Edward Lear.

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

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century the second and third provinces were included in a single
one under the name of " Calabria," or " Calabria Ultra," while,
so late as 1415, " Calabria Citeriore" was known as " Provincia
Val di Gratis et Terre Jordane." (See Del Be.)


Population in


(or Sou' Intendenze) .

Calabria Citeriore (Northern ]
Calabria, or Province of >
Cosenza) ... . J



f Cosenza
J Castrovillari
1 Paola


Seconda Calabria Ulteriorel
(Central Calabria, or Pro- >
vince of Catanzaro) . . . J



f Catanzaro
J Monteleone
1 Nicastro
V, Cotrone

Prima Calabria Ulteriore "I
(Southern Calabria, or Pro- >
vince of Reggio) . . . . J



i Palmi
1 Gerace


and Salvator Rosa, costumes and character,
horrors and magnificence without end. Even
Messina derives its chief charm from the blue
range of mountains and the scattered villages
on the opposite shore, Reggio glittering on
the water's edge, Scylla on its rock, where the
guide-books (by a metaphor) say you may hear
(large ?) dogs barking across the straits, the
lofty cloud-topped Aspromonte, and the pearl-
pale cliffs of Bagnara. Yet this land of pic-
torial and poetical interest has had but few
explorers ; fewer still have published their
experiences ; and its scenery, excepting that
on the high road, or near it, has rarely been
pourtrayed, at least by our own countrymen.
In the afternoon, having hired a boat to cross

the straits, P and I were ready to start

from Messina. Leaving a portion of our luggage
there we took enough for a month or six
weeks' journey through the nearest province,
or Calabria Ulteriore Prima ; and, well supplied
with letters to those persons in its chief city
who would send us on our way through the
interior, we set sail for Reggio, and soon the

B 2


lemon-coloured forts of Zancle were far behind
us on the deep blue sea. By degrees the fur-
rowed hills around Messina spread out into
one long chain, the heights of distant Taor-
mina and cloud-capped Etna closing the scene.
Yet, near as Reggio appeared, we did not reach
it until the sun had set, an hour when the
broad walk, in front of the uniform facade of
houses built along the Marina since the last
earthquake, was full of evening promenaders.
There was a " Sanita " and a " Dogana "
to encounter, of course ; but having an in-
troductory letter to the Direttore, whose
address we casually asked for in a judiciously
elevated tone of voice, no one molested us
either as to our state of health or property :
we went off accordingly, preceded by porters,
to the Locanda Giordano, situated in the high
street of Reggio, which runs parallel to the
coast, and contains some very decent rooms,
the largest of which we seized on as our own
for the sum of four carlini * daily. Having

A carlino, twelve of which compose the Neapolitan dollar,


ordered some supper, we forthwith proceeded
to report ourselves to the Polizia, the manager
of which dwelt in an unsatisfactory house at
the other end of the town, and had perched
himself at the top of a totally dark and crooked
staircase, the ascent of which was disputed step
by step by an animated poodle. After this we

went to deliver the Duke of '$ letter to

the Direttore, an old French gentleman who
was playing at whist, double dummy. " What
could he do for us? we had but to command."
We begged for letters to Bova and other out of
the way places in the toe of Italy, all of which
he readily promised. Another letter of intro-
duction we delivered to Consigliere da Nava,
who proved a great ally.

July 26. If you wish for milk at breakfast-
time in these parts of the world, you ought to
sit in the middle of the road with a jug at early
dawn, for unless you seize the critical moment

is worth fourpence farthing English money. There are ten grani
in a carlino, or Sicilian tornesi, a copper coin frequently used in
Southern Calabria.


of the goats passing through the town, you may
wish in vain. If you have any excursion to
make, and require to start early, you may as
well give up the idea, for the " Crapi " are " not
yet come ; " and if you delay but a little
while, you hear the tinkle of their bells, and
perceive the last tails of the receding flock in
vexatious perspective at the end of the street.

At sunrise I set out on an exploring expe-
dition, and was soon dodging here and there to
find the best views of Keggio among its endless
cactus and aloe lanes, fig gardens, and orange
groves. Reggio is indeed one vast garden, and
doubtless one of the loveliest spots to be seen
on earth. A half-ruined castle, beautiful in
colour and picturesque in form, overlooks all the
long city, the wide straits, and snow-topped
Mongibello * beyond. Below the castle walls f
are spread wide groves of orange, lemon, citron,
bergamot, and all kinds of such fruit as are

* Mongibello, the Saracenic name of Mount Etna, is generally
in use among the Sicilians and Calabresi.

t In an old picture of Eeggio, in Pacichelli, the whole town
is represented as walled.


called by the Italians " Agrumi ; " * their thick
verdure stretched from hill to shore as far as
the eye can reach on either side, and only
divided by the broad white lines of occasional
torrent courses. All the fulness of Sicilian
vegetation awaits you in your foreground;
almond, olive, cactus, palm tree, -f aloe, and fig,
forming delightful combinations wherever you
turn your steps.

In the afternoon we went to the Villetta, a
country-house about a mile distant from the
town, with a letter of introduction to its

* The Bergamot orange, from the peel of which the well-known
perfume is extracted, is cultivated to a great extent round Reggio,
and the fruit forms a considerable article of commerce. There
are several notices on this subject in Swinburne's Travels.

" The spirit is extracted by paring off the rind of the fruit
with a broad knife, pressing the peel between wooden pincers
against a sponge; and as soon as the sponge is saturated, the
volatile liquor is squeezed into a phial and sold at fifteen carlini
the ounce. . . . There is a small sort of citron set apart for the
Jews of Leghorn, who come here every year to buy them for three
tornesi a-piece. As they are destined for some religious ceremony,
the buyers take great care not to pollute them by a touch of the
naked hand." Swinburne's Travels in the Two Sicilies, p. 360.

t Mr. Swinburne states that in the days of Saracenic dominion
at Eeggio " stately groves of palm-trees" adorned the territory,
but that many were cut down when the Eeggiani repossessed their
town, as being memorials of infidel usurpation.


proprietor, the Cavaliere Musitano, who resides
there during summer. If one were a neighbour
it would be difficult not to covet that garden-
home at once the most agreeable as to its
situation, and the most superior to all others in
the district as to the quality, quantity, and
arrangements of its botanical contents. Strange
fruits are hanging on every side (though none
of them particularly eatable) ; one magnificent
palm raises its airy tuft above all the green
level of shrubs ; a broad vine-covered trellis
shadows the court in front of the villa where,
in rows of little cages, many exotic birds were
rejoicing under the surveillance of a large red
and blue macaw ; in a word, the Villa Musitano,
one of the great lions of the province, is full of
agreeable materials, and the friendliness of its
possessor was not among the least of the
pleasant impressions left on our minds by
the visit.

At A ve- Maria we returned to the city to
make calls with other letters of introduction,
and otherwise to prepare for our excursion into
the interior of the province.


July 27. Assiduous drawing passed away
the morning rapidly. Owing to the obstruc-
tions of cactus or aloe hedges, walls, &c., it is
no easy matter to get a good general view of
Reggio; one of the best I could obtain was
from the loggia of a poor man's house, who
obligingly allowed me to sit in the open door-
way, although his wife was still in bed, and
so close to my elbow that my drawing was
accompanied by her illustrative remarks. At
two we dined with the Musitano family, who
kindly wrote several introductory letters for
our tour. Our friend Consigliere da Nava was
indefatigable in our interest, and had on our
return to the town already prepared fifteen
notes to the principal proprietors in towns we
should pass through. Then, after the usual
ices, indispensable at sunset, Don Gaetano Grisi
(Cav. Musitano's nephew) took no little pains
to procure us such a guide and mule as we
wanted, not always an easy task. There is
this objection to taking one individual into
your service for the whole of a long tour, viz.,
that he may not be acquainted with the remoter


parts of the country to be visited ; yet, on the
other hand, there is this advantage, that if he be
tractable he soon gets into the way of knowing
your habits and plans, and thereby saves much
of the trouble which a change of guide or
muleteer at every fresh halting-place must
necessarily occasion.

July 28. Occupied in finishing drawings
already commenced, and in procuring more
letters, &c. There is one of the most beautiful
views of Keggio from the north end of the
" Marine Parade ; " looking towards Etna, the
straits of Messina appear like a lake shut in by
the giant volcano, at its southern extremity. A
stroll to the Musitano Villa ; a visit to Signer
Capelli, who gave us introductions to the
convent of S ta Maria de' Polsi, situated amongst
the most picturesque scenes of Southern
Calabria : these, with fresh attempts at combi-
nazione with a Vetturino, left little of the
evening undisposed of. A man must be guided
pretty much by hazard in arranging a tour
through a country so little visited as this : the


general rule of keeping near the mountains is
perhaps the best, and if you hear of a town, or
costume, or piece of antiquity anywise remark-
able, to make a dash at it as inclination may
devise, sometimes to be repaid for the trouble,
as often the contrary.

July 29- We could get no guide until noon,
an arrangement not ill-fitting with our plan of
sleeping the first night at Motta San Giovanni,
on our way to Bova : so at two we prepared
to start. We had engaged a muleteer for an
indefinite time : the expense for both guide
and quadruped being six carlini daily ; and if
we sent him back from any point of our journey
it was agreed that his charges should be
defrayed until he reached Eeggio. Our man,
a grave tall fellow of more than fifty years of
age, and with a good expression of countenance,
was called Ciccio,* and we explained to him
that our plan was to do always just as we
pleased going straight a-head or stopping to

* "Ciccio" is short for " Francesco," in the Neapolitan kingdom
States. In the Eoman States it is " Cecco."


sketch, without reference to any law but our
own pleasure; to all which he replied by a
short sentence ending with " D6go ; dighi,
doghi, daghi, da" -a collection of sounds
of frequent recurrence in Calabrese lingo,
and the only definite portion of that speech
we could ever perfectly master. What the
"Dogo" was we never knew, though it was
an object of our keenest search throughout the
tour to ascertain if it were animal, mineral, or
vegetable. Afterwards, by constant habit, we
arranged a sort of conversational communication
with friend Ciccio, but we never got on well
unless we said "Dogo si," or "D6go no" several
times as an ad libitum appoggiatura, winding
up with " Dighi, d6ghi, daghi, da," which
seemed to set all right. Ciccio carried a gun,
but alas ! wore no pointed hat ; nothing but a
Sicilian long blue cap. Our minds had received
a fearful shock by the conviction forced on
them during our three days' stay at Keggio,
namely, that there are NO pointed hats in the
first or southern province of Calabria. The
costume, though varying a little in different


villages, is mainly the same as that throughout
Sicily, and it is only in the provinces of Catan-
zaro and Cosenza where the real (and awful)
pyramidal brigand's hat is adopted. Ciccio
tied four packets (one of vestments, &c., another
of drawing materials for each man), plaids,
umbrellas, &c.. on a quiet-looking steed, touching
whose qualities its owner was wholly silent,
thereby giving me, who go by contraries in
these lands, great hope that it might be
worth a good deal, for had it been a total
failure one might have looked for a long tirade
of praises : and so, all being adjusted off
we set.

The road led over the torrent-bed and by
the Villa Musitano, through suburban villages
for two or three miles, and for a considerable
distance we passed numerous odoriferous silk
factories,* and many detached cheerful-looking
houses, with lofty pergolate f or vine trellises

* The cultivation of silkworms is carried on to a great extent
in Calabria, especially in the territory of Reggio.

f Pergola, or Pergolata, is the general name for any balcony
or trellis covered with vine.


spanning and shading the whole public road
from side to side. Beyond, the broad dusty
highway was uninteresting in its foregrounds,
but the blue straits of Messina were ever on
our right, with Etna beyond, while on the left
a wall of hills, with Castel San Nocito and San
Vito perched on their summits, sufficed for men
who were all alive for impressions of Calabrese
novelty. Always in sight also was the town of
Motta San Giovanni, our night's resting-place,
but so high up as to promise a stout pull to
reach it.

When in fullest sight of Mongibello, we
turned from the coast and began to ascend the
hills. For a while the path lay on the northern
side, and at every turn we looked over a wider
expanse of the beautiful garden-plain of Eeggio,
broken by the lines of its white torrents, and
backed by the straits and hills of Messina ; but
afterwards we wound up a path closely shut in
betwixt high sandy banks, or placed on the
edge of clay ravines looking over slopes thickly
planted with dwarf vines. High winds pre-
vented our making any drawing, and indeed it


was nearly Ave-Maria* when we had risen
above the weary sandy gorges immediately
below the town, which stands at a great eleva-
tion, and overlooks earth and sea extensively.
With little difficulty we found the house of
Don Francesco Mar6poti, who received us with
hospitality, and without show of ceremony, only
apologising that, owing to his being alone in
this his country residence, our reception could
not be in point of fare and lodging all he could
wish. Indeed this worthy person's establish-
ment was not of the most recherche kind, but
I had warned my companion (hitherto un-
travelled in these regions) that he would
probably meet with much simplicity, much
cordiality, arid heaps more of dirt throughout
Calabria. There is always in these provincial
towns a knot of neighbours who meet in the
house of the great man of each little place,
to discuss the occurrences of the day for an
hour or two before supper ; already a long

* Ave-Maria is half an hour after the sun sets at all times of
the year, when it is then dark in Italy, and the computation of
hours, 1, 2, 3, &c., recommences.


perspective of such hours oppressed me, loaded
with questions about Inghilterra and our own
plans and circumstances. " Cosa c'e da vedere
in Bagaladi ? " * said our host's coterie with one
voice, when they heard we wanted to go there,
and one elder was fiercely incredulous, pro-
posing that, if, as we said, we were in search of
the beautiful or remarkable, we should set out
directly for Montebello or Melito, or any place
but Bagaladi. He also explained the position
and attributes of England to the rest of the
society, assuring them that we had no fruit of
any sort, and that all our bread came from
Egypt and India : and as for our race, with a
broad contempt for minute distinctions, he said
we were " tutti Francesi," an assertion we
faintly objected to, but were overruled by
" in somma siete sempre una razza di Francesi :
lo stesso. v f

At last the clique departed, and we sate
down with Don Francesco to supper, an
unostentatious meal, accompanied by tolerable

* What should there be to see in Bagaladi ?
t In a word, you are a sort of Frenchmen ; it's all the same.


wine, but with a rural style about the service,
&c., more resembling that in the remoter
villages of the Abruzzi than of the towns near
any of the provincial capitals of the northern
Neapolitan provinces. There was, however, no
want of good will or good breeding, and we
were neither bored by questions nor pressed to
eat, nor requested to sit up late ; so we soon
retired, and, on perceiving very clean beds, were
not slow in congratulating ourselves on the
prosperous commencement of our Calabrian



Landscape round Motta San Giovanni. Second day's tour. The "toe" of
Italy. Extensive prospects. Lofty mountains. First view of Bova.
Fiumaras, or dry torrent-beds. Peasants of the district ; their complaints
of the devastation of the rivers. Reach Bagaladi. Speculation as to
our hosts there. Don Pepino Panutti and his agreeable wife : their
cordiality. We remain at Bagaladi and postpone Condufori till to-
morrow. Striking scenes in the valley. Village of San Lorenzo.
Cheerful comfort of our host's house. Travels of his wife, and the cause
thereof. Repose of night scene.

July 30. How like a vast opal was Etna as
the sun rose and lighted up the immense
prospect from our southern window ! But
alas ! a world of cloud rose also, and soon
threatened rain.

P and I had a discussion as to what plan

we should pursue touching domestics in this
our " giro/' * and we agreed that it would be
right to offer something : but although we had
a good opportunity while our host was inditing



an introductory letter to a relative at Baga-
ladi, our proffered coin was decidedly though
respectfully refused.

After coffee Don Francesco lionised us over
the little town, the older part of which is half
deserted and crowned by a ruined chapel
commanding a world of distant view ; the lower
half of Motta San Giovanni is composed of
detached houses, forming very picturesque
groups, which combine beautifully with the
severe and decided forms of the hills around ;
already I begin to perceive that Calabrian
scenery has a character peculiar to itself. By
six we were ready to start, our friendly host
begging us to wait on account of the inevitable
rain, but we were proof against fears and

The outskirts of Motta are beautiful, and
there are many scraps of Poussinesque land-
scape which I would fain have lingered to
draw, but a drizzling rain, augmenting rapidly,
forbade delay ; so we followed Dighi Ddghi Da
along lanes and paths, over the slope of bare
hills, and up a long ravine, till the weather

c 2


cleared, and we arrived at an elevated plateau,
whence the whole "Toe of Italy" is finely
discernible, a sea of undulating lines of varied
forms down to the Mediterranean ; a few
towns glittered here and there, and towering
over the most southern extremity of land, a
high cluster of rocks, the wild crags of Pente-
datelo, particularly arrested our attention.
Before us, eastward, is the lofty chain of
mountains, on the last or southernmost peak
of which, Bova, whither we were bound, is
visible : but when we asked whether we should
reach that town to-day, the silent Ciccio turned
up his chin and shook his head with an air of
decided negative which rendered language
wholly unnecessary. The sun came out as we
descended a steep mountain path towards a
white fiumara or dry torrent-course, along
which we toiled and broiled patiently for an
hour or two. Lonely places of devastation are
these fiumaras : blinding in their white or sandy
brilliancy, barring all view from without their
high cliff- sides, and recalling by the bare tract
of ground right and left of their course how


dismal and terrible the rage of their wintry
watery occupant has once been throughout its
destroying career. Bagaladi was yet far distant,
and we were glad to meet in a garden of pear-
trees some chance labourers, who gave us as
much fruit as we wished. Bitterly they com-
plained of their abodes "We do not know
what we are to reap ; sow we never so much r
the torrent swells and carries away all our
work." Even with the bright blue sky above,
I confess to a heart-heavy feeling among these
stern scenes, where nature appears independent
of man, and where any attempt on his part to
set up his staff permanently seems but allowed
for a season, that his defeat may be the more
completely observable after years of laborious

One more ridge yet remained betwixt us and
the valley of Bagaladi, and from its crown we
beheld an opposite range of loftier and more
thickly wooded heights, with the aerial Bova
above, still, as it were, in the very clouds : then,
descending to the level of another torrent, we
arrived by lanes among pear-gardens at the


village, which stands in two scattered portions
on either side of the broad fiumara ; that had,
indeed, destroyed a great part of this lonely
little spot of inhabited earth in the preceding

It is always a great amusement to us to
speculate on the reception we are likely to
meet with from our unknown hosts on arriving
at any new place, and on who or what they
may prove to be. In the present case, as the
family Panutti had dined (it was 2 P.M.) and
were all in bed, it was some time before we
gained admission to a small cottage annexed to
a large house in process of building ; but, not-
withstanding our unseasonable arrival, Don
Peppino Panutti (a good hearty fellow, capo-
urbano* of the district), and a very pretty little
woman, his wife, received us in the most
friendly manner imaginable, and soon refreshed
us with a substantial meal of maccaroni, &c.,
good wine, and sparkling snow. Much did
these good people press us to stay all night.

Head of the rural or district police, established in the
Neapolitan provinces.


Condufdri, the next village, was yet several
hours' distant ; nor could we be sure of meeting
with so clean a dwelling and such agreeable
hosts ; so we agreed to remain, and make the
cloud-capped Bova our next day's journey ;
besides, we had footed it for more than seven
hours under a hot sun and had need of rest,
which we were glad to obtain after dinner.

On waking from our siesta, the sun was
already low, but I rushed out to get at least
one recollection of this curious Calabrian home,
and though surrounded by wondering gazers,
I contrived to do so before it actually grew
dark. It is a wild scene ; the shattered houses
still hang ruinously over the shivered clay sides
of the mighty torrent-track, a broad sweeping
line of white stone, far, far winding through
the valley below ; above rise the high hills we
have to cross to-morrow, half in golden light,
half in purplest shadow ; and among the top-
most furrows and chasms sparkles the little
village of San Lorenzo atom signs of human
life made more striking by their contrast with
the solitude around. We returned to our


humble but very clean home, and sate us down
at a little table to pen out some of our sketches
as comfortably as if we had lived at Bagaladi
for the last five years. The evening closed
with a very agreeable supper, when, in addition
to our host's pretty young wife, his eldest
daughter by a former helpmate made one of
the party. The very superior manner of our
hostess and of her household arrangements
surprised us less when we found she was a
Livornese by birth, and moreover had seen
Malta, Constantinople, and various other parts
of the w 7 orld, having gone for awhile to join her
father in some remote place, whither he had
fled from Livorno on account of what Donna
Giacinta Panutti quietly called " Una piccola
disgrazia, cioe, un' omicidio." *

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Online LibraryEdward LearJournals of a landscape painter in southern Calabria, &c → online text (page 2 of 14)