William Spalding.

Italy and the Italian islands, from the earliest ages to the present time (Volume 1) online

. (page 23 of 35)
Online LibraryWilliam SpaldingItaly and the Italian islands, from the earliest ages to the present time (Volume 1) → online text (page 23 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

three miles from the beach. In several places, how-
ever, it spreads up nearly to the roots of the Volscian
mountains ; and southward it stretches with little inter-
ruption as far as Terracina, a distance of at least fifty
miles. In the region which is nearest to us, the majesty
of the Laurentine Forest is still represented by noble
groves of the pine and dark -leaved ilex, the former,
about the mouth of the Tiber, skirting the sea like a line
of gigantic columns ; while the laurel, the myrtle, the
arbutus, and wild olive, form in many spots impervious
thickets with the ivy and heaths.^ We may chance to

« VirjT. 2Eu. lib. ix. v. 381-383.


traverse these Italian prairies for days w-itliout seeing a
human face. Our path, at most, will be crossed by a
stray villager on his road to Rome, a few charcoal-
burners among the brakes, or an armed hunter in the
marshy depths, periling health and life for a wretched
and precarious pittance.

In various places on this solitary shore ancient ruins
are seen, but none of them have been satisfactorily iden-
tified with either of the two objects which possess most
interest in the history of the district, — Laurentum the
city of Father Latinus, or the Laurentine villa of the
Younger Pliny, described by him with so eloquent a
delight. Castel Fusano, an old turreted mansion, situ-
ated in a clump of tall pines a little to the south of
the swamp, has been fixed on by most antiquaries as
Pliny's abode ; while some would rather place the re-
treat of this friend of Trajan at Tor Paterno, about eight
miles southward on the coast ; and others wish to find
the spot at some intermediate point, among the unex-
plored recesses of the woodland. The common opinion
identifies the site of Laurentum with Tor Paterno, which
is a tower situated in an opening among the trees, on a
meadow slightly raised above morasses, which nearly
surround it, and less than a mile distant from the sandy
beach. The tower itself is partly antique, and remains
of a reservoir and other Roman works are observable
beside it ; while an aqueduct and fragments of a paved
road are seen in glimpses through one of the most beauti-
ful vistas of the forest."

Leaving the Laurentine shore to its frogs, t we pursue
the windings of the wood yet farther southw^ard, among
the tracks of the charcoal carts ; and about five miles
from Tor Paterno, we reach the village of Prattica.
Inscriptions discovered on the spot have identified this

* Sir William Gell demurs to this opinion, chiefly on account of
the flatness of the ground, which he conceives to be contradictory
of Virgil's description of the " lofty walls" (Mn. lib. xii. v. 745),
and of the royal mansion " in the uppermost part of the city "
{Mn. lib. vii. v. 171). Topography of Rome, vol. ii. p. 59.

t Martialis Epigr. x. 37.



hamlet beyond a doubt with the town of Lavinium,
which the legend describes to have been founded by
^neas, and to which, in the time of the Caesars, was
transferred the remaining population of the decayed
Laurentum.* The position and vicinity of Prattica are
romantic. It occupies a flattish tongue of land, five or
six hundred yards in length, little if at all elevated above
the surrounding woody ground, but entirely separated
from it by deep and precipitous glens, except at one
end, where a solid bridge of rock joins it to the plain.
It lately contained about fifty sickly inhabitants ; and
a large baronial mansion in it has a lofty tower, which
commands a magnificent view, embracing nearly the
whole Campagna. The existing ruins of classical build-
ings are extremely insignificant.t

A walk of six miles farther in the same direction we
have been already pursuing, brings us to the capital of
the Rutuli. The country is rather more hilly, the
larger trees less frequent, and the forest more open ; and
we remark some cultivation, with one large farm-house.
About half way on, an easy leap carries us across the
Rio Torto, a marshy little stream, supposed to be the
Numicus, in which ^neas is said to have been drowned.:}:

* Nibby, \'^iaggio Antiquario, torn. ii. p. 262.

t Sir William Gell says the villagers of Prattica complained to
him strongly of the climate of the spot. The same desponding
spirit was manifested, in a different form, during a visit which the
present writer paid to the hamlet in 1834, in the course of a jour-
ney through the forest. While a knot of the people were gathered
in the kitchen of the wretched tavern, a man arriving from Albano
told them that an inhabitant of the village, who had retired to the
mountains for change of air, had just died there of fever. The
hearers absolutely seemed to feel a kind of gloomy satisfaction in
being allowed to believe that their own epidemic distempers were
not unknown in other places ; and the innkeeper's wife, a miser-
able victim of malaria, appeared even willing to infer from the fact
the falsity of the charges against the chmate, whose insalubrity
was weighing herself down to the grave ; for she exclaimed hastily,
with an air of triumph which was really revolting ; " E poi si dice
che in Prattica si muore !" (And yet they will have it that people
always die at Prattica !) — What is likely to have been the state of
the climate when .^Lneas first settled on the rock with his colonists '

J Hajc fontis stagna Numici. iEnnid. lib. vii. v. 150.


In tlie district we are now exploring, rather perhaps
than at Tivoli, we ought to search for the Oraclo of
Faunus, the sacred fountain of the nymph Albunea, and
her mephitic grove, " greatest of woods."* One ima-
ginative traveller believes that he has found the oracular
spring, at the Solfatara on the road between Ardea and
Rome.t Ardea, though as unhealthy now as it was in
the days of Strabo, still retains its " mighty name," and
about threescore inhabitants. The village is nearly four
miles from the sea, and is situated on a commanding
rock, naturally insulated except on one point, at which
three deep ditches axe cut in the tufo. Its strength was
increased by very ancient walls, the remains of which,
composed of quadrilateral uncemented blocks, may be
traced on the edge of the cliffs ; but recent examina-
tions have shown that this eminence was only the citadel,
and that the town extended widely on the flat beneath,
being defended partly by natural ravines, and partly by
mounds similar to the Agger of Servius at Rome.:}:

Continuing still our journey in a line with the coast,
we now enter the ancient territory of the Volscians.

The woods of oak, ilex, cork, and myrtle, become
thicker and more picturesque, and stretch farther up
into the bare downs which lie at the foot of the moun-
tains : we follow sandy tracks crossing each other with
bewildering frequency ; and, about sixteen miles from
Ardea, we reach Nettuno, the only modem place on the

* sub nocte silenti

Pellibus incubuit stratis, somnosque petivit.

yEneid. lib. vii. v. 87.
The bull was slain : his reeking hide
They stretched the cataract beside :

» s •

Couched on a shelve beneath its brink.
Close where the thundering torrents sink,
'Midst groan of rock and roar of stream,
The wizard waits prophetic dream.

Lad)' of the Lake, canto iv.
t Bonstetten, Voyage sur la Scene des six derniers Livres de
I'^neide: Geneve, An 13 (1805).

T Cell's Topography of Rome, vol. i. p. 172.


Latian coast deserving the name of a town, but now
containing scarcely more than 1000 inhabitants. Just
before reaching it, however, we see on the right a for-
tress, occupied as a prison for the galley slaves, and
standing on the rocky promontory called Capo d' Anzo ;
fragments of masonry project from knolls formed by
fallen buildings ; and the remnants of two immense
arched moles, the one about 2700 feet in length, the
other 1600, run out into the sea, while a small modern
harbour, attached to a little decayed town, named Porto
d'Anzo, is constructed with the aid of one of them. We
are among the ruins of " the pleasant Antium," the Vol-
scian capital, the spot where Coriolanus, " too proud to
be so valiant," stood upon his enemy's hearth, and swore
revenge against Rome. Under the emperors the Vol-
scian town became a splendid city ; and Nero, in
particular, being attached to it as his birthplace, adorn-
ed it with magnificent fabrics, beneath whose over-
thrown walls have been found some of the noblest works
of ancient art. Cicero, too, had a villa here, and another
which he describes as delightfully situated almost in the
water, at Astura, within sight both of Antium and Cir-
ceii.* At the present day, we see from the Port of
Anzo, at a distance of about seven miles, a solitary
tower of the middle ages, in that dice-box shape which
is so frequent. The edifice is placed on the extremity
of a lofty promontory, and retains, as well as the river
which flows past it, its ancient name of Astura. In the
thirteenth century, one of the Roman Frangipani, then
the owner of the tower, made its vaults the scene of an
act tragically disgraceful,— -the betrayal of the princely
boy Conradin into the hands of his murderer, Charles of

For about twenty-two miles beyond Astura, lines of
sandy hillocks, with several long but narrow and swampy
lakes, compose a bulwark between the sea and the wide
forest, which hides from us the Pontine Marshes. At the

* Cic, Epistolar. ad Atticum, lib. xii. Epist. 19.


end of this tract, on an angle of the coast, a picturesque
mountain rises almost perpendicularly from the water's
edge. It stands like an island between the sea and the
Pontine Flats. Its length is not less than three miles,
its breadth one, and its summit, which is a long narrow
ridge, commands a magnificent prospect, reaching from
Rome to Vesuvius.

The inhabitants of the little town of San Felice,
which lies at the foot of the ascent on its south side, will
tell us, if questioned, that the mount is haunted. In
ancient times, say they, a sorceress inhabited a castle
on its highest peak, and, sitting on the cliff, drew mari-
ners towards the coast by the fascination of her eye.
She gave them a magic draught, which robbed them of
their senses ; but she possessed another charmed potion
capable of acting as an antidote to the first. Two
brothers sailing along the shore were attracted by her
spell : the younger swallowed the deleterious draught
and became a drivelling idiot ; the elder feigned himself
asleep, seized the enchantress as she approached him,
and broke the enchanted cup. He compelled her to dis-
close the secret of the counter-charm, and to give up to
him the second potion, from which he forced his brother
to drink and then slew the witch. The name of the en-
chantress is Circe, and the tradition is older than Homer.
The promontory still bears the name of Circello, and its
identification with the spot which the Romans believed
to be Homer's Island of Circe is undoubted, while it
seems highly probable that it was also the spot which
the Grecian poet meant to describe.

The topography of the Monte San Felice cannot in-
deed be exactly adjusted to the description of the " ^aean
Isle," in the Tenth Book of the Odyssey ; and though
the mountain certainly was once insular, it seems clear
that, long before Homer's age, it must have ceased to be
so. Its appearance, however, from the sea is said to be
quite that of an island ; and the poet's loose topography
in all his Italian scenery, bears the strongest marks of
having been borrowed from the inexact stories of Grecian


mariners, who described it to him in the aspect which
it had presented to themselves.*

Remains of the rude uncemented walls of a citadel are
to he seen on the height, and ruins of Roman villas at
its base ; but no traces have been discovered which pre-
cisely ascertain the site of the Volscian town of Circeii,
besieged by Tarquinius, by Coriolanus, and by Sylla.

Turning eastward along the coast fi-om Circello, we
cross the mouth of a canal which discharges into the sea
the united waters of Virgil's rivers Ufens and Amasenus,
and immediately reach Terracina, the ancient Anxur or
Tarracina, placed a little beyond the extremity of the Pon-
tine Marshes. Remains of its harbour may be traced, and
considerable ruins, partly Pelasgic, pai-tly Roman, and
some belonging to the dark ages, surmount the noble rock
which rises from the palm-trees of its hanging gardens.

The broad swamp which extends between the neigh-
bourhood of Terracina and the station of Cistema on the
road to Rome, a length of full thirty miles, once con-
tained, it is said, twenty-three Volscian cities. The
waters rose even during the republic, and attempts were
made to drain the marshes : Augustus, notwithstanding
Horace's obsequious commendations, appears to have
been but partially successful : further works were exe-
cuted till the time of Theodoric : and several popes have
undertaken the Herculean task. The ambitious pontiff
Pius VI. found leisure before the first French Revolu-
tion to execute his singular road through the flats, as
also the canal which inins by its side for twenty miles in
a line as straight as an arrow. A large tract was rendered
capable of cultivation ; but, the waters having again
gradually overflowed, the plain is again pestilential.t

* ^'Eneid. lib. vii. v. 9. See Westphal, pp. 59, 60 ; and the in-
teresting excursion of Brocchi the mineralogist, described by him
in the Biblioteea Italiana of Milan, vol. vii. ; 1617.

t See Forsyth's Remarks on Italy : " Journey to Naples."
The expense of the late papal works is stated at 1,622,000 Roman
crowns (£337,900), and the sum annually required for the insuf-
ficient keeping up which the works receive, at 4000 crowns (£830).
See Westphal, p. 47.


Among the Volscian mountains skirting the marshes
several towns present ruins, particularly Cori, the
ancient Cora, and the village of Norma, once Norba,
near both of which are very grand remains of prmieval
fortifications, besides two temples at the former place.
Setia also exhibits very fine walls at the town of Sezze ;
and Piperno has preserved the name, but not the exact
site nor any considerable vestiges, of the patriotic Pri-
vernum. We have entirely lost Corioli, where Caius
Marcius earned his glorious surname ; although its site
must lie near Lanuvium, the birthplace of MUo and of
the actor Roscius, which is identified with Civita La
Vigna ; as Velitrae, the native town of Augustus, is with
the modem Velletri.

Returning southward from those hills to Terracina,
without pausing to search in its neighbourhood for the
temple of Feronia and its fountain, in which Horace
performed his ablutions on finishing his voyage across
the marshes, we leave the territory of the Volscians, and
enter the modern kingdom of Naples, by a strong pass
which leads into the ancient Ausonian district, com-
mencing with the lake and town of Amycl^, afterwards
named Fundi, and now represented by the filthy place
called Fondi. Beyond the plain we cross the line of
hills anciently known as the Caecubus Ager, and descend
into the lovely ba}'' of Gaeta, where we again encounter
^neas, and perhaps also Ulysses.

The fortified town of Gaeta, seated on the abrupt rocky
promontory which shuts in the bay, and crowned by a
circular Roman tomb, now entitled the Tower of Or-
lando, was the ancient Caj eta, which received the marble
um of ^neas's foster-mother. The fine bluffs head-
land stands on our right ; before us extends the sea, in
whose darkly blue waters we already see imaged the
skies of Pai-thenope ; and around us, rich orange groves,
Csecuban vineyards, embowered gardens, and rural lanes,
slope downwards in beautiful luxuriance to the rocky
shore and the little town of Mola di Gaeta. We per-


haps stand near the spot where Ulysses, landing in the
country of the Lestrygonian giants, climhed the lofty
rock ; or on the path by which the daughter of the pas-
toral prince Antiphates descended, bearing her pitcher
on her head like the modern Italian maidens, to the
" fair-flowing fountain" of the nymph Artacia. An
inscription over a well in a pleasant garden by the
shore still reminds us of the poetical legend ; but if we
fail in identifying the Homeric scenery, we are at least
certain that we are on the site of the ancient town of
Formiae, where lay one of the most delightful and be-
loved of Cicero's country villas. Near this place, also,
lie was murdered. A picturesque sepulchre, consisting
of a circular tower placed in a vineyard on the side of the
road overlooking the coast, and overhung by a carob-tree,
is pointed out without any good ground as the orator's
tomb ; and one of those undefined piles of Roman reti-
culated work, which fill the gardens along the shore,
is declared upon as slight reasons to be his vaunted For-
mian villa.

Southward along the Gulf of Gaeta stretches a culti-
vated plain, on which, nine miles from Mola, we see a line
of arches of an aqueduct, with the fragments of a theatre
and amphitheatre. These indicate the town of Min-
turnse, celebrated for the adventures of Marius. Here
also stood the sacred wood and temple of the nymph
Marica, the mother of Latinus ; and the slow river
Liris or Garigliano, whose waters " laved the oaken
groves of the fair-haired nymph," is crossed by an iron
bridge erected in 1882.*

Near the southern frontier of Latium, Aquinum,
Juvenal's birthplace, is the modern Aquino ; and
beneath a magnificent isolated hill, surmounted by the
celebrated monastery of Monte Cassino, the little town
of San Gemiano exhibits the site, and some vestiges of

* ^neid. lib. vii. v. 47. Claudiani Panegyric. De Probo et
Olybrio Consulibus.


Casinum. These were Volscian fastnesses, as was Arpi-
num, an inconsiderable municipality, two of whose citi-
zens, both meanly born, and one of them a peasant, ruled
in their turn the destinies of Rome. Caius Marius was
one of the two " ignoble Arpinates," and Marcus Tullius
Cicero was the other.'" The country is woody and
mountainous, and through fine valleys we ascend to the
hill on which stands the modern town of Arpino, co^'-er-
ing a portion of the ancient one, and still containing frag-
ments of its more solid constructions, while the height
which overlooks the houses presents some ponderous
ruins of its primitive citadel. An antique tomb placed
outside the walls receives from the inhabitants, by one of
those whimsically distorted classical recollections which
so often amuse us in the mouths of the Italian pea-
santry, the ambitious title of the Sepulchre of Saturn.
Cicero was not bom in Arpinum, but on a spot which
we reach by crossing into the valley of the Liris, being
a small flat islet formed by the stream Fibrenus, a little
before its junction with the larger river. The philosopher
has described his birthplace with a proud anticipation of
its renown, in a dialogue of which the scene is laid here.
The bank is still green, though less shady than when his
pleasure grounds covered it : the seats on which he sat
with his brother and Atticus have crumbled away ; but
the " lofty poplars" may yet be found, and " while Latin
literature shall continue to address us, the place will not
want a tree which may be named the Oak of Marius."t
The columns and fragments of Cicero's paternal man-
sion lie scattered in the cloisters and kitchen-garden of
the little church and monastery of San Domenico Abate.

From the neighbourhood of Arpinum the road north-
ward to Rome, in the line of the Via Latina, enters
the territory of the Hernici, a flat alluvial valley sur-
rounded by rocky and wooded mountains, from wliicb

• Juvenalis Sat. viii. v. 237-250.

t Cicero, De Legibus, lib. i. cap. 1, 4.


streams descend into the river Trerus or Sacco, while
several abrupt hills shooting down from the main ridges
were the sites of ancient towns. Frosinone the ancient
Frusino, Verulae now Veroli, Alatrium now Alatri, Fe-
rentiniim represented by Ferentino, and Anagnia by
Anagni, are built in these strong and picturesque posi-
tions ; and while all of them present ruins, tliose of Alatri
and Ferentino are especially interesting. These remains
are portions of the walls of the old towns or their
citadels, — specimens of that rude and massive style
which leads us back to the primeval ages, when Rome,
if it existed at all, was still the village of Satumia.
The remarkable monuments of this class, which present
themselves on heights throughout the whole of Central
Italy, have been the subject of lively discussion among
antiquaries, and have contributed to furnish materials
for speculation as to the origin of the early Italian
nations. The cu'cumstances common to all these antique
fortifications are the great size of the blocks of which
they are formed, and the want of cement to unite them.
In some instances they are formed of polygonal pieces,
not adjusted to each other, the interstices between them
being filled up with smaller stones : in other specimens,
also polygonal, the huge masses are carefully cut, and
fitted together with surprising exactness : and in some
mins we remark that the polygonal blocks are arranged
with something like an approach to regular courses.
Other walls are composed of rectangular stones, placed
horizontally, but irregularly ; while, in others, blocks
of this form are accurately disposed in horizontal layers,
one resting above another. These different arrangements
appear to indicate a progress in skill of execution. Re-
mains at Arpino and Ferentino are remarkable examples
both of the fitted polygonal and of the rectangular walls
and gates. At Alatri the majestic rock of the ancient
citadel is defended at one angle by a vast rampart, about
sixty feet in height, and yet composed of not more than
fifteen courses of immense blocks ; while several gates,
one particularly huge, and many portions of the walls,


both of the citadel and of the town, pierced with sub-
terranean passages, afford one of the most instructive
and picturesque specimens of those aboriginal for-

At the head of the valley of the Sacco, we emerge
among the mountains which surround the Roman plain ;
and the beautiful Alban range first presents itself, rising
to the west of the Hernician frontier. The white houses
and embowered villas of Frascati cover a slope of the
heights facing Rome ; and behind them a steep ascent
leads us to the prostrate ruins of the town and citadel of
Tusculum. This ancient city, one of the favourite re-
treats of the Romans during their ages of refinement,
existed till the middle of the twelfth century, when it was
destroyed in a feud with its Papal neighbour. The visible
remains are those of its earlier times, — paved streets,
reservoirs, theatres, and fortifications, with the galleries
and terraces of superb dwellings. Cicero's residence,
the scene of the Tusculan Dialogues, has been by some
antiquaries placed among the plane-trees which surround
the fortified monastery of Grotta Ferrata, in the valley
which separates the hill of Tusculum fi-om the higher
Alban range ; but the prevalent opinion places this clas-
sical mansion and its grounds on the Tusculan height.
Beyond the valley (the ancient Vallis Albana) stands a
mountain group, of which the eastern portion bore the
name of Mount Algidus, while the western and higher
elevation, rising into the conical Monte Cavo, was the
renowned Alban Mount, the seat of the great national
worship of the Latin confederacy. The sides of this
noble mountain are covered with fine woods, principally
chestnuts ; a modern village, named Rocca di Papa,
stands picturesquely on a projecting spur not far below
its summit ; and on the platform in which it terminates,
the fragments of the temple sacred to the Latian Jupiter
are visible beside the walls of a Christian convent. The
view from the peak is infinitely grand ; and the two vol-
canic lakes of Albano and Nemi, the old Lacus Albanus


and Speculum Dianae, which lie among woods at the
foot of the Monte Cavo, may yet be reached by a descent
on the remains of the ancient Triumphal Road.

Few spots are more beautiful than the Alban Lake and
its vicinity. Its circular basin lies buried among steep
crags mantled with, coppice : the houses and gardens of
Castel Gandolfo overlook it from the high bank opposite

Online LibraryWilliam SpaldingItaly and the Italian islands, from the earliest ages to the present time (Volume 1) → online text (page 23 of 35)