Edward Lear.

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

. (page 12 of 14)
Online LibraryEdward LearJournals of a landscape painter in southern Calabria, &c → online text (page 12 of 14)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

waiting with his ass below. There were finer
mountain views, too, now that the clouds had
passed away, than we had given St. Angelo de'
Lombardi credit for possessing.

Q 2


For two hpurs our advance was very agree-
able ; we turned from the hill on which stands
our last night's home, and passing Guardia
Lombardi, another town, high on a hill of its
own (and whose unpicturesque appearance, we
agreed with old Pacichelli, might fully merit
his condemnation, " it contains no object
worthy of any praise whatever"), we began to
cross monotonous grassy downs, from each
undulation of which, when we looked back, the
hill of Monte Vergine was still ever in sight.

The mountains on this part of the eastern
side of Italy decrease by very slow gradations
to the flat country near the shore ; and we
next traversed wide and long meadow plains,
enlivened by large droves of horses, and much
like parts of the Campagna around Rome ; but
there was great want of good form and outline,
and my expectations of the Great Pianura of
Apulia began to sink apace. And in spite of
the appearance of Monte Voltore, which now
began to adorn the horizon, and at whose base
we ought to sleep to-night in the city of Melfi,
these undulating downs, or plains, grew sadly


wearisome, and we were glad to spy the far-off
top of a tower, which the foolish old man
declared was the church of Bisaccia. It was
long, though, ere we arrived there, and when
we did, in how odious a place did we find
ourselves ! So unwilling were the inhabitants
to commit themselves by any attention to
strangers, that, for all the civility we met with,
we might have had the plague. Most of the
people loitering about, to whom we spoke,
shrugged their shoulders, and passed on ; while
a few indicated a very filthy osteria as the
only place of accommodation in this uncouth
wilderness. And when within the walls of
the unclean locanda, no one had any edibles
for sale ; and all the inmates, after staring at
us for awhile, went on with their occupations
with the most profound indifference to us and
our wants. Three exotic-looking men, with
long uncombed hair and moustache, and velvet
cloaks, looking much like comedians, come and
observe us ; they say they are Bolognese we
thing them refugees. Four priests gaze at us,
with the shrug ignorant, as we again ask for


food. A fifth says, " E indecente ! due fores-
tieri garbati, e non sanno che fare, ne come
mangiar, ne alloggiar ;" * but his faint zeal is
rebuked and extinguished by the others. After
a long hour of persuasion and quest, we are
taken to another osteria, rather less filthy than
No. 1, and here we unload our ass. But lo !
to our additional dismay, the foolish old guide
of Grotta Minarda suddenly vows he will go
no further with us. " E come posso ? con' sto
ciucciarello ? " f No animals or guide are to
be procured here, and Melfi is still eighteen
miles off; and there is the River Ofanto to be
crossed in the way thither !

All sorts of evils seemed at once in array
against us, so we took time to decide on future
plans, and, sending out for eggs and wine, we
made a luncheon, to the best of our ability,
among the half-naked children, dogs, and dirt.
All our endeavours of persuasion were now
directed to induce the silly old man to go with

* It is really a shame. Two well-conditioned strangers, and
they don't know what to do what to eat, or how to lodge !
t How can I, with this little ass ?


us as far as the next town, Lacedogna, which
being a possession of Prince Doria (who had
given me letters to his castle at Melfi), I
thought promised some better chance of
assistance on the journey than the forlorn place
we were now halting in ; and at length, by dint
of bribes and appeals to his feelings, the old
man relented, the last weight in the scale of
our favour being a gift of three spigole, which
had been brought to us for sale, and which we
had innocently purchased, the same, on being
boiled, proving highly odoriferous. "Buono
per noi, non per voi," * said the old gentleman,
on graciously accepting the present, and tying
up two of the fish in his pocket-handkerchief
for " to-morrow," by way of waiting for the more
perfect development of their flavour.

After this we set off from Bisaccia, a place,
according to old Pacichelli, " of which little can
be said." There are many very pretty bits of
architecture in it, however ; and the view of the
distant plains is noble from the outskirts of the

* Good for us, though not for you.


town. None of your half-and-half undulations,
but real flat Apulian plains pale and pink, and
level as a calm lake, and stretching away, as it
were, into the very clouds. The costume here,
too, is pretty : the dresses of the women are
all red, the skirt plaited and adjusted differently
to the general mode. But for drawing there
was no time, neither was there any one view of
surpassing or characteristic interest ; so we
hurried down a steep descent, crossed a valley,
and once more ascended elevated spurs of hill,
whence Monte Voltore, on our right hand, grew
more large and distinct ; and Lacedogna, a large
but unpicturesque town, lay full before us.*

There we arrived about 2 or 3 P.M., and
made instant inquiries for a horse. One, they
said, was to be hired, so we engaged it hastily,
for there was no time to be lost Melfi is still
twelve miles off. We sate in a wine-shop,
unloaded the ass, and paid the foolish man.
" Is the horse coming ? " said we to the sur-

* Lacedogna, of which the concise Pacichelli remarks, " It is
of narrow extent, and contains nothing either curious or beautiful
fit for observation," belongs to the Doria family.


rounding idlers. " Yes, it is on the way : it
will be here in half a minute." A quarter of
an hour passes half an hour three quarters,
and still no horse. " Where is the horse ? "
" Ah, signori, they are saddling it." It would
soon be too late to start for Melfi, so we rushed
to the stable indicated as containing the fabulous
quadruped, and lo ! there it was calmly lying
down, and evidently wholly guiltless of any
attempt, passive or active, towards leaving
Lacedogna. Moreover, a dark and surly
woman said, "It never was to be hired it
never was intended to go to Melfi and it
never shall." So, all our hopes vanishing, we
were in a complete fix.

In great trouble, we stood resolving what to
do. A man with two mules passed. Nothing
is lost by asking.

" Will you go to Melfi ?" said we.

" No," was the answer, " unless for two

" They are yours," we replied ; and seizing
on the luckv moment, and the bridles, we lost


no time in transferring our little luggage to


the opportune vettura,* and were really, after
all difficulties, once more on the way to Melfi,
leaving Lacedogna, like other places in Princi-
pato Citra, with very little regret. Our route
led at first by the side of a winding stream,
and then by a great ascent to Monteverde, the
last town in the province. Here we arrived
just before sunset, and, from its elevated site,
the views of Monte Voltore, with the territory
called Monticchio, ad joining the isolated volcanic
woody height, are most gorgeous. The sudden
contrast between the uninteresting country
over which we had been for three days journey-
ing, and this novel and beautiful scenery, was
delightfully animating, notwithstanding our
resting-place was still far off. Monte Voltore
is the Soracte of this part of the Regno di
Napoli ; standing alone, and graceful in form
(much resembling Vesuvius), it is, though
inconsiderable in height, conspicuous among
the tame undulations on all sides, and its
colouring is always exqusite. On its eastern

* Any mode of conveyance.


and southern slopes lie the towns of Melfi,
Kapollo, Barile, Rionero, and Atella ; on the
north it is covered with dense forests a royal
demesne, little visited by strangers ; and the
hollow centre of this singular hill, once its
crater, contains the secluded lake and convent of
San Michele, which, ere we leave Basilicata,* we
trust to see. At sunset we crossed the Ofanto,
a broad, but shallow river at this season, and the
line of division between Principato Citeriore
and Basilicata. Henceforward, after a short
ascent, we went on apace for two long hours,
which sufficed to bring us, sleepy and weary, to
Melfi, a city which has given us so much trouble
to reach it, that we are anxious lest our labour
should not be well repaid. But on our enter-
ing the town, it is too dark to discern any of
its beauties or failings. Yet the castle of Melfi,

* The province of Basilicata (part of ancient Lucania) con-
tains 431,789 inhabitants (Del Ee, 1828), and was called by its
present name in the time of Frederick II. It is divided into four
districts Potenza (now the chief town), Matera, Melfi, and Lago

The old authors speak of manna being commonly found in many
parts of it.


which we reach by a short ascent from the
streets, is sufficiently imposing at this silent
hour of night. There is a drawbridge, and
sullen gates, and dismal court-yards, and massive
towers, and seneschals with keys and fierce
dogs, all the requisites of the feudal fortress
of romance.

Signor Vittorio Manassei, the steward and
agent of Prince Doria, received us most
amiably, and ushered us into magnificent halls,
forming a strange contrast to our late sojourn-
ing places. Around were mirrors and gilded
furniture in all the full splendour of Italian
baronial style, and the perfect order and clean-
ness of the establishment did high credit to
the Roman agent's skill and taste.

September 18. A delightful place of sojourn
is Melfi,* the first stronghold of Normans in

* Melfi is one of the four capi-distretti of the province of
Basilicata. According to Pacichelli and others, it was origi-
nally Melphis, a Greek city. He speaks of Popes Nicolo II.
and Urban II. holding councils there in 1069 and 1098.
K. Craven gives the dates 1089 and 1100. The castle and town
were built by the sons of Tancred de Hauteville. After the


Apulia. One of the towers of Roger de
Hauteville still exists, but the great hall, where
Normans and Popes held councils in bygone
days, is now a theatre.

The present building dates from the six-
teenth century, and the offices and other
additions still later. The castle overlooks the
whole town of Melfi, but no great extent of
distant country, for one side of the horizon is
wholly filled up by the near Monte Voltore,
and the remainder by a range of low hills, so
that the site of the town seems to have been
selected as much for concealment as strength.

A morning's ramble made me acquainted
with all the characteristic beauties of the place,
which is a perfect tame oasis among much
uninteresting scenery. The picturesque build-

ings of the city (which seems to occupy the site
of some ancient place) ; the valley below it, with
its clear stream and great walnut-trees; the

defection of the Caraccioli, to whom the castle had been given
by CHovanna II., the emperor Charles V. bestowed it on Andrea
Doria, and the dukedom of Melfi has ever since remained in
his family.


numerous fountains ; the innumerable caves in
the rocks around, now used as stabling for
goats, which cluster in swarthy multitudes on
tiers of crags ; the convents and shrines scat-
tered here and there in the suburbs ; the
crowded houses and the lofty spires of the
interior ; and the perfectly Poussinesque castle,
with its fine corner tower commanding the
whole scene : * so many fine features in a cir-
cumscribed space it is not common to see, even
in Italy. If one must find a fault, it is that
Melfi cannot boast of a beautiful bit of remote
landscape to fill up the list of its excellent

In the middle of the day we returned to the
castle, and were treated most hospitably by the
polite Signer Manassei and his family, consist-
ing of his wife and two daughters ; and, after
we had passed the afternoon in drawing, a sort
of reunion of Melfitan neighbours, guitars,
singing, and cards till supper- time, closed a
very agreeable day.

All this, alas ! has passed away. See note, page 277.


September 19- There is a formidable long
gallery adjoining our room, full of old oak
chests, and older armour ; and its windows are
seized every now and then with terrible fits of
rattling, so that one is apt to think old Andrea
Doria's ghost may be walking about, if not that
of some old Norman. We dined with the
whole family to-day, and found them very
agreeable, particularly one of the daughters.
Signora Manassei has, in speaking of the world
of Melfi, that mixture of kindness and pity
which characterises the true Roman manner.
Then we loitered on vine terraces and under
pergolate, and ate grapes in the large vineyards
behind the castle ; and, along with Signor
Vittorio and his two merry daughters, examined
all the older part of the building, the prisons,
and the old hall, used as a theatre in the last

September 20. Another merry day drawing
out of doors laughter within. What a home
one might make of the Castle of Melfi, with its
city below and its territory around the beau


ideal of old feudal possession and magnifi-

September 21. But what shall we do when
we go out once more into the wide world and
its dirty osterias? after these princely subtleties
of luxury, this buttered toast and caffe for
breakfast, these comfortable rooms and merry
society ? The ease and grandeur of the Palazzo
Doria in Melfi will have spoiled us, methinks,
for rough travelling.

This day, like its fellows, went by, and left
no shadow on memory's path ; but we had now
made as many drawings as we had a right to
require, and we had had four days of unvariedly
pleasing reception, so we prepare to depart on
the morrow for Minervino and Castel del
Monte; these, with visits to Venosa, San
Michele, and Castel Lago Pesole, will fill up
the remainder of our time for wandering.

Before the evening reunion, a foreman or
Campagna steward of the Doria family was
called in by Signer Manassei. Don Sebastiano,
" il Fattore," is a large and important person,


who, knowing all roads far and near, is strictly
enjoined to take charge of us as far as Rio
Nero, and to see that we want for nothing in
going or returning.



Leave Melfi. Regrets for old Dighi, D<5ghi, Da. The magnificent Don
Sebastiano. Lavello. We prefer walking to riding. Mid-day halt.
View of Monte Voltore. Apulian plains their great flatness and pale-
ness. Approach to Minervino. Its appearance streets, animation, &c.
Plain of Cannae. Monte Gargano, &c. Don Vincenzino Todesche :
his warm and friendly reception. The family supper. Don Vincenzino's
hospitable opinions. Weary ride from Minervino by the stony Murgie.
Immense extent of Apulian pianura. Remarkable beauty of Castel del
Monte. Its architectural interest. Return to Minervino. Tradition
concerning the architect of Castel del Monte. We leave Minervino.
Reputation for cordiality enjoyed by the south-eastern provinces of the
Regno. Halt at Monte Milone. Oak woods. Views of Venosa and Monte
Voltore. Picturesqueness of Venosa: its streets, &c. Palazzo of Don
Nicola Rapolla, and agreeable reception there. His family. Luxuries
and refinements. The castle of Venosa : its modernised interior, prisons,
stables, &c. Agreeable stay at the Casa Rapolla. Venosa Cathedral.
Church of La Trinita. Ruined Church and Monastery of the Bene-
dictines. Amphitheatre. Another day at the Casa Rapolla. We leave
Venosa. High roads, commerce, and civilization. Skirts of Monte
Voltore. Towns of Rapolla and Barile. Large town of Rio Nero.
Indications of its wealth and activity. House of Don P. Catena : its
comfort and good arrangements. Our hospitable welcome. Signer
Manassei again. Evening musical party at Rio Nero.

September %%. We did not start very early
from the lordly gates of Melfi Castle. No


luggage mule was to be found, but our little
roba* was dispersed upon three horses, one of
which was ridden by the corpulent Fattore.
We took leave of the cheerful Manassei family,
with feelings something more akin to those
with which we used to part from Calabrian
entertainers than we had experienced since we
had entered these midland provinces. But ah !
in these days of Basilicata and Principato how
often did we wish for good old Dighi, Doghi,
Da ! Not but that our large guardian, Don
Sebastiano, was very obliging (he was extremely
like Dr. Samuel Johnson seen through a magni-
fying glass, and dressed in a tight blue jacket
and trowsers), but from having been Guardiano
in the service of the King, when he was staying
at the Palazzo Doria, and having then accom-
panied him in various hunting expeditions, the
worthy man was so pompous, and so full of
long stories of royal doings, that his manner
rather oppressed us, the more that being

* "Boba" is a word of wide signification in Italian; in the
present case it means "baggage," but it may be generally well
rendered by the English " things."

R 2


seventy-three years old, he seemed too vener-
able to be ordered hither and thither.

About eight miles from Melfi we passed close
to Lavello, rather a pretty town. Farther on
we encountered a tiresome elevated plain, and
the uninteresting valley of the river Bonovento,
where, giving our horses to a man who accom-
panied us on foot, we proceeded to walk : but
at this proceeding Don Sebastiano was horrified.
The horses, he said, were not good, and he
would return instantly to Melfi for others. In
vain we assured him that Englishmen did
occasionally walk as a matter of choice : this
assertion he treated as wholly poetical ; and he
never during the journey ceased to regret his
choice of steeds. After a gradual ascent from
the low grounds of the Bonovento, where were
abundance of buffali, and great flights of a bird
which the Fattore called " calendroni," we
arrived at the summit of the last ridge of hill
on the eastern side of Italy, where, in a sort of
ruined guardhouse, we halted to lunch and rest
at half-past twelve. From this spot there is a
fine view of Monte Voltore, which stands alone


on the western horizon ; but the prospect to
the south and east is one of the most surpris-
ingly striking character, and totally unlike
anything presented by other parts of Italy
portions of the Campagna of Rome near the
sea perhaps excepted. Yet even those scenes
fail to recall the exceeding paleness, and pink-
ness, and flatness of the great outstretched
sheet of pianura, which spreads away from
the foot of the Apennines to the sea those
wide plains of Apulia, so full of interest to
the historian, and doubtless not less so to the

To the south, on a spur of the hills over-
looking the maritime part of the province of
Basilicata and Capitanata, stands Minervino,
and thither we directed our course, over
undulating green meadows which descend to
the plain, and we arrived about an hour before
sunset at the foot of the height on which the
town is situated. Minervino enjoys a noble
prospect northward, over the level of Cannae
to the bay and mountain of Gargano, at which
distance the outspread breadth of plain is


so beautifully delicate in its infinity of clear
lines, as to resemble sea more than earth. The
town is a large, clean, and thriving place, with
several streets flanked by loggie, and altogether
different in its appearance and in its popula-
tion from Abruzzese or Calabrese towns. The
repose, or to speak more plainly, the stagnation
of the latter, contrasts very decidedly with these
communities of Apulia, all bustle and anima-
tion where well -paved streets, good houses,
and strings of laden mules, proclaim an advance
in commercial civilisation.

We encountered in the street Don Vincenzino
Todeschi, who on reading a letter of introduc-
tion, given to us for him by Signer Manassei,
seemed to consider our dwelling with him as a
matter of course, and shaking hands with us
heartily, begged us to go to his house and use
it as our own ; he was busy then, but would
join us at supper.

In the evening there was a family gathering
at that meal ; there was Don Vincenzino, the
host, who conversed on statistics, commercial
pursuits, railroads, and increasing facilities of


communication, and other practical matters.
" Send any of your friends who come this
way to me," said he : " stendere relazioni, to
increase a connection all over the world should
be the object of a liberal-minded man ; know-
ledge and prosperity come by variety of
acquaintance," &c. &c. There were three sons
also with their tutor, a gentlemanlike and well-
informed abbate; and a very nice little girl,
Teresa, who, her mother being dead, was
evidently the family pet. The Fattore Don
Sebastiano sat in silence, though before supper
he had been rather loquacious concerning the
family Todeschi, whom he looks down upon as
" novi ricchi," spite of the show drawing-room,
chimney mirrors, carpets, and tables full of

P and I are not a little perplexed as

to what we shall do to-morrow, for, owing to
time running short, we have but one day left
ere we turn towards Naples. Canosa (ancient
Cannae) and Castel del Monte, are the two
points, either of which we could be content to
reach ; but as each demands a hard day's


work, we finally resolve to divide them, P

choosing Canosa, and I the old castle of
Frederick Barbarossa, of which I had heard so
much as one of the wonders of Apulia.

September 23 Before daylight each of us

set off on his separate journey on horseback,

P with the bulky Don Sebastiano to

Canosa, I to Castel del Monte, with a guardiano
of Don Vincenzino Todeschi's family. Oh me !
what a day of fatigue and tiresome labour!
Almost immediately on leaving Minervino we
came to the dullest possible country, elevated
stony plains weariest of barren undulations
stretching in unbroken ugliness towards
Altamura and Gravina. Much of this hideous
tract is ploughed earth, and here and there we
encountered a farm house with its fountain :
no distant prospect ever relieves these dismal,
shrubless, Murgie (for so is this part of the
province of Bari called), and flights of "calen-
droni," with a few skylarks above, and scattered
crocuses below, alone vary the sameness of the
journey. At length, after nearly five hours of


slow riding, we came in sight of the castle,
which was the object of my journey ; it is
built at the edge of these plains on one of
the highest, but gradually rising eminences, and
looks over a prospect perfectly amazing as to
its immense extent and singular character.
One vast pale pink map, stretching to Monte
Gargano, and the plains of Foggia, north-
ward, is at your feet; southward, Terra di
Bari, and Terra di Otranto, fade into the
horizon ; and eastward, the boundary of this
extensive level is always the blue Adriatic,
along which, or near its shore, you see, as in a
chart, all the maritime towns of Puglia in
succession, from Barletta southward towards

The barren stony hill from which you behold
all this extraordinary outspread of plain, has
upon it one solitary and remarkable building, the
great hunting palace,* called Castel del Monte,
erected in the twelfth century by the Emperor
Barbarossa, or Frederick II. Its attractions at

* Excellent descriptions of this most beautiful castle are to be
found in Mr. Swinburne's and the Hon. Keppel Craven's works.


first sight are those of position and singularity
of form, which is that of an octagon, with a
tower on each of the eight corners. But to an
architect, the beautiful masonry and exquisite
detail of the edifice (although it was never
completed, and has been robbed of its fine
carved-work for the purpose of ornamenting
churches on the plain), render it an object of
the highest curiosity and interest.

The interior of this ancient building is also
extremely striking ; the inner court-yard and
great Gothic Hall, invested with the sombre
mystery of partial decay, the eight rooms

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14

Online LibraryEdward LearJournals of a landscape painter in southern Calabria, &c → online text (page 12 of 14)