Winter Travelling Among The Apennines
( Originally Published 1889 )
Valley of the Arno, Dee. 22.-It is a glorious morning after our two days' walk, through rain and mud, among these stormy Apennines. The range of high peaks, among which is the celebrated monastery of Camaldoli, lie just before us, their summits dazzling with the new fallen. snow. The clouds are breaking away, and a " few rosy flushes announce the approach of the sun. It has rained during the night, and the fields are as green and fresh as on a morning in spring.
We left Florence on the 20th, while citizens and strangers were vainly striving to catch a glimpse of the Emperor of Russia. He is, from some cause, very shy of being seen, in his journeys from place to place, using the greatest art and diligence to prevent the time of his departure and arrival from being known. On taking leave of Powers, I found him expecting the Autocrat, as he had signified his intention of visiting his studio ; it was a cause of patriotic pride to find that crowned heads know and appreciate the genius of our sculptor. The sky did not promise much, as we set out ; when we had entered the Apennines and taken a last look of the lovely valley behind us, and the great dome of the city where we had spent four delightful months, it began to rain heavily. Determined to conquer the weather at the beginning, we kept on, although before many miles were passed, it became too penetrating Lo be agreeable. The mountains grew nearly black under the shadow of the clouds, and the storms swept drearily down their passes and defiles, till the scenery looked more like the Hartz than Italy. We were obliged to stop at Ponte Sieve and dry our saturated garments : when, as the rain slackened somewhat, we rounded the foot of the mountain of Vallombrosa, above the swollen and noisy Arno, to the little village of Cucina.
We entered the only inn in the place, followed by a crowd of wondering boys, for two such travellers had probably never been seen there. They made a blazing fire for us in the broad chimney, and after the police of the place satisfied themselves that we were not dangerous characters, they asked many questions about our country. I excited the sympathy of the women greatly in our behalf by telling them we had three thousand miles of sea between us and our homes. They exclaimed in the most sympathising tones : "Poverini! so far to go !-three thousand miles of water!
The next morning we followed the right brink of the Arno. At Incisa, a large town oil the river, the narrow pass broadens into a largo and fertile plain, bordered on the north by the mountains the snow storms were sweeping around their summits the whole day, and I thought of the desolate situation of the good monks who had so hospitably entertained us three months before. It was weary travelling; but at Levane our fatigues were soon forgotten. Two or three peasants were sitting last night beside the blazing fire, and we were amused to hear them talking about us. I overheard one asking another to converse with us awhile. "Why should I speak to them?" said he; "they are not of our profession-we are swineherds, and they do not care to talk with us." However, his curiosity prevailed at last, and we had a long conversation together. It seemed difficult for them to comprehend how there could be so much water to cross, without any land, before reaching our country. Finding we were going to Rome, I overheard one remark we were pilgrims, which seemed to be the general supposition, as there are few foot-travellers in Italy. The people said to one another as we passed along the road
"They are making a journey of penance ! " These peasants expressed themselves very well for persons of their station, but they were remarkably ignorant of everything beyond their own olive orchards and vine fields.
Perugia, Dec..24.-On leaving Levane, the morning gave a°promise, and the sun winked at us once or twice-through the broken clouds, with a watery eye; but our cup was not. yet full. After crossing one or two shoulders of the range of hills, we descended to the great upland plain of Central Italy, watered by the sources of the Arno and the Tiber. The scenery is of a remark-able character. The hills appear to have been washed and swept by some mighty flood. They are worn into every shape-pyramids, castles, towers-standing desolate and brown, in long ranges, like the ruins of mountains. The plain is scarred with deep galleys, adding to the look of decay which accords so well with the Cyclopean relies of the country.
A storm of hail which rolled away before us, disclosed the city of Arezzo, on a hill at the other end of the plain, its heavy cathedral crowning the pyramidal mass of buildings. Our first care was to find a good trattoria, for hunger spoke louder than sentiment, and then we sought the house where Petrarch was born. A young priest showed it to us on the summit of the hill. It has not been changed since he lived in it.
On leaving Florence, we determined to pursue the same plan as in Germany, of stopping at the inns frequented by the common people. They treated us here, as elsewhere, with great kindness and sympathy, and we were freed from the outrageous impositions practised at the greater hotels. They always built a large fire to dry us, after our day's walk in the rain, and placing chairs in the hearth, which was raised several. feet above the floor, stationed us there, like the giants Gog and Magog, while the children, assembled below, gazed up in open-mouthed wonder at our elevated greatness. They even invited us to share their simple meals with them, and it was amusing to hear their good-hearted exclamations of pity at finding we were so far from home. We slept in the great beds (for the most of the Italian beds are calculated for a man, wife, and four children!) without fear of being assassinated, and only met with banditti in dreams.
This is a very unfavorable time of the year for foot-tra elling. We were obliged to wait three. or four weeks in Florence for a remittance from America, which not only prevented our leaving as soon as was desirable, but, by the additional expense of living, left us much smaller means than we required. However, through the kindness of a generous countryman, who unhesitatingly loaned us a considerable sum, we were enabled to start with thirty dollars each, which, with care and economy, will be quite sufficient to take us to Paris, by way of Rome and Naples, if these storms do not prevent us from walking. Greece and the Orient, which I so ardently hoped to visit, are now out of the question. We walked till noon to-day, over the Val di Chiana to Camuscia, the last post-station in the Tuscan dominions. On a mountain near it is the city of Corton a, still enclosed within its Cyclopean walls, built long beforethe foundation of Rome. Here our patience gave way, melted down by the un-remitting rains, and while eating dinner we made a bargain for a vehicle to bring us to this city. We gave a little more than half of what the vetturino demanded, which was still an exorbitant price-two scudi each for a ride of thirty miles.
In a short time we were called to take our seats ; I beheld with consternation a rickety, uncovered , two-wheeled vehicle, to which a single lean horse was attached. " What !" said I ; " is that the carriage you promised ?" You bargained for a calesino," said he, "and there it is!" adding, moreover, that there was nothing else in the place. So we clambered up, thrust our feet among the hay, and the machine rolled off with a kind of saw-mill motion, at the rate of five miles an hour.
Soon after, in ascending the mountain of the Spelunca, a sheet of blue water was revealed below us-the lake of Thrasymene ! From the eminence around which we drove, we looked on the whole of its broad surface and the mountains which encompass it. It is a magnificent sheet of water, in size and shape somewhat like New York Bay, but the heights around it are far higher than the hills of Jersey or Staten Island. Three beautiful islands lie in it, near the eastern shore.
While our calesino was stopped at. the papal custom-house, I gazed on the memrable field below us. A crescent plain, between the mountain and the lake, was the arena where two mighty empires met in combat. The place seems marked by nature for the scene of some great event. I experienced a thrilling emotion, such as no battle plain has excited, since, when a school-boy, I rambled over the field of Brandywine. I looked through the long arcades of patriarchal olives, and tried to cover the field with the shadows of the Roman and Carthaginian myriads. I recalled the shock of meeting legions, the clash of swords and bucklers, and the waving standards amid the dust of battle; while stood on the mountain amphitheatre, trembling and invisible, the protecting deities of Rome.
" Far other scene is Thrasymene now!"
We rode over the plain, passed through the dark old town of Passignano, built on a rocky point by the lake, and dashed along the shore. A dark, stormy sky bent over us, and the roused waves broke in foam on the rocks. The winds whistled among the bare oak boughs, and shook the olives till they twinkled all over. The vetturino whipped our old horse into a gallop, and we were borne on in unison with the scene, which would have answered for one of Hoffman's wild-est stories.
Ascending a long hill, we took a last look in the dusk at Thrasymene, and continued our journey among the Apennines. The vetturino was to have changed horses at Magione, thirteen miles from Perugia, but there were none to be had and our poor beast was obliged to perform the whole journey without rest or food. It grew very dark, and a storm, with thunder and lightning, swept among the hills. The clouds were of pitchy darkness, and we could see nothing beyond the road, except the lights of peasant-cottages trembling through the gloom. Now and then a flash of lightning revealed the black masses of the mountains, on which the solid sky seemed to rest. The wind and cold rain swept wailing past us, as if an evil spirit were abroad on the darkness. Three hours of such nocturnal travel brought us here, wet and chilly, as well as our driver, but I pitied the poor horse more than him.
When we looked out the window, on awaking, the clustered house-tops of the city, and the summits of the mountains near were covered with snow. But on walking to the battlements w saw that the valleys below were green and un-touched. Perugia, for its " pride of place," must endure the storms, while the humbler villages below escape them. As the rain continues, we have taken seats in a country diligence for Foligno and shall depart in a few minutes.
Dec. 28.-We left Perugia in a close but covered vehicle, and descending the mountain, crossed the muddy and rapid Tiber in the valley below. All day we rode slowly among the hills; where the ascent was steep, two or four large oxen were hitched before the horses. I saw little of the scenery, for our. Italian companions would not bear the windows open. Once, when we stopped, I got out and found we were in the region of snow, at the foot of a stormy peak, which towered sublimely above. At dusk, we entered Foligno, and were driven to the "Croce Bianca "-glad to be thirty miles further on our way to Rome.
After some discussion with a vetturino, who was to leave next morning, we made a contract with him for the remainder of the journey, for the rain, which fell in torrents, forbade all thought of pedestrianism. At five o'clock we rattled out of the gate, and drove by the waning moon and morning starlight, down the vale of the Clitumnus As the dawn stole on, I watched eagerly the features of the scene. In-stead of a narrow glen, as my fancy had pictured, we were in a valley several miles broad, covered with rich orchards and fertile fields. A glorious range of mountains bordered it on the north, looking like Alps in their winter garments. A rosy flush stole over the snow, which kindled with the growing morn, till they shone like clouds that float in the sunrise. The Clitumnus, beside us, was the purest of streams. The heavy rains which had fallen, had not soiled in the least its limpid crystal.
When it grew light enough, I looked at our companions for the three days' journey. The two other inside seats were occupied by a tradesman of Trieste, with his wife and child; an old soldier, and a young dragoon going to visit his parents after seven years' absence, occupied the front part. Persons travelling together in a carriage are not long in becoming acquainted-close companionship soon breeds familiarity. Before night, I had made a fast friend of the young soldier, learned to bear the perverse humor of the child with as much patience as its father, and even drawn looks of grim kindness from the crusty old vetturino.
Our mid-day resting place was Spoleto. As there were two hours given us, wetook a ramble through the city, visited the ruins of its Roman theatre . and saw the gate erected to commemorate the victory gained here over Hannibal, which stopped his triumphal march towards Rome. A great part of the afternoon was spent in ascending among the defiles of Monte Somma, the highest pass on the road between Ancona and Rome. Assisted by two yoke of oxen we slowly toiled up through the snow, the mountains on both sides covered with thickets of box and evergreen oaks, among whose leafy screens the banditti hide themselves. It is not considered I dangerous at present, but as the dragoons who used' to patrol this pass have been sent off to Bologna, to keep down the rebellion, the rob-bers will probably return to their old haunts again. We saw many suspicious looking coverts, where they might have hidden.
We slept at Terni and did not see the falls-not exactly on Wordsworth's principle of leaving Yarrow "unvisited," but because under the" circumstances, it was impossible. The vetturino did not arrive there till after dark; he was to leave before dawn ; the distance was five miles, and the roads very bad. Besides, we had seen falls quite as grand, which needed only a Byron to make them as renowned-we had been told that those of Tivoli, which we shall see, were equally fine. The Velino, which we crossed near Terni, was not a large stream-in short, we hunted as many reasons as we could find, why the falls need not be seen.
Leaving Terni before day, we drove up the long vale towards Narni. The roads were frozen hard ; the ascent becoming more difficult, the vetturino was obliged to stop at a farm-house and get another pair of horses, with which, and a handsome young contadino as, postillion, we reached Narni in a short time. In climbing the hill, we had a view of the whole valley of Terni, shut in on all sides by snow-crested Apennines, and threaded by the Nar, whose waters flow " with many windings, through the vale!"
At Otricoli, while dinner was preparing, I walked around the crumbling battlements to look down into the valley and trace the far windings of the Tiber. In rambling through the crooked streets, we saw everywhere the remains of the splendor which this place boasted in the days of Rome. Fragments of fluted pillars stood here and there in the streets ; large blocks of marble covered with sculpture and inscriptions were built into the houses, defaced statues used as door-ornaments, and the stepping-stone to our rude inn, worn every day by the feet of grooms and vetturini, contained some letters of an inscription which may have recorded the glory of an emperor.
Travelling with a vetturino, is unquestionably the pleasantest way of seeing Italy. The easy rate of the journey allows time for becoming well acquainted with the country, and the tourist is freed from the annoyance of quarrel-ling with cheating landlords. A translation of Our written contract, will best explain this mode of travelling:
"CARRIAGE FOR ROME.
"Our contract is, to be conducted to Rome for the sum of twenty francs each, say 20f, and the buona mano, if we are well served. We must have from the vetturino, Giuseppe Ner piti, supper each night, a free chamber with two beds, and fire, until we shall arrive at Rome.
"I, Geronymo Sartarelli, steward of the Inn of the White Cross, at Foligno, in testimony of the above contract."
Beyond Otricoli, we passed through soma relics of an age anterior to Rome. A few soiled masses of masonry, black with age, stood along the brow of the mountain, on whose extremity were the ruins of a castle of the middle ages. We crossed the Tiber on a bridge built by Augustus Caesar, and reached Borghetto as the sun was gilding with its last rays the ruined citadel above. As the carriage with its four horses was toiling slowly up the hill, we got out and walked before, to gaze on the green meadows of the Tiber.
On descending from Narni, I noticed a high, prominent mountain, whose ridgy back, some-what like the profile of a face, reminded me of the Traunstein, in Upper Austria. As we approached, its form gradually changed, until it stood on the Campagna
" Like a long-swept wave about to break,
and by that token of a great bard, I recognized Monte Soracte. The dragoon took us by the arms, and away we scampered over the Campagna, with one of the loveliest sunsets before us, that ever painted itself on my retina. I cannot portray in words the glory that flooded the whole western heaven. It was like a sea of melted ruby, amethyst and topaz-deep, dazzling and of crystal transparency. The color changed in tone every few minutes, till in half' an hour it sank away before the twilight to a belt of deep orange along the west.
We left Civita Castellana before daylight. The sky was red with dawn as we approached Nepi, and we got out to walk, in the clear, frosty air. A magnificent Roman aqueduct, part of it a double row of arches, still supplies the town with water. There is a deep ravine, appearing as if rent in the ground by some convulsion, on the eastern side of the city. A clear stream that steals through the arches of the aqueduct, falls in a cascade of sixty feet down into the chasm, sending up constant wreaths of spray through theevergreen foliage that clothes the rocks. - In walking over the desolate Campagna, we saw many deep chambers dug in the earth, used by the charcoal. burners ; the air was filied with sulphureous exhalations, very offensive to the smell, which rose from the ground in many places.
Miles and miles of the dreary waste, covered only with flocks of grazing sheep, were passed, -and about noon we reached Baccano, a small post station, twenty miles from Rome. A long hill rose before us, and we sprang out of the carriage and ran ahead, to see Rome from its summit. As we approached the top, the Campagna spread far before and around us, level and blue as an ocean. I climbed up a high bank by the roadside, and the whole scene came in view. Perhaps eighteen miles distant rose the dome of St. Peter's, near the horizon-a small spot on the vast plain. Beyond it and further east, were the mountains of Albano-on our left Soracte and the Apennines, and a blue line along the west betrayed the Mediterranean. There was nothing peculiarly beautiful or sub-lime in the landscape, but few other scenes on earth combine in one glance such a myriad of mighty associations, or bewilder the mind with such a crowd of confused emotions.
As we approached Rome, the dragoon, with whom we had been walking all day, became anxious and impatient. He had not heard from his parents for a long time, and knew 'not if they were living. His desire to be at the end of his journey finally became so great, that he, hailed a peasant who was driving by in a light vehicle, left our slow carriage and went out of sight in a gallop.
As we descended to the Tiber in the dusk of evening, the domes and spires of Rome came gradually into view, St. Peter's standing like a mountain in the midst of them. Crossing the yellow river by the Ponte Molle, two miles of road, straight as an arrow, lay before us, with the light of the Porta del Popolo at the end. I felt strangely excited as the old vehicle rumbled through the arch, and we entered a square with fountains and an obelisk of Egyptian granite in the centre. Delivering up our passports, we waited until the necessary examinations were made, and then went forward. Three streets branch out from the square, the middle one of which, leading directly to the Capitol, is the Corso, the Roman Broadway. Our vetturino chose that to tha left, the Via della Scrofa, leading off toward the bridge of St. Angelo. I looked out the windows as we drove along, but saw nothing except butcher-shops, grocer-stores, etc.-horrible objects for a sentimental traveller !
Being emptied out on the pavement at last, our first care was to find rooms; after searching through many streets, with a coarse old Italian who spoke like an angel, we arrived at a square where the music of a fountain was heard through the dusk and an obelisk cut out some of the starlight. At the other end I saw a portico through the darkness, and my heart gave a breathless bound on recognizing the Pantheon-the match-less temple of Ancient Rome! And now while I am writing, I hear the gush of the fountain-and if I step to the window, I see the time-worn but still glorious edifice.
On returning for our baggage, we met the funeral procession of the Princess Altieri. Priest s in white and gold carried flaming torches. and the coffin, covered with a magnificent golden pall, was borne in a splendid hearse, guarded by four priests. As we were settling our account with the vetturino, who demanded much more buona mano than we were willing to give, the young dragoon returned. He was greatly agitated. "I have been at home!" said he, in a voice trembling with emotion. I was about to ask him farther concerning his family, but he kissed and embraced us warmly and hurriedly, saying he had only come to say "addio !" and to leave us. I stop writing to ramble through Rome. This city of all cities to me this dream of my boyhood-giant, god-like, fallen Rome-is around me, and I revel in a glow of anticipation and exciting thought that seems to change my whole state of being.