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This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria

by George Dennis

published by John Murray, Albemarle Street
London, 1848.

The text is in the public domain.

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p210 Chapter XLII


Guarda, mi disse, al mare; e vidi piana
Cogli altri colli la Marema tutta,
Dilectivole molto, e poco sana.
Ivi è Massa, Grossetto, e la distructa
Civita vechia, e ivi Popolonia,
Chi apenna pare tanto è mal conduta.
Ivi è ancor ove fue la Sendonia.
Queste cità e altre chio non dico,
Sono per la Marema en verso Roma,
Famose e grandi per lo tempo antico.

Faccio degli Uberti.

The green Maremma! —
A sun-bright waste of beauty — yet an air
Of brooding sadness o'er the scene is shed;
No human footstep tracks the lone domain —
The desert of luxuriance glows in vain.


These lines of Mrs. Hemans present a true summer picture of the Tuscan Maremma; and such is the idea generally conceived of it at all seasons alike by most Englishmen, except as regards its beauty. For few have a notion that it is other than a desert seashore swamp, totally without interest, save as a preserve of wild boars and roe-bucks, without the picturesque, or antiquities, or good accommodation, or anything else to compensate for the dangers of its fever-fraught atmosphere — in short,

          "A wild and melancholy waste
Of putrid marshes,"

as desolate and perilous as the Pomptine. They know not p211that it is full of the picturesque and beautiful; a beauty peculiar and somewhat savage, it is true, like that of an Indian maiden, yet fascinating in its wild unschooled luxuriance, and offering abundant food for the pencil of the artist and the imagination of the poet. They think not that in summer alone it is unhealthy; that from October to May it is as free from noxious vapours as any other part of Italy, and may be visited and explored with perfect impunity. They scarcely remember that it contains not a few sites of classical interest; and they are ignorant that it has excellent roads, that public conveyances bring it into regular communication with Leghorn, Siena, and Florence; and that, in winter at least, its accommodations are as good as will be found on most bye-roads in the Tuscan State.

As my object is to point out sites and objects of Etruscan antiquity, I pass over that tract of coast which extends about fifty miles south of Leghorn to the promontory of Populonia, as containing no interest of this kind. The ancient port of Vada Volaterrana, near the mouth of Caecina, is not mentioned as Etruscan,1 though it seems very improbable that the maritime city of Volaterrae would not have availed itself of it, and of the communication with the sea afforded by the Caecina.

The high-road along this coast follows the course of the p212ancient Via Aurelia.2 It is in excellent condition, and a diligence runs three times a week from Leghorn to Piombino and Grosseto.

I propose to conduct my readers to Populonia by the road from Volterra.

The road that runs from that city southward to the Maremma is "carriageable" throughout, though somewhat rugged in parts, and nowhere to be rejoiced in after heavy rains. As it descends the long bare slope beneath Volterra, it passes through a singular tract, broken into hills of black marl or clay, without a blade of grass on their surface, seeming to mark the ravages of a recent flood, but so existing for ages, perhaps before the creation of man. At the foot of the long-drawn hill, and five miles from Volterra, are the Saline, the government Salt-works, p213where the deep wells and the evaporating factories are well worthy of inspection. Through the hollow flows the Cecina of classical renown,3 a small stream in a wide sandy bed, between wooded banks, and here spanned, to my astonishment, by a suspension bridge, — verily, as the natives say, "una gran bella cosa!" in the midst of this wilderness. From the wooded heights beyond, a magnificent view of Volterra, with her mural diadem, is obtained. A few miles further is Pomarance, a clean neat town, by moonlight at least, which is all I can vouch for, but, as the proverb saith, "What seems a lion at night may prove but an ape in the morning —"

La sera lione,
La mattina babbione.

Pomarance is said to have a comfortable inn. Let the traveller then, who would halt the night somewhere on this road, remember the same, especially if it be his intention to visit the singular, interesting, and celebrated borax-works of Monte Cerboli, about four miles distant.4 At Castelnuovo, a village some ten or twelve miles beyond Pomarance, I can promise him little comfort, as he will find, if he have my lot, his bed fully preoccupied,a and the mind of his host also preoccupied with extravagant notions of the wealth and pluckability of the English. All this district, even beyond Castelnuovo and Monterotondo, is boracic, and the hills on every hand are ever shooting p214forth the hot and fetid vapour in numerous tall white columns, which, by moonlight on their dark slopes, look like "quills upon the fretful porcupine."b

Some miles beyond Castelnuovo, the road, which has been continually ascending from the Cecina, attains its greatest elevation. Here it commands a prospect of vast extent, over a wide expanse of undulating country to the sea, nearly twenty miles distant, with the promontory of Piombino and Populonia rising like an island from the deep, and the lofty peaks of Elba seen dimly in the far horizon. Among the undulations at the foot of the height, which the road here crosses, is the hill of Castiglione Bernardi, which Inghirami has pronounced to be the site of the Vetulonia of antiquity.

I did not visit this spot, for I was deterred by one of those sudden deluges of rain common in southern climates, which burst like a water-spout upon me, just as I had begun to descend to it; and I thought myself fortunate in soon regaining the shelter of my carrettino. Not relishing a country walk of some miles after such a storm, I did not await its cessation, but made the best of my way to Massa. I did this with the less regret, for my quondam fellow-traveller, Mr. Ainsley, had previously twice visited the spot, furnished with directions from Inghirami himself, and had sought in vain, in a careful examination of the ground, for any remains of Etruscan antiquity, or for any traces of an ancient city of importance. Inghirami indeed admits that the hill in question is but a poggetto angusto — "a circumscribed mound, not more than half a mile in circuit, and quite incapable of holding a city such as Vetulonia must have been;" and says that on it are to be seen only the ruins of a castle of the middle ages, overgrown with enormous oaks, nor could he "perceive among the extant masonry a single stone which bore a trace of ancient p215Tyrrhene construction, such as might correspond with the remains of the Etruscan city of Vetulonia."5 Why then suppose this to have been the site of that famous city? First — because he finds the hill so called in certain documents of the middle ages, one as far back as the eleventh century.6 Secondly — because it is not far from the river Cornia, which abounds in hot springs, some of which he thinks must have been those mentioned by Pliny as existing, — "ad Vetulonios;"7 besides being in the immediate neighbourhood of a lake — Lago Cerchiaio — of hot sulphureous water. Thirdly — because a few tombs of Etruscan construction, and with undoubted Etruscan furniture, have been found in the vicinity. Fourthly — and on this the Cavaliere lays most stress — because the situation assigned to Vetulonia by Ptolemy was in the district comprised between Volterra, Siena, and Populonia,8 which he thinks p216may correspond with this hill of Castiglione Bernardi. Nevertheless, so little could he reconcile this circumscribed site with that of a first-rate city, such as Vetulonia is described to have been, that he was driven to suppose the existence of two ancient cities or towns of that name — the one of greatest renown lying on the northern slopes of the Ciminian; the other, being that famous for hot springs, occupying this hill of Castiglione.9

I shall not in this place do more than state the views of the late Cavaliere Inghirami, which, coming from a man of approved archaeological eminence, are entitled to all respect. The subject will be further considered in a subsequent chapter, when I treat of another site in the Maremma, which, I think, has much stronger claims to be regarded as that of the ancient Vetulonia. Let it suffice to mention that Mr. Ainsley's description and sketches of Castiglione Bernardi represent it in entire accordance with the admission of Inghirami, as a small, isolated, conical hill, about the size of the celebrated Poggio di Gajella at Chiusi, certainly not so large as the Castellina at Tarquinii — a mere "poggetto," or "monticello," without any level space that could admit of an Etruscan town, even of fourth or fifth-rate importance. To which I may add, that if this were p217an Etruscan site, as the neighbouring tombs seem to indicate, it can have been only one of the thousand and one "villages and castles" — castella vicique — which existed in Etruria. The traveller may rest satisfied that no remains of an Etruscan town are to be seen on the spot. Should he wish to verify the fact, he will find accommodation at Monte Rotondo, a town two or three miles from the Poggio of Castiglione; and he can see, in the house of Signor Baldasserini, the proprietor of this tenuta, a number of vases and other Etruscan antiquities, found in the neighbourhood.

A continual descent of many miles through a wild tract of oak forests, underwooded with tamarisk, laurestinus, and brushwood, leads to the plain of Massa. That city crowns the extremity of a long range of heights, and at a distance is not unlike Harrow as seen from Hampstead Heath; but its walls and towers give it a more imposing air. Though the see of a bishop, with nearly 3000 inhabitants, and one of the principal cities of the Maremma, Massa is a mean, dirty place, without an inn — unless the chandler's shop, assuming the name of "Locanda del Sole," may be so called. The Duomo is a small, neat edifice, of the thirteenth century, in the Byzantine style, with a low dome and a triple tier of arcades in the façade. The interior is not in keeping, being spoilt by modern additions, and has nothing of interest beyond a very curious font of early date, formed of a single block.

Massa has been supposed by some to occupy the site of Vetulonia, an opinion founded principally on the epithet "Veternensis," attached to a town of this name by Ammianus Marcellinus,10 the only writer who p218speaks of Massa, and which is regarded as a corruption of "Vetuloniensis."11 The towns-people, ready to catch at anything that would confer dignity on their native place, have adopted this opinion, and it has become a local tradition; not to be the more credited on that account. I have little doubt, however, that there was originally an Etruscan population on the spot. Adjoining the town, to the south-east, is a height, or rather a cliff-bound table-land, called Poggio di Vetreta, or Vuetreta, which has all the features of an Etruscan site. It is about a mile in length, and three-quarters of a mile in its greatest breadth; it breaks into cliffs on all sides, except where a narrow isthmus unites it to the neighbouring heights. No fragments of ancient walls could I perceive; but there are not a few traces of sepulchres in the cliffs.12 It is highly probable that the original name of this town is to be traced in its Roman appellation (if that, indeed, belong to this site),13 p219which indicates, not Vetulonia, but Volturnus or Volturna as its root; and the town may have taken its name from a shrine to one of those Etruscan deities, on or near the spot.14

The rock here is a rich red tufo, much indurated, and picturesquely overhung with ilex. Traces of volcanic action are occasionally met with in this part of Italy, though the higher mountains are of limestone, sandstone, or clay slate.

This height commands a magnificent view. The wide Maremma lies outspread at your feet, and the eye is led across it by a long straight road to the village of Follonica on the coast, some twelve or thirteen miles distant. Monte Calvi rises on the right, overhanging the deep vale of the Cornia; and many a village sparkles out from its wooded slopes. The heights of Piombino and Populonia rise beyond it, forming the northern horn of the Bay of Follonica; the headland of Troja, with its subject islet, forms the southern; and the dark, abrupt peaks of Elba, the dim island of Monte Cristo, and the deep blue line of the Mediterranean, bound the horizon.15

Its elevated position might be supposed to secure Massa from the pestiferous atmosphere of the Maremma; but such is not the case. The city does not suffer so much as p220others on lower ground, yet has a bad name, proverbialised by the saying,

Massa, Massa —
Salute passa.

It is a dreary road to Follonica across the barren plain. Let the traveller, however, drive on rather than pass the night at Massa; for the inn, though of no high pretensions, is far more comfortable at the former place. Follonica, indeed, is much more frequented, having a little port, and large iron factories; and lying on the high-road from Leghorn to Civita Vecchia. This little industrious village appears quite civilised after the dreamy dulness of Massa.16

From Follonica there are two ways to Populonia — one along the sandy strip of shore, called Il Tombolo, to Piombino, fifteen miles distant,17 and thencesix miles further over the mountains; the other by the high road to Leghorn, for ten or eleven miles, and then across the Maremma. The first, in fine weather, is practicable for a carriage throughout; the second only as long as you keep the high-road, the rest of the way being by a path through the forest. I chose the latter track, which is shorter by p221five miles, because the road by the Tombolo had been rendered uncarriageable by heavy rains.

My road lay through the level of the Maremma, where for some miles everything was in a state of primitive nature; a dense wood ran wild over the plain; it could not be called a forest, for there was scarcely a tree twenty feet in height; but a tall underwood of tamarisk, lentiscus, myrtle, dwarf cork-trees, and numerous shrubs unknown to me, fostered by the heat and moisture into an extravagant luxuriance, and matted together by parasitical plants of various kinds. Here a break offered a peep of a stagnant lagoon; there of the sandy Tombolo, with the sea breaking over it; and above the foliage I could see the dark crests of Monte Calvi on the one hand, and the lofty promontory of Populonia on the other. Habitations there were none in this wilderness, save one lonely house on a rising-ground. If a pathway opened into the dense thickets on either hand, it was the track of the wild beasts of the forest. Man seemed here to have no dominion. The boar, the roebuck, the buffalo, and wild cattle have undisputed range of the jungle. It was the "woods and wasteness wide" of this Maremma, that seized Dante's imagination when he pictured the Infernal wood, inhabited by the souls of suicides,

                                  "— un bosco

Che da nessun sentiero era segnato.
Non frondi verdi, ma di color fosco;

Non rami schietti, ma nodosi e 'nvolti;
Non pomi v' eran, ma stecchi con tosco.

Non han si aspri sterpi, nè sì folti
Quelle fiere selvegge, che 'n odio hanno

Tra Cecina e Corneto i luoghi colti.

After some miles there were a few traces of cultivation — strips of land by the road-side redeemed from the waste, and sown with corn;º yet, like the clearings of p222American backwoods, still studded with stumps of trees, showing the struggle with which nature had been subdued. At this cool season the roads had a fair sprinkling of travellers — labourers going to work, and not a few pedlars, indispensable beings in a region that produces nothing but fish, flesh, and fuel. But the population is temporary and nomade, consisting of woodcutters, agricultural labourers and herdsmen, and those who minister to their wants. These colonists — for such they may strictly be called — are from distant parts of the Duchy, mostly from Pistoja and the northern districts; and they come down to these lowlands in the autumn to cut wood and make charcoal — the prime duties of the Maremma labourer. In May, at the commencement of the summer heats, the greater part of them emigrate to the neighbouring mountains, or return to their homes; but a few linger four or five weeks longer, just to gather in the scanty harvest, where there is any, and then it is sauve qui peut, and "the devil take the hindmost." No one remains in this deadly atmosphere, who can in any way crawl out of it — even "the birds and the very flies" are said, in the emphatic language of the Southron, to abandon the plague-stricken waste. Follonica, which in winter has two or three hundred inhabitants, has scarcely half-a‑dozen souls left in the dog-days; beyond the men of the coast-guard, who are doomed to rot at their posts. Such, at least, is the report given by the natives; how far it is coloured by southern imaginations, I leave to others to verify, if they wish it. My advice, however, for that season would be

       "— has terras, Italique hanc litoris oram,

Effuge; cuncta malis habitantur moenia;

for the sallow emaciation, or dropsical bloatedness, so often seen along this coast, confirms a great part of the tale. In p223October, when the sun is losing his power to create miasma, the tide of population begins again to flow towards the Maremma.

The same causes must always have produced the same effects, and the Maremma must have been unhealthy from the earliest times. Yet scarcely to the same extent as at present, or the coast and its neighbourhood would not have been so well peopled, as extant remains prove it to have been. In Roman times we know it was much as at the present day.18 Yet the Emperors and patricians had villas along this coast in spots which are now utterly deserted. The Romans, by their conscriptions, and centralising system, diminished the population; the land fell out of cultivation, and malaria was the natural consequence; so that where large cities had originally stood, mere road-stations, post-houses, or lonely villas met the eye in Imperial times. The same causes which reduced the Campagna of Rome to a desert must have operated here. The old saying,

Lontan da città,
Lontan da sanità,

is most applicable to these regions, where population and cultivation are the best safeguards against disease. It is probable that under the Etruscans the malaria was confined to the level of the coast, or we should scarcely find traces of so many cities, the chief cities of the land, on the great table-lands, not far from the sea; on sites which now, from want of cultivation and proper draining, are become most pestilent; but which, from their elevation, ought to enjoy immunity from the desolating scourge.

It is but justice to add, that the rulers of Tuscany, for a p224century past, have done much to improve the condition of this district, both by drainage, by filling up the pools and swamps, and by reclaiming land from the waste for agricultural purposes.19º But much yet remains to be done; for the mischief of ages cannot be remedied in a day. The success already attained in the Val di Chiana, and the natural fertility of the soil, offer every encouragement. "In the Maremma," saith the proverb, "you get rich in a year, but — you die in six months" — in Maremma s' arricchisce in un anno, si muore in sei mesi.

The peculiar circumstances of the Maremma are made the universal excuse for every inferiority of quantity, quality, or workmanship. You complain of the food or accommodation. My host shrugs his shoulders, and cries, "Ma che — cosa vuole, signor? siamo in Maremma" — what would you have, sir? we are in the Maremma. A bungling smith well nigh lamed the horse I had hired; to my complaints he replied, "Cosa vuole, signor? è roba di Maremma." "Maremma-stuff is a proverbial expression of inferiority. These lower regions of Italy, in truth, are scarcely deemed worthy of a place in a Tuscan's geography. "Nel mondo, o in Maremma," has for ages been a current saying. Thus, Boccaccio's Madonna Lisetta tells her gossip that the angel Gabriel had called her the handsomest woman "in the world or in the Maremma." The traveller will find, however, that as accommodation deteriorates, the demands on his purse become more exorbitant; not wholly without reason, for everything comes from other parts — nothing is produced in the Maremma. Milk, butter, fruit, all the necessaries of life, even bread and meat, are brought from a distance; fowls and eggs, and occasionally fish or a wild-boar chop, are the only produce of the spot. Corn is not yet grown in sufficient quantities for the winter population.

p225 About the ninth milestone from Follonica, the road crosses the Cornia, which flows from the wide valley on the right, between the heights of Massa and Campiglia. The latter place is seen from afar off, glistening on the wooded slopes. A mile or two beyond the Cornia, a road branches to it, thence three miles distant; and a path turns off in the opposite direction through the jungle to Populonia, seven miles off. Hard by this spot a white house by the road-side, at the eleventh milestone from Follonica, marks Le Caldane, the hot springs, which have been regarded by Inghirami, as well as by earlier writers, as the aquae calidae ad Vetulonios, mentioned by Pliny.20 They are still used as hot baths.

Campiglia is a town of some consequence, having 2000 resident inhabitants; but in the cool season that number is almost doubled by the influx of the labourers from other parts of the Duchy, who migrate to the Maremma. A recent traveller complains of having been mobbed here, and followed through the streets, as bears and monkeys are by children, and describes the locanda as the worst that could possibly exist.21 I did not happen to be mistaken for either of those saltatory quadrupeds; and moreover, in the Locanda of Giovanni Dini, I experienced great civility and attention, and as much comfort as can be expected in a country town, off the high road, and where the tastes and whims of foreigners are not wont to be p226studied. Giovanni himself is as obliging and intelligent an host as you will meet in the wide Maremma. Therefore, those visitors to Populonia, who do not accept the hospitalities of the Desiderj, or seek a lodging at Piombino, cannot do better than make the acquaintance of Giovanni of Campiglia.

It is in these mountains, and not far from Campiglia, that Vetulonia was long supposed to have been situated. Leandro Alberti, in 1550, first gave to the world a long and detailed account of some ruins in a thick wood hereabouts, which, from the name of the wood, and from the vicinity of the hot springs of Le Caldane, he concluded to be the remains of Vetulonia, or, as he calls it, Itulonium.

He asserts that between the Torre di S. Vincenzio and the headland of Populonia, three miles from the sea, and in the midst of dense woods, is a spacious inclosure of ancient masonry, composed of blocks from four to six feet long, neatly put together, and without cement; the wall being ten feet thick. In many parts it is overthrown to the foundations. Within this are many fountains, or reservoirs, almost all ruined and empty; besides certain wells, some quite choked with earth; mosaic pavement of marble and other costly stones, but much ruined; the remains of a superb amphitheatre, in which lies a great block of marble, inscribed with Etruscan characters. Both within and around the said inclosure, among the dense thickets and underwood, lie fragments of statues, broken capitals and bases of columns, slabs, tablets, tomb-stones, and such-like remains of antiquity, together with very thick substructions and fragments of massive walling, which he thinks belonged to some temple or palace. This wood, he says, is called Selva di Vetletta, and the ruins, Vetulia; which he takes to be Vetulonia, or a temple called Vitulonium. All around these remains are ruined p227fountains; and two miles beyond, on the same wooded hills, is a large building, where alum is prepared; and three miles further, are the mines, where iron ore is dug up. Following the same hill, which faces the south, for another mile, and descending to its foot, you find the marsh through which the Cornia flows to the sea.22

I have given Alberti's account for the benefit of those who would seek for the ruins he describes.

Though Alberti's opinion, as to this being the site of Vetulonia, has been now broached for three centuries, and though it has been adopted, through good faith in his statements, by almost every subsequent writer on Italian antiquities,23 no one has hitherto been able to discover a vestige of the ruins he pretends to describe; yet no one seems to have doubted their existence, accounting for their disappearance by the density of the wood which covers the slopes of these mountains.24 The wood, however, p228would not afford an effectual concealment, for it is cut from time to time, at least once in a generation; so that any ruins among it must, since Alberti's days, have been frequently exposed for years together, and some traditional record of their site could hardly fail to be preserved among the peasantry. Inghirami was the first to impugn Alberti's credibility, after he had sought in vain for these ruins, and for any one who had seen them; but finding that no one, native or foreigner, had ever been able to discover their site, he concluded them to have existed only in Alberti's imagination.25 He admits, however, the currency of such rumours along this coast; but could never meet with any one who had ocular testimony to offer as to the existence of these ruins, and therefore refers such traditions to their probable source — the statement of Alberti, repeated by subsequent writers, till it has become current in the mouths of the peasantry.26

My own experience does not quite agree with Inghirami's; for though I made many inquiries at Campiglia and Populonia, not only of residents, but of campagnuoli and shepherds, men whose life had been past in the neighbouring country, I could not learn that such names as Vetulonia, Vetulia, or even Vetletta, or Vetreta, had even been heard in this district; nothing beyond the Valle al Vetro (Vetriera, as I heard it) which Inghirami speaks of, the valley below Campiglia, towards the Caldane — a name derived from the glass-factories formerly existing there,27 p229traces of which are still to be seen in the dross from the furnaces. There are, however, not a few remains of the olden time around Campiglia. At Rocca di San Silvestro, three miles to the north towards the Torre di San Vincenzio;28 at Castel di Biserno, a mile beyond; at Castel di Monte Pilli, half way between Campiglia and Suvereto; and also at San Bartolo — are ruins, but all of churches or castles of the middle ages.

Though the ruins Alberti describes are not now to be found, that there was an Etruscan population in the neighbourhood of Campiglia is a fact, attested by tombs that have been opened at Monte Patone, a mile below the town on the road to Populonia. They have been reclosed with earth, but the description I received of their form and contents — sarcophagi with reliefs, and recumbent figures on the lids — fragments of bronze armour, embossed with lions, cocks, boars, serpents, geese, and strange chimaeras, such as had never been seen or heard of by my informants — and pottery of sundry kinds — thoroughly persuaded me of their Etruscan character.

The precise site of this Etruscan town I did not ascertain. It may have been at Campiglia itself, though no traces of such antiquity are now to be seen there. In fact, were we to trust to such blind guides as Annio of Viterbo and Leandro Alberti, we should hold that Campiglia was founded by the "sweet-worded Nestor," who named it after his realm of Pylos, and that the syllable Cam, by some unexplained means, afterwards stole a march on the old appellation, and took its place at the head of the word.29

After all, it is a mere assumption, founded partly on Alberti's description, and partly on the hot springs at Le p230Caldane, that Vetulonia stood in this neighbourhood, as there is no statement in ancient writers which should lead us to look for it here, rather than elsewhere along the coast.30 But the fashion was set by Alberti, and its has ever since been followed — fashions in opinion not being so easily cast aside as those in dress.31

Roman remains have also been found in this neighbourhood. I heard of sundry pieces of mosaic, and other traces of Roman villas, that had been recently brought to light.32

The summit of the hill above the town is called Campiglia Vecchia, but there are no remains more ancient than the middle ages. Forbear not, however, to ascend; for you will thence obtain one of the most magnificent panoramas in all Italy — where mountain and plain, rock p231and wood, sea and sky, lake, river, and island, are brought together into one mighty spirit-stirring whole, where Nature exults in undying strength and freshness.

Turn your back on the deep valley of the Cornia and the lofty mountains inland, and let your eye range over the other half of the scene. Campiglia lies at your feet, cradled in olive-groves, and its feudal castle, in ivy-grown ruin, scowls over the subject town. Now glance southward, far across the green and red Maremma and the azure bay of Follonica, to the headland of Troja, with the islet at its foot. Far beyond it, in the dim horizon, you will perceive another island, the Giglio, so favourite a feature in the scenery of Corneto. To the west rises the lofty rock of Monte Cristo. Nearer still, the many-peaked mass of Elba, once the whole realm of him for whom Europe was too small, towers behind the heights of Piombinno; and on the northern extremity of these heights gleams the castle of Populonia, overhanging its sail-less port. Due west, Capraja rises from the blue deep; and far, far beyond, the snow-capt mountains of Corsica faintly whiten the horizon. More to the north, seen through a gap in the olive-clad heights on which you stand, is the steep islet-rock of Gorgona.

How delightful at times is ignorance! How disenchanting is knowledge! Look over these luxuriant, variegated woods, these smiling lakes at your feet; admire them, rejoice in them — think not, know not, that for half the year they "exhale earth's rottenest vapours," and curdle the air with pestilence. Let yon castle on its headland be to you a picturesque object, placed there but to add beauty to the scene; listen not to its melancholy tale of desolation and departed grandeur. Those islands, studding the deep, may be, some at least, barren, treeless, storm-lashed rocks, the haunt only of the fisherman, or forsaken as p232unprofitable wildernesses; but to you who would enjoy this scene, let them be, one and all, what they appear,

"Summer-isles of Eden, lying
In dark purple spheres of sea."


Alberti's Description of the pretended ruins of Vetulonia.

Voglio discrivere alcune cose, che sono fra la Torre di Santo Vincenzo, ed il Promontorio, sopra lo quale era posta Populonia, fra quelle selve, e folti boschi tre miglia da 'l mare discosto. Vedesi adunque in questo luogo tutto silvoso, un grande e lungo muro (che abbraccia molto paese) fabricato con gran sassi lunghi comunamente di piedi 4 in 6, tanto diligentemente composti insieme, che paiono esser composti sensa calce ed altro bitumo. Onde si può conoscere la gran diligentia de gli artefici in drizzare tanta fabrica. Ella è larga piedi 10, ben è vero che in alcuni luoghi vedesi intiera, ed altrove mezo rovinata, ed anche totalmente insino ai fondamenti disfatta. Sono ne'l mezo di questa muraglia molte Fontane, dico edificij per li quali scendevano l' acque che hora sono quasi tutti guasti, e così sono mancate l' acque. Etiandio scoprensi alquanti pozzi, qual totalmente pieno di terra, e qual mezo vuoto, e chi coll' acqua, e chi senza. Vedensi assai silicati alla musaica molto maestrevolmente composti di preciose pietre, traversati di vaghi compassi di finissimi marmi. Vero è che ella è guasta per maggior parte tanta opera. Altresi si rapresenta parte d'un superbo Amphitheatro, da laquale facilmente si può giudicare la grandezza, e suntuosità di quello, quanta ella fusse, quando era in essere. Quivi giace un gran pezzo di marmo molto misuratamente intagliato di lettere Hetrusche, come affermano i curiosi vestigatori dell' antichitati. Ritrovansi tanto dentro da detta muraglia, quanto di fuori, per i vicini luoghi, fra folti boschi, e cespugli, e pruni, pezzi di nobili marmi, capitelli spezzati, basamenti, tavole di pietre, mesule, aveli, ed altre simili vestiggi d' antichitati molto artificiosamente lavorate. Per le quali si può giudicare che fossero ornamenti de nobili edifici, o di qualche Tempio o Palagio, scoprendosi etiamdio grossissimi fondamenti con alquanti pezzi di grandissime mura in piedi. Per quanto io posso divisare, credo che questo fusse edificio (hora tanto rovinato, e abbandonato, quanto si vede) da gli habitatori de'l paese, Vetulia dimandato, e questi folti boschi nominati la Selva di Vetletta, quel luogo da Tolemo Vetulonium nominato. . . . . E se deve scrivere questo luogo, Itulonio, e cosi si vede esser corrotto Tolemeo. . . . . Fuori di questi rovinati edifici, da ogni lato se dimostrano fontane guaste e derrochatte. Piu avanti caminando lungo quei colli tutti selvaggi e pieni di cespugli e di pruni, da Vetulia due miglia discosto, appare un grand' edificio, ove si confetta l' laume, e quindi a tre, vedense le Fodine overo il luogo ove se cava il Ferro molto crudo. Pur piu oltre seguitando l' antidetto colle, che risguarda all mezo giorno, per un miglio, e scendendo alle radici, ritrovasi una Palude che mette capo nella marina . . . . e il fiume Cornia finisse il suo corso a questa Palude.

The Author's Notes:

1 Vada is mentioned by Cicero, pro Quintio, c. VI; Pliny, III.8; Rutilius, I.453; and the Itineraries, but as Roman only. It must have received its name from the swamps in the neighbourhood. But it was a port, as Rutilius shows, and it still affords protection to small vessels. Repetti, V. p616. There are said to be some Roman remains at Vada. Viaggio Antiq. per la Via Aurelia, p5. Here were also some ancient Salt-works, and the villa of Albinus Caecina, who resided here at the commencement of the fifth century of our era (Rutil. I.466‑475; cf. Müller, Etrusk. I pp406, 418), which Repetti places on the neighbouring height of Rosignano, where there are some ancient remains, called "Villana." I. p65. For an account of the great improvements of this deadly and once desert shore effected during the last fifteen years see the same writer. Suppl. pp261‑4.

2 The following are the ancient stations and distances on this road, and along the coast, from Cosa northwards to Luna, as given by the three Itineraries.

Itinerary of Antoninus

Lacum Aprilem XXII
Salebronem XII
Manliana VIIII
Populonium XII
Vada Volaterrana XXV
Ad Herculem XVIII
Pisas XII
Papiriana XI
Lunam XII

Peutingerian Table

Albinia, fl. VIIII
Telamone IIII
Hasta VIII
Umbro, fl. VIIII
Saleborna XII
Manliana VIIII
Populonio XII
Vadis Volateris X
Velinis X
Ad Fines XIII
Piscinas VIII
Turrita XVI
Fossis Papirianis XI
Ad Taberna Frigida XII
Lunae X

Maritime Itinerary

Arnine, fluv.
Portum Herculis XXV
Cetarias Domitianas III
Almina, fluv. VIIII
Portum Telamonis XVIIII
Fluv. Umbronis
Lacu Aprile
Alma, flum. XVIII
Scabros, port. VI
Falesiam, port. XVIII
Populonium, port. XIII
Vada, port. XXX
Portum Pisanum XVIII
Pisas, fluv. VIIII
Lunam, fluv. Macra XXX

3 Pliny (III.8) shows that the river had the same name in his time, "fluvius Caecinna," — how much earlier we know not; but probably from very remote times. Mela (II.4) speaks of it among the towns on this coast. But he may have cited "Cecina," instead of Vada Volaterrana, the port which was near its mouth; or he may have referred to it as a river, as Cluver (II p469) opines, who would read the passage — "Etrusca et loca et flumina," instead of the current version — "loca et nomina."

4 A good description of these works is given in Murray's Hand-book. See also Repetti, vv. Lagoni, Monte Cerboli, Pomarance.

5 Ricerche di Vetulonia, Lettera II. pp35, 36, 52. Published also in the Memorie dell' Instituto. IV. pp95‑136.

6 Ric. di Vetul. p29. Repetti (V. p706), however, tells us that many documents of the tenth century speak of this Castiglione, without mentioning the "hill of Vetulonio." How this spot acquired the name of Vetulonium which it bore during the middle ages, it is not easy to say. That it bore this appellation in Etruscan times we have no proof. That the names of places were often altered by the ancients we have evidence in Etruria and its confines — Camers was changed to Clusium, Agylla to Caere, Aurinia to Saturnia, Nequinum to Narnia, Felsina to Bononia — and we know that the name of a town was sometimes transferred from one site to another, as in Falerii and Volsinii — and that names were occasionally multiplied we see in Clusium Vetus and Clusium Novum; in Arretium Vetus, Arretiu Fidens, and Arretium Julium. It must also be remembered that the nomenclature of the middle ages is no evidence of that of more early times. Through the fond partiality of an ecclesiastic for his native-place, or the blunder of some antiquary, ancient names were often attached to sites, to which they did not belong. Such errors would soon however become traditional with the people, anxious to maintain the honour of their native town, and would even pass into their documents and monumental inscriptions.c Thus it was that Civita Castellana was made the ancient Veii; and thus Annio's forgeries and capricious nomenclature became current for ages in the traditions of the people.

7 Plin. N. H. II.106.

8 Ric. di Vetul. p93. He even proposes to make this the basis of his researches for the site of Vetulonia. But (p216) how unsound a basis this is, and how little Ptolemy is to be trusted — being so full of errors and inconsistencies, that if the towns of Etruria were arranged according to the latitudes and longitudes he assigns them, we should have an entirely new map of the land — I have shown at length in an article in the Classical Museum, 1844, No. V. pp229‑246.

9 Ricerche di Vetulonia, p50. He ultimately gave up the idea of a Ciminian Vetulonia (op. cit. pp93‑6; Bull. Inst. 1839, pp150‑152), in consequence of the resing of Dr. Ambrosch in a letter written in reply to the three published by the venerable antiquary (Memor. Inst. IV. pp137‑155), and fell back upon his hill of Castiglione. His opinion that this was the site of Vetulonia is supported by Dr. Ambrosch, who to reconcile this mean site with that of Vetulonia is driven to attempt to invalidate the evidence of Silius Italicus as to the importance and grandeur of that ancient city. I have replied to his objections in the above-mentioned paper in the Classical Museum.

10 Amm. Marcell. XIV.11.27. He speaks of it as the birth-place of Gallus Caesar, the brother of Julian the Apostate.

11 See Targioni-Tossetti, Viaggi in Toscana, IV. p116.

12 In the cliffs just opposite the Cathedral are some sepulchral niches, and so also in the rocks beneath Massa itself. Mr. Ainsley observed, in the cliffs of the Poggio de Vetreta, some passages running far into the rock, like the Buche de' Saracini at Volterra. They were probably sewers. Below this height there is also a Giardino di Vuetreta. This name has been supposed to be derived from Vetulonia, but is more probably a corruption of the Latin appellation of the town; if it be not rather traceable to the glass-factories, once common in this district. Inghir. Ric. di Vetul. p39; Memor. Inst. IV. p120. Ximenes (cited by Inghirami, op. cit. p62) asserts the currency of a tradition at Massa, that in a dense wood five miles west of that town, are the ruins of the city of Vetulonia; but Inghirami ascribes this tradition to its true source, as will presently be shown.

13 Repetti (III. p139) does not think there is sufficient authority for identifying the Massa Veternensis of Marcellinus with this town of Massa Marittima; for he shows (cf. p109) that numerous places, not only in Tuscany, but in the Papal State, especially in the southern district of Etruria, had the title of Massa, i.e., "a large estate," in the middle ages, most of which have now dropped it. He inclines to recognise the birth-place of Gallus in Viterbo, and would read "Massa Veterbensis," instead of "Veternensis." Cluver (II p513), however, does not hesitate to identify the modern Massa with that of A. Marcellinus.

14 For Volturnus and Volturna, or Vertumnus and Voltumna, see Vol. I p519. Veternensis, deprived of its Latin adjectival termination, becomes Veterni or Veterna, which seems nothing but a corruption of the Etruscan Velturna, or Velthurna, the Latin Volturnus, according to the frequent Roman substitution of o for the Etruscan e. Velthur or Velthurna was also an Etruscan proper name (see Vol. I pp340, 446, 499), and may have had the same relation to this town, that the ancient family Caecina had to the river of that name. A tomb of the family of Velthurna, or Velthurnas, was discovered at Perugia in 1822, with eight urns bearing this name. Vermiglioli, Iscriz. Perug. I. pp262‑3.

15 Massa is 38 miles from Volterra, 40 from Siena, 16 from Castelnuovo, 20 from Piombino, 24 from Populonia, 24 from Campiglia, 30 from Grosseto.

16 Abeken thinks that the abandoned mines, which Strabo (V. p223) saw in the neighbourhood of Populonia, must have been at Follonica. Mittelitalien, p30. But Müller (Etrusk. I p240) mentions Caldana as the site of these mines. They are probably those which have been re-opened of late with great success in the vicinity of Campiglia.

17 Piombino is not an ancient site. Here, however, a beautiful votive statue of Apollo in bronze was found in the sea a few years since, having a Greek inscription on its foot — ΑΘΑΗΑΙΑΙ ΔΕΚΑΤΑΗ — It is now in the Louvre. M. Letronne thinks it may have decorated some temple of Minerva in the neighbouring Etruscan city of Populonia. Ann. Inst. 1834, pp198‑222. Tav. d' Agg. D. 1. Mon. Ined. Inst. I. tav. 58, 59. Between Follonica and Piombino, and about a mile only from the latter, is the Porto de' Faliesi, the Faleria of Rutilius (I.371), the Falesia Portus of the Maritime Itinerary, see page 212. Dempster (II. p432) erroneously places this ancient port at the other end of the bay, near the island of Troja. The neighbouring lagoon, which Rutilius speaks of, is that into which the Cornia empties itself. Repetti (IV. p293) says the ancient port is now much choked by the deposits from that river.

18 Pliny (epist. V.6) says of it — Est sane gravis et pestilens ora Tuscorum, quae per litus extenditur. Cf. Virg. Aen. X.184; Serv. in loc.; Rutil. I.282.

19 Tuscany is indebted for much of this improvement to the assiduous exertions of her present benevolent ruler, Leopold II. "He who in 1832," says Repetti, "visited the desert and unhealthy plain between the Cecina and the height of Rosignano, and returns to it in 1846, cannot but exclaim with me:— 'The evils of the Tuscan Maremma are not then in every part incurable!' " Supplem. p261.

20 Plin. II.106. The Cornia is supposed to be the Lynceus of Lycophron (Cassand. 1240), a river of Etruria which abounded in hot springs. Cluver. II p472. Inghir. Ric. di Vetul. p26.

21 Viaggio Antiquario per la Via Aurelia, p14.

22 Alberti, Descrittione d' Italia, p27. See the Appendix to this Chapter. Inghirami (Ric. di Vetul. p38) tells us that Leandro Alberti did not describe these ruins from his own personal acquaintance, but copied a manuscript account by a certain Zaccaria Zacchio, a painter, sculptor, and antiquary of Volterra, who wrote long before him; and pronounces the above account to be the offspring of Zacchio's lively imagination, copied by the credulous Alberti.

23 Cluver. Ital. Ant. II. p472; Dempster, Etrur. Reg. II. p432; Ximenes, Maremma Sanese, p24; Targioni-Tozzetti, Viaggi in Toscana, IV. pp117, 268; Müller, Etrusk. I pp211, 347; Cramer, Anc. Italy, I. p187. Lanzi (II. p106) and Micali (Ant. Pop. Ital. I p144) do not pronounce an opinion. Some of these writers had made no personal researches in this district, but contented themselves with repeating the accounts of their predecessors; and even those who had travelled along this coast, accepted implicitly the assertion, carried away by the great authority of Cluverius, who gave the statement to the world as his own, at least without acknowledging that he had it from Alberti.

24 Santi (Viaggio, III. p189, cited by Inghir. Ric. di Vetul. p47) sought in vain for a vestige of these ruins; yet would he not impugn the authority of previous writers, "although no one had been able to ascertain the site of the ancient and irrecoverably lost Vetulonia." Sir Richard Colt Hoare was also disappointed in his search for these ruins, yet did not call in question their existence. Classical Tour, I. p46. And it must be confessed that Alberti's description, no way vague or extravagant, has all the air of verity.

25 Inghirami investigated all this country with the greatest care, but could find no vestige of Alberti's Vetulonia; nor even, among the traditions of the peasantry, a trace of the name Vetulia, or Vetletta, which he thinks to have been formed by Zacchio or Alberti, from that of Vetreta, which exists in several spots along this coast where there have been in former days manufactories of glass. He also shows, from other palpably absurd statements of Alberti with regard to Populonia, how little he is worthy of confidence in such matters. Ric. di Vetul. pp40, 48, 49.

26 Ric. di Vetul. p63. To this source he ascribes the tradition of the Massetani, mentioned above, at page 218.

27 Ric. di Vetul. p39.

28 To this ruined fortress Sir R. C. Hoare was taken. Classical Tour, I. p47.

29 A modern traveller takes Campiglia to be a corruption of Capitolium; for he thinks this town occupies the site of the Arx or Capitol of Vetulonia. Viaggio Antiquario per la Via Aurelia, p12.

30 Cluver (II p473) proposes to alter the "Velinis," which the Peutingerian Table places on this coast north of Vada Volaterrana (ut supra, p212), into "Vetulonis," and to transpose it so as to place it between Vada and Populonia, ten miles from the latter. Cramer (I. p187) and Mannert (p358) agree with him. But this is a purely arbitrary transposition, suggested by a belief in Alberti's statements.

31 Professor Gerhard (Ann. Inst. 1829, p194) suggests three causes, which may have given rise to this opinion. The hot springs of the Caldane — the reported existence of the names of Vetulia, Vetleta, &c., in the neighbourhood, and "the order in which Ptolemy mentions Vetulonia, after having cited Rusellae and Arretium and before passing to Suana, Saturnia, and Volci." With regard to the latter reason, nothing more can be deduced from the order of these places than from the latitude and longitude Ptolemy assigns them, as it is evident they follow no geographical arrangement — "Pisae, Volaterrae, Rusellae, Faesulae, Perusia, Arretium, Cortona, Acula, Biturgia, Manliana, Vetulonium, Saena, Suana, Saturnia, Elba, Volci, Clusium," &c.

32 Near Campiglia some ancient mines have of late years been reopened and worked with great success by an English gentleman, who, as I heard the story, was led to turn his attention to this spot from observing the mention made by Strabo (V. p223) of some abandoned mines near Populonia, ut supra, p220. According to Dempster (II. p432), Campiglia could boast of mines of a richer metal, for he calls it — "argenti fodinis nuper ditissima, ac monetae officina." In the mountains of Campiglia also are quarries of white marble, to which the Duomo of Florence is more indebted for its beautiful incrustations than to the marble of Carrara. Repetti, I. p421.

Thayer's Notes:

a his bed fully preoccupied: Is it just me, or do you too find this odd? Dennis's hotel is in the middle of an entire area given over to the mining of borax, a specific for household infestation.

b "quills upon the fretful porcupine": Dennis appears to have mostly Dickens in mind (David Copperfield, chapter 41) rather than what must be considered the original: Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act I, Scene V, "Like quills upon the fretful porcupine."

c ancient names were often attached to sites to which they did not belong, etc.: Our author makes this sound as a thing past, no longer occurring. Not so. Identifications of this sort were still being made in the 20c, as for example the modern naming of the Rubicone river because the ancient Rubicon was somewhere around there, or — as I suspect — "Urbinum Hortense" applied to a small Umbro-Roman town near Collemancio (comune of Cannara, Perugia province). In our time, furthermore, such identifications immediately acquire a spurious aura of positive certainty by the mere fact of getting printed on a map or in a book.

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