Through The Tyrol
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
I left this most pleasing of the Italian cities (Venice), and took the road for the Tyrol. We passed through a level fertile country, formerly the territory of Venice, watered by the Piave, which ran blood in one of Bonaparte's battles. At evening we arrived at Ceneda, where our Italian poet Da Ponte was born, situated just at the base of the Alps, the rocky peaks and irregular spires of which, beautifully green with the showery sea-son, rose in the background. Ceneda seems to have something of German cleanliness about it, and the floors of a very comfortable inn at which we stopt were of wood, the first we had seen in Italy, tho common throughout Tyrol and the rest of Germany. A troop of barelegged boys, just broke loose from school, whooping and swinging their books and slates in the air, passed under my window.
On leaving Ceneda, we entered a pass in the mountains, the gorge of which was occupied by the ancient town of Serravalle, resting on arcades, the architecture of which denoted that it was built during the Middle Ages. Near it I remarked an old castle, which formerly commanded the pass, one of the finest ruins of the kind I had ever seen. It had a considerable extent of battlemented wall in perfect preservation, and both that and its circular tower were so luxuriantly loaded with ivy that they seemed almost to have been cut out of the living verdure. As we proceeded we became aware how worthy this region was to be the birth-place of a poet.
A rapid stream, a branch of the Piave, tinged of a light and somewhat turbid blue by the soil of the mountains, came tumbling and roaring down the narrow valley; perpendicular precipices rose on each side; and beyond, the gigantic brotherhood of the Alps, in two long files of steep pointed summits, divided by deep ravines, stretched away in the sunshine to the northeast. In the face of one of the precipices by the way-side, a marble slab is fixt, informing the traveler that the road was opened by the late Emperor of Germany in the year of 1830. We followed this romantic valley for a considerable distance, passing several little blue lakes lying in their granite basins, one of which is called the "Lago Morto" or Dead Lake, from having no outlet for its waters.
At length we began to ascend, by a winding road, the steep sides of the Alps—the prospect enlarging as we went, the mountain summits rising to sight around us, one behind another, some of them white with snow, over which the wind blew with a wintry keenness—deep valleys opening below us, and gulfs yawning between rocks over which old bridges were thrown—and solemn fir forests clothing the broad declivities. The farm-houses placed en these heights, instead of being of brick or stone, as in the plains and valleys below, were wind--Dally built of wood; the second story, which served or a barn, being encircled by a long gallery, and covered with a projecting roof of plank held down with large stones.
We stopt at Venas, a wretched place with a wretched inn, the hostess of which showed us a chin swollen with the goitre, and ushered us into dirty comfortless rooms where we passed the night. When we awoke the rain was beating against the windows, and, on looking out, the forest and sides of the neighboring mountains, at a little height above us, appeared hoary with snow. We set out in the rain, but had not proceeded far before we heard the sleet striking against the windows of the carriage, and soon came to where the snow covered the ground to the depth of one or two inches.
Continuing to ascend, we passed out of Italy and entered the Tyrol. The storm had ceased before we went through the first Tyrolese village, and we could not help being struck with the change in the appearance of the inhabitants—the different costume, the less erect figures, the awkward gait, the lighter complexions, the neatly kept habitations, and the absence of beggars. As we advanced, the clouds began to roll off from the landscape, disclosing here and there, through openings in their broad skirts as they swept along, glimpses of the profound valleys below us, and of the white sides and summits of mountains in the mid-sky above. At length the sun appeared, and revealed a prospect of such wildness, grandeur, and splendor as I have never before seen.
Lofty peaks of the most fantastic shapes, with deep clefts between, sharp needles of rock, and overhanging crags, infinite in multitude, shot up everywhere around us, glistening in the new-fallen snow, with thin wreaths of mist creeping along their sides. At intervals, swollen torrents, looking at a distance like long trains of foam, came thundering down the mountains, and crossing the road, plunged into the verdant valleys which winded beneath. Beside the highway were fields of young grain, prest to the ground with the snow; and in the meadows, ranunculuses of the size of roses, large yellow violets, and a thousand other Alpine flowers of the most brilliant hues, were peeping through their white covering.
We stopt to breakfast at a place called Landro, a solitary inn, in the midst of this grand scenery, with a little chapel beside it. The water from the dissolving snow was dropping merrily from the roof in a bright June sun. We needed not to be told that we were in Germany, for we saw it plainly enough in the nicely-washed floor of the apartment into which we were shown, in the neat cupboard with the old prayer-book lying upon it, and in the general appearance of housewifery; to say nothing of the evidence we had in the beer and tobacco-smoke of the travelers' room, and the guttural dialect and quiet tones of the guests.
From Landro we descended gradually into the beautiful valleys of the Tyrol, leaving the snow behind, tho the white peaks of the mountains were continually in sight. At Bruneck, in an inn resplendent with neatness—we had the first specimen of a German bed. It is narrow and short, and made so high at the head, by a number of huge square bolsters and pillows, that you rather sit than lie. The principal covering is a bag of down, very properly denominated the upper bed, and between this and the feather-bed below, the traveler is expected to pass a night. An asthmatic patient on a cold winter night might perhaps find such a couch tolerably comfortable, if he could prevent the narrow covering from slip-ping off on one side or the other.
The next day we were afforded an opportunity of observing more closely the inhabitants of this singular region, by a festival, or holiday of some sort, which brought them into the roads in great numbers, arrayed in their best dresses—the men in short jackets and smallclothes, with broad gay-colored suspenders over their waistcoats, and leathern belts ornamented with gold or silver leaf—the women in short petticoats composed of horizontal bands of different colors—and both sexes, for the most part, wearing broad-brimmed hats with hemispherical crowns, tho there was a sugar-loaf variety much affected by the men, adorned with a band of lace and sometimes a knot of flowers. They are a robust, healthy-looking race, tho they have an awkward stoop in the shoulders. But what struck me most forcibly was the devotional habits of the people.
The Tyrolese might be cited as an illustration of the remark, that mountaineers are more habitually and profoundly religious than others. Per-sons of all sexes, young and old, whom we meet in the road, were repeating their prayers audibly. We passed a troop of old women, all in broad brimmed hats and short gray petticoats, carrying long staves, one of whom held a bead-roll and gave out the prayers, to which the others made the responses in chorus. They looked at us so solemnly from under their broad brims, and marched along with so grave and deliberate a pace, that I could hardly help fancying that the wicked Austrians had caught a dozen elders of the respectable Society of Friends, and put them in petticoats to punish them for their heresy. We afterward saw per-sons going to the labors of the day, or returning, telling their rosaries and saying their prayers as they went, as if their devotions had been their favorite amusement.
At regular intervals of about half a mile, we saw wooden crucifixes erected by the way-side, covered from the weather with little sheds, bearing the image of the Savior, crowned with thorns and frightfully dashed with streaks and drops of red paint, to represent the blood that flowed from his wounds. The outer walls of the better kind of houses were ornamented with paintings in fresco, and the subjects of these were mostly sacred, such as the Virgin and Child, the Crucifixion, and the Ascension. The number of houses of worship was surprising; I do not mean spacious or stately churches such as we meet with in Italy, but most commonly little chapels dispersed so as best to accommodate the population. Of these the smallest neighborhood has one for the morning devotions of its inhabitants, and even the solitary inn has its little consecrated building with its miniature spire, for the convenience of pious wayfarers.
At Sterzing, a little village beautifully situated at the base of the mountain called the Brenner, and containing, as I should judge, not more than two or three thousand inhabitants, we counted seven churches and chapels within the compass of a square mile. The observances of the Roman Catholic church are nowhere more rigidly complied with than in the Tyrol. When we stopt at Bruneck on Friday evening, I happened to drop a word about a little meat for dinner in a conversation with the spruce-looking landlady, who appeared so shocked that I gave up the point, on the promise of some excellent and remarkably well-flavored trout from the stream that flowed through the village--a promise that was literally fulfilled. . .
We descended the Brainier on the 28th of June in a snow-storm, the wind whirling the light flakes in the air as it does with us in winter. It changed to rain, however, as we approached the beautiful and picturesque valley watered by the river Inn, on the banks of which stands the fine old town of Innsbruck, the capital of the Tyrol. Here we visited the Church of the Holy Cross, in which is the bronze tomb of Maxmilian I. and twenty or thirty bronze statues ranged on each side of the nave, representing fierce warrior-chiefs, and gowned prelates, and stately damsels of the middle ages. These are all curious for the costume; the warriors are cased in various kinds of ancient armor, and brandish various ancient weapons, and the robes of the females are flowing and by no means ungraceful. Almost every one of the statues has its hands and fingers in some constrained and awkward position; as if the artist knew as little what to do with them as some awkward and bashful people know what to do with their own. Such a crowd of figures in that ancient garb, occupying the floor in the midst of the living worshipers of the present day, has an effect which at first is startling.
From Innsbruck we climbed and crossed another mountain-ridge, scarcely less wild and majestic in its scenery than those we had left behind. On descending, we observed that the crucifixes had disappeared from the roads, and the broad-brimmed and sugar-loaf hats from the heads of the peasantry; the men wore hats contracted in the middle of the crown like an hour-glass, and the women caps edged with a broad band of black fur, the frescoes on the outside of the houses became less frequent; in short it was apparent that we had entered a different region, even if the customhouse and police officers on the frontier had not signified to us that we were now in the kingdom of Bavaria. We passed through extensive forests of fir, here and there checkered with farms, and finally came to the broad elevated plain bathed by the Isar, in which Munich is situated.