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Title: A Little Pilgrimage in Italy
Author: Potter, Olave M. (Olave Muriel)
Language: English
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A LITTLE PILGRIMAGE IN ITALY


[Illustration: PERUGIA: LOOKING TOWARDS ASSISI.]


A LITTLE PILGRIMAGE IN ITALY

by

OLAVE M. POTTER

Author of 'The Colour of Rome.'

With 8 Coloured Plates and Illustrations by Yoshio Markino



Toronto
The Musson Book Company
Limited

First Published November      1911
Cheap Re-Issue                1913

Edinburgh: T. and A. Constable, Printers to His Majesty



FOREWORD


One morning of high summer three pilgrims met together in the City
of Genoa to sally forth in search of sunshine and the Middle Ages.

At least that was what the Poet said, for sunshine and Ancient
Stones were the passions of the Poet's life.

The Philosopher insisted that we went in search of Happiness.

It is no matter. But in fact we did meet one July day of sweltering
sunshine in Genoa, the Western Gate of Italy, which is a city of
grateful shadows, whose narrow streets defy the brilliant sun.

This is a book of simple delights, a chronicle of little pleasures,
so I shall not talk much of Genoa, although to my mind she is the
most Italian of all the great cities of Italy. Nor shall I speak of
Florence, or Naples, or Venice, or Rome. Doubtless, like me, you
have loved them all.

[Illustration: A STREET IN GENOA.]

If you come with me I shall take you away from the great cities
where your feet are bruised on the stony streets and never feel the
soft warm earth beneath their soles, where mountainous walls of
brick limit your vision to smoke-clouded strips of sky, where you
never smell the fragrance of the night. If you come with me I shall
take you to the hills, the deep-bosomed rolling hills, with their
valleys and their plains and with towered cities riding on their
crests. You will lie with me under the olives and stone-pines,
where the warm earth cushions your limbs in luxury, and the
sunlight flickering in the green shadows lights on a wealth of
flowers.

Then, if you will, come back to your haunted streets.

But I am persuaded that if you go there you will find a great
content among the little cities of great memories which stand
knee-deep in flowers upon the hills of Italy, or in those nobler
towns,--Siena, who belongs to the Madonna, and Perugia, whose name
is as a torch to light your feet into the Valleys of Romance. In
their streets you are seldom shut away from the mountains and the
sky; and little gracious weeds and grasses have spread a web among
their stones as though an elfin world sought to entrap a monster
and pull him down to ruin.

Our little pilgrimage took us to many shrines, and haunts of
peace and beauty. We made our discoveries, saw much, learned not
a little philosophy. And, most of all, we caught a glimpse of the
heart of Umbria--Umbria of the saints. We watched the gathering of
the golden maize in the plain below Assisi while we walked with
St. Francis among the vines and olives; we saw the vintage being
brought home with song and thanksgiving at Orvieto and Viterbo.
We dwelt among beautiful simple-hearted men and women, living in
little farms far from the toil of the modern world, who still
worship God in the gladness of their hearts and the spirit of the
ardent thirteenth century; who toil and spin and bear children
and lie down to die, not with the stupidity of animals or the
self-satisfaction of the bourgeoisie, but full of a beautiful
content, moved by a beautiful faith. We dipped into Tuscany too,
into Lombardy, into the March of Ancona, into Lazio, but nowhere
else was the world as perfect, as unspoiled as in Umbria. If you
are travel-stained with life, if the sweat of a work-a-day world
still clings about you, if you have lost your saints and almost
forgotten your Gods, you will cure the sickness of your soul in
Umbria.

[Illustration: GENOA: THE HARBOUR.]



CONTENTS


  CHAP.                                           PAGE

        FOREWORD                                     v

      I. AREZZO                                      1

     II. CORTONA                                    14

    III. PERUGIA                                    24

     IV. TODI                                       45

      V. SIENA AND THE PALIO                        58

     VI. SAN GIMIGNANO DELLE BELLE TORRI            88

    VII. MONTE OLIVETO MAGGIORE                    105

   VIII. CHIUSI                                    116

     IX. HANNIBAL'S THRASYMENE                     129

      X. ASSISI                                    144

     XI. GUBBIO                                    171

    XII. ANCONA                                    188

   XIII. LORETO                                    201

    XIV. RAVENNA                                   216

     XV. THE REPUBLIC OF SAN MARINO                234

    XVI. URBINO                                    245

   XVII. FOLIGNO                                   259

  XVIII. CLITUMNUS                                 276

    XIX. SPOLETO                                   280

     XX. THE FALLS OF TERNI                        296

    XXI. NARNI                                     303

   XXII. ORVIETO: THE CITY OF WOE                  316

  XXIII. VITERBO                                   333

   XXIV. ROME                                      353



ILLUSTRATIONS


  COLOURED PLATES

  PERUGIA: LOOKING TOWARDS ASSISI                       _Frontispiece_

  SIENA: TORRE DEL MANGIA                       _Facing page_       62

  SAN GIMIGNANO                                      "             102

  LAKE THRASYMENE                                    "             137

  ASSISI: THE LOWER CHURCH OF SAN FRANCESCO          "             152

  ANCONA: THE FISHING FLEET                          "             192

  SPOLETO: THE AQUEDUCT                              "             292

  THE FALLS OF TERNI                                 "             298


  HALF-TONES

  GENOA: THE HARBOUR                           _Facing page_      viii

  A STREET IN AREZZO                                 "               8

  CORTONA FROM THE PORTA S. MARGHERITA               "              20

  PERUGIA: PIAZZA DEL MUNICIPIO                      "              28

  PERUGIA: THE RING OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN            "              30

  PERUGIA: PORTA EBURNEA                             "              40

  PERUGIA: THE TOMB OF THE VOLUMNII                  "              42

  A STREET IN SIENA                                  "              66

  SIENA: S. DOMENICO AND THE VIA BENINCASA           "              68

  SIENA FROM THE CONVENTO DELL'OSSERVANZA            "              72

  SIENA: THE PALIO                                   "              84

  SAN GIMIGNANO: THE WASHING PLACE                   "              96

  CHIUSI: THE PALACE OF THE BISHOP                   "             126

  A STREET IN ASSISI                                 "             148

  THE LITTLE CLOISTER IN S. FRANCESCO D'ASSISI       "             154

  ASSISI: THE PORZIUNCULA                            "             168

  GUBBIO: PIAZZA VITTORIO EMANUELE                   "             180

  GUBBIO: VIA CARMIGNANO                             "             184

  LORETO                                             "             202

  SAN MARINO                                         "             236

  URBINO: SAN FRANCESCO                              "             252

  FOLIGNO: THE WASHING PLACE                         "             268

  THE TEMPLE OF CLITUMNUS                            "             278

  A STREET IN SPOLETO                                "             288

  THE CATTLE FAIR AT NARNI                           "             306

  A STREET IN ORVIETO                                "             322

  ORVIETO: ETRUSCAN TOMB                             "             330

  VITERBO: MEDIAEVAL HOUSE IN THE PIAZZA S. LORENZO  "             336

  VITERBO: FROM A WINDOW IN THE PALACE OF THE POPES  "             340

  VITERBO: VIA DI S. PELLEGRINO                      "             346

  ROME: ST. PETER'S SEEN FROM THE ARCO OSCURO        "             354

  ROME: A FOUNTAIN IN THE BORGHESE GARDENS           "             358


  LINE DRAWINGS

  A STREET IN GENOA                                    _See page_   vi

  AREZZO: THE PRISON                                        "        6

  CORTONA FROM THE PIAZZA GARIBALDI                         "       16

  PERUGIA: DETAIL FROM THE CHOIR OF S. PIETRO DE'
  CASSINENSI                                                "       24

  PERUGIA: ARCO DI AUGUSTO                                  "       27

  THE GRIFFON OF PERUGIA                                    "       32

  FOUNTAIN IN THE CLOISTER OF S. PIETRO DE' CASSINENSI      "       36

  DETAILS FROM THE APSE OF THE CATHEDRAL OF TODI            "       51

  TODI: S. MARIA DELLA CONSOLAZIONE                         "       54

  SIENA: BANNER-HOLDER                                      "       61

  SIENA: TORCH-REST                                         "       64

  SIENESE YOUTHS IN PALIO DRESS                             "       77

  SEEN AT THE PALIO                                         "       81

  THE TOWERS OF SAN GIMIGNANO                               "       89

  CHIUSURE FROM MONTE OLIVETO MAGGIORE                      "      107

  CITTÀ DELLA PIEVE FROM CHIUSI                             "      118

  ETRUSCAN CINERARY URNS                                    "      122

  CHIMNEYS AT PASSIGNANO                                    "      133

  ASSISI: S. MARIA MADDALENA AT RIVO TORTO                  "      159

  ASSISI: THE CARCERE                                       "      163

  GUBBIO: THE LAMPLIGHTER                                   "      173

  GUBBIO: SAN FRANCESCO                                     "      177

  GUBBIO: THE MEDIAEVAL AQUEDUCT                            "      183

  PEASANTS AT LORETO                                        "      206

  PILGRIMS AT LORETO                                        "      211

  RAVENNA: THE PINETA                                       "      218

  RAVENNA: SANT'AGATA                                       "      221

  RAVENNA: THE TOMB OF DANTE                                "      228

  RAVENNA: COLUMN OF GASTON DE FOIX                         "      232

  THE PALACE OF THE DUKES OF URBINO                         "      247

  FOLIGNO: SAN DOMENICO                                     "      263

  FOLIGNO: WELL IN THE CASA NOCCHI                          "      265

  SPELLO                                                    "      273

  SPOLETO: PORTA D'ANNIBALE                                 "      282

  SPOLETO: SAN GREGORIO                                     "      285

  A FOUNTAIN OF SPOLETO                                     "      290

  SPOLETO: SAN PIETRO                                       "      294

  THE LOWER FALL OF TERNI                                   "      300

  FARMERS AT THE OX                                         "      304

  FAIR OF NARNI                                             "      308

  NARNI: MARKET PEOPLE                                      "      310

  NARNI: THE PONTE D'AUGUSTO                                "      312

  BELOW THE WALLS OF ORVIETO                                "      318

  ORVIETO: THE CLOCK TOWER                                  "      320

  ORVIETO: SANT'AGOSTINO                                    "      326

  ETRUSCAN NECROPOLIS BELOW THE WALLS OF ORVIETO            "      329

  OUTSIDE THE WALLS OF VITERBO                              "      334

  VITERBO: THE MOAT OUTSIDE THE PORTA SAN PIETRO            "      338

  VITERBO: THE STEMMA OF THE CITY                           "      341

  VITERBO: THE PALACE OF THE POPES                          "      343

  VITERBO: FOUNTAIN IN THE PALAZZO MUNICIPIO                "      344

  VITERBO: THE HOUSE OF THE BELLA GALIANA                   "      345

  ONE OF VITERBO'S MANY FOUNTAINS                           "      348

  THE RUINED THEATRE OF FERENTO                             "      351

  THE ALTAR OF THE UNKNOWN GOD ON THE PALATINE              "      356

  THE VIA APPIA                                             "      360



AREZZO


We came to Arezzo in the cool of the evening. It had been a
breathless day. Even at Genoa the air hung heavy with the sirocco.
We found Pisa in a mirage, and the white hills of Carrara
glistening like the lime rocks of a desert.

It was good to be in Tuscany again--Tuscany with her grey farms
and lichened roofs, her towered horizons, her blue hills, her
vineyards, and her olive-gardens. We could hear the song of the
cicalas vibrating in the sunshine above the jar of the train; near
at hand the hills swelled up, clothed with the tender mist of
olives or linked with vines; stone-pines floated darkly against the
sky, and cypress spires climbed the hillsides in a long procession
like souls on pilgrimage.

Perhaps it is because Arezzo, little Arezzo, with her ancient
history and her tale of great men, was the earliest of our
hill-cities that we loved her at first sight. Coming from London
and Genoa, with the noise and dust and heat of long train journeys
still hanging about us, she seemed very cool and sweet among her
vineyards and olive-gardens. She has left her hill-top now that
she needs no more the walls which Sangallo built in the fighting
days of the Popes, and has trailed down to the railway in the
valley, leaving behind her wide piazzas which she has filled with
shady trees, and benches, and statues of her great ones. Her paved
streets, steep and clean, climb up the hillside between grey
palaces, green-shuttered, with wide Tuscan eaves, whose fantastic
outlines, seen in échelon against the sky, bring back a score of
memories of other clean-swept Tuscan towns.

Now that we were threading her byways, Arezzo, though she had
looked imposing from the valley, dwindled to a little brown city,
full of memories, and frescoed churches, and ancient houses in
which the labourer dwells in his poverty to-day where the rich
citizens of Arezzo once held great state. Capers and all manner of
pensive creepers grew out of the rough walls; fig-trees, roses,
wistarias, and oleanders in full blossom poured over them, so that
the air was full of fragrance. And there were flowers in the upper
windows of thirteenth-century houses, for your Tuscan is fond
of flowers, and will have his _garofani_ upon his window-ledge.
Through the low-browed gateways we could see women spinning in
arcaded courtyards; and the shoemakers and basket-weavers worked
at their humble trades as they sat on the steps of weather-beaten
Gothic houses.

And often as we wandered through her narrow streets we paused
to look down upon the calm beauty of the Tuscan plain, which
stretched from the vineyards below her walls to the blue mountains
of Chianti. Nor did it require any effort of imagination, while we
were walking in those mediaeval byways between the Borgunto and
the Via di Pellicceria, to people the rich valley with the pageant
which Dante witnessed while he was staying in Arezzo with the elder
Petrarch, both exiles from Florence.

  'It hath been heretofore my chance to see
  Horsemen with martial order shifting camp,
  To onset sallying, or in muster rang'd,
  Or in retreat sometimes outstretch'd for flight;
  Light-armed squadrons and fleet foragers
  Scouring thy plains, Arezzo! have I seen,
  And clashing tournaments, and tilting jousts,
  Now with the sound of trumpets, now of bells,
  Tabors, or signals made from castled heights.'[1]

A common sight enough, heaven knows, in the Middle Ages, when every
little city sought to rule itself, and the populace and the petty
lords alike cloaked their ambitions under the old war-cry of Guelph
and Ghibelline!

There is an air of gaiety in Arezzo, a simple, almost pastoral,
joy. The philosopher felt it at once.

'We are like flowers,' he said, as we sat on a bench outside the
inn after our first breakfast in Tuscany. 'In London our roots
spread in the ground, and they get knotted and twisted in the
darkness. Here we shoot right up into the sun.'

And, indeed, Arezzo is a happy place, whose charm, it may be,
owes its origin to an earlier civilisation, which has left so
many broken fragments of its art scattered on the neighbouring
hillsides. They are garnered to-day in the museum among the
relics of Arezzo's history, of which they are the chief glory now
that the bronze Chimera and the magnificent Etruscan statue of
Minerva have gone to swell the treasures of Florence. There is not
a vase or _patera_ unbroken. The entire collection is composed
of fragments, moulds and casts in low relief. But every piece is
exquisitely beautiful; each one is like a shell cast by the tides
of fantasy upon the shores of a work-a-day world. And though the
streets of Arezzo are nearly always empty and silent, I think the
flutes and lyres and dancing fauns, with which the artists of
Arretium delicately graced their coral-coloured bowls and cups,
are not silenced yet upon this Tuscan hill. Perhaps the spirit of
the slim-limbed girls and youths, and merry little loves, whose
forms are beauty, and whose fragile feet seem scarce to bruise the
ground, dance still to their forgotten songs about the vineyards
of Arretium. It is as though the dream of some Attic poet, for I
cannot think that the heavy-eyed people of Etruria imagined such
gods, lingers on in this little Tuscan town, and the echo of its
ancient music vibrates in the stillness of the museum like the
murmur of waves in a shell. Or perhaps it is a magic in the air,
the subtle air of Tuscany, that poets sing of, which has inspired
more genius than we can find in all the rest of Italy.

For Arezzo, like Florence, has been the mother of great men.
Michelangelo, himself born but a few miles from Arezzo, wrote to
Vasari, 'Giorgio, of myself I have no power. I happened to be born
in the subtle air of your _paese_.'

Poets and artists, sculptors and musicians, have issued from
her walls. All the world knows that she bred Maecenas and
Petrarch, but only those who pause to read her chronicles know
how many of her sons have walked with History in the corridors of
Time--Margheritone, the Spinelli; Leonardo Bruni; Carlo Marsuppini,
and a host of other humanists; the fighting bishop, Guido Tarlati;
Vasari; and Guido Monaco, the Benedictine monk, born in the closing
years of the eleventh century, who was the inventor of our modern
system of musical notation.

Whether Arezzo occupies the site of Arretium, the city of the
Etruscan league, which is unlikely, or whether it rose like a
phoenix from the ashes of its ancient necropolis, or grew from a
Roman colony of that name near the Etruscan settlement, is not for
me to say, since antiquaries are undecided. In any case there is
little of either Etruscan or Roman antiquity outside the museum
to-day.

[Illustration: AREZZO: THE PRISON.]

It is the Middle Ages which have set their crown upon Arezzo.
Knowing her courage, and how it outweighed her strength so that she
dared to offer battle to her great neighbour Florence through many
stormy centuries, it is a marvel that anything of value should be
left. And in fact Arezzo boasts few civic buildings--the palace of
the Podestà or del Governo, now the prison, whose façade is covered
with the _stemme_ of her many rulers, and the Palazzo Comunale or
dei Priori, with its picturesque clock tower, are all that remain
of the mediaeval city, except some streets of fifteenth-century
dwelling-houses. But she has several noble churches--the Gothic
Duomo, majestically simple within and without, which crowns her
hill-top; the Pieve, Santa Maria di Gradi, with its wonderful
Pisan-Romanesque façade, hoary with antiquity; the great bare
church of San Francesco, enriched by Piero della Francesca's Story
of the True Cross; and Santa Maria delle Grazie in the vineyards
outside the walls.

It is the same all over Italy. What little town is there, however
broken, but has ancient churches and palaces to crown its hill and
keep troth through the ages with its vanished greatness? Arezzo is
particularly rich. The most expectant pilgrim to Italy's shrines of
art, even though he come straight from Florence, will be thrilled
by the golden church which soars from the crest of Arezzo's hill
between the gracious old Palazzo Comunale and the public gardens,
gay in July with the flame-coloured pennons of a flowering tree,
which Mr. Markino tells me is called Urushi in Japan. For the
Aretines have lavished wealth upon their cathedral, and the Ark of
San Donato, which is one of the most beautiful mediaeval shrines
in Italy, a rival to Orcagna's masterpiece in Or San Michele, is
alone worth the long hot climb. The exquisitely wrought marble is
yellowing with age; it is as finely carved as Oriental ivories;
the trefoils and the edges of its panels are set with lapis
lazuli. And here we have the reverence of the Trecento, with its
rude handiwork redeemed by its ardent sincerity. For the sculptors
saw nothing strange or irreverent in filling their scenes of the
lives of Madonna and San Donato with all the incongruous details of
their own day, so that we have at the same time jesters and angels,
knights a-horseback and heavy-headed saints, and the queer beasts
of mediaeval imaginings.

Close at hand is the tomb of the splendid old fighting Bishop of
Arezzo, Guido Tarlati, who crowned the Emperor Lewis of Bavaria
with the Iron Crown of Lombardy in defiance of the excommunications
of John XXII., and who led his people to battle against the Pope as
readily as he led their prayers to God. A great man this, who has
a worthy tomb, for Agostino and Agnolo of Siena carved the history
of his stirring life below his recumbent form when he was laid to
rest, and have shown us incidentally the life of the Trecento in
all its vigour and humour. Two angels draw back the curtains of his
bier, revealing him as he lies asleep, with folded hands and an air
of extreme piety and humility, belied by the long recital of his
little wars, and the story of his triumphs, from his Consecration
as a Bishop to the Coronation of Lewis, and his death in 1327.

[Illustration: A STREET IN AREZZO.]

There are many other treasures in the Duomo, besides the column
upon which San Donato had his head cut off, 'without any regard for
the axe,' as the custode explained, pointing out a deep gash in the
marble to remove the lingering doubts of any sceptic; there is an
exquisite relief by Rossellino in the Chapter House, and many Della
Robbias have set their seal of piety and graciousness on altar and
tomb in the Chapel of the Madonna. But it was not any of these
things which claimed our thoughts the first time that we entered
the dim aisles of Margheritone's soaring Gothic church. After the
glare and heat of the piazza, where the sunlight reflected from
the yellow walls of the cathedral dazzled our eyes, we found the
darkness of the nave, illuminated by a solitary altar lamp, and
threaded with shafts of jewelled light filtering through painted
glass, as grateful as the shade of some primeval forest formed by
the interlacing branches of giant trees. For, within, the Cathedral
of Arezzo is like the Gothic churches of the north, and it may
be that the grim Margheritone, whose agonised crucifixions adorn
so many chapels in Tuscany and Umbria, was himself inspired by
northern architecture. He returned to his native town from Florence
in the train of Gregory X., fresh from the Council of Lyons; and
Gregory, who left 30,000 _scudi_ to the Comune for the erection
of the new cathedral, may well have made some suggestions as to
the style of architecture which was to be employed. He died in the
neighbourhood some months later, early in the year 1276, and his
beautiful thirteenth-century tomb by Margheritone is one of the
chief ornaments of the cathedral which he helped to endow.

In Arezzo we were fortunate to find a real country inn; a clean,
cool place, with floors and stairs of red brick, and an alfresco
dining-room in the garden.

I remember how gay we were, how our burdens of care slipped from
our shoulders as we sat to eat below the trees on those first
nights in Tuscany. Were we not on the road again, knowing nothing
of the morrow, forgetful of everything but the joy of yesterday,
dining when we were hungry, sleeping when we were tired, with no
thought but for the beauty of the ways which opened out before us,
no care but that we might pass unwittingly some of the quaint and
lovely fragments of art and architecture with which our path was
strewn?

'Peregrino, quasi mendicando,' said Dante, bitter in his exile, but
we did not want for the luxury which money cannot buy. It is only
Italy of the little towns that can make you forget the work-a-day
world. Nowhere else can you be so content with what is often meagre
fare, so careless of the morrow, so full of the joy of to-day, as
you are in Italy.

At night we sat at rough trestle tables in the little garden of the
Albergo della Stella with the star-strewn canopy of night above us,
and an electric light hanging like a fire-fly from the branches
of an acacia tree. The level note of night crickets singing in the
ilexes made an accompaniment to the distant clatter of dishes and
the snatches of talk from other tables behind the tall bamboos. The
food was simple--_minestre_, perfectly grilled steaks, fresh fruit,
and generous _fiaschi_ of the good red Tuscan wine, for which the
vineyards of Arretium were praised. And here we lingered, talking
of the wide-eaved Tuscan house in the Via del Orte, where Petrarch,
the first of the great Italian humanists, was born, and Dante came
to visit the elder Petrarch, who had been exiled from Florence
by the same turn of the political wheel as himself; of Vasari,
who filled his niche as a biographer so much better than he ever
filled it as an artist; of Piero della Francesca and the vigorous
young world he pictured on the bare white walls of San Francesco;
and of San Bernardino who, like St. Francis, purged Arezzo of its
devils and laid the foundations of Santa Maria delle Grazie, that
exquisite church outside the city walls which Benedetto da Maiano,
Andrea della Robbia and Parri di Spinello enriched with the sister
arts. For it was San Bernardino who, coming to Arezzo, and finding
that the citizens were in the habit of practising pagan rites for
an oracle, which they imagined dwelt in a wood outside their gates,
preached such a fiery sermon from the pulpit of San Francesco that
they wept before him like little children. But he, insisting that
they should do penance, gave orders that on a certain day a great
wooden cross should be brought to him, and that the people should
come in solemn procession to exorcise the demon. That week the
citizens of Arezzo went about their work with fear and trembling,
and some of them cast doubtful looks down to the valley where the
oracle was hid. But on the appointed day, though I doubt not that
many did absent themselves, a great company followed the saint,
carrying the cross, down to the hateful wood.

It is not hard to picture to-day--the Mystic chanting as he walked
at the head of the procession; the hot and dusty way through the
vineyards below the city walls, for San Bernardino was loth to
start until all the people were met together; and the fear of the
crowd as they drew near and heard the music of the oracle-haunted
spring. But Bernardino, whose heart was ever with the angels,
caused the fountain to be cast down and the trees to be felled,
lest by any chance some evil might yet lurk in the wood. And,
knowing the heart of the people, that where a man has once
worshipped he will worship again, even though it be to other gods,
he built a little chapel to the glory of Our Lady of Mercies, and
he begged Messer Spinello to paint the Virgin for an altarpiece.

But not every one who comes to Arezzo visits this lovely church
down in the vineyards, in spite of the marvellous beauty of Andrea
della Robbia's 'cornice,' which frames Spinello's Madonna delle
Grazie as she stands among the stars, like the Mother of the World,
with strange, sad eyes, and shelters in her cloak the little people
of Arezzo, humbly kneeling in penitence at her feet.



CORTONA


Cortona! Not one of us but thrilled as we drew near her. For few
cities bear so fair a name or seem as full of promise as Cortona.
Although the world has long since passed her by, she loiters on her
hill-top between the valley and the sky like a forgotten goddess
who is loth to quit her great estate. Her towering walls encompass
her about, those mighty walls built for a mighty people which
Virgil sings of in the _Aeneid_; she frowns as though she were
still girt for war, and had forgotten how to smile; her lean grey
castle, stark upon the crest of the hill, points to the heaven like
an avenging sibyl.

No wonder that her history is spare since the days when she and
her great neighbours, Arretium and Clusium, joined the Etruscan
League in 310 B.C.; for even to-day, with excellently engineered
roads scaling her hill, she is difficult of approach, and her stout
walls and impregnable position offered no inducement to invading
armies, who were content with harrying her fertile plain, as they
passed by to Umbria and Rome. We know she was a Roman colony in the
time of the historian Dionysius, but scant mention is made of her
under the Roman Empire; and although she was one of the earliest
Episcopal sees, and is still the seat of a bishop, it was not until
the thirteenth century that the chronicles of Cortona began to take
a place in mediaeval history. She is still withdrawn from the world
upon her mountain; her houses are still huddled together in the
shelter of her great walls, built by the Unknown People; she still
hides her poverty from the eyes of the careless traveller as he
rushes past the foot of her hill on his way to Rome or Florence.

After the motor-omnibus had deposited us in the Piazza Signorelli,
and we had deposited our luggage in a rather dreary-looking inn
whose only claims to notice were its exquisite views over the
Tuscan plain to the inland sea of Thrasymene, we sallied out full
of anticipation to see the legendary birthplace of three such
widely different characters as the mythological Dardanus, founder
of Troy; Brother Elias, the erring and ambitious follower of St.
Francis; and Luca Signorelli, that courtly gentleman and great
painter of the fifteenth century.

But we were disappointed. Cortona, notwithstanding her lovely name
and her ancient and picturesque site, is a dirty little place, with
unsavoury streets and a baroque cathedral. She has treasures, of
course. What little town in Italy has not? Her tumble-down palaces
are built of warm red brick; her churches have some fine pictures;
her Palazzo Pretorio is covered with the escutcheons of the princes
who were her overlords, but she has no charm unless you catch her
unawares before the sleep is shaken from her eyes early on a summer
morning.

[Illustration: CORTONA FROM THE PIAZZA GARIBALDI.]

We found so little to detain us in her dingy, unkempt streets that
we decided to push on the next day to Perugia. We tried our tempers
in the inn, the most lethargic inn that it was our misfortune
to visit, endeavouring to get some lunch, and after waiting an
hour and a half we found the _gnocchi_ stale and the coarse meat
uneatable. So we went out again into the siesta heat, determined
at least to see the great Etruscan lamp which is the pride of
Cortona's museum, and the pictures which Luca Signorelli painted
for her churches.

Cortona was asleep. She was as still as a lizard on a sunny wall;
even the tiresome children who had followed us all the morning,
agape for soldi, had vanished; the air was vibrant with the tremolo
of the cicalas; the sunlight stretched like a shimmering veil
across the valleys. And in a moment all our vexation vanished.
Italy the Beautiful came out to meet us, smoothing away all
disagreeable memories as a cool hand laid on the forehead will
smooth out pain; we forgot the hatefulness which had been piling
itself up all day--the dust, the smells, the too-glaring sun,
the stupid inn with its bad-tempered maid-servant, the screaming
children, the baroque cathedral!

In the cool grey church of San Domenico, which stands in the
flowery public gardens of Cortona, we found not only one of Luca's
great pictures but a pageant of Quattrocento saints and Madonnas
in richly gilt Gothic frames over the three altars which fill
its eastern wall. In the Gesù, a little ancient church which
clings to the hillside close to the cathedral, we discovered an
Annunciation by Fra Angelico, almost as beautiful as that exquisite
picture which he painted on the wall of his monastery-home in
Florence. It is very like the fresco in the corridor of San Marco.
The Madonna is sitting in the same light and airy loggia reading
in some little book, as the Angel Gabriel, with his iridescent
wings still poised for flight, alights at her feet, filling the air
with glory. Outside, the grass is starred with the flowers which
Angelico loved to paint; and far away, silhouetted against the sky,
we see the Angel with a flaming sword driving Man and Woman from
their Garden of Paradise, whose gates not even the coming of Christ
could reopen on earth.

And then, remembering the story of Filippo Brunelleschi, we went
into the Duomo to see the famous sarcophagus which legend claims to
be the tomb of the Consul Flaminius, and which the great architect
of the dome of Florence Cathedral walked sixty miles to see. For
one morning when he was discussing antique sculpture in the Piazza
of Santa Maria del Fiore with Donatello and some other artists,
Brunelleschi heard of a Roman sarcophagus in Cortona. Straightway
he left his companions, and fired by his passion for the works of
antiquity, 'just as he was, in his mantle, hood and sabots, without
saying a word of where he was going,' came to Cortona and made a
drawing of it, returning at last to Florence where he showed it to
the astonished Donatello, who had not been able to guess where his
friend had disappeared.

But it was in the early morning, as I have said, that we discovered
the nameless charm of Cortona--that same charm which we found in
a different guise in all the little towns of Umbria and Tuscany.
Our inn, though it towered more than a thousand feet above
the valley, was at the bottom of the city, for Cortona in the
immemorial Etruscan fashion hangs from the crest of her hill. Even
the ambitious motor-bus could not climb higher than the Piazza
Signorelli, because nearly all the streets above it are so steep
that they are built in shallow steps. And they are so deserted that
in one of them we found rabbits contentedly nibbling the grass
which grew between its paving-stones. So the next morning, very
early, while the day was cool, we climbed up to the great church
of Santa Margherita, which stands with the ruined Fortezza on the
crest of Cortona's mountain.

To me it is always rather strange that this harsh Tuscan citadel
should ignore the name of Brother Elias, that great and restless
spirit who sought to wed Love not to Poverty, as Francis did, but
to Ambition. His name is hardly spoken in Cortona, but the body of
Santa Margherita, whom some call the Magdalen of the Franciscans,
because they love to draw comparisons between the life of Christ
and His humble follower, is enshrined upon the hill-top like
the light that cannot be hid. Her church has been restored, and
there is little of the ancient building left except her beautiful
fourteenth-century tomb, the silver shrine which was the gift of
Piero da Cortona, and the lovely rose-window which is preserved
in the modern façade. In the aisle are the flags and ship-lantern
of some knight of Malta, who prayed to Margherita in the hour of
peril, and was saved by her intercession.

Yet it was not for Santa Margherita that we climbed Cortona's hill
at dawn, but to see the rich plain of Tuscany in its amphitheatre
of blue hills, each with a towered city for its crown--Chiusi,
Città della Pieve, Montepulciano, and a host of others to which
we had not learned to give their names. It was a panorama of
surpassing beauty which opened out before us. Fold on fold the
mountains lifted their heads above the mists of the valley, rising
always towards the mighty crest of Monte Amiata, which was to loom
upon so many of our horizons while we were journeying through the
heart of Italy. And far away the sunshine lightened the opal waters
of Lake Thrasymene, lying like a forgotten sea in the bosom of the
Umbrian hills, with the towers of Castiglione del Lago rosy in the
dawn.

[Illustration: CORTONA FROM THE PORTA S. MARGHERITA.]

Even here the Rocca stood above us on its scarp, the key of the
strong citadel which claims descent from Dardanus of Troy. On
either side of Santa Margherita the mighty walls, including many
courses of Cyclopean masonry, climbed down towards the peaceful
plain. We passed through a gap which had once been a gate, and saw
them plunging down the hillside holding the crumpled brown roofs
of the little shrunken city in their elbow. So was Cortona of the
Unknown People fortified; so was the city of the Etruscans girt
about, and Hannibal and Flaminius have looked upon these walls as
they passed by to battle upon the reedy shore of Thrasymene.

Up on the hillside men and girls were reaping in the shadow of
the ancient wall. 'And the reapers, reaping early,' quoth the poet
softly to himself. Their laughter floated down to us. Every now and
then a girl would straighten her lithe figure, stand upright curved
scythe in hand, and sing, her clear notes soaring like a lark's in
the crystal air. At our feet Cortona nestled in the embrace of her
great wall, and far below, the plain of Tuscany rolled away to the
hills where the sunlight fired the towers of other mountain cities.

So in the dawn we grew to love Cortona, for the fantastic beauty
which is her own, and for her aloofness. As we passed down into
her steep-paved streets we paused a moment in San Francesco, where
Brother Elias lies buried with his hopes and ambitions; where, too,
is kept the ivory case with a fragment of the True Cross which
the Patriarch of Constantinople gave to Elias when he visited
that Court as Nuncio of Frederick II. And we lingered in little
San Niccolò, which, with its loggia and cypress-garden, is the
loveliest of Cortona's churches; and which, for all its poverty,
treasures three pictures by Luca Signorelli, who belonged to its
confraternity.

Down in the Piazza Signorelli we found the motor-omnibus already
waiting to take us to the station. The narrow streets were crowded
with black-browed Tuscan peasants selling fruit and vegetables,
and doing a thriving business in skinned frogs strung on wooden
skewers. These looked particularly unappetising in pails of not too
clean water, and the atmosphere was putrid after the freshness of
the air above. Again we had the sense of stifling heat and odour,
and again the swarms of dirty children who had tracked us yesterday
rose, as it were, out of the earth. We were glad enough to leave
Cortona, but not until we had experienced many vexatious delays.
For when we had fetched our luggage from the inn and settled our
account with the rather difficult landlady, the driver of the
omnibus was not forthcoming. And when at last we persuaded him to
leave the shelter of the cool Palazzo Comunale, a glazier took the
ill-chosen opportunity of mending two of the broken windows in
the omnibus. We had given up all hope of catching our train when
half an hour later we swung out of the town and began our perilous
descent down to the plain.

After all we had some minutes to spare, though I should not care to
make the journey again, for we took more than one corner of that
switchback road on two wheels. But the driver was confident of our
approval. 'Ecco signore, the train has not yet arrived,' he cried
triumphantly. _Facilis descensus Averni!_

[Illustration: PERUGIA: DETAIL FROM THE CHOIR OF S. PIETRO DE'
CASSINENSI.]



PERUGIA

  'For bodiless dreams through double gateways go
  Of horn and ivory, from night's realm forlorn;
  And those that through the ivory gate are borne
  Deceive, and what they tell is unfulfilled;
  But those that issue through the polished horn
  Fulfil themselves for mortals to whose sight
  They issue.'

              J. W. MACKAIL'S Translation of the _Odyssey_,
                                  xix. 562.


'Look!' said the chronicler, 'there is Perugia. Perugia, whom I
have loved so long for her name alone.'

The poet sighed.

'I could almost envy you because you do not know her. See how her
loggia'd towers frame the heavens, and how she stretches out her
lovely arms to welcome us!'

We came to Perugia from Cortona. In an hour we slipped from that
austere Tuscan citadel into the heart of an enchanted land--Umbria
Mystica--the home of saints, where Beauty and Romance walk in the
valleys with the gentle Gods of Arcady; where brooding peace hangs
in the luminous air, and on whose aerial hills great memories dwell
in the little cities full of dreams that men have built for them.
We skirted the enchanted shores of Thrasymene, the spell-bound
lake which lies like an opal in the bosom of the Umbrian Hills,
and found ourselves among vineyards and olive-gardens, where the
Madonnas of Perugino and Raphael are living their beautiful and
simple lives in the fields, and the great-eyed oxen draw Virgilian
ploughs below the olives, or roll along the dusty roads with
scarlet fillets on their milk-white heads.

Perugia is the queen of this enchanted land, the crown of Umbria.
Think of her name--Perusia Augusta the Romans called her; was there
ever a more lovely name, or one which History enriched with more
poetic legends? For Felice Ciatti, that brilliant scholar of the
seventeenth century, in summing up the Greco-Trojan tradition and
the popular belief that Noah, the Patriarch, was the founder of
the city, thought nothing of addressing the Perugians, in one of
his Lenten sermons, in these stirring words--'No marvel is it if,
to-day, ye Perugians possess the justice of the Armenians, the
wisdom of the Greeks, the prosperity of Augustus, and the sanctity
of Noah, for ye are descended from them all.'

And if these legends leave you cold, think of the Carlovingian
tradition in which such great names as Oliver the Paladin, and
the puissant knight, Count Roland, 'the Falcon of Christendom,'
and the tyrant Orgoglioso, play their parts with the lovely lady
Prossimana. Or, if this does not stir you, would you rather learn
romance from the nomenclature of her ancient gates? Here, long
since vanished, was the Portal of the Sun, the gate through which
blind Homer thought that dreams entered into a city from the east.
It still gives its name to a whole quarter of Perugia--the Rione
della Porta Sole--and though no man can point to the actual Porta
Sole, when the wind blows coolly through any of Perugia's eastern
gates, and you look across the valley at Assisi, it will be strange
if you do not think of Dante's words:

                                'There hangs
  Rich slope of mountain high, whence heat and cold
  Are wafted through Perugia's eastern gate:
  And Nocera with Gualdo, in its rear
  Mourn for their heavy yoke. Upon that side,
  Where it doth break its steepness most, arose
  A sun upon this world, as duly this
  From Ganges doth; therefore let none, who speak
  Of that place, say Ascesi; for its name
  Were lamely so delivered; but the East,
  To call things rightly, be it henceforth styled.'[2]

[Illustration: PERUGIA: ARCO DI AUGUSTO.]

Here, at the end of a winding street of mediaeval houses, is the
Porta Eburnea, the Ivory Gate through which Homer thought that
False Dreams were expelled from a city; and close to Sant'Ercolano
is the Porta Cornea, the Gate of Horn, whence issued all True
Dreams. The Porta Eburnea was, indeed, the gate of False Dreams,
for it was by that way, so Matarazzo tells us, that the Baglioni,
that strange and beautiful and ungodly race who lived and died by
violence, always passed out to battle. Of the others the Porta
Augusta, the greatest of the Etruscan gates, once bore the proud
name Porta Pulchra, because of its beauty even in a beautiful
city; and another was named, and is still named, after the God of
War. Is it not irony that all the rest should bear the names of
saints, for Perugia, a city of turbulent desires, has ever bred
more warriors than saints? Even to-day there are few monks or
nuns in Perugia; it is the military who are in evidence, and not
a few churches and cloisters have been despoiled to house them.
In fact Perugia, notwithstanding her mediaeval monuments, is a
gay and much begarrisoned city, not provincial like Siena, but
really the capital of a state. I have never seen so many smart and
pretty women in any Italian town of the size as I found at Perugia
in high summer, nor so many soldiers. The Corso is full of them,
both morning and evening. They promenade up and down, 'wearing
out the pavements,' in the phrase of the immortal and energetic
Fortebraccio; or they sit at cafés gossiping after their siestas.
At night they become an army. It seems as though the entire
population congregated then in the Corso and the Piazza Vittorio
Emanuele, where there is a band and a mushroom growth of tables and
chairs. On Sundays they promenade in the cathedral in just the same
gay and careless fashion, except that the boys doff their hats, and
that here you see shaggy-haired and devout peasants kneeling among
the beautifully-dressed Perugian ladies.

[Illustration: PERUGIA: PIAZZA DEL MUNICIPIO.]

Perugia is not a religious city. It is true that she furnished the
most ardent disciples of the thirteenth-century Flagellants;[3]
and that Fra Bernadino of Siena, preaching to her from the little
pulpit outside the cathedral of San Lorenzo, brought her to such
a passion of repentance that not only did she burn her vanities
in the piazza before this ardent Flame of God, as the Florentines
were to do later for Savonarola, but she built in his memory that
exquisite oratory covered with reliefs in terra-cotta by Agostino
Duccio, under the shadow of San Francesco. Yet for the rest it
seems as though she has not forgiven the papacy for grinding her
under its heel in the stormy sixteenth century, when Paul III.
built his fortress on the ruined palaces of the Baglioni; although,
on the Feast of the Ring of the Virgin, which, for all her air of
cynicism, she still counts as one of her treasures, we saw the
peasants who had climbed her hillside in the dawn worshipping with
the simple faith of the Middle Ages.

Matarazzo has told the story of this Ring, and how it was
stolen from Chiusi, where it was held in great veneration, in
the thirteenth century by a German priest, and brought by the
intervention of the Holy Virgin to Perugia. It is shown in San
Lorenzo in a finely-wrought casket thrice a year; otherwise it
is kept in an iron chest, whose seven keys are in the custody of
different citizens. We arrived early enough to go into the loft,
where the chest is lodged, above the Altar of the Sacrament, and
see the Ring being put _sans cérémonie_ into its place in the gold
casket before the red silk curtains were drawn back and the holy
relic lowered to the altar. A short mass was said, and the casket
was placed on a table in the centre of the chapel for the people to
pass one by one in front of it.

It was a sacrament, a holy and beautiful thing, to watch them as
they passed, these peasants with their broken dusty hats and rugged
faces, who had come up from the valleys with their Madonna-like
wives. They pressed their lips to the glass, and held up their
rosaries and rings to touch the shrine. All had some special sign
of love and reverence.

[Illustration: PERUGIA: THE RING OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN.]

I watched them till my eyes were filled with tears because of
the beauty and the pathos and the blessedness of it all. One
by one they passed. First, an old woman, her white hair hidden
beneath a gold kerchief, and a smile of rare peace on her gnarled
face, pressed her lips to the casket and handed up her rosary
that it might touch the shrine. She passed down with bent head.
Next came a girl of the splendid Umbrian type, deep-chested and
straight-limbed, her head carried high. She kissed the glass
and lifted up her ring, maybe her wedding ring, then crossed
herself, and passed on with trembling lips. Old men there were who
touched the shrine with shaking fingers, and stumbled away into
the cathedral to pray. Children were lifted up to kiss it. And
there were others besides the kerchiefed women and their peasant
husbands--people of the town, complacent burghers and their stout
wives, and the dainty white-robed girls of Perugia. And nearly all
passed out with uncertain lips as if they had been strangely moved.

Across the nave is the Miraculous Madonna which Giovanni Manni
painted on a column. She is in a gilt frame, set about with silver
hearts, which gleam in the darkness of the aisle like the smiles of
those who have found joy in her. I do not wonder that the people
of Perugia love this Madonna, for she is very beautiful. Her hands
are raised in blessing, but to me her tender eyes are full of
wonder, as though having no belief herself she marvelled at these
worshippers for their faith, and loved them exceedingly because of
it. We always found some poor, rough-headed peasants kneeling in
the great ugly church before her, and ever she blessed them, and
wondered at them, and seemed to give them peace.

[Illustration: THE GRIFFON OF PERUGIA.]

Perugia is a mediaeval paradox. When you stand upon her ramparts
in the clear shining of the morning, and look across the hills
and vales of Umbria, you wonder that the hot breath of war and
the scent of blood should have reached her. For she stands at the
head of two wide plains full of enchanted silence--the Valley of
Spoleto with its many little cities starring the green hills, and
the Valley of the Tiber which sweeps from the gates of Perugia
southwards to Rome. The mountains, which close them in, are clothed
with vines and olives, and swell softly like the many bosoms of
Diana of the Ephesians. The valleys are a garden, and the hills
roll softly to the horizon till they grow aerial in the distance
and hang upon the heavens like fantastic clouds. Little white
cities crown them or clamber up their slopes, and rivers wind down
the valleys, with sunlight glinting on their waters, between the
tall poplars swaying on their banks like girls who gather flowers
by a stream. The high brown shoulder of Subasio, made sacred by its
memories of Umbria's greatest saint, shuts off the bleak and hungry
Appennines which clasp Gubbio and Gualdo and a hundred other little
cities to their barren breasts. But here you have the landscape
of the Quattrocento artists with the clear pale light and blue
aerial hills which are the hall-mark of the Umbrian masters. Nor
can you ever tire of watching it, for every day and every hour some
subtle change sweeps over the face of this immortal loveliness;
and it is always beautiful, whether you look across the sunlit
mists at Assisi in a blue veil of cloud-shadow or see her smiling
and rosy in the sunset, or whether you stand at night under the
scented laurels of Perugia's _passeggiata_, and see the lights of
distant hill-cities riding like ships upon the dim horizon of a
soundless sea. It became a custom, almost an act of worship, to
congregate upon the bulwarks of Perugia before the sun slipped
behind the western hills, to watch the light pouring into the plain
like liquid gold into a bowl of translucent glass, tinted all the
colours of the prism. Even when night had drained this ancient
chalice of the golden wine of the sun, and the lights of lonely
farmsteads were twinkling on the hillsides, we were loth to leave
it.

Yet these fair valleys have been drenched with blood and scorched
by fire; Hannibal and his Gauls and Africans gave battle to
Flaminius, the maker of roads, by the lake of Thrasymene; they
have been devastated by Goths and Lombards; the German Kings of
Rome have harried them, and the history of Perugia itself has been
one long tale of battle and murder. It is as though the Griffin of
Perugia, the strange Etruscan beast which is to this day the device
of the city, has never sheathed its talons in anything but human
flesh.

From the beginning Perugia fought fiercely for her freedom.
Octavius wrestled for seven months outside her gates, and when
he entered them was cheated of everything but honour; because a
citizen, rather than yield his city to the first emperor, set fire
to it, and stabbed himself in the holocaust which followed. Totila
would not rest until he possessed her, and all through the Middle
Ages she fought like a termagant with her neighbours; and the name
of that griffin's brood, the Baglioni, was a terror throughout the
Umbrian vales.[4]

It was Paul III. who brought her to her knees, and forced her to
build his great fortress upon the palaces of her princes, and not
long since she turned and rent it stone from stone, seeking to wipe
out the old insult.

But it is not only in the marvellous and peaceful beauty of her
setting that Perugia is a paradox, for how is it possible to
reconcile the pictures of Perugino and his great pupils--Raphael,
Lo Spagna, Pinturicchio, and Eusebio di San Giorgio--with the
awful deeds of the Oddi and the Baglioni; or the wailing of the
Flagellants with the great soldiers who ruled this turbulent
city--Biordo Michelotto, foully done to death by the wicked Abbot
of Mommaggiore, and Braccio Fortebraccio, the idol of the people?
Paradox again! For the bones of Braccio Fortebraccio, which, to
satisfy the vengeance of Martin V., were buried in unconsecrated
ground, lie in a wooden box in the museum, and sigh to posterity
through their melancholy inscription:

              Hospes lege et luge.
  Perusiae natum Montonium me exulem excepit,
  Mars patriam Umbriam et Capuam mihi subegit.
  Roma paruit; Italia theatrum; spectator orbis fuit.
  At Aquila cadentem risit quem patria lugens brevi hac urna tegit.
  Eheu! Mars extulit, Mors substulit.
                              Abi.

In the days when Perugino and his pupils were painting their
calm-eyed Madonnas and saints with the blue Umbrian hills as the
background to a world of ineffable peace, Perugia was drenched
with blood daily, and every man carried his life in his hand. Yet
hardly any of the artists of Perugia painted war, though here and
there in their blue distances you see a little band of knights
pricking out on the plain. Bonfigli, the master of Perugino, was
the only one who cared to speak the truth; dear Bonfigli, who loved
Perugia so well, and painted her with such naïve joy upon the
walls of the Palazzo Comunale!

[Illustration: FOUNTAIN IN THE CLOISTER OF S. PIETRO DE'
CASSINENSI.]

Trace Perugia in his frescoes, and you will wonder that it should
be so little changed to-day. There is the slender minaret of San
Pietro de' Cassinensi, and the great Gothic window of San Domenico,
whose cloisters are to-day a barrack, and Sant'Ercolano soaring up
beneath the city walls beside the ancient Porta Marzia. Here you
see the Palazzo Comunale, one of the most sublime Gothic palaces
in Italy, with its curving front and delicate fourteenth-century
windows and majestic portal, and the loggia which Fortebraccio
built by the cathedral. It is all much the same to-day as it was
when Bonfigli painted his primitive wars, except that the citizens
no longer dress in scarlet and fur, and that there are fewer towers
in the city, and none at all on the circuit of the walls.

San Pietro de' Cassinensi is still the gracious church Bonfigli
loved. We walked there one evening towards the hour of sunset. A
little rainstorm, like a petulant burst of weeping, overtook us as
we drew near, and we saw the yellow sunset and the cloud-shadows
in the valley through a web of silver threads woven by the rain
under the acacias. Inside, it was too dark to see the pictures with
which the walls are covered, but we gathered an impression of space
and dignity and richness. In the dim light we marvelled at the
beauty of the choir-stalls, the intarsia, and the carving in which
Stefano of Bergamo, and some say Raphael himself, gave free rein to
fancy, and dreamed of delightful mythical beasts, and sphinxes with
lovely faces, and a wealth of flowers and fruit and joyful little
children. A mad world!

Then the old monk, glad that we loved his treasures, opened
the doors of the choir, so that we might see their exquisite
workmanship in the fading light; and we looked down upon the
incomparable Valley of Spoleto, with Assisi and her sister city,
little Spello, on the skirts of Monte Subasio, and Foligno and
Trevi rising out of rosy sunset mists. There is a small round hill
below San Pietro, just such a little hill as Pinturicchio loved,
encircled by a winding white road, and shadowed with slender trees.
We almost looked to see his gay horsemen in red and blue and
shining steel pricking down into the plain. There were still storms
abroad, and the clouds drifted like great birds across the heavens,
casting their shadows on the valley.

'This is the work of a great artist,' said the philosopher, with a
little sigh of complete content. And indeed it was a worthy picture
to be framed in those exquisite doors.

Night overtook us before we reached Sant'Ercolano, which looked
more like a mosque than ever with its soaring arches in the
twilight. We climbed up the steps beside it, and passed into the
city through the Gate of True Dreams. At night Perugia of the
Middle Ages awakes. As we wandered in her dark and silent streets,
ill-lit and bridged with gloomy arches, our ears were tuned to
catch the voices of the past.

We divided our evenings. Sometimes we took our coffee and vermouth
in the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, where there was a band or music of
sorts. At other times the poet had his way, and we visited a humble
café opposite the Palazzo Comunale, and afterwards plunged into the
dark and mysterious alleys of the mediaeval city. These were the
evenings that I loved the most. In the distance we could hear the
faint beat of music, and up and down the Corso flowed the gay tide
of promenaders, which always turned before it reached us. Above us
loomed the great Palazzo, which is justly Perugia's pride. In the
gloom its brown and bulging walls would have been as forbidding as
a fortress's but for the delicate tracery of its windows and its
fantastic Gothic door, with the Griffin of the City gazing down
hungrily into the night. The lovely fountain on which the Pisani
and Arnolfo di Cambio lavished their genius was nothing but a
beautiful silhouette against the loggia which Braccio Fortebraccio
put up to shield his beloved citizens from the sun; and on the
steps of the gaunt cathedral the statue of Papa Giulio III., with
raised hand, blessed his careless people.

For Perugia is careless, beautifully and graciously careless. She
has forgotten her woes, she has almost forgotten her old enemies;
she has certainly forgotten to finish her cathedral. And yet
when we sat at night in this romantic spot, where the art of
four hundred years is garnered, we noticed a little yellow lamp
flickering unsteadily above the cathedral door, no brighter than
a glow-worm in comparison with the flare of electric light close
at hand. The passers-by told us its history: how the people of
Perugia, feeling the iron hand of the Farnese Pope, turned for help
to Ridolfo, the last of the great Baglioni Princes. How Ridolfo
failed them, and how in their extremity they turned to Christ,
and besought Him with cries and sobs, tearing their garments and
beating themselves like the Flagellants of the thirteenth century,
to defend them against the terrible Paul III. They placed the
crucifix above the door of San Lorenzo, where the light shines
every night, and laid the keys of the city below the tortured
feet of the Saviour. We know that their prayers were of no avail,
yet every night in Perugia, that city of beautiful and romantic
memories, they still light the little lantern over the cathedral
door, where the crucifix was placed, when they crept with fear
and trembling to the feet of Christ to ask for help against his
Vicar, because Ridolfo Baglione, forsooth! had failed them in their
necessity.

[Illustration: PERUGIA: PORTA EBURNEA.]

A step from here and we found ourselves in the dark and
memory-laden streets of the old town, with their vaulted passages
and their blocked-up Doors of the Dead--those pitiful defences
against the Common Enemy, in which Japan as well as Italy put
faith.[5] Of them all I loved the Via Vecchia best, with its air of
mystery and its many arches linking the grim old palaces together.
At night it was so gloomy there that we could barely find our way
past the ancient Canonica in which so many of the Popes snatched
a holiday from Rome; and as we went down the hill, always between
great palaces, the darkness closed round us. Here and there a
feeble light illuminated the steep path, but for the rest there was
only the starlight to guide us until we came to the great Porta
Augusta, which spanned the road majestically, full of the dignity
of dead Etruria. Seen thus against the stars, with its graceful
fifteenth-century loggia faintly illumined by a yellow light
within, it was as impressive as the pylon of an Egyptian Temple.


Or, if our steps took us another way, we passed the grim towers
of mediaeval mansions, and presently found ourselves at the
Baglioni's Gate of Dreams, or the Porta Mandola, as the Etruscan
gate is called. Here, of a certainty, we would hear music, for
whenever I have passed through that ancient gate at night, the
silence has been broken by gay songs. Sometimes I have sat there
far into the night, dreaming of the Baglioni and listening to the
careless music of I knew not what laughter-loving house. For no
one can live long in Perugia without being fired by the memory of
those strange men whose strength and beauty was famous throughout
Italy, and whose lovely names alone fit them to be the heroes of
romance--Grifonetto, Astorre, Gismondo, Sermonetto, Morgante. If
we believe their adoring chronicler, who though he traced their
downfall could not speak of them without the stately prefix 'High
and Mighty Lords,' their beauty was the beauty of the ancient Gods
of Greece, and their courage was the courage of the Heroes. And who
of us but has wept over the Great Betrayal, and the passing of the
beautiful Grifonetto, forgiven at the last by Atalanta? And who has
not loved the young Astorre in his Cloth of Gold bringing his fair
young bride back to his home; and thrilled to read of the Homeric
death of Sermonetto, 'so strong and gallant while he lived that
tongue of man cannot tell the worth of him. One, in very truth, who
never in all his days knew what fear was, and till the last word
died on his lips ever showed himself the greater-hearted, as though
he were not vanquished, but victor of his foe.'

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: PERUGIA: THE TOMB OF THE VOLUMNII.]

Early one hot and cloudless August morning, while the farmers
with many cries of 'per la Madonna!' were urging their oxen up
the hill to market in the shadow of the old grey University of
Perugia, we drove down into the Valley of the Tiber to see the
wonderful Etruscan tomb close to Ponte San Giovanni, which was
the burial-place of the Volumnii. It is of special interest not
only for its excellent preservation, but because it belongs to the
Roman-Etruscan period, and forms the connecting link between the
old Etruscan tombs and the famous Roman sepulchres a mile or two
outside Rome on the Latin Way.

A short descent took us into the subterranean vault at whose
portal, cut out of the tufa rock, lay the ancient stone door,
set aside now for a modern gate of iron. As we passed into the
dark antechamber the chill damp air was cold as death after
the cicala-haunted sunshine of the fields above. But while we
strained our eyes to pierce the gloom the custode turned on an
electric light hidden behind the cornice, and straightway we
forgot everything in the wonder of the scene before us. In an
inner chamber, resting upon their carved sarcophagi, we saw the
inmates of the tomb grouped round the urn on which reposed the head
of the house above two finely sculptured furies. On the coffered
ceiling a gorgon's head, very terrible, with knotted snakes on its
temples and horror in its face, stared down upon the dead. And
as our eyes became accustomed to the dim light we discovered the
strange symbolism of Etruria all round us. From the ceiling of
the ante-chamber, on whose benches the relatives of the deceased
reclined, to feast or watch beside their dead, little genii,
exquisitely beautiful and light as butterflies, were hanging by the
leaden chains by which they were suspended more than two thousand
years ago. Over the doorway was a sun-disk, springing from the
waves--fit emblem of the immortality of these Etruscans, springing
from the waves of oblivion which for so many centuries washed over
them. But there was none of the colour which makes beautiful the
Tombs of Egypt, and there was hardly the same air of eternity. In
the long corridors of the Royal Tombs of the Pharaohs there is an
archaic defiance as of a life long since forgotten and lost in
the dust of centuries. Here the life is of yesterday; we could
almost hear the heart of Greece and Rome beating gaily in a young
world, and the languid tread of the effete Etruscans, whose curious
symbolism at once repels and mystifies, with its red lascivious
serpents, its demons and furies, its beautiful and reluctant
Medusas, and its solemn mockery of the feasting dead.



TODI


When I think of Todi the first things that I remember are the
golden tassels of the corn against the sky, and the blue chicory
which starred the dusty roadside as we drove to her from Perugia
across the young Tiber. For little Todi, enthroned on her steep
hill, has no railway within thirty-three miles of her gates; and if
you do not wish to ravish the leagues which separate her from the
world by motor, you can only reach her after many hours spent in
the exquisite and touching beauty of the Umbrian Vale. She is one
of those forgotten cities which are still to be found on the hills
of Italy. The years have trampled lightly within her ancient walls;
she has no trains, no jangling trams, very few motors except the
grey automobile from Perugia which bursts noisily into the heart
of her every day. She is a charmed city, whose name is painted on
a signboard outside the gates lest the traveller should pass her
by unwittingly. Within her walls we shook the dust of a work-a-day
world from our feet, and forgot its turmoil in the music of her
bells, which tell the passing hours with the loving persistence of
those grown old in labour.

To many people Todi is a mere horizon of towers on the crest of a
distant hill. To me she is the dwelling-place of happiness. And
because I am a little jealous for Todi, and would have you love
her as I loved her, having watched her grow in beauty as the miles
decreased between us, I beg your patience while we thread the plain
between Perugia and Tuder of the Umbrians.

It was a day of sun and shadow, an ideal morning for an expedition
into Arcady, and we found the beauty of a young world down in the
Valley of the Tiber. The jangle of harness-bells called us early
from our breakfast, and the air was like wine cooled with snow as
we drove down Perugia's four-mile hill, past her great churches,
and on to the long white road where the vines are linked together
for miles in festoons of archaic grace. The only people that we
met were peasants toiling barefoot in the sun. Their olive skins
were deepened to pomegranate; they had lithe figures; their finely
moulded heads were set on long, slender necks; and when we saw them
working under the olives, or coming towards us along the dusty
road from some village fair, leading the milk-white oxen whose
horns were bound with scarlet fillets, we knew that these were the
ideal shepherds among whom the Gods of Greece were content to
dwell. Their white homesteads rose from fields of maize and corn,
and among the vineyards and olive-gardens were crops of tomatoes
and hemp and pumpkins, and always figs and mulberries, for Umbria
is the land of plenty, the home of Maia, and of Hermes,[6] her
light-hearted son. The vines which linked the mountains to the
plain had the beauty of a classic frieze, and when our eyes turned
from the dappled hills we saw flowers weaving a multi-coloured web
on the loom of dusty grass by the roadside--purple loosestrife and
scabious, blue chicory, sugamele and rare borage, poppies and pink
veronica, yellow spanocchi, dandelions, and golden broom. All the
dyes of the East were woven there; and brambles and blossoming
clematis stretched out long swaying arms towards the little shrines
with which the fields were strewn, or twined a crown of flowers
and thorns about the rust-worn symbols of the Passion on a lonely
crucifix.

Little cities which had been hidden in the folds of the valley
grew into our horizon--Torgiano, towering on our left, Deruta and
Ripa Bianca. Our road, which had run in a straight line across
the plain from the foot of Perugia's hill, crossed the Tiber on a
bridge with a fifteenth-century gate-tower, and turned along the
banks of the river. Tall Lombard poplars lingered on its brink, and
peasant women in gay kerchiefs were washing linen in its green
water. Across the valley we could see Perugia, most beautiful of
all hill-cities, smiling in the sunshine, already far away; and
in front across a sea of lesser hills rose Todi, perched on her
mountain like a city in a fairy-tale, which surely could be reached
by no other way than on the wings of a genie!

We rested our horses at Deruta, and clambered up into its
precipitous streets. It is a mere hamlet, though a great deal of
majolica has been made here for the last three hundred years, and
it is extremely picturesque, perched high over the Tiber. Deruta is
like a piece of its own pottery. It is built of gray stone, much
the same colour as the unglazed plates which we saw drying on the
walls, and its people dress in bright colours like the pigments on
the finished ware. Every one goes barefoot here, and the old women
toil up the steep stair-streets with their sandals slung over their
arms, and huge bundles of sticks or fodder on their backs. And
apart from its picturesqueness Deruta is well worth a visit for the
sake of a beautiful fresco by Caporale in Sant'Antonio Abbate.

After Deruta the Umbrian Valley was all vineyards and olive-groves
and fig-trees and acacias. Sometimes the Tiber was close beside us
like a blue ribbon dividing us from the plain as we jangled through
the cicala-haunted woods on the hillside; at others we could
only trace it among the vineyards by the tall reedy poplars which
followed its winding course.

The day grew hotter; the song of the cicalas swelled up like an
anthem, and the butterflies drowsed upon the flowers. Presently we
came to a wayside fountain, where a lovely girl with a jar of water
poised on her head was talking to a young herdsman, beautiful as an
Apollo, who was watering his oxen. There was a garden of ancient
olives on the hillside above, and a welcome shade for our horses
in the road. And because we had seen Todi on her hill, and that she
was beautiful, we ate our lunch and took our siesta there under
the olives in the scented air. Near at hand a boy was singing like
a lover at his work; there were flowers at our feet, and cicalas
fluting in the silver foliage overhead. The great white oxen were
still drinking at the fountain, and their bells made pleasant
music; sometimes a woman with a water-jar on her head came from
the village, or a peasant rode by on his mule. It was a magic day.
We had had so many hours of joy, so many hours of sun and wind and
beautiful primitive things, that we had left care behind us. As we
lay there on the soft earth and watched the cloud-shadows sweeping
over the hills, we forgot the toil of life; we no longer heard the
world throbbing its soul away in its great cities. The voice of
the wind mingled with the shimmering music of summer--the insects,
the song of the boy at work, and the bells of the oxen, in a paean
of joy. For Umbria is like that garden in which Siddârtha dwelt
with Yasôdara, shut off from all ugly and painful things. If you
look deep enough you will assuredly find death, even as Siddârtha
did--the hawk preying upon the small bird, the small bird upon the
gnat, and you will see the sweat upon the oxen as they strain in
the sun. You may find the world as sad a place, as full of pain and
toil as he did, or you may find it just such a mirror of God's Love
as did Francis, the chief of Umbrian saints. Here the butterflies
seem to dance more gayly than they do elsewhere, the trees grow
free, the flowers stretch upwards to the sun; no questions vex you
when you see a wayside shrine. In the garden of Umbria there are
only God and Nature, the Soul of Things is at ease.

So, with our hearts attuned to her simplicity, we came to Todi
on the top of her hill, with her towers and walls, and her winds
and clouds. We caught her asleep in the siesta hour. There was no
one astir when we drove into her beautiful golden piazza, where
the Middle Ages have never been forgotten: even to-day it is full
of mediaeval grace, with its two great palaces and its exquisite
cathedral. But if we had come to her in the busy morning stir of
the market we could still have found the Middle Ages there, for the
peasants ride in on the old leather saddles picked out in brass
and scarlet that we see in fifteenth-century frescoes; the asses
bear on panniers barrels, or huge bundles of rough wood; the mules
are harnessed with bells and tassels, three abreast, so that they
straggle across the narrow road as they strain up the hill, and
all the women carry their marketing on their heads. The cathedral
of Todi is one of the gems of Umbrian architecture. It is a great
golden church with beautiful and very ancient doors, and an ornate
rose window; it soars above the piazza on a wide flight of steps
which not even a gigantic cinematograph advertisement can rob of
dignity. Below its southern wall is a row of shabby little shops
where the people sit at work in their doorways, but the northern
side has flying buttresses and a cornice of fantastic heads of men
and birds and beasts; and there is a pleasing baroque arch with
shallow, grass-grown steps leading down to the piazza.

[Illustration: DETAILS FROM THE APSE OF THE CATHEDRAL OF TODI.]

Like her cathedral Todi is full of quaint and beautiful things.
She is an artist's city, solitary and beautiful, unexpectedly rich
and frankly poor. Once away from her stately piazza with its three
great buildings, which are like three jewels in the crown of King
Cophetua's Beggar Maid, we found her humble and out of elbows.
Her old brown houses bulged out over the steep little streets, or
towered like lean fortresses on her city wall, with all manner of
green things, even fig-trees, growing out of them. From below they
seemed to be piled up one on the top of the other like children's
bricks. The vineyards and olive-gardens, which swept up the
hillside, forced entrances at every point; and on the crest of
the hill among her palaces was one slender cypress spire, soaring
up as though Nature herself must climb through this clear air to
heaven. She had long avenues of acacias and flowering laurels, and
ancient gateways like the Porta Aurea, through which we had a vista
of mediaeval towers, and a Perugino landscape of green valleys
with a river winding away to the amphitheatre of blue hills. Here
and there in her walls were courses of splendid masonry, Umbrian
perhaps, and on the eastern side of the town were four gigantic
niches of a Roman basilica. But as in most Umbrian cities, it was
the Middle Ages that left Todi her chief treasures, her stately
palaces and her cathedral; and further down the hillside, on a
flight of earthquake-riven steps, San Fortunato, which was the home
of the Antipope Nicholas v. in the days when rebellious little Todi
was a thorn in the side of the papacy, and Lewis of Bavaria made
her his headquarters. Fra Jacopone of Todi, the author of _Stabat
Mater Dolorosa_, is said to be buried in this church, but though we
looked for it we could not find his tomb.

All these things count as nothing in the eyes of the Todesi, for
Todi boasts a pilgrimage church; and a pilgrimage church, albeit
of the sixteenth century, is an acquisition not to be despised
by any city however ancient and picturesque. But in truth Santa
Maria della Consolazione is a lovely church, a _capolavoro_ of
architecture, and it soars up like a great golden gourd ripened
to perfection on the green hillside. We came to it through the
Porta Aurea along an avenue of flowering laurels, and its fair
proportions gave us a complete sense of satisfaction. As we drew
near, its clustered domes dwarfed the amphitheatre of hills.
Inside it was airy and gracious, a bubble of light; but its
sixteenth-century paganism, which is always the paganism of secular
buildings rather than of temples, and its overgrown apostles in
the niches that were meant for gods, spoilt its appeal, to the
Protestant mind at any rate, as a house of prayer. What is it,
I wonder, that makes it easy for the Protestant to worship in
Gothic or Romanesque churches, and to respond to the appeal of
basilicas like Santa Maria Maggiore or San Clemente in Rome, while
sixteenth-century churches still remain the ideal ecclesiastical
building to the majority of Roman Catholics? Is it that they all
bear the image of St. Peter's and the Vatican in their minds? They
argue that at least under the spacious cupolas of the renaissance
they have light and space. And it is logic, for Gothic cathedrals
are dim and full of shadows. But I could say my prayers more easily
in the baths of Caracalla, where the sun slanting over the broken
walls has a trick of making mist like floods of incense, and the
birds chant all day long, than in St. Peter's, for all its fragrant
services. And I doubt if any Catholics could be moved to such an
ecstasy of worship in the dusk of Milan Cathedral, when the organ
throbs through the aisles at Vespers, as we have seen them in many
of the late pilgrimage churches of Italy, like Santa Maria of Todi
or the great basilica of the Casa Santa at Loreto.

[Illustration: TODI: S. MARIA DELLA CONSOLAZIONE.]

Like all the hill-cities of Umbria, one of Todi's chief charms
is the beauty of her views. Below my bedroom window in the Hotel
Risorgimento the old brown roofs of Todi clambered so eagerly down
the slope that each one was at least two stories below the one
above. Here and there were little gardens full of tamarisks and
oleanders and morning glories. To the left rose San Fortunato, high
on its broken flight of steps, like a grim fortress; and below it
was the bastion of the public garden, with its round acacia trees
which were always vibrant with the song of cicalas. In the deep
valley were grey-towered farms with loggias and outside stairways,
and a great fortified convent with the stations of the Cross
climbing up to its gates in a cypress avenue. Through the midst the
Tiber wound very slowly like a ribbon, and now the sunlight caught
it, and we could see the blue water, and now we could only trace
it by its tall Lombard poplars. But always it turned towards the
distant hills which rose the one behind the other, fold on fold,
and full of changing lights, towards Rome. At night it was still
and mysterious. The steep hillside was wrapped in darkness. There
was no moon, and though the sky was powdered thickly with stars
they gave no light to see the valley by. Far below I could hear
the humming of the night crickets; they sounded sleepy too. And up
above, San Fortunato loomed almost transparently in the heavens,
and the Milky Way shone like a mist of stars.

We found Arcady again down in the valleys as we drove back to
Perugia across the Umbrian plain. There had been a fair at some
neighbouring village, and the road was full of peasants coming back
with cortèges of white oxen and calves, which had bells on their
throats, and collars of scarlet and brass, and crimson fillets.

Perugia lay before us all the way, with her towers and majestic
walls and the slim campanile of San Pietro, which looks like an
obelisk from the plain. As we drove along the straight white road
we saw the cities of the Valley of Spoleto rising like stars upon
their hills. At each turn fresh mountains were disclosed with fresh
cities on their skirts, pink in the evening sun. We were tired
after the heat of the day, and silent. The harness-bells and the
clipping sound of hoofs made an agreeable accompaniment to our
thoughts. We climbed up slowly through the sunset, looking now at
the hills, now at the olive-gardens that stretched away from the
road, their leaves as silver as a flight of butterflies in the
sunlight; now idly watching the long-legged shadows of the horses
on the flowery bank. And all the way the cicalas were singing by
the roadside, and we bore the memory of fragrant sunlit hours
in our hearts. Half unconsciously, and like a message from the
eternal hills, St. Paul's words came into my mind: 'Whatsoever
thing is good, whatsoever thing is pure, whatsoever thing is
lovely, whatsoever thing is of good report, if there be any virtue
or if there be any truth, think on these things.' They were like
an answer to the riddle which all men ask of Fate. But indeed in
this Umbrian garden they are the text of everyday life, for in its
byways it is easy to catch the spirit of St. Francis as he passed,
barefoot and meanly clad, singing the praise of God and all His
creatures.

As we drove up the last steep incline the plain was filled with
light. Overhead the clouds were growing rosy. Assisi was a city of
gold. And to the horizon rolled the Umbrian hills, purple and blue,
and very far away like jade, airy and transparent, in the luminous
space which Perugino loved to paint.



SIENA AND THE PALIO


It was the poet who persuaded us to go to Siena to see the Palio
run in honour of Our Lady of Mid-August. We were still in Perugia
enjoying the languid Umbrian summer, when he announced his
intention of leaving the next day for Siena.

'What _is_ the Palio?' asked the philosopher. 'August will be very
hot in Siena, and nothing could be more beautiful than this'--he
waved his hand towards the white walls of Assisi, and the great
dome of Santa Maria degli Angeli, floating like a lotus bud above
the morning mists, which filled the valley between Perugia and
Monte Subasio.

'It is so difficult to define,' said the poet. 'When you say, "What
is the Palio?" you give me the wherewithal to write a book. If I
told you that it was a race in honour of the Virgin Mary, ridden
bareback round the chief piazza of Siena, by jockeys in mediaeval
costume, who try to club each other off the course, you would
probably prefer to stay here in Perugia. If I told you that it was
a pageant you would be sure to say that you have seen better at
Olympia.'

He was silent for a moment.

'But it is more than that. Imagine a city of Gothic palaces,
a little flushed hill-city, sleeping among vineyards and
olive-gardens, sleeping and sleeping like a girl bewitched. And
then imagine the soul of her awaking for a few hours--a day
perhaps--in the summer of the year. That is Siena, dear gay Siena,
with her indomitable spirit and her fickle careless heart, with
her pageants and her saints, and her allegiance to Madonna. For
first and foremost Siena is the city of the Virgin Mary. There
they think of her not only as the Mother of God, but as their own
liege sovereign; even the Standard of the City, the black and white
Balzana, is emblematic "of the purity and humility of the Virgin,
or of those joyful and sorrowful mysteries whereby, as she told St.
Bridget, her life was ever divided between happiness and grief."

'As for the Palio, if you would appreciate it you must understand
something of the religion of the Middle Ages, which was at its best
an inspiration, capable of producing St. Francis and St. Catherine,
and at its worst a creed of superstitions which found vent in
wild orgies of penance, and countenanced the crusade against the
Albigenses. You must have thrilled to stories of wild games, like
the Florentine Giuoco del Calcio or Perugia's Battaglia de' Sassi,
in which the players lost their limbs and not infrequently their
lives. And lastly, you must appreciate the intense patriotism
which the men of Siena feel for their _contrade_, or divisions
of the city, which I can best describe as parishes; though it is
difficult to say whether, in the first place, the boundaries were
parochial or military.

'It is not merely a pageant, though as a pageant it is superlative;
it is the last flicker of the spirit of the Middle Ages. And for
my part I love it, because the Sienese are still so mediaeval
at heart. And that is why there is no city in Italy more fitted
to be illumined by the torch of the Middle Ages than Siena. For
Siena, notwithstanding the fact that she bred some of the greatest
Renaissance popes, was comparatively untouched by the wave of
paganism which swept over Italy in the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries. She still has whole streets of Gothic palaces; her
saints are still reverenced with the almost child-like simplicity
of the Middle Ages; she still boasts the special protection of
the Blessed Virgin; and in the midst of all her fervour she still
nurses her old feuds, not only with her ancient enemies, the
Florentines, but between her own _contrade_.'

       *       *       *       *       *

It was dark and the heavens were full of stars when we bade
good-bye to our kind host of the Perugian inn, and boarded the
electric tram that was to take us down to the station. We had
chosen an early train so as to avoid travelling in the heat of the
day, but we found the car already full of thrifty Italians bent on
making hay before the sun shone.

[Illustration: SIENA: BANNER-HOLDER.]

We left at dawn, in the clear pale light which floods the Umbrian
plain when the world is yet a little grey, and Perugia is nothing
but a lovely outline on the crest of her hill. This is the light
that Perugino loved, the shadowless herald of the day, full of
the mystery of the morning. The world woke slowly from her pale
slumber in the arms of night; the sky deepened from beryl to gold.
We found Thrasymene illumined with rosy morning fires, her hills
empurpled, and the towers of her little cities aflame with sunrise.
It seemed as though immortal memories, great desires, and burnt-out
passions struggled for utterance there. How Hannibal's tired eyes
must have ached to possess so fair a land! Yet it is likely that he
never saw the passionate dawn wooing the lake with plumes of rose
and gold, as we did; for we know that on the fateful day when he
waited to give battle to Flaminius by the shore of Thrasymene, the
mists which did him such signal service filled up the hollow like a
curtain hung from one range of mountains to the other.

So we came through Tuscany to Siena, and found her all agog with
excitement for the Palio, with pennons flying and music echoing
down her streets, and her inns already full to overflowing.

Ah, Siena, with your gaunt red palaces and your lily tower, and
your ineffectual walls which thread the vineyards like old men
dreaming life away in memories, it is you who are the heart of
Tuscany! You are not pale and beautiful like Florence, not such a
great lady; nor have you the silent grace of Pisa, but how lovable,
how intimate you are! Their dignity would ill become you with your
stormy and undignified past, of which De Commines said: 'La Ville
est de tout temps en partialité, et se gouverne plus follement
qu'aucune Ville d'Italie.'

[Illustration: SIENA: TORRE DEL MANGIA.]

But in no other place is the traveller welcomed with such song and
laughter as in Siena, when she holds high festival. I, who have
only seen her in her Palio days, cannot think that life is ever
dull or languid in her streets and _piazze_. I have peopled her
with mediaeval ghosts since that day in mid-August when I woke and
found them in possession. At every sound of music I look round
for silken banners, and pretty boys in doublet and hose escorting
steel-clad warriors, or the gay spendthrifts of whom Folgore of
San Gimignano sang. For on that day I caught a glimpse of the
Middle Ages, with their knights and pages and their companies of
men-at-arms. I heard the brave music of their drums, and saw the
old Siena, ruddy and black-browed, clamouring loud-voiced in the
Piazza del Campo--a happy child one moment, and the next a bundle
of conflicting passions, remembering century-old grievances, and
raking up dead feuds to make a Tuscan holiday.

[Illustration: SIENA: TORCH-REST.]

It was in the Piazza del Campo, or to give it its modern name which
does not please me half as much, the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele,
that I grew to know Siena best. Here she was the city of the
Quattrocento, of which I love to dream, fantastic and beautiful,
with untold possibilities lurking behind the walls of her tall red
palaces. The Campo lies in the hollow where the three hills of
Siena meet, and its shape is an irregular semi-circle. I can best
describe it by saying that it is like an enormous cockle, slightly
concave--rose-coloured, for it is paved with red brick--and with
ribs or flutings of grey stone which converge towards the deepest
hollow in front of the Palazzo Pubblico. Encircle this by a wide,
flagged roadway, and ring it round with noble palaces, many of
them of great beauty, with Gothic arch and lancet window. At the
deepest hollow of the shell build up a palace for the rulers of
the most unruly republic in the whole peninsula. Fashion it of
exceeding beauty with a façade which follows the curve of the
piazza. Build it of Siena's red brick; break its long lines with
Gothic windows cloven by slender columns; grace it with magnificent
arched doors; decorate it with scutcheons and crests; and high on
its wall place the golden monogram of Holy Flame which Bernardino,
Siena's gentlest saint, identified with his life. At its side
build an arcaded chapel of white marble, stained by time, filled
with the faded frescoes of Il Sodoma; and from this chapel picture
yourself a tower, not like the tower of any city out of Tuscany,
which springs up into the heavens with the natural grace of growing
things, so that you do not think of it as brick or stone, but as
some beautiful and splendid flower which grew up in one mediaeval
night while Siena slept, and has blossomed ever since.

Even Florence cannot show the like of this. It is so beautiful and
characteristic that it is worthy of mention beside the Piazzetta
of St. Mark's at Venice. And at night it is a revelation of the
Middle Ages to pass from the Via Cavour, with its lighted shops and
its gay streams of men and women, into the dim and romantic Campo.
Night covers the passing of time. The song and laughter of modern
Sienese life, flowing down to the Lizza to promenade, comes like an
echo across the years. It is very still in the Campo at night, and
empty except perhaps for Beppo, the seller of water-melons, whose
guttering candle suffices to show his pink and succulent wares. But
one evening while we stood in the shadow of the Palazzo Comunale we
heard some stray musicians singing an old choir-chant in the Via
del Casato. It was as though the ghosts of pilgrims were toiling
up the Via dei Pellegrini, just as they used to do, past the great
ruined palace of Il Magnifico, to lay their troubles at the feet
of the Queen of Sorrows. Overhead the Torre del Mangia, released
from the shadows of the battlemented court, soared up to the
stars more like a lily than ever with the moonlight silvering its
machicolations. And we remembered that in the morning we had seen
it with its head in the drifting clouds, and the sunlight below.

But it was not only for its mediaeval beauty that we loved the
Campo. This is Siena's heart. Here she has fought and loved and
hated and rejoiced, ay, and died too. And if her stones have been
too often stained with blood in civil warfare she has gentler
memories--here Provenzano Salvani, the victor of Monte Aperto,
cast all dignity aside 'when at his glory's topmost height,' and
begged for alms to ransom a friend who languished in some foreign
prison; here Bernardino preached so eloquently of Divine Love that
he almost moved the unregenerate young Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini,
afterwards Pius II., to repentance. And here, while the armies of
Spain were beleaguering their city, and they were faint for food,
the youths of Siena came to play their games till they were called
back to guard the city walls, to the joy and amazement of Blaise
de Montluc, the French Governor, who never tired of praising the
Sienese for their chivalry and the courage and beauty of their
women.

Here, too, in a few days' time, came Siena and all the strangers
that were within her gates to see the Palio!

[Illustration: A STREET IN SIENA.]

The _Prove_ were run first. Early in the week a sandtrack was
prepared, and as if by magic an amphitheatre of seats sprang
up round the piazza. There are six of these _prove_, or trial
races, for the selection of horses for the Palio; and they are
run on the evening of the 13th, the morning and evening of the
two following days, and the morning of the 16th of August.[7] The
Palio festivities really begin on the 13th of August, for although
the Sienese do not attend the _prove_ in great numbers there are
generally some thousand spectators who shout themselves hoarse with
excitement; and feeling sometimes runs high when there is rivalry
between ancient enemies like the _contrade_ of the Oca and the
Torre.

On that morning, too, the streets are full of peasants driving
their white oxen in pairs before them to the annual fair, which
is still held outside the Porta Camollia in honour of our Lady
of Mid-August. It has dwindled considerably from the seven days'
_fiera_ which marked the occasion in the Middle Ages, but it is
still a picturesque sight. The peasants drive standing up, like
Roman charioteers, behind their milk-white steers, whose heads are
bound with scarlet fillets, and their soft dewlaps girdled by
a bell. The sellers of water-melons do a thriving business with
the thirsty drovers, and the piazza is a sea of tossing horns and
smooth white backs from the battlemented city wall to the column
which marks the spot where Leonora of Portugal met her betrothed,
the Emperor Frederick III.

On Sunday Siena was comparatively quiet, although there were
_prove_ in the Piazza del Campo both morning and evening, and a
general air of merriment throughout the city. We heard mass in the
cathedral where the banners of the various _contrade_ hung from
the piers of the nave; and the wonderful graffito pavement which,
according to a seventeenth-century custom, is covered with boards
for the rest of the year to preserve it from injury, was laid bare.
And then we went down to Fontebranda to see how the _Contrada_ of
the Oca, Saint Catherine's _contrada_, was preparing for the Palio.
We found it delightfully confident of victory. The sacristan of
Saint Catherine's house took us into the chapel which was once her
father's workshop, and would not let us go until we had heard the
history of the many Palii which the victorious Oca had won in past
years--assisted no doubt by the prayers of Santa Caterina in heaven
to the holy Mother of God.

[Illustration: SIENA: S. DOMENICO AND THE VIA BENINCASA.]

The philosopher loves Fontebranda. To him it is the most romantic
spot in Siena. It is certainly one of the most picturesque, whether
you stand at the head of the steep Via Benincasa and see San
Domenico's gaunt red walls towering above its houses, or whether
you look towards the city from the church. A winding road leads up
through gardens from the Valley of Fontebranda to the city gate.
Above the wall tall, green-shuttered palaces rise tier on tier to
the cathedral, whose delicately arcaded dome and tower crown the
hill. To the right the loggia'd houses of the tanners sweep down
the Via Benincasa to Fontebranda's mediaeval fountain; and the
keen, unpleasant smell of the tanneries, which was one of the first
things we noticed in Siena, is everywhere. Fontebranda is changed
but little since the days when Saint Catherine lived there with
her parents. Then as now it was full of tanneries, then as now the
men worked half in their dark windowless shops and half out in the
street: in her day the loggia'd houses were here; the yellow skins
were drying in the road; and San Domenico, up whose hill she toiled
to prayer, was the same grim fortress-church as now.

But I do not love Saint Catherine, her warlike spirit
notwithstanding; nor do I love Sodoma's frescoes of her in the
great church on the hill. And the Sienese themselves, though they
give her great honour, do not seem to love her as they love the
simple Bernardino. Splendid as her chapel is, magnificent as are
her festas, she seems to be less in the imagination of Siena than
Saint Bernardino, whose gentle life followed closely on hers as
though the _genius loci_ dared not trust her unruly people through
that stormy century without a guiding spirit. See on how many
houses is his seal of holy Flame! And how brightly it burns on the
Palazzo Pubblico, especially towards nightfall, when the setting
sun gilds the façade and fires the sacred monogram.

'Respect is what we owe, love what we give.' And so I would leave
the philosopher to St. Catherine and his Fontebranda, and come to
San Francesco and the little chapel beside it where San Bernardino
prayed. The Sienese have lavished lovely things upon this oratory
of the ardent boy, who forsook all and followed Francis in the
love of Christ. Sodoma, Pacchia and Beccafumi have glorified it,
and peopled its walls with the beautiful and mystic-eyed women of
the Renaissance. But though they have enriched it, I am glad that
circumstance has kept St. Francis' great church as it was first
conceived--a bare and solemn building--a church for the followers
of the man who loved poverty and simplicity, because through them
he saw the way to God. Even now I would have it cleared of its
black and white Sienese stripings; but its wide empty nave, the
noble chapels of its transepts, its ruined islands of fresco, its
stillness and its great simplicity, make it beautiful.

San Francesco stands on the southern spur of the city, and from
the ancient Porta Ovile in the valley below, a country road
leads through gardens and cypress-woods to the Convent of the
Osservanza, in which Pandolfo Petrucci the Magnificent, one of
Siena's great failures, lies buried. The brother who took us over
the church showed us the cell of Bernardino with its ancient wooden
door nibbled almost to destruction by ardent pilgrims. And from a
window in the old monastery we looked across the valley of pines
and cypresses to Siena, painted against a glowing sunset sky.
Seen thus across the fruitful Tuscan vale she was still the City
Beautiful which inspired San Bernardino to a passion of eloquence
on that long-distant summer day, early in the fifteenth century,
when he climbed up into a tree and addressed the astonished
multitudes 'in words so inflamed with divine love, that while many
wept, there were some that deemed him mad.' Then as now her towers,
though there were many more in Bernardino's city, were like the
hands of suppliants held up to heaven; then as now the great dome
and Campanile of Santa Maria Assunta set the seal of Madonna over
her troubled people.

We looked long. In the church overhead the monks were intoning, and
the song of the cicalas floated up from the fragrant cypress-woods
as though they too were praising God. The sun went down, and little
white wraiths of mist rose from the valley. The air blew chill.
When we departed the monks had long ago ceased chanting, and the
insects had folded their wings. But as we hastened through the
vineyards where the mists fled from us like pale ghosts, the lights
of the city twinkled a welcome to us through the gathering dusk.
And so we came again into the warm heart of Siena.

       *       *       *       *       *

Boom! Boom! Boom!

It was different from any other sound. At first I thought it was a
part of my dreams, for it vibrated over the city like an orchestra
of bells.

Boom! Boom! Boom!

Then I remembered, and sprang out of bed. It was the 16th of
August, the day of the Palio, and that deep music whose echoes were
throbbing round the countryside was the voice of Siena waking from
her long slumber. It was the first time that I had heard it, and
my heart beat faster, for the tocsin of La Mangia is nearly always
silent now, although it played such a great part in the mediaeval
history of Siena when it used to call her citizens to arms in the
name of God and the Virgin Mary!

My window looked down on a silent street winding between tall
shuttered palaces. As a rule it was empty except for the milk-woman
going from door to door in her big straw hat, and a worn-out
Comacine lion which grinned sardonically at me from an ancient
tower opposite. But to-day peasants were pouring up the hill--the
men in their black wide-awakes and Sunday clothes, and the women,
old and young alike, in their silly Tuscan hats which frivol with
every breath of wind, and are never as becoming as the lovely
head-kerchiefs of the Umbrians. They are worn on the backs of the
heads; the soft brims, which are not wired, form an aureole of
pale-coloured straw, and present a deliciously incongruous effect
when they frame withered faces wrinkled like walnut-shells. I love
the bent old women of Siena who look as if they had forgotten to be
old with their ribbons and flowers and their coquettish young hats!

[Illustration: SIENA FROM THE CONVENTO DELL' OSSERVANZA.]

Yes, Siena was awaking from her slumber. I even fancied that there
was a glint of suppressed laughter in the eye (he had only one eye,
the other was filled with lichen) of my Comacine friend across
the street. Already the city was like a hive, and the sound of a
distant crowd was like the humming of many insects. Every inn had
been full for days, and the people were still pouring in from all
directions.

At nine o'clock we went to see the last of the _prove_ from the
balcony which we had hired from that very agreeable haberdasher,
Signor Tizzi, who has a shop almost opposite the Palazzo Comunale.
It was hot, and the people down in the piazza were crowded together
in the shade of the Torre del Mangia, which lay across the square
like the shadow on a sundial. The whole scene was more like a
dream than a real happening. In the dark cortile of the Palazzo
Pubblico we could see the jockeys in fantastic parti-coloured
suits, waiting for gun-fire; and the fierce white sunlight beat on
the piazza, empty except for the chattering, gesticulating belt of
humanity in the shadow of the Mangia.

Bang! went the gun. And with a rattle of drums the _fantini_
(jockeys) came out to run their mad race, to the accompaniment of
the thunder of iron hoofs on baked sand, and the ceaseless shouting
of the good Sienese.

After the excitement had subsided somewhat we pushed our way
through the crowded streets to the cathedral. It was empty to-day,
although yesterday, on the Festival of the Assumption, it had been
full of glorious living colour. Then the Palio was hanging from
the arch of the transept, and a great throng filled the aisle.
Then, too, the miraculous Madonna delle Grazie, she to whom the
distracted Sienese dedicated their city on the eve of Monte Aperto,
was shown to the people; and the peasants, ever the last to lose
faith, knelt at her shrine all day. As a rule I do not love the
cathedral of Siena, notwithstanding its glorious pavement, and rich
carving, and the Pisani's exquisite pulpit whose equal is not to be
found in Italy. The great church's black and white stripings within
and without make the eyes ache, and the over-elaborated façade is
only beautiful by moonlight. But when High Mass is being celebrated
with mediaeval splendour within its walls, and a great press
throngs the aisles, it is bewilderingly rich. And we found it easy
to forgive even the zebra stripings when we saw the poor people of
the campagna praying to their miraculous Madonna behind the veil of
sunlight which poured down from the clerestory and made a Holy of
Holies of the Cappella del Voto.

That morning we paid another visit to the famous Library of the
Duomo, which Francesco Piccolomini commissioned Pinturicchio to
paint in honour of his uncle Aeneas Sylvius, for we could think of
no better preparation for the Palio than studying this Quattrocento
pageantry. We are told that in his contract Cardinal Francesco
inserted a special clause, insisting that the Umbrian artist
should use a certain quantity of gold and ultramarine and crimson
in his decorations. And truly Pinturicchio has lavished colour on
this splendid monument to the glories of the Humanist Pope, who
was a typical expression of his age in everything, except in his
great revival of the Middle Ages, when he tried to lead a crusade
against the Turks. The room is full of sunlight and the sheen of
gold and precious stones, and Pinturicchio seems to have caught the
world in its morning, with gay youths and maidens walking on the
flower-starred grass, and swift wild-geese high on the wing through
the clear blue heavens. But except in the exquisite panel where
the young Emperor meets his beautiful betrothed outside the Porta
Camollia, he is not such a poet here as he is in the Appartamenti
Borgia at Rome, though he is much gayer. All the more suited to
Siena, whose art was summed up by Lanzi as 'lieta scuola fra lieto
popolo'; forgetting, so it seems, the many Massacres of the Infants
scattered by Matteo di Giovanni through the Sienese churches, which
are revolting in their cruelty and ugliness!

By noon-time Siena was in a state of wild excitement. We had been
warned that the Porcupine had a good chance of winning the race
because its _contrada_ had drawn the horse which won the July
Palio. So after lunch we drove down to Santa Maria dell'Istrice,
which is a tiny church with a picturesque Renaissance belfry in the
Via Camollia. There were flags in the Via Cavour, and the great
Palazzo Salimbeni was hung with banners, and had velvet cloths
embroidered with the crest of the Montone hanging from its Gothic
windows. The torch-rests and banner-holders in the public squares
each carried the proud silken banners of their _contrade_, and
the whole city masqueraded under their different emblems--now the
Giraffe, scarlet and white; further on the Caterpillar, green and
yellow and blue; then the Dragon and the Wolf; and, at last, the
Porcupine.

[Illustration: SIENESE YOUTHS IN PALIO DRESS]

In the chapel we found three men at arms and two _alfieri_ in
parti-coloured hose and jerkins of magenta velvet, slashed with
black and white. Orestes, the _fantino_, was padding his helmet in
the little cupboard of a sacristy. He was a tall, blue-eyed man,
and looked superb in his bravery of velvet and satin and lace, with
long-toed velvet boots and shining helmet. He showed us the heavy
wooden jockey cap with painted colours which he was to wear in the
race, to protect his head from the blows of the other _fantini_;
and, as he told us with a shrug, he expected some, because, thanks
to Saint Anthony, his horse was undoubtedly the best, and every one
expected him to win.

The poor Captain who was to head the cortège was in a wretched
plight. He was being girded into his armour, and it was not a
dignified process. The day was hot, and the chain mail would not
meet. Eventually some one lent him a boot-lace or a piece of
string, I forget which, and we left him, to see the _alfieri_[8]
tossing their banners out in the street.

After a long delay the knight appeared, looking as dignified and
composed as if he had been wrestling in the spirit rather than in
the flesh before the altar of his chapel. And while the procession
was forming up we drove on to San Pietro della Magione, where
the Horse of the Porcupine is always blessed. The Via Camollia,
although it is one of the main streets of Siena, is so narrow here
that we had perforce to drive past La Magione to the city gates,
where it widens out into a piazza, before we could turn and so
drive back again.

La Magione has a flight of steps leading up to a terrace. It is a
very ancient church, brown and shabby, and many a Templar's horse
has champed at the foot of these same steps while his master prayed
within; and, it may be, shared his blessing before they started out
on the crusade.

With a rattle of drums our friends of the Porcupine came up the
narrow street. Everything was done with such natural grace and
pomp. First the tossing of banners round the ancient well-head
before the presbytery, and then the little service which ended in
the Blessing of the Horse. The animal was led to the foot of the
steps, and the old priest after saying a prayer sprinkled him with
Holy Water. He was a dear, intelligent beast, and behaved to the
manner born. He pricked his ears at the prayer, and though he tried
to walk up the steps, and sniffed inquisitively at the censer, he
did not even sneeze while lie was being sprinkled. Indeed I have
seen the part played worse by many a Christian.

Then the cavalcade formed up again, the drummer and the _alfieri_
leading, the knight on foot with his five pages, the _fantino_ on
horseback, and behind him a man leading the noble beast[9] he was
to ride in the Palio. With a rattle of drums they went off to toss
their banners in another piazza.

By this time Siena was alive with mediaeval processions, and the
music of their drums was borne in upon our ears from every side.
On our way to the Piazza del Duomo, which was the rendezvous
of all the _contrade_, we met many a gay company coming up the
dark alleys; or heard the stirring music of their drums as they
paused to fling their banners below the decorated windows of
fifteenth-century palaces. But the Piazza del Duomo was the
culminating point. The air was thick with silken banners, and at
every moment some fresh _contrada_ came up the hill, till it seemed
as though the square could hold no more. Was it by chance, or to
spite the other by diminishing his glory, that the Oca swaggered up
at the same moment as his ancient enemy the Torre? The _alfieri_
flung their silken banners high into the air, catching them as they
fell, and made them flutter like a carpet round their feet, or
between their legs, or about their necks, in honour of the Virgin.
And, in faith, how could she be otherwise than pleased to see these
pretty boys with beating drums and fluttering banners doing her
honour so merrily in the sunshine before her house!

[Illustration: SEEN AT THE PALIO.]

From the Gothic windows of the Bishop's Palace the Cardinal, who
yesterday had blessed the people in the cathedral, looked down upon
the scene. Once, when the _alfieri_ of the Wave tossed their blue
and white flags thirty feet into the air and caught them again, he
clapped his jewelled hands. The press thickened, but always the
silken banners clove the sunshine, and the drums sounded merrily,
now in the narrow street leading up between the vescovado and the
ancient hospital, now from the Via del Capitano. We saw knights
on horseback mingling with the crowd, and little children of the
Quattrocento, and Pinturicchio townsmen in scarlet and green and
orange and blue with fur-edged tunics and peaked caps. It was
the Pinturicchio of the library come to life again; or rather it
was the old light-hearted Siena who, even in the horrors of the
Spanish siege, would have her games, though she had no bread. The
gay drummers of the different _contrade_ seemed to have caught the
rhythm of her joyous heart-beats.

When we reached our seats the police were already clearing the
course, and the centre of the piazza was a seething crowd, with
fans which fluttered like butterflies over a field of wheat. What
a gay scene it was! The sunlight gilded La Mangia, and flamed from
Bernardino's monogram on the Palazzo Pubblico. The amphitheatre of
seats all round the course was filled, and every window and balcony
was peopled, and hung with scarlet and crimson cloths. Up the steep
Via Casato we could see the massed banners of the _contrade_, and
hear their impatient drumming as they waited for the signal to
enter. The voice of the people was like the roar of waves on a
distant shore.

At last every one seemed to have been driven behind the barrier
except a few sellers of beer and lemonade. A patrol of horse
carabinieri galloped round the course. Bang! went the gun. La
Mangia gave voice. To the fanfare of trumpets and the dull roar of
the people mediaeval Siena swept into the piazza.

Slowly and stately they came on. First a horseman in scarlet and
blue bearing the great Comunal Banner of the city, followed by
trumpeters in the livery of the Palazzo, and then the companies
of the ten _contrade_ who were to compete for the Palio. As each
one entered the piazza the whole procession paused for them to
toss their banners. Then with a blare of trumpets they passed
on--knights in burnished armour with drawn swords, pages in silk
and velvet with flowing cloaks and waving plumes, _alfieri_ with
proud banners, _fantini_ riding slowly with their racers led behind.

Victorious Montone, the winner of the July Palio, came first,
waving and tossing its red and yellow banners; then came the
gay Giraffe, scarlet and white; and then the Snail, who looked
depressed because he had drawn a sorry white nag more fit for
tilting at windmills than racing. The Tortoise followed him, yellow
and blue and red; and then the Wave, in pale blue slashed with
white; and next the stately Goose, St. Catherine's _contrada_,
wearing the red and white and green of United Italy. Behind them
marched our friends the Porcupine in their brave purple velvet and
shining armour, and the splendid Golden Eagle and the Blue Men of
the Nicchio, and the _Contrada_ of the Wolf. Still they came on,
with many pauses while the _alfieri_ waved and tossed the silken
banners, now carpeting the ground with the fluttering folds, now
whirling them round necks and under arms and legs, or tossing
them up before the Casa Nobile, till the course was like a bed of
flowers. And still the Mangia's deep voice acclaimed, and still the
trumpets blared and the drums rolled, till the procession stretched
all round the Campo, and the great banner of Siena at its head was
furled before the Palazzo Comunale.

Then came the Palio itself, borne on the great _carroccio_
decorated with the banners of Siena and her _contrade_. How the
people yelled as the enormous waggon, so splendidly mediaeval
with its poles and banners and its four heraldic horses, rumbled
round the square. Before it went two rows of children, little
Quattrocento children in striped jerkin and hose, scarlet and green
and black, linked together with long festoons of laurel. And round
the car rode knights in jousting helmets, clad in velvet and cloth
of gold, on richly caparisoned steeds with jewelled reins. Just so
did the victorious and exultant Sienese bring back the _carroccio_
of the Florentines which they had captured in the bloody fight of
Monte Aperto when they trampled the lilies of Florence into the
dust. And there, below the black and white oriflamme of Siena,
was a great banner of crimson velvet and gold--the colours of the
famous banner of the Florentines, which was brought back to Siena
more than six hundred and fifty years ago!

[Illustration: SIENA: THE PALIO.]

Although the tiers of seats erected for knights and pages below the
Palazzo Comunale already looked like a bed of tropical flowers,
more banners came fluttering down the Via Casato--the _comparse_
of the seven other _contrade_ who were not to take a part in the
race. They fluttered round the course to gay mediaeval music, and
joined the parterre of colour below the Palazzo beside the great
_carroccio_.

And now everything was ready. Two ropes were stretched across the
course at the starting-point--one the whole width of the track, the
other leaving a gap through which the horses could pass into line
so as to get as fair a start as possible; though every one knows,
and the _fantino_ as much as any one, that the start has little to
do with the race. His great object is to try and place himself out
of reach of the _nerbate_ of his special enemies, but even this
is hopeless if two or three have come to an arrangement to hold a
mutual enemy back until some outsider has carried off the prize.

Down in the crowded square the man who was to give the signal of
gun-fire had his fuse already lighted. In the dark courtyard of
the Palazzo we could see the _fantini_, no longer in their bravery
of velvet and silk and burnished steel, but clad in the colours of
their _contrade_, and wearing on their heads painted wooden caps to
guard their skulls from the blows of the _nerbi_.

Bang! There was a rattle of drums. Out came the _fantini_. They
moved slowly to the starting-point, and a great shout rent the air
as Siena with one voice acclaimed them. In the crowded square,
on the housetops, from the windows and the balconies, men waved
their hats, and women their scarves and handkerchiefs. Even little
children forgot their toy balloons, clapping their hands and
shouting while their erstwhile treasures floated away unnoticed.

They edged their horses between the ropes. Some blows were
exchanged; a horse reared, and one _fantino_ almost lost his seat.
Bang! went the _mortaletto_. Down went the ropes.

They were off!

From the start the Oca never had a chance. As for the Snail,
the whole field passed it before it had completed one round.
The Porcupine made a good effort, but the impetuous and dashing
_fantino_ of the Nicchio headed him off at the difficult turning
of San Martino. As they came up the hill for the last time it was
a race between the Tortoise and the Nicchio. The Tortoise was
leading, but the Nicchio overhauled him as they mounted towards
the Via del Casato, and as they came into the straight they were
neck and neck.

How the people yelled! How they called upon the Virgin and St.
Antony to come to the assistance of their _contrada_!

There was an indescribable confusion.

Bang! They had passed the post.

It was the Tortoise won the race!

In a flash the crowd had burst through the barriers and flooded
round the horses. The carabinieri came at a double to the rescue of
the Victorious Tartuca, for the men of the Oca were attempting to
mob him. The horse had already been spirited away lest it should
come to harm. The great mass of people swayed and roared.

Rattle-tap-tap; rattle-tap-tap. Through the crowd, with an escort
of stalwart troopers, came the waving banners of Tartuca with the
Palio in their midst, and away they marched with it to get the
blessing of Madonna.

It was all over, though the Mangia was still ringing overhead, and
the people were still shouting themselves hoarse.

      'Or fù giammai
  Gente si vana com'è la sanese?'[10]



SAN GIMIGNANO DELLE BELLE TORRI

  'And far to the fair south-westward lightens,
    Girdled and sandalled and plumed with flowers,
      At sunset over the love-lit land,
  The hillside's crown where the wild hill brightens
    Saint Fina's town of the Beautiful towers,
      Hailing the sun with a hundred hands.'

                                           SWINBURNE.


We left Siena to her merry-making, and stole away early in the
morning to San Gimignano delle Belle Torri. From Poggibonsi we
drove right into the heart of Faery-land. Were we not bound for
Tuscany's most mediaeval city, which is still caught in the web
of beautiful thoughts spun round her towers by poets from Messer
Folgore, the thirteenth-century San Gimignanese, to our own
Swinburne? Our way lay through the rich Val d'Elsa, 'smiling in the
sweet air made gladsome by the sun.' Little hills ringed round with
the slender conventional pine-trees which Gozzoli loved to plant in
his Gardens of Paradise rose from the billowing plain. The vines
were linked from tree to tree in great festoons, heavy with grapes;
the plumy tassels of the maize were taller than a man; the roadside
was full of flowers--bright pink cloves, crimson wild peas,
chicory and Canterbury Bells. Indeed it was a veritable Paradise,
a Promised Land, not flowing with milk and honey, for milk is
sometimes very difficult to obtain in Tuscany where there are no
pasture grounds, but heavy with wine and corn, and the manifold
fruits of the earth.

[Illustration: THE TOWERS OF SAN GIMIGNANO.]

Long before we reached San Gimignano we saw her towers rising up
above the festooned vines like those Giants in Dante's _Inferno_,
which from a distance he took to be a city of many towers. He must
have been thinking of San Gimignano as he had seen it more than
once when he rode across the Tuscan vales from Florence, for it
looks ridiculously like a city of giants striding among miniature
houses. Its thirteen square towers of uneven heights massed on
the top of its little hill make the most fantastic sky-line in
Italy, and if the chroniclers speak truth the city to which Dante
came as Ambassador in the year of grace 1300 boasted no fewer than
seventy-six of these ambitious towers.

San Gimignano is like the Enchanted Princess in our childhood's
fairy tales. I think she must have fallen asleep one summer day,
wearied with waiting on her little hill for the Prince who was to
wed her. Perhaps she watched them jousting in the plain, those
petty princelings who tried to win her hand and always proved
themselves unworthy of her beauty and her ancient lineage, and I
know she sickened to hear their battle-cries as they issued by
night from their towers to plunder and slay. No laughing Tuscan
princess this, but a grave-eyed dreamy girl who loved to think of
saints although she blushed and trembled at a poet's tale, and
dreamt of queening it over the valleys which rippled from her
old brown walls to Volterra, or the fair city of Certaldo where
Boccaccio was born. She fell asleep in the fourteenth century when
she yielded up her keys to Florence, tired of waiting for the
prince who never came; and she dreams on among her flowers, very
beautiful, and happy at last with her poets and her saints, wearing
the threadbare garments of her ancient glory as befits a queen, and
at rest now that the faithless Salvucci and the unhappy Ardinghelli
no longer wage their useless warfare under her towers.

San Gimignano is a city where one could dream the world away, and
count its loss as nothing compared to the fragrant memories in
which she dwells. I think the people of San Gimignano do really
dream. They are very gentle and grave, and occupied with simple
tasks--the men working in the vineyards, and the women sitting at
their spinning-wheels outside their fourteenth-century palaces,
or plying their distaffs on the steps of the ancient well in the
Piazza del Pozzo, whose wall is worn into grooves, the width of my
hand, by the ropes of seven hundred years.

Flowers and grasses grow from her ancient towers, and white doves
nest in the narrow windows whence men-at-arms kept watch upon the
streets. It is as though the spirit of gentle Saint Fina lingers
still in the old grey town which gave her birth. The sweet-smelling
flowers 'called of Saint Fina' run riot on its walls and towers,
and her name is ever on the children's lips when they meet the
traveller at their city gates.

Let us go then to her chapel, for they will not let us rest till we
have seen it: they can find no beauty in their ragged palaces, and
no appeal in their gaunt grey towers or their lovely broken walls.
And we soon found that we must pay our respects to Fina first if we
would have peace to look elsewhere.

It was Domenico Ghirlandaio, in his way as great a poet as
Botticelli, whom the San Gimignanesi commissioned to paint the
story of their beloved Santa Fina; and in no other picture, save
his great 'Nativity' in the Accademia of Florence, did he reach
such a high poetic standard. He has chosen only two scenes from the
life of the little girl saint of San Gimignano--her vision of St.
Gregory, who appeared to her some days before her death and warned
her of her approaching end, and the miracle of the healing of her
old nurse Beldia as she lay in state awaiting burial.

With what simplicity and charm has he depicted the apparition of
St. Gregory! The Blessed Fina lies on her wooden plank in a little
white room which is empty of ornament or furniture--except for
a long, low settle bearing a plate, and a dish of pomegranates,
and a flask of wine covered with a napkin of fine linen. The door
and window both stand open to the sun and wind, and through the
casement we see the Tuscan landscape, soft with the green of early
spring, with a towered city crowning a hill, and little white
clouds on the clear blue sky. Two women in wimples sit beside her,
the old nurse Beldia supporting the child's head on her hand, for
the chronicler tells us that, notwithstanding, 'the strength of her
body lessened and waned even to swooning, yet, withal, she suffered
exceedingly from within her head.' The other woman, obviously a
neighbour who has looked in to see the sick child, sits on a chair
beside them. Her hand is raised and her head turned towards the
open door, as if she has been startled in the midst of speaking,
or is listening to some unwonted sound. But Saint Gregory in cope
and mitre, in a glory of cherubs, has floated in at the door and is
speaking to the saint, who listens with rapt attention and hands
folded in the attitude of prayer.

There is no reference to the horrible corruption of the Holy Fina's
fair body which her hagiographers insist upon. 'She was palsied all
over, and in no wise could she rise from her couch, nor yet move
hand or foot. And as God willed that she should be thus afflicted
she would not that her body rest upon any soft and yielding thing,
rather laid she herself down to sleep upon a plank of wood; and
because one side of her body was afflicted with the sickness and
wearied her greatly, she slept upon the other; and during the space
of five years she did so lie upon that side, neither would she
allow any one to move her or yet change her raiment. For so many
a long day lay this holy virgin upon her one side only, that the
flesh became corrupted and the plank begat vermin which devoured
her flesh. Moreover, because of the corruption of these things, the
rats gathered together and devoured her flesh.'

Ghirlandaio could read no poetry into this perverted moral. He
forgot the rats and vermin and the sore corruption, thinking of her
only as the fair maiden, so goodly to human eyes, whose claim to
saintship rested on her holiness and chastity and patience. Listen
once more to the words of Fra Giovanni her chronicler. 'Whilst
yet a little maiden she withdrew herself from all converse that
could imperil her soul, forswearing those pleasures in which her
like often indulged; such as to gambol and frolic, and such-like
frivolities and pleasantries, and the setting fast of their hearts
and minds on fine raiment and worldly joys.... She avoided all
frivolous comings and goings as being harmful to her peace of mind,
and if peradventure she walked abroad, she first made treaty with
her eyes that they should look always upon her feet; lest by their
vain outward glance they should tempt her guileless spirit. And
whilst it pleased God that she should possess a fair countenance,
be of tall stature, and all things in her were goodly proportioned;
yet in no fashion would she adorn her face, willing only to please
God and not to gratify the sight of worldly men.... And she worked
unremittingly with her hands in the calling of women folk; but all
these acts she would perform, not for the great need she were in,
but to eschew idleness, which the Holy Scripture saith is a snare
for the feet of the Lord's servants. Likewise, when not in prayer,
she laboured steadfastly, following thus in the footsteps of our
Mother the Virgin Mary: as of her it is spoken in the Epistles
of St. Jerome, that she earned each day the wherewithal for the
sustenance of her body.'

Nor does the artist give us any hint of the miraculous fragrance
which pervaded her chamber and her person, and of the flowers
which blossomed from the board on which she lay. Unless he meant to
represent them by the sweet spring sunshine and fresh air, scented
by the breath of flowers grown without, which fills her white room.

On the other wall we see her lying in state on a bier of gold
brocade, clad in fine silk, her poor fair head at rest on a rich
cushion. Round her stand the bishop and the choristers with candles
and banners, and behind them are the stolid citizens who, in the
usual manner of Quattrocento burghers in frescoes, pay no attention
to the little ceremony. A small, tearful child is kissing the
dead saint's feet. It is the moment of the healing of Beldia, who
stands grief-stricken beside the bier; and Santa Fina, 'lifting her
arm as though she were yet quick,' has taken the afflicted hand
in her slender fingers. The artist has forgotten nothing--in the
background he has painted the towers of San Gimignano whose bells,
'each one and severally, not being pulled by hands of mortal men,
were set to ring with sweetest unison and melody.' Even the little
angel who set them ringing is there, flying in haste from tower to
tower with the sunlight gilding his wings.

It is small wonder that the people of San Gimignano are proud
of their Cappella della Beata Fina, for besides the frescoes of
Ghirlandaio it contains the exquisite shrine which Benedetto da
Maiano wrought of white marble, finely gilt, to hold the bones of
the saint.

San Gimignano was the home of saints, and it is to them that she
turns now in her poverty and simplicity, glad of their ancient
sanctity which has survived the years, and has not vanished in
memories like her dreams of glory. From the beginning she was
beloved of saints. Is not her very name an echo of the legend of
St. Geminianus, the Martyr of Modena, who appeared before her walls
during a siege and routed the barbarians of Attila? Until that day
the city had borne the enchanted name Castello della Selva--the
Castle of the Wood--because of the great oak forests which clothed
the hillside and the plain, where now the olive sheds its silvered
shade. But when Attila, who, like Totila and the other invading
barbarians, was often defrauded of legitimate victory by patriotic
saints, retreated from the citadel, the people changed its name to
San Gimignano in memory of the martyred Bishop's timely appearance.

Putting aside this legend she had four saints: the Holy Fina; the
Blessed Bartolo, whose life was spent in humble service, and who
for twenty years was a victim of leprosy which he caught from the
plague-stricken people to whom he devoted his life; the hermit
San Vivaldo; and Saint Peter, who was one of the first in the
brotherhood of St. Francis to suffer martyrdom.

[Illustration: SAN GIMIGNANO: THE WASHING PLACE.]

After Saint Fina it is the Blessed Bartolo, 'the Angel of Peace,'
whom the San Gimignanesi venerate most. Like Santa Fina he has a
noble shrine by Benedetto de Maiano; and he lies, as we are told he
wished to do, in Sant'Agostino, the great bare friar's church on
the hillside, which is a treasure-house of mediaeval art.

If all the towers of San Gimignano were chimneys belching smoke,
and all her mediaeval palaces were ugly modern houses, the world
would still visit her to see Gozzoli's inimitable frescoes of
the life of Saint Augustine. They are so fresh and unspoiled, so
stately and human, so full of quaint imaginings. For he was a great
humorist this pageant-painter of the Renaissance, and his naïve
pictures are the ideal illustrations to the naïve Confessions of
that very human saint, Augustine!

Gozzoli came to Sant'Agostino from his work in the Riccardi
Chapel at Florence. There he had slipped beyond the monastic
conventionalities of his master, Fra Angelico, and adventured
into the gay Florentine life of the fifteenth century with its
sports and pageantry. Here he has wandered further from his gentle
instructor, and does not hesitate to reproduce with genial wit the
humour as well as the pageantry of the age in which he lived. For
it goes without saying that his Augustine is transplanted to the
Quattrocento, and his life pictured in Gothic cities where Gozzoli
himself and his gay compatriots all play their parts. From the
beginning, if we except perhaps the first of the series in which
the saint is being spanked by his schoolmaster for some small
misbehaviour, Augustine is a charming and dignified figure, whether
we see him a thoughtful youth setting out in state for Milan
through a typical Gozzoli landscape, or he wanders disconsolately
in the monastic habit upon the shore, and is rebuked by the
little child making mud-pies there, in the immemorial fashion of
childhood, for trying to probe into the mysteries of the Trinity.

This great church has many other treasures, frescoes and tombs,
such as Gozzoli's San Sebastiano or the effigy of the Augustan
brother who fell asleep in the worn pavement so many years ago;
or, best of all, the tomb of Fra Domenico Strambi, the grand old
monk who commissioned Benozzo Gozzoli to paint his choir, and who
lies below a fresco which Mr. Gardner aptly calls 'a masterpiece of
municipal sentiment.'

San Gimignano is extremely rich in frescoes, considering that she
had no native school of painting, but drew her artists first from
Siena and later from Florence, when she had yielded her freedom
to that city. The Pieve or Collegiata is like an ancient missal
full of illustrations. Besides the frescoes of Ghirlandaio in the
Cappella della Beata Fina, and his Annunciation in the Oratory of
St. John,[11] the walls of the nave are covered with the quaint
and primitive frescoes of Taddeo di Bartolo and Bartolo di Fredi;
and many other painters besides Piero Pollaiolo and Benozzo Gozzoli
have added their quota to this ancient scroll of art. The choir
of Sant'Agostino, as I have remarked above, is a masterpiece by
Gozzoli; and the museum in the Palazzo Comunale boasts a fine
collection which includes two beautiful pictures by Pinturicchio
and Filippino Lippi.

Of all the Palazzi Comunali of vanished republics San Gimignano's
is the most forlorn. It seems to have fallen asleep like the
rest of the city, and forgotten to do anything but flower and be
beautiful. Its faded fourteenth-century courtyard has an outside
stairway leading to a raftered loggia; grass grows in its brick
pavement; and tall grey towers, fringed with flowers, rise above
its walls. Without the Tuscan sunshine to beautify its stones it
would be a little desolate, all faded fresco and broken plaster.
And this, mark you, although it is the _nuovo_ palace of the
Podestà. The _antico_ Palazzo, facing the Pieve, so picturesque
with its loggia and tower and municipal clock under its wide Tuscan
eaves, is older and more ruinous still. It is not battlemented
like its neighbour, and it has no processional staircase; nor is
its tower, which 'marked the limit to which noble citizens might
build their private towers,' as lofty as the Torre del Comune, for
this bestrides a street and is the giant of the city, a monument
to the vanity of the San Gimignanesi, being built with the money
contributed by magistrates who wished their arms to be fixed to it
when they went out of office.

We went up the steps which have seen so many municipal pageants
to try and learn the history of San Gimignano from the threadbare
splendour of her garments. How like they all are to each other,
these little cities of United Italy, with their smug municipal
dignity sitting in the midst of tatterdemalion glory! Here, in this
very chamber where to-day Lippo Memmi's great fresco of the Virgin
and Child, enthroned among the angels, looks down on office chairs
and ink-stained tables covered with American cloth, came Dante
in the year of the first jubilee, 1300, in all the splendour of
Florentine embassy! Here he spake to the lords of San Gimignano,
and invited them to send representatives to the election of a
captain to lead the Ghibelline League of Tuscany. Here, where
all the petty business of a little town is ratified, the men of
San Gimignano were wont to deal with their affairs of state, to
settle wars, and speak of popes and emperors. We read the story
of it round the walls--Memmi's fresco with its proud baldachin of
armorial bearings surmounted by the Ghibelline eagle has effaced
the greater part of it, but under the timber roof are the arms
of the noble families of San Gimignano; and below them jousting
knights tilt at invisible combatants, long ago lost in plaster;
and huntsmen chase their vanished prey; and the Guelphs and
Ghibellines fight out their everlasting warfare in dim distemper.

The sunset was gilding the towers of San Gimignano when we came
out again, and all the bells were ringing for evensong. Already
the streets were bound in shadows, so we wandered out among the
olive-trees to the little ruined church of the Templars. From here
we passed out of the city by an ancient gate, and down the hill
to the Gothic washing-pool, where the women of San Gimignano wash
and wring their linen in the cool of the evening. The delicate
afterglow of Tuscany filled the sky, and the tall poplars whispered
and shivered in the sunset wind. Up and down that steep and
stony hill under the old Gothic gate went the women, with their
snowy linen piled in baskets on their heads. The sound of their
voices and laughter floated back to us, mingled with the music of
bells from the city above. In the hollow below the road a little
waterfall babbled to the stones as it leapt over them to the plain.
Between the whispering poplars a white road wound up the hill like
the roads up which Benozzo Gozzoli's stately young men rode to
their Gothic cities. And below, stretching far away to the east
where it was lost in rose and purple mists, billowed the vast Val
d'Elsa.

Seen through the magic of a summer evening--when the poplars were
making music in the breeze, and the shadows were sweeping across
the Tuscan plain; when the women, having folded their linen under
the silver olives and piled it on their heads, climbed the steep
hill into their tower-girt home--the world and all its doings were
as beautiful as a sacrament. Here, at least, in these dim forgotten
_paesi_, 'glory and loveliness have not passed away.'

But, after all, it is at night that San Gimignano is most
beautiful. Then she is a city bewitched, unspeakably lovely and
romantic. Her silent streets are thronged with memories; her
shuttered palaces are given back to ghosts; her proud old towers
loom up against the star-lit sky like mediaeval giants.

A silver moon was riding low in the heavens when we left the
doorway of the Leon Bianco and passed through the Arco de' Becci,
the great gateway of the ancient circuit of walls, which leads at
once into the heart of San Gimignano. It was velvet-black under
its ghostly tower, and the Gothic palaces of the Castello Vecchio
within seemed to be holding their breath as they watched the
shadows creeping over the pale stones of the piazza. How silent and
deserted it was! The lovely grave-eyed children, who had been our
guides all day, had vanished with their gentle mothers, whom we had
seen spinning in their doorways through the sunny hours. Where had
they gone? There were no lights in any of these silent palaces, and
the narrow streets were empty except for the shadows of the towers,
grim as bloodstains.

[Illustration: SAN GIMIGNANO.]

A white owl, soundless of wing, sank on to the parapet of an
ancient palace. Imagination plays strange tricks in this city of
ghosts, in whose streets an August moon, more than five hundred
years ago, bore witness to the greatest tragedy in the vendetta of
the Ardinghelli and the Salvucci. Was it a bird, or did I see a
scrap of paper flutter from the window of that dark tower? No. It
was only a piece of broken glass glittering among the stones--fit
emblem of the broken hopes of those two hapless boys whom Benedetto
Strozzi so foully did to death by the persuasion of the treacherous
Salvucci. Their letter went astray, thrown from the prison tower,
in the hope that a friendly breeze would carry it to the feet of
an adherent of the Ardinghelli. And very soon afterwards they met
their death, by the steps of the Palazzo Comunale, early on a
summer morning, hurriedly, because Strozzi and the Salvucci knew
that the messenger who was riding from Florence with their pardon
would be delayed only a few hours by the rising of the Elsa. He
came too late, as he was meant to do. The Salvucci had already
reaped their bloody harvest--the heads of Primerano and Rossellino,
the flowers of the noble house of Ardinghelli, had fallen to the
sickle.

It was late, and the sleepy porter of the White Lion yawned
reproachfully as we passed him on our way to the Porta San
Giovanni, whither we were bound to view the city and rid ourselves
of shadows. If tragedy lurked within the narrow streets and
byways of San Gimignano, we found nothing but beauty without. The
moonlight, flooding her broken walls and picturesque old gates,
transformed her into a city of pale jade, crowning a gloom-dark
hill. Her diadem of ghostly towers seemed enamoured of the sky, and
soared towards the heaven like young Endymion, stretching out his
arms to his enchantress. Down the hillside poured her palaces,
white as marble, rising in terraces from their dark gardens, and
far away we could hear the plaintive cry of the city watchmen as
they went their solitary rounds. At our feet a sheer cliff, filled
to the level of the road with trees, fell into the night. From
its mysterious depths ascended the fragrance of wet earth and the
bell-like chant of frogs. And beyond, and all round, lay the broad
fields of Tuscany, filled with a sea of moonlit mists, from which
the fantastic outlines of little hills rolled up, like shadowy
waves, with towered farms and slim black cypresses upon their
crests.



MONTE OLIVETO MAGGIORE


Austere and terrible, barren as the Valley of the Shadow of Death,
is the desert of Accona, where Bernardo Tolomei founded the
monastery of Monte Oliveto Maggiore.

At Asciano we left behind us the fruitful gardens of Tuscany,
rippling with vines, and rich with maize and olives, and embarked
upon a sea of pallid hills. It was as though a blight had fallen.
The naked earth was parched and rent with gaping fissures; the
tamarisks and spurges and the drab grass which fringed the roadside
were old and dry. The smiling valleys fled to the north and the
south as from a land accursed, 'and lo, the fruitful place was a
wilderness.'

Our way lay along a bleached white road which seared the grey
hillside and writhed among volcanic mounds and precipices. Here
and there the drab monotony was broken by the clustered spires of
cypresses round scattered farms; but their black foliage, like
funeral plumes, only added a deeper note of melancholy. It was
hot too. The August sun beat down upon us from a brazen sky, and
the glare of the road made our eyes ache for cool green shadows.
But when we reached the plateau a vision of surpassing beauty
burst upon us. It was as though, after sojourning for many hours
in the wilderness, we looked from Pisgah on the promised land. To
our right, across miles of pale clay gorges and volcanic mounds,
Siena lay rosy and smiling in her vineyards; on the other hand a
wide valley full of precipices rolled away to the purple hills of
Umbria, which hung like a mirage between earth and sky, with Monte
Amiata lifting her proud head above them all. And presently, after
we had passed through Chiusure, a shrunken little town in the heart
of a green oasis, we caught our first glimpse of Monte Oliveto.

Below the road the hill fell away in a deep ravine, whose tortured
sides were torn and scarred by torrents, as though the pallid
earth had bared an ancient wound. And in the midst of the grey
desolation, with towering cliffs above, and wild precipices
leaping down into the valley below, stood the Abbey of the Blessed
Bernardo. Grim and forbidding as a fortress were its bare red
walls, devoid of ornament, only redeemed from positive ugliness by
their austerity and rugged strength. And yet, as we approached the
monastery through the fragrant shade of cypress avenues, the scent
of pine needles and the song of cicalas rose together like the
voice of the wilderness and the solitary place which has been made
glad.

[Illustration: CHIUSURE FROM MONTE OLIVETO MAGGIORE.]

For, indeed, S. Bernardo and his companions laboured to make this
wilderness blossom like a rose. Early in the fourteenth century
he put aside the vanities of life. At the height of his glory,
when all Siena was ringing with his brilliance and prodigality,
he left the city, fleeing, like Shelley, from the awful spectre
of his veiled self, asking 'Are you satisfied?' And coming into
the desert of Accona he dwelt here in poverty and simplicity,
building a little chapel to Santa Scolastica, the sister of St.
Benedict, and leading a life of prayer and meditation. We read
that a great number of followers, many of them noble, came to him,
and lived upon the hillside, striving by the sweat of their brows
to transform the Tuscan desert into a garden. But in that day of
Guelph and Ghibelline disorders the rulers of Siena feared that
he was sowing the seeds of a rebellion; and, if we believe his
legend, tried to poison him. It is certain that he was accused of
heresy, and forced to make the long journey to the Papal Court of
Avignon with Ambrogio Piccolomini, one of his earliest companions,
and a scion of the noble house of Piccolomini. Nothing more is
said of the charge of heresy. The Pope, John XXII., received
them with favour and gave them letters to Guido Tarlati, the
splendid old warrior-bishop of Arezzo, in which he asked that most
unconventional of prelates to furnish them with a monastic rule.
Here again the legend adds a picturesque touch, for it tells us
that Tarlati had a miraculous vision, in which the Blessed Virgin
appeared to him and commanded him to give the rule of Benedict to
'the pious solitaries' of Accona, to clothe them in spotless white,
the symbol of her purity, and to give their hermitage the name of
St. Mary of Mount Olivet.

So with their own hands Bernardo and his companions, no longer
clad in the garb of penitents, began to build their church and
convent on the spot where he had his vision of a celestial ladder
stretching up to heaven, with angels leading his companions to the
throne of Christ. But their work was stopped by news of the great
plague which was spreading desolation throughout the country.
Going himself to Siena, Bernardo sent out the brothers two by two
to tend the people, bidding them depart with good courage, saying
that they should all meet together in Siena for the Festival of the
Assumption. He never saw his cloistered home again; he died in the
stricken city with nearly all his companions, and other hands took
up the building of his monastery; and, later, beautified it with
frescoes by Luca Signorelli and Il Sodoma, and rare intarsia by Fra
Giovanni of Verona.

But I was not thinking of the Blessed Bernardo or of his
white-robed Olivetans as we drew near the monastery. Some touch
of faery lingered in that cypress grove. We had come out to see
a convent. And lo! a battlemented gateway rose before us, with
drawbridge and portcullis, as warlike as a castle of the Sforzas.
It was as though we had ridden like princes of eld across the grey
inferno of Childe Roland, where the grass 'grew scant as hair in
leprosy,' only to wind our horns before the gate of an enchanted
city.

And the fancy grew. We passed without challenge under the
portcullis, with a smiling Godspeed from its Della Robbia Madonna,
into one of those enchanted woods of Italy, where stone-pines make
a frieze against the sky, and cicalas sing their little hearts
away in rapture. Two paths led through the flickering shadows. We
hesitated which to take, and glanced behind us, half expecting some
warden to issue from that ancient gate to ask our pleasure and
direct our steps. No one was there. But, just as St. Mary welcomed
us without, so from his niche above the arch St. Benedict, clad
in the spotless robes of Oliveto, gave us his blessing. We went
forward then, past a huge brick jebbia full of green water and down
to the stables where we dismounted by a well, as Aeneas Sylvius and
his brilliant suite of knights and choristers dismounted when they
rode here from Siena and marvelled to find so fair a garden in that
barren land.

Still no one came, and still the enchanted silence of the woods
prevailed. We wandered round the old red walls, seeking to find
an entrance, and since there was no one to say us nay, we went
into the cool white monastery. How still and desolate it was! Our
footsteps ringing on the flags dismayed us, and when we pealed the
bell it echoed like derisive laughter down the empty corridor.
Truly the spirit of the place has taken flight, now that the
white-robed brethren no longer dwell in their inheritance. Not more
than three monks live here to-day; and these, they told us rather
sadly, as _custodes_ only, for their order is suppressed nearly
everywhere, and the state has made a national monument of their
treasures. So the ancient law that to him that hath shall be given,
and from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which
he hath, is fulfilled. And I will confess at once that from the
sentimental point of view my sympathies are all with the monks, for
they are one of our most picturesque links with the past, and it
was with their own hands that they sowed this harvest which another
reaps.[12]

So there are only ghosts to people the deserted cells and chapels
and refectories of Mount Olivet to-day. Time and the hand of man
have robbed this sanctuary. Everywhere the eye sees frescoes
fading from the walls; and Napoleon, who never saw any harm in
robbing Peter to pay Paul, stole some of the exquisite intarsia
stalls of the convent church to enrich the cathedral of Siena.
Only in the great cloister, where Signorelli and Sodoma painted
the life and miracles of St. Benedict, is the imagination fired.
What does it matter that the story has been often told? That we
have conned it in a hundred other frescoes? It is like the magic
stories of our youth, which gained an added joy by repetition,
because no two people ever told them quite the same. Here we could
find inhabitants for all those empty cells; here we could fill
the pleasant groves with white-cowled monks who knelt in prayer
below the cypresses, or paced the shady avenues in meditation;
here we could picture Bernardo himself, building his abbey, and
see him sitting in the old refectory with Patrizi, and Ambrogio
Piccolomini, and the other nobles who followed him into the
wilderness. 'The series forms, in fact, a painted _novella_
of monastic life; its petty jealousies, its petty trials, its
tribulations and temptations, and its indescribably petty
miracles.'[13]

And then, because it was long after mezzogiorno, and we were to
sleep at Chiusi that night, we went back to the magic cypress-woods
to eat our lunch and rest before we drove to Asciano. Our coachmen
had prepared a place for us, which they explained was _molto
arioso_ for so warm a day, on a terraced slope in the wide avenue
of cypresses leading from the monastery church to the little chapel
which contains the cell of Bernardo. The bank was carpeted with
pine-needles, and the air was fragrant with the scent of crushed
thyme. We lunched excellently well off wine and bread, figs and
peaches; and our smiling drivers brought us a great _fiasco_ of
sparkling ice-cold water--an acceptable addition to the meal, for
we were thirsty, and good spring water is not found everywhere in
Italy. And then we pillowed our heads on the soft bank, and lay in
silence, entangled in a flickering web of sun and shadow.

Surely it was an enchanted wood of cypresses that summer afternoon!
As I drowsed I dreamt that I saw a boy come idly through the trees
singing to his lute. His eyes were heavy-lidded, and long black
love-locks lay on his shoulders. He was dressed fantastically in
scarlet stockings, a silken cap, and a gay cloak, which evidently
pleased him well, for at times he plucked at it and pulled it
closely round him to admire its folds. A monkey with a gilded chain
was on his shoulder, and a badger walked solemnly at his heels.
Who could he be? I wondered. He was too gay and worldly to have
thoughts of entering the Brotherhood, and as he drew nearer I could
hear that his song was in the praise of love. Some poet of the
Renaissance, perhaps, whose lord was resting in the monastery.

He drew nearer still, till I thought he must have seen me; and
then, as though he was a little weary of his song, he dropped his
lute and pillowed his gracious young head upon the flowery bank and
drifted into sleep, lulled by the fragrance of the warm pine-woods.
It seemed to me as if he dreamed, for he stirred, and turned his
face away.

Was it I who dreamt the rest?

I saw a lady moving towards him across the flowers as lightly as a
butterfly upon the wing. Fair of face and form was she, fashioned
very lightly, full of airy grace; with child-like laughter on her
lips and a half-defiant, wholly-alluring challenge in her tender
eyes. Her dress was blue and of so light a texture that it rippled
from her rosy limbs like water, and scarce bruised the flowers. As
she ventured near she laughed, and wantoned with some golden fruit.
The sunshine and the breeze, greatly daring, played in her filmy
yellow hair and fashioned the tender blue of her robe into little
wings. Half a child was she, and half a woman, full of the joy of
living and the joy of beautiful things; the very spirit of an azure
butterfly who flutters through a summer day, dancing from sheer
delight.

Who could have dreamt that I should find her here, on this bleak
hillside, in this austere old house? These baked clay cliffs and
desolations should have driven her away to gay Siena long ago, even
if she outstayed the bitter winds which thrash the stone-pines
round the forsaken monastery in winter.

She was standing by the poet now, and smiling down at him, pouting
a little because he did not wake. Who could resist her, this happy
butterfly fashioned so beautifully for love on a golden summer day?

A pine-cone fell into my lap and startled me. I moved. And in a
flash the spell was broken. They had vanished, the beauteous lady
and the sleeping boy whose dreams had conjured her. The yellow
sunlight was slanting in between the cypresses, and from the
stables came the sound of horses being harnessed. It was already
time to go.

And yet they say that Benedict sent her away with harsh words and
admonitions.

And the youth who dreamed was not a poet but a painter; his name
was Sodoma. You may see her picture in the cloister, and his own
as well, in the gay clothes of which he was so proud, for they
were part-payment for his work, and had belonged to a gentleman of
Lombardy who took the monastic habit.

But it is still a miracle to me that I should have met her on this
bare hillside.



CHIUSI


Night had fallen when we reached Chiusi Junction. A full-blown
harvest moon hung over the station-yard like a yellow lamp. It
was late, and the lights of Chiusi were a twinkling bunch of
fire-flies on a distant hill. We dined at the excellent station
buffet, resolved not to spoil the propitious hour by arriving in
an unknown city tired and hungry; and afterwards we climbed up to
our mysterious destination at leisure, in the glory of a late moon,
with the night insects singing by the dusky roadside.

They are among the little joys of Italy these late arrivals, on
breathless summer nights, at hill-towns whose features you have
only glimpsed heretofore from the windows of a flying train. A fig
for the discomforts that you risk! They add a touch of salt to
the adventure. The inn you stumble on may be the worst of all bad
inns; the dinner will of course be long-delayed; and if you have
inadvertently walked in upon a festa it may be difficult to find
a place whereon to lay your head. But reckon against these things
the charm of mystery--the complete sense of satisfaction with which
you watch the ruby tail-lights of your train slipping away into
the night, and hear the lessening roar of its engine till your
last link with the familiar world is severed, and you are face to
face with the unknown. And lastly, remember the joy with which you
discover a new world in the morning.

We started in a vettura which was never meant to carry passengers
as well as luggage, but before long we slipped out one by one, for
we were only going at a snail's pace up the long hill which leads
from Chiusi station to Chiusi town, and we could see nothing of
the magic of the night, half-buried in boxes, and with the stars
shut out by tarpaulin. The driver did not notice, but the horses
quickened their pace with the lightened burden, and soon we were
left to find our own way up the hillside. It was not difficult.
The bright moonlight, which flooded the plain below, turned the
road into a band of silver, whose whiteness was barred by the
shadows of giant cypresses towering black against the night. The
chanting of the frogs and the song of the night cricket almost
drowned the jangling bells of our vettura, and high above us we
could see Chiusi, no longer a bunch of fire-flies, but a ghostly
grey hill-city already wrapt in slumber, with a frowning rocca, and
grim old walls. Its silence was a little desolate as we drew near,
and it was a relief to see the hospitable yellow lights of the Leon
d'Oro outside the Porta Romana, giving us a homely welcome into the
mysterious moonlit town.

[Illustration: CITTÀ DELLA PIEVE FROM CHIUSI.]

I woke early in the morning. It needed but a glance to tell me that
I was back in Umbria. Nowhere else are the dimpled valleys so full
of beauty, or the blue hills so softly moulded; and nowhere else
is that pellucid sky, or that strange clarity of atmosphere which
inspired the landscapes of the Umbrian Quattrocento artists. It was
as though I looked straight into the heart of one of Perugino's
sacred pictures. There was the soft green valley melting in the
distance into the azure folds of mountains; there were the slender
trees cleaving the luminous air; there were the towered cities
crowning the hills; there was the clear pale sky, the spaciousness,
the holiness which Perugino and his school immortalised. But, after
all, this rich plain, from which the waters of an inland sea have
long ago receded, is peculiarly the land of Perugino. Is not that
rose-red city on the crest of the wooded hill which bounds the
southern horizon of Chiusi, Città della Pieve, the town which gave
him birth? I half expected to see a band of saints walking in the
vineyards, or to find Madonna sitting by the roadside with the
Infant Christ. But another artist had usurped the landscape. Below
my window was a peasant ploughing in his olive-garden. He sang as
he bent forward to throw his weight on the wooden shaft, and his
clothes were as blue as the heavens at mid-day. Two milk-white oxen
moved slowly before him under the tender grey of the olives, and as
they passed they left behind them shining furrows of freshly-turned
earth. It was a poem of labour, as delicate in colour as a
tone-etching, an inspiration for Millet with the poetry of life in
his veins, or for the subtle Corot.

Chiusi, the Clusium of Lars Porsena, the great Etruscan Prince who
championed the Tarquinii after they were expelled from Rome, is a
little self-contained city with an affectation of placing cypresses
at becoming angles. She is rather a coquette this old town. She
is not unconscious of the picturesqueness of her position as she
rises above the shimmering olives which veil her hillsides; she
knows the value of cypress spires when they soar above the bastions
of ancient walls; she deliberately sets herself out to charm the
stranger by filling the gardens of her _trattorie_ with flowering
gourds and purple morning-glories. Her picturesque old cathedral
has been so cleverly redecorated throughout with painted mosaics,
that when we first stepped down into the cool dark nave we were
deceived, and gasped to see such jewels outside Ravenna; and she
has built herself a delightful museum, in the form of a classic
temple, to house her Etruscan treasures.

I think she has never ceased to congratulate herself upon giving
the lie to Dante's ill-omened prophecy, when he quoted her as an
example of a city falling into decay--

    'Mark Luni, Urbisaglia mark,
  How they are gone, and after them how go
  Chiusi and Sinigaglia; and 't will seem
  No longer new or strange to thee to hear,
  That families fail when cities have their end.'[14]

She may well have seemed a city doomed to him as he rode in haste
through the pestilent marshes of the Val di Chiana, and saw her
desolate towers above him stark against the evening sky, as he
hurried from Rome to Siena to meet his fellow exiles and learn the
story of his fall.

For eight centuries or more Chiusi was a plague spot, and the
vapours of the maremma were more powerful to guard her from
invaders than the strongest walls. So she has fewer mediaeval
palaces, and fewer towers than other hill-cities, and these were
long ago given to neighbouring churches to hang their bells in,
and the ancient Rocca is a garden with a farm-house in its keep.

I have a tender spot in my heart for Chiusi. She is a happy town.
In herself she is not very picturesque: her houses are the plain,
white-washed, green-shuttered homes of modern Italy; there are
few traces of her ancient greatness to be seen except the scanty
Etruscan foundations of her mediaeval fortifications, a quantity of
_cippi_ and reliefs built into walls, and the labyrinth of ancient
sewers which honey-combs the hill.[15] And in comparison with the
other cities of Umbria she contains nothing of the Middle Ages,
certainly nothing Gothic, if we except the exquisite illuminated
missals and psalters by Bindo Fiorentino and Girolamo da Cremona,
which are kept in the sacristy of the cathedral, and which came
originally from the monastery of Monte Oliveto. To the antiquary
she is of the highest interest, for she marks the site of Clusium,
one of the five Etruscan towns which combined against the first of
the Tarquins, and of the earlier Camars, which may have been a city
of the more ancient Umbrians. Her history shows her to have been
one of the oldest and most powerful cities of the Etruscan League;
and the country for miles round her walls has yielded, and still
yields, a rich harvest of antiquities from scattered tombs. There
is a slope to the east of the city which is called 'The Field of
the Jewellers,' because so many _scarabaei_ have been discovered
there by the chance furrow of a plough.

[Illustration: ETRUSCAN CINERARY URNS.]

But I am no antiquary. It is not for me to discuss the possible
site of that improbable mausoleum of Lars Porsena with its
labyrinth and pyramids and windbells, which Varro described
as glibly as Herodotus did the marvels of the labyrinth of
Crocodilopolis. I have not seen the great necropolis of Poggio
Gajella on the hill to the north of Chiusi, which Dennis tells us
is a hive of tombs. To me the charm of Chiusi does not lie in her
antiquity, though like every one else who visits her I have spent
happy hours in her sunny museum, poring over inscriptions and
sarcophagi, and cinerary urns and household implements, and all the
strange paraphernalia of a vanished race which have been garnered
from the fields of Clusium. Nor are the painted tombs of Etruria
as much to me as the wonderful beauty of the olive-gardens through
which we walked to find them, in the golden sunset or the clear
cool dawn.

There are many tombs scattered round the hill of Chiusi. Some of
them empty caves hollowed out of the rock, half full of water,
abandoned to moths and bats; and others which have been opened
and closed up again because the damp and thieves have robbed them
of all interest. A few of the best are kept under lock and key to
preserve them from wanton destruction, but even these are slipping
reluctantly back to oblivion.

Such an one is the Tombe del Colle Casuccini, which is to be found
in an olive-grove to the south-east of the town. It is hollowed in
the rock, and is approached by a levelled path cut in the slope
of the hill. The earth around is full of iris plumes and slender
field flowers; there is a weather-beaten cippus over the lintel,
and a solitary stone-pine which stretches out its branches as
though Nature sought to render homage to the dead by yielding them
a royal canopy. We had lingered so long in the silver olive-gardens
that it was almost the hour of sunset when we reached the tomb. A
melancholy evening wind moaned in the branches of the pine-tree,
and rustled in the flowering yews which guarded the entrance of the
passage.

Up and down the hillside we could see the peasants returning from
their work in the fields, and the whole world was caught in the
sudden glory of the setting sun. A woman came towards us with the
key of the tomb; she had a baby in her arms, and on her head a
great mottled pitcher, green and gold, full of spring water. The
sunlight wove a halo round her till she seemed as radiant as one of
Pinturicchio's Madonnas.

The great doors of travertine groaned as they swung slowly open
on their stone pivots, and a scorpion fled from the light. Dennis
says, 'There can be no doubt of the antiquity of these doors; it is
manifest in their very arrangement; for the lintel is a huge mass
of rock buried beneath a weight of superincumbent earth, and must
have been laid _after_ the slabs were in their place.'

This sepulchre, like most Etruscan tombs of importance, is divided
into several chambers. Its roof is curiously coffered, and was
at one time painted red and black. But it is the wall paintings
which are of supreme interest here. Unlike the other tombs of
Chiusi the sandstone walls have been whitened, and even so the
figures are hardly distinguishable. But look close. It is worth
the trouble, for as your candlelight drives the shadows back, the
story of an ancient world unfolds itself. Here, to the right, three
charioteers urge their archaic steeds to the winning-post; here
are the wrestlers; here the musicians with their doublepipes and
lutes, and here a dancing girl. On the other wall you can trace
the progress of a banquet, and see the languid youths of Etruria
reclining on couches, toying with wreaths and flowers, and holding
out their _paterae_ for the hurrying slaves to fill with wine.

But they are very faded. They are a world of shadows; they
vanish with the months. Another generation will look for them in
vain; then the athletes will no longer run their silent races to
eternity, the music will be hushed, and the feet of the dancers
stilled. And then, I suppose, the wonderful old doors will be taken
away, and the angry scorpions will be left in possession. If you
would see these ghosts, come soon. For if you come ten years after,
perchance you will find nothing on the cold stone walls; their
pictures will have gone the way of all the other antique graces
which have been lost in Time's devouring maw!

In Italy, especially in the small cities, you have to bow to local
convention. In Chiusi it takes the form of Etruscan tombs. Every
one from tiny children to the oldest inhabitant volunteers to be
your guide. A stranger would say that the Tomb of the Monkey or
the Deposito del Gran Duca were topics of burning interest in the
town, for the people will not rest until they are assured that he
has visited them. It was for this reason that the sunrise next
morning found us on our way to the Tomba della Scimmia, which lies
a mile or so to the north-east of Chiusi. At first we followed
the highroad where the gay painted ox-carts of Clusium, with their
picturesque high-curved shafts, were already rolling up the hill.
But our way soon turned off into a rough path which dipped down
into the chilly sweetness of the olive-gardens. The sun had not
yet risen high enough to penetrate these dewy hollows, but as we
re-emerged from them and breasted the little oak-clad hills beyond,
it slanted between the branches and made a halo round some young
peasant girls, barefoot and with uncovered heads, who were carrying
great pitchers of water to their cottages from an Artesian well.
We dipped into more valleys and circled other hills, plucking the
ripe blackberries as we passed, and gathering the flowers which
made a tangle round our feet. The only people that we met were
peasants at work below their olives, and every one of them gave us
a smiling _buon giorno a loro_ as we passed. Presently we came out
upon a wooded cliff and saw Chiusi, with her fair white houses and
her grey ivied rocca, across the valley to our right, and on our
left the little lakes of Montepulciano and Chiusi, like opals in
the dawn. Umbria again! The flowers at our feet, the glint of water
in the wide green valley, the purple hills, the soft blue sky, the
breadth and depth, the holiness and peace of mystic Umbria.

[Illustration: CHIUSI: THE PALACE OF THE BISHOP.]

The Tomb of the Monkey owes its name to the painted monkey chained
to a tree in the midst of the athletes who wrestle and ride and box
and perform their Pyrrhic dances round the walls. It is approached
by a deep cut in the tufa, in the style of the mummy shafts of
Egypt, but the steps which lead down to the door, and the door
itself, are modern. By the help of our guttering candles we were
able to decipher the solitary spectator who sits, like Nefertari
in her rock-hewn tomb of Thebes, with foot on stool and umbrella
over head, gazing into eternity. But we did not stay there long. It
was too cold. The damp had eaten almost everything away. Down in
the chill dark of the tomb we knew that the wrestlers, their naked
red bodies fading into the tufa, wrestled continuously, and the
chariots drove silently into the shadows before the solemn audience
of one.

But up above we could hear the bells of Chiusi on the warm,
scented air. And there were the wind, the limpid sunlight, the
song of birds, the wooded hills and valleys, the yellow earth
with its flowers and its trails of bramble covered with shining
fruits--everything of warmth and sweetness and pleasure to the
eye and ear. In the plain below we could see the little blue lake
of Chiusi, called lovingly of the people, the 'chiaro di Chiusi,'
which in the olden days was yearly espoused with a ring by the
chief magistrate of the town, in the same manner as the Doge of
Venice wedded the Adriatic. And beside it the towers of Béccati
Questo and Béccati Quest'altro, which were put up in the fifteenth
century by the rival provinces of Siena and Perugia, still shout
defiance to each other across the valley.

After all, it was for her old-world charm that we loved Chiusi--the
simple pastoral beauty of her _contado_, her forges glowing at
night in deep caverns below her walls, her Bishop's palace with
its ancient _cippi_, and its flowering agaves and cypresses. And
most of all we loved the lichen-covered boy in the fountain of the
Piazza del Duomo. For he was like the spirit of eternal youth,
keeping the soul of things alive in this city of tombs. There
were gold fish in the green shallows round his feet, the water
spouted from his forehead, his arms were outstretched and his face
upturned, as though he sang in rapture to the sun.

For it was in such little things as these that we found the
hidden secret of Italy's charm. These little towns like Chiusi,
perched each one on its hill, are sometimes commonplace enough
in themselves, even though their foundations are inscribed by
the years that have passed; but they look across valleys of
unimaginable beauty to the mountains; they have genii singing in
their springs; and the lives of their people have the classic
simplicity of an older, unspoilt world.



HANNIBAL'S THRASYMENE

  'Yea! sometimes on the instant all seems plain,
  The simple sun could tell us, or the rain,
    The world caught dreaming with a look of heaven
  Seems on a sudden tip-toe to explain.'

                          'THE RUBAIYAT,' Le Gallienne's translation.


We came to Passignano from Chiusi, because we could not resist the
beauty of Thrasymene. Most travellers in Italy only view it with
passing admiration as they fly by in the express which takes them
from Florence to Rome and Naples. It is to them merely another
lovely incident in their journey through a landscape of surpassing
beauty. Perchance they refer to their Baedekers, and find that it
was the scene of Hannibal's great victory over Flaminius, and in a
few minutes more their train is in Chiusi Junction, and the lake
is lost behind the Umbrian hills. Others, who visit Perugia and
Assisi, see more of its beauties, for when they leave the main line
at Chiusi they have to make a semi-circular tour of the lake; and
even from Terontola, the junction for Florence and Perugia, the
line runs for miles along the lake-side, and crosses the actual
site of Hannibal's battle-field.

Twice already, in the last month, we had traversed it, on the
journey from Cortona to Perugia, and again on our way to Siena.
Coming back we could no more resist it. Our intention had been to
go straight from Chiusi to Assisi, but at Terontola the little
philosopher put in a special plea for Thrasymene. He has a passion
for lakes and rivers; no landscape is complete for him without them.

'Let us go down to Thrasymene,' he said. 'Not for the sake of
Hannibal, but for the pleasure of its beauty. For I am sick of the
petty wars of hill-towns, and am wearied for the moment of Etruscan
tombs and Gothic palaces and churches. Let us go forth into the
field; let us lodge in the villages. Let us get up early to the
vineyards; let us see if the vine flourish, whether the tender
grape appear and the pomegranates bud forth!'

So we came to Thrasymene and Passignano, which is a mere handful
of brown houses pushed into the water at the foot of a rocky hill.
Passignano has a flavour of its own. To begin with, its inn is
different from any other albergo in Italy. It has an old-fashioned
kitchen with a cowl chimney and rows of shining brass saucepans,
and it opens on to the village street, where the people sit to
gossip while the evening meal is cooking. Its low cottage windows
look over the wide expanse of water to towered Castiglione, and
the wooded islands of Thrasymene; but it is built so close into
the hillside at the back that you can stretch your hand from an
upper room and pluck the creepers which pour in a green cascade
over the rocks. It is extremely primitive: the menu consists of
soup, macaroni, eggs, fresh fish from the lake, and very lean
chickens, supplemented by rough country bread, plenty of honey and
fresh fruit, and cheese if the proprietor has lately been to market
in Perugia. Meat there is none, at any rate in August, nor tea.
But the rooms are spotlessly clean, with snowy beds, dainty white
valances, curtains edged with hand-made lace, and the finest of
linen towels; the daughter of the buxom landlady is as charming as
she is elegant, and the serving girl is a beautiful Murillo.

Passignano is full of beautiful women; they form two-thirds of the
population of this little lake-side town. There are hardly any men
in it except the old fishermen, and a few young lads, apprentices
to bootmakers and saddlers. All the rest have drifted away to the
towns, or have farms out in the _paese_. And the women, from the
pretty French wife of Signor Arturo of the Albergo Balducci, with
her freshly laundered cotton dresses, to the little bareheaded
girls whose mothers call to them at night, bidding them bathe their
dusty feet in the lake before they come to bed, are all lovely.
They are noted for it.

The only other visitor in Passignano that August was a young
Apollo--so beautifully dressed in pale grey riding-clothes that he
looked as if he must have slipped out of a George Edwards musical
comedy. He was, according to the landlady, a student from the
University of Perugia, spending his vacation in Passignano because
the girls were so beautiful! Oh, young Italy! How natural and
unaffected you are! I loved to see him strolling down the village
street with a lordly air of indifference, running the gauntlet
of eyes as the pretty girls, linked in groups like bouquets of
flowers, passed him demurely; while their mothers, sitting on the
doorsteps of their cottages, scanned the handsome boy with kindly
humour.

Everybody lives out of doors in Passignano. The women are always
sitting outside their houses; and their children, half-naked in the
summer heat, with halos of sunburned curls, pillow their heads on
the rough cobbles of the hilly streets, and sleep after their play,
as baby angels might sleep in paradise, tired out with singing.
The stables and bakeries and workshops are open to the road, and
above them the shabby brown houses clamber up the hillside to the
Fortezza, which rears its shaggy head above the highest of their
pagoda-like chimneys.

'If we stay here we shall prolong our lives for always,' cried the
philosopher. 'Already I have forgotten the world!'

And he fell to imitating the song of the cicalas.

Indeed for us the world was standing still. We were caught in a
mesh of beauty as in a summer daydream. The waves of Time seemed
to retreat, leaving us like swimmers resting on a golden shore
after struggle and turmoil. It might have been Lethe whose waters
sang to the stones at our feet: for we forgot the world: its voice
became a dream; we found ourselves content to watch the changing
lights as the hours drifted away.

[Illustration: CHIMNEYS AT PASSIGNANO.]

We ate our meals in the unfinished dining-room which Signor
Balducci is building out over the lake--a mere shell of white
plaster with empty doors and windows through which the little
breezes strayed. There were flowers on the cloth beside our plates,
and a great bowl of oleanders, geraniums and white asters on the
table. We breakfasted off golden bread and honey, and the pretty
waiting girl brought tuberoses with our coffee. Outside, the lake
was a tender morning blue; its surface rippled to the cool breath
of the mountains, and sparkled in the sunlight. The bent and
twisted sticks of the fishermen cast fantastic reflections in the
water, and were beautified, as all humble and work-a-day things are
beautified in Italy, by the magic of the sun. Further out two men
in a rickety sampan were hauling in their nets.

It was a scene of infinite romance. The towers of Castiglione shone
like ivory out of the violet mists, and many of the hills which
rose above them bore turreted towns upon their crests. Behind them
we knew lay Siena, Montepulciano and Chiusi, and to the right
Cortona and Arezzo, and there Perugia, and Assisi there. History
swept down upon us too. Thrasymene and its vine-clad slopes are
full of memories of Hannibal, the stormy petrel who beat his wings
round Rome in vain. Nor does it lack for gentler associations,
for Saint Francis of Assisi, who had been preaching in one of the
lake-side towns, was inspired, according to the author of the
_Fioretti_, to spend Lent on an island in its midst. Which he
did, in solitary prayer and meditation, eating only the half of
one small loaf of bread, 'from reverence for the fast of Christ
the blessed one, Who fasted forty days and forty nights without
partaking any earthly food; but in this manner, with that half a
loaf, chased far the venom of vain glory from him.'

Towards the hour of sunset, when the shadowed hills grew blue and
misty, and the lake was a mirror of pale gold, we walked along the
reedy shore of Thrasymene. The wind rustled in the silken leaves
of the maize, and made a music like far-off singing in the emerald
reeds. We went down to the edge of the water where the gardens
sloped to the lake, and we found flowers there and herbs--mint and
thyme and rosemary that scented the air, and purple vetches and
clover, and the beautiful cow-parsley whose blossoms float like
butterflies over every hedge and waste ground. And there we waited
while the sky glowed from gold to rose, and Thrasymene seemed
aflame with Hannibal's desire for Rome.

We dined in our alfresco dining-room, and afterwards we walked
again by the still waters, where the frogs were shrilling a chorus
to the night-crickets, whose song in the grass is like the sound of
a curb-chain being rubbed in the hand. Except for these the world
was still. There were no lights along that mysterious country road
except the stars, and rarely have I seen them brighter, even in
Africa.

'In a town we never see such stars as these,' said the philosopher.
We never do. The Milky Way stretched like a girdle across the
heavens, and was reflected in the lake like a pale moon. We stayed
to watch it, and to listen to the voices of the night.

A train glared out of the tunnel which pierces the hill below
Passignano, and tore along in the darkness beside the road,
lightening our starlit gloom for a moment before its meteoric tail
of windows was swallowed up by the night. Then we saw a glow-worm
in a hole below the wall, and because in Italy you are pleased
with little things, we stopped to look at it, and watch it turn
round like a light-house lamp, now glowing clear as a star, now an
indistinguishable mass of phosphorescence. And all the time the sky
was growing lighter, and the mountains darker in the east.

It was the moon.

Slowly it rose. The Milky Way grew pale in the lake, and one great
star which had twinkled like a will-o'-the-wisp among the reeds
went out. The light grew and gathered behind the hills, and at last
the miracle of moonrise came to us as we waited in the scented
darkness of Thrasymene's shore, as it came to the young world on
the eve of its creation. First the rim, and then the pulsing globe
leaping from the shadows. For a moment it hung upon the hillside
while two fantastic stone-pines, a fraction of an inch in height,
swayed within its circle like neophytes bowing before Diana; then
it rose into the heavens,--a stately ship steering among the
stars.

[Illustration: LAKE THRASYMENE.]

A miracle no less because our darkness has been lightened thus
since the beginning of the world. There are so many miracles
every day, if we but knew them,--the scent of flowers, the webs
of spiders, the subtle fragrance of the earth, a wayside weed,
and, most beautiful of all, the sunrise and the moon. For sunsets,
though they may fill a grey world with rose and gold, and though
they are always so magnificent that words are pallid pictures and
artists' colours impotent, never have the beauty of the dawn. A
sunset may turn our joy to melancholy, so tender is it, so pregnant
with regret for the vanished day, so full of splendours. But we are
always happy in the dawn. What of the night? It is over and gone. A
new world lies at our feet; a new beauty fills our eyes; the breath
of the morning in our nostrils is as a flower after rain. For in
the dawn we step from the valley of the Shadow of Death on to the
rosy mountains of Hope.

And because you are in Italy you have time to notice these miracles
of every day, time to be happy, time to watch things grow. The
hours do not matter, for to-morrow is as yesterday, and to-day is
but a little minute in a garden. If it should rain the butterflies
will only seek their shelter, the cicalas will be still, and the
pores of the thirsty earth will open. To-morrow the sun will shine
again. Or the day after that.

Nor is Passignano devoid of interest for the sightseer whose
pleasure is not to be found in green pastures or beside still
waters. Magione, with its three mediaeval castles and its memory of
the Baglioni, is within a drive. Picturesque Castiglione del Lago
is well worth a visit. There is the island of St. Francis, with
its ruined convent, now the villeggiatura of an Italian nobleman,
and its exquisite views of Montepulciano. And lastly, there is
the battle-field where Hannibal, the 'furious youth' of Publius
Cornelius Scipio, defeated Flaminius, the maker of roads.

We did not go to Magione, but we let two old men of Passignano row
us to St. Francis' Island in their weather-beaten fishing-boats. In
an acacia grove down by the water's edge they showed us the block
of stone whose surface was worn into two hollows by the knees of
St. Francis. So they would have us believe. '_Ma, è vero!_' they
exclaimed, as though they feared that we should doubt them; and we
could but smile as they told us an old legend of the saint sailing
miraculously across Thrasymene on his mantle, bearing a lighted
candle in his hand, because the boatmen dared not put out in the
tramontana which was lashing the waters to fury.

We almost missed seeing the battle-field of Hannibal, because we
had left it to our last afternoon, and discovered too late that the
only carriage in Passignano had been already commandeered.

It was Fortunato Rosso who came to our rescue, dear old man, with
his dilapidated vehicle, which was no larger than a riksha, and so
broken down that we expected the back to fall away every minute.
The step did break when we tried to use it, and the axle bar was
tied up with string. Fortunato Rosso is one of the characters of
Passignano. He is a veteran of the Venti Settembre. As he has lost
his teeth his conversation is difficult to follow, though he is an
intelligent guide, having a soldier's eye for the possibilities of
the land: his clothes are almost as dilapidated as his carriage,
but he has a string of medal ribbons sewn across his scrupulously
clean white waistcoat. The medals themselves are kept in a dirty
scrap of paper in his pocket. He persisted in showing them to
us before we started, and the villagers stood round and laughed
indulgently. While he was eagerly pulling them out a cheap crucifix
fell to the ground. A small boy picked it up, and pressed it to his
lips as he handed it back, and Rosso himself gave it a resounding
kiss before he put it into his pocket.

The spot where Hannibal entrapped the Roman army is as distinct
as stage scenery. There is a semi-circle of mountains coming down
to the lake at each end. Passignano clambers into the water at
the southern extremity; and on the northern spur, close to the
lake, there is an ancient road climbing between bluffs in an
olive-garden. It is below the modern strada; and Fortunato Rosso,
who takes a delight in propounding the stratagems of Hannibal,
insists that Flaminius must have entered the plain through this
pass. Half-way between the semi-circle and the lake is the hill of
Tuoro, on which Hannibal's centre was conspicuously drawn up.

For the Punic general with his genius for guerilla warfare no
better place for an ambuscade could be imagined. The Consul
Flaminius lay at Arretium some miles to the north; and Hannibal,
knowing his impetuous temper, determined to draw him out by
laying waste the countryside from Cortona to Thrasymene under the
very eyes of the Roman legions. As he anticipated, Flaminius,
exasperated beyond endurance, left Arezzo and marched down to
Thrasymene, paying no heed to the ill-omens which attended his
setting forth. As a consequence his army had no enthusiasm. The
name of Hannibal had turned even the heart of Rome to water, so
that she spent her days in making sacrifices to the gods and
consulting the oracles, but the fiery Flaminius would not allow his
legions to make propitiation. 'Nay, rather,' said he with bitter
sarcasm, 'let us lie before the walls of Arretium, for here is our
country, here our household gods. Let Hannibal, slipping through
our fingers, waste Italy through and through; and, ravaging and
burning everything, let him arrive at the walls of Rome; nor let
us move hence till the fathers shall have summoned Flaminius from
Arretium, as they did Camillus of old from Veii.'[16]

Everything befell as Hannibal desired. Flaminius entered the pass.
Seeing the Carthaginian army on the hill of Tuoro he advanced to
give battle, not noticing the Baliares and light troops posted
round the mountains, and unconscious of the fact that the Numidian
cavalry had blocked his retreat by holding the pass when the last
detachment of his army had come through. To add to his discomfiture
a mist rose up from the lake and enveloped the lowlands, while the
hills were in the sunlight above, and the enemy could watch for the
preconcerted signal of attack.

It was given, and they poured down upon the Romans from all sides,
taking them by surprise, and terrifying them by the unexpectedness
of the assault. Even so the day might not have been lost if
Flaminius had not fallen early in the engagement. After that it was
a slaughter. There was no order. Each man fought for his own life,
and when the legions attempted to escape by water, the only way
left open to them, they were either drowned, or cut to pieces by
the Carthaginian cavalry which followed them into the shallows. A
band of some six thousand did indeed force their way to the hills,
where they waited for the mist to rise, not being able to see how
the day was going. And when at last the sun pierced through to the
plain, and they could view the slaughter, they fled, taking their
standards with them, only to fall prisoners on 'the following day
when, Maharbal, who had followed them during the night with the
whole body of cavalry, pledging his honour that he would let them
depart with single garments if they would deliver up their arms,
they surrendered themselves: which promise was kept by Hannibal
with Punic fidelity, and he threw them all into chains' (Livy,
xxii. 6).

So much for the battle, but the old tragedy that was enacted on
these vine-clad plains has been forgotten. Many of the peasants
have not even heard of the name of Hannibal, nor dream that where
they gather their purple vintage to-day the earth was reddened
once by Roman blood. The broad smooth road led us between ancient
olives. White oxen yoked to clumsy wooden tumbrils rolled on and
on towards us in a mist of sunlit dust; peasants in gay kerchiefs
and skirts were working in the bearded corn which rose higher than
their heads, so that we looked at them through a veil of stalks; a
herd of black swine were nosing the yellow earth under the olives,
with a little girl-child to keep them. And when we reached the
summit of the pass above the turquoise lake we could see the road
to Arezzo in a gap of the mountains, across a sea of vines. There
was nothing to disturb the air of peace; the mediaeval towers and
castles which crowned the hills were farms; and the Sanguinetto,
whose sinister name is the one memento of that day of slaughter,
was a river of stones agape for the September rains.

  'Far other scene is Thrasymene now;
  Her lake a sheet of silver, and her plain
  Rent by no ravage save the gentle plough;
  Her aged trees rise thick as once the slain
  Lay where their roots are; but a brook hath ta'en--
  A little rill of scanty stream and bed--
  A name of blood from that day's sanguine rain;
  And Sanguinetto tells you where the dead
  Made the earth wet, and turn'd the unwilling waters red.'

                                                  CHILDE HAROLD.



ASSISI


Almost the first thing we noticed in Assisi was the Biblical
simplicity of life. This little city, rose and white, upon the
lower slopes of Subasio would be like a picture out of the Bible
if it were not so Gothic. Its steep and rough-paved streets have
grasses growing in between their stones; its grim and silent
houses, built of Subasian rock, are as unresponsive as the East;
at their barred gates stand mules and asses tethered, with
clumsy wooden saddles on their backs, or sacks of grain thrown
pannier-wise. It is not only Francis and his companions that you
might see walking in this poor and humble town, but Jesus of
Nazareth.

For Assisi still wears the thread-bare garment of her poverty,
notwithstanding the great basilica on the hillside, which is rich
out of all comparison with the poor little city of St. Francis.
Long, long ago in the thirteenth century she dedicated her life to
him, giving up her worldly vanities and espousing Lady Poverty,
'that Dame to whom none openeth pleasure's gate.' So that the story
of the splendid young men of Assisi, whose magnificent equipages
drew the eyes of Rome in the seventeenth century, comes as an echo
of another place. I think she loved him from the first, when he
was still gay Cecco of the midnight revels, Lord of Love, the boon
companion of her merry youths. She listened to his songs--the soft
Provençal songs which he had learnt from the lips of Madonna Pica,
his mother--and smiled at his caprices, pleading his youth when
others shook their heads. Later, when the world made a jest of the
penitent, and his friends scorned him, and the hand of the people
was against him, she wept for him, and gazed with wistful eyes down
to the valleys where he ministered to her outcasts, and garnered in
his soul that Peace of the Lord which passeth all understanding.
She is like the bride of whom the poet of the Israelites sang,
looking and listening for the voice of her beloved.

  'The voice of my beloved! Behold he cometh, leaping upon the
  mountains, skipping upon the hills.

  My beloved is like the roe or a young hart: behold, he standeth
  behind our wall, he looketh forth at the windows, showing himself
  through the lattice.

  My beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair
  one, and come away.

  For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone;

  The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds
  is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land;

  The fig-tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the
  tender grape give a good smell. Arise, my love, my fair one, and
  come away.'

But if there had been no Saint Francis to raise her to the
foremost rank of shrines, and sanctify her with a special crown
of holiness, Assisi would still be one of the most lovely cities
in the garden of Umbria. She has grown like a fair white flower
upon the brown slope of Monte Subasio, whose shoulder is a bulwark
between the ragged Appennines and the soft valleys of Umbria.

It is a sudden revelation, as though the landscape foreshadowed
the history of Assisi, to stand on the windy height of her Rocca,
and first to look down on the rolling Umbrian hills, clothed with
the tender green of vines and olives, which have gentle streams
meandering at their feet, and then to turn to the eastern slope of
Subasio and see the brown and barren mountains ravening away to the
horizon, like an angry sea, now towering into broken peaks, now
falling back with steep, scarred sides, red as wounds where the
ruddy limestone has been torn from them. On the one hand there is
that Peace of God which St. Francis scattered through the turbulent
thirteenth century, and which has lingered in the grass-grown
streets of his native city; and, on the other, the bloody wars and
revolutions which racked Assisi from the day that Rome first put
its yoke upon her, to the sixteenth century, when she surrendered
a second time to the Imperial city, and yielded up her keys to
Paul III. For her history is one long tale of disasters. She fell
a victim to so many conquerors--Totila, Charlemagne, Frederick
Barbarossa, and the condottieri of her enemy Perugia--Biordo
Michelotti, Braccio Fortebraccio, and Niccolò Piccinino. And
from the sack of the terrible little man, Niccolò, Assisi never
recovered: to this day there is a spacious olive-garden between the
Rocca and the town itself, on which the disheartened Assisans had
not the spirit to rebuild their ravished homes.

Assisi is full of forgotten charms. No other city in Umbria, except
proud Spoleto, can boast as many traces of her Roman greatness.
Though her amphitheatre has vanished underground, its lines are
clearly preserved by the houses which are built above it; there is
a wonderful Roman cistern below the cathedral; there are fragments
of a theatre, and a drain of excellent masonry in the Canon's
garden; and in the Piazza Vittore Emanuele is the exquisite portico
of the Temple of Minerva, which, legend says, was built by Dardanus
of Troy. Be that as it may, this temple of the Goddess of Wisdom,
which was long ago dedicated to the Mother of Christ, and on whose
steps St. Francis often stood to preach, is one of the most perfect
Roman temple-façades extant, notwithstanding the mass of mediaeval
buildings which crowd in upon it, or the foreshortening of its
pronaos, half sunk below the pavement of the piazza.

It would be difficult to find a more completely Gothic place
than Assisi. Except for the great hotels near San Francesco, the
sixteenth-century church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, and the
palaces of the Via Superba, in which the spendthrift nobles of the
seventeenth century entertained Queen Christina of Sweden, there is
hardly anything in Assisi that is not of the Gothic age. If all the
bricked-up loggias and windows of Assisi were opened out, she would
look like a city frescoed by Benozzo Gozzoli.

And she has many treasures which the hurried traveller does not
dream of. Who, for instance, ever remembers the ancient cathedral
of Santa Maria Maggiore, and the Bishop's Palace, where Saint
Francis renounced his earthly heritage; or climbs the hill to
see the cathedral of San Rufino, with its wonderful Romanesque
façade, mystic with strange carvings, and its font in which not
only Francis, but the great Emperor Frederick II., was baptized?
How many people have lingered to look at the little loggia of the
Comacine masters at the foot of one of the stair-streets of Assisi,
which seem to have been created by the imagination of Albrecht
Dürer? Or the sunken loggia of the Monte Frumentario, one of the
most ancient municipal buildings in Assisi, which still carries
on its original business and makes loans of money and seed to the
peasantry, so that they shall not be ruined in the lean years of
agriculture? How many have seen the little Chapel of the Pilgrims,
founded by the Confraternity of St. Anthony in honour of their
saint as a hospice for poor pilgrims, though it is frescoed by
Matteo de Gualdo and Mesastris of Foligno?

[Illustration: A STREET IN ASSISI.]

There are few even who have visited the minor relics of St.
Francis,--the Carcere; the cell in the garden of San Rufino in
which the Miracle of the Fiery Chariot took place; the little
parish church of San Giorgio; and the chapels scattered through the
fields of Umbria in which he worked and prayed.

It is San Francesco which most people come to see; San Francesco,
one of the most inspired Gothic buildings in Italy, made sacrosanct
with the body of Francis, illuminated with all that Tuscany could
yield of art in the far-back thirteenth century. So all those
dreams of poverty and humility which were the moving spirit of the
Early Companions have come to naught. It avails nothing that when
the hand of death lay heavy upon Francis, he yielded up even the
coarse rough robe, his last possession, and but for his hair-shirt
lay naked upon the ground, until a brother covered him with another
garment, given 'as to one who has made himself poor for the love
of God.' Nor does his humility count for anything, for though his
petition to be buried on the Collis Inferni among the criminals
and malefactors was granted, he was not given the humble grave he
sought; and it is probable that Pope Gregory, who changed the name
of the hill from that day to Collis Paradisi, only yielded to the
saint's request because there was no other spot near the city walls
suitable for the huge monument which he and Brother Elias were
preparing to build.

There is a story that the irresponsible Leo, the constant friend
and companion of Francis, whom he so lovingly called 'the little
sheep of God,' broke the porphyry vase for alms and collections
which Brother Elias placed outside the church that all might
contribute to its building. But it needed more than the simple
Leo's protest to stem the flood of innovations which the ambitious
Vicar-General was introducing into the Order. Even in his life-time
St. Francis could not hold it back. Who, knowing the pathetic story
of his home-coming from the East, and his disappointment at seeing
the sumptuous Convent of the Brothers Minor in Bologna, can think
that this splendid basilica does not weigh heavily upon the bones
of the little poor man of Assisi? But it was inevitable. He had
more to combat than the ambitions of individuals; there was the
papacy to reckon with, the luxurious and effete Court of Rome,
which saw well enough the moral of the Rule of Francis, but had no
mind to make a bride of Poverty.

'Provide neither gold nor silver nor brass in your purses, nor
scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes nor yet
staves. And, as ye go, preach, saying, the Kingdom of Heaven is at
hand.' Thus, literally, did Francis, the splendid Idealist of the
Middle Ages, whose faith in human nature was second only to his
faith in God, follow the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. Only once
in a hundred ages does such a star arise in the East to illumine
the darkness of the world and oppose the primeval laws of disaster.
We know how much he achieved, what a vista of purity and love
he opened to the thirteenth century, and how signally even this
fervent age failed to respond to the voice of the Herald of God who
preached repentance, and sang the praises of his Maker through the
sunlit fields and gardens of Italy. So that there is much pathos
in this mighty temple on the western rock of Assisi, which is the
mausoleum of all the beautiful impracticable dreams of Francis as
well as the shrine on which devotion, art and wealth have lavished
every resource to make it a worthy resting-place for the Messiah of
the Middle Ages.

It was the hour of sunset when we first climbed up the slope of
Monte Subasio, and Assisi and her great church were rose-red, as
though they glowed with inward fires. We left our vettura at the
city gates, telling the driver to take our luggage to the inn, and
we ourselves turned up the hill to San Francesco. As we approached
it through the long arcades of the lower piazza the great golden
church with its towers and gables, its buttressed sides, its
jewelled windows and gracious portico, and the noble steps which
lead up to the Chiesa Superiore, had something of the eternal
beauty of St. Mark's at Venice.

We passed through a group of the clamorous beggars who besiege the
pilgrim at the door of San Francesco, like a canker at the heart
of a perfect fruit, and plunged into the gloom of the Lower Church.
After the gold splendour of the sunset our eyes could distinguish
little except the royal tombs which line the vestibule, and the
great barrel arches which span the vault. But as we groped our way
through the vast dim nave the world of Giotto, Cimabue and the
Lorenzetti loomed on us through the shadows like a memory. The
walls of chapel and transept were held in the bondage of shadow,
but here and there some sweet familiar face looked down upon us
with its golden halo fired by the last light of day. It was very
dark. Vespers were over. One little lamp hanging in the Cappella
San Martino only emphasised the gloom, but our footsteps were
lighted by a faint glare radiating from the lowest tier of the
altar. We could not imagine whence it came, shining so low in our
path, until we drew near and beheld through the grille a lamp,
suspended below the floor above the tomb of Francis. It was as
though the luminous presence of the saint himself was guiding our
feet through the shadows.

[Illustration: ASSISI: THE LOWER CHURCH OF SAN FRANCESCO.]

I have been many times to see San Francesco since the first night I
climbed Assisi's hill, but I have never passed from the sunlight,
which the little Poor Brother loved so well, into that shadowy
vault without feeling something pulling at my heart-strings, for
there is an atmosphere of sadness in San Francesco. Below all this
splendour Francis is crushed out of thought just as his body is
crushed out of sight by his massive tomb. It is Brother Elias, not
Francis, whom we meet in these dim rich chapels; and the fabric of
the great church and convent is a monument to human frailty rather
than to individual holiness. But it is so completely lovely, so
full of memories, with its unbroken chain of faith and prayer to
link it to the thirteenth century, that I would not have one jot or
tittle of it altered. It is one of the chief gems in Italy's crown
of beauty, an inexhaustible treasure-house.

Every day, although we were living at the other end of Assisi,
our feet wandered down the hillside to San Francesco. Now it
was to hear Mass in the dim Lower Church when clouds of incense
veiled Giotto's canopy of allegories above the High Altar, and the
peasants knelt humbly round the shrine of the little Poor One, who
having nothing gained the whole world. Now to gaze upon the pitiful
relics of the saint housed in the magnificent carved presses of the
sacristy--the fragments of his death-clothes; the original register
of Honorius III.; the Blessing of St. Leo in Francis' handwriting;
and, most touching of all, the rough sandals which Saint Clare made
with her own hands for the beloved Father, when his poor weary
feet, with their sacred wounds, could no longer tread the stony
Umbrian roads. Now we would wander through the chapels spelling out
the frescoes of Martini and the lesser Tuscans, pausing awhile
before the tomb of that forgotten Queen of Cyprus, who is only
remembered for her priceless gift of ultramarine, presented in the
porphyry vase which is still to be seen in the east transept; or by
the shadowy tomb of Madonna Giacobba di Settisoli, the Roman lady
who loved Francis, and ministered to him at the last, bringing him
his shroud and the candles for his burying, and, pitiful and human
touch, the little comfits which had pleased him when he lay sick in
Rome.

Nor did we ever weary of the small cloister of San Francesco with
its faded grey of bricks and mortar, its cypresses and lichens,
and the _stemme_ of the nobles who lie below its pavement. It is a
veritable home of peace. The walls are veiled in hanging creepers;
there is a little box-hedge and a shower of sun-flecked acacias and
lilacs from which the grey trunks of giant cypresses soar like the
columns of a mighty temple. Dragon-flies flash through the warm,
pine-scented air, and in the heart of it there is a crucifix to
turn the thoughts of the brothers to holiness, lest they should
be distracted by the sight of so much beauty, as they walk in the
garden before their Mass.

[Illustration: THE LITTLE CLOISTER IN S. FRANCESCO D'ASSISI.]

And many a golden afternoon did we while away in the beautiful
Gothic Chiesa Superiore, whose walls Giotto has illumined with
the story of St. Francis. It would be hard to find two buildings
in such strong contrast as the Upper and Lower churches of San
Francesco. The Chiesa Inferiore, with its great barrel arches,
its shadows and its dim frescoes, moves the world most, for it is
full of the suggestion of beautiful unseen things; but the Upper
Church has blossomed like the flowers of the field above the tomb
of Francis. It is a miracle of light and spaciousness and colour,
with rich stained windows and soaring arches; and the white cities
of Giotto's frescoes, and the exquisite blues of his many heavens
encircle the walls like a gay ribbon below the faded reds and
yellows of Cimabue.

Here at least we cannot but feel grateful to Brother Elias,
for from the beginning the Franciscans were patrons of the art
of painting, and they were among the first to encourage the
independent school of art as distinct from the work of Byzantium.
Giunto da Pisa clothed the walls of the transept, and Cimabue and
his pupils were called in to complete the decorations of the Upper
Church. Thus it befell that, while Cimabue was painting some of his
masterpieces on the walls above, Giotto, serving his apprenticeship
and working with the other pupils of his Master's atelier,
stretched out his hand to snatch the greater laurel.

                    'Cimabue thought
  To lord it over painting's field; and now
  The cry is Giotto's, and his name eclipsed.'[17]

Many years later, when his fame was assured, Giotto came back to
paint his allegories in the place of honour over the High Altar
of the Lower Church. What did he think of it all, I wonder, this
Florentine, this lover of beautiful things, this shepherd who left
his sheep and his poverty and lighted the difficult path of art by
the torch of his genius? Did he too love the memory of Francis? Or
was it beyond his understanding that a man should dream of giving
up all the world to follow a vision of eternal life? Perhaps he
shrugged his shoulders over the whole thing, and painted on, with
little thought for the saint, but all his heart in his ambitions,
and in the beautiful church which he was helping to adorn.

Truly it is a temple of Art this Franciscan Holy of Holies, but
pilgrims who are questing for the gentle spirit of St. Francis
should come away, nor hope to find it in the other great shrine
of Assisi, Santa Chiara, the resting-place of Clare. Santa Chiara
is inside the eastern gate of Assisi, close to the ancient palace
of the Scifi in which the saint was born. It is a bare and
empty church whose frescoes, according to the sacristan, were
white-washed by a seventeenth-century bishop, because so many
strangers came to disturb the nuns! But this Goth, who is said to
have been of German extraction, left untouched some exquisite gold
pictures of virgin saints over the High Altar, nor did he deem
it worth while to destroy the frescoes which cover the walls of
the ancient parish church of San Giorgio. For which we should be
grateful, because half-hidden behind the gaudy trappings of its
altar are two expressive and beautiful pictures of the Madonna and
Saint Clare.

In this humble chapel where they keep the miraculous crucifix of
San Damiano, we seem to draw a little nearer to Francis, who must
have come here often to the old priest who gave him lessons in
his childhood. Later, when the Assisans had begun to listen to
him, he preached here until the press became so great that he was
given permission to deliver his sermons in the then unfinished
cathedral of San Rufino. Here, too, he lay in state while the
people of Assisi wept and gloried over him, just as many years
after they wept and gloried over St. Clare. It would have been a
gentle thought if these two who had prayed and laboured together in
life could have been sheltered by the same roof in death. Madonna
Giacobba, who had the privilege of coming to St. Francis in his
last illness, lies in San Francesco; but Clare, the Poor Lady of
San Damiano, who had so humbly begged that she might once break
bread with Francis, lies on the hillside far away from him.

We went down to see her tomb, the rock-hewn vault in which until
fifty years ago she lay, just as the world had left her seven
centuries before, with sprigs of wild thyme scattered by her
mourning sisters still clinging to her robe. To-day she lies in
a gilt and crystal chest, decked with flowers and jewels and
elaborate velvet cushions. Her strong and rather austere face with
its delicate aquiline nose is outlined against her snowy wimple,
and in the midst of the incongruous splendour of her resting-place
she is clad in the coarse brown robe and black veil of penitence
for which she cast aside the luxurious garments of her youth.
Candles burn at her head and at her feet, and a phantom-like nun
with a lighted taper in her hand glides from behind a veil to
draw the curtains. It was so quiet that suddenly I could hear the
ticking of my watch out of the stillness, as though time tried
to mark the moments in that silent chamber where it had been as
nothing for so long.

But how grotesque the wreath of flowers, the thin halo, the gilded
bed! Why not have left that sunken figure resting on such hard
stones as it chose for comfort in life?

It is only by going out into the highways and hedges as he did
that we can find the real Francis;--in the little convent of San
Damiano, in the Hermitage of the Carcere, that retreat on Monte
Subasio beloved of the early Franciscans, and in the holy places
scattered through the fields of Umbria in which he worked and
prayed.

[Illustration: ASSISI: S. MARIA MADDALENA AT RIVO TORTO]

A faint odour of romance clings round the ancient stones of San
Damiano, for there St. Francis laboured with his own hands to
build a habitation of apostolical simplicity which was to be the
spiritual home of Clare. This humble place, a mere chapel in
the olive-gardens below Assisi, is pregnant with memories of the
simple Francis and the saintly Clare. For it was here, as he knelt
before a crucifix in the little ruined church, that Francis, the
gay merchant-prince of Assisi, heard the voice of Jesus saying,
'Francis, seest thou not that my house is in ruins? Go and restore
it for me.' It was just what he needed, this troubled boy. Here was
an obvious work for his hands, and in the doing of it he might find
relief from the fears and doubtings that had assailed him since
he rose from his weary sick-bed and looked upon an altered world.
With no premonition of his life-work, truly the rock on which the
Catholic Church built up its power when it was in danger of being
swept away in tidal waves of lust and avarice during the stormy
Middle Ages, the ever-literal Francis bethought him of the letter
of his miraculous command.

It is such an old story that it is not worth retelling, how he sold
the bales of cloth from his father's warehouse in the market of
Foligno and brought the money to the priest of San Damiano; how the
good man refused it, being fearful of Pietro Bernardone's wrath;
how Francis flung it into the corner of a little window and would
not touch it either; how his angry father renounced him; and how
St. Francis, having yielded up his earthly goods, begged through
the streets of Assisi for the stones with which to accomplish his
work. There was no more fitting spot in all Umbria to be the home
of the Second Order than San Damiano. But I think that Clare in
her long life within its walls must have often wept, seeing the
rough stones which Francis, with his tender unaccustomed hands, had
fashioned into a house of God and a shelter for the Poor Ladies who
had renounced the world to serve his Master.

I remember well coming upon it one evening, breathless with
sirocco, when all the world was gray and silver. In the little
cloister-garden the flowers were yielding up their fragrance to
the night in perfumed sighs, and in the tiny vaulted chapel two
brothers and a priest were singing vespers with a few peasants who
had wandered in from the fields. A flight of steps led down into
the dark chapel, so little altered from the church which Francis
built. And here I rested. Every moment the shadows below the olives
crept nearer, shutting out the distance. At my feet in San Damiano
the altar lights grew brighter in the dusk, and the swinging censer
glowed like a live coal in the dark choir. So I waited, thinking of
another Clare, in England, who was lying sick unto death, but with
peace in my heart, for it was very sweet to hear Vespers in this
holy place while the curious shadows of night crept up under the
olives. Presently the chanting ceased. The priest went away, and
the peasants passed out into the soft dusk.

I went down then into the silent chapel and saw the relics of Saint
Clare; the little sacristy with ancient wooden seats, such hard
uncomfortable planks, where she and the sisters heard Mass; the
room she died in; the hollow in the wall through which she received
her spiritual food; her yard of garden overlooking the wide Umbrian
plain and Rivo Torto. How often as she stood here upon the convent
roof must she have thought of the Seraphic Father toiling down in
the valley, for I doubt not she loved him, even as Madonna Pica,
his mother, and Giacobba di Settisoli loved him, and hungered over
him, and grieved for his poor weary feet, and exulted in the
purity of his soul.

What memories of Francis and Clare, the true type of the brother
and sister in Christ, are here! Francis indeed came seldom to
the convent after the Poor Ladies were installed, for as he was
not ordained, he had not the right to hear their confessions or
administer the Holy Sacrament. But we know that he often sent to
ask advice of the saintly abbess; and he stayed here before his
journey to Rieti, when he was worn-out and sick, and almost blind,
and took much comfort in her sympathy. Here, too, his body was
brought, so that the sisters might look their last upon it before
it was borne in triumph to Assisi. But Clare, whose cry of grief
still has the power to stir our hearts to pain, lived on through
bitter years to see the ideals of the little lover of Poverty
shattered by Brother Elias and the Papacy before she followed him
up the hill to rest.

The way up to the Carcere is steep and long. The path is a mere
track of broken stones which radiates heat, and there is no shade
to mitigate the pitiless August glare. And yet I would not have
forgone that toil up the side of Subasio, if only for the pleasures
of the way. Assisi lay behind us like a city of the Middle Ages,
with Gothic towers and palaces grouped in échelon below her
fantastic castle. On our right the hillside, veiled in the tender
grey of olives, sloped away to the Valley of Spoleto, which was a
vision of pure beauty, with mists clinging about the banks of its
streams, and its many little cities, Spello, Foligno, Bevagna,
tall Trevi and Spoleto, rising from the green folds of encircling
hills. Above Subasio was barren except for some scanty oaks, but
the bushes by the roadside were heavy with fruit, blackberries,
and shiny red and yellow hips and crimson haws. Out of the parched
stony earth grew clumps of broom, long-stemmed and slender, with
a crest of golden blossoms like a flight of butterflies; and
scabious, white and purple, rosettes for a fairy's shoe; and
little Morning Glories smiling at the sky; and sugamele, and that
wonderful blue thistle, which looks as though it had been soaked,
leaves and all, in the rare dye of mountain mists at dawn.

[Illustration: ASSISI: THE CARCERE.]

We did not see the Carcere until we were actually upon it. It is
completely hidden in a ravine of ilexes, in a fold, as it were, of
the brown skirts of Subasio. Small wonder that the Poverello loved
this place; it is so humble, so silent, so restful. Often and often
while he toiled down in the valley, ministering to the lepers of
Rivo Torto, or preaching to the hard of heart, himself beset with
doubts and fears, he must have lifted his eyes unto the hills, and
longed for the Peace of God, which he knew dwelt in this solitude.
Far away on the spur of the mountain is Assisi, where he laboured
to bring love; and further away still, beyond the peaceful vales
of Umbria, are great cities in which men worked, and hated, and
struggled, ay, and loved unceasingly. But here in this leafy ilex
grove, in these tiny cells and chapels, there is a little world of
dreams and tender memories.

It is so small that a few minutes suffice to see everything--the
courtyard with its miraculous well; the narrow cell and chapel
of St. Francis, which is polished by the feet and shoulders of a
multitude of pilgrims; the hole through which the exasperated devil
vanished when he found that his temptations were of no avail; the
lonely caves of the Early Companions in the hillside. It is a
mere cluster of cells overhanging a mountain torrent; but it has a
peculiar beauty as of a place set apart, dedicate to holiness.

And there is peace in the shadowy ilex wood in which St. Francis
loved to walk, holding converse with his little sisters, the birds.
Myrtle and cyclamens grow among the grey rocks, and the sunlight
flickers across the mossy path. In the silence we could hear the
song of Brother Wind down in the glen, the humming of an insect
near at hand, and, far away, a bird calling to his mate. And all
the time the brother, who walked beside us, prated of the miracles
of the saint. I hardly listened, for like an echo down the years I
seemed to hear Francis, the troubadour of God, singing his canticle
of the sun as he toiled up the barren hillside from Assisi.

  'Laudato sia Dio mio Signore
  Cum tutte le tue creature,
  Specialmente messer lo frate sole,
  Il quale giorna et illumina nui per lui,
  Et ello è bello et radiante cum grande splendore,
  De te Signore porta significatione.'

       *       *       *       *       *

On a day of never-to-be-forgotten beauty we went down into the
fields below Assisi, and wandered in the footsteps of Francis
and his brother saints. Our way led out of the town by the old
Roman road below the ancient Porta Moiana, and there among the
olives we came upon Gothic farms, tended by beautiful Umbrian
peasants, and many a humble half-forgotten shrine, made holy in
the thirteenth century, and fallen now into disuse. There are many
such places round Assisi, within whose walls Mass is only said once
a year, leaving them for the rest of the days to be store-houses
or granaries or sheds in which to keep the wooden plough of the
country-side.

Everywhere were snow-white butterflies dancing in pairs before
us as we passed, or swinging on the slender flowers that starred
the hedges. White doves bowed and sidled in the golden wheat, and
wayside shrines rose from a tangle of flowers where the cross
roads met. And here, as though it was a custom oft repeated, the
milk-white oxen, which once were deemed a fitting sacrifice for
Roman gods, paused in their rolling gait while their masters laid
down their whips, and doffed their hats and knelt a moment in the
dust before the symbol of the suffering Christ.

It was a world of great simplicity and faith in which we walked.
For here in Umbria, down in these fields where Francis' 'Camp of
the Lord' set up their wattle huts, faith is a real and potent
thing. They do not doubt, these people, these rugged-faced men,
these Madonna-like women--they never will doubt. To them the
mysteries of the Incarnation and Ascension are accepted facts. In
simplicity and faith they rise up in the morning and lie down again
at night, never fearing that their prayers at dawn and evening,
their hastily uttered petitions at a roadside cross, have not
winged their way straight to heaven. I too would fain believe it
when I am walking in their olive-groves and vineyards, for it is a
lovely thing, as dreams are lovely, and young ambitions and young
hope. And it is here perhaps that the secret of the intangible
beauty of Assisi may be found--because it is a shrine; no matter
of St. Francis, or of Jesus of Nazareth, or of the older gods. Out
of the wreck of time the flame of worship and faith has been kept
burning; the stones upon this altar have never darkened and grown
cold.

It was the season of the husking of the maize, and a happy harvest
air hung over everything. Each farm had its pile of fragrant white
husks outside its door ready to replenish the mattresses of the
household, and the corn was spread out on the threshing-floors like
a golden carpet. Sometimes we saw the family gathered there to
shell the cobs, and sometimes we came upon them sitting below their
olive-trees, separating the yellow corn from its white sheaths, and
heaping them up on either side the gold and silver largesse of the
Great Mother.

It was in the midst of all this pastoral loveliness that we came to
Rivo Torto, which is so bare and ugly and un-Franciscan in feeling.
Poor and humble, but far richer in the spirit of St. Francis than
the great church of Rivo Torto, are the two chapels of Santa Maria
Maddalena and San Rufino d'Arce, which may mark the approximate
site of the hut in which the saint dwelt while he was ministering
to the lepers. We found Santa Maria Maddalena in a field of hemp,
whose tall slender stalks and green tassels veiled the ancient apse
and narrow lancet windows. Golden pumpkins were piled shoulder-high
outside its wall, drying in the sun; and the interior, when at last
it was unlocked, proved to be a potato store. Even more dilapidated
is San Rufino d'Arce, which stands further from the road near
the threshing-floor of a neighbouring farm. Nor could the lovely
peasant woman, who brought its key and walked like a queen barefoot
among her golden corn-cobs, tell us anything of its miraculous well
in which, tradition says, a young boy saint was drowned.

[Illustration: ASSISI: THE PORZIUNCULA.]

But now, as we drew near it, along the dusty white road which links
Perugia to Rome, the dome of Santa Maria degli Angeli towered above
the plain. This is the holiest place in Umbria, the Little Portion,
beloved of St. Francis and his brethren, in which they lived and
worked, and from which they issued forth to preach the gospel of
love and repentance to the world. It is sanctified by miracles
and the frequent presence of the saint, and is pregnant with the
romance of the Franciscan order, which the writer of the _Fioretti_
has set forth so admirably. But overmuch devotion has robbed it of
simplicity and nullified many of its gentler associations. It is a
pathetic sight to see the little church, consecrated by centuries
of prayer, in the centre of the sixteenth-century Leviathan. It
looks like an imprisoned thing, a dim unspoken reproach. I wish
they could have left it in its fields, where the wild sweet wind
would have sung praises through door and window, and the ardent
sun have shamed the candles on the altar. But just as the papacy
swept away Francis himself, so this great church has swallowed up
the Little Portion which was all-sufficing for so many saints.
A gentle, white-haired friar took us round the church. 'Here by
this pier,' he said, 'Francis dined with Clare. And this is where
he died. You know he wished to die here. He loved the Porziuncula
better than any other place in the world.'

And then we saw the thornless roses of St. Francis, and his cell,
and the garden where he bade the brothers put cabbages into the
earth upside down to test their obedience, and the fig-tree which
the brothers lately planted at the request of two Englishwomen,
to take the place of the tree wherein the cicala praised God
continuously with Francis until the saint begged him to rest
because he had edified him enough.

He was a simple, dear old man, our guide, who told his stories
smilingly and yet with reverence and faith, very different from the
unkempt and cynical monk at Rivo Torto. And when he had finished he
took us into the sacristy and gave us a little book he had written
about Saint Mary of the Angels, and a rose sprig from the bush
which lost its thorns when St. Francis threw himself into it. And
so we parted, he to his prayers, we to climb up through the fields
to Assisi.



GUBBIO


I shall always think of Gubbio as I saw her first, in the magic
sunset of a cold grey day, on which summer had been hidden by the
jealous clouds, and the wind blew bleakly from the Appennines.
September had come in the night before with storm and wind. When we
left Assisi the sky was clear and rain-swept, blue as the heavens
of Giotto's frescoes in the Upper Church of San Francesco, and
there was a glint of sunshine lighting her Gothic towers between
the racing cumuli. But all day the mountains of Nocera and Gualdo
'mourned for their heavy yoke,' hiding their crests in wind-blown
veils of cloud; and the rocky stream-beds at their feet, which had
lain mute and parched since the last rains of spring, gave voice in
swirling torrents.

So we came to the heart of the Appennines, to the broad Valley of
the Chiaggio, which is so rich with maize and vineyards. Here in
the north three mountains lift their great heads to the sky, and
in the hollow where their three slopes meet lies Gubbio, a fairy
citadel such as poets dream of. Indeed, Gubbio might well be the
home of dreams, for I can think of no place where their gossamer
threads could be so lightly spun as in the long, fantastic arcade
of the Mercato Vecchio, in the shadow of her Gothic palaces.

As we drew near, the sun slipped from below her mantle of cloud,
and in a seeming passion of desire bathed the whole world in flame.
Seen by the ruddy torch of this wild sunset Gubbio was all rose, a
city of fair dreams, unforgettably lovely. Her towers, palaces and
loggias were illuminated, and the bare slopes of Monte Calvo were
flooded with roseate light save where the folds of the hill made
cobalt shadows. Even the peasants walking in the Piazza del Mercato
were caught in the same radiance, which made a glory round the
humblest implements of toil. It was so fair a sight that I stood
as one enchanted and feared to take my eyes away from it, lest it
should vanish like the fairy cities of our childhood, and I should
find myself once more upon the bleak hillside of life.

O little town, with the name whose quaintness has made it familiar,
do you still sleep at the foot of your mountains under the shadow
of your holy houses? Can it be that I have dreamt of you, seeing
some picture of a mediaeval city in a psalter? Or does your
lamp-lighter still light your ancient swing-lamps in the dusk, with
old-world grace and disregard of time, setting out on his slow
rounds long before the sunset glow has faded from your brow? I must
come back to see if it is true; if your barren hills have really
blossomed into shrines and monasteries; if you have still the
wistful charm that I remember; if you will greet me after the long
journey with that same rosy blush at eve!

[Illustration: GUBBIO: THE LAMPLIGHTER.]

And yet, I do not know why I should question, for I have many
gentle memories of Gubbio--of steep, quiet streets whose ends are
closed by solemn mountains; of Gothic palaces and loggias; of
ancient churches full of faded pictures; of saints and Madonnas
brooding over city gates; of peasants streaming into Mass of a
morning; of women in black mantillas or the graceful fringed shawls
of Venice and the March. Nor have I forgotten the hospitality that
she extended to us. Gubbio was always famous for her hospitality.
There is a story that in the olden days the nobles of Gubbio fought
so fiercely for the right of entertaining visitors to their town
that to avoid the really serious conflicts which resulted from this
rivalry a pillar was erected in the Mercato with rings attached to
it, 'each belonging to some separate aristocratic house, and to
whosesoever ring a traveller chanced to fasten his horse, to him
belonged the right of entertainment.'[18]

Though our inn was humble, even rough, we were lodged in the
ancient convent of San Marco, and we took our meals in a vine
arbour full of hanging grapes, where the sunlight piercing the
leafy roof flecked the snowy table-cloth with silver, and made the
floor an arabesque of dappled light and shade. A few yards away
among the vines the Carmignano foamed along its rocky bed. And here
we were content with simple fare, but of the best--macaroni spread
with pomidoro, _misto fritto_, golden eggs, fruit and honey, washed
down with amber-coloured _vino del paese_.

Whatever may be the facts about the grandson of Noah, to whom local
tradition loves to assign the foundation of Gubbio, there can be
no doubt that she is of Umbrian antiquity. Unlike most of the
so-called Umbrian cities Gubbio has ample proof of her importance
as a city of the older race, which was displaced by the Etruscans;
for besides the number of prehistoric utensils discovered in the
caves of her mountains, and a short course of Cyclopean wall on
Monte Calvo, which point to a remote civilisation, there are
certain pieces of money in existence bearing the Umbrian name
Ikuvini; and, most conclusive evidence of all, there are the
world-famous Eugubian Tables.

These tables of bronze, which have been of such inestimable
value to the student of ancient languages, are Gubbio's greatest
treasure. They are housed in her Palazzo Pubblico, in her little
shrunken museum, which has so few precious things left to-day,
except a solitary tazza by the immortal Maestro Giorgio. It would
be useless for me to write of them at length, for it is impossible
to treat of them scientifically in a short chapter, and only those
who come to see them can gauge the romance and mystery which hang
about them. There are seven tables in all, four written in Etruscan
characters, two in Latin, and one partly in Etruscan and partly
in Latin characters. Yet the language that they have immortalised
is neither Latin nor Etruscan, but the tongue of that mysterious
people, the Umbrians, who have left us so few traces of their
civilisation, whose origin is lost in the misty ages.

Since the discovery of these tables in 1444 students and scholars
have sought to read their riddle, and it is by the fruit of their
labours that we know what an interesting clue they afford to the
character of Gubbio. For these fine letters traced by the scribes
of long ago are sacerdotal inscriptions, dealing with the religious
rites of the Attidian brethren, who paid homage to a strange
pantheon of gods--Umbrian, Roman and Greek--and whose headquarters,
according to many students, were in the temple of Jupiter
Appenninus, eight miles away, at Scheggia, on the old Flaminian
way. M. Bréal, however, does not hold this theory, claiming that
Jupiter Appenninus is not mentioned in the text; and urging
the plea that as the tablets were discovered in a subterranean
vault, near the ancient theatre of Iguvium, the college of the
confraternity was likely to be found within the city itself.

It would be difficult to say, for necessarily the reading of the
tablets is but vague; the only point we can be certain of is
that this ghostly echo of a vanished city is one of prayer and
invocation, occupied with sacrifices and propitiations rather
than with laws or ceremonies, as the inscriptions of Rome and
Etruria have been. And this is typical of the city, for the real
characteristic of Gubbio to-day is her gentle air of sanctity, just
as the most vivid memories of her Middle Ages are concerned with
saints and bishops. For the bishops of Gubbio, the saintly Ubaldo,
whose name the people of Gubbio venerate in the yearly festival
of the Ceri on the 15th of May, the blessed Teobaldo who succeeded
him, and Villano, that man 'of pure and saintly life who was,
besides, the friend of St. Francis of Assisi,' are only a few of
the many holy men who steered her helm through the stormy waves of
Time.

[Illustration: GUBBIO: SAN FRANCESCO.]

And here, as you remember, St. Francis came with song and
thanksgiving, although he had been but a short time before stripped
naked to the world, to see his friend Giacomello Spada, who clothed
him and sheltered him, and whose garden covered the ground where
the picturesque Gothic church of San Francesco stands to-day.
Nor is there any more familiar story told by their nurses to the
breathless children of the Latin countries than the legend of St.
Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio, which is commemorated to this day
in the little chapel of S. Francesco della Pace; built, so it is
said, on the site of the cave wherein the wolf dwelt after he had
been tamed by the brotherly love of Francis. It was to Gubbio
Francis came in the first glow of his renunciation, for we read
that he was confident of finding shelter and the bare necessaries
of clothing with his friends there, but I think there was another
reason. Perhaps as he lay on the bleak side of Subasio he thought
with longing of the gentle city of Ubaldo, cradled at the foot of
its bare mountain, which soared towards the heavens, offering, as
it were, upon an altar, the body of its saintly bishop.

Gubbio is a city of vanished splendours, a ghost of her old
glory. So that we were amazed on entering Santa Maria Nuova to
see anything so brilliant and full of vivid beauty as the Madonna
della Belvedere, which Ottaviano Nelli painted there. Like
Sant'Agostino and San Pietro, Santa Maria has her share of faded
fresco; but this Madonna in her splendid robes, in the midst of
her gracious court of angels and saints and kneeling donors, is
a vision of the glories of that Gubbio which once raised a proud
head among the principalities of the Quattrocento. Yet not even
Nelli has succeeded in colouring the past of Gubbio. For nearly
all her treasures have been stolen from her, and her tired old
walls toppling to their decay enclose more gardens and smiling
vineyards than streets and squares. If she had not been so poor and
so ready to sell herself for a few _soldi_ to the passing stranger
she might have been a museum of lovely things. As it is she has
been stripped of everything which could be carried away, from the
exquisite majolica of Maestro Giorgio (whose ruby glaze made him as
much the glory of sixteenth-century Gubbio as Oderigi was of the
city visited by Dante) to the intarsia cabinets in the Palace of
Federigo of Urbino.

How typical of Gubbio, the shrunken city, is the ruined palace
full of lovely crumbling stones, where Federigo and his beloved
wife Battista lived. It is fallen into decay; it has become a mere
barrack; a more desolate spot could not well be imagined. And yet
it is a fitting symbol of the house of Montefeltro; for Guidobaldo,
the weakling son of the great condottiere, was born here, in the
house which Federigo built so proudly in his birthplace among the
loyal people of Gubbio. And it was the scene of a great tragedy.
For here Battista died.

After her death Federigo came here less often, for we read that
he loved Battista very dearly. She had inherited the wit and
ready sympathy of her great grandmother, Battista da Montefeltro;
she was a scholar, and a woman of resource and courage, capable
of defending the duchy while Federigo was absent on his long
campaigns. And withal she loved him. It was for this reason,
knowing his disappointment because she had given him no heir
to succeed to his hard-won estate, that this great woman, the
grandmother of Vittoria Colonna, listened for her lord's sake to an
old wife's tale, and making a pilgrimage to Gubbio vowed to Saint
Ubaldo that if a son was vouchsafed to her she would be willing to
die for his sake. A curious story. But she did bear a son, here at
Gubbio, whither she had come to be under the special protection of
the saint. Federigo was away in Tuscany, gaining more laurels by
his great victory over the Volterrans. He came back to her as soon
as he could, riding swiftly through the Appennines with his honours
fresh upon him. And here is the strangest part of the story. For
when he was but a few hours away Battista, who had been progressing
so well, fell ill, and died soon after his arrival, thus expiating
her vow. Federigo's heartbroken letters to the Senate of Siena and
the Pope testify his grief. Nor did her love and sacrifice avail
him anything, for Guidobaldo was the last of his race to sit upon
the throne of Urbino.

[Illustration: GUBBIO: PIAZZA VITTORIO EMANUELE.]

But neither Time, nor the wanton hand of strangers, can rob Gubbio
of her beauty. She is a dream-city within whose walls we grew
forgetful of the world. It is not the imperishable grandeur of
her mountains or her monuments which constitute her special charm
so much as her Gothic grace and her gentle blending of art and
nature. See what a fraction of old Iguvium is left--a theatre,
with its memories of vanished pomps and vanities, and some broken
tombs standing in the corn-fields, with twisted vines veiling their
ragged cores, and brambles tossing wide arms over their crests. And
yet I carry with me the memory of a golden hour in that ancient
Umbro-Roman theatre of Iguvium, not so much for its importance as
a monument as for its beauty; although the vandalism of the last
century, which allowed the people of Gubbio to strip it of its
marble columns, has left it many interesting fragments, such as a
perfect doorway with its jambs complete, and the unspoilt sloping
pavement of the wings by which the actors entered the stage. For
we approached it through a vineyard below the city walls: its
auditorium was a deep semi-circle of grassy steps, broidered with
little flowers, and in its proscenium the apples dropped from
neighbouring orchards.

We stepped through the vineyard gate on to the raised platform of
the stage, denuded of everything except some stumps of masonry and
some few feet of pavement. Three blocks of marble served as rough
steps from the proscenium to the orchestra, and here a lizard
sunned himself, and a happy golden butterfly fluttered, as though
these old worn stones were their familiar playground. As we climbed
up the seats where once the Romans sat, and perhaps the Umbri, for
the theatre was repaired in the lifetime of Augustus, the scent
of crushed thyme filled the air. It was very quiet. There were
not even cicalas, only the distant bells of Gubbio calling her
people to prayer. We sat on the highest circle of the mossy steps,
and looked across the vineyards to the little city, asleep in the
golden noon below her arid hills.

The poet was deep in _opus reticulatum_ and cornices and friezes,
but I could only love the silence and the scented air, the little
flowers which starred the ground, the grasses pencilled lightly
against the sky on the chain of arches, the lizards sunning
themselves on broken marbles, the butterflies dancing above them.
And when I raised my eyes Gubbio lay before me with olive-gardens
enclosed in her broken walls, and her old grey houses piled one
above the other round her lovely Gothic Palazzo dei Consoli, which
soars above the lesser roofs, arcaded and battlemented, a crown
of beauty on the hillside. Behind rose her three mountains, Monte
Calvo, Monte Ingino, and Monte S. Girolamo, barren of everything
but lonely cypresses pointing the way to monasteries on high.

[Illustration: GUBBIO: THE MEDIAEVAL AQUEDUCT.]

Gubbio has the indefinably wistful charm of a city built in the
shadow of great mountains, for though she has conquered the three
giants which hem her in, and left her monasteries as out-posts
on their slopes, and solemn crucifixes as her ensign on their
brows, she has not tamed their wildness. It needs only a few steps
through the picturesque old Porta Metauro to prove this, for out
in that rugged pass which leads to Scheggia, and the Old Flaminian
Road, and Cagli, and Urbino we were hemmed in between the hungry
mountains, whose sides are scarred by torrents, curiously seamed,
and richly coloured.

Along this road the Dukes of Urbino rode in splendid state. How
little it is altered from their day! Here you are face to face
with Nature, who changes slowly. The strata on the frowning cliffs
are a little worn; the road is a little better, though it is a
poor _strada_ even now for motors; perhaps there was no wall then
between the road and the deep gully where the green Carmignano
stirs up its sandy bed. But the peasants rode up the hilly pass
then as now with their women riding astride and a-pillion on
mules or donkeys, and the traveller in that day would hear as we
did the forlorn music of their bells still floating back, long
after they were out of sight. On the hillside above was one of
Gubbio's wonders--the mediaeval aqueduct which creeps perilously
round the shoulder of Monte Calvo, and dips down the hillside to
the Bottaccione, which I can best describe by saying that it is a
thick wall which joins Monte Calvo to Monte Ingino, and dams the
Carmignano, making a reservoir from which water can flow at will
into the town for use in mills and fountains. If the Eugubian
Tablets testify to the importance of ancient Iguvium, these vast
engineering feats testify to her mediaeval greatness. For though
they are not as imposing as Roman Monuments, and are built of small
poor stones, they are a splendid testimony of the energy of this
little hill-girt city in the twelfth and fourteenth[19] centuries,
when most principalities were too occupied in petty wars to think
of such stupendous work.

[Illustration: GUBBIO: VIA CARMIGNANO.]

It would be unfair to Gubbio to take leave of her without saying
one word about the Via Carmignano, which is not only one of the
most picturesque streets to be seen anywhere in Italy, but which
represents a sphere of life in which Gubbio was extremely active
from the twelfth century to comparatively recent years--her woollen
industry. It is rather astonishing that Gubbio, who had so many
trades and arts, should be so poor to-day. Her school of painting
which was mainly of the miniature type--for Ottaviano Nelli was as
much a miniature-painter as the mysterious Oderisi, whose name,
like Francesca da Rimini's, has been handed down to posterity by
Dante--was famous throughout Italy.

I have already spoken of her renown as the home of Master George,
the great majolica-maker; she sheltered a school of mosaic-workers
from early times; and her wood-carvers, who have left splendid work
in her old Church of San Pietro, were reckoned so important that a
certain Niccolò was commissioned to carve the great doors of San
Francesco at Assisi. But it was by her wool industry that Gubbio
built up her wealth; and it was to turn their wool mills that the
Eugubians built the Bottaccione out in the pass between Scheggia
and Gubbio, and diverted the course of the Carmignano, which till
the twelfth century had been a moat round the city walls.

To-day this little mountain torrent still runs through the heart
of Gubbio, but the mills are silent. For the woollen trade, which
was so prosperous in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries that the
nobles passed a law forbidding any of their class to enter its
ranks under penalty of forfeiting his title, has been slowly killed
by the suppression of the monasteries, which has robbed it of its
staple support, the making of habits for religious houses.

The Via Carmignano is a little Venice which loses itself in a
mountain torrent as it approaches the Porta Metauro. Behind the
arcaded loggia del Mercato, where it runs at the foot of the
cypress garden of San Giovanni Battista, a picturesque and ancient
church on the site of the early cathedral, the ravine is spanned by
as many bridges as a Venetian waterway, mediaeval erections of the
maddest shapes, full of fantastic angles, which sometimes only lead
to the barred doors of some Merchant of Gubbio's private house.
Here are Gothic palaces with gardens pouring over their walls,
and coats of arms by their doors like the house near the Via dei
Consoli, which has the Lamb of the Templars over its portal. But
as the road creeps up towards the Porta Metauro they are replaced
by thirteenth-century houses, mere cottages of rough grey stone
such as you might find in any mountain village--only these were
built in the time of St. Francis. Between the street and the deep
river gully is a breast-high parapet with wide-eaved shrines whose
hanging lamps are always lit at night; and beyond and above are the
everlasting hills, towering overhead, blocking every vista with
their rocks and gullies and stony water-courses, lifting their
tawny heads up to the soft sky and crowned with giant crucifixes,
as though they shouted in triumph to an unheeding world the old
war-cry of the Lord, '_In hoc signo vinces!_'



ANCONA


We caught our first glimpse of the shimmering Adriatic across
a richly-farmed plain full of the fruit-trees which Horace and
Juvenal extolled; and soon afterwards we saw the Eastern Gate of
Italy, beautiful Ancona, rising like a city of white marble above
its blue, sickle-shaped bay.

The history of the origin of Ancona is unique among the cities of
the Adriatic, for she was founded by a colony of Sicilian Greeks
who came to the shores of Picenum about 380 B.C., seeking refuge
from the tyrant Dionysius. Ancona is a typical Greek site, a
natural harbour well adapted to the use of commerce, with a steep
hill overhanging the 'elbow' bay. From the earliest times she was
rich and prosperous, for besides being the only port on the eastern
coast before the growth of Venice and Ravenna she was situated in
the fertile fields of Picenum, which were noted for the excellence
of their olives and fruits, as well as for their wine and corn. She
also had a wonderful purple dye which was said to equal that of
Phoenicia, whence came the garments immortalised by Macaulay.

  'Woven in the land of sunrise
    By Syria's dark-browed daughters,
  And by the sails of Carthage brought
    Far o'er the southern waters.'

She was one of the first cities to hold out friendly hands to
Caesar after he had crossed the Rubicon on his march on Rome, and
in the life-time of Pliny she was raised to the rank of a Roman
colony. Later when the Emperors and after them the Exarchs held
their courts at Ravenna, Ancona was of even more importance than
Ravenna as the natural trading port with the Byzantine Empire.

To-day she is a large and prosperous city, with broad streets and
boulevards given over to the tyranny of electric trams. She is
like Alexandria, or Marseilles, with her busy wharf life on the
one hand and her _piazze_ with their fountains and bandstands and
their alfresco cafés under avenues of plane trees on the other. Her
restaurants are dear, and her inns bad; her inhabitants are the
most disagreeable people we met in Italy--with all the taciturnity
of the Venetians and none of their picturesqueness; but we were
able to forgive her everything for the beauty of her cathedral, and
for the first view of her wide bay with the pictured sails of her
fishing-boats poised like a flight of butterflies on its mirroring
waters.

In Ancona, while I am down in the noisy streets, my heart is
always up on the grassy hill above the Mole of Trajan, where
the Cathedral of San Ciriaco is set like a jewel on the crest
of Monte Guasco. Truly it is on their hills that you may know
the cities of Italy. For up there, far removed from the unlovely
bustle of her streets with their clanging tramways, their painted
kiosks, their matter-of-fact commercialism, we seemed to creep
unawares right into the heart of Ancona. Coming straight from the
peace and breadth and quiet of Umbria we had found her peculiarly
unattractive. We had pictured a city of romance, for Ancona has
ever been Italy's link with the Orient; the wealth of Byzantium
has been unloaded in her harbour; the merchandise of the East
has stood upon her quays. And in the first flush of our arrival,
when we stood upon the wharf and saw the brilliant wings of her
fishing-boats drifting in from the Adriatic, she seemed for a
moment to be the city of our imaginings--a fleeting fancy, not
easily recaptured on the boulevards of the modern city. But on the
hill of San Ciriaco, far above the noisy town, with the Adriatic
filling the horizon, and the soft bells of the incomparably lovely
church of the first bishop of Ancona wafting a benediction to the
fishing fleet as it sailed into the sunset, she became once more
our Port of Romance, true sister to Venice, the beautiful bride of
Italy's Eastern Waters.

There was nothing to prepare us for the exquisite vista which
unfolded itself before us on the crest of Monte Guasco as we
toiled up the steep stair-streets which scale the Cathedral hill.
The houses were old but undistinguished, the homes of the very
poor, who do not even have windows in Italy, but live behind stable
doors in _bassi_. Nor did we realise the moment at which we emerged
from them, for our eyes were blocked by the bell-tower of age
unknown which stands like a sentinel before Ancona's Cathedral.
There is no church in Christendom so enthroned. It is built between
two tideless seas on a wind-swept hill, which was once the seat of
the white temple of the laughing Goddess of Eryx--Aphrodite, who
was born of the foam.

Beside it is the old Episcopal Palace in which Aeneas Sylvius,
the last of the crusaders, waited for the false Patriarch of
Venice to set sail with him against the Turks. Poor Pius II., with
his quixotic and splendid dream of reconquering Jerusalem for
the Papacy, how often must he have stood on the bulwark of San
Ciriaco's hill watching for the galleys of the Venetian to come
into sight. And when at last they did sweep down upon Ancona he was
no longer waiting; he had embarked alone upon a longer journey; the
last and most incomprehensible of the crusades had failed!

We, too, stood upon the crest of Monte Guasco behind its bulwark of
acacia trees, on our first evening by the Adriatic, and looked down
upon the busy wharf, with the long arm of Trajan's Mole encircling
the harbour, and the white crescent of Ancona stretching round the
bay to Monte Astagno. It was nearing the hour of sunset. Across the
sunlit water we could see the great Appennines towering towards
heaven, aerial as clouds upon the horizon. There Rimini lay, on
that fair coast, and Venice and Ravenna, the homes of Poetry and
Romance. But near at hand Ancona's fleet of bright-winged boats was
spread across the bay. We stood and watched them sailing out into
the west, slowly, for there was little wind to fill their gold and
copper sails. They looked like argosies of Love journeying into a
land of sunset mists across a painted sea. Surely they must come
back to-morrow with dreams below their wings, and little lovely
treasures from the land whither they were sailing to-night! Slowly
they crossed the bar--now a crimson wing tapering to gold with a
black griffin rampant; now an orange Gonfalon bearing a lion and
anchor; now one of black and gold, now one of Venetian brown. We
watched them drifting out, and always the west grew more golden and
the distant mountains more aerial until the sea was a path of flame
from the far-off coast to Trajan's Mole, where the sunset gilded
the black hulks of the coal-ships in the harbour. Ere the last of
those fantastic birds had winged its way out to the deep waters,
the lights of Ancona had begun to twinkle in the dusk, and the
bells of San Ciriaco were stilled.

[Illustration: ANCONA: THE FISHING FLEET.]

San Ciriaco is worthy of its site. Begun a thousand years ago in
the form of the earliest Christian temples, half Byzantine, half
Romanesque, it preserves the original Greek cross of nave and
transept, and is crowned by an antique dome, one of the oldest in
Italy, which time and the salt breath of the Adriatic have painted
a wonderful green, the despair of artists. The exterior of San
Ciriaco is of almost Eastern simplicity, but sun and wind have
mellowed the dazzling white marbles of its walls to such gracious
tints that it is like a perfect fruit ripened slowly to perfection
through the centuries. Its chief glory is the Gothic portico of
rose-red Verona marble which tradition and Vasari assign to the
hand of Margheritone d'Arezzo, the sombre painter of crucifixes,
who was so jealous of Giotto that he died of spleen. Two couchant
lions at the head of a flight of steps support its outer columns,
and within it is blush-hued, with slender columns, alternate rose
and white, wrought with a delicate frieze of the heads of saints
and the grotesques of mediaeval fancy.

Nor has the interior of this noble church suffered much from the
hands of the restorer. It is a granary of rare and interesting
Byzantine fragments, and its choir is graced by ten of the marble
columns which once stood in the temple of Aphrodite.

Ancona of to-day is a garden where the beautiful flowers of an
ancient architecture are still flourishing among the energetic
weeds and herbs of everyday life. Between the two horns of her
crescent bay, Monte Astagno, crowned by the Spanish bastions of the
Fortezza, and Monte Guasco, which enthrones the lovely church of
San Ciriaco, there is a network of streets. Let us for the sake of
the metaphor suppose that these streets are paths in the garden of
Ancona; and let us walk in them, searching in the tangle of hardy
commercial upshoots for the delicate blossoms which graced the
pleasances of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. More than this,
for down in the crowded port we shall discover the ancient growths
of the Roman city in many a broken arch on whose blackened stones
a Gothic spandril has been grafted, and in the glorious Triumphal
Arch which the Imperial Plotina and her sister-in-law raised in
honour of Trajan.

Between the shrieking railway station and the Porta Pia there is
nothing to detain us; this is more or less a modern suburb which
has sprung up since the foundation of the railway; but at the
Porta Pia, which stands at the foot of Monte Astagno, we enter
the old harbour. To our left is the picturesque Lazzaretto built
by Clement XII. in 1732, now used as a sugar refinery; and in
front we see before us the curving bay of Ancona, with its grand
new quay or Banchina, of which the Anconans are so proud. The Via
Ventinove Settembre, whose name like the ubiquitous Venti Settembre
commemorates the expulsion of the Papal troops in 1860, takes us
into the heart of the modern city; but it is not in her wide Corso
Giuseppe Mazzini, or Vittorio Emanuele, or Piazza Cavour that we
shall find anything of the old Ancona. Here she is as modern as
her names betoken, although the fruit-market in a curious uphill
square and the fish-market below the picturesque sixteenth-century
fountain of the Corso Giuseppe Mazzini are as picturesque and
irrelevant as any market in Italy.

It is in the southern wing of the city that we shall find the
flowers we seek, in the steep Strada delle Scuole which runs
through the centre of the graceful arcaded Court of the Prefettura,
and the Via Aurelio Saffi, the most characteristic and romantic
street in Ancona. In the Strada delle Scuole we see the great
church of San Domenico with the colossal statue of Clement XII.
upon its steps, and San Francesco with its riotous Gothic façade
towering over the narrow street from its lofty stairs, and the
Palazzo del Comune built by Margheritone d'Arezzo, and much
restored and modernised in the seventeenth century.

But it is in the Via Aurelio Saffi that Ancona flowers best; for
in this centre of the busy wharf life, which has been given up
to the merchants and bankers of the eastern port, we find such
gracious little basilicas, enriched with carvings from Byzantine
bestiaries, and Gothic porches and façades flowering into the
Renaissance under the Oriental touch of Giorgio da Sebenico, the
last Gothic architect of Italy. Here is the Loggia dei Mercanti,
very florid and flamboyant, with its tilting knight a-horseback;
and close beside it Napoleon's home in Ancona, the Palazzo
Benincasa, with fifteenth-century Gothic-Renaissance windows; and
here, standing a little back from the rattle of the modern port
traffic, with pigeons resting on its many little arches, is Santa
Maria della Piazza, with a Pisan-romanesque façade, soft and eaten
by the years, encrusted with ancient sculptures and dusty majolica
plaques. Opposite this ancient and beautiful church a gateway with
another relief of a knight on horseback, like the splendid gilt
knight of the Loggia dei Mercanti, leads into the big docks; but
it is better to go down the Via Aurelio Saffi, though at the first
glance it seems to be given up to shipping agents and barbers. For
here, in the shadow of the old old Palazzo del Comune, which is
carried up on gigantic arches to the level of the road above, we
find the little church of Santa Maria della Misericordia, with its
curious Renaissance portal, its one Byzantine ambo, and its elegant
mosque-like interior of brick with stone cornices, pillars and
groinings only thinly disguised by plaster. A little further up is
a doorway of Roman masonry, and two ancient arches, with uncemented
blocks up to the cornice but Gothic work above. And soon afterwards
the narrow street debouches on to the wharf.

Not in all Italy is there such a quay, or such a blaze of colour!
A long line of mediaeval wall, of burnt red brick machicolated,
runs down the Mole, and in its shadow are some low trattorie
covered with Morning Glories. High above these, raised on a flight
of steps, the arch of Trajan, with its marble painted grey and
gold by rain and the years, is framed in the blue Italian sky.
Beside it the bronze and copper sails of the fishing-boats are
massed together among the black colliers, and above and behind are
the green hills of Ancona, with her red-roofed houses climbing up
their wide slopes, and Monte Guasco crowned by the white jewel of
her cathedral. It has been said that Trajan's arch is the most
beautiful and perfect Roman arch in Italy. I do not know. It is
wonderfully unspoiled and graceful, extremely simple in design,
plainer even than the arch of Titus on the brow of the Velian. But
surely there is no other Roman monument which has so rich a setting!

Though we spent a long morning down in the harbour, hemmed in by
the amphitheatre of Ancona's hills, now watching the fishermen
mending their big brown nets, now engrossed with the picturesque
wharf life--the sailors clad in bright blue linen at work among
the black hulks of the coaling ships, the oxen toiling over the
stones, their snowy flanks grey with dust and dirt, the lascars of
ocean-going steamers whose scarlet turbans lent a fresh note of
colour to the animated scene--our first and last thoughts of Ancona
were with her fishing-boats. For when we left her they fluttered
after us like butterflies out of a garden as far as Falconara, just
as they had come to meet us when we drew near her sickle bay.

To watch the boats of Ancona drift into the little harbour at
sundown, furling their sails, is to find oneself taken back to
the Age of Beautiful Things when the ideal form and colour were
as natural as sunlight and shadow. It was for this reason that we
took rooms in the Albergo Milano, which is a bad and cheerless inn,
for below our windows lay the whole fleet of graceful craft, with
up-curved bows like ancient galleys, and sails emblazoned with
devices, flaunting gay colours--old gold and purple, and Venetian
browns and reds at dawn and sunset.

Although her white temple has long since vanished from Monte
Guasco, Aphrodite, the goddess of fair and prosperous journeys,
still keeps watch over Ancona's bay. In these halcyon-days we
forgot that the vines of Umbria were already yellowing under the
autumn rains; we hardly realised that these smiling waters were of
an eastern sea.

Think of the coast of Norfolk in the cold wet days of an English
September, when the North Sea thunders along the shore as though
Poseidon shook his head in wrath! If you have stood upon the timber
pier at Lowestoft, its wooden sides green with sea-wrack, and
watched the deep-sea fishermen lurching out in heavy grey rollers
to wrest their living from an angry sea, you will find it hard
to reconcile their perilous existence with the gracious beauty of
Ancona's fishing-fleet. There life is full of the grandeur and
bitterness of toil, salt with the kiss of the sea and the tears
of the women weeping for those who never come back; here there is
song and sunshine; here you could set sail for dreamland in these
painted ships upon the mirroring Adriatic.

We were never weary of watching the boat-life from our windows.
In the still dawn the arms of the harbour were like gold bars
encircling a sapphire, and in the distance we could see the little
towns along the sea-board shining rosily from their misty hills.
Sometimes the bay was sown with boats, like azure embroidery with
butterflies, and sometimes below the windows the cargo of a felucca
with gold and bronze sails was being unloaded on the wharf. The
sailors were clad in white and blue, or stripped to the waist, with
scarlet sashes girding up their short white drawers. How Brangwyn
could have caught that vivid colour against the pearly dawn! Then
the sun rose and the fleet began to drift slowly out to sea,
trailing their bright reflections in the water.

But I loved them best when they came in at night, furling their
yellow wings or drooping their tired pinions to the west, laden
with who knows what treasures from the caves of sea-gods! Some
were blended into a soft harmony of colour, copper and red and
gold; others had strange devices painted on them, griffins and
black dragons, elephants and mermen; some were like tiger moths,
black and emblazoned. And there was one crimson sail with a white
horse, a gallant beast like the fiery steeds of an ancient frieze,
who sank to his knees when the fishers reached the quay, and then
vanished in its rich red folds.

Aeneas Sylvius must have looked upon such sails; so might the wings
of the Venetian Antonio's ships have been wrought. All the gold of
the East seemed to be pouring into the harbour as those boats came
in. We watched them tacking into port, passing one another again
and again, like the figures in a stately dance--far off at first,
then nearer, then just outside the bar, then looming large below
the windows as they trailed by to tie up at the quay--drooping
their pennons and folding their wings like dream-ships, the
fantastic heralds of the night.



LORETO


Loreto, the hill of laurels, which tradition has made the most
sacred spot in Italy, has more than a legendary antiquity. For on
its sunny slopes, overlooking the battle-field of Castelfidardo and
the still Adriatic, the mysterious Picenians, contemporaries of
the Umbrians and the Etruscans, left traces of a perished history
in graves which have yielded the highest native art of prehistoric
Italy.

They are charnelled in the museum of Ancona. But the vast cathedral
built over the Holy House of Loreto is of a solidity which stands
well for eternity. As we approached it on the sunny autumn morning
of the Feast of the Nativity of the Virgin, we thought we saw not a
church but a castle, built with the robust towers of the fifteenth
century. It is in fact a castle built to protect from the Saracens
the treasures laid by the potentates and peoples of the Middle
Ages on the threshold of the Holy House, which the hands of angels
transported in the thirteenth century first from Palestine to
Dalmatia; and then, when Dalmatia was no longer secure, to the hill
above Recanati in the March of Ancona.

One May morning in the year 1291 some peasants of Rauniza, a little
town situated on the Dalmatian coast between Tersatto and Fiume,
saw a spectacle which filled their souls with wonder as they went
out to work in their fields before dawn. On a hill, which the night
before had been bare and solitary, they beheld a strange building,
which, even to their unaccustomed eyes, was of great antiquity.
Drawing near they found that it had no foundations, although it
stood miraculously upright; and while they were wondering at the
phenomenon they saw a multitude approaching from Tersatto, from
Rauniza, and from Fiume. Summoning up courage they entered, and
discovered that it was formed of a single chamber whose ceiling was
made of wood painted blue, and illumined with small gold stars. The
rough walls were covered with plaster on which was frescoed the
story of the life of Christ, and a large open door in one of the
side walls gave access to the mysterious dwelling. To the right
was a long narrow window with an altar surmounted by a painted
crucifix, and near by a little cupboard contained some vases of
rough pottery. On the left of this they discovered a chimney
hearth, and a statue of the Holy Virgin holding the Infant Christ
in her arms.

[Illustration: LORETO.]

In that serene and far-distant dawn all the world was spell-bound
in the contemplation of the prodigy. But the explanation of the
mystery was not far off, for the venerable pastor of the church of
St. George, Bishop Alexander of Modruria, who had been lying on a
bed of sickness, came into their midst crying out that the Blessed
Virgin herself had appeared to him during the night, saying in
the sweetest voice: 'My house at Nazareth is now transferred to
these lands. This is the very altar erected by the apostle Peter:
the statue of cedar-wood is my authentic portrait carved by Luke
the evangelist. Arise from thy bed of pain! I restore you to your
health because I wish that the miracle of your cure may breed faith
in the crowd in what you may relate to them.' Upon which he rose
up full of joy and strength and ran to render thanks. The people
united their prayers night and day with the prayers of the Holy
Bishop, while the Miraculous Intelligence spread rapidly, and
carried by the winds, the clouds and the light, it crossed the seas
and mountains to fill all western Christendom with happiness and
wonder.

At that time Nicholas Frangipani, the Governor of Dalmatia, was
accompanying his sovereign the Emperor Rudolph of Hapsburg in
a military expedition. Warned by a courier of the arrival of
the Holy House he came to Tersatto, where he could not at first
believe his eyes. However, he gave permission to four wise men to
go immediately to Nazareth to examine and check the facts of this
extraordinary occurrence. The mission was accomplished with danger,
because the Saracens under the Sultan Khalil were in possession of
the Holy Land, having driven the crusaders from their stronghold in
Acre. But the evidence was altogether convincing. At Nazareth the
House of the Virgin was no more to be found; a mysterious power had
torn it from its foundations, which were still there to show that
their dimensions and materials tallied with those of the house thus
suddenly transferred to Dalmatia.

Every doubt having disappeared, the facts of the translation were
made public, and religion took advantage to reap a good harvest of
faith from the miraculous seed which had taken root on the shores
of Dalmatia.

But the rejoicing was not for long. On the 10th of December 1294
the Holy House of the Virgin disappeared as suddenly as it arrived,
and the pilgrims sought for it in vain on the little hill of
Tersatto which had become so celebrated.

One whole day the Sanctuary was upon the waters of the Adriatic.
At ten o'clock at night it appeared on the other coast, in the
neighbourhood of Recanati, where it deposited itself in a laurel
wood (lauretum), to the terror of some shepherds who were tending
their flocks, and saw the wonderful edifice approach surrounded by
a halo.

At Loreto the same thing happened as at Rauniza. In a few days the
place became celebrated. Crowds of pilgrims flocked to it, and
from dawn to sunset the echo of their prayers mingled with the song
of the woodland birds.

Here again there were revelations. The first was a recompense to
the prayers of an aged hermit. The second was found in a prophecy
of St. Francis, who had foretold the coming of the Holy House. The
third was vouchsafed to St. Nicholas of Tolentino who, filled with
the prophetic spirit, often walked towards the sea, and fixed his
gaze on the azure distance with a presentiment that from there he
would receive a precious treasure. Which he did. For it was from
the Virgin, in person, that the Holy Monk had the announcement that
her house was no longer to be found at Nazareth, or at Tersatto in
Dalmatia, but in the fresh and whispering wood of Lauretum.

Loreto the town is dependent upon Loreto the church. It is a mere
growth, which has sprung up round the miraculous shrine of the
Santa Casa, as the tents of the servants of God sprang up round
the Holy Tabernacle in the wilderness. If by another miracle the
Santa Casa, and with it the mother church and the apostolical
palace, were to change its abode again, Loreto would be nothing
but a cluster of peasant cottages with a mediaeval clock-tower and
a picturesque city gate. It consists mainly of one long street,
leading from the Porta della Città to the church, lined with humble
shops, which on feast days empty themselves into the road in
gaily decked booths of rosaries, medals, peasant jewellery, bright
kerchiefs, and all the semi-religious paraphernalia dear to the
heart of the Italian holiday-maker.

[Illustration: PEASANTS AT LORETO.]

Loreto is the Lourdes of Italy. The prevalence of cholera in
Apulia, in the autumn of 1910, caused the Government to issue an
edict forbidding the annual fair of the Feast of the Nativity of
the Virgin, which brings more than a quarter of a million peasants
from all parts of Italy; but although the festa lost much in
picturesqueness by the absence of the southern Italians, we drove
up the hillside, in the company of a host of pilgrims.

As we went all eyes were turned towards Loreto, the little
village, white as any city of the Orient, which enshrines one of
the greatest treasures of the Roman Catholic Church, the humble
cottage, built of rough stones, which half Christendom believes to
have been the home of the Holy Family on their return from Egypt,
as well as the scene of the Annunciation and the Incarnation. For
in its midst loomed the towers and bastions of the Chiesa della
Santa Casa, with its many apses spreading out on the crest of the
hill like the petals of a flower, golden-hued, and crowned by a
dome bearing aloft a gilded image of the Virgin. We approached it
through an avenue of tinselled merry-go-rounds, and rifle ranges,
and red and white striped theatre-booths,--the mushroom-growths of
all European festas; but it was not until we passed through the
city gates that the real business of the day began. Here it was
impossible to hurry. The stream of pilgrims in that narrow and
crowded thoroughfare, stopping at every stall to chaffer and bid,
flowed but slowly towards the shrine, although the great bell was
booming from the campanile like the voice of a temple, calling its
devotees to prayer.

It was a scene of indescribable noise and gaiety, but from the
picturesque point of view it was disappointing, for the peasants
of the March are not beautiful like the peasants of Umbria and
Tuscany, nor do they wear the gay kerchiefs and costumes of the
southern Italians, seeming to prefer white silk and wool kerchiefs
to the brilliant flowered _tovagliette_ of the women of the
Campagna.

When at last we did emerge from the narrow, crowded thoroughfare we
found ourselves in a wide piazza surrounded by elegant Renaissance
arcades, and saw before us the Chiesa della Santa Casa, towering
above a broad flight of steps. And straightway, although the gay
stalls with their fluttering kerchiefs and strings of rosaries and
images flowed down one side of the square, we forgot the noise and
bustle of the street; heard only the deep-toned bell calling the
world to worship on that sunny hill-top overlooking the Adriatic;
saw only the pilgrims streaming up the stairs on either side of the
statue of Pope Sixtus V., and into those exquisite bronze doors
which are among the chief glories of Loreto's treasury of art.

For here in Loreto the legend of the Holy House is told with the
simple faith of the age of Rudolph of Hapsburg, the founder of
the Austrian dynasty, and St. Nicholas of Tolentino, in whose
life-time it took place. And whether the stranger comes to Loreto
as a pilgrim or a sight-seer it is impossible for him not to be
stirred by the simple piety and devotion of the multitudes which
throng this shrine. When I remember that for five centuries the
world has journeyed here to pray and worship, to me it makes no
difference that the dimensions of the foundations of the Holy House
in Nazareth do not tally with the dimensions of the Santa Casa of
Loreto, or that none of the pilgrims to Nazareth between the fourth
and the sixteenth centuries made mention of the house of Joseph
in Palestine. It stands for so much in the history of the world.
For we have all waited on the shore of the Sea of Doubt, like St.
Nicholas upon the shore of the Adriatic, and searched the horizon
for the treasure which we dreamt lay beyond it. And though many of
us have had some message, faint and fluttering maybe, which has
nevertheless grown clearer as we strained towards it, for how few
of us has the miracle come safely through the breakers and blessed
our eyes as the Santa Casa of Loreto blessed the eyes of the
shepherds of Recanati!

In comparison with its splendid fortified apses, whose
fifteenth-century fighting galleries are still intact, and pierced
by holes for dropping hot lead on to the heads of besiegers, the
façade which Sixtus v. built for the Chiesa della Santa Casa is
unimposing. But it is graced by three bronze doors worthy of
comparison with Ghiberti's wonderful gates in the baptistery at
Florence. They are the work of the sons of Girolamo Lombardo and
his pupils; and the panels of the central door, with their story
of the Creation, the Expulsion from the Garden of Eden and the
murder of Abel, are masterpieces of the Renaissance, so godlike
are the figures of Adam, as he tills the soil, and of the slayer
Cain, fleeing from wrath to come. They are surrounded by a daring
and frankly pagan arabesque of fauns and mermen and foliage. Nor
are the side doors less beautiful, with their lives of Abraham and
Moses, and their smiling cherubs holding up medallions and lockets
in which are figures of Virgins and Saints, and miniature scenes in
delicate low relief.

While we stayed to look at those exquisite panels of the oldest
story in the world, there came two shaggy-haired men, with the dust
of long journeys on their hob-nailed boots, who doffed their hats
and knelt there on the pavement in the midst of the shifting crowd
of worshippers, praying before their Lord with unconscious grace,
as Abel prayed before the God of Israel, ere they ventured to
approach the holy shrine.

And here we paused, for this was what we had come out to see. We
had no meed of worship to offer to Madonna through that strange
Byzantine doll, loaded with jewels like an Indian totem, who smiles
so enigmatically, over her glittering lamps and tapers, at the
kneeling people. To us the story of the Santa Casa was a legend
only beautiful in the faith which can believe it. Nor were we drawn
hither to see the treasures worth the ransoms of many kings which
Popes and Emperors have lavished on the shrine, or the exquisite
frescoes of Melozzo da Forli and Luca Signorelli in its sacristies.
For greater than any of these are the humble and lowly of heart who
worship in the magnificent temples which princes and prelates have
built to their gods. They are indeed the salt of the earth, the
shining light which cannot be hid. They are like the hills and the
valleys in which they live; in their eyes are the shadows born of
century-long communion with Nature; being meek they have inherited
the earth; being pure in heart they have seen God.

[Illustration: PILGRIMS AT LORETO.]

Come in with me then to this great rich church and see these little
ones at prayer. See how they press into the Santa Casa. Are not
their simple faith, their gentle humility, the tears and sighs of
the women, the bent heads of the men, more beautiful than the rich
marble screen on which Sansovino and five other great sculptors of
the fifteenth century lavished their art to make a worthy casket
for the House of the Virgin? Its stair is worn into two deep
furrows by pilgrims journeying round it on their knees. Do you not
think that the great Mother of Pity loves this rough sculpture
best? Look how they pray before the hearth, how eagerly they place
their rosaries and medals in the little bowl which legend relates
was found in the Holy House after its miraculous journey. They do
not doubt that the hands of Madonna Mary, nay, of Christ Himself,
have touched it.

We, too, were borne by the crowd into the Santa Casa. It was quite
full of kneeling people. The altar was ablaze with candles, and
lamps were pendant all round the walls, so that we saw them as it
were through a mist of light. Here we could discern the window,
blocked up now, through which the Angel Gabriel entered the
cottage; there the little cupboard in which were found the humble
bowls, such as poor people use to-day for cooking. And on the
altar, clad in the rich robe presented by Maria Teresa and valued
at 4,000,000 lire, stood the little cedar-wood statue of the
Madonna and Child, which the Virgin is stated to have claimed as
her authentic portrait.

Mass was being celebrated at the High Altar when we came out again,
and the body of the church presented a charming patriarchal effect.
All the men were clustered in the aisles, and the women gathered
together in the nave, looking like a garden of flowers, with row
after row of serious girlish faces under fair white kerchiefs,
broken here by a group of black mantillas, there by the stray
bright _tovagliette_ of a southern contadina. The gilt and frescoed
apses were misty with incense and sunlight; and here pilgrims,
fresh from their visit to the Santa Casa, were kneeling with rapt
faces before the altars. And in the midst of all this piety and
worship, with the organ pealing music down the aisles, we found
old crones asleep, or taking snuff as they rested in confessional
boxes, and children playing hide-and-seek round them. All very
reverently, however, not forgetting that they were in the house of
their Father; nor were the dogs which had strayed in with the crowd
turned away.

Later, when most of the pilgrims were enjoying a hard-earned
siesta, or marketing in Loreto's single street, we sat in the
cool nave and watched the people trooping in like sheep coming
confidently into the fold. The great bell tolled overhead and
in they streamed, all with their newly-bought treasures--now an
umbrella, bright emerald or scarlet, wrapped clumsily in paper,
now with some baking-pans, now with a household lamp. And all of
them with some gewgaw to be blessed in the Virgin's bowl.

The basins of holy water were so lofty that many of the women could
not reach them, and some passing pilgrim would dip his fingers in
and touch their hands. Now it was a group of barefooted girls with
kerchiefed heads and sunburned faces who went up to the shrine;
now an old old man who dipped his hand into the holy water and
then knelt down in the middle of the nave, passing wet fingers
across his tired eyes, and praying there awhile before he kissed
the floor, and wearily stumbled out of those glorious bronze doors
into the sunshine again. Here a whole family knelt together round
their rugged-faced father, with their bright kerchiefs looking like
a homely flower-garden; there a man going out with his two little
sons dipped his fingers in the high bowl, and moistened the hands
of first one awe-struck child and then the other.

So it went on all day. Nor does it matter that the Casa is of
mediaeval construction; that it is not built of the grey limestone
with which all the houses of Nazareth are built, and that it does
not fit its ascribed foundations in Palestine. For the gods have
ever been secret. Did Ceres weep at Enna? Did the rosy feet of
Aphrodite ever press the sands of Paphos? Is it the blood of Adonis
which makes the stream of Carmel red?

And listen to the words of the prophet: 'The workman melteth a
graven image, and the goldsmith spreadeth it over with gold, and
casteth silver chains. He that is so impoverished that he hath no
oblation chooseth a tree that will not rot; he seeketh unto him a
cunning workman to prepare a graven image that shall not be moved.
Have ye not known? Have ye not heard? Hath it not been told you
from the beginning? Have ye not understood from the foundations of
the earth? _It is He that sitteth upon the circle of the earth_,
and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth
out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to
dwell in' (Isaiah xl. 19).



RAVENNA


Who could dream of anything but love as they drew near to Rimini
and Ravenna, those cities of romance whose names are as knit with
lovers' tales as Rome's with Caesar and Macedon's with Alexander!
They are foremost in the troubadour land of Italy, their scroll of
history is gracious with the names of knights and ladies. With the
word Rimini upon the signboard of the train our thoughts leap back
at once across the gulf of years, and in imagination we hear again
the oft-repeated plaint of pale Francesca--

  'No greater grief than to remember days
  Of joy, when mis'ry is at hand!

         *       *       *       *       *

                                  One day
  For our delight we read of Lancelot,
  How him love thrall'd. Alone we were, and no
  Suspicion near us. Ofttimes by that reading
  Our eyes were drawn together, and the hue
  Fled from our alter'd cheek. But at one point
  Alone we fell. When of that smile we read,
  The wished smile, so rapturously kiss'd
  By one so deep in love; then he, who ne'er
  From me shall separate, at once my lips
  All trembling kiss'd. The book and writer both
  Were love's purveyors. In its leaves that day
  We read no more.'[20]

Nor is it only of Francesca whose griefs were sung by Dante that
we think, but of those greater lovers of the same ill-fated
house--Sigismondo and the divine Isotta; of Galla Placidia,
the Cleopatra of Imperial Rome; of the poor child Honoria, who
chose the terrible Attila to be her knight-errant; and of the
Gothic Queens, Amalasuntha and Matasuntha, whose lives seemed
as foredoomed to tragedy as those of the beautiful women of the
Polentani. But the marshes of Ravenna, at once her stronghold
and her weakness, seemed to have bred distemper; for almost all
the stories end in sadness whether they tell of Francesca and
her lovely sister Samaritana, or of the Beatrice Dante loved and
lost and found again in visions, walking in the vast Pineta; or
of Boccaccio's Nastagio degli Onesti; or of the weeping bride of
Gaston de Foix, the flower of French chivalry, who was mown down by
the scythe of war outside Ravenna's gates.

There is a peculiar and vagrant charm about the Adriatic, different
from the exquisite beauty of the Ligurian Riviera with its rounded
bays and vine-clad hills, but worthy of a sea which washes the
golden shore of Greece as well as the most romantic coast in
Italy. The Appennines tower upon the horizon, and many mountain
rivers rush from them to the ocean, and flood the sapphire water
at their mouths with opaque gold churned from their sandy beds.
Flowers grow upon the shore only separated from the sea by a
strip of shingle,--tamarisks and sea-holly, mallows and yellow
mulleins. And all the way from Ancona to Ravenna, save where
the line runs through the famous pine-woods, are ancient cities
strung like jewels along the shore of the Adriatic, with their
river-harbours full of the gold and copper-coloured sails of
fishing-boats--Senigallia, which Pompey devastated; Fano, Fortune's
fane, linked to Rome by the Flaminian Way; Pesaro, a city of the
Sikels; Gradara up on the mountains with a perfect mediaeval castle
and a flight of towered walls; and Rimini, Caesar's first footing
after he had crossed the Rubicon. They are all more or less blatant
seaside resorts, especially Rimini, whose _plage_ rivals that of
Livorno.

[Illustration: RAVENNA: THE PINETA.]

Of them all Ravenna only is unspoiled. She is a jewelled city
where East and West, Christian and Pagan, Rome and Byzantium met
and commingled and immortalised themselves in the service of
Architecture.

Ravenna is a place in which one is instinctively happy. _Ravenna
Felix_ is the name she bears upon her ancient coins. And even
to-day, notwithstanding her years of poverty, she has an air of
subdued gaiety as though in spite of herself she must be happy.
She is like a gentle convalescent who goes softly in recovering
her strength. For, after many centuries of waiting, Ravenna, the
Imperial City who proudly offered shelter both to Roman emperors
and Gothic kings, and who was the handmaiden of Byzantium long
after the Western Empire had ceased to exist, is beginning to live
again. The spectre of fever has fled from her marshes; the people
no longer wander palely through her streets; she is in fact the
centre of a prosperous agricultural district; under the hand of
science even Classis, long regarded as a hot-bed of malaria, is
being revivified.

Just as her history is of special interest to lovers of romance,
because the fate of the city was so often held in balance by the
lovely women who were queens within her walls, so are her monuments
of special interest alike to the historian and the student of art,
as representing a period little touched upon elsewhere in Italy.
For almost all the ancient buildings still standing in Ravenna
were raised in the centuries which saw the Fall of Rome, the Gothic
Occupation of Italy, the Invasion of the Lombards, and the final
administration of the Empire through the Exarchs from the court of
Byzantium in Constantinople. Through all these vicissitudes Ravenna
was the seat of government, from the day when Honorius fled before
the barbarians to the marsh-girt city, until the coming of Pepin of
France, who invested the Papacy with Temporal Power.

Of the triple city of the Augustan era nothing remains. Where
Aeolus once filled the sails of galleys in the vast harbour that
Octavian built three miles from old Ravenna, he strays to-day like
a vagrant musician singing strange songs of the sea among the stems
of the Pineta. Classis, the ancient port, has vanished underground,
and flowers bloom above the stones of Caesarea, the suburb which
linked the seaport of Augustus to Ravenna.

It is not before the period when the weakling Honorius transferred
his court from Rome to Ravenna that we find any traces of the
city's glorious past. But here are four treasures which by
themselves are worthy of a visit to Ravenna--the little church
of Sant'Agata, rebuilt in the fifteenth century, but preserving
some of its outer wall intact, and containing twenty-four columns
of precious marbles; the chapel of San Piero Crisologo in the
Episcopal palace; the Baptistery, once the thermal chamber of some
Roman bath, still lined with rare mosaics of the fifth century; and
the tomb of Galla Placidia, the regent of the Western Empire.

[Illustration: RAVENNA: SANT'AGATA.]

The story of Galla Placidia is one long romance.

We cannot doubt that she was beautiful since she was desired of so
many men. Daughter of Theodosius and sister of Honorius she fell
into the hands of Alaric the Goth in the Sack of Rome when she was
but twenty, and was taken prisoner by him to Calabria. There she
won the love of Athaulf, the brother-in-law of the Gothic king;
and, after many delays caused by the hesitancy of Honorius, who
would not give his assent to the marriage, she became his wife at
the price of peace for Rome. Alaric was dead, and Athaulf was King
of the Goths when the nuptials were celebrated with great splendour
in Narbonne; but before many months had elapsed Fate once more
changed the course of Placidia's life. Athaulf was assassinated;
their infant child died; and the daughter of Roman Emperors found
herself at the mercy of a barbarian who, to mark his ill-gained
triumph, made her walk in chains through the streets of Barcelona.
Within a few days, however, Singarich the murderer was slain, and
the fallen Empress was restored to the Roman army, which came to
meet her at the foot of the Pyrenees under the command of the
greatest general of the time, Constantius the Illyrian. Constantius
loved Placidia. Often before her capture by the Visigoths he had
sought to win her hand and failed; but now, aided by the prayers
of the people, who regarded him as a worthy successor of Honorius,
he gained his desire, much against the will, it is said, of the
Emperor's beautiful sister.

Even so the Fates were not satisfied with their web. Constantius
died and Honorius, 'credited but a short time before by evil
report with criminal desires towards his sister, now turned from
love to hatred, and banished the unhappy woman with her children
to Byzantium.'[21] In the same year Honorius himself died; and
Placidia, supported by the armies of her nephew Theodosius II., the
Eastern Emperor, came back to Ravenna where she reigned with her
son for twenty-five years, first as his regent, and later as his
adviser.

Her tomb, in the shadow of the great church of San Vitale, built
many years later when the Western Empire had been absorbed
by the emperors of the East, is the most perfect example of
Roman-Byzantine art in Italy. It is like a rich casket of Oriental
splendour encrusted with gems. It has walls of yellow marble, and
alabaster windows, through which a golden light is shed upon the
gleaming mosaics which cover every inch of vault and arch. And
here, under a sapphire sky sown with gold stars and illumined by
the gilded beasts of the evangelists, with white-robed saints
walking under date-palms among the doves and lambs of Christian
symbolism, are the three great sarcophagi which enclosed the bones
of Galla Placidia and of her husband Constantius, and Valentinian
her son.[22]

Thus did the last great Empress of the Western Empire order her
resting-place, and when we realise that this jewelled casket has
lain open to a rapacious world for fifteen centuries, it is little
short of miraculous that it has come down to us so perfect. All
praise to Theodoric, the King of the Ostrogoths, the lover of
ancient arts, who presented in his person the great anomaly of a
Gothic king who was the protector of temples as well as the founder
of some of the most lovely churches standing in the city to-day.

The name of Theodoric the Ostrogoth is great in Ravenna.
Notwithstanding the fact that many of his buildings, notably his
palace, have almost disappeared at the hands of the Orthodox
Church, which regarded him as a heretic because he professed the
Arian Creed, Ravenna still possesses four of his monuments--San
Teodoro, now called Santo Spirito; the Arian baptistery, its
cupola still covered with sixth-century mosaics; his palace, his
sepulchre, and Sant'Apollinare Nuovo.

The stately tomb of Theodoric, round which mediaeval imagination
wove legends, as the flowers and the fruits of the earth weave
a web of beauty to-day, rises at the end of a wide turf avenue
enclosed in hedges of acacia. It stands in a rose-garden with a
background of firs and flowering yews; round its sunken pronaos
are fruit-trees laden with pomegranates and purple figs; and
wistaria and yellow roses have hidden the steps which lead to
its upper chamber. Externally, the tomb, which the unfortunate
Amalasuntha built for her father, is as unspoiled as the mausoleum
of Galla Placidia; its solid masonry of grey limestone has defied
the years; and the gaping crevice in its marvellous dome, composed
of one huge block of Istrian marble, only serves to give point to
mediaeval legends. But inside it has been devastated by his enemies
and robbed even of his sarcophagus. Mr. Symonds says, 'in spite
of many trials, it seems that human art is unable to pump out the
pond and clear the frogs and efts from the chamber where the great
Goth was laid by Amalasuntha.' But on the damp September day when
we visited the mausoleum its stones were dry, although the little
spotted frogs, which fled below the rose-trees at our approach,
were shrilling a chorus of mockery at the vanity of tombs.

Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, which has changed its name twice since
Theodoric dedicated it to the Saviour, is one of the most beautiful
churches in Christendom. Like San Teodoro, its exterior is of the
Renaissance. Beside its portico stands one of Ravenna's curious
round bell-towers, probably built in the ninth century; but inside
we found the riches of Rome and Byzantium gathered together to make
a glorious whole. For along the architrave of the nave, supported
on antique marble columns, we saw a long procession of Virgins and
Martyrs leading from the western doors to the arch of the transept,
where the Madonna and the Saviour were enthroned. Above them, and
between the windows of the clerestory, were ranged the figures of
Saints and Prophets. And above them again were scenes resembling
the early mosaics in Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, depicting
incidents from the life of Christ. From the technical point of
view these little panels indicate the highest art to be found
in Sant'Apollinare Nuovo. They are the work of Roman mosaicists
employed by Theodoric, whereas the lowest zones are by Byzantine
artists; they are full of vigour and freedom; while the others, in
spite of their magnificence, have the terrible Byzantine stiffness
which held Italian art in thrall until the coming of Cimabue and
the Pisani.

But how rich, how decorative those jewelled garments of the
honourable women, the snowy robes of the Martyrs! Just so the
artist of Byzantium may have pictured them against a golden dawn,
issuing from the proud city of Classis on the one hand, and from
the Palace of Theodoric on the other, to lay their crowns before
the Thrones of Heaven. For those Virgins are robed as daughters of
the King, and they link the Mother of God in a gold and jewelled
chain to the ancient town of Classis, without whose gates the
galleys ride, with the wind in their billowing sails. Flowers
spangle the grass at their feet, and behind them the red dates hang
heavy on the palms; while in the heavenly Court the Three Kings
offer their gifts, how eagerly! to the Virgin seated among the
angels with the Baby Christ upon her knees.

The beauties of San Vitale and Sant'Apollinare in Classis are too
well known to need description, even if it were possible to do
any sort of homage to their magnificence in so general a chapter.
They were both built by Julian the Treasurer during the reign
of Justinian, and they represent the third period of Ravenna's
greatness before the temporal power of Rome was eclipsed by that
of the Eastern Empire. In San Vitale especially, the glory of
Byzantium is reflected as in a mirror. Nowhere else in Italy is
there such a perfect illustration of the Courts of the Lord towards
the middle of the sixth century. In this great church, whose domed
central space and retreating galleries, sustained by the gracious
horse-shoe arches of the East, gave the mosque of the coming Arab
conquerors its genesis, we have walls enclosed in precious marbles,
and pierced and fretted capitals wrought by Oriental craftsmen.
And here, below the rich encrusted vault where Christ is enthroned
upon the blue orb of the heavens, in such a paradise as Dante may
have dreamt of, where white-robed Saints cull flowers as they pass,
we have thejewelled splendour of the Court of Byzantium, with the
Emperor Justinian among his priests and soldiers, and Theodora with
the ladies of her court.

[Illustration: RAVENNA: THE TOMB OF DANTE.]

       *       *       *       *       *

Side by side in the heart of Ravenna are the tomb in which the dead
Dante was laid, when the secret of his sepulture had been made
known to the Ravennesi, and the old palace of the Polentani in
which Francesca of Rimini was born. Near by is the house of that
other poet-wanderer, Byron, whose windows overlook the gallery from
which it may be that Francesca, seeing the gracious form of Paolo
Malatesta coming to woo her for his hunch-back brother, felt the
first pangs of love, as well as the sacred tomb whence 'he had so
oft, as many a verse declares, drawn inspiration.'

Notwithstanding its withered wreaths, its stuccoed dome, its air
of cheap and tawdry Campo Santo sentiment, the people of Ravenna
really do come to pay tribute to the sepulchre of the great bard
of the Risorgimento. But it is difficult to find anything of the
real Dante here. For though Ravenna was his 'ultimo Rifugio,' as
it has been the last refuge of many other great ones; and though
he finished his Divine Comedy here in the house of Guido Novello
Polenta his patron; and dreamed, poor pilgrim, when he wandered
through the exquisite beauty of the pine-woods of Classis that he
had found paradise, I think his spirit fled at its release to his
beloved Florence, 'la bellissima e famosissima figlia di Roma.'

And yet there was a special fitness in our pilgrimage to the Pineta
on September 14th, which is the anniversary of his death; for if
the spirit of this wayfarer lingered anywhere upon the eastern
shores of Italy it must have flown to the 'celestial forest' in
which, in visions, he beheld his Beatrice walk amid the white-robed
companies of heaven.

Autumn had laid her hand upon the poet's paradise. The earth
was carpeted with pine-needles, soft and rusty, and pied
with flowers,--scabious and yellow thistles, veronica and
cinquefoil, and Michaelmas daisies. Great bunches of scarlet fruits
encarnadined the undergrowth. The bramble leaves were rose and
russet; the Pilgrim-trees were hung with crimson tassels; the yews
were thick with purple berries. Evening primroses grew so tall
that they were reflected in the water among the blossoming reeds.
And everywhere the ethereal webs of cow-parsley, those loveliest
flowers of the field, were spun on slender stems as delicately
as frost upon a spider's web. Moon-flowers I call them, dust o'
the moon, and when they fade they fold their treasures up into a
knitted purse of green and gold, swaying heavy-headed in every
hedge.

The air was warm and fragrant, like the scented breath of some one
beautiful. Beneath our feet the timid lizard darted to the shadows;
the birds made music in the pines, and all around we heard the
shrill chorus of frogs and the rapturous song of the cicala.
Driftwood and fallen leaves floated slowly to the sea, on just such
a shadowed stream as that by which Dante beheld Matilda:--

  'A lady all alone, who, singing, went,
  And culling flower from flower, wherewith her way
  Was all o'er painted.'[23]

And all was still, save where a snake made a ripple that you could
hear as it swam neck-high through the water.

A paradise indeed!

On our way back across the rice-fields and flowery marshes, which
cover the fallen city of Caesarea, we passed the mouldering
column marking the spot where Gaston de Foix fell in the battle
of Ravenna. It stands on a causeway above a sluggish river, in
an esedra of cypresses which whisper melancholy to the wind. All
the world knows his lovely broken tomb, whose effigy is one of
the treasures of the Milan Museum, but in Ravenna itself there
is another tomb of just such another boy--Guidarello Guidarelli.
A warrior of Ravenna it is named, but there is no stone to mark
the place where fell this Knight of the beautiful face, 'dear at
once to Mars and to Minerva,' who followed the fortunes of Cesare
Borgia, and met his death by treachery in Imola.

[Illustration: RAVENNA: THE COLUMN OF GASTON DE FOIX.]

Signor Corrado Ricci, himself a son of Ravenna, speaks truly when
he says 'Ravenna is a city historically great and fatal, nay,
the very charnel-house of history, whither destiny sends great
achievements and lofty personages to decay and oblivion. Here the
Caesars, the Roman Empire, Roman Captains, Barbarian Kings, the
reign of the Herulians, of the Goths, of the Exarchs, all pass
away. And when its importance seems to wane, lo! Dante Aligheri is
here to complete the greatest of his poems, and to die.

'Cardinal Bessarion, the perfect flower of Humanist culture, is
brought to die in Ravenna. Francesco Maria della Rovere slays in
her streets the infamous Cardinal of Pavia, Francesco Alidosio.
Hither come the armies of Julius II., of Ferdinand of Spain, of
Louis of France, of Alfonso d'Este; and Gaston de Foix receives
his death-wound in the great battle which reimposes a term of
foreign rule. Nor can the epic of the Risorgimento develop itself
without new and memorable episodes being reserved for Ravenna. Here
Garibaldi's astonishing retreat from Rome terminates; amid endless
dangers the hero's life is preserved, but Anita, worn out by grief
and hardships, died in his arms.'



THE REPUBLIC OF SAN MARINO


To the classical scholar, San Marino must always be the real
Nephelococcygia--the cloud-cuckoo-town, which the Athenian
satirised as built by the birds up in the clouds to cut off the
Gods from all connection with mankind. That is how the Sammarinesi
live, cut off from the earth in which they are the smallest and
most trivial nation. The proudest too, for though the area of their
Republic is only twenty-four square miles, and they have their
seat of government on the crest of a perpendicular rock, with a
sheer drop of nearly a thousand feet, they have preserved unbroken
their tradition of independence through fourteen centuries. Not, it
appears, from any particular valour on the part of the Sammarinesi,
although they must often have stood ready to the call of arms, with
the greedy Malatesta so near at hand in Rimini, but because they
have been greatly favoured by the enemies of Republics. The Papacy,
which had already brought almost all the other petty States of
Italy to their knees by force or treachery, granted recognition to
the smallest of them in 1631. Napoleon listened to the pleading
of Antonio Onofri, called by the grateful citizens 'the father
of his country,' and repealed his decree for the suppression of
the Republic. And the Kings of Italy, perhaps as a reward for the
courageous shelter it offered to Garibaldi and his broken army,
not only recognise its independence, but have made it a present of
modern cannon, with which to defend itself.

San Marino was a true Nephelococcygia, on the afternoon we drove
to it from Rimini. A heavy bank of cloud veiled the ragged crest
of Monte Titano, that giant outpost of the Eastern Appennines,
towering nearly 3000 feet above sea level, to which Marinus, the
saintly stonemason of Dalmatia, fled from the persecutions of
Diocletian. It was a day of storms. The sullen indigo-coloured
mountains were lost in drifting clouds. Sometimes when the grey
pall was rent by the wind, we glimpsed the fantastic towers of
San Marino, high in the heavens on their mighty cliff; but while
we pointed to them they were gone, like the city of a magician
conjured out of mists.

From Serravalle, which is the first village of the Republic on
the road from Rimini, our way led uphill, through the vineyards
and fields of corn which are the chief source of income to the
diminutive state. Down in the plain of Rimini it had been warm and
sultry, but as the bearded clouds swept down to meet us, the air
grew cold and damp. The Philosopher had a touch of fever and was
unspeakably miserable, but nothing could damp the ardour of the
Poet, who sat upon the coach-box and strained his eyes towards the
fairy city overhead, whose turrets every now and then loomed grey
among the clouds. On the long steep climb to the Borgo, we overtook
the public diligence, which had dashed past us an hour before,
rattling recklessly down one hill to gain sufficient impetus to
carry it up the next. It was toiling along slowly enough, behind
two rolling white oxen, while its steaming horses, ridden by
grooms, brought up the rear.

And now the clouds rolled down the hillside and enveloped us,
blotting out the distant view of Rimini and its sea-board, and
crowding round us like curious ghosts. We could feel the chill
breath of the mists upon our faces, and soon even the diligence
with its laughing, chattering crowd of passengers was shut out of
sight, and we were alone upon the grey mountain side. Just then the
bells of the Borgo began to ring overhead, and their music floated
down to us out of the thick fog, indescribably poetic, like the
lights of an unknown harbour shining over the water. So we crept
up, winding round the shoulder of the mountain towards the unseen
town, which for all we knew might be one of the magic cities of our
childhood. Sometimes the cliff rose sheer above us, and at others,
the road faced a wall of cloud; and sometimes when, as it were, the
breeze made windows in the mist, we saw the ragged, sullen crests
of the Appennines lifting their heads above the drifting clouds.
Suddenly, we found ourselves in a street with low stone houses, and
in another minute we were in the Borgo.

[Illustration: SAN MARINO.]

It was all commonplace enough, not at all the city beautiful we
had imagined,--a mountain village built of grey stone, with a few
stuccoed houses, but it was very friendly and welcome after the
unfamiliar mists. We did not stay. We still had before us the
steep climb up to the Acropolis, 700 feet above the Borgo, and as
we zig-zagged up the one road that for strategetical purposes San
Marino possesses, we were overtaken by the rain, a cloud-burst,
which, umbrellas notwithstanding, drenched us to the skin.

It was as though a sluice had opened in the heavens. But our
_vetturino_, who had neither overcoat nor umbrella, was unmoved. He
deposited us, bag and baggage, at the city gate, telling us with
many shrugs, _non posso andare de più_. It rained in torrents. We
did not know which way to turn. The steep, paved street in which
we found ourselves was a miniature cascade whose stream ran over
the tops of our shoes, and flowed in eddies round our luggage. Our
condition was pitiable, until some kindly Sammarinesi helped us
and our baggage up that waterfall and into the hospitable Albergo
Titano.

Only then did we realise our good fortune in arriving before the
public diligence, which was still lost in the mists below. For the
Albergo Titano, an excellent and simple inn, where mine host in
spite of his smart English tweeds is not too proud to help in the
kitchen and hand the dishes at dinner, has limited accommodation.
When we passed the belated travellers on the stairs after we had
changed our wet clothes, we heard them expostulating indignantly
because there was only one room to share between the five of them!

We found San Marino a City of Grey Cloud as romantic as the City of
White Cloud into which the soul of the butterfly vanished in the
Japanese legend of the Holy Mountain. It was full of shadows which
materialised out of the mists, grew solid as we passed, then melted
into wraiths again and vanished. It was very quiet, a world of
ghosts, with great grey clouds ramping through everything. We could
not see more than twenty yards ahead of us, and the end of each
street seemed to float in space. No sooner had we won things from
the mists than they were devoured again.

And so we came to the Piazza del Pianello with its statue of
Liberty and its battlemented palace, which loomed up in the clouds
like a ghost of the Gothic Palazzo dei Consoli at Gubbio. From the
parapet where Herr Baedeker had told us to look for the view, we
faced a sheet of mist on which some fantastic chimney-pots were
faintly sketched.

Suddenly, by a seeming miracle, Monte Titano lifted its head out
of the clouds, and San Marino lay clear before us, a grey, tidy,
self-respecting hamlet overlooking some of the grandest mountain
scenery to be found anywhere in Italy. Down in the valley the
Marecchia wound, white as a river of bleached bones, towards the
Appennines, whose heads were wreathed in sullen clouds. In the
west the sun struggled to look once more upon the earth before it
plunged below the mountains, and the white storm-wrack behind the
ragged scarp of San Leo, where Cagliostro died, was fired by the
fan-shaped rays. If we had felt like Dante and his guide climbing
the hill of Purgatory as we toiled up the side of Monte Titano in
the blear-grey mists, we looked for a moment into his Inferno when
the curtaining clouds were rent apart.

  '... For certain on the brink
  I found me of the lamentable vale,
  The dread abyss, that joins a thund'rous sound
  Of plaints innumerable. Dark and deep,
  And thick with clouds o'erspread ...'[24]

Across the valley the fortress of San Leo stood out in black relief
against the smoking clouds, until it seemed as though eternal fires
were burning behind the eagle's nest in which the great necromancer
of the seventeenth century was confined. And beyond it rose the
crested waves of the Appennines with the torn garments of the
storm shredded upon their cruel rocks. Here and there a stray beam
slanting athwart their slopes illumined the towers of some little
far-off town. For a few minutes the valleys were bathed in golden
light, then the sun went down, and the world grew indigo with night
and storms.

San Marino itself has not much to offer to the stranger within its
gates. Its houses are commonplace: its cathedral and its Gothic
Palazzo del Governo are modern, and its palaces contain few traces
of antiquity. On the other hand the manners and customs of the
Republic have a refreshing quaintness not to be found elsewhere.
For instance in San Marino you do not buy and sell with the coinage
of the state; that is minted entirely for collectors; and in
this small community, where every one knows the business of his
neighbour better than he knows his own, the pretty telegraph girl
goes about the town like the buttons in a hotel, asking strangers
if the wire which has just been brought up from the Borgo is for
them, when she does not know the name of the recipient. Unlike the
cities of Italy, San Marino is early to bed: at half-past eight
the streets are silent and deserted. But she is an early riser.
The only public conveyance to Rimini, which also purposes to serve
the Ancona-Rome express, is timed to depart from the city gates at
4 A.M. The gaoler and the police are foreigners, _i.e._ Italians,
because, as the prison-keeper remarked, 'otherwise no one would
ever be arrested, because the Sammarinesi would all be relations
of the police.' But the army, forty strong, is recruited from the
Sammarinesi themselves. Nor should the traveller be surprised if
perchance he finds lop-eared rabbits making themselves at home
in his bedroom, as we did in the Albergo Titano, although this
peculiarity is not confined to San Marino, it being on record in
Volterra that when an artist begged the hotelkeeper to sweep below
his bed, she answered that it could not be done, much as she wished
to oblige the signore, because her hens were sitting!

But it is San Marino's incomparable views, over the wide valley of
the Marecchia to the Appennines on the one hand, and over the plain
of Rimini to the Adriatic and the hills of Dalmatia on the other,
which make the long climb worth while.

Even the Philosopher, who had rheumatism added to his other
sorrows, could not help responding to the joy of waking, and
finding himself high up in the clear blue sky overlooking a world
washed clean by the rainstorms of the night before. The great
mountains and rock-scarps which bounded the valley of the Marecchia
were flecked with shadows, and snow-white cumuli, shining in the
sunlight, were piled above the distant peaks. We climbed up to San
Marino's second tower through a half-deserted quarry where pink
cyclamens, brambles and wild flowers had woven a tangled web about
the rocks. In the west the ragged hills rolled on like waves
towards the gaunt peaks of the Appennines, and the highest of them
all had its great solemn crest hidden in a low-hanging cloud which
held it in the old embrace of sky and earth, regarded by the Greeks
and Egyptians alike as a mythological sacrament. To the east the
rock fell sheer to the vine-clad plain of Rimini, and far away we
saw the Adriatic in a silver haze.

How long we stayed up there among the flowers by that ancient tower
I do not know. There was a kind of rapture in the morning. The bees
were humming in the ivy as though they thought that it was still
summer. The cicalas sang. Close at hand the Rocca, as fantastic as
the most fantastic fortress in the whole of fairy-land, overhung
its precipice. On our left rose the third tower of the Republic
flaunting its feather to the wind.

We forgot San Marino, that gay popinjay of a city, which is so out
of keeping with its landscape, absorbed in watching the play of
light and shadow down in the wild valley of the Marecchia, where
the great cloud-barques which sailed across the wind-swept sky were
reflected on the bosom of the hills. It was a land of great and
primitive desires, with rivers rushing passionately to the sea,
and inarticulate mountains travailing to reach heaven. Nor was the
earth appeased until the gathering storm-clouds stooped down and
rested on its hills, as the Ark of the Lord rested upon the peak of
Ararat.

We left at dawn in the postchaise of the Republic. Night had not
yet rolled her curtains from the mountains. Eastwards the sea and
sky were veiled in tremulous mists, but when we reached the Borgo
the silver morning was lightened by a rose and saffron glory. We
found the Borgo asleep, though when we left, after waiting half
an hour for the mail and picking up a solitary passenger, the
church bells on the cliff above were ringing and all the cocks
were crowing. How gay and fresh it was! None of the grumblers of
the world were out of bed. The _cocchiere_ with the stemma of the
Republic in his hat cracked his long whip; the horses made music
with their bells, tossing their heads as they smelt the breeze;
even the querulous brake made merry over its discomfort as we swung
down the hillside.

Long after daybreak the mists lay supine in the valley and there
were shadows on the mountains, as though the languid eyes of
nature were not yet opened to the morning. But overhead the
little clouds were pink as the wings of flamingoes, and when we
reached the fields we found the vines, drunk with the magic of
the morning, dancing like Bacchanals with linked hands across
the valleys, bearing their gifts of purple grapes. Often at the
turning of the road we looked back to San Marino, standing up like
a biblical fortress with its strong watch-towers overlooking the
plain, the home of liberty, where Garibaldi found sanctuary from
his pursuers. When we reached Serravalle we saw it through a veil
of mist, thin as gossamer spun out of the dawn. Later there were
little wisps of cloud-drift hanging on the rocks below the towers.
Long ere we drove into the gates of Rimini our Nephelococcygia
vanished like a dream into its clouds again.



URBINO


We came to Urbino for the sake of Raphael, the gentle youth who
conquered Death in dying, and to see the palace built by the
greatest hero of the Rinascimento, Frederic of Montefeltro, Duke
of Urbino. We stayed long after we had made our pilgrimage to the
brown palace, where Giovanni Santi reared his motherless immortal,
long after we had walked through the decaying splendours of that
fairy castle which saw the star of Frederic's dynasty go down not
ninety years after it had arisen so brightly on the slopes of Monte
Ingino. For Urbino, though she is old and faded, though the grass
grows in her streets and flowering weeds spring from her cracked
and tottering walls, is still a city beautiful, a golden crown upon
the green hillside.

We came to the foot of her vine-clad slopes after three hours of
journeying through a world of shadowy mountains which had moonlit
gossamer resting on their peaks, and silver rivers running through
their valleys. Her towers gleamed white as polished ivory against
the vaporous sky; her many lights were like a diadem of jewels
out-brilliancing the stars. As we climbed up the hillside in
the chill night air every turn of the road revealed fresh vistas
of mountain peaks rising like crested waves out of the moonlit
vapours. And when we reached the summit of Urbino's hill, and found
ourselves below the terrific walls of Federigo's palace, we saw
above them, limned against the stars, an enchanted palace such
as Perrault might have dreamed of, with its towers and esedras
transmuted by the moonlight into jade.

Only for a moment; in the next we were rattling over the cobbles
of a wide arcaded street lit with electric lights and hung with
hundreds of little coloured globes, red and white and green, for
the festa of the Venti Settembre. It was so gay and homely after
the moonlit silence of the mountains, and the inn we found upon
that lonely hill-top was so unexpectedly good, with airy rooms and
clean red tiles and snowy bed-linen, that we loved Urbino from the
first hour we knew her. When we woke next morning to the music of
Sabbath bells and saw the towers of Federigo's palace shutting out
our horizon eastwards; and westwards, across a valley, the white
houses of Urbino climbing up through their gardens towards the
broken walls of her fortezza, we knew that she was to be one of our
cities of happy memories. Nor were we disappointed. For in Urbino
with her crisp morning air tempering the sunshine, and her vistas
of wide valleys and deep-bosomed hills rolling away towards the
magnificent crags of the Appennines, we spent some precious days
forgetful of the world, which toils and sweats in busy marts and
narrow self-made prisons, so far removed in spirit from the hills
and all the sweetness that appertains thereto.

[Illustration: THE PALACE OF THE DUKES OF URBINO.]

We had read in books that Urbino was decayed and lifeless, the true
ensample of Leopardi's tragic words:--

  'O patria mia, vedo le mura e gli archi,
  E le colonne, e i simulacri, e l'erme
  Torri degli avi nostri
  Ma la gloria non vedo.'

So we went out expecting to find her a mere ghost, pathetic in her
faded grandeur, like beautiful San Gimignano or the wind-swept home
of Perugino. It is true that grass was growing in the climbing
street which leads up the hill past the house of Giovanni Santi,
and we were to find out soon enough that the great castle of
Federigo, where Castiglione wrote his Golden Book, was falling
to decay like his palace at Gubbio. But it was easy to forget
these things on a sunny morning in September, when the Piazza
Otto Settembre was filled with a crowd of stalwart men, in their
national costume of wide velvet breeches and black wide-awake
hats, and lovely dark-eyed women, kerchief'd or wearing the
fringed mantillas of Eastern Italy,--the descendants of the brave
mountaineers who made the arms of Duke Frederic respected even by
the redoubtable Francesco Sforza.

As it was Sunday, the day on which country people come into their
hill-towns all over Italy for Mass and market, there were booths of
haberdashery and flowered kerchiefs in the piazza below the ruddy
old church of San Francesco, and pottery, not of Urbino, was spread
out in the roadway of the two streets which descend so swiftly to
the valley. The fruit and poultry market was in the little piazza
full of pollard acacias behind the Franciscan church. The passive
hens of Italy, which spend so much of their lives being carried
head-downwards to and from market that they never give way to
hysteria like the fowls of other countries, were ranged below the
trees on one side of the square, and golden pears and peaches were
heaped with purple grapes in the cool shade of the other. 'And may
you have salvation!' cried the merry old dame from whom we bought
more than we could carry of her luscious wares for a few soldi.

Close by, in the very heart of the gay little city, stands the
house of Giovanni Santi, a brown fifteenth-century palace, with
broad eaves and bricked-up arches, which bends like an aged man
over the lichened pavement of the Contrada Raffaello. A white dove
was bowing on the sill of the room in which Raphael was born, and
through the opened panes of another window we could see the broad
plastered beams of the low-ceiling living room within.

Urbino cherishes the memory of Raphael. The house in which he
spent the spring of his short life is swept and garnished, empty
except for framed engravings of his pictures and some antique
chairs and high-backed stools old enough to have been there in
his father's day. The rooms are low, with panelled ceilings and
decent red-bricked floors. One of them has a Madonna and Child by
Giovanni Santi which is said to be a portrait of Magia and the baby
Raphael, and in the other is a bust of Morris Moore of London,
who gave the money, needed to buy the house, to the Società Reale
Accademia Raffaello in 1872. But to me the place was somewhat
disappointing; it lacked the spirit of the happy boy who carried
with him to the courts of Rome and Florence the breath of sunlight
and fresh mountain air. Urbino itself is just the home one would
imagine for Raphael, a city of the Renaissance, golden, full of
gardens, in which the culture and refinement engendered by the
Montefeltro Dukes still lingers. But there is nothing of Raphael
in his father's house. Perhaps because he was there so little,
for, like the lovely curly-headed children of Urbino to-day, he
probably spent most of his time out in the streets when he was
not working with his father, now waiting to see Duke Guidobaldo,
and the knights and ladies of his court riding up the hill from
their hunting and hawking, now playing with clay, as Gigi of the
golden curls and petulant mouth plays still, a little higher up the
Contrada Raffaello, with a world of great mountains lying below his
feet.

When we first saw him, Gigi was sitting on the doorstep of a house
close beside the palace of Timoteo Viti, one of Raphael's greatest
pupils, who for love of his aged mother left his studio in Rome
and came back to his native town. Gigi was three years old, with
a shock of golden hair, and grey eyes, thickly-lashed and full of
dreams. He was barefoot, very dirty and happy, modelling childish
fancies out of a morsel of wet clay, and he was so beautiful that
we stopped to speak to him. But Gigi was adamant. He frowned and
went on making unintelligible daubs with his slim brown fingers.
Later, when we passed again, his mother had dressed him in boots
and socks, his face and hands were washed, his clay was forfeit.
But when she tried to make him beg for soldi from the _forestieri_,
he wept and hid his face against the wall. Poor little Gigi! We
often tried to make acquaintance with him, but he would have none
of us. Nor did he play with the other children, who seemed to laugh
at him.

But one evening when the sun was sinking low behind the Appennines,
filling the valleys with a sea of rosy mists, from which the
fantastic rocks of San Marino and San Leo emerged far away to the
right, and the great head of Monte Catria, Dante's asylum, to the
left, Gigi crept from his hiding-place behind a bramble bush and
came to stand beside the Philosopher. It was the 20th of September,
the anniversary of United Italy, and all the other children had
long ago fled laughing to the piazza where the police band was
to celebrate the festive occasion with music. But Gigi, with his
golden head thrust forward and his little arms behind his back,
stood rapt in wonder before the glory of the sun. We watched them
stand together, those two, both worshippers in their unconscious
pose, both dreamers, till Gigi, proud and silent Gigi, who would
neither smile nor beg, stretched out his hand and took the
Philosopher's in silent sympathy. So they stood linked together,
man and child, inarticulate before the glory of earth and sky,
until night began to hang her purple veils along the valleys and
Venus was shining softly in the West.

'Among other laudable actions Federigo erected on the rugged
heights of Urbino a residence, by many regarded as the most
beautiful in all Italy, and so amply did he provide it with every
convenience that it appeared rather a palatial city than a palace.'

So spake that courtly gentleman Baldassare Castiglione, friend of
Raphael, honoured guest in Guidobaldo's brilliant assembly, and
ambassador from Urbino to the English Court in 1503, when Henry
VII. of England invested the Duke with the Order of the Garter as
his father Frederic, the most distinguished soldier of his day, had
been invested by Edward IV. And seen by moonlight, as we climbed
Urbino's hill, it was a fairy palace, with towers and loggias
soaring up to the stars above dark ilex groves, once gardens where
the lovely ladies of Elisabetta's court dallied with love.

[Illustration: URBINO: SAN FRANCESCO.]

But if you wish to carry with you unimpaired this vision of
ethereal loveliness it is wiser to let your imagination, and the
flowery epithets of Castiglione, Sanzio, Baldi and Vasari, fill up
the blanks, nor seek to find inspiration in the deserted halls of
Federigo. Come rather, across the cleft in Urbino's hill, and climb
towards the height of the Fortezza. There you will see a panorama
of great hills unfold itself, Monte Catria and lovely Monte del
Cavallo, Monte Nerone and Carpegna, the cradle of the Montefeltrian
race. At your feet across the brown roofs of the Città Inferiore
you will see the mighty walls and bastions of Urbino encircling
Federigo's palace, with the dome-crowned bulk of the Cathedral on
the one hand and a gracious ilex-wood upon the other; and in the
midst, enshrined as it were in the panoply of war, a pleasure-house
for princes, white and gold, with airy loggias opening out towards
the mountains, and hanging gardens and slim tourelles, like a
mediaeval castle of the Troubadour land. For the spirit of the
Renaissance was in Urbino when Frederic and his Dalmatian architect
Laurana built this palace. Though Italy was still racked by civil
wars, though she was yet to tremble before the foreign armies,
which poured through her defenceless passes from the day that
Charles VIII'S. mad escapade showed that the way was open, to the
invasion of Napoleon in 1796, Federigo the man of war and letters
chose to build a pleasure palace for himself and his descendants
upon Urbino's hill.

No one else but Federigo would have dared. The Sforza trembled in
the fortress they had wrested from the Visconti in the heart of
Milan; many years later the Medici had need of a covered passage
connecting the Pitti with the Palazzo Vecchio, as the Popes had,
to cover their retreat from the Vatican to Sant'Angelo; the
palace of the Dukes of Ferrara was armed at every point; even the
courtly Lords of Mantua could flee at a moment's notice from their
exquisite summer-house outside the city gates to their stronghold
in the Castello Gonzaga. But it is not likely that Federigo, the
great soldier who had led the armies of kings and Popes to victory,
and whose fame had crossed the Alps and earned him laurels in the
far-off Court of England, depended only on the strength of his
mountain home or the loyalty of the sturdy citizens of Urbino, when
he planned the first unfortified mansion which an Italian dared to
build since the Villas of the Roman Empire were destroyed by the
barbarian. He knew well enough that they could be trusted. Had he
not left his beloved Countess Battista to their care while he was
carrying on his wars in Tuscany and the Campagna, although his
life-long enemy, Sigismondo Malatesta of Rimini, was harrying his
borders and seeking to inflame his people to revolt?

There was another weapon in his armoury, stronger than precipices,
more trustworthy than the shifting humour of a crowd. He may have
learnt to use it as a boy in the brilliant Court of Mantua, where
he was taught philosophy and science and literature and oratory by
the famous Vittorino da Feltre, while he was becoming one of the
most skilful swordsmen and military tacticians of the day. No doubt
the liberality of Nicholas V., the great little man of Sarzana, and
his own intercourse with Pius II. the Humanist Pope, and Lorenzo
the Magnificent, augmented his enthusiasm. For the Renaissance
was at hand. The lamp of learning hurled by the Saracens from the
shores of the Bosphorus had thrown its beams across the Adriatic
just in time. Already Petrarch and Boccaccio had kindled the sparks
of their wit and humour at its flame. Manuel Chrysoloras, the
Byzantine, had already filled the Greek chair in the University of
Florence; Gemistos Plethon, the Platonist, had already attacked
the roots of Christianity; the famous Academy of Florence had been
founded by Cosimo de' Medici.

And nowhere did the torch of culture burn more brightly than
in Urbino, where Federigo, and after him Guidobaldo, and that
exquisite lady Elisabetta Gonzaga his wife, stored up the treasures
bought by Federigo's hard-earned and honourable wealth--rare
translations, rarer autographs, sculpture and bronze and
paintings, choicest intarsia, delicate instruments of music, all
the curious and beautiful fruits of the Renaissance. This little
hill town, almost unheard of until the Montefeltro dynasty raised
it to dignity, became a beacon among the Appennines, a city of
fair fame to which poets, philosophers, artists and musicians,
humanists, scholars, knights and ladies gathered from all the
courts of Italy.

'It was scholarship which revealed to men the wealth of their
own minds, the dignity of human thought, the value of human
speculation, the importance of human life.' Gone was the need for
barred and shuttered gates, for secret night raids, for bravoes
waiting in the narrow ill-lit streets. The doors of Federigo's
palace were thrown wide open, and while the duke sat in his great
hall for dinner all those who wished could come and go; or, if they
sought an audience of their lord, gain easy access. It is only when
we remember how, many years later, the Baglioni were to bathe the
streets of Perugia in blood, and the fair cities of Tuscany,--Siena
and Pisa and Lucca, were to sweat under the yoke of tyrants, that
we realise how much the airy grace of this premature flower of the
Renaissance stands for in the history of Italy.

All this was clear to us as we looked across the valley and saw the
towers of Federigo's palace golden in the late September sunshine.
But as we had come so far to see its long-deserted halls, we turned
back and climbed the Via Puccinotti to the piazza where Raphael,
the Adonais for whom Rome wept, is immortalised in bronze between
the House of God and the House of Urbino.

The battered crown of Italy's Iron Duke is not a whited sepulchre.
Behind its cracked walls and perishing windows are many precious
carvings, doors of rich intarsia, and gracious stucchi, not
plundered from other palaces but designed for the salons where the
Montefeltro, and after him the Delia Rovere, held his court.

But how the spirit of the place has flown! How shrunken are the
glories chronicled by Santi and the philosophers and historians who
were attracted to Urbino in the zenith of its glory! Here and there
some trace of human use conjured up the ghostly past--a marble
balustrade polished like glass by hands long since forgotten in
death; the yellow stories of fireplaces where pages and men-at-arms
once leant to warm themselves beside the cheery blaze; the worn-out
tiles before the dais of Federigo's great hall, with its windows
overlooking the piazza, where he watched his workmen building a
worthy house for his God. And sometimes we caught a glimpse of the
inner character of these sons of history, in the rich study lined
with fine intarsia and hung with tapestry where Federigo rested
from cares of state with his beloved books; or the exquisite little
chapel in which the cipher of Guidobaldo is entwined with the
delicate carvings and arabesques which cover vault and walls.

It would be a mournful place if it were not that the Renaissance,
flowering so graciously within these silent halls, has left a world
of fantasy to people them, satyrs and fauns, and little laughing
loves who make music with pipe and tabor, and dance along the
chimneys of the Sala degli Angeli above the roses and carnations,
tipped with gold, which bloom upon its panels. For almost all the
treasures, which Lucrezia Borgia wondered over when she passed
through Urbino on her way to wed the Marquis of Ferarra, were
rifled some months later by her terrible brother Cesare, who broke
into the territory by sword and treachery where she had come in
peace. And what was left when the Borgia fled and Guidobaldo
returned, and all that Guidobaldo and his successors, the della
Roveri, garnered together, were bequeathed to the Papacy by the
last Duke of Urbino, Francesco Maria II., in 1624, only one hundred
and fifty years after Sixtus IV. had placed the ducal cap upon the
head of Federigo, creating him at the same time Knight of St. Peter
and Gonfaloniere of the Holy Roman Church.



FOLIGNO


In Foligno it still rained. From my bed I could see the indigo
clouds which had pursued us with such a mighty storm-song all the
way from Urbino. Every now and then great splots of water fell from
the wide eaves on the paved street, with a pleasant sound like the
intermittent music of a fountain.

I was in no hurry to get up. We had arrived late the night before,
in such a downpour of rain that we knew nothing of Foligno except
that we had driven through a wide avenue of plane trees to the city
barrier, where the douane insisted on opening our luggage; and that
the Albergo della Posta, whose charming host, Signor Cherubino
Pinelli, had made us welcome, was one of the most comfortable
hospices in Umbria.

But we were back in Umbria, mystical Umbria, where ancient gods
walk hand in hand with saints along the banks of gently flowing
streams; where life goes slowly to the tune of bells slung round
the dewlaps of snow-white oxen, bred by the waters of Clitumnus
and praised by Virgil, Pliny and Propertius; where the soft beauty
of the hills and sky forms worthy backgrounds for a gentle
people, whose stately and unconscious grace has been immortalised
by artists of the Quattrocento--an age in which, we learn from
Matarazzo, the human form was worshipped with a touch of the old
passion which was mother to the genius of Greece.

And that was enough to take me out of bed and to the window, where
I found the wings of the storm sweeping across the bleak blue hills
towards Nocera as it fled back to the Appennines, and the sun
already shining through the rain upon the white towers of Spoleto,
while Trevi, near at hand, rose out of the plain on the top of her
conical hill.

In the road below, the men of the octroi, with their long blue
cloaks wrapped round them, waited, rapier in hand, to prod the bags
and bundles of the peasants as they entered the city gates. And
along the fair white road which links the little townships of this
Umbrian vale together--Perugia, Santa Maria degli Angeli, Assisi,
Spello, Foligno, Trevi, Spoleto--I saw a stream of people flowing
towards the Porta Romana. Some had burdens on their heads, and
others were riding pannier-wise on mules; here they walked with
free step beside their milk-white oxen, there they rode on wooden
tumbrils among their heaped-up fruits and vegetables. Far away
where the slim poplars rose up like banners upon the horizon I saw
them, mere specks upon the long white ribbon of the road. Below my
window they streamed into Foligno through the modern barrier which
has taken the place of the old Porta Romana, running the gauntlet
of the facetious or overbearing octroi-men, who prodded everything
with their long skewers in search of illicit wares.

It was a rare comedy to watch. The gay Lothario, whose cloak
thrown well over his left shoulder gave him a swashbuckling
appearance, lingered in conversation with the pretty kerchiefed
girls, though often they carried nothing in their hands at all;
and dare-devil boys fled laughing by on their bicycles, with
diminutive dinner-bags tied to the handle-bars, nor slackened speed
for the surly old octroi-man who bade them stop, and who, I wager,
suspected every one of them.

Foligno, which many people only remember as the little city low
in the background of Raphael's Madonna del Foligno, is to-day as
it has always been, one of the most important commercial towns
in Umbria. Its position down in the plain three miles from Forum
Flaminii, the junction between the great Flaminian Road from
Rome to the Adriatic, and its loop branch by Interamna, Spoleto,
Trevi and Foligno, made the Fulginium of Imperial Rome a city of
considerable importance. The proximity of Mevania and Hispellum
probably prevented its growth during the Roman Empire; but after
the destruction of Forum Flaminii by the Longobards in the eighth
century, its scattered inhabitants settled in the then flourishing
town of Foligno, which became one of the chief communes in Umbria.
Was it not in the market of Foligno that young Francesco Bernardone
came to sell his father's bales of cloth before he gave the money
to the old priest of San Damiano? And is it not the proud boast of
Foligno that in 1472 the earliest copy of the _Divina Commedia_ was
printed within her walls, a fact which her citizens claim to prove
not only her industrial but her artistic energy?

Standing at the junction of the railways from Rome and Florence to
Ancona she is of considerable commercial importance to-day, with
numerous sugar refineries and paper mills, and a large carburet
factory on the banks of the Topino. But never did a city so
small and compact hide the cloven foot of commercialism as well
as Foligno. It is true that looking down on her from Perugia or
Spoleto, she is seen, lying like a bride in the green valley, below
a veil of fine white dust or smoke from the carburet factory;
but outside the walls she is still the city Raphael painted for
Sigismondo Conti; and in her byways she is the same town which
ran with blood when the terrible Corrado Trinci paraded through
her streets with the three hundred dead who were the price of his
Vendetta.

For when Ser Pietro da Rasiglia, the Governor of Nocera, whose
wife Niccolò Trinci had dishonoured, lured Niccolò and his brother
Bartolomeo to Nocera and slew them on a hunting expedition, Corrado
killed three hundred 'souls' and brought them back heaped up on
mules to show his vengeance to the people of Foligno.

[Illustration: FOLIGNO: SAN DOMENICO.]

Foligno is full of ancient churches, some with their ruddy
mediaeval grace unspoiled, like beautiful Santa Maria Infra Portas,
a little Romanesque building of rose-coloured Subasian stone with a
gracious porch and a square bell-tower, which is a treasure-house
of frescoes, and contains an interesting Byzantine chapel. And
others like San Feliciano, the Cathedral, modernised within, but
still one of the chief glories of Foligno with its exquisite
_facciata minore_ in the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, rich with the
art of the Comacine Masters, and the beautiful reconstruction of
the western front by the Scuola di Arti e Mestieri.

[Illustration: FOLIGNO: WELL IN THE CASA NOCCHI.]

But it is the fruit of her mightiest days that makes Foligno rich
in monuments--the years between 1305 and 1439 in which the Trinci,
having finally driven the Ghibellines out of the city, were its
despots, until Eugenius IV., to whom the memory of Corrado's
terrible vendetta had an evil savour, deprived him of power, and
put him and his family to death. For to this period Foligno owes
the vast church of San Domenico, whose picturesque campanile Mr.
Markino has sketched rising over the trees of Signor Tradardi's
garden; and little San Giovanni dell'Acqua with its gracious
doorway; and San Francesco and San Salvatore, and the dismantled
church of Santa Caterina, and many another façade of rose and
white Subasian stone, on which the years have wrought a tender
bloom as of fruit ripened in the sun. And not churches only, for
to the Trinci she owes the stately Palazzo Trinci long since
fallen to decay, but still linked to San Feliciano by a covered
archway, still preserving its great processional stairway, still
decorated with the frescoes which Ottaviano Nelli painted for the
bloodthirsty Corrado.

Foligno has many charms too often overlooked by the traveller
because she is such an admirable headquarters both by rail and road
for seeing Central Umbria. The courtyards of her ancient palaces
have lovely well-heads of wrought iron, and many of their doors
have quaint and interesting epigrams over the lintel. She has a
little Venice on the banks of a canal, half dammed by docks and
water weeds, crossed by a Roman bridge; and a water mill, where the
women wash their linen in a long arcade of red brick overhanging
the brown millstream. Her churches are full of golden pictures by
the greatest exponents of the Foligno school, Niccolò d'Alunno,
and Pier Antonio Mesastris, a painter little known outside his
native town, whose beautiful Angels and Madonnas, combining an
ideal tenderness and sweetness of conception with a real depth of
feeling, have earned, in the language of the people, the name of
_Maestà Bella_.

Speaking of the Foligno school of painting, which was characterised
by an earnestness not to be found in every branch of Umbrian art,
whether it is the grace and delicate spirituality of Mesastris or
the tragic intensity of Niccolò d'Alunno, brings me to Foligno's
modern school of art, of which she is justly proud. It is housed in
the old cloisters of San Niccolò where Canova once had his studio,
and where he left many of his plaster casts. And it is under the
direction of Professor Arturo Tradardi, a delightful enthusiast
who never wearies of studying the glories of his native town, or
seeking to recreate them. In the beautiful cloistered garden of the
Scuola di Arti e Mestieri he has gathered together reproductions
in plaster, toned to the exact colour of the originals, of all the
most beautiful monuments in Umbria. A labour of love which may be
responsible for some of the extraordinary energy to be found in
Foligno, which with Viterbo leads the way among the smaller towns
of Italy in the glorious work of freeing ancient monuments from
the plaster prisons in which they have lain hidden from the world
during the last three centuries.

It goes without saying that Foligno, which lies low in the heart
of Umbria, not more than ten miles from Assisi, the cradle of
the Franciscan legend, should be the birthplace of a saint. But,
notwithstanding the picturesque legend of the Blessed Angela, which
tells us that as she walked through the fields of Umbria, wearied
by her struggles, and despairing of overcoming the burden of her
sins, she heard the voice of Christ bidding her be of good cheer
because He loved her better than any other woman in the Valley of
Spoleto, we hear more of the Blessed Angelina within Foligno than
of Sant'Angela, who lies buried in the church of San Francesco.
For it was the Blessed Angelina, Countess of Civitella and
Montegiove, who founded the Convento delle Contesse, that quiet
retreat in a forgotten corner of Foligno where noble women have
continued to work and pray unceasingly since its foundation towards
the end of the fourteenth century. Just as it was the Blessed
Angelina's chapel in the church of the Franciscans which sweated
blood seventeen years after her death because, as she related in a
vision, the Christians had lost Constantinople.

But it is not so much for her miracles and wonders that this
saintly woman is held in veneration as for her holiness and
chastity. And indeed her calm spirit seems to linger in the quiet
cloisters and gardens of the Convento delle Contesse, in which she
died after she had founded no less than sixteen Convents of the
Tertiary Order of St. Francis. It is an oasis of peace and rest,
an oasis which is too easily passed by in the maze of Foligno's
streets, for its walls are high and bare, and give no hint of the
gardens they enclose, unless perchance the outer gate be left
unbarred, as it was when we stumbled upon it and stopped to wonder
at the beauty of a picture disclosed under a wide pent-house roof
within. For over the doorway of this Holy House which was the first
home of that much-travelled picture, the Madonna del Foligno,
Mesastris painted one of his lovely golden-haired Madonnas,
enthroned among angels and virgin-saints, while in the background
little Loves gather the delicate pied wind-flowers, limned against
the sky, and heap them up in baskets to scatter, maybe, with song
and praise upon the courts of Heaven.

[Illustration: FOLIGNO: THE WASHING PLACE.]

Here too, if anywhere, the liberal spirit of the Middle Ages
lingers. We knocked, and the door was opened as it was wont to open
in the bountiful fifteenth century before the old Order trembled.
And within we saw the Lady Abbess of a bygone day ruling a little
company of noble dames amid the serenest spells of art and nature,
with the beauty and the holiness of their lives setting an ensample
to the world instead of being lost in mortification of the flesh
behind closed gateways. Signor Tradardi made us acquainted with
the beautiful Mother Superior, who came with us, telling her beads
and smiling at our enthusiasm as each step revealed unsuspected
charms, for nowhere else in Italy had we gained such free admission
to a nunnery, nowhere else had we found the ancient loveliness of
fresco and Gothic loggia untouched in any convent possession as
in the little courts and pleasaunces of this Garden of the Lord.
Two black-robed sisters were walking among the flowers with their
pupils, but when the gentle Abbess called for candles to take us
to the frescoed cell of the Blessed Angelina, they were brought by
a slender boy, whose curiously intense beauty made a break in the
calm and holy atmosphere of this quiet retreat. He was very much at
home, and evidently did not seem to think that we should feel it
unnatural to find him in that _galère_.

We learned that he was the nephew of the Lady Abbess--the professor
of music for the convent. And that he lived in Umbria, but next
week was going to Ancona. We had lately come from there? Then
perhaps we had heard the opera _Thaïs_, recently produced so
excellently in Ancona, which he was making the journey on purpose
to hear!

       *       *       *       *       *

We drove to Spello on a September day of vagrant sunshine, when
the earth was musical with running waters and the heavens, tinted
mother-o'-pearl, were spread with tearful clouds. The rugged crests
of Nocera's pyramidal hills in the van of the great Appennines
were shadowed with cobalt. The vines were brown, the hedges full
of berries, the scent of wild mint sweetened the air. A rippling
stream was singing in its rocky bed beside the road, and long
grasses were still lying against the muddy banks as they were
pressed by the rush of storm-rain the day before. And Spello lay
before us in the sunshine like a cluster of yellowing roses on the
spur of Monte Subasio.

But first we drove between the vineyards to the little church of
San Giovanni Profiamma which marks the site of the ancient town of
Forum Flaminii, built by the Consul Flaminius on his Roman road
before it left the Umbrian Vale and plunged into the passes of the
Appennines. Like all the thirteenth century churches of this part
of Umbria, it is built of the lovely pink limestone of Subasio
which gives such a peculiar beauty to the streets of Spello and
Assisi. Its ancient rose window is broken, and two white houses hem
in the façade on either side.

The Romanesque doorway stood wide open, because a knot of villagers
were busied in putting up a gilt and paper baldacchino for a festa.
Some children and a black goat had strayed in to watch; the priest
was giving directions, and every now and then lending a shoulder
when the whole affair threatened to fall over. But what simplicity,
what unspoiled mediaeval grace we found in this tiny chapel in the
fields, which is the only relic of a long-forgotten city. It has
been restored, almost rebuilt, by the parish priest, who to his
honour has preserved every ancient stone, and arch, and bifora;
even the altar he has left in mediaeval simplicity, a slab of
marble on a worn and battered fragment of granite column, all that
remains of the pagan city of Flaminius.

They are a splendid people, these country priests of Umbria, with
their ambition to beautify their little churches, and their merry
good-nature in the face of hardships. We met so many of them in
Foligno,--one who had written a book about his church, and toiled
to rescue the faded frescoes veiled in plaster on its walls, taking
the same pleasure in their beauty as a gardener in the first
blossoms of the year; another who had made a museum of his sacristy
and cloisters. But the priest of San Giovanni Profiamma has
preserved some precious pages in the history of art. We watched him
scramble into his ramshackle cart, shouting some last instructions
to his villagers before he drove off at full gallop over the rough
road with a huge sack of fodder tied on behind. And we remembered
another country priest whom we had seen at Todi leading his saddle
horse down the hill to say Mass in some roadside chapel, singing as
he went, as Brother Francis might have sung, with no thought of the
morrow, but only joy in the present, and faith for the life to come.

       *       *       *       *       *

We found Spello gay with the bells of her ox-carts, and as busy as
a good housewife, her men bringing in bundles of fire-wood against
the winter, or getting ready for the vintage by rolling the pipes
and hogs-heads down the hill to be cleansed at the fountain below
the old bell-tower; and her women washing their linen with song and
laughter outside the Roman gate.

Spello, the old Hispellum, which claims to have been the birthplace
of Propertius, notwithstanding the stress that poet laid upon the
neighbouring city of Mevania as his home, is one of the loveliest
cities in the Valley of Spoleto. She is as pink as a rose. Her
houses are all ancient, many of them with Gothic doors and windows;
her arches are threaded with vines and Morning Glories; she
clambers up the hillside in narrow streets which turn naturally
into steps when they are too steep even for the nimble mule; her
people dress in bright-coloured linens, and the women cover their
burnished hair with the gayest of flowered kerchiefs. As we drew
near we saw her Gothic gate bestriding the road as fiercely as
though it feared the Trinci might still come riding from Foligno,
but close behind it, on the tower of some fighting baron which has
been turned into a belfry, a full-grown olive tree stretched out
its arms, welcoming strangers with the branch of peace.

[Illustration: SPELLO.]

We went up through the ancient Porta Consolare, whose Roman
statues, toga'd ghosts of old Hispellum, stare down upon the snowy
flanks of the yoked oxen bringing in the fresh-picked grapes just
as they did in the years before Hannibal laid waste the Valley
of Spoleto on his march down to Campania. In Spello's climbing
streets, though she is poor and broken, we found treasures worthy
of great temples, heirlooms stranded in the shipwreck of her
wealth, like Santa Maria Maggiore's rich Renaissance doorway and
thirteenth-century portal, and the exquisite holy water stoup in
the nave, which was once a pagan altar.

But most of all Spello is Pinturicchio's city. Her peasants are
the ghosts of his old people; in her streets we met the lovely
fair-haired girls whom he was never weary of crowning as Madonna
Mary. He painted many pictures in her churches, in San Girolamo and
Sant'Andrea, and a whole chapel in Santa Maria Maggiore, where he
left his own portrait hanging from the Virgin's shelf of books in
the scene of the Annunciation, as it hung perhaps from the shelf
of some woman whom he loved. In this church too are many altar
pictures, and an exquisite Madonna hidden away in the sacristy
among the tawdry paraphernalia of saints' days, and an angel,
lost for three hundred years in a dark cupboard, which, when the
sacristan illuminates it with a candle, shines like a vision of the
angel Gabriel coming in the dawn of day to Mary.

The chapel, which was painted for one of the Baglioni of Perugia,
is faded and defaced like the Borgia room in the Vatican, and needs
bright sunshine to bring out its dim rich colours. But it is full
of gracious Pinturicchio figures who play their parts in the drama
of the birth of Christ against a luminous background in which we
glimpse the life of the Quattrocento as it flows in and out of
distant cities. And the floor is covered with gold and blue Deruta
tiles, made for the Brothers in 1565, and so worn that we were sad
to walk on them, although the sacristan dragged chairs across them
with the utmost unconcern.

Then it rained, and because we had seen all Spello's churches we
had to seek shelter and lunch. The only inn was down the hill
outside the Porta Consolare, but we found both food and refuge
in a humble cottage where the family were just sitting down to
their meal of steaming pottage. They gave us a plate of that, and
dressed some raw tomatoes with oil and vinegar, at our suggestion,
for Italians seldom eat raw tomatoes, which they do not think
are healthy. And we were content with this and some good wine
and excellent rough bread, although the coffee which our smiling
hostess prepared so carefully was spoilt by its too liberal dash of
methylated cognac.

But the rain drove us from our little hill-city. We tried to brave
it, as we searched in vain for the Porta Venere; nor could the old
country women climbing the hill in the shelter of their enormous
green umbrellas, who were the only people out in the storm beside
ourselves, tell us the whereabouts of anything.



CLITUMNUS


We drove to Spoleto along the Roman road which threads the rich
green valley of the Clitumnus, skirting the hill of Trevi and the
olive-groves which crowd round the ruined fortress of Le Vene,
and dipping at last into an oak wood where the crystal springs,
far-famed in ancient days, leap from the rocky hillside.

It is the loveliest drive in Umbria. Not only for the beauty
of the way, for here all ways are beautiful, and lie through
gardens, where milk-white oxen labour with wooden ploughs beneath
the classic olive, and vineyards where the vines usurp the trees
and clothe the valley in luxuriant festoons; not only for the
loggia'd farms scattered among the fields, or for the towered
castles frowning upon the road like mediaeval Sant'Eraclio; not
only for the sight of Trevi, the steepest town in Italy, a queen
upon her hill-top, with her face towards Spoleto and her yellow
skirts trailing down into an olive-grove. All these we had seen a
hundred times before from other Umbrian towns. But nowhere else
had we found such unspoiled pastoral loveliness as in this soft
wide valley whose glory Virgil sang, and all the ancients praised,
the latest home of gods, where snowy bulls, victims for the Roman
sacrifice, were bred beside the waters of a sacred stream.

  'Thou, gay Clitumnus, where thy currents glide
  There bleating flocks thy flow'ry borders hide;
  There snow-white bulls, the greatest sacrifice
  Design'd for Jove, who rules the deities,
  First wash'd and sprinkled with thy sacred flood
  Pay for the Roman triumphs with their blood.'

Though she looks like a queen on her hill-top, Trevi is at
heart a simple country maid, with nothing to offer to the
traveller but a few pictures by Perugino and his pupils, and an
exquisite Renaissance altar by Rocco da Vicenza. She is the most
disappointing of all the mountain fastnesses which have defied
the assaults of change, but she stands like a sentinel before a
landscape of surpassing beauty, peopled with classic memories.

For here, below the crumbling walls and towers of Le Vene, at the
foot of olive-wooded hills, we walked beside the crystal waters of
Clitumnus, through scenes immortalised by Virgil in the Georgics.

  'Unbounded plains with endless riches blest;
  Yet caves and living springs, and airy glades,
  And the soft low of kine, and sleepy shades
  Are never wanting ...'

Here by the roadside we found the little temple which some say is
one of those chapels of the god Clitumnus that Pliny wrote of to
his friend Romanus when he adjured him to visit this so-lovely
spot. And others, because of the Christian symbolism carved on its
walls, claim to be a Christian fane built of pagan fragments in the
fourth century. In any case it is deserted of its gods to-day, for
if no incense is offered to old Clitumnus, neither is Mass said
now before its altar, for the honour of San Salvatore. And yet I
do not think the oracle, whom Caligula as well as Honorius came
to consult, is far away; for the sun and rain have mellowed the
old stones, giving them a rare and perfect beauty, and the birds
nesting beneath its tympanum chant praises in the dawn, while from
below ascends the song of the sacred stream as its flows by to
mingle with the Tiber on its way to Rome. Nay, Pan himself, weary
of making music in the reeds, might stray into this temple, to
wonder at the faded saints who looked so coldly on him from their
niches, before he leapt back again at break of day to the oak-woods
on the hill above, where the goat-herds tend their flocks.

A little further on we reached the source of the Clitunno, where
many crystal streams gush from the hillside or bubble up from the
ground, uniting in a wide lake before the river can escape along
the valley. The air was full of the merry music of lapping waters
and the ecstatic shrilling of the frogs. Tall poplars swayed upon
the shallow banks, and giant willows trailed their branches in the
stream like the long hair of water-nymphs. Little white bridges
led from one green island to another, but the lush grass sloped
so gradually to the clear waters that we could hardly tell where
it first mingled with its own reflections. The crystal pools were
underworlds of emerald waterweeds, now dark, now light, and in
their mysterious depths were springs whose shafts of cyanite blue
gleamed phosphorescent through the swaying plants. And here small
fishes darted in and out with watchful eyes, and speckled trout
swam slowly to and fro.

[Illustration: THE TEMPLE OF CLITUMNUS.]

Surely if anywhere the old gods linger here. And when the valley is
silent, but for the distant shepherd piping to his flocks, surely
the naiads resting on the emerald sward call to their sisters, the
Hamadryads and the Oreads, to leave their oak-woods and the hills
above and dance down to join them in the clear cool water. Half
unconsciously we looked and listened for them. And in a moment the
youth of Arcady seemed to be born again. The babbling of the many
little streams was like the echo of mocking laughter. I felt as
though I had strayed into a court of water-nymphs and heard them
making merry as they hid among the reeds. I could have sworn I saw
one once; but it was only a darting fish. Then a kingfisher flying
low took cover in the sedges just where the glinting sunshine
dazzled my eyes. And I thought I heard them laugh again.



SPOLETO


Too few have sung the splendour and beauty of Spoleto, the proud
white city whose towers breathe a message of peace to-day, where
they once blazoned war down the wide green valley to Perugia. For
Spoleto, like Perugia, has been a queen among cities. Like Perugia
she has kept ward through the ages upon the valleys of Umbria,
gazing down from her sacred ilex groves on lesser cities riding the
encircling hills--towered Montefalco upon the ridge which shuts
off the valley of the Tiber; Trevi on its steep olive-girt mount;
Foligno and Bevagna down in the plain; little Spello; Assisi, very
beautiful as she kneels before the mighty temple she has raised to
San Francesco on the slopes of Monte Subasio; Santa Maria degli
Angeli and Ponte San Giovanni. And in one proud memory at least she
is greater even than Perugia, for she alone withstood the tidal
wave of Hannibal in the second Punic War, so that he turned from
her walls dismayed, nor dared to march on Rome, seeing that this
small colony could hold his force in check.

If she had faded out of history after that, her name would have
been heroic among the Umbrian towns. But though she suffered in
the civil war of Marius and Sulla, we know that she continued
to flourish even in the dark years between the fall of Rome and
the growth of mediaevalism. Totila destroyed her as Frederick
Barbarossa was to destroy her in the middle of the twelfth century;
but Theodoric the Ostrogoth, and after him Narses, the Exarch,
built her up. Under the Longobards she became an independent duchy;
after the fall of the Carlovingians her Dukes were for a short time
Emperors of Italy.

Ah! Spoleto, it is little wonder that you are proud to-day, that
your bells ring so joyously down the valleys, that you hold high
festival to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of United Italy.
What does it profit Perugia that her name was splendid in the
Middle Ages, and that she is still the Queen of Umbria, 'the
Empress of hill-set cities'? Yours was the greatness of a more
heroic day. Her lords were savage beasts, her people slaves,
her streets were noisome with slaughter, her name a proverb for
ferocity, while the Baglioni spread their pestilence across the
valleys, seeking ignoble victories, and fighting unending little
wars for self-aggrandisement. Because the Barbarossa laid you low
the star of Perugia rose clear upon your horizon. Already in 1198,
when you with all the other Umbrian towns paid tribute to Innocent
III., she was the capital of Umbria. But you, the champion of
Rome, the Knight-errant of the Papacy, had nobler ambitions. Your
Dukes were heroes before the lords of Perugia were even robbers.
Were they not Emperors too? Guido, with his pretentious claim to
the kingship of France, and poor young Lambert, the chivalrous and
beautiful Knight of Spoleto, with whose ill-timed death, on the
very spot where the great battle of Marengo was fought nearly a
thousand years after, perished the hope of a united and independent
kingdom within the Italian[25] frontier.

[Illustration: SPOLETO: PORTA D'ANNIBALE.]

Spoleto was truly in a jubilant mood when we climbed up her winding
streets, past the beautiful but ruined apse of San Niccolò, and
the magnificent prehistoric wall below its convent. An Industrial
Exhibition was being held in the Piazza Bernardino Campello, and
the Merry Widow--'nuovissima per Spoleto'--was to be played that
night in the Teatro Nuovo, 'con richissima messa in scena!'

But at all times we found the quality of joy in Spoleto. Long long
ago she wept perhaps when she waited, as Elaine for Lancelot, while
her lover, the beautiful and splendid Lambert, was in the toils of
his insatiable mistress, Rome. Widowed, she trimmed a lamp before
his shrine and turned her eyes towards the Papacy, seeking to build
up an Italian Empire, through the temporal kingdom of the Pope. But
now she has opened her gates to welcome the new era, and, having
doffed her mourning garments, sits enthroned at the head of her
magnificent valley, welcoming the world with the gracious dignity
of one who for a few short years was the mother of United Italy.

Spoleto does not clamber up the hillside like rosy little Spello.
She is tall and stately, pale as a lily, silent as a girl who
dreams of love. More than any other of the hill-set cities of
Umbria she bears the stamp of Rome, in arches and half-buried
houses, in walls and ancient temples long since turned to the
worship of other gods, and most of all in the inspiration of the
great aqueduct which spans the ravine between her Rocca and the
ilex-woods of Monte Luco.

[Illustration: SPOLETO: SAN GREGORIO.]

In Spoleto Rome and modernity walk hand in hand. Spoleto is not
mediaeval in character like other Umbrian towns. Her hill is
crowned by the imposing Castello which Cardinal Albornoz and
Nicholas v. built on the site of the Rocca of Theodoric, and she
has many gracious churches which flowered from the eleventh to the
thirteenth century, like the cathedral and San Gregorio Maggiore;
or, more ancient still, San Salvatore, that exquisite relic of
the fourth century, which contains the nucleus of a Roman temple;
and San Pietro, on the lower slopes of Monte Luco, which was
built in the fifth century and restored in 1320, after it had
been practically destroyed by the Ghibellines. It is true that
the splendid roofless apse of San Niccolò soars above the main
street with broken lancet windows framing the heavens, like the
windows of Tintern, but it is built over the ancient circuit of
the city walls; and though its slender Gothic grace beautifies
the hillside, it was the rugged stones of Spoleto's prehistoric
fortifications which claimed our eyes. For it was against these
walls, which the Unknown People, and later the Pelasgians and the
Romans, built round the foot of their city, that Hannibal threw his
Punic troops in vain before he retired to the rich territory of
Picenum, where he fortified his soldiers after the rigors of their
journey through Northern Italy and the Alps.

It is the same all through Spoleto. Here and there we wandered into
steep, narrow lanes, where the strip of sky above our heads was
cut by bridges leading from one tall mediaeval mansion to another,
where there were shrines in the walls and Gothic doorways leading
to dark and mysterious courtyards, and Doors of the Dead, and,
to speak truth, unsavoury odours, which are the least pleasing
reminiscences of the Middle Ages. But for the most part Spoleto
is clean and modern, with wide streets and piazzas graced by
hanging gardens, in which her Roman fragments are stranded like
the skeletons of giants, where they are not buried beneath the
soil, like the wonderful subterranean bridge outside the Porta San
Gregorio; and the lower church of Sant'Ansano, on the foundations
of a Temple of the Sun; and the mosaiced house which is said to
have been the home of the mother of the Emperor Vespasian.

Among her treasures Spoleto holds the dust of Brother Philip in a
beautifully wrought casket of lapis lazuli and gold, for that was
how the façade of Santa Maria Assunta appeared to us as we rounded
the corner of the Episcopal Palace, and came upon it suddenly,
bathed in the yellow sunlight of late afternoon.

The Cathedral of Spoleto is set humbly on the hillside in the
shadow of the great Rocca of Nicholas V. So that we stood, as it
were, above the jewelled façade, and saw it rising in all its
glory at the bottom of a wide steep slope which opened out into
a green piazza between the sloping gardens of the Rocca and the
little Renaissance Chiesa della Manna d'Oro. Like the Cathedral
of Assisi, which its façade resembles, having the same triangular
tympanum enclosing grand Gothic arches corresponding to the naves
of the older building, it is externally one of the most gracious
churches in Umbria. The fifteenth century loggia of its portico
supports a Renaissance arabesque, and above it the central arch
of the tympanum is filled with gold and blue mosaics which glow
like jewels in their rich setting of mellowing stones. The glass
in the beautiful rose windows is the colour of lapis lazuli; two
little stone pulpits are built into the wall on either side of the
portico, and in its shadow is the frescoed chapel of Francesco
Eroli, Bishop of Spoleto.

But why attempt to reproduce with pen and ink and dull description
a picture more fitted to the golden brush of Fra Filippo Lippi, and
which indeed owes much of its charm to the beauty of the Umbrian
hills billowing away to the horizon, and the alchemy of sunlight
changing ancient stones to gold--the complete and lovely unity of
Art and Nature.

I hope the sun sometimes shines in upon the tomb of Lippo Lippi,
for I know he loved it, and the marble cenotaph which Lorenzo the
Magnificent raised in his honour, when the Spoletani refused to
let him carry away the body of the painter, because 'they were
badly provided with things of note,' is rather bald in spite of its
florid epitaph. But the tomb itself did not detain us long, for in
the apse we had caught sight of some of Brother Philip's loveliest
frescoes telling the story of the life of the Virgin, in four great
chapters--the Annunciation, the Birth of Christ, her Death, and in
the vault above, her Coronation in the Courts of Heaven.

[Illustration: A STREET IN SPOLETO.]

According to Vasari, Fra Filippo, engaged as usual in a love
affair, was poisoned by the family of the lady whom he had seduced
while he was at work on the Cathedral. It is likely that the people
of Spoleto were not so complaisant as the Florentines, who had long
ago ceased even to shrug their shoulders at the amours of this
son of the Renaissance, although he had refused the offer of Pius
II. to legitimise his marriage with the beautiful nun Lucrezia.
But later writers have dismissed the idea as one of Vasari's
ill-founded scandals. In any case there were few men less worthy
of painting the sacred story of Madonna Mary, and few who could
have told it with such purity and tenderness, and intuition. For
not even the damp which has caused them to peel and discolour in
places, or the uninspired work of Fra Diamante who finished them,
when Lippo Lippi, 'that vagabond and joyous mortal,' had been laid
to rest, can rob these pale and sad Madonnas of their beauty, or
take away the spiritual loveliness of the angels, who with the sun
and the moon and all the constellations do homage to the Queen of
Heaven.

But these things are as nothing compared with the real glories of
Spoleto--the peculiar beauty of her landscape, and the magnificence
of the Ponte delle Torri, the great aqueduct of the Longobard
Dukes, which links the city to the sacred ilex groves of Monte Luco.

Nature has endowed Spoleto richly. She is built on the slopes of
an isolated bastion of the Appennines, which closes as it were the
Central Plain of Umbria. Behind her towers the broad shoulder of
Monte Luco, veiled in ilex woods. To the south the wild valley of
the Tessino opens a vista of rolling hills, mounting fold on fold
to the horizon. And from the windows of our inn, the picturesque
old Albergo Lucini, whose palatial rooms, sparsely furnished with
ancient grandeur, are such a luxury in the hot summer months, we
looked over the roofs of the lower town, and across the tranquil
country to Perugia, more than forty miles away.

[Illustration: A FOUNTAIN OF SPOLETO.]

Was it perhaps because we knew this soft and gracious valley,
sanctified by the footsteps of many saints, so well, that we
loved it even more dearly than we had loved it as we gazed from
the bulwarks of Perugia? Then these little towns sown along the
hillsides or crowning their miniature peaks, like Trevi, and
Montefalco, were nothing but names and points of beauty. But now
after many weeks spent on the eastern coast of Italy or among
the rugged Appennines, we had come back again to gentle Umbria,
to find that every little town was full of smiling memories, and
all the winding roads were pathways to romance. Who could forget
the classic grace of Clitumnus, when he saw the clustered poplars
soaring from the plain? Or the capers and the flowering rosemary,
which made a garden of the ancient walls of Trevi? Or the sweetness
of the olive woods below Assisi, where we wandered in the footsteps
of St. Francis gathering an imperishable bouquet of holy memories?
Or the subtle beauty of the Tiber, as it washed the skirts of
Perugia's hill?

Nor had long association lessened the miracle of the soft radiance
of the heavens, or made commonplace the clarity of atmosphere,
or dimmed the strange light which seems to float like an eternal
benediction between the mountains of this Mystic Land.

Early next morning we climbed up the hillside, past the Piazza
Mercato, where a blackbird, always singing in a wicker cage, in the
shadow of a Roman arch, is the personification of the joyous spirit
of Spoleto. A few steps from the Rocca, through a gate in the
ancient line of fortification, brought us into a small bastioned
piazza overlooking the deep ravine of the Tessino, and the aqueduct
which spans it.

In my notes, I have said nothing of the Ponte delle Torri except
to cry the wonder of it! Which is not surprising, for there are
no words to fit it, no words large, or grand, or ambitious, or
vigorous enough to describe this bridge of towers and colossal
arches, which bestrides the valley between Monte Luco and the
hill of Spoleto. It is the work of giants. It would be a worthy
testimony to the grandeur that was Rome's; to the energy and the
indomitable courage of the men who moulded an empire out of a
handful of earth, and ruled the world from seven little hills.
But the Ponte delle Torri is not the work of Rome. A mystery
surrounds its origin. Theodelapius, third Duke of Spoleto, is said
to have built it early in the seventh century, but it is at least
reasonable to suppose that the foundations were Roman--indeed the
local Guida di Spoleto claims that the actual conduits in use
to-day are Roman. And it is obvious that the pointed arches are
of mediaeval structure, probably contemporary with the ancient
fortress, now a water-mill, which guards the head of the aqueduct
on the slopes of Monte Luco. It is in fact a mosaic to which the
Spoletans of all ages have contributed their stones.

[Illustration: SPOLETO: THE AQUEDUCT.]

But it was not only the grandeur of this Leviathan which held us
spell-bound on the edge of the ravine; we were captivated by the
lavish beauty of its _mise en scène_. For the ilex groves of Monte
Luco, sacred to the ancients for their primeval forests, and to a
younger world for the mediaeval saints who dwelt therein, were full
of morning mists. Here and there some treetops illumined by the
rays of the sun, lately risen above the shoulder of the mountain,
stood out in clear relief against the dark hillside. The rest
was held in shadow. Little blue columns of smoke ascended on the
windless air from the bosky depths where charcoal-burners made
their fires; the far-away bells of the Franciscan Convent on its
crest were like the music of wind-bells under the roof-trees of
the Gods. Every now and then the chimney of a cottage, sunk in the
hillside below the level of the road on which we stood, wove a
transparent veil of fragrant wood-smoke between our profane eyes
and the sacred mount.

We came again in the evening when the aqueduct was bathed in the
declining sunlight, which threaded its great arches with slanting
bars of gold. And then we crossed that magic Bridge of the Giants
and plunged into the enchanted ilex woods of Monte Luco. The stony
way was sown with cyclamens, and the rocks were broidered with
bronze and emerald mosses. At our feet the hill sloped sharply
down the ravine and the slanting sunshine wove a web of light
between the trees. Above us a sea of sunlit ilexes rose to the blue
heavens. As we went deeper, the cool, scented breath of oak trees
came out to greet us. And across the valley we could see Spoleto
and her crested Rocca, with her ancient walls striding down the
hillside through her vineyards. From this point she seemed to be a
city of towers and _loggie_ and hanging gardens.

[Illustration: SPOLETO: SAN PIETRO.]

Presently we reached the beautiful and ancient church of San
Pietro, and found the strange Mediaeval carvings on its façade
gilded by the last rays of the setting sun. While we were spelling
out its fanciful devices the glow faded from its face, leaving it
old and grey at the head of its long flight of steps, as though it
had seen fear. And indeed time has dealt harshly with this shrine
since it was founded in the fifth century on the fragments of a
pagan building. Even the fading light sufficed to show us that
it held no treasures, beyond the twelfth-century fragments from
Byzantine Bestiaries on its façade, and the later reliefs dating
from its restoration in the fourteenth century, after it had been
wantonly destroyed by the Ghibelline wolf, seeking in vain to force
an entrance to the fold of Spoleto.



THE FALLS OF TERNI


At Terni the marvels of Nature have been transformed into the
marvels of electricity without changing the face of the landscape.
For the Velino, the swift black river which has its source deep in
the mountains of the Abruzzi, and hurls itself in three gigantic
columns over a precipice 600 feet high, takes to the mills of Terni
an electric current which does the work of 200,000 horses without
speeding the placid Nar as it washes the fantastic Gothic walls of
Interamna.

There are few waterfalls so unspoiled as Terni. The immense
power-station is almost out of sight, and though the leafy valley
which excited the admiration of the younger Pliny is blocked at
various points by great factories, there is not a single café or
restaurant to mar the savage splendour of the Cascate delle Marmore.

Early in the morning of a St. Martin's summer we set out from
Terni to see the famous cascades of the Velino, which, like the
falls of Tivoli, are the work of Roman hands.[26] The great
mountains closing the valley of the Nar were shadowy against the
sunlit mists. As we drew near, the clamour of the water grew and
gathered like the exultant roar of some primeval giant. The river
began to hurry in its deep channel below the road, and foam-white
torrents clambered down its banks, with bursts of laughter, to find
themselves escaped from the main waterfall. But still the mists
clung to the green hillsides so that we only saw their crests
silhouetted against the welkin.

Suddenly out of the tender half-tones a sunlit cloud loomed
silver in the heavens. I have seen the snowy turrets of a cumulus
illuminated by a burst of sunlight on many an April noon. I seemed
to see them now, shadowed against the blue Empyrean. But it was
no cloud. The growing clamour told me so. That fantastic outline,
clothed in the semblance of giant trees, was solid rock cleft with
a flood of leaping water, which caught the sunshine, like the
silver lining of a storm-cloud, as it topped the cliff, and then
vanished in a mist of mounting spray.

Sun and river poured together over the ilex-crested mountain, the
light in solid rays athwart the belching smoke of the falls, the
water like a living thing, an unchained element, which leapt again
in ecstasy to the blue heavens, winnowing the air with plumes of
wind-tossed spray. On either side the hills fell back before us,
their forests and terraces glistening with Byron's

    '... unceasing shower, which round,
  With its unemptied cloud of gentle rain,
  Is an eternal April to the ground,
  Making it all one emerald....'

And in the midst, cleaving the ilex forest on the brink of the
precipice, the Velino hurled itself into the abyss with a mighty
shout of laughter. Sometimes it spent itself upon the rocks in
foaming passion, impotently desiring its consummation with the sea,
doomed to captivity upon the way, to lie in stagnant pools chained
for the service of humanity. Sometimes it trickled languidly over
the moss-grown crevices, engrossed in the delicate pleasure of
its own music. Sometimes it glissaded as transparently as glass,
seemingly motionless in its resistless speed, over the smooth
yellow boulders bearded with stalactites.

[Illustration: THE FALLS OF TERNI.]

It was profoundly exciting--the voice of Nature, a real
and primitive thing. Only a little way up the valley great
manufactories choked up the banks of the Nera; but here the
clamorous voices, mad with the delirium of motion, sang to the
heavens in unbridled joy. It was a great song of labour, a gigantic
Wagnerian strain, in which we could distinguish the lilting song
of the Rhine daughters above the thunder of the giants, telling
the happy innocence of earth before her stolen gold became a
passion to gods and men. Or in another mood we heard the laughter
of water-gods as they leapt into the boiling chasm, and the dryads
and the naiads calling to their sisters, the 'wind-enchanted shapes
of wandering mist,' and clapping their hands to see their great
comrade come hurtling from the heavens careless, in his mad race,
of the defeat to come. Only the mists, the tiger-striped mists,
leapt up to warn the silver giant, and lost themselves under the
melting kiss of the sun. We never could have wearied of watching
these maenads dancing before their lord.

But time pressed. We were to be in Narni that night, and we had yet
to climb to the head of the fall, through its enchanted ilex-wood,
where ferns and flowers, all wet with glancing spray, grow round
the lips of overhanging caves, and dock leaves wave huge fans in
the wind of rushing waters.

Sometimes through an opening in the trees we caught sight of a
moving curtain of white mist; sometimes the path led on to a
narrow ledge overhanging the main fall, where we could stand in
the shelter of a hollowed cave and watch the water leaping down in
Gothic points of spume, plunging into the smoking cauldron to rise
again in Iris clouds of spray. A butterfly which had ventured from
the green shadows of the music-haunted wood fluttered an instant in
the wild wet breath of the fall, and was drawn remorselessly into
the vortex. Here, indeed, with the thunder of the Velino shaking
the hillside, there was a savage and awful beauty in the scene.
Here we could recognise the landscape where Virgil's Fury, leaving
'the high places of the world,' fled to the mansions of Cocytus.
'A place of high renown, and celebrated by fame in many regions
... the side of a grove, gloomy with thick boughs, hems it in on
either hand, and in the midst a torrent, in hoarse murmurs and with
whirling eddies, roars along the rocks....'

[Illustration: THE LOWER FALL OF TERNI.]

We lunched in a cottage a little way from the bottom of the fall,
which seemed to be a restaurant for the humble needs of the workmen
in a neighbouring carburet factory. At least its landlady was
greatly distressed because she had nothing for the signori. 'Non è
basta! non è basta!' she cried, although we discovered four roast
chickens and some excellent potato salad as well as a huge cauldron
of _minestre_ on her stove. Later, when the factory bell had rung
for _mezzogiorno_, and all the employés crowded in, we found there
really was not enough to go round. But the courtesy and charming
manners of the workmen were a revelation. Although there was no
soup for some of them, and certainly we had eaten one of their
chickens, they treated the whole affair as a joke, and heaped their
plates contentedly with _pasti_.

But to us the biggest joke was the price of the good lunch we had
so unwittingly stolen from the regular patrons of the inn. For the
bill for the wine was threepence-halfpenny for all, and the potato
salad was a penny each, and a plate of chicken was sixpence, and
a plate of soup twopence only. Truly, as the poet said, 'Italy has
everything: climate, scenery, art, antiquities, history, romance,
beautiful people, fruit and wine and cheapness.'



NARNI


From the first moment that we saw her, a jewelled hill-top set
high among the stars, there was a touch of magic about Narni. As
we drove through the valley tall black cypress spires showed us
our path, and the starry heavens were as luminous as though Diana
had already lit her lamp below the hills. Dimly we glimpsed a
battlemented gate rising gaunt above the road, and the ghostly form
of the broken bridge of Augustus striding amid the reflections of
the Nar. We climbed up into the hooded night between great hedges
where the frogs shrilled softly to each other. The Pleiades hung
low upon the mists of the horizon like the phosphorescence of a
tropic sea, and above us the lights of Narni were gold against the
silvered canopy of stars.

The way was long although it was so beautiful, and lonely, too,
when the town was hidden from us by a fold of the hill and we
could see nothing but the towers of the Rocca upon its crest, a
shade of the Middle Ages among the imperishable stars. So that we
welcomed the cheery beams of a shepherd's lantern set by chance
in the window of a white-walled farm, like a beacon on the dark
hillside. And soon afterwards we passed under the beetling
Trecento gate of Narni, and found ourselves in a piazza where the
driver pointed out thousands of earthenware pots spread on the
ground beneath the trees. 'For the festa to-morrow, Signori,' he
said. And that was the first we heard of any festa. But not the
last, for all the inns were crowded, and it was only by dint of a
great deal of talking, and through the courtesy of a young Italian
girl who had travelled by the same train as ourselves, and who
volunteered to sleep in the village, that we were able to find two
beds and a sofa in the Albergo del Angelo.

[Illustration]

We woke to find ourselves in Arcady. The smiling sunshine called me
early out of bed. Below my windows came the music of passing herds
and flocks--the lowing of kine and the tinkling of their bells, the
clipping hoofs of mules and asses, the pattering feet of sheep,
like summer rainfall on the broad-leaved trees. And, strangest
sound of all, the clear high song of larks, so rarely heard in
Italy, where the native, as in Dante's age, still 'throws away his
days in idle chase of the diminutive birds.'[27]

There were two windows in my room. The one to which the dulcet
singing of the larks called my attention looked from the wall of
Narni's precipice into the deep valley of the Nera, a magnificent
and awe-inspiring view, for the Angelo is perched upon a crest of
beetling rocks with a sheer drop of a hundred feet towards the
river. But from the other I looked on one of the loveliest pastoral
pageants I have ever seen in Umbria. For down the old Flaminian Way
which Popes and Emperors, and Caesar with an army, trod, and up a
winding pathway such as Gentile da Fabriano loved to paint, which
led from the valley to the hill of Narni and joined the main road
at our very door, came neat-herds driving before them snow-white
oxen, and peasant women with brightly flowered kerchiefs riding
a-pillion on mules and asses, or walking behind flocks of sheep
with wide flat baskets of poultry and fruit and vegetables on their
heads. Barefoot children helped to guide the calves; and here a
shaggy farmer rode up the hill a-horseback in sheepskin trousers,
with a wallet and flask of wine slung across his mediaeval wooden
saddle; and there some happy youths led in their heifers with
scarlet fillets hanging on their brows.

[Illustration]

They might have been processions of the Magi bringing their gifts
to the Infant Christ in the dawn of the Nativity. Or, better still,
these joyful husbandmen and shepherds bringing the first-fruits of
their harvest into this little hill-town for the ox-fair of St.
Michael, might have been the votaries of Apollo coming to celebrate
the Pyanepsia with offerings and invocations.

We dressed in haste and hurried to join them as they flowed along
the streets and out through Narni's mediaeval gate to their Forum
Boarium beyond the city walls. And it was Arcady we found below the
silver olives. For the road looped a natural theatre, such as the
Greeks loved to terrace and face with marble, where the citizens
might sit gazing over the glittering stage, on which Gods and
Heroes spoke the dialogues of Aeschylus and Sophocles, at one of
Nature's masterpieces--Etna, rising above the Strait of Messina, or
the isle-girt sea of Salamis.

Here the olive-clad slopes were steep and the curves of the bay
were bold, and the flat area which they enclosed was commanded on
one side by the towering bastions of Narni and on the other by a
great Dominican Convent with all its ancient splendour revived by
the Royal House of France. And here we looked across a market in
the hollow of the theatre, where thousands of white oxen, their
foreheads bound with Roman fillets, scarlet and blue, stood below
the twisted olives in a mist of slanting sunlight, which threw a
tracery of blue-veined shadows on their snowy flanks. Beyond them
in the open champaign we could see the towered bridge over the
Nera, and the green pasture land characteristic of lower Umbria
which makes it so different to the vine-engarlanded plains of the
Valley of Spoleto.

[Illustration: THE CATTLE FAIR AT NARNI.]

On the hill above, the mules and asses, still bearing their wooden
pack-saddles picked out in brass and scarlet cloth, were tethered
in the shade of the army of olives, which swept up to the walls of
the grim old Rocca. And before us lay the winding road, with its
gay stalls and booths and its moving crowd of peasants, looking for
all the world like a brightly-coloured ribbon threading the grey
wood.

[Illustration]

Surely the gay Hermes, the god of markets, the beneficent patron
of pastures and herds, smiled on this gracious fête champêtre, so
pagan in its simplicity and lavish beauty. Perhaps he lingered down
in the ox-fair where a charming patriarchal custom was observed
every time a bargain was concluded, when the bystanders joined
the hands of the two farmers concerned, and held them while they
shook in token of good-will. Or likelier still he wandered on
the causeway with Corydon and Thyrsis, or, in more jovial mood,
searched among the pretty peasant girls, for Amaryllis and fair
Delia, whose thoughts to-day were all for market wares, displayed
by plausible auctioneers below the laurel avenue.

[Illustration]

There were restaurants of trestle-tables in the chequered shade,
where husbandmen regaled themselves with such aesthetic fare as
bread and celery and walnuts, washed down by plentiful libations
of amber wine; and savoury kitchens where pigs and calves were
roasted whole on spits; and stalls of peasant jewellery--strings of
blood-red coral and over-chased earrings; and booths of lace and
embroidery. Here boots and shoes were spread beside the road; there
sun-burnt peasant women were buying stays, heaped on the ground
close to a stall of fluttering kerchiefs. The majolica and copper
dishes were also ranged along the roadside, as were the stalls of
wooden implements, bobbins, and spoons and trays. But the cotton
umbrellas, scarlet and blue and emerald green, were hung like
fantastic lanterns from the branches of the avenue.

What a scene it was! The lowing of the kine mingled with the
distant music of the bells of Narni. Every moment fresh arrivals
added their quota to the merry bustle of the market, some bearing
on their heads great baskets heaped with fruit, some laden with
captive turkeys and chickens, some leading in their wide-horned
oxen, gay with scarlet fillets and bells slung round their silken
dewlaps. The brilliant kerchiefs of the women made them look like
flower-gardens as they stood in smiling groups before some alluring
bargain held up to their admiring eyes by salesmen. And mingling
with the crowd were fortune-tellers, and ballad-singers, and the
terrible crawling beggars of Italy.

Later in the day we went down the hillside and rested in the
shadow of the great ruined bridge of Augustus, that splendid relic
of Imperial Rome, which once carried the Flaminian Way across the
waters of the Nera. Only one arch is left to stride across the
ravine, and in the middle of the sulphureous stream the second pier
has fallen sideways in huge blocks, as though it had been toppled
over by an earthquake. But even in its ruin it is a monument of the
greatness of Rome, and it frames a wonderful vista of the wooded
glen of the Nar and the ancient convent of San Casciano.

[Illustration: NARNI: MARKET PEOPLE.]

The contadini were pouring out of the city and across the river
by the mediaeval bridge that takes on its shoulders the modern
traffic, which, had the years been kinder, would still have been
carried by the Ponte d'Augusto. They were all laden with purchases
from the fair, and they made merry as they passed along, driving
before them, not without a struggle, their unwilling cattle. But
we did not stay there long to watch them, notwithstanding the
picturesque beauty of the scene. For the pitiable cries of the
mothers, struggling to go back to their calves, resounded through
the valley; and the blind unreasoning misery of their offspring,
driven with blows along an unaccustomed road, was heartrending to
witness. Though common sense was plausible to point out how soon
the agony would pass, it was too human to be anything but tragic.

So we climbed the hill back to Narni and wandered through her empty
streets, astonished to find them rich in ancient grandeur. For we
had grown to think of her as a pastoral queen of Arcady, forgetting
her antiquity--that as Nequinum she was great among the cities of
the Umbri; that under the Romans she was a fortress of importance
commanding the Flaminian Way; and that in the fifteenth century she
bore a famous name as the ancestral home of Gattamelata, the great
Condottiere of the Venetians. Narni has good reason to be proud of
her sons. One was an Emperor, one a Pope, and one a hero.

And she herself has an heroic history, for so great was her
defence against the Romans that when at last she fell before the
Consul Fulvius in B.C. 299, he was given a Triumph 'de Samnitibus
Nequinatibusque,' and in the fatal year, 1527, she offered an
historic and gallant resistance to the _lanzknechts_ of the Bourbon
when they retreated from the horrors of the Sack of Rome. For this
the little citadel suffered the terrors of a sack in which one
thousand men and women were brutally put to death by the Spanish
and German mercenaries. So that there is again cause for wonder
that so many of her ancient churches and palaces have been left
unharmed, like the gracious little chapel of Santa Maria Impensole,
the Gothic Palazzo Comunale and Palazzo dei Priori, and the
beautiful cathedral, which is so rich in tombs, and counts among
its treasures a Romanesque shrine of high antiquity and interest.

But though the Bridge of Augustus was the glory of Nequinum in
the days of Martial, it is Erasmus, called Gattamelata, who is
the chief pride of Narni. A whole quarter of the city bears his
name. In the Vicolo Gattamelata a humble little house is inscribed
'Narnia me genuit, Gattamelata fui,' and in the Palazzo Comunale,
beside Narni's great Ghirlandajo, is a copy of that Knight of
the Uffizi, which up to the last few years has been ascribed to
Giorgione, and which the citizens of this little hill-town treasure
as a contemporary portrait of their hero.

[Illustration: NARNI: THE PONTE D'AUGUSTO.]

I have another memory of Narni. One morning, very early before
sunrise, we set out from that little city and made pilgrimage along
the Old Flaminian Way to the altar of an unknown, quite forgotten
god. It was our fancy to pay homage by the roadside where the
careless feet of generations had passed by. But we had not thought
to find such unexpected beauty on this ancient highway whose stones
were old before the Caesars had been dreamed of by the oracles of
Rome.

The Via Flaminia girdled the hillside, now disappearing round
the bluff of overhanging cliffs, now plunging into bosky depths
of wooded slopes, now reappearing across the ravine like a white
thread among the firs and ilexes which clothe the valley of the
Nera; now climbing down to the open plain. The air was fragrant
with the freshness of a sweet September morning, and musical
with the liquid song of larks. Below the road the hill sloped
sharply from our feet to where the Nera encircled the folds of
its mountains; and above us to the right towered a sheer cliff,
curtained with wild flowers.

At last we reached the altar of the Unknown God, or so we called
him, because, unlike Aius Locutius of the Palatine, we knew nothing
of him save that in the distant ages, even before the coming of
the Romans, men sacrificed and offered incense here before a god.
It was only a rough-hewn table of stone, raised above the level
of the road, overlooking the deep valley of the Nera where it
pierces the wooded hills and widens out into that misty plain of
the Tiber,--already a mighty river on its way to Rome. As we stood
before it, gazing down the valley, Phoebus gilded the hill-tops.
Our feet were on the Old Flaminian Road. And because the day was
young and the air like wine, and the ancient way to Rome was as
beautiful as a poem, we gathered together ferns and dried leaves,
and lit a fire upon this cold altar of the God of an older world.

It began in play. The Poet put a sprig of scented thyme upon
the ancient stone. But as the fire leapt up, and the blue smoke
ascended to the clear air like fumes of incense, our laughter died
away. Just for that moment all we were slipped from us. We became
as children playing in a temple who turn from their games at the
solemn voice of the prayer-bell, and leave their toys unheeded for
a while. Just for that moment there was only beauty, and the need
of worship to the God of beautiful things. No longer can we say,

  'Glory and loveliness have passed away;
    For if we wander out in early morn,
    No wreathed incense do we see upborne
  Into the east to meet the smiling day.'

For standing on the steep hillside upon the Old Flaminian Way,
we made a heap of scented herbs, thistles and dry mullein stalks,
all that the withered bosom of the earth could yield, and made our
offering to the valley and the hills and the great plain which
opened out before us.

So the old stone was warmed, the old god propitiated. And as the
smoke curled up to the blue heavens we saw the feet of Apollo
golden on the hill-tops. When we turned back we found Narni
sheathed in sunlit mists, as Turner painted her, like a mediaeval
saint rapt in the mystic glory of communion with nature.

The Poet quoted softly:--

  'For, it may be, if still we sing
    And tend the shrine,
  Some Deity on wandering wing
    May there incline;
  And, finding all in order meet,
  Stay while we worship at her feet.



ORVIETO: THE CITY OF WOE

  'To rear me was the task of Power divine,
  Supremest wisdom, and primeval love.
  Before me things create were none, save things
  Eternal, and eternal I endure.
  All hope abandon ye who enter here.'

                                           DANTE.


The broad white steps of Orvieto Cathedral were strewn with
thousands of dead flies, killed by the merciless glitter of its
new mosaics in the eye of the sunshine. Poor little dust of
life scattered at the door of Madonna Mary's temple, with your
shattered wings and your sightless crawling agony, meeting your
death unwittingly in the heart of this city of woe! You are the
key to its desolation, you with your myriads of dead, the horrid
harvest of an insatiable ghoul. For not even the shrill music of
Luca Signorelli's angels, hovering above the gloomy fortresses
of Orvieto with their hair streaming in the breeze of the dawn,
can raise her up to life. She is a city of the dead--shrivelled
and dark-browed, standing high over the plain on an island of
volcanic rock, 'dark-stained with hue ferruginous,' like Malebolge
within the depths of hell. Death lies around her in the valleys
where the earth is riddled with the tombs of Etruria--one vast
necropolis--and she herself, though she held life so dearly, as we
can see by her grim Romanesque houses each with its back to the
wall as it were, each armed at every point, would be almost dead
to the world if it were not for the Tuscan glitter of her great
Miracle Church.

Even her name has a sinister ring about it--Orvieto--the Old City.
To the writers of antiquity she was Urbs Vetus, but no man knows
her ancient name, and although archaeologists dispute in vain as
to the rival claims of Herbanum and Salpinum, it is recognised
that the origin of Orvieto is plunged in mystery. Unlike the other
cities of Southern Etruria, built on the extremity of a peninsula
of hills, she is isolated on a volcanic rock in the heart of the
melancholy valley of the Paglia, an impregnable position, as many a
Pope has realised with thankfulness as he fled to it for Sanctuary
from the wrath of Emperors or the malice of Cardinals, or, more
often still, the vengeance of the people of Rome. For Orvieto was
consistently Guelf in her sympathies, and no less than thirty-two
Popes have taken refuge within her walls since Adrian IV., Nicholas
Breakspear, the only Englishman who ever sat upon the Papal throne,
held his court there in 1157, because Rome had not yet forgotten
the martyrdom of the heroic Arnold of Brescia.

[Illustration: BELOW THE WALLS OF ORVIETO.]

We came to Orvieto by rail and scaled her precipice on the
funicular, which connects the station down on the plain with the
city on the rock above. If we had come by road, only a toilsome
climb of several miles would have brought us to the grim Porta
Maggiore, where Boniface VIII., in his twofold tiara, keeps watch
from his niche above the gateway.

Does any city frown so fiercely on the traveller as Orvieto? The
arch is gloomy and the road within is dark and steep. The sheer
cliffs sweep to right and left like the pylons of an Egyptian
temple, and above them peer fortified houses, squat and brown. This
surely is the city named of Dis, which Dante had in mind, whose
walls 'appeared as they were framed of iron,' upon whose gates the
citizens looked down with ireful gestures!

Through this gate hastened the Popes, fleeing from wrath to come,
and in their footsteps we toiled up the steep street between the
same houses of yellow volcanic tufa gone black, which frowned upon
the turbulent successors of St. Peter, who let down their nets, not
for the drawing in of souls, but for the dragging in of wealth and
the entangling of the feet of the unwary. Through dark alleys we
could see the gloomy depths of caves, hollowed out of the living
rock behind them: in the low _bassi_ the citizens of this broken
city toiled silently, and outside their doors sat hooded owls on
poles driven into the stony ground. Here indeed were the Middle
Ages, but not the Middle Ages of pomp and pageantry, of Gothic
palaces and slim young knights in silken hose. There are some
streets in Orvieto which look as though war had stalked through
them only yesterday; as though the terror-stricken Ghibellines
still cowered within doors, while the Monaldeschi rang bells in
triumph, as they did on that fateful day in the year of grace 1312,
when the Filippeschi had tried in vain to open the gate of the city
to Henry VII. of Luxemburg.

[Illustration: ORVIETO: THE CLOCK TOWER.]

Well, that is over now. But the curse of the Prophet Isaiah seems
to have fallen upon the papal City of Refuge. 'In that day shall
her strong cities be as a forsaken bough, and an uppermost branch
... and there shall be desolation.' So that it was with a kind
of wonder, as though we too had assisted at a miracle, that we
came suddenly upon the Duomo of Orvieto with its rare marbles and
brazen beasts of the Evangelists, its glittering mosaics, and
gilded pinnacles soaring to the heavens. For this great cathedral,
built to commemorate the triumph of the dogma of the Roman Church
over northern intelligence in the Miracle of Bolsena, is a bird of
strange plumage to find nesting on the melancholy rock of Orvieto.

Siena or Florence, Pisa or Lucca, any of the flowery cities of
Tuscany would have been its proper setting. It is too gay for
Umbria, whose hills are bathed in the serene, ineffable calm of a
mystic holiness, who, remembering her many saints, still keeps the
low estate of a handmaiden of the Lord. It is like a golden iris
plucked from some Tuscan garden, and transplanted upon the bosom
of this sombre precipice of tufa upheaved by Nature in primeval
struggles. For chance and the Papacy have grafted the most exotic
bloom of Italian Gothic architecture upon the rock of Orvieto.

But look closer. Behind the aerial grace of the façade with its
bewildering embroidery of yellowing marbles, rarely carved, its
jewelled canopies of mosaic, its Lombard colonnades and soaring
pinnacles, not even Time, the great artist who puts the crown of
beauty upon all the works of man, can veil the ugly nudity of nave
and transept. If the pride of the Orvietans had only left him a
freer hand upon the façade it would have been immeasurably more
beautiful. But the mosaics which should gleam from their rich
setting with the subdued brilliance of a peacock's feather, have
been restored so garishly by a local artist that they rob the
cathedral of half her wonder. Their glitter sears like a burning
glass: only on a rainy day, or by moonlight, could we look on them
with equanimity.

It was not for these that we stayed so long outside the portal of
Santa Maria, but to study the exquisite carvings which Lorenzo
Maitani or Niccolò Pisano traced on the bases of the four
pilasters. When two such scholars as John Addington Symonds and Mr.
Langton Douglas fall out over the authorship of these sculptures
it is useless to offer any opinion on the subject. But there is a
pretty legend concerning Niccolò Pisano and his work at Orvieto;
and because the reading of it gave me much pleasure as I sat on
the stone bench below the Opera del Duomo, marvelling over the
glories of the Miracle Church, I will give it in a quotation from
Mr. Symonds' delightful essay:--'Nicola Pisano, before Cimabue,
before Duccio, even before Dante, opened the gates of beauty, which
for a thousand years had been shut up and overgrown with weeds. As
Dante invoked the influence of Virgil when he began to write his
mediaeval poem, and made a heathen bard his hierophant in Christian
mysteries, just so did Nicola Pisano draw inspiration from a
Græco-Roman sarcophagus. He studied the bas-relief of Phaedra and
Hippolytus, which may still be seen upon the tomb of Countess
Beatrice in the Campo Santo, and so learned by heart the beauty
of its lines and the dignity expressed in its figures that in all
his subsequent works we trace the elevated tranquillity of Greek
sculpture.'[28]

[Illustration: A STREET IN ORVIETO.]

And, indeed, there is a curious and unexpected beauty in these
naïve reliefs telling the ancient story of the Creation and the
Fall, the Old Testament up to the Birth of Christ, the life of
Jesus, and the Last Judgement. For though they are a typically
mediaeval expression of faith, yet they are astonishingly free from
the bizarre design and crude workmanship of mediaeval imaginings.
Lofty in conception, they tell the solemn history of Christianity
in a series of scenes divided the one from the other by the Vine,
of which it has been written, 'I am the Vine and ye are the
branches.' But here for the first time in Mediaeval Art we see
treatment worthy of the nobility of the Theme. For whether the
sculptor did really become enamoured of the antique by the study of
an ancient tomb, or whether some fire of genius within himself bade
him struggle forth from the swaddling bands of Byzantium and the
grotesqueries of the North, he has inscribed a new chapter in the
history of Art upon the walls of the Cathedral of Orvieto.

Forsaking the crowded imagery of Mediaevalism, he has made manifest
the dignity and beauty of the human form. And something else as
well. For looking on the reliefs of the Creation, we can almost
hear the rustling wings of the two guardian angels as they hover
in the silent dawn above the garden where God creates man in His
own Image. And we see the germs of that poetic imagery which was
later to bear fruit in the genius of Ghiberti and Donatello, even,
it may be, in the frescoes of the Sixtine Chapel where Michelangelo
completed the great epic of the Human Form, whose prologue we may
read upon the stones of Orvieto Cathedral.

Directly we pass through the portal and enter the bare, ugly
church, it is apparent that although its Tuscan architects and
artists began their work lightheartedly enough, and although the
Popes made offer of indulgences to all who assisted them, the
sullen influence of the place weighed on their spirits. See how
grey and gloomy is the nave behind its gay mask; see how Niccolò
in spite of his love for the human form dwelt on the grim drama of
the Fall of Man; see how the tragedy of life is blazoned forth by
Signorelli. Only the Umbrians, the simple-hearted artists of the
countryside, called in to paint the chancel with the story of the
Virgin and the Life of Christ, and the Blessed Angelico, working on
the vault of the Cappella Nuova, seem to have been untroubled.

But neither the frescoes of the Umbrians, among which we thought
we could trace the hand of Pinturicchio, and certainly he was
under commission to paint for the canons of Orvieto, when he was
working in the Borgia Rooms in Rome, nor the exquisite reliquary
which Ugolino Vieri of Siena wrought for the miraculous Corporal
of Bolsena, detained us long. For in the southern transept we
had glimpsed the Chapel of the Madonna di San Brizio, where Fra
Angelico and Benozzo Gozzoli frescoed the vault, below which, many
years later Luca Signorelli came to paint his great pictures of the
Last Judgement.

It is a strange coincidence, as though some deep emotion had moved
these Tuscans to expression, that in Orvieto we see not only the
beginnings of realism in sculpture but the masterpiece of the first
great painter of the Quattrocento, who gave life to the human form
in fresco. Every one knows that Vasari claims for his kinsman,
Luca of Cortona, the honour of having inspired the Last Judgement
of Michelangelo. And no one can dispute that the Florentine, his
greater genius less exercised by the study of anatomy, clothed his
figures with more grace and dignity; and that the Dantesque terrors
of his hell, with the boatman of the Styx silhouetted against the
lurid glare of the underworld, are told with more reserve than
Signorelli's. But whether the confusion and morbidity of the whole,
already foreshadowing Baroque, surpasses the spacious compositions
of Signorelli is largely a matter for the enthusiast for technique
to declare.

[Illustration: ORVIETO: SANT'AGOSTINO.]

It is interesting to note the discrepancy between the conditions
under which these two men worked, each animated by the fire
of genius, though one so far beyond the other, each rapt in
contemplation of the awe-inspiring mystery of life and death.
Michelangelo, with the denunciations of Savonarola fresh in his
memory, worked alone and silently below the vault of the Sixtine,
where he had lavished his splendid energy twenty-two years before;
almost friendless, filled with gloomy imaginings. And looking
on the Sixtine Judgement we feel something of the inarticulate
anguish of his great spirit. But the frescoes of the Cappella della
Madonna di San Brizio are the key to an unsuspected chamber in the
soul of Luca Signorelli. For how reconcile these strange visions
of the anti-Christ and of Life after Death with our knowledge of
that courteous and stately gentleman 'who delighted in living
splendidly, and loved to dress himself in beautiful garments.'

Only one other time does he give us a glimpse into this secret
chamber, when we read the pathetic story of how he painted the
bodily loveliness of his dead son before he yielded it, dry-eyed
and silently, to the tyranny of the grave. Yet here perhaps we
have the clue to the meaning of his frescoes in the Cathedral of
Orvieto. For he had loved exceedingly, and seen his loved one
lowered to the unresponsive earth. Do not we too know what it is,
in spite of all our creeds and our philosophies, to weep for the
gentle voice and the dear brave eyes and the comforting hand of
those others whom we shall never meet again except in dreams? And
it is not only the spirit that we cry for, but the body.

So, Signorelli. And we felt this, especially looking at the fresco
of the Resurrection. For into the cold grey dawn of a featureless
world rise men and women, struggling with the clay which seems to
cling about their limbs, forcing them to make conscious efforts.
Above them in the starry heavens two strong and splendid angels
send forth the blast which calls them from the earth. The utter
aloneness and the awful sense of space make the newly-risen dead
shrink together, and some of them cling to each other, showing
a pathetic human feeling of desolation in the midst of their
wonderment and terror. Others are still engrossed in their struggle
with the encumbering earth. But there are some who meet in this
cold plain after long years of separation, and rush to hold each
other. How Signorelli loved their splendid physical beauty! Even in
his Paradise, where the heavenly choir makes music overhead, and
the angels scatter celestial roses among the saints, he does not
clothe them in gold raiment, only in their fair, strong limbs which
were to him as beautiful as flowers.

It was not so long a step as it appeared from Signorelli's Visions
of the Future Life to the Necropolis of Etruria, below the frowning
walls of the city. For Orvieto is shadowed by the Wings of the
Angel of Death--the _genie_ of the ancient Etruscans, which we see
faintly limned upon their sepulchres--and as the old custode at the
Mancini Tombs told us with arms outspread towards the plain, 'c'è
una vasta città dei morti, più grande che la città alta.'

The way was strewn with flowers, like all the paths of Umbria,
and it led us through the undergrowth at the foot of the rock of
Orvieto to the olive garden of the Mancini Necropolis. Barren figs
sprouted from the gaping crevices overhead, and sometimes the
bearded ivy hung half-way down the cliff. Once we came upon two
rude wooden crosses nailed to the brown tufa, with the marks of a
third between them, making the desolate valley more like a Golgotha
than ever.

[Illustration: ETRUSCAN NECROPOLIS BELOW THE WALLS OF ORVIETO.]

The necropolis below the hanging church of Sant'Agostino is more
interesting than romantic now that the tomb has been dismantled,
which Signor Mancini used to show to the traveller, intact,
with the inmate lying on his rough bed, surrounded by his last
possessions. The sepulchres are not hollowed out of the living rock
like most Etruscan tombs, but are built in a sort of honey-comb of
rough masonry, back to back, with chambers about 12 ft. long by 8
ft. wide, and perhaps 10 ft. high. The round _cippi_ on the mounds
which cover them make them appear curiously like Oriental villages.

But it is to the student rather than to the pilgrim in the world
of Beauty that this sombre burial-place of the ancients will
appeal. We found more joy in the painted tombs on the hill of the
Cappuccini, where in the cavernous depths of the tufa rock we
caught a fleeting glimpse of Proserpine seated beside the Lord of
Hades, and heard the flutings of Etruscan slaves as their princes
drank libations to their own departed souls. And it is worth while
crossing the valley in the early morning to see the loveliness of
Orvieto, crowning her great rock in the heart of her wide pale
valley, with the sunlight gilding her towers and the jewelled face
of her cathedral.

[Illustration: ORVIETO: ETRUSCAN TOMB.]

It was very early when we emerged from the frowning gate of the
city and dipped down among the dewy vineyards. Beside the road
an aqueduct rose out of the earth, a crumbling mass of ancient
masonry. As we climbed down into the valley it towered above us,
spanning the ravine, but when we toiled over the penitential stones
of the Via dei Cappuccini, thankful for its shade as we mounted,
it sank again into the hillside, and the leaping green things
clambered upon it, eager to drag it back to the ditch. So we went
leisurely through the play of light and shade, and always as we
looked back we saw Orvieto rising sheer out of the valley like
a queen on her brown rock. The morning mist wove a magic beauty
round the spires of her Gothic cathedral and the giant pine-tree on
the edge of her precipice, until she seemed the very city Turner
immortalised.

And presently we came into a chestnut grove where the path was
hidden under a carpet of rustling autumn leaves; and a tangle of
wild flowers--harebell, cyclamen, saffron and fireweed--wove a
tapestry on the loom of the grass. Here were our nameless tombs,
sunk deep in the tufa rock, with over-arching trees above their
gates and Canterbury bells growing on their mossy paths. Within,
the damp had eaten away many of the beautiful forms about which
Dennis wrote. But we could trace the shapes of the Lords and Ladies
of Etruria as they sat like shadows before their eternal banquet
in the halls of Elysium; we could see the slaves preparing their
elaborate feast, here baking bread, there pounding meat to make it
tender. And on another wall, a young warrior, attended by a winged
genius, bearing in her hand a scroll inscribed with his good and
evil deeds, drove in his chariot to Judgement in the Unseen World.
In the midst of these wraiths there was one unspoiled fragment of
plaster, the head of a youth, beautiful and Greek, who gazed sadly
upon the ruin of his gods, shut from the world so fair, which he
had dreamt was made for his strong youth and beauty, in whose ears
even the faint, half-vanished music of the pipes will soon be
silenced, if it is true that when the pictured ghosts of things
have faded their soul is stilled.

Their melody rang in our ears when we stood once more in the
chequered shadow of the chestnut grove, already gilded with
autumnal gold, and looked across the wide pale valley to Orvieto.
It was the hour of Mass, a Sabbath day and wonderfully silent.
Again we seemed to hear that plaintive strain. But it was only the
humming of the insects, and the bells of the distant city calling
her people to prayer.



VITERBO


Though they are sisters in name--Urbs Vetus and Vetus Urbs--and
though their function in the mediaeval history of the Papacy was
the same, it would be difficult to find two cities so dissimilar as
Orvieto and Viterbo. The mystic sadness of Orvieto is foreshadowed
in the pale valley of the Paglia, strewn with the débris of
volcanic upheavals; but instinctively our spirits rose as we drew
near the gay and beautiful city of Viterbo, across the rolling
plains of Lazio, which have been trodden by the feet of all the
armies who sought to invade the sanctuary of Rome. It is a field of
history and romance, full of memories.

Far away upon our left the Appennines were piled like storm-clouds
on the horizon; and upon our right, over the valleys once guarded
by the strongholds of Etruria, rose the splendid outline of
Montefiascone, the shrine of the Goddess of the Etruscans--the
Fanum Voltumnae, to which they gathered in times of doubt or danger
to consult the oracles and appease the gods. Near at hand, black
against the blue Sabine mountains, was the mysterious Ciminian
Mount, whose terrors held the Roman legionaries in check until
the Consul Fabius Maximus in B.C. 310 plunged through its forests
into the great Etrurian Plain, to the terror of the Senate, whose
prohibition reached him too late.

[Illustration: OUTSIDE THE WALLS OF VITERBO.]

The sun was sinking behind the hill of Montefiascone when we
entered Viterbo. It was Sunday, and the passeggiata between the
station and the Porta Fiorentina was filled with a gay crowd of
citizens and soldiers. For unlike the other papal cities of refuge,
Orvieto and Anagni, which have fallen upon evil days, Viterbo,
always a natural centre, is becoming an important provincial
capital, one of the most prosperous towns in Italy, with a rapidly
increasing population. And to her honour be it said that her
municipal energy is making itself felt to great advantage in the
direction of stripping from her Gothic palaces and churches the
baroquetries which have veiled their beauties during the last three
centuries.

The origin of Viterbo is as mysterious as the source of the
Nile. An Etruscan city is known to have stood upon its site; it
contains positions of great strength, tongues of hill, guarded by
gorges, well suited to the Etruscan style of fortification; and
it stands at the Etrurian gate of the Great Ciminian Forest, the
chief obstacle which the Romans had to pierce for the subjugation
of Etruria. So, putting aside the stupid forgeries of Annio of
Viterbo, who 'claimed for his native city an antiquity greater than
that of Troy,' it is curious that the Vetus Urbs is not mentioned
before the eighth century, when the old chroniclers speak of an
ancient castle--castrum Viterbii--standing on the present site
of the cathedral. But from the year 773, when it attracted the
attention of Desiderius, the last King of the Lombards, who made it
the base of his intended conquest of the States of the Church, has
its history been interwoven with that of the Papacy.

Little is known of Viterbo in Lombard times, for all the grandeur
of her Lombard walls, which were many times thrown down and built
up again in her constant warfare with Rome. It was not until the
beginning of the twelfth century that she sprang into importance
in mediaeval history as the capital of the Patrimony, bequeathed
by the Countess Mathilda of Tuscany to the occupants of the
Chair of St. Peter, assuming the rôle of a fully-armed Minerva
springing from the brow of Jove, because her lofty position made
her a fortress for the Popes in time of peril from the sword, and
a sanatorium in seasons of pestilence. In the twelfth century
Eugenius III. summoned the vassals of the Church to assemble in
Viterbo, and in the thirteenth century five popes were elected
within her walls, and four popes died there; in 1240 Frederick
II. was living in peace in Viterbo; and five years later the city
inscribed the most glorious page in her annals when the great
Emperor was humiliated by her heroic defence against his onslaughts
and forced to retreat into Pisan territory. But her power decayed
from the end of the thirteenth century, when Honorius IV., in
removing the interdict which his predecessor had laid on the city
for the outrages committed in the papal elections, decreed that she
was to raze her fortifications, lose her jurisdiction, and yield
her rectorate to Rome. Later, we find Urban V. staying in the Rocca
when he returned from Avignon, the mediaeval Babylon, in answer
to the exhortations of Petrarch; and here died the great soldier
and statesman, Cardinal Gil d'Albornoz, before the Pope continued
his unwilling journey to Rome. But it is chiefly as a city of the
twelfth and thirteenth centuries that we regard Viterbo to-day;
for in those stormy years which saw the rise and fall of the great
house of Hohenstaufen, the fate of Viterbo was synonymous with that
of the Papacy, and it is to this period that most of her mediaeval
monuments belong.

[Illustration: VITERBO: MEDIAEVAL HOUSE IN THE PIAZZA S. LORENZO.]

Coming from Orvieto we found Viterbo very gay and gracious, with
exquisite fountains making music in all her piazzas, and her
mediaeval streets full of the merry air of vintage time. Already
the great vats had been cleansed, and we had encountered enormous
barrels groaning and rumbling down the hills as they were rolled to
the fountains to be soused and sweetened by sun and air, or tumbled
back to their accustomed cellars. All day long the yoked oxen swung
slowly in through the ancient gates, drawing carts filled with
barrels of fruit; and in front of more than one humble osteria we
found a group of men and girls singing and laughing as they pressed
the grapes with bare white feet, up and down, up and down, while
the dark fluid flowed through a conduit into the vats below. This
alone would have made us love Viterbo, just as we still carry
gentle memories of Mantua, not so much for its great castles of the
Gonzaga, as for the beautiful simplicity of the vintage which we
watched being brought home to that city of arcades from the fields
round Virgil's home not many autumns ago.

[Illustration: VITERBO: THE MOAT OUTSIDE THE PORTA SAN PIETRO.]

But Viterbo, 'the Nuremberg of Italy,' is full of charm. She is
one of the most mediaeval cities in Italy; she has a whole quarter
of thirteenth-century houses cheek by jowl with barons' towers and
ancient churches; she has exquisite cloisters like that of Santa
Maria della Verità, where the recent Camorra trial was held; and on
the hill where the ancient castle of Viterbo stood she cherishes a
gem of Gothic architecture--the Palazzo Vescovile, which was once
the palace of the popes.

This was the stage on which the chief personages in the history of
Viterbo and the Papacy played their parts. Here came the Barbarossa
to pay his unwilling homage to proud Adrian IV., who thought of
lowering human dignity far more than any Latin would have done.
Here came Frederick II. in peace, because Viterbo had departed from
her loyalty to the Papacy for the time being, since the cause of
Gregory IX. had been espoused by her ancient enemy, Rome. Here was
elected Urban IV., the pope who never entered the Lateran or St.
Peter's. Here Charles of Anjou, and King Philip III. of France,
travelling from Tunis with the body of his father, Louis IX.,
waited for the election of Gregory X. in 1271; and the impatient
Charles, seeing that the cardinals were in no hurry to choose
a successor for Clement IV., took the roof from their council
chamber, confident that discomfort would hasten the decision of
those luxury-loving priests. That same year, in the presence of
the King of Sicily and the King of France, Henry, son of Richard,
Duke of Cornwall, who was on his way to England from the Tunisian
crusade, was done to death by Guido di Montfort, Charles' vicar
in Tuscany. 'The sight of the English prince awoke the fury of
this bloodthirsty warrior, and impelled him to avenge himself on
the royal house of England, by whom his great father, Simon of
Leicester and Montfort, had been slain in battle, and his remains
outraged in death. He stabbed the innocent Henry at the altar of a
church, dragged the corpse by the hair, and threw it down the steps
of the portal.'[29]

It is interesting to note that the murderer was not punished by
Charles, and that, as Gregorovius points out, only twelve years
later he was spoken of by Martin IV., who made him General in the
service of the Church, as his beloved son. But Dante places his
soul in hell among the tyrants who were given to blood and rapine,
where he commemorates the fact that Prince Henry's heart was
exposed before the sorrowing eyes of the English nation beside the
waters of the Thames.

  '... He in God's bosom smote the heart
  Which yet is honour'd on the bank of Thames.'

But it is difficult to realise such stirring scenes in Viterbo
to-day. For directly we left the Corso Vittorio Emanuele, with
its cheerful provincial bustle, behind us, and crossed the sunny
Piazza del Plebiscito, guarded by the lions of Viterbo, rampant on
columns below their heraldic palm-trees, we found her a gentle city
fallen upon sleep, full of stately mediaeval houses with outside
staircases, and ancient hospices for pilgrims, Gothic and grey,
with buttressed walls and cowl-like windows.

[Illustration: VITERBO: FROM A WINDOW IN THE PALACE OF THE POPES.]

[Illustration: VITERBO: THE STEMMA OF THE CITY.]

The Palace of the Popes, where there are memories for every stone,
stands with the cathedral in a sunny square beyond the Piazza della
Morte and the picturesque palace where the great Farnese Pope was
born. Thanks to Pedro Juliani, that most distinguished scholar, who
took the name of John XXI. when he was elected to the vacant chair
of St. Peter at Viterbo, the palace which was the home of so many
popes in the thirteenth century is one of the most beautiful Gothic
ruins in Italy. For it was the ill-fated John XXI. who built the
exquisite chamber supported by a single mighty column and an arch,
which is the chief glory of the Palazzo Vescovile. Legend has been
busy with the name of this pope, whose scientific studies made him
hated and feared by the ignorant and superstitious monks of his
day, and whose untimely death increased the popular belief that he
was a magician. He was killed by the falling ceiling of the very
room which he had taken such pride in adding to the papal palace,
and on the night of the catastrophe it is said that a monk roused
his companions from sleep by crying out that he had seen a huge
black man knocking with a hammer on the wall of the Pope's room--a
legend quite in keeping with the general belief circulated in Rome
more than two hundred years later, that the devil had called in
person at the Vatican to carry away the body of the wicked Borgia
Pope.

At the first glance the Palazzo Vescovile seemed nothing but a
gracious ruin, for the lovely Gothic chamber of John XXI. is only
a shell whose loggias frame the blue heavens, and whose fountain,
fallen into decay, is overgrown with weeds. It is open to the sky;
but the great Council Chamber, from which that impatient Prince,
Charles of Anjou, took the roof above the heads of the Papal
Conclave, has been closed in again, although the wind strays at
will through its beautiful trefoil windows. And here we loved to
sit looking through the empty Gothic frames at the great church of
the Trinità across a vine-clad slope, and the grey convents and
buttressed walls of Viterbo shimmering in the opal light of an
October morning, with the noble sky-line of Montefiascone upon the
horizon, and the misty blue hills of Umbria beyond. For we never
wearied of the mediaeval grace and the deliberate beauty of this
palace of the Popes with its silent fountain and its grass-grown
loggia; and one day, while we sat in the lofty Council Chamber
which has been witness to so many stirring scenes, a motor drove
up to the foot of its sweeping steps, oh, splendid anachronism!
and from the inner palace hastened a proper dignitary to meet the
ancient prelate who descended from it, and conduct him into the
presence of his master, reminding us that this stately ruin is
still the episcopal headquarters of Viterbo.

[Illustration: VITERBO: THE PALACE OF THE POPES.]

[Illustration: VITERBO: FOUNTAIN IN THE PALAZZO MUNICIPIO.]

'Città delle belle fontane e delle belle donne' was the boast
of the ancient chroniclers of Viterbo, but we did not see many
beautiful women in her streets, although the splendour of her
fountains is still a proverb. Every little piazza, no matter how
humble, is endowed with a fountain of exquisite grace, where
silver floods of water pour over lichened stones, or trickle from
the spouting mouths of the Guelph lions of the city; even Rome
cannot boast so many gracious fantasies of the fifteenth century.
They are as numerous as the beautiful outside staircases which are
to be found on more mediaeval houses in Viterbo than in any other
Italian city. Such an one is the Casa Poscia, half way up the Via
Cavour, which is turned to a humble use to-day, like all the great
palaces of Viterbo, having an osteria in its basement, but which is
a perfect specimen of the local domestic architecture of the Middle
Ages, still closed at night by ancient wooden doors. The Viterbesi
invariably point out this house as the Casa of the bella Galiana,
whose inscription in the Piazza del Plebiscito bears witness to
the mortality of that Helen of the Middle Ages, who was 'flos et
honor Patriae, species pulcherrima rerum.'

[Illustration: VITERBO: THE HOUSE OF BELLA GALIANA.]

But the chief glory of Viterbo is the romantic mediaeval city
which lies between the Via Principe Umberto and the gates of the
Carmine and San Pietro. Here even the names of the narrow and
mysterious streets have not been changed by the rise of the House
of Savoy. Would it not give a thrill even to the most unimaginative
of travellers to step from the Square of the Dead into the Via di
San Pellegrino with its grey thirteenth-century houses huddled on
either hand, now flowering into Gothic windows and elegant outside
staircases, now frowning defiance from square fighting towers with
evil slits for eyes, now opening a passage down the steep hillside
like the Street of a Hundred Bridges or the staircase street which
leads to the Bridge of the Paradox?

[Illustration: VITERBO: VIA DI S. PELLEGRINO.]

Here the Middle Ages come to life again; nor are the people
themselves greatly changed, for the women scrub their linen at
ancient fountains, and the men work in the dark _bassi_ at their
humble trades; here we saw a white-haired dame plying her distaff
in a little vine arbour at the head of her balcony staircase, and
there we met a man coming from the bakery with a plank of bread,
three and a half feet long on his head. As in Orvieto, there were
hooded owls on stands outside the doors to give another mediaeval
touch, and from the upper windows women looked down with the
languid curiosity of the Latin races. In the smaller streets
there were dirt and squalor unimaginable, broken fruit and flies,
unspeakable smells and the noise of screaming children, but in
their midst were serene-eyed mothers, with the mysterious calm
in their faces which has made the Italian woman the most subtle
type of Madonna, who seemed in some strange fashion to be exalted
above the impure atmosphere in which they lived, like the crimson
garofani, or the long sprays of Morning Glory which flowered in
their mediaeval windows. Though there was poverty it was the
poverty of the country rather than the destitution of a city, just
as the sheets and towels which fluttered from loggia and arch and
balustrade were threadbare in spite of their fine embroidery and
rich insertions of hand-made lace.

It was through these streets that we saw the vintage coming in
through the ancient Porta San Pietro under the shadow of the
magnificent palace which was the home of Donna Olimpia Pamphili,
the infamous sister-in-law of Innocent X., just as it was brought
in the days when the Vetus Urbs was a sanctuary for the princes of
the Church.

[Illustration: ONE OF VITERBO'S MANY FOUNTAINS.]

Una giornata di tempo bello we drove across the swelling plains of
Etruria to the ruined city of Ferentinum. It was the happiest of
days, the last, though we did not know it then, of our careless
pilgrimages, for the next morning came autumn with cold winds
and rain, and we were forced to hurry after our luggage which had
already gone to Rome. But on that day there was a special beauty
in the rolling plain which once was peopled by the vanished cities
of Etruria, and now is so like the Campagna with its ruined tombs
and scattered trees and lonely farmsteads. Here we found the same
enchantment that we remembered in the fields of Rome--the silence,
the gnats hanging in the air in glinting masses as though they
danced in an invisible net, the larks singing in the blue distance,
the song of a ploughman hidden in a fold of the plain. From our
feet stretched the dusty road losing itself in the valleys and
cresting the hills beyond. Far ahead rose Montefiascone with
its great dome soaring above its ilex wood, and to the right,
blue and mysterious in the early morning sunlight, was the dark
Ciminian Mount, misty with spreading columns of smoke as though the
shepherds or the woodcutters within the precincts of its haunted
forest were offering incense to the Gods.

And once we came upon a dozen yoke of oxen ploughing the heavy
brown earth, with the sunlight shining on their smoking flanks
and glistening on the freshly-turned clods of mould behind them.
How little it has altered, this immemorial plain, since the days
when Rome feared to plunge into the dark recesses of the Ciminian
forest, and the Lucumos of Etruria rioted their energies away in
the little cities below the mighty fane of Voltumna! For if mankind
has changed, Nature is still the same; those rolling oxen are on
the tombs of Thebes; the ancient poets have sung of these dark
woods and scented plains, and the husbandmen at work!

The way was long until we came, between hedges with a flower like
japonica, to an outpost of Ferentinum standing over the green
valley of the Acqua Rossa,--a disused tomb which had been a home
for the living long after the dust of the poor forgotten dead had
been scattered to the winds. Here we dismounted and climbed up a
path so thickly spread with soft brown dust that our feet sank into
it and made no sound. Here and there we saw the basalt _selce_,
which marked the direction of the Roman road. Among the tangled
brambles at the side were half-demolished tombs, now a columbarium
for cinerary urns, now a niche, now merely a heap of tumbled
stones. For the earth is taking this ancient city back to her heart
again, and though the summer drought had withered the flowers which
bloom where once the pitiful dust of humanity was laid, the empty
chambers were full of golden bracken and fantastic thistles, silver
with scattered seeds.

Still we wound up the hillside, and presently we came upon two
wind-blown oaks, the only watchers at that city's gates, beside
a rough stone wall, built by some shepherd to prevent his sheep
from breaking in upon the sleeping silence of Ferentinum. It was a
city of the dead, deserted save for the lizards fleeing from our
footsteps, and a few white butterflies dancing above the mullein
stalks.

At first it seemed as though no stone had been left standing on the
other, but on the crest of the hill, overlooking the wooded and
precipitous valley of the Acqua Rossa, and framing in its Royal
Gateway the misty forest of the Ciminian Mount, we came upon the
Theatre of Ferentinum, the only building in the ancient city which
retains any semblance of its former grandeur. So do our vanities
outlive us when our loves and homes are covered with the dust of
oblivion! Behind it the purple basalt of the road was worn into
deep ruts by the chariot wheels of the ancient peoples as they
drove by on pleasure bent, and the ground was jewelled with mosaics
and the iridescent dust of ancient glass, powdered by time. Here
and there we could trace fragments of the mediaeval town grafted on
to the city of Etruria, which in the days of its Roman occupation
was the birthplace of the Emperor Otho--like the remains of the
Byzantine church in the shadow of the Theatre--but for the most
part there was only ruin in the fallen city of the Etruscan Goddess
of Fortune.

[Illustration: THE RUINED THEATRE OF FERENTO.]

Surely the earlier Gods must wonder at the fate of this small
country town, which was renowned among the ancients not so much for
the greatness of its history, as for the beauty of its monuments
and the art of its brass-workers, but which was destroyed in the
name of Christ in the year 1014, nearly nine centuries ago! It is a
strange story. How the Viterbesi, arrogant and always on the watch
to increase their power as a commune, razed the little episcopal
city of Ferento to the ground, because it persisted in the heresy
of representing Christ upon the cross with His eyes open (after the
manner of the Byzantines) instead of closed!

From that day there has been no human habitation in Ferento except
the hut of the shepherd-guide. But the half-vanished city of three
civilisations is filled with an inexpressible charm, not desolate
because the sun and wind have peopled it with flowers, and not
deserted by the fleeing footsteps of the Gods. For surely they were
with us in the magic beauty of that soft October morning when the
little breeze across the valley fanned our hair like an invisible
plume, and Earth, the wise mother of mankind, was offering incense
to the heavens--the fragrance of crushed herbs, the soft hymn of
insects, the silver voice of the Acqua Rossa. Even the blue threads
of smoke which still ascended from the ilex groves of the dark
Ciminian Mount seemed part of the mysterious sacrament.



ROME


It was in Foligno, seeing that fair white road which threads the
rich valley of Spoleto, now skirting the Hill of Trevi, now leading
through the olive gardens of Le Vene to the crystal springs of
Clitumnus, that we first began to think of Rome. Up to that time
we had not raised our eyes to the horizon. The beauty of the road
itself had led us on, but now, though she was still far off, we
felt once more the magnetism of the great Mother of Cities. Truly
in Italy every road must lead to Rome. Many times we had been
greeted with the words,'_E Roma? Andate ancora a Roma?_'--in little
Passignano that gazes like Narcissus into the mirroring waters
of Thrasymene, rapt in the contemplation of her own beauty; in
far-off Gubbio, wistful and forlorn in the shadow of her great
hills; in San Marino, the eagle nest where Liberty has taken refuge
upon a mountain top. And when we told our simple questioners that
we knew the city well, they pressed to hear what she was like,
this _città bella e magnifica_, whose light shining upon their
horizons they perhaps might never see. We had not dreamed that she
was so beloved. But at the oft-reiterated question some flame of
enthusiasm, which we had thought quenched, began to burn again, and
Rome became the secret goal of our pilgrimage, until we thrilled
to see that white road leading through the plain from the walls of
Foligno, because it had become the symbol and expression, as it
were, of our desires.

We crossed the Campagna in a thunderstorm, when earth and sky were
united in a mighty storm-song. Above the roar of the train we could
hear the booming of the thunder and the shriek of the wind, the
sibilant cry of the rain-lashed trees, and the exultant shout of
rivers, which the demon of the tempest had changed from languid
veins of water to brown and foaming torrents.

As we drew near the Eternal City across the many-bosomed desert
of the Campagna we saw St. Peter's dome hanging like a mirage
on the grey thunder-clouds, more like a mountain than a church,
dwarfing Monte Mario. And we thrilled at the thought of nearing
Rome, feeling the contentment that human beings feel towards each
other when they meet a dear friend after long years of absence,
knowing that, the strangeness of the first moment over, they will
find themselves settled down with few words into the old dear
comradeship of yesterday.

[Illustration: ROME: ST. PETER'S SEEN FROM THE ARCO OSCURO.]

But perhaps it was because we came so lately from Umbria,
sweet-scented, golden Umbria, where the only shadows are the heavy
veils of night or the shifting reflections of sunlit clouds, that
our hearts sank in Rome. We had bid our loves good-bye so lightly,
looked our last upon their beauties, and shut their little voices
up by miles of empty plain. Perhaps too we had caught something of
the spirit of the simple country folk who clasped their hands and
sighed over the splendid city of their imagination.

I will own that I felt very heartsick in those first few days,
notwithstanding my old love for Rome. The golden peace of Umbria,
which we had garnered and stored in our hearts through the long
summer months, seemed lost in the urgent business of Rome. Memory
had clothed her with antique grace, had peopled her with Emperors
and Popes, had filled her winding streets with mediaeval palaces,
her piazzas with the gay Renaissance. But coming from Umbria,
where the Middle Ages still linger, and that older, simpler life
of the Beginning of the World is pictured in her vineyards and
olive gardens, we found Rome little more than a modern city, full
of unrest and noise. Everywhere there was scaffolding and masonry,
and we feared to look for our familiar landmarks lest the great
god of change should have swallowed them up. It was impossible
to enjoy walking in the streets; all we could do was to pick our
way along the narrow pavements, one behind the other, thinking
ourselves fortunate if a screaming demon of a tram did not come
upon us unawares. We crossed the roads in a meaningless sea of
shouting taximen and winecarts and motor-cars and jostling people.
To make matters worse our beloved Via Tritone was being enlarged,
and was still undergoing the process of having tramway-lines laid
down it to the Corso. And the Piazza Barberini, our own piazza,
where the Triton singing in his fountain had dwelt in our memories
and dreams, was the workshop of the tramway people, full of stones
and unconnected lines, which seemed to fall automatically upon each
other with a hideous noise all through the day.

[Illustration: THE ALTAR OF THE UNKNOWN GOD ON THE PALATINE.]

Can you wonder then that our Goddess, Imperial and lovely Rome,
seemed to have stepped down among ordinary mortals?

Another thing. We had left a great city in search of joy. And
we had found it. Up there in Umbria we had culled it from the
roadside as you cull flowers. We had drunk of Lethe and gathered
forgetfulness beside its waters. The burden of the world had
slipped from off our shoulders. Little by little our feet had
grown lighter upon the hillside. Our mountainous doubts, our
despairs, our days of little faith, became mere memories. All the
old fears of a city 'with houses both sides of the street,' were
forgotten. We no longer bruised our feet on paving stones, but
felt the soft warm earth beneath our soles and smelt the fragrance
of pine-needles in the woods. Life became a beautiful and simple
thing. Holy too.

But here in Rome old doubts came back upon us, taking us unawares.
'The poor in great cities are not like the poor in Umbria,' said
the Philosopher; 'here they suffer so.' We heard more tales of pain
in those first days in Rome than we had heard in all the sunny
months we had been dreaming away in Umbria. And on our first night
in the city a courtesan screaming hopelessly below our windows as
she was dragged to prison made our new-found joys shiver away to
death. We felt like the Israelites when they looked upon their
manna the second day and found it full of worms, and we knew that
we had gathered the food of angels in the sunlit spaces of the
Umbrian plain.

I am no Utopian who seeks to bring the country to the town. I know
too well how soon its incorruptible beauty would be corrupted.
It is only in the hills that we may find it and the open spaces.
There, it seems, we must go to learn our lesson, and when we have
learnt it, this A B C of beauty, we can come back to the towns and
learn more difficult things, the reverence for beliefs which are
no longer beliefs, as Emerson taught, the beauty of a city, and
of a poor man's smile. But just as the Israelites, when the need
for manna was past, returned to ordinary food and found it good,
so we too drifted back to our old content and began reluctantly to
worship our old gods again.

And it would be childish to deny that the great Exhibition for
which Rome was preparing marked her splendid prosperity under the
rule of the House of Savoy; or that the magnificent memorial to
Victor Emmanuel on the brow of the Capitol is the most imposing
monument in the whole city; or that the Palatine has gained in
picturesqueness now that the débris has been cleared away from its
lower slopes.

[Illustration: ROME: A FOUNTAIN IN THE BORGHESE GARDENS.]

But it was not to see these things that we came to Rome, and we
found their ancient charm untouched in those shrines of beauty to
which we paid a special pilgrimage. For all the pictures which
had given us delight upon our journeys, from the faded frescoes
of Cimabue in San Francesco d'Assisi to the strange fancies of
Luca Signorelli in the Cathedral of Orvieto, were only stepping
stones to the vault of the Sixtine Chapel and the revelations of
Michelangelo. Not any of the fountains in Viterbo or in Siena or
Perugia had such a gracious setting as the moss-grown basins of the
Villa Borghese, whose crystal jets, like Arachne of old, challenge
Athena to spin a lovelier web below the ilexes and autumn-gilded
maples. And when we came to worship at the shrine of the Unknown
God on the sunny slopes of Rome's sacred hill, where the reapers
were scything the fennel and thistles and tall rank weeds, which
had grown higher than a man, we found the altar of the Genius of
Rome fragrant with the last red roses of summer. Above it fluttered
a butterfly like a soul that fain would speak, and a careless
lizard was sunning himself upon the ancient inscriptions which
mottled lichens seek vainly to erase.

Out on the Appian Way the roadside was still full of flowers,
white, purple and gold. The dry fennel and yellow thistles and
tall weedy mulleins were waist-high among the tombs. Butterflies
fluttered their last dances before they yielded their little bodies
to the enchantment of winter sleep; birds were fluting overhead,
lizards sunned themselves upon the old grey stones.

For the rest we found the Ancient Way deserted, a home of sunshine
and peace. If there was dust, was it not dust of the dead? Is
not all the dust in the world dust of the dead? And were not
the flowers, those gay brave pennons of spring and summer, the
quintessence of this Roman dust?

To our right Tivoli was hidden in mist, but Rocca del Papa and the
Alban Mount rose like shadows to the south. The aqueducts marched
across the plain, or stumbled into ruin among the flowers with
which the merciful earth covered their fall. Lonely farms, towers,
nameless tombs, grew out of the folds of the plain. And the early
setting October sun, dipping into a haze, empurpled the fields and
wove a golden halo round the sheep who bleated homewards in the
melancholy of the dying sky. The little trees, like mourners, bent
down towards the tombs, or seemed to shrink back to the earth. Only
the stone pines with their heads to heaven were unconscious of the
death around their roots.

[Illustration: THE VIA APPIA.]



FOOTNOTES:


[1] Dante, _Inferno_, Canto xxii.

[2] Dante, _Paradiso_, xi. 41.

[3] The Flagellant Brotherhood originated in Perugia in 1259, and
spread like wildfire through Tuscany and Umbria to Rome.

[4] 'Their Highnesses the Baglioni had the livery which Count
Jacomo, son of Niccolò Piccinino, gave them, ... and for their arms
they bore a shield azure traversed in the middle by a bar of gold,
and above for crest a griffin's head, and behind this hung down a
serpent's tail.'--Matarazzo, _The Chronicles of Perugia_.

[5] The mediaeval Italian apparently believed that he averted the
visit of Death by blocking up the door by which the dead body was
carried out, since Death was supposed to enter a house by the door
through which he had already passed. But Mr. Markino gave me an
interesting variant of the superstition. In Japan Doors for the
Dead were used because the human body was considered not clean in
comparison with the Gods; and especially after death, when the
human body is only dust, it could not be allowed to pass where the
Gods might come--through the chief doors of a house.

[6] I adhere to the Greek names because this is a digression into
Arcadia.

[7] Mr. W. Heywood tells us in his admirable book, _Palio and
Ponte_, that 'from the beginning of the seventeenth century the
Feast of Our Lady of Provenzano became well-nigh the principal
holiday of the Sienese year. It was celebrated on the 2nd of
July, the day of the visitation of the Blessed Virgin.' The Palio
was not actually presented to the victorious _contrada_, but the
silver basin which accompanied it, or its equivalent in money. 'Not
unfrequently they petitioned the Governor to permit the race to be
run anew, by the other _contrade_, on the day after the Festival
of our Lady of August, offering as a prize the silver basin which
they had themselves won.... By degrees this practice grew to be so
common that before the end of the eighteenth century the Palio of
the 16th August had become as regular an event as that of July.'

[8] The Alfieri are pages in the mediaeval sense. Siena is the only
town in Italy which still makes a study of the mediaeval sport of
banner-tossing.

[9] Some of the horses which took part in the race were sorry nags,
but the _contrada_ of the Porcupine had a really good animal.

[10] Dante, _Inferno_, Canto xxix. 17.

[11] This Annunciation is claimed to be by Sebastiano Mainardi,
the friend and pupil of Ghirlandaio, with whom he worked while he
was engaged on the Chapel of the Holy Fina. Mainardi, who later
married Ghirlandaio's sister, and Vincenzo di B. Tamagni, a pupil
of Raphael, were the only artists born in San Gimignano.

[12] But I do not doubt the wisdom of the Government, for our two
soldier coachmen only voiced the general opinion when they told us
that the peasants of the neighbourhood had been impoverished under
the rule of the monks, but that they make an ample livelihood under
the rule of the state.

[13] J. A. Symonds.

[14] Dante, _Paradise_, xvi. 73.

[15] 'It is by some pretended that these subterranean passages
form part of the labyrinth of Porsena, but this opinion has no
foundation. They are much more probably connected with the system
of sewerage, and the subterranean chambers may have been either
cellars to houses or _favissae_ to temples.'--Dennis, _Cities and
Cemeteries of Etruria_, vol. ii.

[16] Livy, Book xxi.

[17] Dante, _Purgatory_, xi. 93.

[18] Laura M'Cracken, _Gubbio Past and Present_.

[19]

 'Their origin has been variously assigned to the twelfth and the
 fourteenth century. If, as seems probable, they were designed by
 Gattapone, they may be placed in the middle of the fourteenth
 century about the time of the erection of the two municipal
 palaces.'

  Laura M'Cracken, _Gubbio Past and Present_.


[20] Dante, _Inferno_, v. 118.

[21] Gregorovius, _Rome in the Middle Ages_.

[22] Their identity is disputed.

[23] Dante, _Purgatory_, xxviii. 40.

[24] Dante, _Inferno_, iv. 6.

[25] 'The energetic Lambert had made a genuine peace with Rome,
where he had gloriously restored the Imperial power. The Pope,
though compelled by necessity, had with equal sincerity striven to
secure Lambert in the Imperium. Freed from all foreign influence,
it seemed now for the first time possible to form an independent
kingdom within the Italian frontier.'--GREGOROVIUS, _Rome in the
Middle Ages_.

[26] 'This waterfall is in its present form wholly artificial. It
was first formed by M'. Curius Dentatus, who opened an artificial
channel for the waters of the Velinus, and thus carried off a
considerable portion of the Lacus Velinus, which previously
occupied a great part of the valley below Reate.'--_Dictionary of
Greek and Roman Geography_.

[27] _Purgatory_, Canto xxiii., Cary's Translation.

[28] J. A. Symonds, _Italian Studies_.

[29] Gregorovius, _Rome in the Middle Ages_.



      *      *      *      *      *      *



Transcriber's note:

Errors in printing and punctuation were corrected.





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