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Chapter 33


Have you ever seen some grand painting of a city, rising with its domes and towers and palaces from the edge of a glorious bay, shut in by mountains--the whole scene clad in those deep, delicious, sunny hues which you admire so much in the picture, although they appear unrealized in Nature? If so, you can figure to yourself Genoa, as she looked to us at sunset, from the battlements west of the city. When we had passed through the gloomy gate of the fortress that guards the western promontory, the whole scene opened at once on us in all its majesty. It looked to me less like a real landscape than a mighty panoramic painting. The battlements where we were standing, and the blue mirror of the Mediterranean just below, with a few vessels moored near the shore, made up the foreground; just in front lay the queenly city, stretching out to the eastern point of the bay, like a great meteor---this point, crowned with the towers and dome of a cathedral representing the nucleus, while the tail gradually widened out and was lost among the numberless villas that reached to the top of the mountains behind. A mole runs nearly across the mouth of the harbor, with a tall light-house at its extremity, leaving only a narrow passage for vessels. As we gazed, a purple glow lay on the bosom of the sea, while far beyond the city, the eastern half of the mountain crescent around the gulf was tinted with the loveliest hue of orange. The impressions which one derives from looking on remarkable scenery, depend, for much of their effect, on the time and weather. I have been very fortunate in this respect in two instances, and shall carry with me through life, two glorious pictures of a very different character--the wild sublimity of the Brocken in cloud and storm, and the splendor of Genoa in an Italian sunset.

Genoa has been called the "city of palaces." and it well deserves the appellation. Row above row of magnificent structures rise amid gardens along the side of the hills, and many of the streets, though narrow and crooked, are lined entirely with the splendid dwellings of the Genoese nobles. All these speak of the republic in its days of wealth and power, when it could cope successfully with Venice, and Doria could threaten to bridle the horses of St. Mark. At present its condition is far different; although not so fallen as its rival, it is but a shadow of its former self--the life and energy it possessed as a republic, has withered away under the grasp of tyranny.

We entered Genoa, as I have already said, in a religious procession. On passing the gate we saw from the concourse of people and the many banners hanging from the windows or floating across the streets, that it was the day of a festa. Before entering the city we reached the procession itself, which was one of unusual solemnity. As it was impossible in the dense crowd, to pass it, we struggled through till we reached a good point for seeing the whole, and slowly moved on with it through the city. First went a company of boys in white robes; then followed a body of friars, dressed in long black cassocks, and with shaven crowns; then a company of soldiers with a band of music; then a body of nuns, wrapped from head to foot in blue robes, leaving only a small place to see out of--in the dusk they looked very solemn and ghost-like, and their low chant had to me something awful and sepulchral in it; then followed another company of friars, and after that a great number of priests in white and black robes, bearing the statue of the saint, with a pyramid of flowers, crosses and blazing wax tapers, while companies of soldiery, monks and music brought up the rear. Armed guards walked at intervals on each side of the procession, to keep the way clear and prevent disturbance; two or three bands played solemn airs, alternating with the deep monotonous chanting of the friars. The whole scene, dimly lighted by the wax tapers, produced in me a feeling nearly akin to fear, as if I were witnessing some ghostly, unearthly spectacle. To rites like these, however, which occur every few weeks, the people must be well accustomed.

Among the most interesting objects in Genoa, is the Doria palace, fit in its splendor for a monarch's residence. It stands in the Strada Nova, one of the three principal streets, and I believe is still in the possession of the family. There are many others through the city, scarcely less magnificent, among which that of the Durazzo family may be pointed out. The American consulate is in one of these old edifices, with a fine court-yard and ceilings covered with frescoes. Mr. Moro, the Vice Consul, did us a great kindness, which I feel bound to acknowledge, although it will require the disclosure of some private, and perhaps uninteresting circumstances. On leaving Frankfort, we converted--for the sake of convenience--the greater part of our funds into a draft on a Saxon merchant in Leghorn, reserving just enough, as we supposed, to take us thither. As in our former case, in Germany, the sum was too small, which we found to our dismay on reaching Milan. Notwithstanding we had traveled the whole ninety miles from that city to Genoa for three francs each, in the hope of having enough, left to enable one at least to visit Leghorn, the expenses for a passport in Genoa (more than twenty francs) prevented this plan. I went therefore to the Vice Consul to ascertain whether the merchant on whom the draft was drawn, had any correspondents there, who might advance a portion of it. His secretary made many inquiries, but without effect; Mr. Moro then generously offered to furnish me with means to reach Leghorn, whence I could easily remit a sufficient sum to my two comrades. This put an end to our anxiety, (for I must confess we could not help feeling some), and I therefore prepared to leave that evening in the "Virgilio."

The feelings with which I look on this lovely land, are fast changing. What with the dust and heat, and cheating landlords, and the dull plains of Lombardy, my first experience was not very prepossessing. But the joyous and romantic anticipation with which I looked forward to realizing the dream of my earliest boyhood, is now beginning to be surpassed by the exciting reality. Every breath I drew in the city of Columbus and Doria, was deeply tinctured with the magic of history and romance. It was like entering on a new existence, to look on scenes so lovely by nature and so filled with the inspiring memories of old.

"Italia too, Italia! looking on thee,
Full flashes on the soul the light of ages,
Since the fierce Carthagenian almost won thee,
To the last halo of the chiefs and sages
Who glorify thy consecrated pages!
Thou wert the throne and grave of empires."

The Virgilio was advertised to leave at six o'clock, and I accordingly went out to her in a little boat half an hour beforehand; but we were delayed much longer, and I saw sunset again fade over the glorious amphitheatre of palaces and mountains, with the same orange glow--the same purple and crimson flush, deepening into twilight--as before. An old blind man in a skiff, floated around under the bows of the boat on the glassy water, singing to the violin a plaintive air that appeared to be an evening hymn to the virgin. There was something very touching in his venerable countenance, with the sightless eyes turned upward to the sunset heaven whose glory he could never more behold.

The lamps were lit on the tower at the end of the mole as we glided out on the open sea; I stood on deck and watched the receding lights of the city, till they and the mountains above them, were blended with the darkened sky. The sea-breeze was fresh and cool, and the stars glittered with a frosty clearness, which would have made the night delicious had not a slight rolling of the waves obliged me to go below. Here, besides being half seasick, I was placed at the mercy of many voracious fleas, who obstinately stayed, persisting in keeping me company. This was the first time I had suffered from these cannibals, and such were my torments, I almost wished some blood-thirsty Italian would come and put an end to them with his stiletto.

The first ray of dawn that stole into the cabin sent me on deck. The hills of Tuscany lay in front, sharply outlined on the reddening sky; near us was the steep and rocky isle of Gorgona; and far to the south-west, like a low mist along the water, ran the shores of Corsica--the birth place of Columbus and Napoleon![***] As the dawn brightened we saw on the southern horizon a cloud-like island, also imperishably connected with the name of the latter--the prison-kingdom of Elba! North of us extended the rugged mountains of Carrarra--that renowned range whence has sprung many a form of almost breathing beauty, and where yet slumber, perhaps, in the unhewn marble, the god-like shapes of an age of art, more glorious than any the world has ever yet beheld!

[Footnote ***: By recent registers found in Corsica, it has been determined that this island also gave birth to the discoverer of the new world.]

The sun rose from behind the Apennines and masts and towers became visible through the golden haze, as we approached the shore. On a flat space between the sea and the hills, not far from the foot of Montenero, stands Leghorn. The harbor is protected by a mole, leaving a narrow passage, through which we entered, and after waiting two hours for the visit of the health and police officers, we were permitted to go on shore. The first thing that struck me, was the fine broad streets; the second, the motley character of the population. People were hurrying about noisy and bustling--Greeks in their red caps and capotes; grave turbaned and bearded Turks; dark Moors; the Corsair-looking natives of Tripoli and Tunis, and seamen of nearly every nation. At the hotel where I stayed, we had a singular mixture of nations at dinner:--two French, two Swiss, one Genoese, one Roman, one American and one Turk--and we were waited on by a Tuscan and an Arab! We conversed together in four languages, all at once.

To the merchant, Leghorn is of more importance than to the traveler. Its extensive trade, not only in the manufactures of Tuscany, but also in the productions of the Levant, makes it important to the former, while the latter seeks in vain for fine buildings, galleries of art, or in interesting historical reminiscences. Through the kind attention of the Saxon Consul, to whom I had letters, two or three days went by delightfully.

The only place of amusement here in summer is a drive along the sea shore, called the Ardenza, which is frequented every evening by all who can raise a vehicle. I visited it twice with a German friend. We met one evening the Princess Corsini, wife of the Governor of Leghorn, on horseback--a young, but not pretty woman. The road leads out along the Mediterranean, past an old fortress, to a large establishment for the sea bathers, where it ends in a large ring, around which the carriages pass and re-pass, until sunset has gone out over the sea, when they return to the city in a mad gallop, or as fast as the lean horses can draw them.

In driving around, we met two or three carriages of Turks, in one of which I saw a woman of Tunis, with a curious gilded head-dress, eighteen inches in height.

I saw one night a Turkish funeral. It passed me in one of the outer streets, on its way to the Turkish burying ground. Those following the coffin, which was covered with a heavy black pall, wore white turbans and long white robes--the mourning color of the Turks. Torches were borne by attendants, and the whole company passed on at a quick pace. Seen thus by night, it had a strange and spectral appearance.

There is another spectacle here which was exceedingly revolting to me. The condemned criminals, chained two and two, are kept at work through the city, cleaning the streets. They are dressed in coarse garments of a dirty red color, with the name of the crime for which they were convicted, painted on the back. I shuddered to see so many marked with the words--"omicidio premeditato." All day they are thus engaged, exposed to the scorn and contumely of the crowd, and at night dragged away to be incarcerated in damp, unwholesome dungeons, excavated under the public thoroughfares.

The employment of criminals in this way is common in Italy. Two days after crossing St. Gothard, we saw a company of abject-looking creatures, eating their dinner by the road-side, near Bellinzona. One of them had a small basket of articles of cotton and linen, and as he rose up to offer them to us, I was startled by the clank of fetters. They were all employed to labor on the road.

On going down to the wharf in Leghorn, in the morning, two or three days ago, I found F---- and B---- just stepping on shore from the steamboat, tired enough of the discomforts of the voyage, yet anxious to set out for Florence as soon as possible. After we had shaken off the crowd of porters, pedlars and vetturini, and taken a hasty breakfast at the Cafe Americano, we went to the Police Office to get our passports, and had the satisfaction of paying two francs for permission to proceed to Florence. The weather had changed since the preceding day, and the sirocco-wind which blows over from the coast of Africa, filled the streets with clouds of dust, which made walking very unpleasant. The clear blue sky had vanished, and a leaden cloud hung low on the Mediterranean, hiding the shores of Corsica and the rooky isles of Gorgona and Capraja.

The country between Leghorn and Pisa, is a flat marsh, intersected in several places by canals to carry off the stagnant water which renders this district so unhealthy. It is said that the entire plain between the mountains of Carrarra and the hills back of Leghorn has been gradually formed by the deposits of the Arno and the receding of the Mediterranean, which is so shallow along the whole coast, that large vessels have to anchor several miles out. As we approached Pisa over the level marsh, I could see the dome of the Cathedral and the Leaning Tower rising above the gardens and groves which surround it.

Our baggage underwent another examination at the gate, where we were again assailed by the vetturini, one of whom hung on us like a leech till we reached a hotel, and there was finally no way of shaking him off except by engaging him to take us to Florence. The bargain having been concluded, we had still a few hours left and set off to hunt the Cathedral. We found it on an open square near the outer wall, and quite remote from the main part of the town. Emerging from the narrow and winding street, one takes in et a glance the Baptistery, the Campo Santo, the noble Cathedral and the Leaning Tower--forming altogether a view rarely surpassed in Europe for architectural effect. But the square is melancholy and deserted, and rank, untrampled grass fills the crevices of its marble pavement.

I was surprised at the beauty of the Leaning Tower. Instead of all old, black, crumbling fabric, as I always supposed, it is a light, airy, elegant structure, of white marble, and its declension, which is interesting as a work of art (or accident,) is at the same time pleasing from its novelty. There have been many conjectures as to the cause of this deviation, which is upwards of fourteen feet from the perpendicular; it is now generally believed that the earth having sunk when the building was half finished, it was continued by the architects in the same angle. The upper gallery, which is smaller than the others, shows a very perceptible inclination back towards the perpendicular, as if in some degree to counterbalance the deviation of the other part. There are eight galleries in all, supported by marble pillars, but the inside of the Tower is hollow to the very top.

We ascended by the same stairs which were trodden so often by Galileo in going up to make his astronomical observations; in climbing spirally around the hollow cylinder in the dark, it was easy to tell on which side of the Tower we were, from the proportionate steepness of the staircase. There is a fine view from the top, embracing the whole plain as far as Leghorn on one side, with its gardens and grain fields spread out like a vast map. In a valley of the Carrarrese Mountains to the north, we could see the little town of Lucca, much frequented at this season on account of its baths; the blue summits of the Appenines shut in the view to the east. In walking through the city I noticed two other towers, which had nearly as great a deviation from the perpendicular. We met a person who had the key of the Baptistery, which he opened for us. Two ancient columns covered with rich sculpture form the doorway, and the dome is supported by massive pillars of the red marble of Elba. The baptismal font is of the purest Parian marble. The most remarkable thing was the celebrated musical echo. Our cicerone stationed himself at the side of the font and sang a few notes. After a moment's pause they were repeated aloft in the dome, but with a sound of divine sweetness--as clear and pure as the clang of a crystal bell. Another pause--and we heard them again, higher, fainter and sweeter, followed by a dying note, as if they were fading far away into heaven. It seemed as if an angel lingered in the temple, echoing with his melodious lips the common harmonies of earth. Even thus does the music of good deeds, hardly noted in our grosser atmosphere, awake a divine echo in the far world of spirit.

The Campo Santo, on the north side of the Cathedral, was, until lately, the cemetery of the city; the space enclosed within its marble galleries is filled to the depth of eight or ten feet, with earth from the Holy Land. The vessels which carried the knights of Tuscany to Palestine were filled at Joppa, on returning, with this earth as ballast, and on arriving at Pisa it was deposited in the Cemetery. It has the peculiar property of decomposing all human bodies, in the space of two days. A colonnade of marble encloses it, with windows of the most exquisite sculpture opening on the inside. They reminded me of the beautiful Gothic oriels of Melrose. At each end are two fine, green cypresses, which thrive remarkably in the soil of Palestine. The dust of a German emperor, among others, rests in this consecrated ground. There are other fine churches in Pisa, but the four buildings I have mentioned, are the principal objects of interest. The tower where Count Ugolino and his sons were starved to death by the citizens of Pisa, who locked them up and threw the keys into the Arno, has lately been destroyed.

An Italian gentleman having made a bargain in the meantime with our vetturino, we found every thing ready on returning to the hotel. On the outside of the town we mounted into the vehicle, a rickety-looking concern, and as it commenced raining, I was afraid we would have a bad night of it. After a great deal of bargaining, the vetturino agreed to take us to Florence that night for five francs a piece, provided one person would sit on the outside with the driver. I accordingly mounted on front, protected by a blouse and umbrella, for it was beginning to rain dismally. The miserable, bare-boned horses were fastened with rope-traces, and the vetturino having taken the rope-lines in his hand, gave a flourish with his whip; one old horse tumbled nearly to the ground, but he jerked him up again and we rattled off.

After riding ten miles in this way, it became so wet and dreary, that I was fain to give the driver two francs extra, for the privilege of an inside seat. Our Italian companion was agreeable and talkative, but as we were still ignorant of the language, I managed to hold a scanty conversation with him in French. He seemed delighted to learn that we were from America; his polite reserve gave place to a friendly familiarity and he was loud in his praises of the Americans. I asked him why it was that he and the Italians generally, were so friendly towards us. "I hardly know," he answered; "you are so different from any other nation; and then, too, you have so much sincerity!"

The Appenines were wreathed and hidden in thick mist, and the prospect over the flat cornfields bordering the road was not particularly interesting. We had made about one-third of the way as night set in, when on ascending a hill soon after dark, F---- happened to look out, and saw one of the axles bent and nearly broken off. we were obliged to get out and walk through the mud to the next village, when after two hours' delay, the vetturino came along with another carriage. Of the rest of the way to Florence, I cannot say much. Cramped up in the narrow vehicle, we jolted along in the dark, rumbling now and then through some silent village, where lamps were burning before the solitary shrines. Sometimes a blinding light crossed the road, where we saw the tile-makers sitting in the red glare of their kilns, and often the black boughs of trees were painted momentarily on the cloudy sky. If the jolting carriage had even permitted sleep, the horrid cries of the vetturino, urging on his horses, would have prevented it; and I decided, while trying to relieve my aching limbs, that three days' walking in sun and sand was preferable to one night of such travel.

Finally about four o'clock in the morning the carriage stopped; my Italian friend awoke and demanded the cause. "Signor," said the vetturino, "we are in Florence!" I blessed the man, and the city too. The good-humored officer looked at our passports and passed our baggage without examination; we gave the gatekeeper a paul and he admitted us. The carriage rolled through the dark, silent streets--passed a public square--came out on the Arno--crossed and entered the city again--and finally stopped at a hotel. The master of the "Lione Bianco" came down in an undress to receive us, and we shut the growing dawn out of our rooms to steal that repose from the day which the night had not given.

Bayard Taylor