A. L. (Antoine Laurent) Castellan.

Letters on Italy : illustrated by engravings online

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the charm of this melody, than which, when well executed by
the rustic performers in the depth of a wood, and amid the
solitude of night, nothing can be more agreeable, I beheld
all at once a light shining through the trees. This led me to
the place where the rural concert was, and, guided by its light,
I arrived at a fountain, or rather a chapel, for beneath an
arch, supported by columns, I saw a painting of the Virgin
and the Infant Jesus, surrounded by cherubims and prostrate
angels. An abundant stream fell from a sculptured lion's head
which frowned under the painting, and flowed into the reser-
voirs which were placed at the sides of the edifice. A lamp,
suspended from the centre of the arch, rendered the scene
still more interesting. A whole family were imploring the
Divine grace for the recovery of an infant which its mother
held in her arms, covering it with tears and kisses ; the other
members of the family were praying with fervour, or clianting
hymns which they accompanied with their instruments.

If the reader can imagine the mingling of voices and music,
most simple and harmonious, with the sound of the dancing
waters flowing over the stones and along the green turf — the
light of the moon through the foliage — the clear lustre of the
lamp which gilded the figure of the virgin in the niche, and
shone in the reflexion of the crystal and moving waters, shed-
ding at the same time a light over the actors of this pious
scene — if he can imagine this scene more impressive as it was
unexpected, and so sweetly harmonizing with those serious
sensations which filled my heart — he will even then have only
a weak idea of the impression which I experienced.

At my approach, the good people rose from their prayers,
but I begged that I might mingle my intercessions with theirs.
The hymn was recommenced, and the voices of the young
girls, joined to those of musicians of every age, made one of
the most delicious concerts I ever enjoyed.

Joiin of Boiogna—La Doccia. 7^

The route of these villagers lay along the road to Fiesole.
As I accompanied them they related to me a crowd of miracles,
which they attributed to the virtues of those waters, and above
all, to the intercessions of the Madonna to whom they are con-
secrated. It is pleasing to behold the gifts of nature associated
with the name of their Author- — this is to attribute blessings
to their true source, and to awaken those consoling ideas of
mercy and protection, which nourish faith and inspire grati-
tude towards the Deity.

The chapel of this fountain, which I frequently revisited, is
one of the finest monuments of the kind. It presents a mix-
ture of antique and modern taste, which to me is very de-
lightful. It was ornamented, according to tradition, by John
of Bologna, Avho possessed a mansion in this neighbourhood.
He employed some fine materials, prociu'ed from an ancient
edifice, and he has arranged them with great taste.

I had promised to visit the convent of La Doccia, and I had
an opportunity, Avhile I was employed in sketching in this pic-
turesque spot, of becoming acquainted with its inhabitants,
who did not belie the good opinion which I had at first con-
ceived of them.

Pious, without affectation, one might perceive from their
manners, from their physiognomy, which was rather amiable
than austere, from the neatness and propriety of their gar-
ments, from the flowers which shaded the windows of their
cells, or which, placed in crystal vases, ornamented their church,
in short, from all the details of their domestic management
which was excellent and well mnderstood, one might perceive
that these monks did not neglect any of those innocent plea-
sures which their situation allowed. Indeed they apj:>eared
perfectly happy ; and doubtless they ^vould not have exchanged
their pleasant and peaceable life for the grandeur and pomp
which the world bestows upon its votaries.

The church, though small, possesses some objects worthy
of attention, such as the pictures of the great altar, and of
one of the chapels, which are from the pencil of Niccodemo
Ferrucci, a pupil of Passignano.

In front of the church runs a terrace, planted with large
cypress tress, which form, as it were, the peristyle of the
edifice. It is also surrounded with beautiful gardens. The
building, upon which these grounds are now suj)ported, for-
merly served as aqueducts, op perhaps as baths, and the streams
which yet wander through them give freshness to a vegeta-
tion which is extremely vigorous. The lines which the dif-
ferent stages of these ruins present, form combinations of
figures of which the effect is pleasing and picturesque.

76 Castellan's Travels in Italy. '.

At some distance from Fiesole there is another monaster}",
of a very different character from that which I have just de-
scribed ; it is that of Monte Senario.

Isolated in the mountains, and removed from evei7 other
habitation, it occupies the centre of a wood of fir-trees, which
surround it on all sides and hide it from the view of those who
climb the steep side of the mountain. The pilgrims who travel
towards this sanctuary would easily lose their way over the
heaths and in the underwood were it not that little oratories,
which serve as stations and land-marks, had been erected at
short distances to point out the Avay. This place would serve
extremely well as the retreat of hermits who have completely
renounced the world, and who, relieved from their earthly
bonds, seem to have no other aim, by the isolated and skiey
spot which they have chosen, than to approach that Heaven
which they hope one time to enter, through sufferings and
privations of every kind, and the renunciation of all the sweets
of life.

The monks of La Doccia, on the contrary, seek Heaven by
a more practicable way. They do not resemble these austere
religionists, but rather those persons, who, disgusted with the
noisy pleasures of society, retire into an agreeable solitude to
enjoy the innocent delights of a country life. In quitting the
world they do not become misanthropists, and they still hold
commiuiication with their fellow-men, Avhen they administer
to them succour and consolation.

The origin of the convent of Monte Senario was as follows : —
Towards the middle of the thirteenth century Brother Giovanni
di Vicenza, a monk of the order of Preachers, and at this time
an eloquent and celebrated missionary, arrived at Bologna,
where he was soon surrounded by a multitude of the inhabit-
ants of the neighbouring towns aud villages. He converted
and reconciled many; he repressed the luxury of the women,
and he produced many other admirable effects by the preaching
of the word of God. This same Fra. Giovanni preached a
general peace in Italy; and the princes, magistrates, and
people, to the amount it is said of four hundred thousand
persons, entered into that engagement. Every one was ready
to embrace it, but, unfortunately, these good intentions lasted
only a few davs. The zealous missionary, proud of the ascen-
dancy which lie had acquired over his fellow-countryjiien, now
wished to become their master, and to gain the sovereignty.
His triumph did not last long : he was cast into prison with
his partizans, and soon afterwards exiled ; too late repenting
that he had not confined himself within the bounds of his

Monte Senario. 77

sacred ministry, and convinced of the instability of all human


Nevertheless, the seeds which he had scattered fructified in
the timorous minds of his disciples. Many persons, of various
conditions in life, adopted the monastic vow; and in 1233 seven
noble Florentines retired into the heart of the forest which
surrounded Monte Senario, and constructed, in the summit of
the mountain, cells, in wbich they might pass the lives of
anchorites. They called themselves the servants of the Virgin
Mary ; and they soon were followed by others who were
zealous in imitating- their example. Another Florentine,
Filippo Benizi, was a vig-orous propagator of this new order.
At th'iS day there may be seen within the walls of the convent
the seven grottoes of the founders, and also that of Benizi, who
was canonized and became the patron of the society.

There are some good paintings in the church. On the roof
Gabbiani, the best scholar of Dandini, a painter of the school
of Cortona, has represented the Virgin bestowing their habit
«n the founders of the order. This hermitage is most remark-
able as having been the retreat of many men of merit.

A contemplative life, which exalts the imagination and fixes
it constantly on one predominant object, or idea, which it
continually nourishes and examines, as it were, in every point
of view — this concentrated existence, directing its attention
towards only one study as its aim and end, gives birth to talent,
and carries it to its highest perfection. V^e might mention
the names of a crowd of celebrated people who have been
educated in the shade of the cloister, and who've happy dispo-
'sitions might never have been developed amid the tumult of
the world, and in an active life which might only have stunned
and distracted them. It is not, therefore, astonishing that the
hermitage of Monie Senario, the situation of which adapts it
so well for reflexion, and where the disti'action of the world is
5?o well avoided, should have produced many literary men and
artists. Amongst the latter may be mentioned Mascagni, who
in this monastery assumed the name of Arsenio ; andj. B. Ste-
phaneschi, who took the cowl in 1605.

My freqvient walks in the neighbourhood of Fiesole had not,
as was my custom, any determined aim ; I wandered at hazard,
and this mode of seeing and observing procured me much un-
expected pleasure, and many an agreeable surprise ; it furnished
me with contrasts which might have escaped me in a more
methodical route. The numerous villas which I passed par-
ticidarly attracted my attention, from a double motive of
interest — the historical facts which they recalled, and the pic-
turesque situations which they occupied. The environs of

jrg Castellan's Travels in Italy.

Fiesole indeed, so well known for the beauty of their prospects,
have been the retreat of numbers of celebrated men, who, in
the tranquillity of that place, have given themselves up to study
and reflexion. Amongst these may be mentioned the celebrated
Politian, who in one of his letters addressed to Marcilio Ficino
has described the situation of his villa at Fiesole, and which
reminds us of the modest but commodious habitation of Horace.
Thither he frequently retired to correct and complete his
writings, and from thence he addressed, in 1478, to Pandolfi
CoUenuccio, the Racconti Amatorii of Plutarch.

This house, which is not far from Fiesole, in a place re-
freshed by a fountain which flows underneath the thick shade,
and which the poet distinguished by the name of lucens fon-
ticulus, appears to be the same as the oratory which is called
Fonie lucente, and which was erected at the end of the seven-
teenth century in memory of a miractilous crucifix. In this
place Ant. Pellori, in 1733 painted his picture of the Resur-
rection. There also may be seen there a picture on wood,
bearing the date of 1398, which was brought from another
chapel which has been demolished.

From this spot the traveller beholds the whole course of the
Mugnone; an ancient bridge terminates the view on one side;
and on the other extremity of the pass where Radagaisius was
enclosed and destroyed, with all his men, there is another
Roman edifice, which has gained the appellation of Cicero's

This quadrangular building, which is very lofty, and com-
posed of stone and bricks, resembles a fortification destined to
defend the pass of the mountain, rather than the house of an
individual. It is a curious fact, that there are iron rings fixed in
this tower, at a certain height from the ground, similar to those
which, in sea-ports, are used to moor ships and boats to. It is con-
jectvu'ed that this must have been their use: but then the level of
the river must have formerly been much higher than at present;
or else this valley must have been a lake, the waters of which,
breaking a passage through the rocks of Fiesole, have flowed
into the low grounds. Indeed, the boundaries within which
the Mugnone flows appear almost to have the shape of an oval
crater. The borders of the circumference are very clearly
marked out, except on the side of Fiesole, where there is a very
deep cut, by which the torrent escapes.

It is the opinion of some naturalists, that the neighbouring
valley of Mugello Avas the mouth of a volcano, and that it also
contained a lake; and that the plain of Florence, as I have
just mentioned, formed another immense lake, which extended
to the mountains of Lucca and Pisa.

Course of the Miignone^-The BiancH Faction. 79

The Mugnone presented many more variations in its course j
for, after passing the bridge at JBadia, and turning round the
hills of Fiesole at Cure, the villa Bilotti, and the monastery of
St. Benedict, it flowed through the Via Ceia, as far as the
Via Fmsa, perhaps so called from the rapid current of the
waters as they passed ; then, still seeking the lower grounds,
it turned towards the city, passing by Pinti, by Caffeggio, and
by the street called San Gallo ; till, falling by the street de
Gori, it arrived at the point of its junction with the Arno, a
little beneath the bridge della Carraja. Tradition strengthens
this idea, and the ancient maps of Florence confirm it; and,
moreover, the sand and gravel which in our days have been
dug up in these various spots, amount to a demonstration. But
let us return to the villas which adorn its borders.

Dino Dazzi, a Florentine poet, possessed a house in the
neighbourhood of San Dominico, as well as Ugolino Verini.
Scipio Ammirato the Elder dates the dedication of his Com-
mentaries on the wars of Don Juan of Austria, with the Turks,
from his little villa of Fiesole, the 1st of March, 1581; and the
traveller still perceives with pleasure this inscription traced on
the stone-work of the architrave :


On the banks of the Mugnone, there is a. cluster of houses
which has received the name of the Cure. Dante retired thither
to enjoy the tranquillity of its solitude. When this illustrious
poet was driven into exile, his house was confiscated.

It was not far from hence, and in the villa Salviati, which is
built upon an eminence, at a place called La Lastra, that the
faction of theBianchi, to the number of sixteen hundred gentle-
men, and nine thousand foot soldiers, assembled in 1304, during
the night of the 19tli of July. From thence they marched
upon Florence, and even penetrated into the city. But, seized
with a panic terror, they fled precipitately out of the gates,
and, dispersing, abandoned their enterprise. It has been
thought that Dante was a party to this rash enterprise, in the
hope of returning to his countiy ; and, indeed, it was not long
after this event, that he abandoned Tuscany and retired to

Petracco, the father of Petrarch, and the friend of Dante, was
also connected with the party of the Bianchi. Exiled from
Florence at the same time, and by the same sentence, they
participated in the dangers of this nocturnal attempt. Return-
ing immediately to Arezzo, wiiither he had retreated with his
wife, Eletta Caccigiani, Petracco found, that on this night,
which had been attended with so much peril to himself, his
wife had presented him with a son, whose birth had endangered
his mother's life. This son was the celebrated Petrarchj

80 Castellan's Tratels in Italy.

The Villa Salviati gives a good idea of those strong castles
which, in the fourteenth century, formed the retreat of the
revolting nobles, whose followers tyrannized over the neigh-
bouring country. One of these castles, called Monte Acinico,
which was built by some cardinal in the Nugello, and in which
he received the honour of a visit from the pontiff Gregory X.,
became so formidable a station, that the Floi'entines were com-
pelled in 1306 to besiege and raze it.

A very melancholy circumstance, which happened in 1349 —
the assassination of Christiano and Mainardo, two of the inti-
mate friends of Petrarch, by the exiles of Florence, gave occa-
sion to that illustrious poet to write to the governor of Florence
a very vehement letter, Avhich seemed to carry all the indig-
nation of its author into the breasts of the Florentine magis-
trates. They sent troops into the Mugello, and, in consequence,
many of their strong-holds were destroyed ; and, as a modern
historian of Italian literature has observed, Tuscany owtd her
tranquillity to the eloquent apj^eal of one of her banished citi-
zens, and one to whom the goods of bis family had not yet been

By degrees the sombre and formidable appearance of these
fortresses has vanished. Porticoes, inclosed with light iron
gates, have succeeded to the draw-bridges; and the walls of
the terraces are covered with vases of marble or bronze, which
contain the rarest plants, while the details of ancient architec-
ture have been converted into more elegant or convenient
forms. Frequently, as is the case with the Villa Salviati, the
ancient mansion only serves as a habitation for the steward
and the fainiglia, or domestics, and porticoes or passages paved
with Mosaic or small stones, unite the ancient building to a
new edifice, constructed in a more elegant style, and in a more
accessible situation, embellished with all the brilliant additions
which fashion, however variable, renders necessary ; and which
were unknown to the austere and gothic feudatories who for-
merly possessed such domains.

On the banks of the Mugnone also is situated the majestic
villa which is called Tre Visi, and which appears to have been
the retreat of the company for whose entertainment Boccacio
composed his Decameron during the plague of 1348. ,

Indeed Boccacio himself, without pointing out the place
otherwise than by the word il contado, says in his work ^' On
Wednesday, at break of day, the ladies and their cavaliers,
leaving Florence with their suites, commenced their route,
and after proceeding two miles, arrived at the place which had
been prepared for their reception, and which was sufficiently
remote from the highway. It was a palace with a spacious

Benedetto Varchl. — Tropaja: 81

and handsome court, surrounded by logge, and by halls and
other well arranged apartments furnished with pictures. This
edifice occupied the summit of a hill, which was covered with
a variety of shrubs and trees of the finest foliage, and sur-
rounded by meadows and beautiful gardens abounding with
springs of the freshest water.

At the commencement of the third day, Boccacio speaks of
the cellars of this palace ; and he mentions the limpid waters
which oozed through every part, and more especially a very
abundant fountain that flowed through the meadow, and,
falling to the lower grounds, turned two mills.

In another part, he says, that from this spot there is a view of
Fiesole ; in short every circumstance confirms the idea that
this is the villa in question. It is two miles from Florence,
and near it there rises a spring, the M'ater of which turns two
mills. The idea is also confirmed, from the traditionary evi-
dence of the residents in the neighbourhood.

Near the royal mansions of Castello and La Petraja, there is
a villetta called Topaja, which is supposed to have been built
by Cosmo I., whose arms are placed on the left angle of the
house, with this motto, " Exaltabo te, Domine, et exuliabo !"
In thy exaltation M'ill I exult, O Lord !

This Prince, who was much attached to the celebrated his-
torian Benedetto Varchl, and who had already loaded him with
benefits, wishing in 1558 to give him a new proof of his affec-
tion, presented him with this house, to enable him with greater
facility to complete the history of Florence, which he had
commenced. The auilior accepted the favour with gratitude,
and retired to this spot, where he passed nearly the whole year,
with the exception of some short intervals, during which he
visited Pisa, where he commonly resided with the Grand Duke,
and read him his histoiy. With these interviews Cosmo was
much delighted and only interrupted the author occasionally
with a cry of admiration, " MiracoU, Varchi, MiracoU /"
Varchi took advantage of one of these moments of satisfaction
to ask permission to change the vulgar name of Topaja, which
was very displeasing to him, for that of Cosmiano, but the
Grand Duke ingisted on his adopting the appellation of Var-
chiano. The polite struggle which ensued prevented any inno-
vation — the ancient name prevailed — and the house still bears
it, being always called Topaja (a nest of rats).

Besides his history, Varchi in this place wrote several other
works, and particularly his Ercolano, one of his most agree-
able productions. At the head of this work he gives a descrip-
tion of his house. He speaks of the walk in the green field
before his door ; of his herb-garden, in which he seems to

Voyages and Travels, No. 5, Vol. Ill, M

g2 Castellan's Traveb in Italy.

have taken much delight ; and of dining t^te-a-t^te in the
Httle terrace, whence, amid a thousand other beautiful objects,
Fiesole and Florence were discovered.

He did not live a solitary life here. His friends visited him
daily, and sometimes remained whole weeks with him. At
last he became so habituated to their company, that he could
not live without society. Indeed there was not one man of
letters, or of any consideration, who did not visit him, so
agreeable was he, and so much honoured and esteemed. The
year of the death of this celebrated historian is not well known,
as many authors disagree as to the fact ; his epitaph at Florence
however bears the date of 157 1 •

La Topaja having been restored to its former owners, the
Grand Duke Cosmo III. ornamented it with a great number of
pictures of rare foreign fruits, and the most singular produc-
tions of the earth, with descriptions of them written under-
neath. This collection, which was made by a prince who was
an amateur in these sort of things, was afterwards divided be-
tween the Villa Real di Castello and other places.

The villas of Castello and Petraja, of which a description
will be given, are very celebrated for the excellence of their
wines. The plants are procured from Spain, from the Canaries,
from France, and from the most celebrated Islands of the
Archipelago. Redi found in this excellent Muscatel an inspi-
ration which burst out in a dithyrambic, where he sings —

Ma lodato


Sia I'eroe, che nella vigna
Di Petraja e di Castello
Pianto primo il muscadello. (

Come, let us raise

A song in his praise

And crown him with bays ;
For he is an hero, an excellent fellow,
Whose hand in the vineyard that glows at Castello
First planted the stock of the true muscadello.

But of all the delicious places which the voluptuous Romans
of the Augustan age did not disdain, none is more celebrated
and less frequented than the palace of Pratolino, a beautifiil
spot buried in the heart of a wood, and which I only discovered
by chance. Friendship detained me here some time, and I
quitted it at last with that pleasing regret which forms in our
after-life such an agreeable theme of recollection

Rural ineidmf,. 83


Gathering Cherries — Visit to Pratolino — Story of Francesco de
Medici, and Bianca Capello.

JETTING out aione, to enjoy the pleasures of the chace,
the eager pursuit of my prey had gradually drawn me to a
considerable distance from Fiesole, and I completely lost my
way in the intricacies of the mountains. The day was wearing
away, and the heat became overpowering. Uncertain as to
what path I should pursue, I looked in vain for a human coun-
tenance to succour me in my wanderings, and at last, sinking
with fatigue, half-famished and ovei-whelmed, I directed my
steps to a wood, Avhere I calculated at least on finding a shel-
ter from the sun. It was an orchard of cherry-trees, and to
increase my happiness, I perceived a peasant who had climbed
into one of the trees, and was gathering the fruit, which he
threw into a large basket, supported on the head of a young
girl of ten or twelve years of age.

This group appeared to me very beautiful, but just at this
time the cherries possessed the greatest attraction for me;
upon my offering to buy some of the fruit the owner answered

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Online LibraryA. L. (Antoine Laurent) CastellanLetters on Italy : illustrated by engravings → online text (page 9 of 12)