Edward Lear.

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

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from nature.

After this visit to Polistena, which a short
sojourn at its principal cafe concluded, we
returned to Castelnuovo by half-past twelve,
the tall, thin olive-trees casting a grey veil of
filmy shade over our path all the way thither.
"Tirate, tirate, mangiate sempre,"f said old
Don Vincenzo Tito, at our hospitable meal ;
but on my asking for a letter of introduction
to Palmi, he drew back, and abruptly declined,
" La c'e locanda," J said he, which refusal, so
different to the way in which the Abruzzesi
used to say " Go to our cousin this, or uncle
that, but not to a locanda ;" or, " Che disgrazia,
andare in una locanda ! Non ci saranno de'

* They say that this was a famous author.
t Work away eat always.
There is an inn there.


parent! nostri in quel paese forse?"* rather
revived my suspicions.

At nineteen o'clock we left Castelnuovo, with
the intention of sleeping at Oppido, a town also
on the plain, and the native place of Donna
Rosina Scaglione's family. A delightful road
through never-ending olives, with wondrous
glimpses of a perfect sea of foliage, down to the
Gulf of Gioia, brought us in two hours to
Radicena ; everybody we met offering us grapes,
peaches, and pears, with the good-natured pro-
fusion usual among these people. You see
little of the towns in this great plain until you
arrive at them : they are composed mostly of
low and scattered houses, placed on eminences
in the heart of deep ravines or hollows like
San Vittorino, Pratica, Gallicano or Galera, in
the Campagna di Roma. Few buildings of
more than a single story in height having been
raised since 1783 and these are well-nigh
hidden by cultivation; but albeit there is
little strikingly or individually picturesque

What ! go to an inn ? Are there then none of our relations
in that town ?


to be found, the whole aspect of the country,
which slopes gradually to the sea, is one of rich,
though monotonous beauty. At twenty-two
o'clock, after passing many immense ravines and
undulating earthquake- traces, where fern, and
all kinds of vegetation grow most luxuriantly,
we ascended to Terranova, once the largest town
of this district, but utterly destroyed by the
fearful event of 1783. The old city is altogether
overwhelmed and buried in chasms, and below
crags and dells, and its successor is a single
straggling street of lowly dwellings of most
melancholy appearance. All the surface of the
neighbourhood seems changed and destroyed.
But there were yet above three hours' walk to
Oppido,* so we still went on over that wondrous
plain, with peeps of waves of foliage now like
a sea of bronze in the setting sun, which gilded
this extraordinary olive-garden. Then rose
the full round moon, and all the scene became

* Oppido is represented as a large walled city in Pacichelli's
work ; and is spoken of as a bishopric, and a large and important
place by Marafioti.

The latter author describes Terranova as the greatest and
most flourishing city of all that plain.


one of gray filmy light and shade, the long
stems of the olive making a net- work of shadow
on the deep dusty roads. At Avemaria, we
passed another village (Mesignade) and later
yet, Trisilico hamlets faintly seen among the
tremulous moonlit olives. We were well tired
by the time we reached Oppido, which had the
appearance of a large and tolerably well-built
town ; nor were we sorry to stand at the door
of the house where we hoped to be entertained,
but alas ! Don Pasquale Zerbi, its owner, was
away, and all his palazzo shut up for repairs !
Our only hope and help, therefore, was in a
most wretched locanda a very horrid den : at
its door we sat, and prolonged our supper of
eggs till late : but the numbers of formidable
vermin were so great and distressing in the
sleeping apartments, that we could not con-
template the animated beds without a shudder ;
whereon we sat up and waited till daybreak, as
best we might.



Olive woods on the way to Gioia. Fiumara, or River Marro. Burning heat.
Rice-grounds. Melon-gardens and elevated look-out houses. Malaria,
King-fishers. Wearisome walk. Arrival at Gioia. Its character for
very bad air and deadly fevers. We set off towards Palmi. High-road
travelling in Calabria. Approach to the city of Palmi. View of the
Lipari Isles. The angry landlady and the good inn. Breakfast. Beau-
tiful situation of Palmi. We send Ciccio to Bagnara by the road, and
go ourselves by sea. Fine coast scenery Beautiful position of Bagnara.
Carriage-road to Scilla. Its position. Its rocks and castle. Opinion
of Calabrians of our drawing. Boat to the rock of Scilla. Squabble
with the innkeeper. We leave the town : halt at Villa San Giovanni.
Retrospective glance on our thirty days' tour, and plans for the future.
We reach Reggio once more. Consigliere da Nava.

August 25. Once more on the road hoping
to repose to-night at Palmi ! and the infallible
Ciccio, never yet put out by changes or chances,
advises us to go hence directly to Gioia, on the
sea-shore, and from that place to Palmi, by the
carriage-road, instead of lengthening the journey
by passing through Seminara. So, from Oppido
we walked on, always downward toward the sea,
and ever through interminable olive-woods


high, gray, filmy, feathery olives, with twisted
mossy trunks. But the pleasant freshness of
early morn soon ceased ; and when we left the
last flock of goats below the last great oak-tree on
the red clay banks of a huge white watercourse,
we had no prospect but that of burning heat,
ever increasing through the shadeless journey
to Gioia. Gioia, forsooth ! Noia it should be
called ; for the whole of the lower part of its
great plain is celebrated for the most deadly
malaria ; so that although the Scala, or port of
Gioia, is the centre of business for all the produce
oil and olives of the whole of this wide and
fertile tract, yet, after early May, it is not habit-
able, and in July or August to sleep there is
almost with the certain consequence of fever.

Lower down, towards the gulf, our route in
the fiumara of the river Marro became disa-
greeable to the greatest degree there were not
even oleanders to vary its monotony ; extensive
rice-grounds, irrigated and irritating, were
stretched on either side, and to these succeeded
immense fields of melons, placed among which
were many lofty stands here and there, made of

M 2


boughs, and roofed with dry foliage, in which
aerial boxes dwelled the melon-growers, enjoy-
ing a bird's-eye view of their property. This
mode of protecting vineyards and other produce
is frequent also throughout Sicily, and its details
always abound in picturesque characteristics ;
the bronzed faces of two or three children
projecting from their airy home the scattered
clothes or household utensils below the clus-
tering goats beneath the shade of the lofty
chamber or a thousand other accidents, all
conspire to form pictures. The heat of the
day grew most intense, and the passage through
stagnant sheets of water or mud, and over dry,
burning, white stones, was most weary. Now
and then we saw large herds of black swine,
of that race whose proportions are so highly
esteemed wallowing in the dull pools of
the river, or tended by half-naked children on
the borders of the rice-grounds, but unless by
these encounters, or by the glittering flight of
a bright kingfisher, our walk was unvaried
by any incident. We passed and repassed
the stream, till we were fairly disgusted ; a


thick heavy atmosphere, a sentiment of solid
disease and heat, seemed to brood over all
things, and we were extremely glad of even the
little shade afforded us by the shelter of one of
the melon-growers' towers, a two-storied leafy
hut, round whose base melons were piled in
prodigious quantities. Here we reposed, if
that might be called repose which consisted of
sitting on a heap of Indian corn leaves, in the
very small space to which the sun's rays did
not penetrate, and in disputing with hungry
pigs the right to lunch on one of their master's
melloni d' acqua. At length, on resuming our
walk, little undulating heights covered with
bosky oak and thick underwood, betokened that
we were leaving this unpropitious region, and
approaching the vicinity of the high road from
Naples to Eeggio ; and, crossing this, we were
soon within the limits of pestiferous Gioia,* a
mere village, consisting of some large ware-
houses, and a huge osteria, which stands close
to the sea-shore.

Gioia is described by Alberti as possessing a plain most
abundant and fruitful in character. Site of Metaurus (Pacichelli,
Cramer, &c.) The river Metaurus is the modern Marro.


In this public resort, a tenement containing
two huge rooms, mostly filled with the oily, but
by no means odoriferous, produce of the neigh-
bourhood, we sought food and rest, though our
prospect of the latter was small ; for the wary
Ciccio said, ever and anon, " Se dormite, siete
morti, dighi doghi da ! " * and if we ever closed
our eyes for a moment, all the people of the
osteria shrieked out with one voice, "0 santo
cielo ! svegliate vi ! svegliate vi ! "-)- Gioia is,
indeed, one of the most mournful of places ;
for, although the trade carried on from it in oil
is very considerable, and numerous workmen
are transporting barrels, &c., on every side,
these are all people of the adjacent city of
Palmi, who come hither at morn and return
home at night. There is no drinkable water
in the place ; and the few poor wretches
who are left in charge of the warehouses are
melancholy and horrible objects malaria-fever
being written on every line of their face and
form. Here were on every side the emaciated

If you sleep, you are dead men !
t heavens ! wake up !


limbs, the skin contracted closely to the bones
of the face, the yellow complexion, the swollen
stomach, the harsh and grating voice all uner-
ring signs of the nature of the air in such
localities, and too easily recognised by long
sojourners in the marshes or Campagna of the
Eoman States.

Hot as was the afternoon, we considered that
any extremity of discomfort might be a relief
to that we were suffering ; wherefore, with the
fear of fever before our eyes, we preferred to set
off as early as we could along the burning high
road towards Palmi. How undeniable is the
simplicity of those who think they have " done "
Calabria, by travelling in a carriage from Naples
to Keggio! All the beautiful incidents of
pastoral or mountain life, all the romance
of a wandering artist's existence, is carefully
banished from your high-road tourist's journey ;
and the best he can boast of is an extended
view from some elevated point of road. We
looked back with fond regret to the moun-
tains of Aspromonte, or to the shady paths in
the groves of the upper plain of Gioia, and


voted all highways eminent nuisances and

Leaving a road to Seminara on the right, we
toiled up the hill of Palmi, and long before
arriving there, the burning sun and white dusty
" via carrozzabile " had thoroughly wearied us.
Dreary walls by the road-side, enclosing gardens
of villa or casino, foretold our near approach
to the city ; and these, in the absence of shade,
were our only consolation, except that in one
open warehouse we were treated to a draught
of refreshing water. Palmi is one of the three
sottintendenze of the province, and is placed
on the high cliffs of its western coast, imme-
diately opposite the Lipari Isles, which, in shape
somewhat like a row of inverted cups and
saucers, here adorn the horizon. Suburban
residences surround the city to a considerable
extent, but the views from it are rather remark-
able for the great distance they embrace, than
for possessing any first-class landscape qualities.
Eastward, high cliffs overhang the town ; north-
ward, the endless plain of Gioia stretches far
away ; and southward, Scilla and part of


Mongibello occupy the picture, with the blue
sea, Stromboli and its satellites, to the west.
Palmi bears in its first aspect the character of
a neat, clean, and bustling place indeed, we
find we are at once and plainly come to the
end of Calabrian romance and interest, and had
we not been heartily wearied by our walk we
might probably have regretted that we had not
chosen the road hither by Seminara, where at
least there were woods which in former days
were among the most celebrated in the pro-
vince as the haunt of robbers.

We went to a locanda which had been named
to us by some one on the road, but in going
thither old Ciccio twice shook his head, and
said "Non credo* dighi d6ghi da," where-
from we did not augur any great success in our
search. When we arrived at the bottom of the
scala or staircase, all the upper part of it was
filled up by the most Brobdignagian of living
landladies : moreover, this enormous woman
was peculiarly hideous, and clad in the slightest
and most extraordinary of simple costumes:

* I doubt.


true, the thermometer was at the highest, and
the lady might be suffering from the great heat ;
but the apparition of her dishabille and globe -
like form was so remarkable, that we paused
at the threshold of so formidable a hostess the
rather that she had evidently been sacrificing
earnestly to Bacchus, and was as unsteady on
her feet as clamorous with her tongue. " Let
us try some other locanda," said we to each
other, and were turning away, when the monster
landlady shouted out " O, figli miei ! venite,
venite ;" * but seeing that her invitation made
no impression " Andatevi al diavolo nero," f
quoth she, accompanying her words with a yell,
and an abrupt ejection of a large broom from
her right hand down the staircase, so that
we fairly fled without further discussion, and
followed the silent but grinning Ciccio to
another locanda, called "II Plutino," and
situated in the chief piazza of the town. Here
was everything in very tolerable order, and no
southern Italian provincial inn can boast of

0, my sons, come in, come in.
t Go to the black devil.


better accommodations. In the evening we
explored the town a bustling and active scene,
and contrasting strongly with many of our late
homes. The solid wheeled cars used here to
transport goods, and drawn by cattle, struck us
as peculiarly picturesque. Of costume in dress
there is little enough.

August 26. After the unheard-of Calabrian
luxury of a real breakfast, we drew in the piazza
near the sea. At this spot is one of the views on
which those few travellers who pass from Eeggio
to Naples by land are accustomed to bestow
enthusiastic praise ; nor is it unworthy of its
reputation. A flat promenade or platform,
half surrounded by seats, and a balustrade,
the resort of the evening idlers of Palmi, is
terminated at one end by the clustering churches
and other buildings of the town ; and at the
other, sinks down into the blue sea, a perpen-
dicular cactus-clothed precipice. Immediately
above the town frowns a bluff point, the sides
of which also shelve downward, and are lost
in a world of olive and orange groves, a feathery


palm-tree peering here and there over the little
houses embosomed in the luxuriant foliage.
Beyond is spread a wide expanse of sea, with
the single town of Scilla sparkling at the foot
of its cliff, while pale Etna, with its snowy
point, closes this most beautiful prospect.
Many are the pretty bits of landscape around
this charming spot gray rocks and olives or
gay gardens, with the town of Bagnara seen
afar between the graceful branches of the

At mid-day, the bill of the " Hotel " was by
no means so unexceptionable as the dinner
and style of the accommodation, and it was
not without much dispute and combat that we
succeeded in paying one-seventh of the sum
asked, but which seventh was more than a
sufficient remuneration.

Sending Ciccio with the horse and baggage
by the road, we descended to the Scala, and
embarked in a boat for Bagnara, which, placed
on a peninsular rock, projects grandly into the
water beyond the Bay of Palmi. The cliffs are
infinitely majestic between the two towns


descending in sheer and perpendicular crags
to the sea, and were it not for the absence of
buildings, the coast would have often reminded
me of that of Amalfi, or of Positano ; as far as
the motion of a boat in a very rough swell would
allow me to observe them, I enjoyed these
scenes extremely, but I was glad to approach
the shore once more. On the north side of
the rock of Bagnara we landed, glad once again
to welcome our old friends the aloes and cactus,
which ever love to adorn the rocky coast or
beetling crag ; they affect but little the smooth
plains of Gioia, the olive-ground and orange-
garden, nor does the stately aloe thrive among
the colder mountain-heights, though the Indian
fig was common, albeit not in its own full
luxuriance, even on the crags of Canalo.
Bagnara rises from the water's edge in an
amphitheatre of buildings, crowned by a high
rock which is joined to the mountain above by
a castle and aqueduct,* and is assuredly one
of the most imposing and stately towns in

* At Bagnara, Marapoti speaks of having seen considerable
remains of ancient baths.


appearance which we have yet seen. The arches
of the aqueduct span a chasm in the rock-
peninsula on which it stands, and while a castle
adorns the seaward portion, the land-cliffs are
studded with a glittering row of buildings,
many of which nestle down to the very shore
below the torn and cracked ravines into which
the precipices are shivered. A smooth half-
moon of sand extends at the foot of the rocks,
and gives a calm and pleasant air to the whole

We wound up the path which leads to the
upper town, and passing through the arches
of the viaduct (for it serves for a road as well
as to transport water) were even more delighted
by the sight of the southern side than we had
been with the northern. Bagnara from this
point of view is wonderfully striking, and few
coast scenes of Western Calabria can rival it.

It grew late ere we finished sketching, and
a courteous priest directed us to a good inn,
where we found Ciccio arrived before us.

August 9,7. We had no squabble with the


host of our very comfortable and quiet locanda
here : few people ever stop at Bagnara, so the
world is less acquainted with the modes of
high-road depredation. There is a good car-
riage route all along the coast, which decided
us on sending Dighi-d6ghi-da to Scilla, and we
loitered forward, making drawings as we pro-
ceeded, until we reached that town about noon,
and found (so much for " roughing it " on this
side of Calabria) another very clean inn by the
sea-side, just beyond a most picturesque rock
and castle.

Scilla is one of the most striking bits of
coast scenery, its white buildings and massive
castled crag standing out in noble relief against
the dark blue waves while the Lipari Isles
and Stromboli, with the Faro of Messina, form
a beautiful background. But beyond the
general appearance of the place, which from all
points of view is very imposing, there is but
little to note down. No hospitalities, no
family incidents, fill up the wandering lands-
cape painter's journal when he leaves the more
unfrequented regions of mountain scenery, for


plain and civilised highways ; and although old
Alberti says that Scilla " hath a rock shaped like
a man, surrounded by caves, emitting howls of
wolves and screams of other beasts/' we could
not perceive even that degree of romance in
our researches.* Exploring and drawing Scilla
occupied the whole day ; but at the close
of it, in spite of the favourable appearance of
our locanda, we could get nothing to eat but
a very antique fowl, which baffled knives and
forks, and we anticipated from such bad fare,
and from the landlord's continual compliments,
that the charges would be proportionally heavy.

August 28. A throng of numerous observers
crowded round us while drawing the castle

* On the 5th of February, 1783, Scilla, in common with all
the other towns on this coast, was nearly wholly overthrown at
night. The aged Prince of Scilla, with 4000 of the inhabitants,
had remained on the sands of the little bay on the south side of
the promontory on which the castle stood, and awaited the return
of daylight in terror and suspense. Before midnight, a recurrence
of shocks ensued, and vast portions of the mountains above Scilla
were thrown into the Straits. One huge wave, resulting from
these convulsions, swept over the strand of the bay, and engulphed
in one moment the whole 4000 human beings.


this morning: "questi, " said an old man as we
were thus busily employed, " questi sono tutti
persone scelte dal governo loro per raccogliere
notizie del Eegno nostro," * a conceit univer-
sally ridiculed by Englishmen, but not quite
so absurd as it may seem, if we reflect that
the conquest of many countries by others has
been preceded by individual observation and

In the course of the morning we took a boat
to the rocks of Scilla, and very magnificent did
they appear, rising above the boiling current of
dark blue foamy water. But it was too rough
for so bad a sailor as I am to allow of making
any drawings, so we returned to our inn,
where, on our departure ere noon, a great
conflict was occasioned by the " con to/' twelve
ducats being demanded for what we gradually
reduced to two ere we left Scilla, and great
was the outcry of feminine shrieks, and mas-
culine maledezioni, which followed us long after
we left the place.

* These are all persons chosen by their government to gather
notices of our country.


As we neared Villa San Giovanni and were
opposite to the well-known coast of the Faro, we
seemed, as it were, at home, and talked over our
thirty days' tour in Calabria with many plea-
sant memories, arranging also how we should
execute the exploring of the remaining two
provinces ; one thing was certain Dighi-
doghi-da was such a capital old fellow, he
must be our guide to the end of the journey.

As yet we seemed but to have trodden on
the threshold of Calabrian fastnesses ; the
narrow neck of land between two seas of the
province of Catanzaro, the dense and fearful
forests of the Sila, the pointed hats of Cosenza,
and the rich Greek costumes of Calabria
Citeriore, were all as yet unseen, and we
looked forward to our return to the truly
wild and romantic with enthusiasm and im-

At Villa San Giovanni, which is the centre
of a knot of scattered villages covering that
part of the Calabrian coast opposite to the
Faro, we found a good locanda, and halted for
midday rest, as well as for maccaroni, occhiali,


which are a very good fish, molignani, as good
a vegetable, and Lipari wine.

At four we again set out, through long lanes
between villas and large silk factories, (the
atmosphere reminding us of the silkworm days
of Staiti), and a little while after Ave Maria,
by a road now

" Silent in its dusty vines,"

we reached Reggio once more, which, with its
lamps here and there, its broad streets, and its
numerous inhabitants, seemed to us a sort of
Paris in bustle and splendour, after such places
as Canalo and Gerace.

We again settled ourselves in the Locanda
Giordano, and closed our day by a call on
Consigliere da Nava, to thank him for the
letters by which he had so ably and good-
naturedly assisted us throughout our journey.
Had we not indeed been furnished with these
introductions, much of the interest, and nearly
all the comfort, of our tour would have been
denied us, and the recollections of Southern
Calabria would have been far other than those
we now enjoyed.

N 2



Arrangements. Ciccio and his pay. Plan to see some fine forests near Reggio
to-morrow; and to visit Pentedatilo before starting for the other
Calabrian provinces. Morning calls at Reggio. Set out to Gallico.
Ciccio's house. The village of Calanna. Fine views of the Straits of
Messina, and Etna. We find no fine trees on the hills of Basilico, and
return late to Reggio. We cross to Messina, and I return to Reggio

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Online LibraryEdward LearJournals of a landscape painter in southern Calabria, &c → online text (page 9 of 14)