Edward Lear.

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

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the blue waves, with a background of the
graceful hill of Gerace, and the many lines of
more distant and loftier mountains. Kound
the foot of the Locrian tower, and all over the
sandy spiaggia, or beach, grow abundance of
the whitest amaryllis, filling the air with their
delightful perfume. At half-past one we left
the sea-side, and, soon arriving at the broad
fiumara, the river Merico, which runs below
Gerace, we crossed it, and thence began the
extremely long and gradual ascent leading to
this grand and most picturesque place, where
we arrived at half-past four, P.M.

Gerace,* one of the three Sott' intendenze,

t Gerace, Gierazzo, (Fra Alberto,) Hieraci (Mazzella). Not a
bad plate of it in Pacichelli. All antiquarians agree that it
represents Locris, though it seems uncertain if the Greek city
stood close to the shore, or on the slopes of the hill on which
the modern town is built. Frequent mention is made by several
old authors, that manna is found along the Locrian territory ;


into which Calabria Ulteriore 1. is divided, is
a large cathedral town, full of beautifully-placed
buildings, situated on a very narrow ridge of
rock, every part of which seems to have been
dangerously afflicted by earthquakes. splits,
and cracks, and chasms, horrible with abundant
crookednesses of steeples, and a general appear-
ance of instability in walls and houses. Towards
the north-west, the sharp crest of rock ends
abruptly in a precipice, which on three sides
is perfectly perpendicular. Here are the dark
and crumbling ruins of a massive Norman
castle, from which, by a scrambling path, you
may reach the valley below ; but all other parts
of the town are accessible only by two winding
roads at the eastern and less precipitous
approach. The great height at which this
place is situated, and its isolated site, give it a
command of views the most wide and beautiful
in character : that towards the sea being
bounded by Rocella 'on the north, and Capo

Marafioti speaks of "manna which falls from the sky," as com-
monly abounding in the woods of the eastern side of Calabria, and
particularly in the vicinity of Gerace and Bovalino.


Bruzzano to the south ; while the inland
mountain ranges towards the west, are sub-
limely interesting. In fact, Gerace is by far
the grandest and proudest object in general
position, and as a city, which we have yet seen
in Calabria.

Consigliere da Nava had given us a letter to
Don Pasquale Scaglione, who inhabits one of
the largest houses in the city, overlooking the
whole eastern sea view from its windows. Don
Pasquale, a prepossessing and gentlemanlike
person, welcomed us warmly ; and after we had
had the usual snow and wine, and had made
ourselves comfortable with some water and
half-an-hour's sleep, set us down to an admir-
able dinner albeit, their own was long ago
finished. Nothing can be kinder nor more
well-bred than the hospitable reception given
us by this family, who remind me more of the
Abruzzesi than any of those Calabrese I have
yet seen. After dinner, "we went out to the
unsafe precipices of the Castle, which frowns
magnificently in its decay ; but the wind, for
which even on clear days Gerace is notorious,


was too high to allow of drawing happily, so
we passed the evening at home in conversation
with these new acquaintances.

August 11. Early we wandered near the
town on the ascent from the sea-side, and drew
till eleven, wondering at the infinity of pictures
presenting themselves on every side : each rock,
shrine, and building at Gerace seems arranged
and coloured on purpose for artists, and the
union of lines formed by nature and art is
perfectly delicious. Of costume there seems
little enough, except that all the women dress
in black, and wear the skirt of their outer
dresses turned over the head, like those of
Civita Castellana in the Roman States. At
twelve we dined at the Casa Scaglione. This
is a very well-bred and agreeable family in
essentials, although there are certain Calabrian
modes and usages less refined than those of the
northern provinces among families of a similar
class. Donna Peppina Scaglione, the eldest
brother's wife, is very pretty and lady-like in
appearance, and with agreeable manners. Then


there are the brothers, Don Nicola and Don
Gaetano, the canonico, and Don Abennate, a
priest of Stilo, staying in the house as a guest,
and little Don Cicile, the heir, of five or six
years old, a quaint little Calabrian, full of joy
and fun. Their family dinner consisted of
soup, fish, boiled and fried meat, and potatoes,
all plain and excellent.

After dinner, the last act of which was to
imbibe sundry glasses of an old wine, much
esteemed by the Calabresi, and called Greco,
we adjourned to the great show-room, or salone,
of the Palazzo, the view from which eastward
is most splendid. Here Don Pasquale showed
us a large collection of Locrian, Syracusan,
Koman, and other coins found in the neigh-
bourhood, after which our good host victimised
us fearfully by reading aloud chapter after
chapter of a work which he is writing on Locris
an " opus magnum/' which, however learned,
was vastly dull. All hints about repose were

vain ; so when P fell fast asleep, and I

was nearly following his example, I was about
to beg we might retire, when the author himself


yawned, and paused, and fell into the arms of
the drowsy god, whereupon the committee of
literature was broken up nem. con.

After siesta, drawing again. A beautiful
trait of Gerace is its admirable colour; its
white or delicate fawn-hued cliffs, and gray or
dove-coloured buildings coming beautifully off
the purple of mountains. Eeturning at Ave
Maria, and eating ices in a cafe, we encountered
the medico, whom we had seen at S ta Agata di
Bianco : the Baroness Franco had died on the
morning we left the house ; so that we now
fully understood the mournful silence of the
family, aware of her near dissolution, but
anxious that if possible any excuse to relieve
them from the exercise of hospitality should be
avoided. A most pleasing instance of good
feeling, and well worth remembering. Supper
with the Scaglione family, who are really very
agreeable people : it being Wednesday, scate,
prawns, and rice-risolles are the order of the



We remain at Gerace, and draw constantly. Evening visit to the Sott' in-
tendente. Cathedral of Gerace. Church of S. Francesco. We leave
the Palazzo Scaglione, and descend to the river Novito. Arrangements
to return to Gerace, so as to visit all this province before proceeding to
Calabria Ulteriore, II. Town of Siderno ; dress of the women. General
civility of the peasantry and of all orders of people. Descent to the sea-
shore. Magnificent appearance of Rocella. Approach to the town.
Night comes ere we ascend the rock. Search in the darkness for the
Casa Manni. Hospitable reception by the family of Don Giuseppe
Manni. Ancient palace. Our fatigue and inaptitude at conversation.
Endless interrogatories. The Rocellesi are decided in their opinions as
to our native productions. Their rejection of our fruits and vegetables
as wholly fabulous.

August 12 A day passed in drawing either
on the platform below the town, or on the
open space near the old castle. The powdery
state of the architecture of Gerace is not agree-
able when under the influence of the winds
usually prevailing around the isolated rock.
There is a feeling of home about the good
family Scaglione and their ways, which is most
pleasing. In the evening we all adjourned for


a priraa sera visit to the house of the Sott'-
intendente, Don Antonio Buonafede, and
there passed an hour or two, ere the return
to supper, in showing drawings to admiring
officials and their families.

August 13 We had arranged to start after
dinner for Rocella, the next place in our line
to the north-east corner of the province, so we
devoted the morning to our hosts, going with
them to see the lions of their native town.
The cathedral of Gerace must have been most
interesting as it formerly existed ; but except
the great number of columns from ancient
Locris, the Norman building has totally dis-
appeared, all the upper part having been
destroyed by the great earthquake of 1783,*
which left half Gerace in ruins. There is a
crypt below the cathedral, which, to architects,
would prove extremely interesting, as would
the mosaic altars in the upper building, as well
as those of San Francesco, another church in
the city.

* See Hon. K. Craven on the Cathedral of Gerace. Swinburne.


Having made all ready before dinner, we
quitted the amiable family of Scaglione soon
afterwards, promising to return to them on our
way back from Stilo, for I purpose to go no
further northward than that town, the boundary
of this province. Thence, in order to see the
whole of Calabria Ulteriore I., before advancing
into the next division, it appears to me that
the best plan is, having gone northward by the
sea-shore, to return hither by the hills (Gerace
being a central point of the province), and then
cross them to the western side of the peninsula.

Descending to the River Novito, whose
broad fiumara runs from the mountains north
of Gerace to the sea, we ascended the hill of
Siderno, and passed through that town, a large,
but not picturesque place. The costumes of
the peasantry are, however, becoming more
marked in character ; the women all wear deep-
blue dresses, with four-inch broad orange or
pink borders, and their heads are covered with
black or white panni-cloths, adjusted as in the
province of Terra di Lavoro. Throughout
this, and all our walks hitherto, the civility and


friendliness of every person we meet is most
agreeable. Hence, leaving the Marina di
Siderno on the right (it is said to be a thriving
place among the little ports of this coast), we
descended towards the sea in a northerly direc-
tion, and after many a long lane, by olive-
grounds and fig-gardens, reached the beach.
Rocella, on its rocky cape, always a beautiful
object even from Gerace, becomes more and
more beautiful as one advances towards it ; but
the hour grew late, and so low was the sun,
that it was only by hard running that I reached
a spot, among aloes and olives, by the sea-side,
near enough to draw the fine outline before me.
When the sun had set, there were yet three
miles to the town, over a flat ground, inter-
sected with deceitful ravines, so that delays in
approaching it were as unexpected as unavoid-
able. Troops of peasants passed us, playing on
the Zampogne merrily ; dark grew the sky, and
the stars were bright, as we arrived at the foot
of the suburbs of Kocella once a stronghold of
the Caraffa family now a collection of scattered
houses below, and a knot of others on the double

H 2


fortress rock. Don Giuseppe Nanni, to whom
our letter directed us, we were told lived close
to the castle ; so up we went to the upper
rock, through black arches and passages to a
piazza surrounded by houses, all, as we could
see, by their ragged walls against the sky, in
utter ruin.

Ciccio shouted aloud, but no signs of life
were given in the total darkness. We tried
this turning it was blocked up by a dead wall ;
that way you stumbled among sleeping horses ;
the next path led you to the precipice. We
despaired, and remained calling forth " ai ! ai !
Don Giuseppe Nanni ! Oo ! ooo ! ai ai ! " till
we were hoarse, but there was no other way
of attracting attention. At last (as if there
had been no steps taken at all to arouse the
neighbourhood), a man came, as it were casually,
forth from the dark ruins, holding a feeble
light, and saying mildly, "Cosa cercate?"*
" We seek Don Giuseppe Nanni's house,'' said
we. " This is it," said he. So we walked, with

What do you want ?


no small pleasure, into the very place under
whose windows we had been screaming for the
last hour past. It was a very old palazzo, with
tiny rooms, built against a rock, and standing on
the extreme edge of the precipice towards the
sea. As usual, the family received us cordially
Don Giuseppe, and Don Aristide, the
Canonico, and Don Ferdinando ; and during
the doleful two hours preceding supper, we sat
alternately watching the stars, or listening to
the owl-answering-owl melody in the rocks
above our heads, or fought bravely through the
al solito questions about the tunnel, and the
produce of Inghilterra, though I confess to
having been more than once fast asleep, and,
waking up abruptly, answered at random, in
the vaguest manner, to the applied catechetical
torture. I will not say what I did not aver to
be the natural growth of England camels,
cochineal, sea-horses, or gold-dust ; and as for
the celebre tunnel, I fear I invested it drowsily
with all kinds of fabulous qualities. Supper
was at last announced, and an addition to our
party was made in the handsome wife of Don


Ferdinando, and other females of the family,
though I do not think they shared greatly in
the conversation. Vegetables and fruit alone
embellished the table. The world of Rocella
particularly piques itself on the production and
culture of fruit ; and our assertion that we had
fruit in England, was received with thinly
hidden incredulity.

" You confess you have no wine no oranges
no olives no figs ; how, then, can you have
apples, pears, or plums ? It is a known fact that
TZO fruit does or can grow in England, only
potatoes, and nothing else whatever this is
well known. Why, then, do you tell us that
which is not true ? "

It was plain we were looked upon as vagabond

"Ma davvero,"* said we, humbly; "davvero

* But indeed we have fruit ; and, what is more, we have some
fruits which you have not got at all.

Oh what fruit can you possibly have that we have not ? Oh
how you are laughing at us ! Name your fruits then these
fabulous fruits !

"We have currants, gooseberries, and greengages.

And what are gooseberries and greengages? There are no
such things this is nonsense.


abbiamo de'frutti e di piu, ne abbiamo certi
frutti che loro non hanno affatto." Suppressed
laughter and supercilious sneers, when this
assertion was uttered, nettled our patriotic

" che mai frutti possono avere loro che
non abbiamo noi ? O quanto ci burlano !

Nominateli dunque questi frutti vostri

favolosi ! "

" Giacche volete sapere," said we ; " abbiamo
Currants abbiamo Gooseberries abbiamo

" E che cosa sono Gooseberries e Gringhegi?"
said the whole party, in a rage ; " non ci sono
queste cose sono sogni."

So we ate our supper in quiet, convinced
almost that we had been telling lies ; that
gooseberries were unreal and fictitious ; green-
gages a dream.



We pass the morning at Rocella. Its magnificently picturesque character.
We leave Rocella and the sea-side. Cross the River Alaro. Rich vege-
tation. Ascent to Stignano. Vast herds of goats. Two pointed hats
from the province of Catanzaro The family of Don Cicillo Caristo.
Evening in the balcony. Little owls. Hospitality as usual. Some-
what of dullness. Prospective costumes in Northern Calabria. F6te of
the Madonna. Drums and noise. We grow weary of Stignano. The
dinner. New idea for a valentine; Cupid among the maccaroni. We
set off to Stilo. The river Stillaro. Grand character and architectural
beauty of Stilo. Its magnificent situation. Its well-kept streets. House
of Don Ettore Marzano. Agreeable host and thoroughly cordial recep-
tion. Difficulty of selecting views among a multitude of fine points.
A visit to Bazzano. Courteous manners of peasantry. Daily thunder-
storm. Agreeable stay at Stilo. Fly-flappers. Life at Stilo. Conver-
sazione. Plans for continuing the tour.

August 14. - - We politely declined Don
Aristide as cicerone through the town, as we
had but the morning to choose points to sketch
from, as well as to work hard, for we had planned
to go as far towards Stilo as possible in the
afternoon. Full occupation was there in
Rocella till noon, for the town and rock is a
little world of scenic splendour, and besides its


various beauties as a whole, its details are
exquisite palm-trees and all sorts of vegetable
incidents included. The Nanni family are good
hearty people, but less refined than the Scaglioni
of Gerace. At dinner they had procured dishes
of the largest pears and apples to be found in
Kocella, by way of dessert, and they watched
our faces for signs of mortification thereat,
evidently attributing our non-amazement to our
firm resolve not to tell truth, and betray our
country's horticultural failings.

At half-past two we left Kocella, certainly
one of the very finest coast scenes of Southern
Calabria, and turning round the end of the
promontory, pursued our way northward along
the sea-shore; but so frequently were we
tempted to sketch, that there were no hopes of
reaching Stilo ere night-fall. After passing the
Kiver Alaro, too large a stream to be crossed on
foot, we struck inland, through lanes bordered
with every possible kind of shrub, and rich with
the most luxurious vegetation ; and as we
commenced the long ascent to the large village
of Stignano, the mountain views were more


than ordinarily first-rate. In the wide fiumara
of the Alaro, we observed a flock of five or six
hundred goats among the picturesque accidents
of the day ; and we also met two men with real
positive pointed hats a circumstance of the
most exciting nature. Are we then at last
leaving the land of Sicilian long blue nightcaps ?
But, alas, quoth the spokesman of our two
peasants, " Siamo della provincia di Catanzaro
siamo di Squillace."* So we must wait
patiently yet.

At Stignano we arrived late. It is a wild
place on a steep height, and we went with a
letter to the house of Don Cicillo Caristd, who
received us heartily enough; but, in common
with all his family, overwhelmed and grieved us
with bitter lamentations that they were obliged
to live at Stignano. Once they lived in Napoli,
but now they were doomed to lifelong dis-
content concerning all things in general, and
their Stignano existence in particular : like the
people in the happy valley of Rasselas, they

* We come from the province of Catanzaro we come from


said, we feel a chain around us, and would
sacrifice all to go once more into the gay world !
The unexpected decease of an elder member of
the family had given the present possessor his
little property in this remote village ; and very
ill did the gift of fortune seem appreciated.

We sate all the evening in a balcony looking
towards the mountains ; pleasant pastime
enough, as the moon shone brightly, and we
listened to the " gufi," or little owls, answering
each other far and near ; yet, for all this,
we were half asleep before the supper was
announced, and moreover the family of Caristd
were not possessed of any conversational talents.
Nothing did they care for the Thames Tunnel,
and as little for the produce of England. The
grandfather, the host, his children of all ages,
and some old domestics, composed the party ;
and what was wanting in refinement was made
up in good-will and heartiness to us, though
among themselves the circle seemed rather to
jar and spar.

The costume of the good-looking girl who
waited at table was the prettiest we had seen ;


and say the Stignanesi, " if costumes please you,
you will find better ones at every place you go
to henceforward."

August 15. It is not easy in this wandering
life to arrange matters so as to see certain parts
of the country with a view to a comfortable
division of halting places. In order to have
more leisure at Stilo, we agree to pass the
morning here, and to go thither after dinner;
and though all Stignano, on account of the day
being the festival of the Madonna, seems to have
formed itself into a committee of drummers, we
must bear the noise as best we may.

But it must be confessed that life at Stignano
is oppressive. The famiglia Caristd would
never leave us alone ; when they do not
catechise, they stand in a row and stare at us
with all their might ; and the grandpaternal
Caristo is a thoroughly scrutinising and insa-
tiable bore. At dinner, also, there was a most
confused assemblage of large dogs under the
table who fought for casual crumbs and bones,
and when they did not accidentally bite one's


extremities, rushed, wildly barking, all about
the little room. But the most remarkable
accident during our stay was caused by a small
juvenile Caristo, who, during the mid-day meal,
climbed abruptly on to the table, and before
he could be rescued, performed a series of
struggles among the dishes, which ended by the
little pickle's losing his balance and collapsing
suddenly in a sitting posture into the very

middle of the maccaroni dish, from which P

and I rejoiced to think we had been previously
helped. One sees in valentines Cupids on beds
of roses, or on birds' nests ; but a slightly-
clothed Calabrese infant sitting in the midst of
a hot dish of maccaroni appears to me a perfectly
novel idea.

At half-past three we commenced our journey
northward once more. The route from Stig-
nano to Stilo is a mule-track threading a wild
region between mountain ranges, which here
shut out all view of the sea ; the hills extending
far eastward to the coast, so as to leave but
little space for cultivation. In less than an
hour we arrived at the Stillaro ; which the


violent rains, accompanying a thunder-storm at
noon, had so swollen, that the crossing it was
not to be easily performed on foot : the imper-
turbable Ciccio, however, carried us over on his
back safely enough. Soon the town of Stilo on
its height became visible, and though it was
dusk before we arrived there, yet there was
light enough to perceive that its general aspect
was most promisingly picturesque ; standing
immediately below perpendicular precipices, it
is built on a sort of amphitheatrical terrace, the
projecting rocks at each extremity crowned with
the most picturesque churches and convents.
There appeared to be more evidence of care
and cleanliness in the streets than in other
Calabrian places we had passed through, and
there was an air of orderly feeling and decent
neatness, which struck us as remarkable in a
place more remote from the capital than any
we had yet visited. Don Ettore Marzano, to
whom our introduction was addressed, seemed
a thoroughly hearty, as well as polite, young
man, and his large house was well kept and
comfortable (speaking of things as they are in


Italy), though without attempt at splendour.
With ready alacrity our host put us in pos-
session of two large rooms, and then leaving
us, sent a servant to administer to our wants ;
a tact and attention which reminded me of my
old friends of Abruzzo, whom I was continually
holding up to my fellow-traveller as the models
of Italian provincials. Supper, a simple and
good one, was announced when ready, without
any preparatory waiting or questions ; our host,
a bachelor, being the third of the party. The
friendly and gentleman-like tone of this all'
improvviso reception, in so remote a district,
greatly delighted us.


August 16 When a landscape painter halts
for two or three days in one of the large towns
of these regions, never perhaps to be revisited
by him, the first morning at least is generally
consumed in exploring it : four or five hours
are very well spent, if they lead to the know-
ledge of the general forms of the surrounding
scenes, and to the securing fixed choice of sub-
ject and quiet study to the artist during the


rest of his stay. So many and so exquisite are
the beauties of Stilo, that to settle to drawing
any of them was difficult, and after having
glanced at all the notabilia close to the town, I
employed the rest of the morning in walking
to Bazzano and Bigonzi, two villages on the
farthest outskirts of Calabria Ulteriore I., in
face of the mountains among whose depths lie
the ruins of the famous Norman convent of
Santo Stefano del Bosco. The gorge between
Stilo and Bazzano is excessively grand, but the
villages were not such as to tempt me to

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Online LibraryEdward LearJournals of a landscape painter in southern Calabria, &c → online text (page 6 of 14)