A. L. (Antoine Laurent) Castellan.

Letters on Italy : illustrated by engravings online

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seem to have been constructed for a race of pigmies. The
principal street is only twelve feet v/ide ; the others eight or
ten. The lateral gates of the city are only four feet wide ;
some rooms are only six feet square. The walls of the town
are only twenty-five or thirty feet in height, and the steps which
lead to the ramparts will not admit two persons abreast.

This circumstance presents a striking contrast with the
other antiquities of Italy, and particularly of Sicily; where we
find colossal temples, with columns so enormous that a man
can readily stand in one of their flutings, which are not less
than eighteen inches wide. How can we reconcile the pro-
portions of this minute city with the accounts of historians,
which are calculated to aggrandize the works, and even the
personal stature of the ancients ?

Even in Rome itself, notwithstanding its immense extent^
the common citizens occupied but little space. The houses of
individuals must have been as confined as those of Pompeii, if
we take into consideration, that half of the city was occupied
by the immense palaces of the emperors, which alone were
equal to small cities; by the circuses, the theatres, and an
immense number of temples, chapels, baths, and gardens. It
is true, that the Roman people spent the day in the open air,
or in the public establishments, and therefore only stood in
need of a small habitation to shelter them during the night.

It presents, in fact, a singular spectacle, when we behold
this city, of so remote an origin, and discover in it the traces
of those antique manners which the classical authors can only
imperfectly display. The structures of the town, though some-
what injured in the higher stories, were, Avhen discovered,
perfect in other respects. The statues, the Mosaics, and even
the pictures, preserved all their freshness; every article of fin*-
liiture, every household utensil, remained in the spot which
they had occupied sixteen centuries before; bread, wheat,
fruits, although dried up, or slightly burnt, might still be
recognised; and, above all, several bodies of the inhabitants
were discovered in the attitudes and dress in which they had
been surprized by death : some in the act of flying with their
most precious jewels, or concealed in remote retreats ; and
others surprized at table, or stifled in the bath.

Terracina: 29


Departure from Naples — Terracina — Temple of Jupiter Anxuris
— Description of the Pontine Marshes — Arrival at Rome — First
View of that City — Visit to Tivoli — Celebrated Men — Temple
of the Sibyl — Scenery around Tivoli — Grotto of ISeptune
— Dreadful accident.

Notwithstanding my desire to depart, I felt consider-
able pain on leaving Naples ; my former companion was com-
pelled to reside some time longer in that city, and my new
fellow-traveller did not seem inclined to waste his thouglits in
melancholy meditations. He was a young Roman who had
been finishing his education at Naples, and who was impatient
to return to his family to display the extent of his acquisitions.
His memory certainly was well stored with an abundance of
quotations and anecdotes which rendered his conversation veiy
interesting. As we passed Gaeta he mentioned the Cecubian
wines celebrated by Horace; at Capua he gave us the history
of its destructive pleasures ; here was Formianum, the favourite
retreat of Cicero, and at this turn in the road he was perfi-
diously assassinated. In spite of my friend's entertaining ex-
ertions, I could not prevent myself from falling to sleep : my
pitiless companion then raised his voice that he might converse
with the postillion, but receiving no reply he consoled himself
with singing a canzonetta. He wakened me to join in the
chorus, in which our post-boy sung the base.

The appearance of the rocks of Terracina excited my curiosity
and the loquacity of my companion. " It is," said he, " the
Anxur of the ancients, the capital of the Volsci :" and he then
related its ancient history. From the summit of Mount aan-
Angelo, and near the monastry of that name, are the ruins of
some vast edifices attributed to Theodoric. After draining the
Pontine marshes, and building Terracina, the sovereign of the
Goths, stmck with the beauty of the prospect, from these
heights, built a magnificent palace here, and surrounded the
city with walls and strong towers, many of which are still
visible ; but death surprised him ere he had completed his
splendid undertaking. The remains also of a temple of Jupiter

30 Castellan's Travels in Italy.

Anxuris are seen here. Under the ruins there is an excavatiori
opening towards the south. It is the work of nature, if we may-
judge from the stalactites which hang from the vaulted roof
and cover the walls. On penetrating into the inner cavities
of this grotto it is said the sound of winds and the dashing of
waves is heard. It is thought that this cavern served as a retreat
to some of the primitive Christians, who fled from persecution,
to practice in this solitude their mysterious ceremonies. But
the sulphureous waters, which rush forth from many parts of
the rock, render it probable that it was formerly used as a bath ;
and some remains, such as were used as ornaments in the halls
of baths being found here, strengthen this conjecture.

The pyramidal rock of Terracina, called Pesculo, or Pescio
Montano, was formerly crowned with a strong fortress, which
commanded the passage to Campania, and could have defended
it against a numerous army. The rock is isolated on three
sides, and is joined to the mountain by its base. It seems
worked with the chissel, like a wall, to the height of upwards
of two hundred feet.

After visiting all the curiosities of Terracina, I resolved to
examine the famous Pontine marshes which extend nearly to
the gates of that city. I took a guide, and our route lay over
the summits of the mountains by the ancient road of Piperno,
then descending into the marshes, traveising them sometimes
in asandalo, a flat and very light sort of boat, and sometimes
meeting with dry and solid ground. My companion, who was
to meet me at Cisterna the following day, filled my pockets
with garlic, and furnished me with a flask of a certain liquor
to defend me from the influence of the aria cattiva.

The Pontine marshes occupy a plain of twenty miles in
length and ten miles in breadth, bordered on one side by the
Appennines, and on the other by a chain of hills which run
from Mount Circello, and separate the marshes into many little
lakes, which appear to be formed by the waters of the sea.
Between Mount Circello and Terracina the stagnant waters
extend as far as the sea, into which the superfluous waters pour ■
themselves. The portion of the Roman territoiy which the'l
marshes occupy, was formerly so fertile that it was called'^*
Feronia, from a temple of that goddess, the patroness of vegeta- .
tion. In fact, in the times of the Romans, the ager Pontimis'^
was considered as the granary of Rome, and it was covered
with towns and splendid edifices. Atticus, Mecaenas, and even
Augustus retired hither to enjoy the delightful picture of
rural pleasures and labours. The hills were crowned with
olive tree', and their sides blushed with the clusters of the
vine_, while the plains were intersected with streams and pond»s.

The Pontine Marshei. ^ ' St

Appius Claudius, when he was constructing the famous road
whicli bears his name, and wliich passed over these marshes,
was the first wlio raised the banks and cleansed this portion of
the country overflowed Avith the unchecked streams. Under
the consulate of Cornelius Cethegus the draining- was con-
tinued, but it was not finally completed till the time of Augus-
tus. This tract of land retained its salubrity for more than four
centuries, till the incursion of the Barbarians, and the removal
of the emperors.

Under Theodoric it was again proposed to drain it, but, at the
end of the fifth century, the plague, famine, and, above all, the
attacks of the Barbarians, caused the enterprize to be aban-
doned. The writers of this age speak with horror of the Pon-
tine marshes. When the Goths were expelled from Italy the
popes turned their attention to this undertaking ; but Boniface
VIII. was the first who seriously applied himself to this object.
When the apostolic chair was transferred to Avignon these
labours languished. They were again attempted by some of
the Pontiffs, but without success.

It is to Pius VI. that the present improved state of these
marshes is owing; who, after having pursued a well-advised
plan, of which the experience of many years has proved the
success, has changed the appearance, and even the nature of
the place lately so frightful, and converted it into one vast
garden. It is with pleasure no longer mingled with fear that
the traveller proceeds through a magnificent avenue, straight,
well-paved, and shaded with beautiful trees, and bordered by
canals, the evaporations from which are said to be no longer
noxious, serving merely to give freshness to the atmosphere.

Attempts are making to lead back the inhabitants to this
deserted spot. Along the road four post-houses are built ;
and inns, granaries, mills, and bakehouses. There arc also
several houses built for the workmen and the superintendants.
In addition to these a convent and a handsome church are
found there. The lands have been divided, and some parts let
on long leases. Villages will shortly rise, and then this plain,
lately so unhealthy, will form once more the granary of Rome
and the rest of Italy.

I rejoined my companion at Cisterna, and it was dark ere
we reached the gates of Rome: and, on the following morning,
my eyes opened on the ancient capital of the world. From
my windows I could see innumerable palaces and cui)olas of
marble, and the summit of Trajan's column. I am absolutely
distracted ! I admire ! I compare ! I study ! — One object attracts
in§^.and another calls off my attention; and 1 seem to wish in

32 Castellan's Travels in Italy ^

one day to amass recollections to serve me the remainder of

my life.

What a scene for an artist ! The borders of the Tiber, the
hills of the city, the shape of its walls, the immense heaps of
ruins, the admirable variety of the gardens, which make you
think you are wandering- in the country when you are
surrounded by the walls, all furnish the painter with studies
and picturesque subjects, and with infinite somxes of renewed
delight. There is not a single bye-way which does not offer him
an opportunity of exercising his pencil. Here the open gate
of a house of ordinary pretensions displays at the bottom of
the court a little fountain surmounted with some fragments of
ancient sculpture, shaded by jasmine bowers ; there a flight
of stairs open to the air, leads to the summit of a terrace
crowned with an arbour and bordered with vases of flowers,
Avhich the attentive hand of a young girl nurtures and cul-
tivates : farther on the fragments of an aqueduct serve as a
frame to the rich perspective. On one side a rude cabin,
inhabited by an hermit, stands against an ancient palace of
marble, of which there is nothing left but the front of a hollow
wall, the unequal summit of which is decked with wall-
flowers. Everywhere the new city rises on the ruins of the
ancient kingdom of the Caesars, while the magnificent marbles
which form the modern tombs were fashioned for the city of
Augustus or of Adrian.

It is this fortuitous mixture of distinct elements which gives
Rome such charms ; — it is the ideas which rise on surveying
them, and the deep train of feeling which they occasion, that
render this place so attractive in the eyes of the artist, and
make him regret that he cannot consecrate his life to behold-
ing it.

1 pass my time in wandering about without design or deter-
minate object; and if I have not yet seen the museums and the
more precious monuments of art, at least I have caught the
picturesque and moral character of Rome. I have become
familiar with the inhabitants, and with the topography of their
city. My portfolio is full of sketches, and my memory of
delightful recollections.

I resolved to visit Tivoli before winter made any further ad-
vances. Leaving Rome by the gate of San-Lorenzo, a little
less than a mile off, we passed the church of the same name,
one of the most ancient of the Christian edifices. Its character
is simple and imposing. Constantine is generally regarded as
the founder, but it has been successively restored by Sixtus III.
and several of the succeeding Pontiffs. Many of the architec-




Arrival at Tivoli. 33

tural parts have been borrowed from still more ancient build-
ings. I passed over the Tiburtine road, bordered with the
relics of innumerable tombs and temples. In the midst of
these, quantities of cinerary urns are perpetually discovered,
and inscriptions and other curious remains. Here stands the
tomb of the haughty Pallas, the freed man of Claudius. Farther
on lies the Campo Verano, beneath which are catacombs filled
with the bones of Christian martyrs. Passing over a canal of
the Solfatara I reached some baths called the Baths of the
Queen ; they are probably the remains of a villa belonging to
Regulus, a famous jurisconsult, mentioned by Pliny and Martial,
I then arrived at the bridge of Lucano, which is terminated
by the monument of the Plautian family, who possessed a
superb villa at this spot : the tomb is of a circular form, resem-
bling that of Csecilia Metella. Constructed principally of tra-
vertine stone, it was faced with marble and ornamented with
columns and statues. The decline of day made me hasten
forwards to Tivoli.

Who can sleep the first night of their arrival at Tivoli ? My
delightful bed-chamber was close to the temple of the Sybil, or
rather of Vesta, and in sight of a magnificent cascade. The
stream dashes itself down, disappears, and separates into a
thousand little currents in the subterraneous passages which
pierce the mountain upon which this part of the city is built.
(See Plate V.)

The fall of the waters produces a deafening sound, sometimes
imitating the noise of thunder, according as the sound strikes
directly on the ear, or is dispersed by the wind. Between me
and the cascade lay the bridge, the church, and the town;
and the effect of the moonlight on the river which flowed round
the town was most beautiful.

How different was the scene when I beheld it in the morn-
ing, yet equally delightful ! The heavens were cloudless, and
the dashing of the cascade seemed softened, and it was mingled
with sounds which told of the awakening of nature and of
man. The chirping of swallows, the turning of mills, the noise
f the horses' hoofs as they passed the bridge, the voices of the
peasants, cloathed in their best habits and hastening to church,
the sound of the bells floating on the air, all announced a day
of festival. It was indeed so to me to find myself at Tivoli !
Nothing is pleasanter here than the perpetual chiming of the
bells, so disagreeable in other places : it resembles in Italy a
sort of aerial music. So well do this people, whose taste is so
delicate in all the arts, know how to harmonize and time their
sounds, and to produce intonations as correct as those with
which nature has inspired their songs.

Voyages and Travels, iVo. 5, Vol. III. F

54 Castellan's Travels in Italy.

The ruins of the temple next drew my attention ; situated,
like an eagle's nest, on the pinnacle of hollow rocks, and sur-
r jiinded by precipices down which the river dashes, this edifice
of a circular form, is built in a style of architecture singular,
rich, and elegant : of the eighteen Corinthian columns which
surrounded it in the form of a detached peristyle, only ten now
remain. The light must have entered by the door or through
an opening in the roof, for the windows appear less ancient
than the primitive building, the origin of which is unknown.

During the Augustan age the environs of Tivoli were the
retreat of a crowd of celebrated men, — Virgil, Horace, Proper-
tius, Varro, and lastly Mecaenas, the protector of letters, of
arts, and of ail those who cultivated such pursuits with suc-
cess, fixed their residences on the borders of the Anio. Mecae-
nas built at Tibur a villa, or rather a city, the immense circuit
of which is still filled with an infinite variety of beautiful
edifices which almost seem destined for immortality. This
wise Roman fiying the noisy pleasures of the capital preferred
the charms of a private life to the vanity of grandeur; and re-
jected the first offices of the state, offered to him by the most
powerful ruler on earth, who was also his most intimate friend.
In his Tiburtine villa Augustus frequently visited him ; and in
the liouse of Maecenas the emperor sought consolation under
the afflictions of sickness.

Tucca and Varus, both poets and courtiers of Augustus, the
intimate companions of Mecaenas, were the persons who at the
recommendation of Virgil introduced Horace to the friendship
of their patron. The good offices of the latter were extremely
important to the illustrious poet, who had embraced the party
of Brutus and Cassius, for which offence his new protector pro-
cured him the pardon of his sovereign.

Horace made use of his favour with these great men to re-
establish his fortunes ; and Mecaenas gave him a small villa,
built on the banks of the Anio. In this retreat, in the neigh-
bourhoodc " ^^at of Catullus, freed from all his cares and in
the enjoynvcixt of a voluptuous repose, he composed his im-
mortal poems, and celebrated the praises of his benefactors.

The prosperity of Tivoli decreased at the death of those
illustrious persons who had carried glory and pleasure into this
fortunate corner of the earth. Quintillius died the first, and
the prince of lyric poets wept over his death. Soon afterwards
Virgil, seeing his end approaching, appointed Augustus,
Mecaenas, and some of his other friends, his heirs, command-
ing them to commit his divine poem to the flames ! Horace,
as he seemed to have wished, preceded his protector to the
tomb. Augustus became the possessor of the villa of Mecaenas

Grotto of Neptune. 35

and passed there the remainder of his days. In the temple of
Hercules, which was in the neighbourhood of this habitation
he administered justice to his subjects.

The inhabitants of Tivoli deplored the death of a sovereio-n
whose almost constant presence had been the means of carryini?-
life, and prosperity, and riches into their city. They delighted
to recal the memory of this prince by inscriptions on monu-
mental stones; and they raised to Livia, his wife, a statue in the
forum of Hercules.

I now laid a plan for disposing of my time during my re-
sidence at Tivoli, and I resolved on several excursions, refusing
however, the company of a guide. The Cicerone disenchanted
me at Naples, audi dismissed them that I might not be stunned
by their impertinent babble, and that I might receive answers
only when I put questions. I was just on the point of com-
mencing my first excursion when some large drops of rain fell
which were followed up by a long succession of showers!
When it rains here it is in torrents.

The Tramontana has chased away the showers, and the dry
leaves rustle as it blows. The ground is firm again, and the
vapours which obscured the atmosphere have disappeared and
I can now set out on my first excursion. I hastened to the
gate of San-Angelo through old houses built on the ruins of
the magnificent villa of Manlius Vopiscus. There I beheld the
road of the Cascatelles, a delightful route running along the
crown of a hill, which extends in theshape of an amphitheatre : I
perceived through the olives planted on the declivity, the Anio
which winds along and dashes itself into its deep and flintv bed.
On the other side rise immense rocks, and the temple of Vesta*
that of the Sibyl, and a portion of the city, crown their summit.
The most remarkable object during my excursion was the
grotto of Neptune, which almost resembles the palace of that
divinity. Only imagine an immense rock in which the foi-ce
of the waters has scooped out a number of secret channels
through which torrents burst forth to mingle in the gulph
where their murmurs resound; they fill the atmosphere with
their spray ; and the air is agitated by the rapidity of their

The sound of the falling waters, repeated by the echoes, and
varied by the winds, produces a singular and terrible harmony,
in the midst of which the human voice, the sound of musical
instruments, and even the report of fire-arms can scarcely be
distinguished, and which appears to impose silence on the rest
of nature, that the voice of the gad of tempests may alone be
At the bottom of these precipices scarce any other creatures

36 Castellan's Travels in Italy.

are seen but clouds of wild pigeons, which build their nests in
the crevices of the rocks. Accustomed to the roaring of the
waters they dash through the clouds of spray, sometimes dart-
ing into the depths of the grotto, and struggling with the
current of air which seem to whirl them along.

On returning to the city I heard confused cries, rising above
the voice of the elements. I quickened my steps, and at last
distinguished, amongst others, the voice of a woman who rent
the air with her cries. I saw the summit of the rocks lined
with a crowd of people, running, shouting, and answering
each other with every sign of terror and anxiety. I followed
to the verge of a precipice hanging over the great cascade,
and there beheld the disfigured body of a young man who had
gone out in the morning to hunt on the steep banks of the
river: not having re-appeared during the day, his friends,
anxious for his safety, sought him amongst the moist and
slippery rocks of Tivoli, which the hunters frequent, regardless
of the danger, and they had now first discovered his body, sus-
pended amongst the bushes which cloath the rocks of the great
cascade. The cry of dismay spread through the valley till it
reached the mother of the unfortunate victim. Fearful of the
truth, she ran in agony to the borders of the precipice, and,
hanging over it, she was only prevented by force from throw-
ing herself forwards. In the mean time an intrepid hunter
descended by means of ropes to the spot where his unfortunate
companion lay — a lifeless form ! Whilst they were drawing them
up together the friends of the miserable mother endeavoured
to remove her from the spot ; but the convulsive movements
which affected her increased to an alarming degree. They
then determined to bring to her the body of her son. A heart-
rending scene which I shall never forget ensued. After having
bathed the corpse with tears, and loaded it with caresses ; after
having attempted to warm it in her bosom, she was at last con-
vinced of the reality of her misery, she passionately exclaimed,
" He is dead ! " and fell senseless by his side.


The House of Catullus — Of Horace — English Caricatures —
Temple of Tosse — Musical taste of the Italians — Description
of the Ruins of the Villa Adriana — Rustics playing al porco —
Return to Rome — Villas of Este and of Meccenas.

jtVN ancient tradition says, that on this spot stood the house of
Catullus. It is singular that the habitation of a poet like


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Online LibraryA. L. (Antoine Laurent) CastellanLetters on Italy : illustrated by engravings → online text (page 4 of 12)