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

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Julii, where remains of considerable consequence have
been discovered since 1817. Trieste is the Roman Ter-
geste, and Capo d' Istria is -^Egida. Pola, on the promon-
tory of the same name, possesses splendid monuments
of antiquity ; among which are a richly decorated gate,
two temples, and a large and tolerably preserved am-



The Ancient Topography of Lower Italy and the Italian

Campania— Capua— The City and Bay of Naples— The Phle-
pfTsean Fields — Virgil's Tomb — Scenery of his Hades — The
Phlegraean Isles — The disinterred Cities — Herculaneum —
The excavated Parts of Pompeii — Tombs — The Forum — Temples
— Theatres and Amphitheatre — Apulia, Lucania, and Brut-
TiDM : Description — Apulia — Cannae — Mount Vultur — Brun-
dusium — Ruins in Magna Grcecia Proper — The Gulf of Taren-
lum — The Scylletic Gulf — Ruins on the Western Coast— Th.e
Rock of Scylla — Charybdis — Elea — The Temples at Paestum —
The Inland Region — Consentia — The Forest of Sila — Sicily
— Aspect — Mountains — Interior — The Hill-fort of Enna — East-
ernCoast — Messana — Taorminium — Catana — Syracuse — South-
ern Coast — Troglodyte Town — Ruins of Agri^ntum — Selinus
— Western Coast — Mount Eryx — Northern Coast — -dilgeste —
Panormus — Corsica and Sardinia — Roman Colonies — Sar-
dinian Round Towers— The Isle of Ilva — The Imperial Pro-
vinces or Italy — Augustus — Constantine — The connexion
between the Ancient Provinces and the Modern.

Campania extended eastward from the sea to Mount
Tifata, which separated it from Samnium, and south-
ward from the Massic Hills, the final boundary of La-
tium, to the river Silarus, the modem Sele, which form-
ed the frontier of Lucania. Its most famous vineyards
were on the Massic heights, and in the Falernian terri-
tory, stretching from them to the river Vulturnus, now
Volturno ; but its delightful climate and its luxuriant
cultivation embraced the whole plain of the modem
Terra di Lavoro. In the interior there can still be traced


a good many cities known in the heathen times. Capua
has given its classical name to the Neapolitan Capoa ;
but the latter is built on the site of Casilinum, and the
ruins of the ancient Capua are found among the fields
at some distance, comprehending one of the largest and
best preserved of the Roman amphitheatres.*

The Bay of Naples, of which the Italians say, that it
is a piece of heaven fallen down upon earth, is certainly,
with its mountains, its gardens, its sea-clifFs, and its
countless dwellings, one of the most enchanting spots in
the world. It is beautiful in the broad sunshine, when
the purity of the atmosphere is reflected on its darkly
blue waters ; beautiful when the verdure is tinged by
the golden lights of evening and the ocean kindles into
twilight purple ; and not less beautiful when its con-
tours are half veiled in moonlight, when red torrents
of fire gleam on the side of Vesuvius, and when the
waves catch phosphoric flashes from the boatman's lifted

Within the circuit now filled by the immense metro-
polis lay the sites of two Grecian towns, the first of
which, Palaepolis, sunk into decay on the conquest of
Campania by^the Romans, while Neapolis, the other,
long contmued remarkable for its foreign manners, its
luxury, and literature. So early as the time of Strabo
the shores of the bay off'ered, as they do at present, the
aspect of one continuous city. The magnificent line of
mountains, which forms its southern bank, was not
neglected ; the lovely and salubrious little plain of Sur-
rentum or Sorrento, the birthplace of Tasso, and now the
retreat of English invalids, was celebrated by Statins ;
and the majestic island of Capreae, the modem Capri,
whose yellow rocks rear their towering masses from the
sea beyond the Surrentine promontory, still contains
the ruins of those villas that witnessed the crimes of

* Dimensions in English feet: major axis, 478; minor axis,
390; major axis of arena, 218; minor axis, 130. — Mazocchius de
Amphitheatru Campano ; ap. Polenum, tom. v, pp. 637, 638.


The favourite resort, however, was that portion of the
gnlf which lies to the west of the city, where the volcanic
fires, scarcely extinct in the times of the Roman republic,
have since repeatedly broken out, and even smoulder
sullenly at the present day. This district was called the
Phlegraean Fields, and was pointed out as the scene of
some of the oldest Grecian fables ; while one of its lakes,
the Avernus, either in consequence of its name, or receiv-
ing the name for the occasion, was declared to be the
theatre of the Homeric Nekuia, that awful vision of the
dead which passed before Ulysses at the barriers of the
earth. Not content with peremptorily identifying the
spot, which the poet carefully left undefined, the Roman
men of letters proceeded to trace m its neighbourhood
all the features of the realm of shadows, — features which
Homer does not describe, since he represents the wan-
derer, not as perambulating Hades, but as cowering
in the midst of his magic circle, round which the ghosts
arise and hover. Virgil, in his great poem, readily adopt-
ing the notion which held out the Neapolitan Lake as
the entrance to the world of spirits, skilfully blended
wuth it the local tradition of the Sibyl of Cumse. His
hero performs an actual journey through Hades (a con-
ception every way inferior to Homer's shadowy proces-
sion of spectres) ; — but that he intended any description
of the actual features of the district is a supposition
which, in itself unlikely, does, to those vrho have both
read his work and examined the ground, seem altogether
incredible. We may, however, be content to take hi3
verses as our guide in strolling through the vineyards,
and skirting the lakes, of this beautiful scene.

Our road from Naples leads us beneath the Tomb, said
to be that of Virgil, picturesquely placed on the brow
of the precipice of Posilypo, and close above the
entrance of its singular Roman tunnel, which pierces
for half-a-mile through the heart of the tufo rock.
On the Bay of Baise, now Baia, we first encounter, at
Pozzuoli, the ancient town and harbour of Puteoli ;
with its mole, temple of Serapis, amphitheatre, and villa


of Cicero. Other temples, mansions, and baths, are scat-
tered round the shore, and on the opposite heights stands
the finely placed Castle of Baia. Beyond Pozzuoli, a
causeway divides from the sea a shallow pool, which
is all that is left of the Lucrine Lake, identified in the
belief of the Romans with one or another of the lakes
or rivers of Hades. Close behind it lies the Avernus,
now a circular shee't of water, surrounded by high banks,
covered with thickets and smiling vineyards. Its my-
thologic gloom may have partially disappeared even at
the formation of Agrippa's Julian Harbour ; but the
features of the spot have been completely changed by
the celebrated eruption of 1588, which threw up the
iiill called the Monte Nuovo, and nearly filled the basin
of the Lucrinus. In the steep bank of the Avernus, there
still exists a long excavated passage, which the people
call the Sibyl's Grotto.

We shall find the real grotto,however, by taking a short
vv'alk Avestward, which, after passing on the plain consid-
erable remains of the remarkable city of Cumse, will lead
to a tall rock standing detached near the sea, on which
were placed the Citadel of that toA\Ti and its Temple of
Apollo. The subterranean galleries used, in the oracular
responses, still perforate its western side. To the north
of the Rock of Cumse stretches a flat and sandy tract,
spotted with lakes or marshes, beside one of which (that
of Patria) a tower on the beach marks the supposed
tomb of Scipio Africanus. To the south lies a royal
chase skirting the shore, and separating the Mediterra-
nean from the Lake of Fusaro, which, celebrated in
these days for its oyster-fishery, was equally so in the
time of Strabo, for representing the Acherusian Marsh
of the Grecian legends. Its " silent groves " are now
vineyards ; and a smaller lake, called the Acqua Morta,
communicating with the Fusaro and the sea by sluiced
canals, and backed by a range of rocks and a rude dice-
box tower, must be the Cocytus. From this point the
journey of ^neas carries him to the Elysian Fields,
passing w^hat may be termed the heathen purgatory and


place of punishment. The ground at present exhibits a
monotonous scene of vineyards : the plain in which the
two lakes lie, continues for a sliort distance ; it then
contracts into a valley between sloping hills, in whose
narrowest gorge is a straggling hamlet, with a double
row of Roman tombs ; and it finally opens out again into
a wide plain, which, on our system of identification,
must be that of Lethe. This is the most beautiful spot
of the district. The bottom of the hollow is quite flat ;
and an extensive shallow lake, the Mare Morto or Lethe,
filling a large part of it, communicates with the sea to
the south. On the west a smooth beach succeeds to the
steep hill round whose shoulder the road has led us ;
and this strand, or some place in the neighbourhood,
must have been, in Virgil's view, the anchorage of the
Trojan fleet. At the southern extremity of the beach
rises an " aerial mountain," which still nearly retains
its ancient name of Misenus, together with the ruins of
the town of the same name (Misenum) at its foot, and its
rugged shape, di2zy paths, and perforated gallery now
called the Dragonara. On the east of the Mare Morto, a
lower hill rises from the water's edge ; houses, thickets,
a church, and vineyards, are clustered on its side ; and
along its western base runs a line of antique tombs,
pointing it out as a Roman burying-gTound, the Pere-la-
Chaise of the Augustan age. This sepulchral spot pre-
serves the name of the Elysian Fields ; and if Virgil
must be supposed to have borrowed from the reality any
traits of his poetical landscape, the retired wood and
winding valley of Lethe may have been figured by the
hollow now covered with vineyards ; while space for
the athletic games, for the crowds which listened to the
primeval bards, and for the laurel thickets which har-
boured the pious and the patriotic, would be found on the
lone summit of the rising ground of Bauli, now Bacoli,
stretching towards the frowming rocks that dip into the
Bay of Baia. This high ground contains several ruins of
ancient villas, particularly two remarkable subterraneous
buildings, probably reservoirs ; the Cento Camerelle, a


triple course of vaults, and the Piscina Mirabile, a vast
hall, supported by no fewer than forty-eight arches.*

The Romans extended their Homeric topography
to the islands about Naples. Three rocky islets, now
called I Galli, which may be seen on climbing from the
orange-groves of Sorrento to the heights on the south,
were identified as the haunt of the Sirens, and are so
styled by Virgil. Prochyta, now Procida, and the
larger island of Ischia, formerly ^Enaria or Pithecusa,
and poetically Inarime, were fixed on as the prison of
the giant Typhaeus, and are recognised as such by all the
Latin poets. These tales owed their origin to the
Ischian volcano Epopeus, the modern Monte San Nicola.

Vesuvius and the eminences which are grouped around
it, nearly fill up the eastern shore of the Gulf of Naples ;
but there will be a fitter opportunity for describing them,
when we come to the natural history of the district.

The disinterred cities at the foot of Vesuvius have
excited the liveliest curiosity, less from their own im-
portance, than from their presenting on their discovery
the spectacle of ancient habitations and theu' contents,
as little disturbed as if we were transported back to the
first century of the Christian era. Tradition ascribed
to the Greeks the foundation of Herculaneum as well
as Pompeii : the Etruscans and Samnites by turns pos-
sessed both ; both were subdued by Sylla in the Social
War ; and both, but particularly the latter, appear
to have prospered under the Roman dominion. Both
towns are stated to have been injured by earthquakes
previously to the great eruption ; and traces of the de-
vastations, which Pompeii suffered by the convulsion in
A.D. 63, are still visible in its existing remains. The ter-
rible catastrophe of the year 79, in which Pliny the natu-
ralist perished at Stabiae, near the modem Castellamare,
is described by his nephew, in two letters with which

* See the Canon Andrea de Jorio's Viaggio di Enea all' Inferno
ed agli Elisii, secondo Virgilio ; Napoli, 1831, 3d edition.


every scholar is familiar.* The unfortunate towns were
destroyed in that eruption, not by streams of lava, but by
showersof stones and ashes discharged from the mountain.
Herculaneum, however, has since become imbedded
to the depth of eighty or a hundred feet in solid volcanic
masses, and its total disinterment is consequently hope-
less. Galleries have been cut to fomi approaches to some
portions of it, and the spaces which were laid open
have been generally filled up again after the moveables
were carried off. Its celebrated paintings and manu-
scripts, its statues, mosaics, household utensils, and other
antique treasures, must now be sought in the Royal
Museum at Naples ; and, with the exception of some
partial excavations which were lately in progress, the
only accessible part is the Theatre, of which the stage
and the adjoining compartments may be imperfectly
viewed by torchlight. Over Pompeii, on the other hand,
lay nothing but the loose bed, in few places so deep as
twenty feet, formed by the showers which originally
destroyed it ; its excavation was comparatively easy, and
the portions uncovered have been left open to view.

In 1711, a peasant in sinking a well at Portici disco-
vered the earliest traces of Herculaneum ; and the govern-
ment unrolled the first of the mutilated manuscripts in
1752. In 1592, a water-course, cut across the site of
Pompeii, came on several basements, but without attract-
ing attention ; towards the end of the seventeenth
century other monuments were discovered ; about 1748,
the position of the city was identified, and a few years
later the systematic excavations commenced. The
French, after the conquest by Napoleon, disinterred the
largest part of those buildings which we now see,
and ascertained the circuit of the walls, a sweep of
about two mUes. Not one-third of the town is yet laid
bare, and the operations which now go on are a mere
mockery. Outside the ramparts one suburban street has
been uncovered. The streets and areas excavated within

♦ Plinii Epistol. lib. vi. Epp. 16, 20.


the walls comprehend, besides minor public edifices, an
amphitheatre, two theatres, eight temples, two basilicae,
and baths, besides numerous fountains in the streets and
houses. Upwards of eighty private mansions have been
discovered, a great number of shops, and in the outskirts
many tombs.

From the side nearest to Herculaneum, Pompeii is ap-
proached by a disinterred suburb which has been named
the Street of the Tombs. In this interesting spot, the
first remarkable object is the Suburban Villa, which has
been called that of Arrius Diomedes, in one of whose
vaults seventeen skeletons lay huddled together ; while
two others, one bearing a key, and supposed to have been
the master of the house, were found stretched in the
garden.* Two of those in the vault were the skele-
tons of children, whose fair hair was still preserved ;
most of them were those of females ; and the impression
of one shape on the volcanic sand indicated youth and
singular beauty. The plan of this villa, with its courts,
chambers, baths, staircases, galleries, and gardens, can
be easily traced. In the window of one apartment in it
four panes of glass were found, and proved for the first
time that the Romans had applied glass to that use. The
Tombs which, as we walk on, succeed the villa, are
structures of various forms, and more or less orna-
mented ; some of them, being solid (a few of these mere
cippi or monumental pillars), cannot have contained
ashes or bodies ; others are calculated for one person,
and a third class are pierced with niches for the urns of
the family and dependents, the appearance of which,
resembling that of pigeon-houses, gave such buildings the
name of Columbaria. The tombs are generally placed in
a vacant space enclosed by walls, and the picture which
their mutilated range produces is unusually attractive.
One painted chamber, open at the top, and containing a

* The whole number of skeletons yet discovered in Pompeii does
not, it is believed, amount to 300 ; and the disappearance of valu-
ables from some quarters indicates that the inhabitants had attempt-
ed, after the catastrophe, to recover part of their possessions.


triclinium or triple seat, a monumental column, and a
pedestal for a table, was designed for the funeral feasts.
Near another semicircular bench were found the skeletons
of two children embracing, and of a female holding an
infant in her arms ; and in a niche close by the gate
was the skeleton of a soldier with his weapons.

The streets of the town are narrow, the very widest
scarcely exceeding thirty feet, and are paved with irre-
gular blocks of lava, in which the ruts of carriage
wheels are visible. The Forum, however, had originally
a pavement of marble. The houses are built of lava,
plastered over, and frequently pauited, while inscrip-
tions indicate the names of the owners, and together with
emblematic signs intimate the kind of merchandise sold
within, or convey salutations to expected visiters. The
dwellings externally were little ornamented, not one of
them possessing a portico ; and the large mansions of
the wealthier inhabitants were chiefly suiTOunded by
shops. The aspect of the streets is gloomy, the houses
are low, and their fronts usually consist of an under
portion of dead wall, above which are small windows
serving a part of the first floor, the principal lights,
however, being admitted from the inner courts. The
roofs have of course disappeared, no upper floor is in
existence, and few of the buildings appear to have had
any. The interior of the better residences was beauti-
fully decorated with columns, mosaics on the floors, and
paintings of landscape, figures, and arabesques, on the
plaster of the walls. Most of these ornaments, including
the paintings and mosaics, are now in the Museum.

From the Herculaneum gate a winding street runs
towards the Forum, and on this line are several of the
largest and most remarkable of the private mansions, espe-
cially those called the houses of Sallust, Pansa, and the
Tragic Poet. Immediately before we reach the Forum
we find the Public Baths, disinterred in 1824. In this
establishment, which occupies a space of about 100 square
feet, the walls, many of the vaulted roofs, the paintings
and the mosaics, are in tolerable preservation.


The Forum is an oblong area of nearly 500 feet by
120, surrounded by a Doric colonnade. At one end of
it, a Corinthian temple, which has been called that of
Jupiter, projects into the open space, and is elevated on
a very lofty basement, — a peculiarity distinguishing all
the temples of Pompeii, and producing, with the long
flight of steps by which the portico is faced, a very im-
posing effect. Round the colonnade stand the remains
of other sacred buildings, and of some whose purposes
are uncertain ; but they apparently include a senate-
house, a prison, in which were found two skeletons of
men in fetters, a basilica, and another structure of a
similar kind, which, according to its inscription, was
erected by a female named Eumachia. An edifice near
one side of the temple of Jupiter, adorned with singu-
larly well preserved paintings, and containing numerous
cells or chambers, with a central space in which stand
twelve pedestals in a circle round an altar, has been
called the Pantheon. Shops encompass it, and one range
of these faces the Fomm ; in which, on the side opposite
to them, is a large temple, supposed to be that of Venus.

Beyond the Forum is the quarter of the Theatres,
which embraces shady porticos, and spacious areas for
gardens. A large triangular space, approached by an
Ionic vestibule, and enclosed by a Doric colonnade,
contains a remarkable temple, called that of Hercules,
and pronounced the most ancient building in Pompeii.
This portico opens to the greater Theatre, beyond which
is the smaller one. The larger of the two, which may
have contained 5000 spectators, is semicircular like the
other Roman theatres, and is built on the slope of the
hill. It seems to have been faced with rich marble, of
which some slabs still remain ; and its plan, excepting
that of the stage, can be distinctly traced. The small
Theatre has its semicircle truncated by walls running at
right angles to the stage, and, on the authority of an in-
scription, is said to have been roofed. Beside it is a large
rectangular area, surrounded by a Doric colonnade, and
containing a number of small apartments resembling


shops. It has been called the Provision-market (Fo-
rum Nundinarium), or Soldiers' Quarters, and may have
served both purposes, besides others connected with the
places of amusement. A court behind the great theatre,
enclosed by a portico, contains a small Corinthian Tem-
ple of Isis, well preserved and curiously ornamented.

The Amphitheatre stands at the south-eastern corner
of the town, just within the walls. It is as usual ellip-
tical ; its dimensions externally are 480 feet by 335, and
it could admit perhaps 10,000 spectators. It was chiefly
constructed internally of rubble work, — the opus incer-
turn of the ancient writers, — the facing of which with stone
has chiefly disappeared, but the outline is quite entire.

This extensive and highly interesting country varies
exceedingly in its natural features. Apulia chiefly con-
sists of a wide and long level, passing at its southern
extremity into a branch of the Apennine. Its plains
have lost much of their Roman cultivation, and most
of the forests in which the Italian princes of the middle
ages hunted have disappeared ; a great part of them be-
mg now reduced to pasturage, whose general barrenness is
relieved only by luxuriant brushwood, with a few strag-
gling clumps of forest ground. That large district of
Lucania which is embraced in the Basilicata is more
hilly, but is far from being either fertile in soil or beau-
tiful in scenery. On the western side of the Gulf of
Tarentum, however, the Apennines rise higher, and fill
nearly the whole remainder of the peninsula to its
southern headlands. This region of Italy is Avild
and romantic in the extreme. The forms of the moun-
tains are more abrupt and varied than in the northern
districts of the great chain, and their summits are in
several quarters covered with never-melting snows ;
magnificent forests clothe the ravines on their sides,
their rivers are ton-ents leaving dry channels in sum-
mer, and the glens which cluster among their roots
display a contini^ally recurring alternation of desolate


wastes with the richest vegetation. The picturesque-
ness of the landscape is aided by the position of the
towns and villages, which, placed almost universally on
detached hills, differ from the similarly situated towns
in the north in this respect ; that, instead of covering
the top of the eminence, they usually rise as it were in
eteps from its base, converting it into a pyramid or cone
of buildings.

The ancient history of southern Italy derives its
chief interest from the Grecian settlements, of which
Apulia possessed but few. The group of Mount Garganus
at its northern extremity, takes its modem name of
Sant' Angelo from a miraculous grotto haunted by the
archangel Michael. In the middle of the thirteenth
century the population of Sipontum, at the foot of this
mountain, was transferred to the new town of Man-
fredonia. Southward from this place the river Ofanto

Online LibraryWilliam SpaldingItaly and the Italian islands, from the earliest ages to the present time (Volume 1) → online text (page 26 of 35)