Amalfi, from the cloister of the Capuchin Convent
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
What a sublime and soul-stirring scene ! Well might the poet, Longfellow, exclaim, " I beheld the scene and stood as one amazed!" This quaint and striking town seems to belong to a company of eagles rather than to men. Situated upon a rocky eminence at the entrance of a wild ravine, in the midst of grand and impressive scenery, with a bald and picturesque background of rugged and lofty precipices, where can you find its equal? Amalfi is said to have been founded by emigrants from Melfi, and hence its name. We find mention of this place in the sixth century, when it was under the protection of the Eastern Roman Emperors. It afterwards became independent with a " doge " of its own ; and, for a time, the little republic was acknowledged to be the first naval power in the world. It was always a war-like power, and engaged in fierce and frequent struggles with its neighbors - Salerno and Naples. In the beginning of the ninth century it was plundered by the Prince of Salerno, who carried off its inhabitants into exile, from which they returned after four years. At the end of the ninth century it was a walled town, and received the title of Defender of the Faith for its wars against the Saracens. Once fifty thousand in-habitants were housed in this place, a dwelling being built on every conceivable spot. The Emperor Constantine established a court here for the regulation of all naval and marine matters, called the Tavole Amalfitane, and its decisions were recognized for centuries as the maritime law of all Europe. It was the Athens of the Middle Ages for a time, and boasts of being the birthplace of Flavio Gioja, who is said to have in-vented the compass here in 1302.
The population now is only seven thousand five hundred, most of whom are extremely poor, and begging is resorted to by a majority of the inhabitants. In the town are paper, soap and macaroni factories ; and lemons, figs, olives and grapes, as well as oil and wine, are produced. Only man is vile in this earthly paradise. Hundreds sit idle all day long in the streets and on the beach. If you give them anything you are lost, for the rest of your stay will be a terrible dream, or at best a tantalizing reality. Whatever prosperity the little town has it owes to a madly rushing mountain stream, called the Cannato, which supplies the power for its factories.
The shore line, you perceive, is a series of pictures which comes to a climax in that group of houses nestling on the rocky promontory beyond. There you see a lighthouse on the roof of the town hall, and above that, the roof and part of the walls of the little church of San Salvatore Bireta, where the doges of Amalfi were elected and where they were buried - the Westminster Abbey of the Riviera. That church has quaint bronze doors made at Constantinople in 1087, and presented in the same year by the family of Pantaleone, who resided there.
The town has three narrow streets with strange oriental looking archways, built along the side of the cliff one above another. That Hotel Italia, perched high among the rocks, looks as if it might slide off and tumble into the sea at any time, but the Hotel Capuchin, in which we are standing, is even in a more precarious position, situated in the hollow of a rock which rises abruptly from the sea to a height of two hundred and thirty feet.
If you cast your eyes upon that lowest street that skirts the beach you will see an archway beneath which the road seems to lose itself. Now direct your gaze to the second street above this archway, which, like the other, disappears beneath an archway ; but continue your glance along the line of this street and over the archway and you will see the low tower of the cathedral, which faces a little piazza of the town - the Cathedrale Sant' Andrea, half Saracenic and half Romanesque in its construction. That cathedral also has bronze doors from Constantinople which were given by the Pantaleone family, who presented similar doors to different churches of southern Italy. The body of St. Andrea is said to have been brought here from Constantinople in the thirteenth century and buried in the church, and the tomb is adorned by a colossal statue of the saint. Taking into consideration the unparalleled history of the city, the antiquity of many of these structures and their bold elevation, together with the thrilling mystery and scenery of this strange place, there is nothing in the world to be compared with it. Again and again as we look out over this aerial town and the " blue Salernian Bay " beyond, we repeat Longfellow's words, " I beheld the scene and stood as one amazed."
"Now to him who sails Under the shore, a few white villages - Scattered above, below, some in the clouds, Some on the margin of the dark-blue sea,
And glittering through their lemon-groves,- announce The region of Amalfi. Then, half-fallen, A lonely watch-tower on the precipice,-Their ancient landmark-comes. Long may it last!"
By looking toward the top of the cliff on our left we see the ivy-covered gallery, clinging to the side of the cliff, from which we had our first view in Amalfi and saw this hotel. This gives us a better idea of the extent of the promenade connected with the hotel than could be had from our first position. Certainly the problem of how to economize space to the best possible advantage has been solved here in Amalfi, where not a square foot 'neath earth and heaven is allowed to go to waste.
We bid farewell to southern Italy, with its wealth of history, its opulence of scenery and its burden of poverty, and turn with hearts eager and expectant to the famous and beautiful cities that lie to the north of this fair land. There are two Italys, as surely as there are two Irelands, and they are different in almost everything but religion. One is progressive, the other indolent ; one is intelligent, the other ignorant; one is well poised and characterized by self-restraint ; the other is hot-headed and impulsive ; and yet both are brilliant and artistic in their temperament.
A rich merchant of the north of Italy remarked, " Napoleon was right: a kingdom for upper Italy and a kingdom for lower Italy ; they are two territories ; they cannot have the same institutions." A most eminent Italian statesman said, " We have a long country.
The head and tail cannot touch ; or, if they are forced to it, the head will bite the tail." One of the greatest hindrances to a united Italy is the prevalence of separate and distinct dialects in different parts of the country ; so that a man speaking the Neapolitan dialect cannot be understood by a man speaking the Milanese, and the Roman dialect is not intelligible to a man acquainted only with the Venetian. The literary language of the country is spoken only by cultured people, and, in a general way, can be understood by all Italians, while a dialect is unintelligible except to those who are familiar with it. No wonder Signor Crispi urged the establishment of an academy of dialects at Rome, for the persistence of dialects breeds sectional spirit and independence. " Until we have practically one language spoken by our people, we can never have a truly united Italy," said the premier. Of these two Italys we have visited many typical places in the one, and it yet remains for us to view the other.
Reference to our general map of Italy shows that our route takes us first to Genoa, fully five hundred miles to the northwest. On the special map of Genoa we find that we are to stand on the western side of the harbor and look to the east, over the main part of the city.