixty feet deep by the torrent of mud and volcanic outpouring. The floor of Herculaneum's theater is eighty feet below the present surface of the ground. Every one knows that in A.D. 79 Vesuvius suddenly burst into violent eruption, after total quiescence during the whole Greek epoch of southern Italy. The younger Pliny gives the date as August twenty-third. Those of us who have read our Bulwer-Lytton can recall the terrors of that day so imaginatively described for us. It is doubtful if any escaped from Herculaneum. Those from Pompeii made a dash for the water front, out of those ancient gates that still exist, and Lytton describes their frantic efforts to board the ship-ping in the harbor. The eruption moved that coast line two miles farther out beyond the ancient water front; where you see it now.
It is that section fronting the harbor that has been principally excavated—about three-fifths of the entire town within the walls; and the work still to go on for many years yet. You enter by the Porte Marina and find yourself near the old forum, with the ruins of the temple of Jupiter at its upper end. Surrounding the Toro and up the Strada Mercurio from it will be many of Pompeii's temples, Vespasian, Hercules, Apollo, Isis. The temple of Hercules is the most ancient in the city, of Greek work, with Doric columns, dating about the sixth century B.C. It is situated in the Foro Triangulare, which adjoins the Theater with it gladiators' barracks. That to Venus, a special goddess with the Pompeiians, is near the Porte Marina. The crossing of the Strada di Nola and Strada Stabiana locates most of the famous excavated houses and the ruins of one of the numerous therme of the city. It is the houses more than the temples that you will be eager to see. Pompeii was but a small Roman town, with its architecture a degenerate transition from Greek to Roman, but, because of the accident of Vesuvius, it has preserved for us in-tact many Roman houses of the better class, such as you would see in Rome itself had they not been destroyed by the world's vandals. Such Roman houses are those of Sallust, the "Silver Wedding," the "House of the Faun," of the "Golden Cupids," and of the Vettii. These are but fanciful names, the Pompeiian owners unknown, but they show us fine examples of Roman mural painting, decoration, of the standard arrangement into atrium, tablinium, peristylium, etc. A policy has been pursued of late of not removing the excavated contents to museums but of leaving them in place, so that we can form a fair idea of the smaller statuary, the decorations and embellishments; all that went to make a Roman house as described by the classic writers.
These houses are for the most part in the Vicolo di Mercurio, the Strada di Nola and Stabiana. There are many others of the artisan and shopkeeper class, a silversmith's establishment just as found, a sculptor's studio with his tools and unfinished work. Cicero's house in Pompeii, of which he wrote much, has not yet been identified, to my present information.
The town was small and not remarkable, as Roman towns of the Empire period -go. Its history was uneventful; inhabited by the Oscans, took part in the Social Wars of 88 B.C. and was besieged and taken by Sulla ; came under the Roman sway completely and was garrisoned by Sulla's troops. Its streets were narrow with bare walls and high windows looking on them from the second story. Within was the glory of Roman home life, the beauty of court and peristyle. Perfect models of Roman homes of the better class were these houses of Pompeii preserved to us by Vesuvius.
Herculaneum (station Portice, theater only shown and that by candlelight) is notable for what it still contains buried under its immense slab of volcanic outpouring already turned into tufa. From it we got much that is in the Naples Museum to-day, the "Reposing Hermes," the "Drunken Silenus," the "Sleeping Faun," the busts of Plato and Seneca, the dancing girls and discoboli. There, too, was found the priceless library of 180.3 papyri, of which several hundred have been translated and the work still going on. The best painting that has been exhumed is the "Ledo and Niobe."
It must be remembered that both cities were busy repairing numerous temples shaken by the earthquake that was Vesuvius' first warning when the final catastrophe overwhelmed them. For that reason much of the finest in them was already in ruins, to be buried as such under the falling ash. Most of the light upper stories must have been already shaken down—they are being excavated, caved-in—but still there is a hoard of priceless bronze statuary and ornament, of household lares and penates, yet to be exhumed. Think of the treasure-house that is still Italy's, those sullen slabs of tufa and ash ! We, as tourists, give thanks that so much has been unearthed, that we may see and know with our own eyes, and pass on, not for-getting, however, the hand of Old Father Greek, who once taught this people all they knew of beauty and grace—and can still teach us !
The steamer moves on down from Naples and arrives at Messina. You have been passing the shores of Magna Graecia all the while, the three great Greek towns of Neapolis, Pastum, Elea (Positano itself once was Greek, and has among other relics a naga head, or Buddhist cobra, in marble, that must have been a relic of some of Alexander's campaigns in the East). All but their names have perished now; but that volcanic cone of Stromboli that you see smoking to the west has seen Magna Graecie in its glory, has seen it conquer Rome ethically, and once more, in the times of Petrarch, has seen it rise out of its dull embers to again conquer all Europe. Along these sacred shores the steamer plies, seemingly into a landlocked bay, with the vineyarded slopes rising to great rocky precipices. In winter you will generally not see either AEtna on Sicily nor the snowy Apennines opposite. Just white banks of clouds, and it will be main cold. I was never colder in my life than on one January day when making these Straits on my way to India and Burma 1 The icy wind sweeping down off those invisible snow fields!
However, we pass the rocks of Scylla and Charybdis, and land is close at hand on either side. Little Italian villages dot the east shore; to the west is Messina, and beyond, down the coast, Taormina and Syracuse. The winter-cruise ships make one or both ports and see Taormina by car or rail.
The history of Sicily is almost coeval with that of Greece itself. It seems to have been their first exploration to the west. We can imagine that first shipload of Greeks, when the world was young, squaring the yard to an easterly breeze and adventuring out across the wide Ionian Sea, wondering what new land they would find, fearful that even this, the biggest boat they had built yet, would not survive the tempest 1 For unfavorable winds they re-lied upon oars; for strange and hostile people, there were their swords, their javelins, their shields, perhaps rudimentary armor of brass.
And the people they found there were the Sikilios. Who were they? Even at that date, everything in Europe was inhabited, by rude, Aryan tribes such as the Ligurians, the Etruscans, the Latins; very wonderful these polished Greeks must have seemed to these farmers who could hardly build a small boat! We must re-member that Rome itself had not a single ship, until it copied a Carthaginian galley wrecked on Italy's shores many centuries later than this voyage we were speaking of.
At any rate the Greeks and the Sikilios got on, much as Columbus and the Indians did. They were allowed to establish a trading factory. Syracuse was founded by Archais of Corinth in 735 B.C. That date is impressive l One hundred and thirty-five years before Massilia I Naxos sprang up, three miles from where Taormina now stands; then Messina. There were interior wars with the Sikilios, who were not all tractable, though most of them on the coast became slaves or helpers. The Greeks went on around the coast and established Panormus (Palermo).
And in so doing they came into conflict with Carthage, which claimed all the western half of the island. There were centuries of struggle for mastery, sometimes a dividing line established, as at Girgenti, once the whole island overrun by Carthage. But steadily the spread of Greek culture and architecture went on, steadily fed from Corinth, from Athens, from Phocea.
The tyrant system, then ruling at Athens, established itself on Sicily, and we first hear of Dionysius the Tyrant. And with him, inseperably, of Timoleon, the Deliverer, plain citizen of Corinth. Followed the general civil war of the Greek states under Athens and Sparta respectively. It was Syracuse that gave the decision to Sparta, for that disastrous expedition that Athens sent against Sicily lost her her ships and the Long Walls had to come down. What use Sparta made of her victory we all know; thirty years of stupid and senseless tyranny, until all the Greek states rose in revolt and Epaminondas of Thebes broke Sparta's power at last.
It is in this period that the name of Pyrrhus, champion of Greece against both Rome and Carthage, emerges on Sicily. Rome had grown strong enough now to look beyond the toe of the boot, and she now had ships. Also partisans on Sicily itself, for Hieron, Greek ally of Rome, takes the stage. To the modern world the memory of that is enshrined in Tauromenium (Taormina) which rose to replace ruined Naxos. And at the same time the Roman general Marcellus ravaged Syracuse. Taormina is essentially Roman; even the facade of its famous Greek Theater is Romanesque. Splendid as its site is, with grand views of Aetna and the Straits, we see much deterioration from Greek ideals, due to Roman mastery, in its ruins.
At Syracuse we will see much more that is significant of the real Greek occupation, the columns of the Temple of Minerva, still to be seen built into the Duomo on the site of that temple; the fountain of Arethusa; the Greek Theater; the Amphitheater, where they held, patriotically, those Olympian events being con-tested for at the same time at home; the altar of Hieron (whose name we know) ; the museum, with its fine "Venus Anadyomene"; the Ear of Dionysius where the Tyrant eaves-dropped upon suspects in the Latomia del Paradiso. Still stand the Euryelus and the Epipola;, ancient Greek fortifications. There are also modern sights, the catacombs of San Giovanni, the Latomia dei Capuchini.
These "latomia," quarries, are eloquent of Greek Syracuse. From them came the dazzling light-gray stone characteristic of the place; and out of that stone was hewn the amphitheater, the Grecian Steps, and most of the Five Towns that made old Syracuse.
You will form your best ideas of what a glory it was by reading Cicero's orations against Verses, that robber-governor who was sent here by Rome and who stole everything of Greek art that he could lay hands on or pry loose and carry away. He speaks of ivory doors in-worked with gold for the Temple of Minerva, of the wonderful temples of Segesta and Enna, of Greek painting, every scrap of which art by the Greeks has perished. This very Duomo, much of whose fabric is the Temple of Minerva itself, had a series of huge cavalry paintings adorning its walls, so fine, in fact, that they were one of the first sights of Syracuse. They were ravaged from the walls by Verres and sent to the villa of one of his mistresses. Cicero spent much time on Sicily, going over with the outraged Greeks the pillages of Verres all over the island; and his orations, delivered later in the Roman senate, are marvelous word-paintings of all Greek Sicily, the finest of all the colonies of Father Greek.
The steamer continues on to Palermo. Here we enter almost a new Sicily. The very rock is pink, in place of the dazzling white of Syracuse and Taormina. It is the Carthaginian, Moslem, and Norman end of the island. We have the later history of Syracuse in epitome, Rome, Visigoths from Gaul, the Moslem invasion that captured the entire island and held it for three centuries, and finally the Norman kings, who drove out the Arabs and ruled here all through the Middle Ages. Palermo is reminiscent of all that; has hardly a trace of the original Greek.
We anchor within the breakwater and have our visas examined. The Italians are strict about that, but sometimes an officer can be persuaded to let a visitor go ashore without a visa, if returning that same day to the ship. The boat charge is a dollar to the mole and return. At first sight Palermo is hideously disappointing. A large modern Italian city like Naples; a wide dusty park called the Marina adjoining the land end of the mole; a bare red mountain, Monte Pellegrini—where we learn is the tomb of Sta Rosita, that martyr maiden of Norman times who is the patron saint of the town—and still much visited by pilgrims.
We take a carriage at the mole, for the distances are great. The Saracenic cathedral is ugliness personified, nothing but the doors worthy of inspection. The town has more palaces than hotels, all of them ugly and desperately run down. You will not like the Quattro Canti, that square with four Spanish fountains which is the heart of the town; but you will revive with a fervor when you reach the royal palace and are shown its famous chapel, all in gold Norman-Saracen mosaics, with columns of red porphyry, with priceless riches of altar and candlestick and pendent lamps. One of the gems of all Europe is this place! The rooms of the palace, around which you are shown by the custodian, are equally line.
I will say nothing of the Capuchin Cemetery, which is like that of Rome only more grewsome and horrible. You had best go direct to Monreale, for the cathedral there is another inspiring thing. You forgive Palermo at once! Its cloister is a poem, delicate double columns all inlaid in intricate design and upholding Saracenic arches; the grand colonnades of the cathedral and its walls of inlaid marble, its mosaics forming a wonderful frieze all around the clerestory. The world's best in Norman-Saracenicart. If there is still time, I would investigate next the gardens of Palermo, which are very fine, pleasure resorts of the old nobility when they would escape from the gloom of their palaces. They are delights of Italian gardening, marble and flowers, architecture and nature in a happy blend.