H. C. (Hans Christian) Andersen.

A poet's bazaar : a picturesque tour in Germany, Italy, Greece, and the Orient online

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gray palaces and flat roofs. Foreign flags waved in the secure
harbor, but I could not discover the Danish flag. An eccle-
siastic from Rome, who stood by the gunwale, pointed toward
the town, and told us with great importance about a letter
from the mother of Christ, a genuine letter, which was found
in the cathedral church ; it was written by her own hand to
the inhabitants of Messina. He grew eloquent at the remem-
brance of their celebrated religious feast, at the splendor of the
church, and the magnificent pageant. A sister of his had
once represented Christ's mother ; a machine on wheels, it
might be called a large house, filled with men and women, old
and young, dressed as angels, prophets, and saints, and at the
top the prettiest female in Messina representing the Virgin
Mary, was drawn through the streets by priests and the whole
brotherhood !

" It is glorious in Messina ! " he exclaimed, " Messina no-
bilis, fidelissima I "

" There are beautiful women ! " said a young Frenchman ;
" there are Scylla and Charybdis ; they no longer swim on the
water, but sit under the vine leaves, and with their dark, glow-
ing eyes, beautiful limbs, and enchanting smile, enchain us ! "

On Calabria's side lay Reggio, which a few weeks previously
had suffered terribly from an earthquake. 1 Here under the
coast a number of vessels had stranded ; now everything lay
in a warm, smiling sunlight ; yet the smile of the coast here
has in it something like witchcraft. My thoughts were on the
millions whose hearts have beat with the fear of death and
longing for life, under these coasts ', the millions who have
sailed here, from the time Ulysses steered past the cavern of

1 The cathedral, town hall, and several public buildings were thrown
down ; in Naples I saw traces of the earthquake. Many of the houses
were rent from top to bottom ; in whole streets stood houses propped up
with large beams : even in Rome there were traces of the shock ; the
Tiber overflowed its banks and inundated the nearest streets.



Polyphemus, until now that our arrowy steamer glided over
this watery mirror, where Fata Morgana shows her airy palace ;
but no colonnades of r^ys, no fantastic cupola and Gothic
towers arose on the blue waters. Yet the coast itself was a
Fata Morgana for the eye and thought.

Whole towns and beautiful marble images slumber here in
the deep grave of ashes and lava ; but above them grow new
gardens and villas, and dark rocks stand threatening, like
storm-clouds in the air.

" All the valleys there," said the young Frenchman, " are
pretty arbors, and in each sits not Amor, but those who are
better than he : the most charming women, warm as Etna,
and as light as the fairy Morgana ; yet they do not disappear
as she did when one would seize them."

The nearest coast of Sicily appeared to me more wild than
attractive. Val di Demona is the name of this district, and it
is very appropriate. Taormina with its marble quarry is on
the cliff above, from whence roars a water-fall. This was the
merry city of the bacchanals, where Pancratius, a disciple of
the Apostle Paul, threw the statue of the god of wine into
the sea.

From the magnificent ruin, the theatre of the ancients,
where once a whole people applauded at the performance of
Aristophanes and Plautus, the solitary herdsman now looks
out over the sea and contemplates the smoky column from our
ship our steaming, flying Etna.

" But where is Sicily's Etna ? " I asked. " Shall we see it."

" There it stands," was the reply. But I only saw heavy
clouds above the rocky coast. I raised my head still more,
looked almost upward, and there, above the clouds in the
clear air stood the top of Etna, covered with snow ; yet round
about the edge of the crater it was melted in long rifts. What
greatness ! Vesuvius is but a sand hill compared to this giant
Sicily's pride and benefactor. It is an amphitheatre for the
high gods themselves ! Every step forms a zone : the lowest
shows us vineyards and gardens ; the second is a woody region,
with its centenarian trees ; the third has but ice and snow ;
the fourth smoke and flame. It always smokes, always spouts ;
but this spouting and smoking is called repose, if the lava-


stream does not flow for miles around, and throw down towns,
or devastate vineyards and dales.

We glided through the Bay of Catania ; the waves rolled
soft and lightly around. The sun shone clear ; but, as far as
the eye could penetrate, Etna was covered with snow ; there
was still a northern winter. At its foot, on the contrary, was
a southern summer with fresh flowers, with ripe fruit, with
palms and Indian figs.

After dinner, when we again came on deck, the sun was near
going down ; the sea shone like purple and gold ; tht air had
such a brilliancy as I have never before seen. The coasts had
such a tone, so smiling, so rich in color, that the whole wore
the appearance of the finest Asiatic landscape. Syracuse lay
dreaming, but indescribably beautiful.

" Santa Lucia was born there ! " said our Roman eccle-

" Yes, and Archimedes too," added I. " It is Agathocles'
city. And there is Arethusa's fountain ! "

" Santa Lucia was God's daughter ! " answered the ecclesi-
astic, and sighed.

What a sunset ! what a sight ! only to be bestowed by that
hand which paints the beautiful rainbow on the light, hovering

The sound of a bell was heard from the coast ; its clang
was so melancholy, it was like the last tones of a dying swan
as it bends its head, and descends on its large, extended
wings, from the air into the calm, the deep blue sea.



IT was three o'clock in the morning : I heard the anchor
fall, and knew that we lay in the harbor of Malta. I threw
my cloak around me, and sprang upon deck.

The first thing I saw was the waning moon ; its horns were
so thin and bent, and yet they shone like the full moon in the
North ; or, perhaps, it was the innumerable stars which caused


this brightness in the air. Such a radiant firmament I had
never before seen, neither under the clear sky of Italy, nor
even in our northern winter nights. Venus seemed to be a
sun, immensely distant, so that it could only show itself as a
point but it was a sun's point. Her rays played on the
water's surface in rivalry with the moon's. The stars in the
North are but shining glass ; here they are real stones. My
hands were clasped involuntarily, my thoughts were with God
in contemplation of his magnificence. There was a stillness
round about ; not the splash of an oar was heard in the wa-
ter, not a bell sounded ; all was still as in a deserted church.

I looked around, and behind me stood a low, yellow, rocky
wall, whose highest point was formed into an obelisk that
raised its head toward the stars. Opposite to me and to the
sides shone large, strange, whitish-yellow palaces, which re-
minded me of "The Arabian Nights." But between these
buildings and me lay one large ship close by the other, still
and dreaming. My eye was bewildered amongst masts. We
lay in La Valetta's Bay : where we had come in I could not

This, then, was the island which Homer has sung of, and
of which the Phoenicians had possessed themselves ; Calyp-
so's Isle, where Ulysses passed years of his life ; the Greeks'
and Carthaginians' Melita. The island has seen Vandals,
Goths, and Arabians as conquerors. Count Roger's Malta,
the order of St. John's far-famed island, is now England's sta-
tion in the Mediterranean.

What recollections does not this island call forth ! Yet the
starry firmament was to me at that moment a majestic scene.
La Valetta, and all these proud vessels here under the strong-
est fortification in the world, were but as the frame to the pic-
ture. The frame was splendid, one of the most splendid I
have seen ! But that I forget the frame for the picture is,
however, pardonable and just.

I retired again to rest, and, literally speaking, with " heaven
only in my own thoughts."

When I once more ascended the deck the debarkation took
place. Everything on board and around the vessel was life
and motion. The whole bay was as if covered with boats.


Close to us lay two large war-ships with double rows of
guns, the one above the other. Citta Nuova, Vittoriosa, La
Valetta, appeared like one large city. The fortifications cut
in the rock melted together with the buildings themselves.
The arsenal, a long Moorish building, and most of the palace-
like houses, all seemed to be formed in the rock itself, as they
are built of its yellow-stone, and thus seem, as it were, a part
of it.

Ships came and went ; the cannon saluted the fortress,
and were again answered. Boats with the quarantine flag
rowed quickly past the large vessels. A number of yawls,
forming complete shops, lay still under the side of our vessel ;
some with fruit. To each species a particular compartment
is devoted. Citrons by themselves, oranges likewise, and
large pumpkins formed the border. There were also figs,
dates, raisins, and almonds ; the whole formed a variegated
spectacle. Other boats brought roots and vegetables, and
others again had shirts, straw hats, and scarfs ; it was a whole
swimming market. There were some wretched little boats
which seemed as though every moment they would sink ; they
were rowed by half-naked boys who came to beg. There was
a continual movement amongst the passengers who came
from or went to the steam-vessels, of which no less than seven
lay there. Turks, Bedouins, monks, and Maltese women
rowed past.

Below the steps out of our vessel lay more than a dozen
boats with screaming watermen, who regarded us as good prey.
A young Russian officer, with whom 1 had travelled in com-
pany hither from Naples, proposed to me that we should go on
shore, and see the curiosities of the place together. He pre-
viously agreed to be cashier on our excursion, and we set off.

Several guides, all Moors, flocked around us at the landing-
place to be our conductors. We chose one who was only to
take us to the Hotel de Mediterranea : one rag scarcely cov-
ered the other, but he bore them as proudly as a prince his
purple ; a pair of jet black eyes shone from his dark face.

A draw-bridge leads to the gate of La Valetta ; the walls
and ditches are hewn out of the rocks, and the ditches them-
selves afford a sight of the richest fruit-gardens. Here was a


wilderness of orange-trees, broad-leafed palms, pepper-trees,
and lotus.

Within the gates of the town begins a street with fruit
shops. Fruits of every kind that the South produces meet the
eye : a sight so rich and variegated is never seen in the
North. There was a movement, and a crowd like that in
Toledo Street at Naples : Maltese women completely in
black, and with a veil held so tight about the head, that one
could only see the eyes and nose ; English soldiers in their
red uniforms, ragged porters, and smart sailors, all in busy
movement. Handsome carriages on two wheels, and with
only one horse, passed by : the Moorish coachmen ran by the

We soon came into larger streets ; all the houses had a
palace-like appearance, and a peculiar character, on account
of their number of green-painted jutting windows. All the
principal streets are broad and airy, partly Macadamized, and
partly paved with lava, and all so clean I might almost say
they looked as though they had been swept and cleansed for
a festival.

The hotel we stopped at was as comfortable and splendid as
if it had been brought hither from Queen Victoria's royal city.

I was sitting with a French newspaper in my hand, when I
heard a noise without. My Russian travelling companion had
offered our Moor but a few halfpence for his trouble, and the
fellow would not accept so little. I saw how small the sum
was, and found that it ought to be greater : the Russian said
no, and opened the door. The Moor laid the money on the
step, put his foot on it, and with a look which, on the stage,
would have had its effect, expressed his pride and anger. I
would fain have given the man more money, but the Russian
\ laced himself between us, gave the servants a wink, and they
turned the dissatisfied man out of doors. And so that inci-
dent was over.

I, however, went out soon after into the street, where I
expected to find the Moor, and there he stood, surrounded by
a flock of ragged fellows. The money which the servant had
laid outside the door, lay there still in the same place. I
tendered him about three times more than had been offered
him, giving him to understand that it was from myself.


His eyes rolled in his head. He pointed once more to the
few coins the other had offered him, showed me his rags, and
held my arm back. He would not accept anything ; shook
his clinched fist toward the house, and went away proud as
a mortified noble. This first scene in Malta put me out of

We next went to the cathedral, which is consecrated to St.
John. It is just as peculiar as tasteful : all the pillars are
decorated with arabesque sculpture, representing scroll-work
and hovering angels. The walls themselves have a richly
gilded foliage, and al fresco paintings by the Calabrian Mat-
teo j a very magnificent high altar is there, and rich monu-
ments over the grand masters. The highly polished floor is
inlaid with the arms of knights. The organ pealed, the cen-
ser was swung, and the kneeling Maltese dames cast a look
from the heavenly to the earthly travellers. They perhaps
had a foreboding that one would celebrate them in song.

The Governor's palace, once the Grand Master's, lies not
far from hence. It is a building which is just as dingy with-
out as it is diversified and splendid within. One can, from
the paintings here, learn and comprehend the historical
exploits of the Maltese knights at Rhodes, though we may
find splendid paintings, and rich carpets, and hangings in
most of the palaces of Europe ; yet what we cannot find in
them, but only in the Governor's palace at Malta, is the arse-
nal. All the pillars here are slender, high, and quite hidden
by lances, axes, and swords, grouped in the most picturesque
manner, as if they formed a part of the pillar itself, as if they
were artificially cut out, the one quite different from the other,
but all in the same proportion, which produces a harmony
in that endless range of pillars. The armor which the knights
of Malta wore stands in ranks along the wall, and the walls
themselves are covered with their portraits, shields, and arms.
Above the rest is seen the Grand Master's portrait, painted by
Caravaggio ; a radiant sun beams above it, and round about
are rosettes of pistols, arabesques of muskets, sabres, and
arrows. The red flowers at the feast of Rosalie could not
be more boldly woven into festoons than these arms are.

Ascending most convenient and easy stairs, which a half


year's old child might crawl up, we come out on to the flat roof
of the building, from whence we have a prospect of the city,
the island, and the wide sea. It lay quite calm, of a shining
blue, and in the distance shone snow-covered Etna, like a pyra-
mid of Carrara marble. The burning heat of the sun was
softened by the fresh sea-breeze. I turned toward the coast of
Africa ; Malta now became like another north to me ; I felt a
desire like the bird of passage in harvest. My thoughts flew
to the land of lions ; they followed the caravan over the
sandy deserts ; they flew to the woods of the blacks ; they
rested on the gold-producing streams, and dreamt with
Egypt's kings in the cloud -wreathed pyramids. Shall I ever
go there ?

What a wide curcuit ! The whole of Malta appears like
a wall in the sea ; scarcely anything green meets the eye,
which, for the most part, meets the yellow earth that is cut
through both right and left with walled inclosures and build-
ing on building. We see in a moment that this spot is the
most densely populated on the whole earth.

We rolled out of the gate in one of the light, elegant,
two-wheeled carriages, with one horse, and the driver running
by the side. Our destined excursion was to Citta Vecchia.

Everything outside the fortifications presented the picture
of an African land. We did not see a tree, nothing green,
except the low, sprouting corn and the abundant, large Indian
figs, which appeared as though they streamed forth from the
earth and the old walls. It was in the heat of a burning sun.
The way lay along the aqueduct made by the knights of
Malta ; it is so low that in many places we could easily spring
over it, and it appeared like the work of a child in comparison
with the aqueduct near Rome. The roads are excellent. We
passed some wind-mills, the peculiar air}' building of which
Attracted my attention. The slightest wind must be able to
set them in motion ; they have from twelve to twenty wings,
so that they form a whole rosette. The buildings themselves
are entirely of stone, neat and tasteful ; a spiral stone stair-
case leads up to the machinery. All the wind-mills I after-
ward saw on the Greek islands and the Dardanelles had quite


the same form ; but Malta presented the first of the kind to
my observation.

Outside Citta Vecchia we saw over the whole island ; it
lay under shadow, with a yellow, shining surface like the sun
itself; low walls running crosswise formed inclosures that
extended entirely over the land, giving it the appearance of a
map on which the minutest boundary is indicated.

Citta Vecchia, the bishop's see, and once the capital of the
island, is not an inconsiderable town. The church, which is
dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul, is quite in the same style
as the Italian churches, airy and diversified with colors : but
the traveller who comes from Italy is so surfeited with seeing
churches, that even a church like this produces no effect We
also saw the catacombs here, which are just like those under
Rome ; they are narrow, inconvenient passages, of which,
having seen ten yards, one has a perfect conception of the
appearance of the next ten. In the vault under SL Paul's
Church is a cavern of small extent ; in the centre stands a
marble statue of the Apostle, who is said to have lived here
after he was stranded in a storm on the coast of Malta. But
neither the cavern, catacombs, nor church made any sort of
impression on me. I was glutted with the sight of such things.
It was with me as it is with many travellers : if we are in a
place where there is one thing or another to be seen, then we
make it a duty to see it, because it is mentioned in books, and
because it is spoken of; but it very often happens that the
thing after all is not worth the trouble we take to see it
What interested me in this city was the manners of the people ;
the half-veiled peasant girls, whose eyes gleamed like lightning
behind the veil ; the crowd of ragged beggars, and the many
foreign sailors who had hired horses and were galloping about
in their glazed hats, on which the ship's name was placed in
gilt letters, shining in the sun. We did not hear a single
Italian word ; the lower classes could not understand us a*
all ; they spoke a sort of Arabic.

On the way home, we passed a splendid villa, whose shady
garden displayed itself like an odorous bouquet in the midst
of this burning desert ; tall pepper-trees and palms, with fan-
shaped leaves, rose high above the wall. A number of armed


Turks walked about on the flat, oriental roof. We were told
that the Prince Emir Beschir, who had fled hither, lived here,
and therefore no one was permitted to see the garden. Numer-
ous black slaves sauntered about in the yard, and a fine giraffe
stood by the wall and ate the green leaves. The whole was
such an Asiatic picture, that, even without help of the flaming
sun, it could not but burn itself into the memory.

Not far from the quarantine house, which looks large and
imposing, is the English cemetery. It is almost filled with
monuments, all cut out of Malta stone ; not one, however, was
of any striking beauty. None of the inscriptions impressed
me by their peculiarity ; no great or well known name did I
find here ; but there were beautiful flowers, large and scented ;
and it was warmer here than in the North on the finest sum-
mer day, notwithstanding it was on the seventeenth of March.

Toward evening we returned to our steam-vessel. The
view over the harbor, with the life there, was a scene I shall
never forget.

When the sun went down, the evening gun was heard, and all
the flags on our vessel were lowered ; it was but a few minutes,
and night lay over us without twilight ; but night as it comes
on in the South, clear and transparent with glittering stars,
stars which say, " We are suns ; can you doubt it ? "

The crowd in the streets disappeared ; a soft music was
heard, but it soon broke forth in powerful tones from the two
war-ships that lay nearest to us. " God save the Queen "
was played and sung, as I have never before heard it ; but the
situation in which we were contributed much to the effect.

Lively music now sounded. There was a ball on board one
of the ships. The stars themselves seemed to dance on the
water's surface. The boats rocked ; it was late in the evening
before I could tear myself away from this scene.

I was awakened early in the morning by the cleansing of the
deck, after they had taken coal on board. When I came upon
deck, it shone in all its freshness, and they made ready for

There was a shouting and screaming round about us ; the
floating shops with their traders surrounded us. Naked boys
begged ; passengers came on board ; our Persian sat on the


coal sacks near the chimney ; a Bedouin wrapped up in his
white burnoose, and with pistols and knife in his belt, lay with
his back against him ; a few Maltese women, in their black
veils, had grouped themselves near the machinery, and Greeks
in different dresses and with the red fez on their heads,
leaned against the gunwale.

Two sailors with halberds stood guard by the steps into the
gangway, and kept order whilst packages, chests, and boxes
were piled up. The boatswain's whistle sounded ; the steam
whizzed and hissed out of the tube and about the paddle
wheels ; the cannon sounded, the flags waved, and we glided
out of Malta's road at a rapid rate, into the open Mediter-
ranean, which lay as blue and still as a velvet carpet spread
over the earth ; the sea was like bluish ether a fixed starless
sky beneath us ; it extended in the transparent air, further
than I have ever seen it ; neither dark nor light stripe bounded
the horizon ; there was a clearness, an infinity which cannot
be painted, nor described, except in the eternal depth of



THE boundless sea lay in a dead calm ; we felt not the
least motion in the vessel ; we could run about where
we liked, up and down, just as if we were on terra firma ; it
was only by looking at the water in the wake of the vessel
that we saw the speed of the ship which left Malta's yellow
rocks further and further behind.

We had seven young Spanish monks on board. They knew
a little Italian, were all missionaries, and were now going
to India. The youngest of them was very handsome, but
pale and melancholy. He told me that his parents still lived,
and that he had not seen his mother, who was so dear to him,
since his sixteenth year. He sighed and exclaimed : " Now
I shall not see her before we meet in heaven ! "

It was with a heavy, bleeding heart that he left Europe ;
but he acknowledged that he must do so ; it was his calling,
and he was in God's service. He and the other brothers be-
longed to the order of the Theresian monks, founded by St.

Of those on board, I, for the most part, was the one who
seemed to be furthest from home I came from the North.

" From Denmark ! " repeated our Roman ecclesiastic, who
was going to Jerusalem. " Denmark ! You are then an
American ? "

I explained to him that Denmark lay very far from Amer-
ica ; but he shook his head like the lady in " The Danes in
Paris," and said like her, " Not so very far ! not so very far ! "

We had an ambassador from the Pope on board, who was
going to Lebanon ; he was the only one of the Italians wha
knew a little about Denmark. He knew Fru von Gothen,


and had been at her soire'es in Rome ; he knew that there
was a Thorwaldsen, and that there had been a Tycho Brahe.
I have since made this discovery, that Tycho Brahe is the one

Online LibraryH. C. (Hans Christian) AndersenA poet's bazaar : a picturesque tour in Germany, Italy, Greece, and the Orient → online text (page 13 of 31)