Pavia - Italy
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Pavia, which we did not reach till towards the close of evening, is pleasantly situated on the banks of the Ticino, and in the centre of all that is most rich and luxuriant in nature. The fields are often seen bearing three crops at once: the mulberry, affording sustenance to the silk-worm, is thickly planted in equal rows; the vine, trained along, and borne up by the despoiled tree, spreads its shivering branches with thick leaves and clustering grapes, which form rich festoons, carried from space to space, while the whole ground below is covered with the finest grain. The approach to the city, in particular, is fine, the road spacious, well causewayed, and shaded on either side by large and spreading trees, the whole, as you advance, seeming to announce the en-trance into some important city. But here the deception ceases; Pavia, once the seat of learning, the first among the cities of Italy for her schools and universities, as much distinguished for her population as for the revelries and courtly festivals held within her walls, now appears silent and deserted. You survey her decayed fortifications and fallen battlements, look on the boding aspect of her gloomy Gothic towers, crumbling into ruins,—all present signals of desolation, most painful and depressing. The city is of considerable extent; but the population is scanty, the shops mean, many houses unoccupied, the doors of some of the churches nailed up, while portions of buildings and porticos, formerly be-longing to them, are converted into barracks for cavalry. The university of Pavia is supposed to have existed as early as the year 794, having owed its first establishment to Charlemagne. It is amazing how soon a college may rise to distinction, and in how short a period it may fall into decay; only thirty years since, Pavia was the first school for law and physic. This may be said to be the sort of body politic which the soonest rises, and soonest perishes, since its fame often depends upon the life of one man, and dies with him. Perhaps Pavia herself may shortly give proofs of the truth of this observation. I have reason to believe that she may again, in no long period, rise to her former celebrity. Such, at least, is the language held by the scientific men of this city, with whom I enjoyed a short conversation, while in the company of the venerable and distinguished man, (Scarfa,) who has such claims to admiration, not only from his brethren of the same profession, but from all who value science; nor shall I easily forget the feelings of gratification which my interview with him left on my mind.*
Impatient to form a distinct idea of this ancient city, and to prepare for my morning's observations, I sauntered forth, partly leaving my course to chance. In entering Pavia, I had observed a ruined, although modern gate, situated close to a castle of great extent, with four vast brick towers, once guarding the ramparts. I had marked the solitude and melancholy aspect of the spot, and wishing to view it more nearly, proceeded now, in the decline of day, through the dusky and dismal streets of the city, in pursuit of this object. It was growing dark, the shops were shut, no light appeared in any quarter, nor was any footstep heard save that of the sentinel. I perceived that I had missed my way to the old castle, but I found myself opposite to a structure, which (at least when seen in this dim light) seemed
*In the anatomical school of Pavia I remarked a singular circumstance, and one which very much excited my attention: I saw four or five skulls belonging to that unfortunate race of beings denominated Cretins, the idiots of the Savoyard mountains. On examination of these skulls, I found them to be wonderfully thick, and all of them depressed at the great occipital hole, as if the head, being too heavy, had pressed too hard upon the alba; the skulls are, at the same time, extremely large, and the whole head and bone have this most unusual thickness. On careful inquiry, I found that these symptoms constantly prevailed, never failing to appear the same in every particular. In so much, therefore, as regards the Cretins being idiots, the cause is explained, although I have never, upon any occasion, heard of this circumstance being noticed.—Note by the Author.
worthy of examination. The effect presented was that of the entrance into a deep cave; on proceeding a few steps, however, into the interior, I perceived, from the rushing sound of water underneath, that I was traversing a covered bridgeway, the canopy overhead being supported by low pillars, placed at distant intervals. Through these arches I paused to view a prospect in itself most striking, but rendered still more so from the obscurity of the spot on which I stood. Several vessels lay in deep shade, dark and gloomy below; the moon was just risen, so as to throw a soft tempered light over the landscape, yet leaving the heavens and the milky way in all their starry splendour; not a breath was stirring, the heat was intense, and from time to time the forked lightning coursed along the horizon, passing from one light cloud to another, without approaching the earth; while in its short transit the electric fluid for a moment dimmed the stars, leaving them again glowing and bright. The broad river, pure and lucid as a mirror, lay stretched out as far as the eye could reach, and the rush of its deep waters added to the grandeur and solitude of a scene, the beauty of which I shall never forget This bridge, styled the bridge of Pavia, serves as a public walk, and is roofed over, to protect the passenger from the midday sun. It was erected in the fourteenth century, to connect the city with the suburbs on the opposite side. It is constructed partly of marble, but chiefly of brick; and is long, straggling, and most inelegant. But the Ticino, which it crosses, is truly grand, rapid as the Rhone, and green as the sea, with beautiful banks, and interspersed with little islands.
The general aspect of Pavia is desolate and mean; but some of its public edifices are well deserving of notice. TheBorromeanCollege, founded by St Charles Borromeo, is a superb institution. It is situated on an acclivity, the front rising conspicuous above a mass of wretched brick buildings. The entrance is by a gate, through which you pass into a court of about 150 feet square, encircled with arches supported by pillars, and on a second set of arches and pillars rising above these, the gallery is built. The refectories and dormitories occupy the ground floor, while the great hall of the college is on the second. This apartment, which is 80 feet in length, with a well-proportioned width, and 20 feet in height, is particularly distinguished by a ceiling of fine architecture, adorned with beautiful emblematical paintings in fresco. The figures of Zeal, Labour, Silence, Prayer, Religion, Piety, and Perseverance, are finely conceived, and the tone of colouring deep, rich, and effective. They are the work of Cesare Nebia, and are said to be all that remains of his paintings; which, from the beauty of these specimens, is to be regretted. In one of the squares of the roof, the birth of St Charles Borromeo is represented, and in another, the same saint carrying the holy nail on occasion of the great plague at Milan. This last painting, in particular, is very fine. The long-drawn procession of priests, penitents, halbert-bearers, &c. forms the centre of the back-ground, while the pale, the sickly, the dead, and dying, occupy the front, presenting a touching and mournful picture of suffering and death. Both of these pieces are by Lucchese. But in my review of this apartment, perhaps my most plea-sing sensations arose from the contemplation of the beautiful prospect presented from its noble windows. The distant view is bounded by the green hills of Savoy, while the eye rests with inconceivable delight on the cool refreshing aspect of the waters of the Ticino, which almost wash the walls of the College, and are seen spread below, and coursing through the richly-wooded grounds which cover the banks of the river.
From this I proceeded to take a view of the Papal College, founded by Pope Pius the Fifth, a structure of much grandeur. The court is spacious, and the arcades, supported in the usual style by columns, are wide and lofty. In the centre of this court stands a colossal statue of the founder, in bronze, a work of considerable merit. The posture and action of the Pontiff, who is represented with his hand raised in the act of blessing the establishment he has founded for high and holy purposes, is most dignified. I have always thought the sacerdotal habit, when finely treated, peculiarly propitious to grandeur of effect. The toga of the Roman Lawgiver is too spare to be graceful; the round form that marks the costume of the Roman General is too formal, cutting the figure across at the knee; while the cap, the crozier, the square sandal, the flowing robe, and the rich and belted fringe of the scarf, or scapula, offer materials for the finest composition.
At the left hand, in the entrance of the great stair-case, there is another statue of the founder. This is in marble, and the Pontiff is here seated, and still expanding his right hand, as in the act of benediction. The figure is fine, and the accompaniments beautifully executed. The cushion on which the feet rest is well ex-pressed, and the base of the pedestal, surrounded by cherubs' heads, produces a singular and rich effect. But the beauty of this fine statue is greatly injured, if not totally destroyed, by the very unfavourable situation in which it is displayed.