Edward Lear.

Journals of a landscape painter in southern Calabria, &c online

. (page 11 of 14)
Online LibraryEdward LearJournals of a landscape painter in southern Calabria, &c → online text (page 11 of 14)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

troops will certainly march hither, and, in any
case, steamers will come, and this wretched
town will assuredly be bombarded into anni-


hilation or repentance. On the other hand,
Messina will as surely undergo the same fate,
and the more probably, inasmuch as it is of

more importance. Nevertheless, as P is

detained there, and I cannot ascertain what
extent of fighting therein prevails (owing to no
boats having put off from the Messinese shore),
it appears to me better to go over to him if

So, by hard work, I persuade some very
reluctant boatmen to take me : and I quit the
Da Nava family with regret, for a cloud of
uncertainty seems to hang over all Southern
Italy, and the foreshading gloom of it has
earliest reached this remotest place.

After intolerable waiting for five hours with
a boat-load of depressed and anxious natives,
we were towed by oxen as far as Villa San
Giovanni, and thence (the sea was rough and
the wind contrary) came over to a point about
a mile from Messina, where we landed out of
reach of the guns of the fort. Here I was glad
at JVobile's Hotel to rejoin P , whose sus-
pense had been equal to mine. The revolt at


Messina has occasioned the death of fourteen
or fifteen men ; but the Government has firm
hold of the citadel. Distress and anxiety,
stagnation and terror, have taken the place of
activity, prosperity, security, and peace. A
steamer comes from Malta to-morrow, and I
resolve to return to Naples thereby ; for to
resume travelling under the present circum-
stances of Calabria would be absurd probably

September 4. Two war-steamers are at
Keggio, and firing is heard, though the details
of action are of course unknown to us. The
poor town is undergoing evil I fear, nor will it
be wonderful that it does so ; for that 400 or
500 men should seize and hope to hold perma-
nently a distant part of a large kingdom, unless
assisted by a general rising, appears to be the
extreme of folly, and can only, whatever the
cause of complaint, meet with ultimate ill-
success and probably with severe chastisement.

No steamer comes, and we remain at


September 5. The steamer arrives from

Malta, P and I go on board, and at six

in the evening we sail. Soon the sparkling line
of Reggio ceases to glitter on the purple waters ;
soon we pass the Faro ; and the Rock of Scilla,
the headland of Nic6tera, and the long point of
Palmi recede into faint distance.

I leave the shores of Calabria with a grating
feeling I cannot describe. The uncertainty of
the fate of many kind and agreeable families
Da Nava, Scaglione, Marzano, &c. it is not
pleasant to reflect on. Gloom, gloom, over-
shadows the memory of a tour so agreeably
begun, and which should have extended yet
through two provinces. The bright morning
route of the traveller overcast with cloud and
storm before mid-day.












Return to Calabria not advisable. A tour to Melfi and part of Apulia resolved
on. We set off to Avellino. Travelling with the eyes open. Beautiful
character of the country round Avellino. Convent of Monte Vergine
Vineyards and villas. Costume and appearance of the women. Ascent
of Monte Vergine. Historical notices of the convent. Extensive pros-
pect from the mountain. Arrangements for visiting Melfi, &c. We leave
Avellino. Highroads and caratelle. Uninteresting drive to the valley
of the Galore, and Grotta Minarda. Anticipations of Apulia. Attempt
to reach Frigento. A guide hired. We leave Grotta Minarda. Unpic-
turesque approach to the hill of Frigento. The lonely osteria. Don
Gennaro Fiammarossa and his hotel. We return to the lonely osteria,
and make the best of it. Wheat beds, with onion curtains. Departure
from Frigento. Barren and dreary scenery. The Lake of Mofette ;
its appearance and qualities. Dead birds. Rocca San Felice. Ascent
to St. Angelo de' Lombardi. No carriages nor carriage -roads. The old
man and his ass. We seize on a roast fowl, and make ourselves as
comfortable as circumstances permit.

September 1 1 . Days have passed ; and our
decision about not returning to Calabria is fixed.


All that part of Italy is at present in too
unsettled a state to admit of prosperous artistic

tours. But as P has yet nearly a month

before he is obliged to turn his steps northward,
we resolve to see parts of Basilica ta, &c. ; for to
various towns in that province I have some good
introductory letters from one of its greatest
landed proprietors, and there is much interest
in that part of the Kegno, particularly in the
country of Horace, and some of the Norman
castles of Apulia. We set off, therefore, by
railroad to Nocera, and thence take a caratella
(price two ducats) to Avellino, the chief town
of Principato Citeriore. The Sanctuary of
Monte Vergine, close to the city, is a monastery
I have long wished to see.

All the bustle, so characteristic of the environs
of Naples, diversifies our route ; but having
been up very late on the preceding night, we
both of us fall fast asleep before we reach
San Severino, and never once wake so much
for " travelling with one's eyes open " until
we are driving into Avellino.

To how few spots on the map of Italy can


one turn, and yet be disappointed in finding
beauty and interest ! Totally distinct in
character as is this part of the kingdom of
Naples from the stern scenery of Calabria, it
yet abounds with exquisite landscape : fertile
vineyards link tree to tree with rich leafy
festoons ; the hills clothed with olives, and
the higher mountains with chestnut woods ;
villas and villages dotted in glittering clusters
on every slope. Each part of this varied king-
dom has its distinct features ; and here cheerful
industry and abundance light up all around.

Avellino,* standing on the river Sabato, itself
forms part of several very noble views, and, in
all of them, the most remarkable feature is the
high mountain, Monte Vergine, which, thickly
wooded to its summit, rears its lofty form to
the west of the city. High among the clouds
you may see a white spot nearly at its highest
peak : that is the monastery of Monte Vergine.

* Avellino, the Abellinum of the Romans, is the chief town of
the province of Principato Citeriore, and is one of the districts into
which it is divided, the other two being Ariano, and Sant'
Angelo de' Lombardi. The town contains about 5000 inhabitants,
and is 28 miles from Naples.


Avellino possesses a tolerable inn. Here
be high-roads and rattling carriages, shouting
drivers, and crowded markets, and a dining-
room with a smart waiter. We are in Prin-
cipato Citeriore, and only a few miles from

September 12. A cloudy day ; and as the
ascent of the mountain is not a trifling matter,
we postpone it till to-morrow, when the weather
may permit a more distant view from the summit.
From hour to hour we wander in the shady lanes,
or among vineyards. They are all open, and
one is never weary of looking at the beautiful
outline of Avellino and Monte Vergine through
the framework of hanging vines. All this part
of the country has a lively appearance from
the costume of the peasantry, whose dresses
are mostly red, and peculiar in form. The
women arrange their hair beautifully, and are
almost universally good-looking, and the very
picture of health and neatness.

September 13. September is but an uncertain
month for these high mountain excursions;



yet, though the upper part of Monte Vergine
is covered with a dark curtain of cloud, we dare
the ascent. There is a carriage-road from the
city to the village of Spedaletto, situated at a
considerable height on the mountain, and
beyond this, the path to the monastery is for
more than three miles a very steep zig-zag, in
overcoming which you are indulged with a fine
view of Vesuvius rising from its velvet plain.
Noble groups of chestnut-trees clothe the lower
part of the mountain, and above their leafy
heads is the craggy summit of the hiU with the
picturesque convent, which combine to make
many a beautiful picture.

This celebrated sanctuary, built on the site
of a temple of Cybele, as several inscriptions
and remains attest, was founded about 1100,
A.D., and on account of its possessing a par-
ticularly miraculous image of the Virgin Mary
(not to speak of the bones of Shadrach,
Meshach, and Abednego !) its sanctity is great.
Great numbers of pilgrims* come hither from
the surrounding parts of the country ; and on

It is said that four hundred pilgrims died here in 1611-


the high festa days of the image there is
no doubt a goodly show of costume. But,
independent of the attractions held out by the
relics, &c., the Monastery of Monte Vergine has
little in itself which can be called interesting :
the great view it enjoys from its isolated and
elevated position constitutes (at least to a
landscape-painter), its chief charm. Moreover,
the cold was too severe at the summit of this
high mountain to tempt a lengthened stay ; so
we descended to Mercugliano, a large village at
the lower part of the hill, where stands a great
monastic establishment, connected with the
sanctuary, and which is the residence of its
abbot. The remainder of this day, and all the

September 14. - - Was passed in sketching
among the environs of Avellino, a place of
quiet walks and shady groves. How deep and
dark green were the tufts of chestnuts against

some one of them having profanely brought up some meat for
luncheon. The peasants say that eating meat near the sanctuary
will bring on a thunderstorm and hurricane at any time.


fmi'ni I . .- - ;.'f/i Burlington Street, August 1852.


the lilac hills afar off ! The evening went in
disputing with vetturini, and arranging to be
taken, as near as possible, to Melfi in Basilicata,
which is the main object of our journey, though
we wish to see the Mofette, or Sulphureous
Lake, if it can be easily reached. At length
we agree ; for two dollars we are to be taken as
far as Grotta Minarda, and thence pursue our
route as best we may.

September 15. After numberless irritations
from the lies and subterfuges of drivers for
the race of vetturini around Naples are odious
to deal with we finally set off at 10 A.M.

The road lies through cheerful places : gar-
dens, cottages, and numerous villages and
towns are always in sight ; but after leaving
Prata and Pratola on the left, and Montefuscolo
on a high hill beyond, the country grew more
and more uninteresting as we approached the
mid vertebral line of Italian mountains, here
more broken and less striking in appearance
than in any other part of the Kegno. A tedious
descent to the valley of the River Galore, with


some monotonous undulations followed, till we
reached Grotta Minarda, during our journey to
which the outline of the town of Ariano on the
east, and on the west that of Monte Vergine,
formed the principal, or rather the only, features
of a wide expanse of country. Picturesquely
speaking we were by no means pleased with this
part of his Neapolitan Majesty's dominions ;
but we trusted to find compensation for such
barrenness of interest, in Apulian plains, Nor-
man castles, and Horatian localities, by and by
to be visited. At a tavern below Grotta
Minarda we dismissed our vetturino, and dined
on the universal and useful Italian omelette and

But now came the difficulty. Where should
we go next ? and how should we get there ?
Melfi might be reached in two whole days ; but
as we wished to devote an hour or so to the
" Mofette," * if we could find it, Frigento
appeared to us as the most fitting place to sleep
at ; for although it did not seem clearly under-

* " Le Mofette " is the name by which the lake or pool of


stood whether the infernal basin was nearest to
Frigento or to Sant' Angelo de' Lombardi, yet
the latter place was too far off to be reached
before night. Had we been at Gioiosa in
Calabria, the Baron Kivettini might well have
said, " Perche! do you go to such a disagree-
able place as the Mofette? Perche!"

Much search and earnest persuasion pro-
duced a half-witted old man with a donkey
which might carry our small quantity of
luggage, and after long hesitation he agreed to
go with us to the Mofette, the way to which he
knew, though, he said, he should not tempt
Providence by going very near the spot. He
also held out indistinct views of accompanying
us all the way to Melfi if he were well paid.
The more enlightened inhabitants of Grotta
Minarda also said that we should have no diffi-
culty in finding a delightful home at Frigento
in the house of Don Gennaro Fiammarossa,
who they declared was the wealthiest and most

Amsanctus is known; identified by Antiquarians (see Craven,
Swinburne, &c.) with the description in Virgil, " Est locus, Italiae
medio, sub montibus altis," &c. Cramer.


hospitable of living men " E tutto denaro, e
tuttocuore: possiede Frigen to, possiede tutto."*
So we set off, resolving to confide our destinies
to the care of Don January Redflame, who is all
money and all heart, possessing Frigento in
particular, and everything else in general.

Frigento was immediately before our eyes,
standing on a very ugly clay hill, and although
the grandeur of shifting clouds, storm, and a
rainbow did their best to illumine and set off
the aspect of the land, yet we were obliged to
confess that our journey lay over a most wearily
monotonous country. Nor, on arriving at the
foot of the bare hill of Frigento, had we any
wish to make acquaintance with Don January
Redflame for the sake of his ^native place ; and
it was not until we had peeped into a very un-
satisfactory osteria at the high road-side, that
we reluctantly resolved to ascend the dismal
and ugly cone before us. At the miserable little
town of Frigento itself we made one more trial,
but the only taverna was so palpably disgusting,

* He is all money and all heart: he possesses Frigento he
possesses all things."


that it was not to be thought of as a place of
sojourn, even by us, tried Calabrian travellers ;
and thus we were at length driven to appeal to
the hospitality of the benevolent Don Gennaro,
whose house is the only large one in the town.
Everything in his mansion betokened wealth,
and we contemplated with pleasure the com-
fortable hall with crockery and barrels, and all
kinds of neatness and luxury ; and until Don
Gennaro came, we were pressed to take a glass
of wine by the steward and his very nice-looking

But lo ! the great January arrived, and all
our hopes were turned to chill despair ! " How
grieved he was not to be able to have the
pleasure of receiving us, none but he could
tell ; " this he said with smiles and compli-
ments, yet so it was. He was expecting an
aunt, four cousins (anzi, cinque*), three old
friends, and four priests, who were to pass
through Frigento on their way to a neigh-
bouring town ; they might come and they
might not, but he dared not fill his house.

* Nay, five.


But what of that ? There was a capital inn at
Frigento, one of the very best in Italy ; he
would take us there himself ; it was time we
should be sheltered for the night. And forth-
with he led the way out into the street,
overwhelming us with profuse expressions of
compliment " Signori miei gentilissimi e caris-
simi, illustrissimi padroni garbati e cortesi,
amici affezionatissimi," &c., till, to our dismay and
surprise, he stopped at the door of the very filthy
osteria which we had ten minutes ago rejected
with abhorrence as impracticable and disgusting.
"Viaggiatori culti, eccellentissimi Giovani,
ecco qui 1'albergo ; qui troverete tutto, tutto,
tutto, tutto, tutto," said our friend ; and,
bowing and smiling to the very last, he retreated
hastily towards his own house, leaving us very
distinctly "sold," and not a little enraged at
Don January Kedflame's proficiency in the art
of humbug, though we excused him for not
desiring to house unknown wanderers in these
days of unsettled events.

* Polished travellers excellent young men, here is the inn ;
here you will find everything everything.


We turned away from the man " all money
and all heart," and came indignantly down the
hill wishing ourselves in Calabria, and composing
our minds to the necessity of passing the night
at the one-roomed osteria at the hill-foot. Here,
at least, we found civility, though there was
little but the bare walls of the taverna to study :
a stove filled up one side of a little chamber,
half of which was used as a stable ; yet when our
new muleteer had cooked us some poached eggs,
we made ourselves tolerably comfortable by the
fireside, and finally slept well in a granary on
large heaps of grain, which had the advantage
of cleanliness as well as novelty when considered
as beds. The furniture of our dormitory was
simple to the last degree : the before-named
wheat-heaps, long strings of onions depending
from above, and numerous round boxes of eggs

September 16. Leaving our wheaten couch
ere sunrise, we prepared to start afresh. Our
accommodation cost us in all two carlini each ;
but coffee, alas ! there was none. With Antonio


the foolish (who talked to himself without
ceasing), we followed a route leading over most
forlorn and bare hills, Frigento overlooking all
from its ugly pinnacle, and in the far distance
loom the forms of mountains, which appear fine
in outline, but a scirocco haze makes them all
indistinct as to detail and colour. After
walking a mile or two we left the high road,
and for another mile and a half descended by
paths through a wild country, ever becoming
drearier and less prepossessing, till as we neared
a deep little valley, strong sulphureous odours
warned us of our approach to the Mofette.

The hollow basin in which lies this strange
and ugly vapour bath is fringed on one side
by a wood of oaks, behind which the mountain
of Chiusano forms a fine background : but on
the northern approach, or that from Frigento,
the sloping hill is bare, and terminates in a
wide crust of sulphureous mud, cracked, dry,
and hollow at some little distance from the
pool, but soft, and undulating like yeast at the
brink of the little lake itself. The water, if
water it be, is as black as ink, and in appear-


ance thick, bubbling and boiling up from a
hundred springs which wrinkle its disastrous
looking surface : but when the liquid is taken
out into any vessel, it is said for we did not
make the experiment to be perfectly clear
and cold. Whether or not birds can fly across
or over the enchanted pool, I cannot tell, but
as we found many stiff and dead on its brink
namely, two crows, four larks, three sparrows,
and eight yellowhammers it is but fair to
conclude that the noxious vapours had some-
thing to do with stocking this well-filled
ornithological necropolis ; and as to ourselves,
we found that to inhale the air within
two or three feet of the water was a very
unpleasing experiment, resulting in a catching
or stupefying sensation, which in my own
case did not entirely pass away for two or
three days.

Possibly the strength and properties of this
curious volcanic lake may differ at various
seasons or states of the atmosphere ; * as for

* Swinburne says " The Mofette several times spouted as high
as our heads ; a large body of vapour was continually thrown out


our guide he implored us not to go near, and
would not by any means be persuaded to go
within a hundred yards of the "accursed

After having made a drawing of the cele-
brated Mofette we called a council as to what
decision we should come to concerning our
future route. The town of Bisaccia was fifteen
miles distant hardly to be reached with ease
ere evening. That of St. Angelo de' Lombardi
was but six miles from us at present, and we
settled to go thither, hoping to find some
conveyance thence to Melfi. We journeyed on
over a bare and hilly country by uninteresting
paths along undulating clay slopes or cultivated

with a rumbling noise, accompanied by a nauseous smell and
danger of suffocation." Craven supposes that changes take place
in the action of the lake, as he found no smell, and heard no
noise, and saw nothing. In the pool of Amsanctus he finds
no impediment to respiration; black clay is deposited, leaving
the waters clear and tasteless, and icy cold. Raven and wood-
pigeon flew over it worn-out fable whole ground strewed with
dead butterflies stopped his watch and discoloured all metal,
&c. Mazzella, however, speaks of " all birds dying who fly over
the pool."

* " Cosa curiosa maledetta," as he called it.


valleys, till we came to a conclusion that the
province of Principato Citra is one of the dullest
of the kingdom of Naples. In an hour or two
we reached Rocca San Felice, and passed
through it. Around this little town, in itself
picturesque, there seems to lie the only pretty
scenery we had observed since we left Avellino ;
but a coming storm prevented our lingering
to sketch even this single bit of character;
so, after a long descent and ascent, we attained
to the town of St. Angelo de' Lombardi just as
rain began to fall heavily. Our fate, so far as
reaching Melfi, was soon known ; there is no
strada carrozzabile, and no carriages in or from
St. Angelo de' Lombardi ; so, resolving to go
on to-morrow towards the Norman city with
the old man and his ass, we discovered a tole-
rable locanda, and adapted ourselves to pass
the rest of the day there. The hostess declared
she had no food of any sort in the house ; but
the distinct odour of a roast fowl caused us to
pay but little attention to her assertions : with
the energy of hungry men we forced our way
into the kitchen, and laid violent hands on the


detected viands, together with some eggs and
alid all intended for somebody else. After
dinner and siesta, and when the rain had ceased,
we wandered forth in quest of food for our
pencils, but found little. St. Angelo de' Lom-
bardi is one of those places (and in Italy there
are but few such) having no goodly aspect or
form in themselves, and placed so as to com-
mand a wide panorama below, but with no
foreground, tree, or rock to set off against its
abundant extent. And, unluckily, where there
was really an appearance of fine mountain lines,
mist and cloud prevented it from being seen
distinctly. St. Angelo de' Lombardi is but a
dismal place ; the people of the inn, however,
were obliging, though the " accommodations "
of the dormitories compelled each of us to sleep
in his cloak.



Departure from St. Angelo de' Lombardi. Country expands into wide grassy
downs. Distant view of Monte Voltore. Undulating plains. Arrival
at Bisaccia. Inhospitable place. Difficulty of procuring food. Guide
refuses to proceed, and is bribed by a dish of fish. We leave Bisaccia.
Arrive in sight of the great Plains of Apulia. Costume. Nearer
view of Monte Voltore. Reach Lacedogna. Vain endeavour to hire a
horse. We find a chance vetturino. Monteverde. Fine views of Monte
Voltore. Towns on the mountain : its character, lake, &c. Cross the
river Ofanto. Enter Basilicata. Approach to Melfi. Its castle, draw-
bridge, &c. &c. Signor Vittorio Manassei. Pleasant reception. Magni-
ficent accommodations. Comforts of Melfi. Historical notices of the
city, &c. View from the modern part of the castle. Picturesqueness
of Melfi and its environs : agreeable hours indoors. Doria Gallery.
Family dinner. The vineyard and the pergola. The old halL Buttered
toast and other Melfi luxuries. We continue to stay at the castle.
Arrangements for visiting Minervino, Venosa, Monte Voltore, and Castel
del Lago Pesole. Don Sebastiano il Fattore.

September 17. Glad we were, on rising
before day, to find the morning beautifully
clear, and the foolish old man, our guide,

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13 14

Online LibraryEdward LearJournals of a landscape painter in southern Calabria, &c → online text (page 11 of 14)