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Chapter 4

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Latian Summers

by
Dorothea Roberts

Junior Army & Navy Stores, Limited
1903

The text is in the public domain,
except for my notes.
Any color photographs are
© William P. Thayer or as indicated.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 6

p251 From the Volscian Mountains
1860

[Link to a page in German]
Ch. 60
I had long desired to ride across those Volscian hills which lay so invitingly before my eyes as I looked over to them from Genazzano, where I had once spent a peaceful summer. Later, too, I had designed to descend upon the Maritima. In accordance with these schemes I mounted my steed one fine morning, and set forth upon what proved to be a most delightful excursion.

After for three hours crossing grassy levels, broken by occasional knolls, we reached the first slopes of the mountains. The Campagna of the river Sacco much resembles the district surrounding Rome. Brown, weather-worn towers, the last relics now visible of the Feudal Ages, also start up from the plains here — sad, solitary, but lending a charm to the landscape, by recalling those wild Middle Ages when the Barons lorded it over Latium. The great family of the Conti then shared, with that of Colonna, much of this Volscian land. The Conti had seized the districts lying closest to the p252mountains. The three great branches of their House took their titles respectively from the towns of Segni, Valmontone, and Anagni. Above all, however, they were Lords of the Campagna, quartering its eagle with their family arms. Three hundred years ago the Conti became extinct. They had given many Popes to Rome. Prince Colonna still exists, and possesses estates in Latium, although younger races, enriched by Papal uncles, have annexed, either by purchase or by family arrangement, many of his ancient fiefs. Such are the families of Doria and Barberini. If you ask the herdsman, pasturing his sheep on Latian meadows, "To whom does the land belong?" he is sure to reply either "Colonna" or "Borghese," and this, too, will the custodian of each gloomy old castle in that district say, if you stop, riding by, to inquire "Who is its lord?"

In the Maritima, however, we find ourselves in the territory of another great noble, for there the Gaetani — Dukes of Sermoneta — are lords of the soil. I crossed the Sacco at Mola de' Piscari,a a most picturesque mill niched into the crumbling remains of an old Colonna fortress; we found it also called "Turris de Piscoli." The Sacco here foams and frets round a black tufa rock; on this rock lie strewn the ruins of a p253castle which once dominated the Via Latina. Half-an‑hour's distance from it, that ancient road passes Valmontone. I rode on by a pathway over bare fields, only enlivened by the shepherd and his sheep. These herdsmen wear goatskins bound round their legs with the hairy side out, which gives them a strange resemblance to satyrs. It is easy to see how the myth arose which gave goats' legs to the followers of the god Pan, for doubtless in the legendary ages these men went about clothed just as they appear now.

[and if you need it, here's help in using the map,
including my own symbols & added information.]

A short ride brought me to 2 Valmontone,b which lies invitingly above the old Roman Way. The castle, the Barberini Palace, and the church — striking buildings in the rococo style of the eighteenth century — are placed together on a low, but abrupt, tufa rock; the town is gathered closely round about them, and encircled by orchards, vineyards, and rich meadows. The topographers of to‑day say that it occupies the site of the ancient Tolerium. The newer name appears first in an edict of the thirteenth century, which concerns a provincial town belong to the Lateran Church in Rome. This boundlessly rich Basilica sold the town in 1208 to Pope Innocent III, a Conti, or to his brother Ricardo, Count of Sora, who then p254became the feudal head and founder of the Valmontone and Segni branches of the family of Conti. They continued in possession of it until the race became extinct in 1575. Giovanni Baptista left one daughter and heiress, named Fulvia, by whom the name was merged in that of her husband's family, the Sforzas. In 1634 the Sforzas sold Valmontone to the Barberini, from whom it was purchased in 1651 by Cardinal Francesco Camillo Pamphili, nephew of Innocent X. Since that date it has remained in the possession of the Pamphili-Doria family. Camillo, one of the wealthiest princes of the seventeenth century (his mother, Olympia Maldachini,º gathered in money like a very harpy), built the palace and church. If we did not know their date, one glance at these buildings would suffice to betray it. They are of the Bernini period, as it is displayed in Rome. They resemble rather the Pamphili Palace, and the Church of St. Agnese in the Navona, than products of the Campagna. This family expended much money on princely and luxurious edifices. The nephew of Pope Innocent X built one of the most gorgeous palaces in Rome, that which is now called the Doria Palace. Its picture gallery is richer in good works of art than any other in the City of Rome.

p255 Innocent himself built the great Pamphili Palace and the church in the Navona, giving the commission for them to Bernini, as well as one for the erection of the fountain in the Navona, one of the noblest in Rome.

And in this manner did the Conti family add some conspicuous features to the physiognomy of the Eternal City. The Borghese and the Barberini followed in their footsteps. However we may criticise the style of the eighteenth century, with its overloaded ornamentation and superabundant details, this much must be conceded to it, that it mirrored faithfully the spirit of its age; it possesses much that is noble, and it expresses the epoch when luxury had reached its height truthfully and fearlessly. The spacious rooms, the superabundance of comfort and convenience, of elegance, and of all that wealth can give; the splendour in which the useless baron, rustling in silk and velvet, spent his life — his vassals sweating to afford him his luxuries — all this we see expressed in the architecture and decoration of the eighteenth century. On the head of this pampered being fell the terrors of the French Revolution — he was annihilated, and for ever, by fire and sword. During that century the Popes ceased to build. Since the reign of Pius VI nepotism p256has ceased to exist; the magnificent palace given to his nephew Braschi, which stands on the Navona near the Pamphili, was the last luxurious building created at the expense of an oppressed peasantry to gratify the pride of the Papal offspring. We shall see no more palaces built now, by either the Barberini, the Borghese, the Dorias, the Albani, the Odescalchi, the Rospigliosi, or the Corsini. Quite another order of buildings is coming into vogue. In place of the splendidly adorned villa or palace built for the families of Popes and Cardinals, we shall have in future railway stations, hotels, theatres, casinos, and the modern barrack.

Nothing worth noting now remains in Valmontone — not a monument of the Middle Ages survives. The town was destroyed by the army of Charles V in 1527, after that army had plundered Rome, and no sooner was it rebuilt than it again suffered the same fate at the hands of the Duke of Alba's soldiery and Marcantonio Colonna. The only remarkable view from it is that of the Volscian Mountains from the piazza where the palace stands, and of the town of 4 Monte Fortino, lying dark and grim on a hillside, and overcrowned by the huge baronial castle which rises above it.

Small and remote as Valmontone may be, it p257is enlivened by the concourse of many travellers. Every one visiting Rome from the South passes through it, and endless trains of carts and waggons, drawn by slow white oxen, stream through it as they proceed to Rome to find a market for their cornº and oil and wool. Three times a week a post carriage comes through, but it only goes as far as Frosinone; so to get to Ceprano, or any Neapolitan town, a private carriage must be hired.

The Via Latina traverses an umbrageous valley, then, by quiet meadows and old towns, it reaches the mountains. Having crossed the Sacco, we began to ascend, continuing to do so till 3 Segni was reached. As we rode over the foothills of the Volscian range we saw Fortino to the right, 5 Gavignano on a pleasant eminence to the left. The road is a little monotonous, climbing always higher into the mountains; as we wound up, the classic plains of Latium spread out more and more beautifully at our feet, sad and grand, each hill crowned with its castle, and all shut in by the blue Apennines. Far in the distance the white cones of still higher ranges shone in the sunshine, and Naples lay beyond them.

I have traversed most of the classic meads of Italy; I have strayed through the fields near p258Agrigentum and Syracuse; but, fair as these are, they failed to impress me as does the Campagna of Rome. This familiar region — I know it as well as I know my own home: I have been making researches in it for my History of Rome in the Middle Ages for a long time past — this Campagna remains ever new, ever impressive to me. It awakens always the old yearning affection; I never look down from Monte Mario, on that vale trending away towards Palestrina and Colonna in the Latian Campagna, without longing as ardently as at first to return to them. It is probably its historical interest which enhances the charm of that landscape, yet its noble features alone must enchant all who love Nature in her grander moods.

Some districts look quite mythical — the forest of Castel Fusano, near Ostia, for instance, with its lofty pine-trees standing by the sea‑shore, the Tiber flowing out from them into the Mediterranean. It must be peopled by fanciful, unreal beings. Some meadows are lyrical; other epic, Homeric — such as Astura and the Cape of Circe. The Campagna alone is in the grand historical vein — it has the sublime repose of tragedy, as it lies there, a great dramatic stage — the stage of p259the world's theatre. No verse of poetry, no artist's pencil or brush — many as are the attempts made to paint it — can reproduce the heroic beauty of Latium, or suggest it in the least degree to him who may not have beheld it for himself. Romance has nothing to say to it, it has no fanciful charm, it is large, silent, masculine, serious. The face of nature there is, to him who reads it aright, like the Junoº of Polycletus.

To mount up and up into this radiant mountain land, you should borrow the wings of yonder eagle — the real Conti of the Campagna — as he soars and circles in the sunny, benefit air. That kingly creature, living on the rocks or floating majestically above them, looks like the possessor of the whole earth, as he hovers motionless in the still air with that vast landscape beneath him.

The road winds through a deep gorge in zigzags up the steep red rocks on which Segni is set, so that you do not see the town till you reach it.c These splintered, piled‑up rocks are so closely set together that they form a natural wall with mimic towers rising from it. As I gazed at this geological formation, which is common to all the mountains of Latium, it suddenly occurred to me that this was what p260had set the men of old to rearing up Cyclopean walls. Nature herself has built them, and why should we not imitate her handiwork? Hence the work of the Cyclops!

The sun blazed hot at midday when I found myself before the gates of Segni. This ancient city stands high, and giant walls, broken in places, still encircle it. Its grey limestone houses, in successive terraces, as at Palestrina, ascending the crest of the hill, with an unsightly tower at intervals, may be curious, but are not specially attractive. No cathedral or fortress breaks the uniformity of its rows of low houses. I had fondly imagined I should find it an ancient place, filled with old monuments, but I was disillusioned. The towns in Latium proper bear the stamp of the Middle Ages, but this old Signia looks desolate, sad, with no historical interest — simply ennuyant — yes, that is the word for it. Yet the verdure of the groves near it, a glimpse into a dark, shadowy beech-wood close to it, with the mountains behind it, were some compensation for the disappointment I had to face.

The Volscian towns, so far as I have seen them, have an entirely different character from the Latian ones. They are simply mountain villages, with no industries, of little agricultural p261value, and less commercial enterprise. Their fields produce oil, and wine, and fruits — cherries on the heights, peaches, chestnuts, and above all, acorns for the swine. The Volscians only rear black pigs; the hams of the district are much sought after. If we except Cori, which is not so far from Rome, the Volscian towns have all a forlorn, poverty-stricken, and deserted aspect.

The houses are built of alternate courses of black tufa and white limestone, and however childish they appeared to Pisan architects, this would have rather a cheerful effect. I had often come upon the expression Signino opere in old title-deeds, and now I found out what it meant.d I found Segni grey and monotonous; not a garden, not a tree, breaks its uniformity; its limestone is dull in its hue.

I rode in by the Porta Maggiore, hoping to find an inn. This is the only gate to enter by; here alone is it accessible, precipitous cliffs guarding it everywhere else. The gate rests against the Cyclopean wall, and above it is a huge edifice which once dominated the town, the Palace of the Conti, built in the so‑called Signino opere manner. It resembles a convent more than a castle. There is no castellated work, not even a tower, to mark it as a feudal fortress. It had, doubtless, p262a far other form before the town was destroyed by Marcantonio.

[Link to a page in German]
Ch. 61
The Conti, ancestors of Innocent III, Gregory IX, and Alexander IV, and their families were, as I have said, the lords of Segni. After the reassertion of the Roman independence in 1143, the Pontiffs were often obliged to fly from the hatred and persecution of the Roman people to their strongholds in the Campagna. They came by turns to Palestrina, Tusculum, Anagni, and Segni. Eugenius fled to Segni for the first time, from the wrath of the Roman senate, in 1145, when he built himself a residence there, and there Innocent III was born in his father's palace. He and Alexander III and Lucius III all resided there at intervals.

Later, the family of Conti came into possession of Segni, after having ruled it as podestas, then as Vicars of the Holy See. When they became extinct, and Mario Sforza had inherited it, Sixtus V raised the title which went with it to that of a duke. Notwithstanding its strong position, the soldiers of Alba destroyed it in 1557. No trace of any Gothic building now remains. The town was rebuilt, but the Sforzas were forced, owing to debts, to sell it; then Urban VIII bought it and gave it in fief to his nephew, Cardinal Antonio Barberini. For half p263a century a lawsuit dragged on between the houses of Barberini and Sforza; this, at the end of the last century, was decided in favour of the Sforza-Cesarini family, who are still Dukes of Segni. This, in brief, is the mediaeval history of the place. Its more ancient records are lost in the mists of tradition, and mount up to the times of Janus and of Saturn.

When I have got hold of the geography of these Campagna towns, I visit, as a rule, the cathedral, which is the historic museum of the place, and it is seldom that I fail to discover in it some relic of the Middle Ages — inscriptions recording important events, or monuments which have a charm for me, with their sculptured stones and Latin characters: in fact they are historical documents. Time, the destroyer, alas! obliterates much. It defaces the old work, and it perishes under bad, defacing renovations, such as rob these sacred places of their brasses and ancient tablets. How many have now disappeared from the Roman churches! At one time every church in Rome had its mediaeval tombs. Since the days of Julius II the monuments of even the Popes have been removed from St. Peter's — destroyed, or cast away. When a church undergoes "restoration," its ancient monuments are rarely respected. It is with difficulty that ancient p264history can be spelt out from the few surviving inscriptions to be found in these Roman churches.

I was building on this cathedral at Segni, for it has been a Bishop's See ever since the year 499, but a modern edifice confronted me, decorated, after the present Roman fashion, with an exuberant painted cupola which it dislocated one's neck to look up at. There are two modern statues in it, both of famous personages whom Segni delights to honour — Pope Vitalian and Bishop Bruno. The first, a native of Segni, was Pope from 657 till 672, when the Byzantines were lords in Rome. Then the Emperor Constans II came to the imperial city to rob it of the last remaining portions of the fine artistic gilt bronze roofing of the Pantheon, which had been spared by the Vandals, but were now stolen to adorn his church at Byzantium.e Bruno, a native of Asti, in Piedmont, came to Rome, was received by Gregory VII, and consecrated Bishop of Segni by Urban II. In violation of the canonical law he abdicated, relinquished the See, and went to Monte Cassino, where Abbot Oderisius received him into his community as a Benedictine monk. In defiance of the commands of Pope Paschal to return to his pastoral charge, Bruno p265remained at Monte Cassino, of which great Monastery he was elected Abbot, and there, in cloistered leisure, he wrote his mystical works. His statue, of mediocre artistic value, confronts that of St. Vitalian.

As a result of the strife concerning this investiture, Pope Paschal was taken prisoner by the Emperor Henry V. He then promulgated the decree that the Emperor possessed full authority and power of investiture to sacred offices. Paschal was then liberated, but, Henry having gone back to Germany, the Bishops and Cardinals urged Paschal to annul his former decree, and break his oath. Of those fanatics Bruno was among the most zealous. His vehemence enraged Paschal, who inhibited him from holding either the abbacy or the bishopric. He resigned his dignity at Monte Cassino, and, returning to his former charge, he died at Segni in 1123, and was canonised in 1189. An Englishman, Lord Ellis, Abbot of Monte Cassino and Bishop of Segni,f raised this monument to his predecessor. This cathedral is curiously connected with England. In 1173 Thomas à Becket of Canterbury was canonised there, shortly after his murder, at a synod held by Pope Alexander III. An inscription in the church records this.

Lord Ellis restored the cathedral in 1708, p266when Bishop of Segni. He also founded a seminary to which pupils crowded from far and wide to be taught their humanities. Whether destined or not for the priesthood, they wear classical gowns. This school stands on the highest ground in the town, close by the Church of San Pietro. On this remarkable site stood the Volscian Cyclopean Fortress in days of old.

On that eminence, dominating the whole of Latium, were seated the Citadel and temple of the ancient Signia, of which but few fragments now remain; a circular cistern is amongst these. This platform is a favourite resort of the townsfolk, who stroll about on what resembles a huge stone table supported by prehistoric walls, and set amongst grey rocks overgrown with moss and wild flowers. Nothing can be more original than this promenade, up in the clouds, and in such a grand and rocky region.

To‑day was Sunday, and many smart ladies were parading up and down in their rustling silks, fanning themselves. Sheer down fell the rock into the Latian plains below, where in a glance you behold more provinces, cities, mountains than it is possible to enumerate, each rich in historical memories, classic associations, and poetic myths. The panorama reaches from Rome, dimly discernible on the horizon, to Cicero's p267Arpino, shimmering on a purple mountain far away in the kingdom of Naples.

The air felt cool, almost sharp; wild roses, tall brown grasses, sprays of golden broom waved in the breeze to and fro. The spirit of a primeval world — a grand, awe‑inspiring, prehistoric world — broods over the weather-worn Cyclopean masses which form these ancient walls.

I climbed up to examine them, far‑famed as they are. As in all the other Latian towns, their long lines encircle the arx or Citadel set on these mountain precipices. Their gigantic blocks are as closely fitted into each other as if the architect who placed them there had been at work only yesterday. A low Etruscan gateway has here and there been broken out through their massive bulk. The original Cyclopean gate of the town is still in use. It is composed of huge blocks of dressed stone leaning towards each other at the top of the opening, with a great lintel stone covering them in. The colossal size of these walls, their surface worn by the storms of thousands of years, the wild growths which garland them, the immense strength of the rocks which they crown, the vast scale of all their surroundings excite emotions which it is quite impossible to put into words.

p268 From this gate, a steep path descends over the rocks at the farther side of the mountain, whence we lose sight of the Latian Campagna. Here I found a large cistern, hewn out of the rocks, thirty feet at least in diameter. Tubs were set all round its wide lip, for it is here that the women of Segni wash their clothes. These ancient, well-preserved cisterns are peculiar to the Volscian towns. But I cannot remember to have seen one of the same size and shape as this elsewhere in Latium.

A second promenade for the townspeople leads up the rocky valley from the town gate to a convent hidden away in the forest, thence on and up into the mountains. Giant chestnuts, elms, and oaks shade the green carpet, and create a solitude as romantic and fairy-like as heart could wish for. As it was evening, the citizens streamed out in crowds, the higher classes dressed in French fashions, the people in their national costume. Below, in the Campagna, the women wear red kerchiefs; this colour prevails in the plains, and accords with the character of a people whose life is easier than it can be in rugged mountains wrapped in thunder-clouds. Here the universal head-gear is of dark blue wool, and the sombre hue of this mantilla, as it is called in Sicily, seemed to me to work in naturally with p269the scenery. Black and blue were the only colours which the people here seemed to wear.

Fair and full of beauty as situation of this town is, I should never decide to spend a summer there. The grey stone, the demoniac, the melancholy aspect of the place, would soon strike the muses dumb. The wind, too, now blew keenly round it every day, thunder growled amongst the mountains, and suddenly rain came down on us in torrents.

The living was very good at the solitary inn of the place, which is clean and cheap, as is the case everywhere in the mountains. The nectarines, of a light yellow colour, were delicious. The white wine was good, though very sour. The poet Martialg says that it has an astringent quality: —

"Potabis liquidum Signina morantia ventrem

Ne nimium sistant, sit tibi parca sitis,

Quos Cora, quos spumans inimico Signia musto."

Next morning my friend, the water-colour artist Müller, and I, designed to mount our horses at daybreak, to climb to the summit of the mountain, and then ride on through the primeval Volscian Forest to Norba; but the heavens were overcast, thunder-clouds were tossed from peak to peak, and rain fell for long hours. We p270hesitated as to setting forth, when suddenly Jupiter Pluvius began to smile. We sprang on our steeds, quick as the wind, out guide set off ahead at double-quick speed to pioneer the way. The wind was sending white masses of cloud from hill to hill, driving them across the sky like a fleet of ships in full sail — an enchanting and magnificent spectacle.

We rode through a dense green forest with all the more delight because, as woods are not plentiful in Italy, this one brought their own native forests to the remembrance of two German travellers. There were, however, no dark whispering Christmas pine-trees there — only beeches, oaks, elms, and stone pines. This Italian pine reverberates like a harp when the wind plays round its crown, not murmuring sadly like our native fir‑tree, but singing a sort of blissful and inspired song.

The path grew steeper, but we sat on our horses that our feet might not get so wet as those of a pair of poor bare-footed mushroom-gatherers we passed. The deep silence was only broken by the distant strokes of a wood-cutter's axe reverberating through the tree-stems. Then we came on a travelling merchant, a heavily-laden mule carrying his wares to Cori; he must needs clamber painfully over these mountains to reach p271a market. Trade cannot be very brisk between Cori and Segni, we thought. A two hours' ride through this forest and then over some dark rocks brought us to the summit of the pass, when, after feasting our eyes on that beautiful Italian land we were leaving behind us, we began our descent of the other side of the mountain, with the broad Maritima and the sea beneath us, and a rocky pyramid before us, which we had to skirt through idyllic fields and vales, out of whose recesses broke murmuring brooks. No pastures could be more smiling than those through which we now rode and walked, for we dismounted to enjoy them all the more.

Then we ascended again into the ancient forest, and rode for two more hours through it. The broken ground, the deep ravines in whose depths lay great moss-covered trunks of trees like prostrate warriors, fields gay with flowering shrubs growing luxuriantly, hollows into which the sunlight slanted — all this recalled our own Fatherland to us. Before I had seen these southern woods I fancied that only in Germany, or other northern countries, did we know what was the true meaning of the word "forest." But when I got home again and went forth into our German woods I was disappointed, p272for there we have no undergrowth, no climbing plants, or fair flowers.

[Link to a page in German]
Ch. 62
How charming is this Volscian forest! Never had I beheld wild woods so filled with poetry! This is the land of the fays and the elves. In yonder thicket — that grey cave — sleeps old Saturn, with his long silvery beard. I could not but wonder when I beheld these trees in their full beauty. The beeches, their tops embracing the blue ether, looked the colour of the rocks, soft grey shoaling into green. It often seemed as if the giant stems were but the growth of the precipices themselves in which they had their roots.

We dismounted in a beautiful nook, and flung ourselves down on the grass. Blackberry bushes, with their ripe clusters of fruit, invited us to make a sylvan meal. Not far off lay a green pond, reeds and grass waving round it dreamily.

How beautiful it must be here when the moon rides high above the tops of the beeches, and the elves are dancing in fairy rings over their own flowery carpet!

At last a glade of the forest opened out to the south-west. We emerged from it on the mountain-side, and, as if our eyes had suddenly been unbound, a marvellous sight burst upon p273our view. Below lay the Maritima, a shining spectacle; the Pontine Marshes, a softly glowing carpet of many hues; the sea, like liquid gold, the distant Isle of Ponza set amongst those radiant waves; the Cape of Circe, the tower of Astura, the Linea Pia,h and the Castle of 8 Sermoneta — all lay beneath our feet. Coming out of the dark forest, this picture, suddenly unfolded to our gaze, probably one of the most beautiful in all Italy, was so bewildering that I can find no words in which to describe it. I had been told in Rome that this ride over the crests of the Volscian Mountains, and the view from their summit of the Pontine Marshes and the sea, was the finest the traveller could anywhere find, and I had not been told too much about it. I would counsel all travellers who can compass it to see this sublime spectacle when they find themselves in these Roman territories.

After a ride of six hours we reached the little town of 9 Norma. It stands on a breezy height above a high, in places a dizzy, precipice, and just beside the Cyclopean remains of 6 Norba. Norma, Norba, 10 Ninfai — such are the legendary names we hear here in every one's mouth. These poetical names give to this mountain an unreal, mythical, fantastic atmosphere. Norba, Norma, Ninfa, Cori, Sermoneta — how musical p274they sound, and how they take hold of the imagination!

We entered the inn at Norma, our host leading the way into a from the room, the windows of which disclosed to us all the glories of the Maritima. Looking over the edge of the precipice, which here falls sheer down to the plain, our eyes fell upon a great ring of ivy‑mantled walls, within which lay curiosity mounds and hillocks, apparently made of flowers. Grey towers stood up out of them, ruins, all garlanded with green, and from the midst of this strange circle we could see a silver stream hurrying forth, and traversing the Pontine Marshes till it vanished in a lake lying golden in the sunlight, not far from the sea‑shore.

I asked, amazed, what that most puzzling great garland of flowers, that mysterious green ring, could be. "Nympha, Nympha," said our host. Nympha! then that is the Pompeii of the Middle Ages, buried in the marshes — that city of the dead, ghostly, silent. And this afternoon we should wander through it, at the hour when fair Selene rises behind the Cyclopean stones of Norba.

After a good midday meal and a refreshing rest, we sallied out, traversing the little town in search of Norba. Norba is the ancient Volscian p275name of the town, out of which grew Norma, I know not when. I met with the first mention of it at the beginning of the eighth century, when the Greek Emperor Constantine V granted two pieces of crown land to Nymphas et Normias.j From this I take it that Norba, the Volscian town, was then already deserted, and Normia, or Norma, had nestled herself in beneath her ruins.

These are a few minutes' walk distant from the present little town, and consist of the very remarkable remains of the Citadel and its surrounding walls. Here again the arx was placed on a platform of rock fortified on one side by nature, where the rock falls down precipitously from a dizzy height to the plain below. The inner quadrangle of the fortress is encircled by a double line of Cyclopean walls. An ancient gate leads into it, at one corner of which stands a circular mass of gigantic blocks, piled up to a height of thirty‑six feet, and resembling a pillar or tower. The walls are in places forty or fifty feet high, making an even greater whole than those of Segni. They surround the steep limestone cliffs in long lines, and above, on the level space which appears to have been hewn into a rectangular form, are three great foundations formed also of Cyclopean stones, on which, perhaps, p276once rested the sanctuary or temple which was part of the Acropolis.

Let us picture to ourselves such a structure, be it a temple or be it a dwelling, with these huge walls around it; how vast, but how dark, how gloomy it must have looked! We might imagine it, perhaps, as somewhat resembling the Tabularium in Rome, which is of the same transition period, between the Volscian and the Etruscan. It is erroneous to suppose that these so‑called Cyclopean walls are of a fabulous antiquity; of this I am convinced. From them to the so‑called Servian period in Rome there is but a step, as I have remarked when speaking of Alatri.

An ancient cistern and a few subterranean chambers and grottoes — these are all that remain besides the Acropolis and the walls of this old Norba. It seemed to me that there were no tombs, or loculi, in the rocks, such as we find in Etruscan cities and in old Sicilian towns. These towns, such as Syracuse, Leontium, Agrigentum, and Enna, contain an astounding number of rock tombs. In Norba I found none, but it is possible that they may have escaped my sight.

The Norma folk call the more ancient town Civita la Penna. I cannot explain where this name comes from. It would seem to have some p277connection with Spain, where pegna, or peña, means a rock. The "city on the rock" would suit this mythical Norba excellently well — a town which Hercules is said to have built.

In the later Roman time, it is connected with Marius. He was besieged there by Aemilius Lepidus, Sulla's general, who, by the aid of traitors, made his way into the city of the Cyclopeans. The citizens in despair threw themselves into the flames then consuming their houses, just like the people of Numantia. It is possible that Norba has remained in ruins ever since that time; when Pliny knew it,k it had already been deserted.

From the Citadel the panorama of the Maritima is especially magnificent. At all of the seaboard from Antium to Circe's Cape near Terracina can be distinctly traced; even farther, for Ostia, Pratica and Ardea may also be distinguished; many martello towers rise, like lonely obelisks, by the shore. These picturesque watch-towers were built in the ninth century, when the Saracens began to fall upon the Italian coasts and ravage their villages, and to this day they girdle all her shores and islands. In each of them about five artillerymen are quartered, guarding some odd, antiquated-looking piece of ordnance rusty with the lapse of centuries. Lamoricière, p278the new generalissimo of the Papal army,1 has removed the cannon out of these towers and has taken them to Rome, with the culverins, which used to yawn out on the sea from their little platforms. Now, not Saracens but Garibaldi's free lances are trying to land there secretly.

See, there is a tower gleaming on the sea‑shore, dark woods stretching down to it; that is the famous Castle of Astura. A mile farther there is another, Foceverde, so called from its river flowing down to the sea from a marshy wooded wilderness. Yet farther on stands a tower, embosomed in thick green woods, by a large lake whose surface sparkles like molten gold. A ghostly stillness reigns all around as we stand by that lake; we might fancy we could behold a strange world sunk beneath its waves. The osprey is circling overhead. We see the pale, fever-stricken fisherman, floating in his frail craft over its waters; the leech-gatherer, half naked, who spends half his life by its margin. These are the lake and town of Fogliano, the Clostra Romana, where Lucullus had his villa in days of old. The Nympheus, that charming stream which gushes forth from the green circlet of Nymphas, falls into p279that lake. We can trace its course all through the Pontine Marshes. Near Fogliano is the Lago de' Monaci, then the Lago di Crapolace, and finally the great lake of Paola, with its tower. All these are visible, and then comes Circe's Cape rising like an island from the waters.

He who has not traversed the Pontine Marshes as far as Terracina by the Via Appia will have a most mistaken idea of them if he imagines that they are loathsome swamps. Morasses and ponds do exist, but they lie hidden away in the woods, where the hedgehog, the stag, the wild boar, the buffalo, and the half-wild cattle may still be found. In May and June this Pontine territory is a sea of flowers, poured out, as far as the eye can reach, over this whole land. In the heat of summer, it is true, it becomes a Tartarus, where pale fever creeps around to torture the poor herdsman or labourer, who must earn his bread in suffering, and cannot fly from its pestilential air.

Nearer the sea, more forests are seen from Norba, creeping down to the Circean promontory. These woods succeeded each other all the way from Ostia, and the mouth of the Tiber, to Terracina. In their depths, or on their outskirts, lie isolated farmsteads where cattle are bred. Such are Conca, Campo Morto, Campo Leone, p280Tor del Felce, and others. Where the woods cease, endless meadows stretch away inland, solid ground fit for growing crops, and the Appian Way, renewed by Pius VI, can clearly be traced traversing the Maritima. Close to it is Cisterna, the largest of the Pontine villages, near which the "Three Taverns" once stood, and a little farther on comes For' Appio, the ancient Forum Appium.

There has never been a time when these marshes could be effectually drained.l Julius Caesar had a plan for doing it, but he died before it could be put into execution. The Roman Emperors, so lavish in buildings did nothing to forward it. It is the more remarkable, then, that a barbarian king, the inheritor or conqueror of Rome, the great Theodoric, was able to drain some portion of it round about Terracina, as well as to restore the fast-vanishing Appian Way. These noble works of a Goth are recorded, as may be read from the original inscription at his death, on two tablets at Terracina. In the Papal times Sixtus V, a man of practical Roman sense, tried to dry up these swamps. He was followed in his attempt, more than two centuries later, another Pius VI, who, when restoring the ancient way, had a great canal dug near it, by which he turned p281a portion of the marshes into arable land; for this he gained the enduring gratitude of that portion of the Maritima.

We clambered down from the Citadel of Norba to Nympha, which lies just beneath it, within the radius of the marshes. A convenient zigzag path leads down to it from Norma, but as it was possible to make our way straight over the buttresses of the mountain, and we were nimble of foot, we chose this shorter route, and vanished over the rocks, like a flash of lightning, with a hop, a skip, and a jump.

And this is Nympha, this unreal semblance of a town — its walls, its towers, its churches, its convents all half buried in the swamp, and entombed beneath the thickest of ivy. Assuredly it has a more charming aspect than Pompeii with its staring houses, like half-decayed mummies dragged from amongst volcanic ashes and set up all around. But a fragrant sea of flowers waves above Nympha; every wall is veiled with green, over every ruined house or church the god of spring is waving his purple banner triumphantly.

The impression this ivied town makes as you enter it is indescribable. You wander through its grassy, flower-decked streets and between its verdant walls. Save the wind, which is whispering p282in the leaves of the trees, not a sound is heard except the croak of a raven up in the tower, the rushing of the stream, the rustling of the tall reeds by the pond, and the melodious singing and sighing of the blades of grass all around.

Flowers crowd in through all the streets. They march in procession to the ruined churches, they climb up all the towers, they smile and nod to you out of every empty window-frame, they besiege all the doors, for within dwell elves, fairies, water-nymphs, and a thousand other charming spirits from the world of fable. Yellow marigolds, mallows, sweet narcissus, grey-bearded thistles, which lived there once on a time as monks; white lilies, which just as surely were in their lives holy nuns; wild roses, sprays of laurel, mastic, tall ferns, the wind-flower and the bramble, the red foxglove that looks so like an enchanted Saracen, the fantastic caper-flowers growing in the clefts of the walls, the fragrant wall-flower, the myrtle, the mint, the yellow broom and the dark ivy which covers every ruin and falls from the walls in green cascades — yes! you fling yourself down into this ocean of flowers quite intoxicated by their fragrance, while, as in the most charming fairy-tale, the soul seems held and imprisoned by them.

The walls of the town are still standing, p283circling it all round like a ring, every stone draped in ivy. Here and there peeps out a broken pinnacle — a square ruined tower. The principal gates of the town are barred and barricaded by wild vine, ivy, and sprays of bramble, as if the flowers of Nympha feared some foe who, like the Saracens of old, might try to force his way in by night. So they intrench themselves, as the men of Nympha did against the mercenaries of Barbarossa or of the Duke of Alba, behind their walls, for mayhap some night might come a wild horde of meteors and will-o'‑the‑wisps from the marshes to storm this enchanted city and carry off her flower-spirits to live with them in their native swamps.

[Link to a page in German]
Ch. 63
Many piazzas, many streets still remain traced out here. Crumbling houses, all embraced by ivy, mark their limits. Some of them are of palatial size and of semi-Gothic architecture, and were once on a time inhabited by noble families. Wondrous are the churches to behold; four or five of them are standing, though in ruins — such fantastic ruins as I never before have seen. How can I describe them? How can I depict this brown, splintered bell-tower, its round-headed windows divided by graceful little pillars, its mediaeval friezes formed of rectangular blocks set on edge, all wreathed in a festal robe of p284blossom and leaves waving in the evening breeze? How can I describe the niches, the naves and aisles of those churches (they are all of the eleventh or twelfth century, if not still earlier, for they are of the very early basilica form); all draped and garlanded round with flowers? Flowers which offer up their fragrant service now, in those deserted aisles. The roses swing their lovely censers, a Bacchanalian crew! From their walls, from here and there a tribune smothered with greenery, peers forth some early Christian saint or martyr, his palm branch in his hand.

Surely this may be called a companion picture to that which Pompeii gives us. There we find the classic age expressing itself in the gayest of frescoes, here the Christian Church speaks sadly from the walls of Nympha. There are depicted the festive aspects of life and all its joys; little Cupids fishing in marble fonts, a tiny chariot drawn by grasshoppers, floating Bacchanals veiled in soft white garments, clashing cymbals, or bearing some charming mysterious casket, or holding aloft vases filled with ripe figs. Here this Pompeii of the Middle Ages, revealing to us only death or pain from its sad frescoes. Instead of joyous groups, dismal images from the catacombs, the mythical saint or martyr in flames, bound to the cross, or kneeling p285before his slayer's uplifted sword, his hands folded in prayer. Is it not high time that these saints and martyrs, these crumbling crucifixes were, once for all, buried beneath flowers? Here, at Nympha, nature showers them down from full hands out of her abundant cornucopia, over the graves of poor penitents and monks who scourged and tortured themselves in the days of the Christian Church's darkest superstition. Why should Catholic humanity not take a lesson from nature? Let us give peace to our dead, and a grave hidden under fragrant flowers.

At the entrance to Nympha stands a fortress, once the seat of a baron; in its forsaken state it is an outrage on feudalism itself. High aloft rises its tower, four-square, built of flints like that of the Milizie in Rome, and, as it appears, contemporary with it. It stands close to a pond, spreading itself out like the Stygian pool before the dead city of Nympha. This lake is garlanded by tall reeds — a mystic spot — it might have come out of the world of shadows of the Iliad or the Aeneid. The dark tower and others cast their trembling images down upon the still waters of this pool. The reeds rustled sadly. Often, deep within them, came the sobbing cry of the water‑hen, p286like the soul of one of the departed living in this Hades and longing for the upper regions. I sat on a fragment of masonry and gazed into that green spirit-world, then up to the blue enchanting mountains, and to the Cyclopean stones of Norba and her august Citadel, then over the Pontine Marshes to where the sparkling Circean promontory soared aloft out of the sunny golden sea.

Had, indeed, the sorceress Circe quitted her castle there aloft? Did she, perhaps, now abide in Nympha? Was she the ivy queen? Here there is so much ivy that it seemed to me Nympha must be the ivy arsenal that equips all the historical ruins of this glorious land with their green robes.

You should sit here when evening bathes, first in purple then in gold, these ivied halls and ruins. I will say no word about it, nor will I try to describe it when the moon rides forth across the sky and the fairies dance in circles.

The Nympheus gushes forth from this pond. It takes its rise there apparently, and speedily carries into this green city of the dead a surprising thing — a young tumultuous life, just like that of a living being, as it speeds on through the marshes to the sea.

p287 A mill, built into a mediaeval structure, is driven by it, a portion of this building still retaining its Romano-Gothic columned windows. On a corn-loft there is an inscription setting forth that Franciscus Gaetani, Duke of Sermoneta and Lord of Nympha, built it, with the entrance-gate to the town, in the year 1765.

In ancient days a temple to the nymph from which the town takes its name stood by the spring in the lake. On the site of this Nymphaeum the Church of St. Michael was built. In 1216 Ugolino Conti founded here the Church of Sta. Maria del Mirteto — of the myrtles.

The history of Nympha is, for the rest, very obscure. The Frangipani owned it in the twelfth century; the famous Pope Alexander III was consecrated there on the 20th of September 1159. Then the race of Gaetani entered into possession of it at the end of the thirteenth century, and the descendants of this renowned family retain it to the present day. Its archives in Rome contain many deeds showing how the nephew of Pope Boniface VIII, Pietro Gaetani, Latian Count Palatinate, and Count of Caserta, by degrees bought up all the houses and farms of Nympha from their owners. I find no records of the fifteenth century, but in the fourteenth, on the 22nd of February 1349, p288there is one in which figures a baronial castle, now in ruins. It runs thus: Actum Nimphe in Scalis palatii Rocce Nimphe presente Nicolao Cillone Vicario Sculcule . . .

The next morning we hired mules to convey us from Norma to the ancient and renowned town of 7 Cori or Cora.m Here we arrived, after a hard ride of three long hours. A road leading to Cori traverses the level ground by Nympha; but we chose a shorter way across the Volscian Mountains, by a mountain path skirting the precipices, for the prospects from that higher route are wide and fine, extending all over the marshes, the sea, and as far as Rome, across the Campagna. The early freshness of daybreak, the clearest of September atmospheres, made this ride sufficiently enchanting, although the hills over which we were riding were uniform and lifeless, save where the shepherds had gathered in their flocks to milk the ewes, or to make cheeses over a fire, or were setting up their temporary huts made of branches of broom and heather.

As you look across this classic land of that Latian strand, and over the ancient country of the Rutuli,n and of Ardea, if you have any poetry in you, you will recall the people in Virgil's Aeneid, for this is the Roman Troy, the scene p289of the combats between the heroes in Virgil's great poem. Camilla, the Amazon, scours the plain; her beautiful form is visible glancing through the forests. She is the heroine of this Volscian land —

"Hos super advenit Volsca de gente Camilla

Agmen agens equitum, et florentes aere catervas,

Bellatrix."

The description of her death, and the tragic story of Evander's son Pallas, are the most beautiful efflorescence of Virgil's muse. The melodious lines of the Aeneid must be read again in these Latian Meads to feel all their charm. Virgil's poetry is as translucent, as full of serious beauty as is the Campagna of Rome itself. That deathless poem of his will always remain the most soul-inspiring which we have left to us from Roman times. In all future centuries these mountains, these woods, these meadows, must be imbued by it. TurnusMezentius — Lavinia — Ascanius — the faithful Achates — the fidus Achates — lived here! And what a picture! how large, how epic it is! Only that spread out beside the Scamander can equal it; perhaps this is the grander, for what can be more sublime than the Campagna of Rome and its sea‑shore?

The Virgilian memories bring Troy and Hellas into the near neighbourhood of ancient Rome. p290The atmosphere becomes more and more Hellenic the closer we approach to Cora, for this oldest of towns belonged to the mythological Pelasgi in the days of prehistoric Italy. Rome is called the Eternal, but not because of her age; most of the Campagna towns are far older. Cora, according to the calculations of both ancient and modern topographers, is one of the oldest towns in the world — it is said to have been built 1470 years before Christ, and 700 before Rome.o

The myth says that Dardanus, the Trojan (the son of Corytus, king of Italy, and of Electra, a daughter of Atlas), found it. Then he fled, his brother's murderer, from Siculus and from his father, to Asia, where he built Dardania, which was first called Tros, or Troy by his grandson. We find the name of Cora in the seventh book of the "Aeneid" —

"Tum gemini fratres Tiburtia moenia linquunt

Fratris Tiburti dictam cognomine gentem

Catillusque acerque Coras, Argiva juventus."

Three brothers, Catillus, Coras, and Tibur or Tiburtus, were sons of Amphiaraus of Argos. They came from Greece to Italy, and founded Tibur, now called Tivoli. Cora was built, it is said, by Coras; this is the second myth concerning its origin.

And there, set on its mountain, it lies before us, p291a pyramid of houses, high over them all those most beautiful remains of the temple of Hercules. At the foot of the hill are vineyards and olive woods. Cora has about 5000 inhabitants. Since the Middle Ages it has been a fief of the Roman Senate and people — a crown land, or domain of the city of Rome — a truly valuable possession.

I will not fatigue the reader with the description of its ruins; but well do its Pelasgic or Cyclopean walls deserve his admiration. They are visible from many parts of the town, and have been compared to those of Mycenae or Tiryns. They support the Acropolis, the crowning pinnacle of the town. When you climb up there, you find yourself standing, filled with amazement, before the peristyle of a temple which seems to be entirely Greek. It is a graceful little building, of the Doric order, in good preservation. The bluish-grey colour which the travertine of the pillars has assumed gives it a charmingly antique aspect. They call it the Temple of Hercules, but apparently without any good reason for doing so.

Castor and Pollux, Fortuna, Diana (the huntress goddess of the Pontine plains), Sol, Janus and Eolus, Apollo and Aesculapius all had their temples in Cora. Still, four beautiful Corinthian columns are shown, built into the wall p292of a house, which to this day are called the Temple of the Dioscuri. Remains of baths, of cisterns, a Roman bridge over the foaming mountain stream which rushes from the mountain side from Cora — these and other ancient relics of past glories will pleasantly occupy him who may care to search for them.

The Middle Ages are not very well represented at Cora. The Cathedral of St. Peter, built out of the ruins of the Temple of Hercules, does not present much of interest, but Santa Oliva, on the contrary, is well worthy of note on account of its architecture. However, all these ruins, what are they, compared to the view over the Maritima which we may enjoy from every nook of Cora? A summer spent here would richly repay the visitor. The air is cool and fragrant, the wine is excellent, the fruits are in such abundance that I bought twenty-six fresh figs for one bajocco; but Cora is not visited by the Romans. They congregate at Frascati and Albano, and few indeed of them know anything about the charms of their own Campagna. Could there be a more delightful life than that which I led in the Volscian, Hernican, and Sabine Mountains, bathing my spirit there in unsophisticated nature?


The Author's Note:

1 This was written in 1860, and is interesting as showing the then existing condition of things in the States of the Church. (Translator's note.)


Thayer's Notes:

a Despite the rather precise indication of place, I've been unable to locate Mola de' Piscari.

b Valmontone and Montefortino are well covered by a page of Roberto Piperno's Gregorovius site: good text and 15 and 14 photographs respectively. Montefortino's name was changed in 1873, not long after Gregorovius wrote, to Artena. In 1881, René de la Blanchère was the first to describe the nearby Roman site of 11 Civita di Artena in Mélanges d'Archéologie et d'Histoire de l'École Française de Rome, vol. I (1881), pp161‑180, followed not long after by Thomas Ashby, who provided a further description with maps and photographs (Supplementary Papers of the American School of Classical Studies in Rome, Volume I, pp87‑107: onsite); this paper includes a more detailed map of the area, with Roman roads marked, than what we see in the GoogleMap.

c The reader should not miss Roberto Piperno's very nice page on Segni, with good text and 25 excellent and informative photographs, including a particularly fine one of the Roman cistern mentioned by Gregorovius, as well as several fully readable photos of Roman and medieval inscriptions.

d So Gregorovius; a very surprising mistake. Opus Signinum is in fact the technical name, already used in the 19c, for an altogether different kind of masonry, of Antiquity rather than of the Middle Ages, and utilitarian rather than in any way decorative: Pliny the Elder (N. H. XXXV.165) defined it as a sort of cement made of broken pottery beaten fine with the addition of lime, and used even for pavements.

e Roberts' text is different from that of Gregorovius online, which has both less and more information; my translation:

At that time this expensive guest stole the last of the bronze works of art which the Vandals had left behind, and he also removed the gilt bronze tiles from the roof of the Pantheon, in order to drag them to Byzantium.

The other equally mediocre statue stands opposite that of Vitalian. On its pedestal can be read this inscription: "S. Brunoni Doctori Eucharistico Episcopo Signino Abbati Casinensi Qui Berengario Converso Haeresim Extinxit Henrico IV. Imp. Reducto Schisma Compressit Adulpho Expulso Tyrannidem Abrogavit Ph.º M. Mylord Ellis Congr. Casin. Abbas Episc. Signin. S. Q. S. Protectori Exim. P. P. MDCCXII."

To sum up, not only the tiles from the Pantheon, but (other) "bronze works of art", i.e., very likely, statues; no mention of any particular church in Byzantium; and an interesting inscription too.

f For a few more details on his curious career, see the article Philip Michael Ellis in the Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913. Although Gregorovius himself does title him "Lord", probably because of the inscription in the Duomo of Segni (see my preceding note) he was at most "Sir".

g Only the first two lines! are Martial's (XIII.60); the third is from Silius Italicus, VIII.378.

h Linea Pia was the name Pius VI gave the Via Appia as restored by him.

i Once again, the reader should not miss Roberto Piperno's page on these three towns, with his usual good text and 21 photographs, some of them stunning.

j Constantine V became emperor in 741; "early eighth century" is a bit off.

k N. H. III.68.

l The Pontine Marshes were finally drained under Mussolini in the 1930s.

m See Roberto Piperno's page on Cori: among the 28 photographs are several very good ones of the Roman remains in town.

n In this particular typo we have good evidence of how most of the mistakes in Roberts' text came to be. The German text has Rutuler, which is correctly translated by the English/Latin Rutuli: and from Roberts' printed Restuli we can see she must have written that. The printer then, being unable to read her handwriting, transformed the word into nonsense; Roberts, clearly knowing better, should have caught the mistake, but did not — almost certainly because she did not proofread the galleys. We cannot blame the printer, though: in the running text of normal English words, there is only one typographical error in the entire book (although repeated three times).

o While the towns of this part of the Lazio are very old, their fabulous age is not asserted by modern scholars, and sometimes is even explicitly discounted by them: see for example the article Cori by Thomas Ashby in the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica.


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