Edward Lear.

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

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At night the moon was full ; the wide valley
was all still, save for the twitter of its myriad
hosts of grasshoppers ; a solitary region, but
beautifully majestic.

A little accident ; that is to say, he killed some one.



Leave Bagaladi, and set out for Condufori. Fatiguing hills. Bova once more
a long way off yet. Woodland scenery. Tracts of beautiful land-
scape. Cicadas. Descent to another fiumara. Arrive at Condufori.
Greek language spoken. House of Don Giuseppe Tropseano repulse

therefrom. Alarm of the hostess. Our retreat to an osteria

Forlorn Calabrian accommodations. "Turchi" spectators. Unprepos-
sessing Cyclopean girl. Pursue our way. Intense amusement of the
silent Ciccio. Ascent to Amendolia. Magnificent prospect. Laborious
ascent. Good-natured peasants. Bova is reached at last. House of
Don Antonio Marzano. Another hospitable reception.

July 31 By sunrise, the little Livornese

lady had given us our coffee, with some orgeat
and abundance of little confetti.* Ciccio, who,
as far as we have yet gone, seems the prince of
faultless guides and attendants, was in complete
readiness, and Don Peppino Panutti accom-
panied us down the fiumara on our way. Short
as had been our visit, we regretted leaving these
friendly people. A long pull up winding paths

Sugar-plums or sweetmeats.


led to the hill below San Lorenzo, and our
last night's quarters looked like a cluster of
dominoes far below. From the summit, once
more the blue distant Bova soared aloft in
apparently unreachable dignity ; yet we could
now discern a sort of castle, and peaks of rock,
and fringes of forest. Between us and it were
beautiful tracts of woodland, groups of fine
trees, tumblings of earth, and not a few of those
painful fiumaras through which we knew full
well we were doomed to toil ere we commenced
our ascent to the Greek town ; for Bova is said
to be the last remnant of Magna Graecia, still,
with four adjoining villages, preserving the
language and some of the habits of its ancestral

The morning's walk was most delicious: at
every step its scenery became grander, in vast
mountainous extent of distance, and close oak-
filled vales. All my hopes of Calabrian scenery
are fulfilled. Stopping here and there to make
an outline of what most struck us (though
these are landscapes not to be hastily drawn),
we arrived about ten on a sunny height, where,


beneath a spreading oak, we halted to draw a
glorious seaward view, where rock and ravine,
wood and vale and water, were so mingled as
to form one of the finest of scenes. The whole
atmosphere seemed alive with cicada?,* who
buzzed and fizzed, and shivered and shuddered,

* The cicada (C. Plebceia), or cicala, ia the most noisy of insects,
and during the heat of the day, throughout the months of July
and August, the clamour made by the infinite numbers of this
small creature in Southern Italy is most remarkable. I cannot
remember ever to have heard them sing (so to speak) before
sunrise or after sunset ; but as soon as the first ray of morning
warmed the tops of the olives in the glens at Tivoli, or the red
rocks of Amalfi, earth and air resounded with the lively insect
armies. At the latter place the children often catch them, and
tie them by twos and threes to their ears, when the effect produced
must strongly resemble a scissor-grinder's wheels in full action on
each side of the head. While at Eeggio it did not occur to us
to test the truth of the report, that, on that portion of the west
side of Calabria, cicale never make any noise, which they are
said not to do by ancient authors as well as moderns; and
various causes have been assigned for the different behaviour of
these unmelodious songsters on the Eeggian and Locrian
territories. Marapoti notices a popular version of the subject,
that St. Paul, while preaching in Ehegium, was so disturbed by
these perverse creatures, who would not let the congregation hear
his sermon, that he anathematised all that generation of Ehegian
cicale ; and their descendants have been mute ever since. " But
this," says the judicious Marapoti, " I cannot believe to be true,
because the cicale only appear in June, and St. Paul was at
Ehegium in the month of March."


and ground knives on every branch above and
around. At eleven we began to descend
towards Condufori, by paths which even the
alert and accomplished horse of Ciccio found
very unsatisfactory ; beautiful are those wild
oak woods ! and at last we lost sight of the
eternal Bova, and were once more threading a
fiumara like a furnace between white cliffs,
speculating on our reception at Condufori, and
devoutly hoping our next host might not have
dinner ere we arrived. On our asking Ciccio
as to the properties and characteristics of the
village and its habitants, we could get nothing
from him but " Son Turchi," * except that we
construed into a negative testimonial his volun-
teering the information " that we had done well
to sleep last night at Bagaladi, dighi, doghi,
da." So we thought too ; for our walk of this
morning would have been too much to have
added to that of yesterday, not to speak of the
loss of such scenery after dusk.

Condufori, a little village, wedged in a nook

* They are Turks.


between two hills, the torrent at its feet, and
the mountain mass of high Apennine threaten-
ingly above it, was at length reached, and the
house of Don Giuseppe Tropaeano discovered.
Alas ! the master was away at the Marina,* or
Scala, and our appearance threw his old sister
into such a state of alarm, that we speedily
perceived all hope of lodging and dinner was
at an end. We stood humbly on the steps of
the old lady's house, and entreated her only to
read the letter we had brought but not she J
she would have nothing to say to us. " Sono
femmina," "Sono femmina," she constantly
declared a fact we had never ventured to
doubt, in spite of her immoderate size and
ugliness " Sono femmina, e non so niente."f
No persuasions could soften her, so we were
actually forced to turn away in hunger and

* All or most of the hill towns on the coast of Southern Italy
have a sort of port, or quay, or haven on the shore, where, in
default of roads, they embark and disembark goods, and the pro-
duce of their territory; this "port" they call the Marina, or
Scala di &c., the town to which it appertains.

t I am a woman, I am a woman, and know nothing about


disgust. As for Ciccio, he merely took his
short pipe from his lips, and said, " Son Turchi
d6ghi, da."

Neither man nor horse could proceed further
under the broiling heat, and unrefreshed by
food ; so we found a most vile taverna, where,
for want of better accommodation, we prepared
to abide. Ciccio, the Phoenix of guides,
stowed away the horse and baggage, and set
the " Turchi " to get lots of eggs, which, with
wine and snow, made our dinner. It was more
difficult to find a place to eat it in, and we
truly congratulated ourselves on not having
come on to Condufori last night. The wretched
hut we were in was more than half choked up
by the bed of a sick man, with barrels, many
calf-skins filled with wine, and a projecting
stone fireplace ; moreover, it was as dark as
Erebus ; so in the palpable obscure I sat down
on a large live pig, who slid away, to my dis-
gust, from under me, and made a portentous
squeaking, to the disquiet of a horde of fowls,
perched on every available spot above and
below. The little light the place rejoiced in


was disturbed by a crowd of thirty or forty
" Turchi," who glared at us with the utmost
curiosity, and talked in their vernacular tongue
without ceasing. We had also a glimpse now
and then of our Hebe handmaid, the assistant
or " waitress " in the establishment, a woman
with one eye, whose countenance struck both
of us as a model of a Medusa: nor was her
mistress (the hostess) much better. Spite of
all this, we nevertheless greatly enjoyed our
roasted eggs, and were soon ready to start
again ; for although the heat was great out of
doors, yet it was nearly as much so within ;
besides, Bova was a weary way of, and Dighi
Doghi Da made signs of impatience, so he paid
for our lunch, and off we went once more into
the blazing fiumara.

We had not gone far, before a chuckling
sound was heard to proceed from the hitherto
imperturbable Ciccio, who presently went into
convulsions of suppressed laughter, which con-
tinued to agitate him for more than an hour,
only broken by the words, " Sono femmina, e non
so niente, dighi, da," by which we were led to


perceive that the rude reception given us by
Mrs. Tropaeano had made a forcible impression
on our quaint quiet guide's imagination.

Leaving the dry river-bed of Condufori, we
climbed the second ridge, and descended to
another fiumara, which runs to the sea below
Amendolia,* a castellated, but deserted town,
half way up to the skies, as it were, and yet
far below Bova. Here we entered the Dis-
tretto di Gerace,f and were ordered to halt
by some gendarmes, who came from a hut and
inspected our passports, after which delay we
began to climb the ascent to Bova in earnest,
and for many an hour. But still we wearily
worked on and up, Bova seemed always like
the phantom bark never the nearer : we had
long passed the level of the Castle of Amendolia,
and were looking down into its empty courts,

* Amendolia, by some authors considered as identical with a
Chalcidian city Peripolis, said to be the birth-place of Praxiteles,
produces honey, and mushrooms, and asparagus, all the year
round ; spoken of by Pacichelli as a considerable place in his
time ; by Swinburne as a poor village.

t The province of Calabria Ulteriore Prima is divided into three
Distretti Reggio, Gerace, Palmi. See page 2.


yet the unattainable peak was still far above
us, and truly magnificent was the view, look-
ing back from the points of rock where we
frequently halted to rest, after passing the
thick oak woods which encircle Bova. With
these objects below our feet, the immense
perspective of diminishing lines and torrents,
finished by the complete and simple outline of
Etna beyond the sea, is certainly one of the
very finest scenes to be found even in beautiful
Italy. While drawing it, numerous groups of
picturesque peasants passed us, on their return
homewards, and almost all stopped and offered
pears, in the most good-natured way possible.
After a last hard climb, we arrived at Bova, as
the evening had made all things dark and alike,
and we were unable to perceive " what like "
was the palazzo of Don Antonio Marzano,
who, with his wife, received us with the greatest
hospitality, on reading the recommendatory
letter furnished us by Don Antonio da Nava.
The greatest penance of this roving life is the
state of exhaustion and weariness in which you
arrive at your evening abode ; and as you feel


very properly obliged to play the polite for a
certain time to your entertainers, the wrestling
between a sense of duty and an oppressive
inclination to sleep is most painful. The good
people, too, persist in delaying supper (in order
that they may provide a good one) till you are
reduced (ere it comes) to a state of torture and
despair, in the protracted struggle between
hunger, Morpheus, and civility.



Situation and appearance of Bova. Traditional visit of C. J. Fox thereto.
Remarks on the origin of the Bovani. Changes about to take place
in the affairs of Bova. Its Marina, or sea-port. The Bishop. Delightful
quiet, and beauty of scenery. Exquisite view of Etna. Honey.
Luxuriance of the prickly pear, or cactus. Remain at the Palazzo
Marzano. Sonnet by Don Antonio. Arrangement of places to be visited
on the route to S ta Maria di Polsi. We leave Bova with regret. Descent
from the mountain. The Cyclopean girl of Condufori again. Continued
scenes of forest or valley. Mid-day and approach to Palizzi. Its singular
situation, and castle. Narrow streets and stairs : wild Calabrese town.
Beautiful Palizzana. Brown Cupids. The Taverna of Palizzi: its
inhabitants and furniture. Astonishment and questions of the host, &c.
Political motives imputed to wandering artists. Strange appearance
of Palizzi from below. Prickly pears and other difficulties. Departure
from Palizzi. Hill of Pietrapennata : its most exquisite forests.
Approach to Staiti : its Calabrian character and singular aspect.
Costume of women. Don Domenico Musitani : his disagreeable house.
Hospitality qualified by circumstances. Silkworms and their disagree-
ables. Contrast between the various abodes in such tours.

August 1. Our host was ready, in expecta-
tion of showing us some of the best points of
view, which around this eagle's-nest of a place
are most extraordinary. The great charac-
teristic of Calabrian towns, picturesquely

D 2


speaking, appears to consist in the utter
irregularity of their design, the houses being
built on, under, and among, separate masses of
rock, as if it had been intended to make them
look as much like natural bits of scenery as
possible. The Marzano Palazzo is among the
most prominent of the houses here, and, homely
and unornamented as it is, stands on its brown
crag, looking over worlds of blue wood, and
Sicily floating on the horizon's edge, with a
most imposing grandeur and just where a
painter would have put it.

Our host, Don Antonio, lives entirely on his
property in this remote place, though, like most
of the Possidenti hereabouts, he was educated
at Naples. Albeit a scholar as regards Greek
and Latin authors, his knowledge of English
geography and personages is limited, and he
refers in rather a misty manner to our " com-
patriota glorioso il grande Fox ; "* who, he says,

* " Our glorious compatriot, the great Fox. But whether it
was before or after he governed England with Lord Pitt ."

I have lately learned from Edward H. Bunbury, Esq., M.P.,
that an uncle of his, who was nephew of the celebrated Charles
James Fox, actually did visit Bova in 1829, and hence the not
very surprising error of our host.


once came to Bova to study geology ; " ma se
fosse prima o dopo che governasse 1' Inghilterra
insieme con Lord Pitt/' this he did not
clearly know. According to our friend, Bova
(with the four casali mentioned in page 26, all
of whose inhabitants speak a corrupt Greek,
and are called Turchi by their neighbours,) is
a real old Grecian settlement, or rather, the
representative of one formerly existing at
Amendolia, and dating from the time of Locris
and other colonies. The Bovani are particularly
anxious to impress on the minds of strangers
that they have no connection with the modern
emigrants from Albania, &c. (See " Illustrated
Exc. in Italy," vol. i.) * In no list of these

* Since the above was written, I have referred to the opinions
of several authors as to the antiquity of the Greek settlements
in this part of Italy. Many circumstances combine to persuade
me that the following view, held by the Hon. Keppel Craven on
the subject, is most probably the correct one, namely, that
although the inhabitants of Bova are not to be looked upon as the
lineal descendants of the Locrians or Bhegians, and that their
settlements are not to be traced to a more remote era than that
of the lower Greek empire, " previous, it is true, to the invasion
of the Saracens, or the settlements of the Normans, yet that
they are infinitely more ancient than the establishment of the


settlers, as far as I can trace, are any of
these southern Greco-Italian establishments

Epirote and Morean colonies, though as distantly removed from
those which emigrated in the classic ages of ancient Greece."

1. In the laborious Dizionario, by Giustiniani, all the dates of
the various emigrations, six in number, are given, whether from
Albania or the Morea; and the places of abode are carefully
enumerated to the amount of forty-five distinct towns and villages
in the various provinces of the kingdom. Among these no mention
is made of Bova, or of its adjacent casali, Affrico, Condufori, &c.,
although these places are individually detailed in the usual manner
in the body of the Dizionario.

2. I did not perceive at Bova any of those traces of costume
(of the differences of Albanian or Greek dialect I unfortunately
could not judge) or manner, which in other of the later Albanian
or Moreote settlements which I have visited are so remarkable.

3. Marapoti, who wrote in 1600, and who devoted considerable
attention to the description of the habits and manners of the
Albanian and Moreote settlers, says that their Church services
are celebrated neither in Latin nor Greek, and is very diffuse
in notices concerning their wild modes of life, their abode in
" Tugurii " or caves, and their mode of dancing (evidently the
same as that practised by the modern Epirotes and Greeks), their
cooking of sheep whole, &c., which if molested they leave and
burn. But he by no means confounds these very distinct people
with those around Eeggio, of whom he says, " In questi casali
(Motta Leucoptera, the modern Motta S. Giovanni [Pacichelli],
Sant' Agata, &c.) comunemente si parla in lingua Greca, &c.,
che anche s'vsa nella piu gran parte del' hdbitationi convecine a
Reggio" p. 61. Here is no mention of Albanesi or Moreoti.

4. Pacichelli (1703) alludes to the Greek language as spoken
in the district of Bova, but does not mention the inhabitants
having emigrated, as he does those of Barile, &c. &c.


included : their great distance from the more
frequented parts of the peninsula, and their
consequently scanty intercourse with their
neighbours, have, according to their own
account, contributed to keep their race dis-
tinct. From the same causes the vast height
at which the city is built, and its remoteness
from any channels of communication with the
capital, even the most ordinary traffic is of
necessity tedious and difficult ; but a great
change seems about to be wrought in the
affairs of Bova ; for the present Bishop is
doing all in his power to attract the in-
habitants to the Marina di Bova, an increasing

5. Of Bossano, Mr. Swinburne says, " so late as the sixteenth
century, the inhabitants of this city spoke the Greek language,'
&c. ; but I find no mention of the inhabitants of Rossano having
emigrated from Albania or Greece. It would be desirable to
learn on what authority Mr. Swinburne remarks, that the people
of Bova " emigrated from Albania only a few centuries ago ; many
of these Albanese settlements are poor, those in the neighbour-
hood of Bova remarkably so." The observation is repeated in
Sir J. Hobhouse's (Lord Broughton) " Journey through Albania.'

Would it not then rather appear that the statements of
Keppel Craven are correct ? "Why should Bova, the largest place
of all, have escaped the notice of all Italian writers, and have
been unknown by its own inhabitants to be of Albanian origin ?


village by the sea-side. Hither, through the
episcopal influence, the public offices and
residence of the governor, &c., are already
removed, and many families follow them, rather
than have the present annoyance of the steep
ascent. But the old possessors of property in
the town thus in process of compulsory migra-
tion, cling stedfastly to the site of their
ancestral homes, and oppose, as far as they
dare, the innovating schemes of the go-a-head
moderns. Thus, even in this Ultima Thule
of Italy, domestic dissension is rife ; and a
severe illness having attacked the venerable
Yescovo within the last month, the aspirations
for his recovery on earth, or his translation
to the world above, are less the impulses of
abstract charity or piety, than of the feelings
which actuate the parties in this Bovan feud.

Our day passed quietly away between lion-
izing and drawing : the Marzano family, plain,
homely, well-bred people, was of the friendliest.
At sunset we sauntered in what they termed,
" II Giardino," one of those weed-full dis-
arranged plots of ground, so delightful to the


" dolce far niente " of Italian life, and so
inducive of " lotus-eating," quiet and idleness ;
a pergola- walk, tangled with grass below and
fig-bushes hanging above over walls of gray rock,
commands vistas, among the vine-branches, of
the long graceful form of Etna, with clear
lines of rock and river sweeping down to the
far sea. Then there were hives, with won-
drously good honey ; for superiority in which
product Bova and Amendolia contend as
zealously as they dispute their several titles
to be styled the birthplace of Praxiteles, the
Greek sculptor. The cactus grows in immense
luxuriance over every crag and mountain side
hereabouts it is the very weed of the country :
the fruit, which at its best may be compared
to a very insipid apricot, is greatly valued by
the Calabrians, and seems to form no small
proportion of the food of the poorer classes.

From the precipices which frown above the
numerous fiumaras towards the shore, this
extraordinary vegetable hangs downward in
grotesque festoons and chains of great length,
and in many places forms a thickly-matted


surface, which to any fortress on the cliff above
would be a complete defence. In early summer
its bright yellow blossoms add a charm to its
strange and wild appearance.

August 2. A repetition of yesterday was
passed in drawing about the rock town of
Bova. The Bovani take great interest in our
performances ; and Don Antonio makes a sonnet
thereon, which I append,* notwithstanding it
is in praise of my sketches, as a specimen of
" unpublished " Calabrese poetry.


Salve genio d' Albione ! oh come e bello,

Veder natura su le pinte carte
Figlie del tuo pensier, del tuo pennello

Dal vero tratte con mirabil arte !
lo la veggo le roccie, ed il castello

Le case, il campanile, e quasi in parte
Tutta la patria mia : e il poverello

Che dal monte per giu vi si diparte.
E se per baize e valli, e boschi ombrosi,

Molto questa contrada all' arte offria
Italia e bella pur nei luoghi ascosi.

Ed ivi P amico lasci, cui il desio
Di memoria serbar pei virtuosi

Gli scalda il cor, perche desir di Dio.


^ . "V

Yet, in the elegancies of society, the Mar-
zani are far behind most families of similar
position in .the Abruzzi provinces, however
their equals in every kind of hospitality and
good-nature. To-morrow we start for Staiti,
San Angelo di Bianco, and San Luca, on the
way to Santa Maria di Polsi, one of our greatest
objects of curiosity in Calabria Ulteriore I.

August 3. Hardly could we persuade the
domestics to accept of three carlini, even in

A friend sends me the following translation of the foregoing
verses :

Genius of Albion, hail ! what joy to see

The landscapes glowing on the tinted board,
Fair children of thy thought, so wondrously

Drawn with thy magic brush from nature's hoard !
I see the rocks, the frowning citadel,

As line by line the well-known shapes unfold,
The houses, and the tall tower with the bell,

And there a peasant wandering down the wold.
Ah ! if these glens, and vales, and shady groves,

Yield to the pencil matter without end,
Among the scenes where artist seldom roves,

How fair is Italy ! There, my friend,
Thou leav'st me, hoping, as a good man should,
To live within the memory of the good.


remuneration for washing our linen. As we
started from Bova ere the earliest sunbeams
had changed Etna from a blue to pale rosy
tint, the worthy Don A. Marzano bade us a
hearty adieu, entreating us to write to him
from whatever part of the world we might be
in, generally, and from Gerace in particular.

Descending the narrow street of steep stairs,
for whosoever leaves Bova must needs so
descend, unless he be a bird, we passed the
public prison, and lo ! glaring through the bars
was the evil countenance of the woman whom,
in the tavern-hut of Condufori, we had re-
marked as a species of Medusa : she had been
sent hither last night for having murdered one
of her fellow Turchi or Turche. The broad
dark shades of morning filled the deep valley

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Online LibraryEdward LearJournals of a landscape painter in southern Calabria, &c → online text (page 3 of 14)