But the whole of the Sorrentine Peninsula is full of local superstitions, the vast majority of which can easily be traced to the influence of Catholicism, whilst comparatively few seem to be the legacy of ancient Greek or Roman mythology. Belief in witchcraft is universal in these parts, but the witch herself (strega) is regarded somewhat in the light of a beneficent "wise woman," who can arrest the far more dreaded spell of the Evil Eye, rather than as the malevolent old hag of bucolic England in the past. Certainly there has never been recorded in Southern Italy any such popular persecution of poor harmless old crones as once disgraced English countrysides; nor has any Italian jurist, like the erudite Sir Matthew Hale, ever condescended to supply legal information concerning the peculiarities of witches, and the best methods of prosecuting and burning them. But the strega, though not as a rule dangerous to mankind, provided she be not disturbed or insulted, has the same supernatural power of transit on a broomstick that is possessed by her northern sister. On many a dark night have the peasants crossed themselves with fear on hearing the witches flying through the storm-vexed air to keep their unholy tryst beside the famous walnut tree of Benevento, which has been described for us by the learned Pietro Piperno in his mysterious treatise, entitled De Nuce Beneventana. Even snatches of the witches' song can sometimes be distinguished above the howling of the gale—
"Sott' aero e sopra vento, Sotto la Nuce di Benevento!"
Perhaps it may afford some consolation to those who have a dread of witches that the word "Sabato," solemnly pronounced on these awful occasions, is of real service to the utterer; whilst such as have had the good fortune to be born on a Friday in March are permanently placed outside the evil power of their spells, since our Saviour was crucified on a Friday in that month.
But at length we have finished the ascent of the ridge, and our driver halts for a moment at the inn of the "Due Golfi." A smiling damsel, dressed in the picturesque native costume, advances to offer us the national drink of Italy, sweet vermouth that is frothed up with a little fizzing water in a narrow tumbler; and though carriage exercise is not liable to produce thirst, yet we cannot be so churlish as to refuse the draught, especially as the delay allows us to take our farewell look at the Bay of Naples. For here we have reached the peak of the rocky saddle that divides the two famous gulfs; and before us we now behold the wide crescent of the Bay of Salerno with its sunburnt vineyards and its precipitous cliffs. To our right we perceive the craggy headlands stretching southward till they culminate in the Cape of Minerva:—how much more attractive sounds the good old classical name than the new-fangled Punta della Campanella, so called from the alarm bell which used to be tolled in the ruined fortress at the approach of the Moslem pirate galleys! Vastly different is the aspect on this side of the peninsula to that which we have just left behind us. There is the plain below us, thickly dotted with farms and villas set amidst crops and orchards, a fertile scene of industry and population; here on the Salerno side are wild stony tracts affording only pasturage for a few sheep and goats, and covered for miles with broom, cytizus, coronella, myrtle, and numberless fragrant weeds, all struggling fiercely for existence on the dry barren soil, and filling the clear air with an incense-like perfume. Such is our first acquaintance with the Costiera d'Amalfi, that wonderful stretch of indented rocky coast-line once containing the Republic of Amalfi, which was the forerunner of the glorious Commonwealths of Florence and Venice. From the grey cliffs of Capri to the west, as far as the headland beside Salerno, stretched this diminutive state, composed of a confederacy of sister-cities, whereof Amalfi herself was the queen and metropolis. Its glories have long vanished, but the Costiera d'Amalfi remains an enchanted land, not only on account of its natural beauties, but also by reason of its historical associations which give an additional charm to every breezy headland and every little town upon this wonderful shore.
Below us, as we rapidly descend the slopes by the curves of the Corniche road, lies the little beach known as Lo Scaricotojo, whence in the days previous to the construction of this splendid highway all visitors were wont to embark for Amalfi;—that is, unless they attempted the expedition by way of the mountain roads leading thither from Castellamare or La Cava. It raises a smile in these days of swift and luxurious travelling to learn from an early Victorian guide-book that "the most elegible mode of going from Sorrento to Amalfi is either to ride or to be carried in a chaise a porteurs to that part of the Colli where begins a rapid descent, and thence descending on foot to the Marinella of the Scaricotojo on the Gulf of Salerno.... The ride occupies about an hour and a quarter, and the descent which, though steep, is not dangerous, occupies about an hour." Nous avons change tout ca; yet there are still living amongst us those who lament the passing away of the old-fashioned days of Italian travel, when inns were bad but picturesque, and expeditions to such remote places as Amalfi were not only difficult but even dangerous; since in compensation for slow progress and risk of brigands every town owned a primitive charm which is now rapidly disappearing before the modern irruption of locust-like swarms of tourists with their motor cars, their luncheon baskets, and their kodaks. Well, to the majority of travellers the value of natural scenery is not a little enhanced by the sense of comfort, and here on the Costiera d'Amalfi the most particular can have no cause to complain, since it is one of the few lovely spots of Southern Europe that has not yet been invaded by the dividend-paying railway. No, the old Republic retains to a great extent its ancient atmosphere of unspoiled beauty and remoteness from the bustling world. It is still a stretch of glorious and historic country wherein one can obtain a pleasant and valued respite for a time from the overpowering improvements of an industrial age.
As we look southward across the breadth of the Bay, our eye is at once caught by the group of the Isles of the Sirens, which, though in reality fully a mile distant from the nearest point of the coast, seem in this clear atmosphere as though they were lying within a stone's throw of the beach. Around these bare bluffs of rock, seemingly flung by the hand of Nature in a sportive mood into the blue waves, lingers one of the most insidious of all the old Greek legends, for it was past these lonely cliffs that the cunning Ulysses sailed during his long career of mazy wanderings in search of his island home and his faithful Penelope. In those days, so the Greek bard tells us, there dwelt upon these islets strange sea-witches with the faces and forms of most beautiful maidens, although their lower limbs had the resemblance of eagles' feet and talons. Two sirens only, says Homer, dwelt upon these coasts, although later poets have increased the number of the fatal sisters to three or even four. Singing the most enchanting songs to the sound of tortoise-shell lyres, there used to bask in the sunlight beside the gentle ripple the Sirens, their nether limbs well hidden from the gaze of passing seamen, who, attracted by the tuneful notes, hastened hither to discover the whereabouts of the musicians. Innocent eyes, angelic faces, flowing golden locks and white beckoning hands had every power to draw the curious mariner nearer and nearer, until he came within reach of the fell enchantresses. For the Sirens loved the flesh of mortals, and bleached skulls and bones of digested victims lay in heaps upon the sandy floor of their azure-hued caverns. Gold and jewels, too, the spoils of many a brave galley that had been lured to destruction by these charmers, likewise littered their retreat, and perhaps it was as much the glittering of this gold as their own lovely features that in certain cases enticed the wary merchant into this fatal trap. Gold and a pretty face: what male heart could be proof against the double temptation the Isles of the Sirens offered to the navigator in the days of the Odyssey! Only one sailor over these seas proved himself a match for the wiles of the cruel goddesses of the Amalfitan coast; for Ulysses, as we know, stopped the ears of his companions with wax on their approach towards this dangerous spot, whilst he himself, always eager to hear and see everything yet perfectly well aware of the Sirens' magnetic power, had himself tightly bound by cords to the mast. So whilst the deaf rowers stolidly tugged at their oars, oblivious of the weird unearthly melody around them, the clever King of Ithaca gained the honour of becoming the only mortal who had listened to that subtle song without paying the penalty of a hideous and ignoble death.
It is strangely disappointing to find that no recollection of Sirens or of Ulysses lingers in the lore of the present dwellers upon these coasts. They have no more notion of the aspect of a Siren than they have of a pleisosaurus, and, as a modern writer naively complains, they are not sharp-witted enough to invent fanciful tales to please the enquiring foreigner. Nor is this lack of intelligence to be wondered at, when we recall to mind the clean sweep of all classical learning and tradition which that period of time, truly known as the Dark Ages, made throughout Italy; if Petrarch found it necessary to explain to King Robert the Wise with the greatest tact and delicacy that Vergil was a poet and not a wizard, what must have been the appalling ignorance prevailing amongst the peasant and the fisherman? And yet these barren rocks were known as the Isles of the Sirens centuries before the verses of the Aeneid immortalized the mythic voyage of the Trojan adventurer, who passed along this iron-bound coast on his way towards the mouth of Tiber. Their modern, or rather medieval name of I Galli is somewhat of a puzzle. Erudite scholars affect to derive it from Guallo, a fortress captured during a war between King Roger and the Republic of Amalfi, but this explanation, we confess, does not sound very reasonable. Others prefer to imagine that the word Gallo (a cock) contains an allusion to the claws and feathers of the Sirens themselves, for certain of the ancient writers endowed these dire Virgins of the Rocks with the wings as well as the claws of birds;—in fact, they represented them as Harpies, those horrible fowls with women's faces that appeared upon the scene at Prospero's bidding to spoil the bad king's supper party. But why, if the Sirens were female,—and on this point all their critics agree with an unanimity that is wonderful—should their ancient haunts be called "The Cocks?" The untutored natives themselves, understanding nothing of Sirens or of Odysseys, hold their own theory with regard to the disputed name, which they connect with the construction of a harbour at distant Salerno, and though this legend sounds foolish enough, it is scarcely less flimsy than the notions already quoted. A certain enchanter, one Pietro Bajalardo, undertook—in modern parlance, contracted—to build in a single night the much needed breakwater at Salerno on the strange condition that all cocks in the neighbourhood should first be killed; for the wizard, so the story runs, had a special aversion to Chanticleer on account of his having caused the repentance of St Peter by his crowing. In any case, the reigning Prince of Salerno gladly complied with the eccentric request, and at his command every cock in or near the place was accordingly slaughtered, with the solitary exception of one old rooster, who, being very dear to the heart of his aged mistress, was kept concealed beneath a tub and thus escaped the general holocaust. Throughout the livelong night Bajalardo was busily engaged in superintending the work of building the harbour, whilst the fiends who carried out his behest were actively conveying huge blocks of broken cliff from the Cape of Minerva to place in the waters of Salerno. But at daybreak the cock imprisoned beneath the tub, the sole survivor of his race, according to natural custom announced the dawn, to the despair of Bajalardo and the terror of his attendant fiends, who in their precipitate flight dropped into the sea near the Punta Sant' Elia the huge masses of stone they were then carrying; and these rocks are called by men I Galli in consequence to this day.
But, to be strictly impartial, it was not the Sirens alone who were responsible for all the victims who perished on these arid rocks. Homo homini lupus; man is always ready to prey upon man, and many of the dark tales concerning the Galli go to prove the truth of the terrible old adage. At what period the Sirens abandoned their ancient retreat and swam or flew away to more congenial haunts is unknown to history; but certain it is that the rulers of proud Amalfi committed many a cruel deed of murder or torture upon their deserted islets. For here, many a hapless political prisoner languished for years in abject misery, a prey to the heat and glare of summer and to the fierce gales of bitter winter nights. Rock-cut steps and ruined towers still remain as mementoes of those dark days, when callous human gaolers worthily filled the places of the absent Sirens. It was in a chamber of yonder turret, still standing, that the Doge Mansone II., blinded by a brother's vengeance, dragged out years of utter misery in pain and darkness, until the Emperor of the East, suzerain of Amalfi, at last took compassion upon the prisoner's wretched plight and allowed him to be removed into honourable confinement at Byzantium. For many hundreds of years the Isles of the Sirens have lain untenanted, nor are they visited nowadays save by a few inquisitive travellers or by the fishermen of the Scaricotojo, who find safe shelter under their lee during the sudden squalls of the Mediterranean. For, strange to relate, there are no dangerous currents, no treacherous whirlpools close to these rocky islets, such as we might expect to give some natural interpretation to the ancient myth, the origin of which remains unexplained and constitutes a very pretty mystery as it stands.
We bid farewell to the group of ill-omened rocks, as we proceed rapidly under the rocky slopes of the Monte di Chiosse towards Positano, which extends in a long curving line of cheerful-tinted flat-roofed houses from the summit of its protecting cliff to the strand below, sprinkled with boats and nets and cloths with heaps of grain a-drying. The descent to the lower portion of the little town is singularly charming with its varied scenery of rocks and hanging woods above us, with the tiled domes of churches outlined against the deep blue waters, and with the whole scene dominated by the pierced crag of Montapertuso, beyond which thrusts up into the cloudless sky the triple peak of the giant Sant' Angelo. Positano is a thriving as well as an ancient place, and of its dense population we have abundant evidence in the swarms of children that pursue our carriage, brown-skinned picturesque little nuisances, shrilly and incessantly crying out for soldi. Most of these infants wear bright coloured rags, but not a few are dressed in garments that at once recall the ginger-coloured robes of the Capuchin friars, for the brothers of the Order of St Francis are popularly reputed to be especially competent in keeping aloof evil spells from young persons entrusted to their charge; and of course, argue the doting parents, it is only natural that the spirits of darkness should not dare to molest the little ones tricked out in robes similar to those worn by these holy men.
From the point of view of history the chief interest of Positano centres in the time-honoured tradition that Flavio Gioja, the original inventor of the compass, was a native of this town, once a flourishing and important member of the group of cities which comprised the Amalfitan Republic in its palmy days. But Clio, the Muse of History, is an inexorable mistress, and she will not rest content with mere hearsay, however venerable, and as a result of careful investigation it would seem that Flavio Gioja, who for centuries has been generally credited with this marvellous discovery, must himself have been a personage almost as mythic as the Sirens of this shore, for his very name is spelled in a variety of ways that is hopelessly confusing. Nor has the question of his place of birth ever been satisfactorily settled, for both Positano and Amalfi claim this hero of science for a son, although only in Amalfitan annals can the disputed name be detected. Be this as it may, it was a citizen of this Costiera who has ever been acknowledged as the inventor of the compass, though concerning both himself and his alleged discovery there is a complete absence of any contemporary record. Later writers have, it is true, always admitted the honour on behalf of the Republic, and Pontano goes so far as to call Amalfi magnetica in compliment thereof, whilst during the later crusades the Amalfitani, who were evidently convinced of the genuine nature of Gioja's claim, had an heraldic figure of the mariner's compass emblazoned on their banners. It seems a thousand pities to throw doubt upon so picturesque a tradition, for the date of the invention of the compass has been fixed as 1302, two years only after the holding of the famous Papal Jubilee in Rome which Dante's verse has described for us. Nor can the ingenious theory be upheld that the fleur-de-lys, the emblem of the French kings of Naples, which still decorates the dial of the compass in almost all lands, is in any wise connected with Carlo il Zoppo, the monarch to whom Gioja is said to have dedicated his ingenious discovery. No, we have little doubt that the compass, like so many of the scientific wonders that crept into Europe before and during the time of the Renaissance, was originally brought from the far East, a farther East than the argosies of Amalfi had ever penetrated. The little magic box with its moving needle was first used, it is now admitted, by the cunning merchants of Cathay during their trading expeditions across the stony monotonous plains of Central Asia that lay between the Flowery Land and the civilization of Persia. From Cathay the use of the magnetic needle was introduced to the Arab mathematicians of Baghdad and Cairo, and through them the secret of the lodestone of China was conveyed to the coast towns of the Levant. At Aleppo or Alexandria some astute trader of Amalfi—perhaps his name really was Flavio Gioja—contrived to learn the new method of steering from some Moslem or Jewish merchant, and he in his turn brought this novel and precious piece of information back to the Italian shores. If, then, a native of Amalfi did not evolve the idea of the compass out of his own brain, at least it was the old Republic which first impressed the Western world with its immense value, and this, too, at a far earlier period than the date usually assigned to Gioja's "discovery." For a Christian bishop of Jerusalem a hundred years before Gioja's day makes mention of the compass as being in common use amongst the Saracens of Palestine, whilst its existence was certainly known to Brunetto Latini, the tutor of Dante, whom for certain moral failings upon earth his brilliant pupil somewhat harshly places in the infernal regions. History has, in short, long deprived poor disconsolate Positano of its vaunted glory in the production of a medieval scientist whose very existence has now become a matter of speculation.
As we thread our way along the road that curves round headland after headland, and is carried over sheer precipices whose base is lapped by the cool jade-green water, we begin to realize the essential difference between the Sorrentine shores we have left behind us, and the marvellous Costiera d'Amalfi we are now passing. Ever green and smiling are the favoured districts that stretch from Castellamare to Massa Lubrense, with the mountain tops acting as screens to protect the groves and crops from the sun's ardent rays and with the fresh reviving breezes from the Abruzzi ever breathing upon them. But here we seem to be under the very eyes of the Sun-God, who stares fixedly from rising to setting upon the Amalfitan coast. Welcome enough is this continuous basking in his smiles during the short winter days; but oh! the long, long summer hours wherein King Helios relentlessly pours down his burning glances upon the shallow soil that covers the rocky face of the Costiera! We who visit the territories of the old Republic in winter or early spring only perceive one aspect of the picture. We rejoice in the gladdening warmth afforded by unbroken sunshine and by the complete absence of cutting winds which Monte Sant' Angelo's towering form excludes from these shores; we note with delight the premature unfolding of buds and blossoms, and we marvel at the young fruit of the dark-leaved loquat trees—the nespoli of the South—turning to pale yellow even in February. But we cannot realise the blinding glare and the torrid heat of a July or August, making a perfect furnace of this sheltered corner, where the thin layer of cultivated soil, that has been scraped together painfully by human hands, becomes baked through and through, when the water-tanks are exhausted, and when the clouds of thick dust hang like a pall of white smoke for miles above the sinuous course of the Corniche road. How close and sweltering must be the atmosphere of these populous coves, when the very waves are flung luke-warm upon the hot sand! How must the inhabitants sigh for a breath of cool air from the Abruzzi, for the zephyr that tempers the heat on the Sorrentine plain! Carpe diem; let us enjoy the Costiera d'Amalfi in the freshness of early spring-time, before the oranges and lemons have been stripped from the leafy groves and before the sun has had time to scorch up the vegetation that now gives colour to every cleft and crevice of the rocky coast-line.
As we advance eastward from Positano we obtain glimpses from time to time of mountain valleys thickly clothed with brushwood, and far above our heads we perceive Agerola perched aloft under the shadow of the topmost crag of Monte Sant' Angelo—Agerola, where wolves still haunt the dim recesses of the chestnut woods, and where the charcoal burners can tell us of the great grey Were-Wolf that prowls round the village on stormy nights. Passing the torrent of the Arriengo and the Punta di San Pietro with its lonely chapel looking out to sea; glancing down upon the deep set strand and gloomy caverns of Furore, and rounding Cape Sottile, we find ourselves at Prajano, one of the prettiest spots to be found on all this wonderful coast. Here we stop to visit the church of San Luca, which stands on a little grassy platform overhanging the sea and commanding a superb view of the Bay of Salerno. It is a baroque structure of the type common everywhere in Italy, which travellers are apt to despise without acknowledging how picturesque this decadent style of architecture can appear. At Prajano the wooden doors of green faded to the hue of ancient bronze, the yellow-washed plaster facade and the lichen-covered tiles of the roof and tower make up a charming mass of varied colouring when viewed against the broad blue band of sea and sky beyond. Within, the church is mean and tawdry, just a
"Sad charnel-house of humble hopes and crimes, Long dead and buried in obscurity;"
but the afternoon sun struggling through the curtains that cover its fantastic windows allows a mellow light to fill the expanse of the building. A toothless old woman and a young girl, both of them thinly and poorly clad, are the sole occupants of the church, and they are evidently too much absorbed in prayer to notice our presence. They have placed beside the Madonna's altar lighted tapers which glimmer feebly in a shaft of strong sunlight that falls through a rent in the curtain overhead. For what purpose, we wonder, have these candles been bought out of a scanty store! Are they burning on behalf of some sailor-boy now being tossed upon the ocean? Or are they offered to obtain some boon more selfish and less pathetic? At any rate, this pair of intent worshippers, representing fresh Southern youth and crabbed age, make up a pretty picture as they kneel together on the pavement of tiles ornamented in bright rococo patterns to represent the coat-of-arms of some forgotten noble benefactor: it is too simple and everyday a sight in Italy to offer a theme for verse, too sacred a subject for an idle photograph. We leave the church on tip-toe, and return to the terrace with its low marble seats and its stunted acacia trees to sit a few moments before re-entering the carriage.
Skirting the Capo di Conca we obtain our first sight of proud Amalfi, and we realize that our drive, long in distance perhaps, but all too short with its varied beauties and interests, is drawing to a close. Nearer and nearer do we approach our goal, the shining turrets of the Cathedral tower acting as our beacon, until at length our chariot clatters beneath the echoing tunnel hewn in the cliff that leads into the town itself.
AMALFI AND THE FESTIVAL OF ST ANDREW
The traveller's first impressions of Amalfi, which is essentially the beauty-spot of the Riviera of Naples, are usually associated with the old Capuchin convent, long since turned into a hotel and now the bourne of most visitors to this coast. Its arcaded facade and its terraced garden stand on a plateau seemingly cut out of the sheer face of the cliff, whilst high above the town the lofty barren rocks enfold the Convent and its verdant demesne within a natural amphitheatre and protect this sunny paradise from the keen blasts of winter. A flight of steps zigzagging up the rocky hill-side connects the building with the high road below; whilst a narrow pathway, leading between stone walls and now passing beneath dark mysterious archways, wherein the lamps burning before the Madonna's shrines afford a welcome light even at midday, descends by steep gradients from the garden above into the main piazza of the little city. Built by the celebrated Cardinal Pietro Capuano nearly seven hundred years ago for Cistercian monks, the monastery in the sixteenth century came into the possession of the Capuchin Friars, those brown-robed figures that with their bare feet and girdles of knotted white cord are such familiar and picturesque objects in the daily crowds of every Italian town. But the friars have been forced to abandon their airy retreat ever since the suppression of the religious houses, which succeeded the union of the old Neapolitan kingdom with young Italy, and their convent has long been put to secular uses. Yet the old monastic church still exists, and superstitious people declare that the spectral forms of ejected Capuchins are sometimes to be seen advancing slowly up the rocky ascent in order to revisit the sacred building that is now closed for worship. Nevertheless the church is cared for by the members of the Vozzi family, its present owners, who every Christmas-tide still prepare the popular presepio, that curious representation of the scene in the stable at Bethlehem, wherein a score of gaily dressed figures of painted wood represent the Holy Family and the worshipping peasants. Little in fact has been changed within the building itself, and the exquisite cloistered court with its slender intertwining Saracenic columns still remains to delight alike the artist and the antiquary. We say "still remains" advisedly; for beyond the tiny quadrangle our eyes at once light upon a scene of hideous devastation.
Doubtless many persons will recall the great land-slip of December 1899, when almost without warning the whole face of the rocky headland that shelters Amalfi on the west tore itself loose and slid with a crash like thunder into the sea below, overwhelming in its fall the little inn known as the "Santa Caterina" and burying in its ruins two English ladies and several fishermen. The sinister scar still continues as a blot upon the lovely landscape, speaking only too eloquently to all of sudden death and destruction amidst the surrounding scenes of life and beauty. The older portion of the Capuchin convent, by a miracle as it were, escaped the on-rush of the land-slide, but its famous "Calvary," the large group of the Crucifixion that appears prominently in so many pictures of Amalfi, was completely swept away, so that the boatmen from the sands below can no longer behold the immense vivid representation of the Last Agony which was wont to greet their upturned eyes. Already Time's kindly hand has begun to drape the scene of the catastrophe with a decent mourning veil of grey and green, for the hardy succulent plants that can withstand the sun's fierce rays and can thrive despite the boisterous salt sea-winds are already sprouting from every crack and cranny of the riven earth. Perhaps it is as well for us selfish and self-satisfied mortals to possess a memento mori close at hand in a spot so teeming with the joy of life; yet somehow the first sight of that mass of broken headland and the dark ominous fissure in the hill-side, flung across the sunlit scene, is apt to send a slight shiver through the frame of the beholder.
There are three indisputable advantages to be gained by turning a suppressed religious house into a modern hotel, so a cunning old Italian inn-keeper once confided to us; that is, of course, provided one is not afraid of the proverbial curse that clings to the buying of any of the Church's sequestrated property. These three things are good air, good water, and lovely views; benefits that a layman is fully as competent to understand as any cloistered ecclesiastic. And certainly the worthy Vozzi are fully justified in offering these privileges to their guests at the Albergo Cappuccini. Signor Vozzi! How many travellers in the South recall with infinite pleasure their host's tall commanding figure, his snowy drooping whiskers, the sun-shade that was rarely out of his hand, his old-fashioned courteous manners, and his famous family of cats, whereof the coal-black Nerone was the prime favourite, a feline monster almost as tyrannical as his Imperial namesake of evil reputation. Signor Vozzi's striking personality, the sable fur of agate-eyed Nerone, the eternal sunshine, and the wide all-embracing views over sea and land, are somehow all jumbled together in our perplexed mind, as it recurs to the many days spent beneath the convent roof. Nay, not beneath the roof! For we were wont to pass the whole day, even the short December day, in basking on the warm sheltered terrace and peering over the busy beach and the dazzling waters below, whereon the tale of Amalfitan fisher-life could be read as it were from the pages of a book.
Somehow the old monastic buildings appear marvellously well adapted to modern needs. The former inmates' cells, wherein the brown-robed brethren of the Order of St Francis until lately were wont to pass their placid uneventful lives, afford comfortable if somewhat limited accommodation; whilst the covered loggia that runs the whole length of the cells has been turned into a series of delightful little sitting-rooms, their broad arc-shaped windows facing full south, a boon that only a winter resident in Italy can properly appreciate. Dove non entra il sole, entra il medico, is a hackneyed but well-proven adage; consequently here in the old Capuchin convent the services of the local medicine-man ought rarely to be required. Signor Vozzi's guests partake of their meals in the ancient refectory, a large bare echoing chamber with a vaulted ceiling, which still contains the old stone pulpit from which in more pious days a grave brother was wont to read aloud choice passages from the works of the early Fathers of the Church or of St Bonaventura, the Seraphic Doctor of the Franciscans, during the hours allotted to the frugal repasts of the friars. But the public rooms and the cool white-washed corridors do not present such attractions as the glorious garden with its famous pergola and its views of the Bay. Here even in Christmas week we found quantities of plants in full bloom: the delicate yellow blossoms of the Soffrana rose; trailing ivy-leaved geraniums with gay heads of carmine flowers; the honey-scented budleia with its little globes of dark yellow flowerets: clumps of gorgeous scarlet salvia; and straggling masses of the pretty cosmia, red, pink and white. Humming-bird hawk-moths darted hither and thither in the sunshine, restless little creatures whose wings are never for a moment still, as they poise gracefully over each separate blossom in turn. The pergola itself, which every artist at Amalfi paints as a matter of course, generally with a Capuchin friar—at least a friar pro hac vice—or a pretty dark-eyed damsel in the native costume, sitting in the foreground, was certainly bare of foliage, we admit, for even in the soft warm air of the Bay of Salerno the grape-vine wisely refuses to burst into leaf at Yuletide, no matter how enticing the warmth. But the thick white pillars and their wooden cross-beams, around which are entwined the leafless coiling limbs of the sleeping vine, throw dark blue patterns of chequered shadow upon the sunlit ground. Above the terraced garden rises the orangery, well watered by many artificial rillets, and from the midst of the orange and lemon trees there emerges a path leading to the entrancing bosco, or grove, that fills the deep hollow space formed by the sheltering cliffs behind. It was mid-winter, as we have said, yet pink cyclamens and strong-scented double narcissi were blooming freely, whilst from the dark boughs of the ilex trees overhead there fell upon the ear the pleasant twittering of innumerable birds, for happily the cruel snare and the gun are strictly forbidden in this sacred spot, so that his "little sisters, the birds," that the gentle Saint of Assisi loved so tenderly, can still sing their songs of innocence and build their nests in peace amidst the trees that no longer remain the property of the great humanitarian Order. At nightfall this garden is almost equally beautiful beneath a star-lit sky and with the many lamps of the town below throwing long bars of yellow light upon the placid waters of the Bay. As we pace the long terrace, wrapped in the glory of a million stars and revelling in the exalted yet fairy-like loveliness of the scene around us, we perceive the mellow night air to be redolent of a strange but fascinating perfume. It is the olea fragrans, the humble inconspicuous oriental shrub that from its clusters of tiny white flowers is thus giving out its secret soul at the falling of the night dews, and permeating the whole garden with its marvellous floral incense. But if the star-lit, flower-scented nights of Amalfi are to be accounted as exquisite memories, how much more glorious and exhilarating is the rising of the sun, as he appears in full majesty of crimson and gold above the classic hills that overlook Paestum to the east! Leaning at early dawn from the windows of the Cappuccini, we have watched the sky flush at the first caress of "rosy-fingered Eos" and seen the fragment of the waning moon turn to silver at the approach of the burning God of Day, still tarrying behind the lofty barrier of the capes and mountains of the Lucanian shore.
"Slowly beyond the headlands comes the day, Though moon and planet on a sky of gold, Chequered with orange and vermilion-stoled, Have floated long before the sun's first ray Has shot across the waters to display Amalfi in her dotage; as of old His beams lit up her splendours manifold, Her quays and palaces that fringed the bay. His smile makes every barren hill-side blush In rose and purple for the glories fled, As early watchers note th' encroaching flush From proud Ravello to Atrani spread, And curse the cruel arm that once did crush This sea-sprung Niobe, and leave her dead."
Dead, alas! For the old liberties of the great Republic of Amalfi have been extinct for more than half a thousand years, and it is in consequence difficult for us to realise that the quaint noisy squalid picturesque little city by the sea-shore, huddled into the narrow gorge of the Canneto, is that self-same Amalfi whose navies rode triumphant over the Mediterranean before the days of the Early Crusades. Yet Amalfi, which may be reckoned amongst the first-born of that fair family of medieval cities that their prolific parent the land of Italy brought forth in an age of darkness, was also the foremost to droop and die, her glories scattered and passed before Florence had ceased to be an obscure country town. In this case History presents to us a most forcible, not to say an unique example of the origin, rise and decline of a power, all occurring within a short space of time. Amalfi springs, as it were, out of the void as a city of importance, for no Roman colony occupied its site in antique times. Its very nomenclature is a puzzle to scholars, and the usual statement that it owed its name to Byzantine settlers coming hither from the ancient town of Melfi in the Basilicata does not sound very convincing, though for want of a better theory it must suffice. Why, when, and by whom the city was in reality founded remains an enigma, yet we learn from a passage in one of the letters of St Gregory the Great that the place was of sufficient size to be governed by a bishop in the sixth century. By the tenth we find the Republic of Amalfi already risen to a position of commanding importance, and holding its own against the rival states between which its territories were wedged; the dukedom of Naples to the west and the principality of Salerno to eastward. Dexterously playing on the greed and prejudices of the various tyrants who ruled Naples and Salerno, and occasionally allying itself with them in order to repel the fierce attacks of their common enemy, the Saracenic hordes who were then harrying the Lucanian coast, Amalfi continued to uphold its political freedom and dignity in the face of immense difficulties. And in gratitude for the vigour with which the Amalfitani had waged war against the infidel invaders, Pope Leo IV. in course of time conferred upon the Duke or Doge, the chief magistrate of the Republic, the title of "Defender of the Faith." Nominally under the suzerainty of the Greek Emperor at Constantinople, Amalfi was practically independent; its system of government was conducted on lines somewhat akin to those of aristocratic Venice; its population is said to have exceeded fifty thousand in the capital city alone; its boundaries extended from the Promontory of Minerva on the west to the town of Cetara upon the confines of Salerno; whilst many daughter-towns of wealth and importance, such as Scala and Ravello, sprang into being within the narrow limits of the sea-girt republic. Owning a small and by no means fertile extent of land, the inhabitants of Amalfi from its earliest days were forced to become merchants and sailors; to use a modern phrase, the Amalfitani came to possess a complete monopoly of trade with Eastern lands, both Christian and Mahommedan. It was the ships of the Republic that alone brought to the shores of Italy the rich stuffs, the gold and silver embroideries, the dried fruits and the strange birds and beasts of Asia Minor and Arabia, and in exchange for their oriental merchandise obtained an abundance of corn, wine, oil, meat and other commodities of life that their beautiful but somewhat sterile dominions were unable to supply to an ever increasing population. But it was not only the material products of the East that the sailors of Amalfi conveyed to Europe in their home-bound argosies; for they brought back with them the rudiments of arts and sciences that distracted Italy had well-nigh forgotten during the period of the barbarian invasions. Through the merchant princes of Amalfi, the secrets of astronomy, of mathematics and of scientific navigation were re-introduced into the land that had almost lost its old Roman civilization. A priceless manuscript of that great code of laws, the Pandects, which a Byzantine Emperor, the famous Justinian, had caused to be compiled with such skill and labour, putting into concise and accurate form the collected wisdom of generations of Roman jurists, was included amongst the treasures of the East that were borne back to Italy in the Republic's vessels. And in addition to restoring the old Roman jurisprudence to its original home, the city of Amalfi had the honour of promulgating the celebrated Tabula Amalphitana, the new maritime laws that were henceforth destined to regulate the whole commercial system of the western world. No marvel then that the poet William of Apulia should praise in unmeasured terms the glories of the new-sprung city, whose trade extended to the shores of India and whose merchants possessed independent settlements in every great city of the Levant.
"Nulla magis civitas argento, vestibus, auro Partibus innumeris; hac plurimus urbe moratur Nauta marit coelique vias aperiri peritus. Huc et Alexandri diversa feruntur ab urbe Regia et Antiochi. Zeus haec freta plurima transit His Arabes, Indi, Siculi nascuntur et Afri. Haec genus est totum prope nobilitata per orbem, Et mercanda ferens, et amans mercata referre."
("No city richer in its store of gold, Of precious stones and silks doth Europe hold; Her skilful mariners o'er treacherous seas With aid of compass sail where'er they please. From Egypt and from Antioch they land, Their precious cargoes on th' Italian strand. Scathless Amalfi's navies penetrate The distant ports of every Paynim state. Match me throughout the circuit of this earth Another race so full of zeal and worth.")
A small state on a barren shore, yet the holder of the balance between East and West by means of its wide-spread commerce, such was Amalfi during the tenth and eleventh centuries. In some respects this Republic of the Middle Ages appears as the prototype of the Venice of the Renaissance, for there is not a little in common between the city that was built upon the marshy islets of the Adriatic lagoons, and the city that was erected at the base of the treacherous cliffs of the Tyrrhene Sea. Solely by means of commerce both foundations rose from nothingness to splendour and power: both held the gorgeous East in fee; and both fell lamentably from their high estate. The chief point of difference in this comparison of their careers is obvious; Amalfi collapsed suddenly and utterly, whilst the Queen of the Adriatic has sunk gradually to decay until she has become the interesting monument of a vanished magnificence which we admire to-day.
It was the rising naval power of Pisa that finally crushed the greatness of Amalfi, although the Republic had already entered into its days of decline when Robert Guiscard at the time of the First Crusade had temporarily annexed its dominions to his new principality. Some thirty years later King Roger of Naples forcibly seized the whole of the Costiera d'Amalfi, allowing the citizens to retain their own form of government. Four years after this, the Pisan fleet, coming to aid the people of Naples against King Roger, utterly destroyed the once vaunted navy of Amalfi, and sacked both the city itself and the two hill-set towns of Scala and Ravello. Its political liberty had already been crushed by the Normans, and now its ships and its wealth were dissipated by the Pisans; it was a double measure of ignominy and disaster from which Amalfi never recovered. Amidst its humiliations and sorrows, the stricken city had also to mourn the loss of its greatest treasure, its secular palladium, that most precious copy of the Pandects of Justinian, which the Pisan marauders seized and carried back with them to their city on the Arno. Here in Pisa the famous volume remained in safe keeping for some three hundred years, and then, as Time's round brought its inevitable vengeance on the plunderers of Amalfi, it was removed by the victorious Florentines to their own city. So intense a veneration for the book itself now manifested itself amongst the scholars and students of Florence, that at one period offerings of incense were often made to the inscribed wisdom of past ages as to a most holy relic of some Saint, and the clerk or jurist about to peruse its faded characters was wont, first of all, to breathe a prayer of genuine gratitude on his knees for the preservation of this ancient book. Amalfi, Pisa, Florence, each in its turn has owned the guardianship of this most famous literary jewel, which is to-day jealously guarded as the chief treasure of the world-renowned Laurentian Library.
It is true that the prosperity of Amalfi did not disappear immediately after the inroad of the Pisans, for Boccaccio, writing in the fourteenth century, still speaks of the ancient territory of the destroyed Republic as "a rocky ridge beside a smiling sea, which its inhabitants call the Costa d'Amalfi; full of little cities, of gardens, of fountains, and of rich and enterprising merchants." It was in fact reserved for relentless Nature herself to complete the work of destruction that Norman armies and Pisan fleets had more than half accomplished. We have already spoken of the terrible land-slips to which this beautiful shore is eminently subject, even at the present day, as the mass of wreckage outside the old Capuchin convent only too clearly testifies. In the year 1343, during the progress of a storm of exceptional fury, of which the poet Petrarch has left us a vivid account in one of his letters, the greater part of the devoted city was swept away by a tidal wave. The whole line of quays stretching from the headland by the Cappuccini to the point of Atrani on the east, together with churches, palaces, and warehouses, was now swallowed up by the surging waters and engulfed for ever in the depths of the sea; and thus the very element that had brought wealth, power, and prosperity to Amalfi in the past now proved the direct cause of her final calamity. With this fearful cataclysm of Nature following upon the heels of its political extinction, we can hardly wonder at the rapid decline of this "Athens of the Middle Ages," whose population has now sunk to about one seventh part of the 50,000 citizens it once boasted in the far distant days of her maritime supremacy.
Reflecting upon the famous past of this ancient city, let us descend the steep pathway from the terrace of the Cappuccini to visit the crowded beach below. Here we find ourselves in the midst of a cheerful animated throng, engaged in mending nets, in painting boats, and in other occupations connected with a sea-faring life. The tall fantastic houses with balconied windows that line the curve of the sea-shore, the glistening sands and the brown-legged, gay-capped fishermen, combine to present a charming picture of southern Italian life, so that we could gladly linger in observing the ever-changing scenes of life and industry. But we cannot tarry long, for the ubiquitous beggars who have begun to pester us ever since we passed the hotel gates have meantime dogged our descending footsteps, and their forces have been recruited on the way hither by many willing assistants. No doubt the vast majority of the Amalfitani are hard working and self-respecting, for the little town possesses maccaroni factories and old-established paper mills of no small importance, yet it is obvious that a considerable portion of the total population and at least one-half of all the children spend their whole time in demanding alms of strangers. Before, behind, and from a distance arises the ceaseless cry of "Qual co' signor'! Fame! Fame!" in hateful tones of make-belief misery, and these whining appeals are aided by all the expressive pantomimic gestures of the South. You are placed on the horns of a dilemma: give, and the report that a generous and fabulously wealthy Signore has arrived in Amalfi will run like wild-fire through the whole place, and your life in consequence will become an absolute burden for the remainder of your sojourn in this spot. Refuse, and the wretches who have hitherto been wheedling and cringing at your heels, will at once grow insolent and threatening, especially in the case of unprotected ladies. It is in fact a choice of two evils, and the only remedy that we ourselves can suggest is for the persecuted traveller to select a good stout larrikin and pay him freely to keep at arm's length his detestable brothers and sisters in professional beggary. But the uninitiated usually endure these odious importunities for a certain length of time, and then, exasperated by the unchecked mendicancy of the place, at last fly precipitately from this beautiful shore, to seek comparative peace and freedom elsewhere. For it is useless to argue; it is foolish, even dangerous to grow angry. "Why should we give to you?" we asked one day in desperation of a particularly persistent woman. "Because," was the unabashed and impudent but unanswerable reply, "you have much, and I have nothing!" Driven by these human pests from the sunlit strand, we make our way through the busy piazza, where peasant women with piles of fruit and vegetables make a glowing mass of colour around the central fountain below St Andrew's statue, and proceed towards the Valley of the Mills. A different phase of Amalfitan life now greets us, for here are to be found the hard-working bees of this human hive, and it must be confessed their ways make an agreeable change from the habits of the pestering drones that infest the beach and the neighbourhood of the hotels. The whole of the steep rocky gorge of that tiny torrent the Canneto is full of mills, each emitting a whirring sound which mingles with the continual plash of the water as it descends in miniature cascades the full length of the ravine, providing in its headlong course towards the sea the motive power required to turn all this quantity of machinery. Bridges span the Canneto at several points, whilst either bank is occupied by tiny factories of paper or soap, and by winding stone stair-ways that lead upward to terraces contrived to catch the sunshine for the purpose of drying the goods. The whole valley, with its strong contrasting effects of sun and shade and its varied atmosphere of intense heat and of chilly dampness, is full of seething picturesque humanity. The combined sounds of creaking wheels, of falling water and of human chattering are almost deafening within this narrow echo-filled gorge, above which in the far distance we catch a glimpse of rocky heights with the town of Scala perched eyrie-like against the deep blue of the sky overhead. Pretty laughing girls, bare-footed and with marvellously white teeth, emerge from the open door-ways to smile pleasantly at us, for the workers of the Valle de' Molini are thoroughly accustomed to the presence of strangers in their midst. Half-naked men, who have stepped for a moment out of the hot rooms of the maccaroni factories in order to breathe the fresh air, regard us with calm disdain and without any seeming interest. Our presence is tolerated, even if our reception excites no feelings of surprise or cordiality, so that we are allowed to pursue our walk up the ever-narrowing valley in peace and comfort and to admire at our leisure the wonderfully beautiful effects of colouring produced by the cascades of purple-stained water, the graceful forms and gay dresses of the girls, and the peeps of fruit-laden orange trees above fern-clad walls. And how dark the people are! For though black eyes and hair are commonly associated with the Italian race, yet in the North we find abundant evidence of the admixture of Teutonic blood, whilst in the South the fair-haired Norman settlers have left indelible marks of their conquest of Naples and Sicily in many blue-eyed and white-skinned descendants; but here in Amalfi a blonde complexion seems to be absolutely unknown. "Com' e bianco! Com' e bianco!" called out one of a party of girls with swarthy skin and ebon hair and tresses, who languidly came out to stare at us, as we wended our way slowly up the Valley of the Mills.
But the chief pride of Amalfi, and indeed its sole surviving fragment of departed magnificence, is the Cathedral, dedicated to St Andrew the Apostle, who is patron of the city. A broad flight of steps, flanked on either side by the Archbishop's Palace and the residence of the Canons, leads to a platform covered by a most beautiful Gothic loggia set with richly traceried windows and upheld by antique marble columns. At its northernmost angle we see springing into the blue aether the tall graceful red-and-white striped campanile, surmounted by its barbaric-looking green-tiled cupola and pinnacles. Facing the top of the steps are the two magnificent doors, specially designed in distant Byzantium to embellish this church more than eight hundred years ago, and cast by the famous artist in bronze, Staurachios. Two Latin inscriptions, incised in letters of silver upon the baser metal, relate to the world that one Pantaleone, son of Maurice, caused this work to be undertaken in honour of the holy Apostle Andrew, in order that he might obtain pardon for the sins he had committed whilst upon earth. These glorious gates were the gifts to their native city of members of the family of Pantaleone of Amalfi, merchant princes who had amassed an immense fortune by trade in the Levant. They are splendid specimens of niello work, which consisted in ornamenting a surface of bronze by engraving upon it lines that were subsequently filled in with coloured enamel or with some precious metal. These portals of Amalfi, perhaps the earliest example in Southern Italy of this rare form of art, are divided into panels adorned with Scriptural subjects simply and quaintly treated, wherein the stiff attitudes of the figures and the many long straight lines introduced testify plainly enough to their Byzantine origin and workmanship. As we enter the cool dark incense-scented building, we note that though cruelly maltreated by the baroque enthusiasts of the eighteenth century, the general effect of the interior is still impressive with its rows of ancient pillars and its richly decorated roof. On all sides marble fragments with exquisite reliefs meet the eye, spoils evidently filched from the abandoned city of Paestum across the Salernian Bay and presented to the church by the Norman conquerors of Amalfi. After inspecting the classical bas-reliefs, we descend into the ancient crypt, which well-meaning artists have completely encased with a covering of precious marbles and garish frescoes of the Neapolitan school. It is a place of more than local sanctity, this modernized crypt, for the possession of the relics of the Apostle which Cardinal Capuano proudly brought hither after the sack of Constantinople in the early years of the thirteenth century, was considered by many to constitute a sufficient recompense to Amalfi for her lost independence. Popes and sovereigns were in the habit of approaching the shrine, and the number of these illustrious visitors includes the names of St Francis of Assisi, Pope Urban IV., the holy St Bridget of Sweden, and the notorious Queen Joanna II. of Naples. Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini, afterwards Pope Pius II., however, seems to have thought Amalfi, ever dwindling in size and importance, too mean a place to own so great a treasure, and he accordingly transported the head of the Saint to Rome, where it is now accounted amongst the four chief relics of St Peter's. Perhaps it was to counterbalance the loss of so important a member of the Saint's anatomy, that in the succeeding century there arose a report which spoke of the rescue of certain relics of the Apostle Andrew during the headlong course of the Reformation in Scotland. The most precious objects preserved in the Cathedral of St Andrew's, says this legend, were secretly saved from the expected fury of Knox's partisans and brought to Amalfi, where they were reverently added to the store of remains that had survived the plundering of Pius II. Whether or no there be any truth in this somewhat fantastic theory, it is enough to state that St Andrew continues to be patron Saint of this maritime city, for which office the character of the Galilean fisherman who was called to be a fisher of men seems specially appropriate. Nevertheless, despite the valuable additions made in Reformation days, the sanctity of the shrine is not held so high as it used to be. No longer do the venerated bones ooze with the sweet-scented moisture that in medieval days was piously collected to be used for purposes so varied as the curing of warts, or the scattering of Paynim fleets! Yet so late as the days of Tasso, the great Apostle himself was evidently connected in the popular mind with the performance of so bizarre a miracle:—
"Vide in sembianza placida e tranquilla Il Divo, che di manna Amalfi instilla."
But although the present times are too sinful to allow of the distillation of the fragrant dew of Amalfi, we observe the kneeling forms of not a few intent worshippers within the dimly-lighted crypt, in the midst of which the Spaniard Naccarino's bronze figure of the Apostle uprises with dignified mien and life-like attitude. Sant' Andrea is still "Il Divo," the tutelary god of the Amalfitani; he remains in the estimation of these simple ignorant folk the special protector of the community. Times and ideas change, but not the old deep-rooted feeling of a personal tie between the Saint and his favoured people.
We were lucky in happening upon the great popular festival of Sant' Andrea during our visit to Amalfi, and consequently were enabled not only to witness a picturesque scene of considerable splendour, but also to observe how strong a devotion the Amalfitani still manifest towards their own especial Saint. With the first flush of early dawn, discharges of mortars from the beach and the neighbouring hills began to arouse the echoes and to remind the still slumbering population that once more the great anniversary had arrived. The world was quickly astir to do honour to the great St Andrew, and from a very early hour an interminable stream of peasants and villagers, young and old, male and female, began to enter the town from all quarters, and to congregate in the piazza where stands the large fountain crowned by the Saint's own effigy. Here with exemplary patience the throng waited until the hour of the ceremony in the Cathedral drew nigh. Within the huge building priests and lay-helpers were actively employed in preparing for the event, and by their exertions the whole interior had been transformed into what may be best described as a magnificent ball-room, for every blank wall had been covered with draperies of rich crimson damask and the very pillars had been swathed from base to capital in the same gorgeous material. Innumerable old cut-glass chandeliers, that had reposed since the last festa di Sant' Andrea in huge round boxes in some secluded vault, had been slung by means of cords from the ceiling and the arches of the nave, whilst a large number of mirrors set in carved gilt frames had been affixed to various points of the walls and columns. The fine marble pavement lay thickly strewn with bay and myrtle leaves, emitting a pleasant wholesome scent when crushed under foot by the picturesque but somewhat malodorous crowd of fisher-folk and peasants. On entering the church, at the first sound of the bells booming over head, we found ourselves heavily pressed by the surging throng of worshippers, and it was only with difficulty we could obtain a sight of the ceremonies at the high altar, prominent upon which stood the silver bust of the Apostle containing the precious relics. It was a typical Italian festa. The chanting was harsh and discordant; the antiquated inharmonious organ emitted unexpected squeals, as if in positive pain; there was, it is needless to add, a complete absence of that "churchy" demeanour which passes for reverence in the North; yet withal, despite the shrill discordant music, the tawdry embellishments of the grand old building and the absence of propriety of the crowd, there was perceptible some mysterious underlying force that compelled us to note the extraordinary hold the Church has upon the people of Southern Italy. For all this throng of persons had assembled that day with one definite purpose: to see their universal friend and patron, their Saint and their worker of domestic miracles; they had come to pay their homage to a celestial acquaintance, with whom, thanks to the Church's teaching, they had all been intimate from their cradles. They had not thus assembled at an early hour, deserting their mills and their shops, their boats and their nets, renouncing their chances of gain, to hear a preacher's eloquence or to listen to fine music, but merely to pay their annual visit of respect to their Spiritual Master. Why should we aliens intrude upon so private a gathering? In any case, we have grown weary of standing in the close sickly atmosphere, wherein the fragrance of the crushed bay-leaves, the fumes of incense and the strange smell of garlic-eating humanity blend in an oppressive manner. We push our way through the eager and intent congregation, and gaining the door-way step with a sigh of relief into the sunshine that is flooding the loggia. But it is too hot to remain here, and we descend the great stair-case in order to take up a post of vantage in the shade on the opposite side of the piazza; having gained our desired position we expect in patience the arrival of the procession. Nor have we very long to wait. The officials of the town suddenly dart forward to clear the steps of their crowd of ragged children, and almost simultaneously the great bronze doors of Pantaleone are flung open to the sweet air and the sunshine. It was a wonderful and deeply interesting experience to watch the glittering train slowly emerge from the darkness of the church into the glare of day, and then descend that stately flight of marble stairs to the sound of joy-bells and to the accompaniment of explosions of fireworks. First came the leading members of the various Confraternities of the little city, all bearing tapers whose tongues of flame shone feebly in the fierce contemptuous sunlight, and all wearing snow-white smocks and coloured scarves. Red, green, blue, white, purple, yellow, gleamed the huge banners of these different societies, each borne by a tall vessillifero, or standard bearer, assisted by quaint solemn little figures who acted as pages. Then followed the body of the clergy in copes of white and gold, with eyes downcast as they chaunted in loud nasal tones from books in their hands; next came the Canons of the Cathedral in fine old festal vestments reserved for such occasions and with mitres on their heads, for Amalfi clings to the ancient ecclesiastical privileges that were granted in distant days when Florence and Venice were little more than villages. Last of all walked the Archbishop, an aged tottering figure, weighed down by his cope of cloth of gold and seemingly crushed beneath his immense jewelled mitre. Two lackeys, almost as infirm as their venerable master, and clad in threadbare liveries edged with armorial braid, were in close attendance, whilst behind the Archbishop, beneath a gorgeous canopy of state upheld by six white-robed assistants, was borne the great silver bust of St Andrew. The appearance of the Image of "Il Divo," upon which the sunbeams were playing in dazzling coruscations of light, was greeted with a murmur of applause and satisfaction from the expectant crowd in the open. Hats were doffed; knees were bent; prayers were muttered, as with slow and cautious steps the bearers of the Image and its canopy began to descend. Having gained the lower ground in safety, a momentary halt was made, during which we were able to note the mass of votive offerings—jewels, chains, rings, watches, seals—suspended round the Saint's neck, amongst them being many silver fishes, doubtless the gifts of grateful mariners. And at this point we were spectators of a pretty incident. A little girl with black ringlets and eager eyes was dexterously lifted on to her father's shoulder, in order that she might present "Il Divo" with a golden chain, which the tiny fingers deftly clasped round the bejewelled neck of the silver bust. The crowd saw and applauded; it was a moment of triumph for the dark-eyed child, for the Church, and for the approving throng. With the new addition of the child's necklet to the treasury of the Saint, the procession pursued its way through the square towards the Valley of the Mills, with banners waving, with priests chaunting in harsh monotonous tones, and with clouds of incense rising into the sun-kissed air. It was truly a beautiful and curious sight, this festival of the Church amidst people so devout and surroundings so appropriate.
On his safe return to his now brilliantly lighted Cathedral, the Saint was welcomed with indescribable enthusiasm. The crazy old organ was made to produce the loudest and liveliest of music; the uniformed municipal band awoke the echoes of the venerable but bedizened fabric with its complimentary braying; and urchins were even permitted to scatter fire-crackers upon the floor in honour of the event. It was a real ecclesiastical Saturnalia of a most innocent and joyous description. All Amalfi spent the remaining hours of day-light in feasting, dancing and singing, and when at last darkness fell upon the merry scene, rockets and Roman candles were seen to spring into the night air from many points in the landscape, illumining the sea with quickly dying trails of coloured light. Watching the bonfires and the fireworks, and listening to the sounds of revelry and song arising from the town below, we pondered over our experiences of the day as we paced our airy terrace of the Cappuccini. Surely the South has remained immutable for centuries in its deeply rooted love of religious festivals. The forefathers of these devotees of Andrew the Fisherman were equally enthusiastic worshippers of Poseidon or of Apollo. The Church has not in reality altered the outer attributes; it has but added a special moral significance to the old pagan gatherings. The ancient gods of Greece and Rome are dethroned, and their very names forgotten by the populace; but their cult survives, for it has been adapted to the glorification of Christian Saints. True it is that the milk-white sacrificial oxen and the gay garlands of antiquity have been omitted; nevertheless, there remain the music, the incense and the unrestrained jollity of the people. Much that is beautiful and suggestive has perished, yet there survives enough of the old classical ritual for us to see that the true spirit of antiquity has never wholly died out amongst these sunburnt children of Magna Graecia.
"See the long stair with colour all ablaze, With banners swaying in pellucid air, As mitred priests with cautious footsteps bear The silver Image, flashing back the rays Of jealous Phoebus—Ah! the altered days When these Lucanians with wind-lifted hair, Blossom-bedecked, with limbs and bosoms bare, Sang to Apollo psalms of love and praise! With bells and salvoes all the hills resound, And incense mingles with the atmosphere, As still this Southern race, ill-clothed, uncrowned, Retains the memory of the Pagan year, When changed, yet all unchanged, Time's round Makes the Jew Fisherman a god appear."
RAVELLO AND THE RUFOLI
No visit to Amalfi can be considered complete without ascending to the decayed town of Ravello, that crowns the rocky heights to the north-east of the parent city by the sea-shore. The road thither leads along the beach, passing between the picturesque old convent that is now the Hotel Luna, beloved of artists, and the solitary watch tower on the precipice which stands sentinel above the waters on our right hand. At this point we turn the corner, and find ourselves in Atrani, lying in the deep gorge of the Dragone and joining its buildings to those of Amalfi on the road above the beach. Prominent upon the steep ridge that separates the two cities stands the ruined keep of Pontone, the last relic of the town of Scaletta that was a flourishing place in days of the Republic. A tall belfry of peculiar and striking architecture which dominates Atrani is usually attributed to the art of the Saracens, whom King Manfred called in to garrison this place during his wars with Pope Innocent IV. Atrani, which is but a suburb of Amalfi, suffered equally with the Capital during the great upheaval of Nature that desolated this coast in the fourteenth century, so that little of interest remains except the quaint church of San Salvatore a Bireta, wherein the Doges of Amalfi were once elected and crowned. This ancient building lies hidden in a sandy cove beneath the roadway, and those who care to run the gauntlet of beggars and descend to the beach below, can examine its beautiful bronze doors, which the generous citizen Pantaleone gave pro mercede animae suae et merito S. Sebastiani Martyris. But there is very little else to inspect, for the interior has been hopelessly modernized.
Soon after passing Atrani we turn sharply up hill to the left, and begin our ascent towards Ravello. The dusty white road winds upwards through a region of carefully cultivated terraces filled with olives and vines, intermingled here and there with orange, lemon, fig, and pomegranate trees. As we gain higher ground, our horizon tends ever to widen, and we behold the expanse of sea and sky melting in the far distance into "some shade of blue unnameable," whilst the mountain-fringed ring of the Bay of Salerno becomes vividly mapped out to our eyes from the Cape of Minerva to the Punta di Licosia. On our left we peer down into the depths of the dark ravine of the Dragone, whose black shadows are popularly supposed to give its name of Atrani to the cheerful little town we have left behind. Let us thank Heaven that we are at last out of reach of the beggars, and that the only human beings to be encountered upon the road are a few peasants with loads of fruit or vegetables, and an occasional charcoal-burner bearing his grimy burden to the town below. The carbonaio with his blackened face and queer outlandish garments is a familiar figure throughout all parts of Southern Italy. He belongs to a race apart, that dwells in the belt of forest land clothing the higher hills, and he only descends to the cities of the shore and the plain in order to sell his goods. He is despised by the sharper-witted townsman, who beats down his prices for the combustibles he has borne with such fatigue from his distant mountain home. Sometimes the old people are despatched to do the money bargaining, the selling and buying. Look at the old couple at this moment passing us; an aged man and woman that Theocritus might have known in earlier days when the world was less civilized and less greedy of gain. With bare travel-stained feet, with feeble frames supported by long staves and with the heavy sacks of charcoal on their bent backs, the modern Baucis and Philemon crawl along the white road beneath a broiling sun, patient and uncomplaining, and apparently with no feelings of envy as they cast one careless glance at our carriage. Weary and foot-sore, they will only obtain a few quattrini in the town for all their toil and trouble, and then they must retrace every step up the long hill-side, with their little stock of provisions to help eke out a miserable existence. Yet can any life in such a climate and amid such surroundings be truly accounted miserable, we ask, no matter how humble the dwelling or frugal the fare?
As our carriage creeps slowly upward, we find the land less cultivated, and now and again we pass tracts of woodland whence little purling streams fall over rocky ledges on to the roadway. We catch sight of small clumps of cyclamen, and in the shady hollows we detect tufts of the maiden-hair fern—Capilli di Venere, "Venus' tresses," as the Italians sometimes call this graceful little plant. At a curve of the road we are confronted by a smiling old peasant with gold rings in his ears, who in the expectation of forestieri coming this way has been patiently sitting for hours on a boulder. Doffing his battered hat and putting a sunburnt hand to his mouth, the old fellow in a deep musical bass wakens all the sleeping echoes that lie in the many folds of the valley, so that we hear the words of welcome repeated again and again, growing fainter and fainter as the sound of the voice travels from cliff to cliff. The performer is delighted with a few soldi, and the jaded scarecrow of a horse seems pleased with his momentary halt. Iterum altiora petimus; by degrees we reach the airy platform upon which Ravello stands, and finally alight at the comfortable old inn so long associated with the excellent family of Palumbo.
Ravello undoubtedly owes its early foundation to certain patrician families of Amalfi, which after securing their fortunes decided to leave the hot close city beside the shore, and to seek new homes in the bracing air of the hill-top above. Placing itself under the protection of the powerful Robert Guiscard, Ravello became faithfully attached to the Norman interest, and in 1086, at the suggestion of the great Count Roger, who cherished a deep regard for the Rufolo family, the town was created a bishopric by Pope Victor III. As a subject city of the Norman princes, Ravello was during this period at the zenith of its fame and importance. Its actual population is unknown at this distant day, but we learn that under Count Roger the large area of the city was entirely girdled by strong walls set with towers; that it contained thirteen churches, four monasteries, many public buildings, and a large number of private palaces. Its cathedral was founded in honour of Saint Pantaleone by Niccolo Rufolo, Duke of Sora and Grand Admiral of Sicily, the head of the powerful family whose name is still gratefully remembered in this half-deserted town. In 1156 Ravello was honoured by a state visit from Pope Adrian IV.—the English monk, Nicholas Breakspear, the only Briton who ever succeeded in gaining the papal tiara and who gave the lordship of Ireland to Henry Plantagenet—and during his stay the Pontiff was entertained as the guest of the all-powerful Rufoli. Born of humble parents in the village of Bensington, near Oxford, Nicholas Breakspear became a monk at St Alban's, and having once entered the religious life, he rose by sheer force of intellect and an iron strength of will to the attainment of the highest honour the Church could bestow. It was in the hey-day of his power that the English pope entered Ravello and sang Mass in the Cathedral in the presence of all the noble citizens of the place, for in the previous year he had crushed for ever the dangerous heresy of Arnold of Brescia, by boldly sentencing that ardent reformer to be burnt at the stake in Rome and his ashes cast into the Tiber. The Pontiff during his visit sojourned in the Palazzo Rufolo, the beautiful Saracenic building that is still standing intact after so many centuries, and by a curious coincidence is now the property of the well-known English family of Reid. Nor was Pope Adrian the only sovereign who honoured Ravello by his presence, for Charles of Anjou, brother of St Louis of France and the murderer of poor Conradin, and King Robert the Wise also received the hospitality of the Rufolo family within these walls. The whole existing town in fact is eloquent of the long extinct but by no means forgotten Rufoli, who may fairly be reckoned among the more enlightened of the petty tyrants of medieval Italy. That their name was still familiar in Italian society in the fourteenth century is evident from the circumstances that Boccaccio puts a story, no doubt founded on fact, into the mouth of the fair Lauretta, which deals with the adventures of one Landolfo Rufolo of Ravello, "who, not content with his great store, but anxious to make it double, was near losing all he had, and his life also." The novel proceeds to relate how this member of a wealthy and respected family turned corsair, after losing all his capital in a mercantile speculation in Cyprus; how he, in his turn, was robbed of his ill-gotten gains on the high seas by some thievish merchants of Genoa; and how Landolfo, after passing through a variety of more or less improbable adventures, was finally rescued from drowning off the coast of Corfu by a servant-maid who, whilst washing dishes by the sea-shore, chanced to espy the unconscious merchant drifting towards the beach with his arms clasped round a small wooden chest, which kept him afloat. "Moved by compassion," says the relator of the tale, "she stepped a little way into the sea, which was now calm, and seizing the half-drowned wretch by the hair of his head, drew both him and the chest to land, where with much trouble she unfolded his arms from the chest, which she set upon the head of her daughter who was with her. She herself carried Landolfo like a little child to the town, put him on a stove, and chafed and washed him with warm water, by which means the vital heat began to return, and his strength partially revived. In due time she took him from the stove, comforted him with wine and good cordials, and kept him some days till he knew where he was; she then restored him his chest, and told him he might now provide for his departure."(6) Of course the little chest that Landolfo had clutched by chance in his agony of drowning eventually turned out to be filled with precious stones, which by a miracle—and miracles were common enough in the days of the Decameron—not only floated of itself but also supported the weight of Master Landolfo. In any case, the rescued merchant, with the greed and ingratitude which are often accounted for sharpness and wit, presented his kind hostess with the empty trunk, whilst he concealed the gems in a belt upon his own person. Equipped with these jewels, he made his way across the Adriatic to the Apulian coast, and thence reached Ravello with greater wealth than he had ever hoped to obtain with his original capital at the time he set sail for Cyprus.
Fortunately Ravello, though shrunk to such modest proportions nowadays, still possesses many memorials of its glorious past. Travellers will of course turn their steps towards the Duomo, with its yellow baroque facade abutting on the little piazza that, with its daisy-starred turf and old acacia trees, forms so pleasant a play-ground for the merry dark-eyed children of the place. The cathedral of St Pantaleone is—or rather was—one of the most interesting and richly decorated churches erected in Southern Italy under the combined influence of Norman and Saracenic art at a time when cunning workmen were able to blend together the styles of East and West, and to produce that rich harmonious architecture of which the splendid churches of Monreale and Palermo present to us the happiest examples. There still exist intact the magnificent bronze doors with their fifty-four panels of sculpture in relief, the gift of Sergio Muscettola and his wife, Sigilgaita Rufolo, and the work of the Italian artist Barisanus of Trani, who likewise designed and cast the portals of the cathedrals of his native town and of Monreale. But alas! the interior of the building, that was once rich with mosaic and fresco and fanciful carving, has been converted into one of those dull soulless caverns of stucco that the wanderer in all parts of Italy meets with only too frequently. This deplorable act of vandalism at Ravello dates of course from the eighteenth century, and appears to have been the work of a bishop named Tafuri, who in his frenzied eagerness to possess a cathedral worthy of comparison with the fashionable atrocities in plaster then being erected at Naples, did not hesitate to destroy wholesale almost all the ancient and elaborate ornamentation of his Duomo. His architect—perhaps the miserable Fuga, who ruined the interior of the Cathedral at Palermo, who knows?—dug up the fine old pavement, tore out the mosaics and had them carted away, effaced the frescoes, and at last transformed the venerable building with its memories of popes and princes into a commonplace white-washed chamber. Why this wretched prelate stayed his hand at the pulpit, it is difficult to say: perhaps he was meanwhile translated for his private virtues, perhaps Death overtook him in the work of destruction; at any rate, the famous pulpit of Ravello mercifully escaped the general onslaught, though it must have been by fortunate accident and not by design that Monsignore Tafuri omitted to remove this unique specimen of a style of architecture, which doubtless he considered barbaric and un-Christian in its character. For this pulpit is one of the finest examples of the ornate, if somewhat bizarre art of the thirteenth century, and belongs to a type of work that is not unfrequently met with throughout Italy. Six spiral columns, springing from the backs of crouched lions, support the rostrum of marble inlaid with beautiful mosaics; whilst above the arch of the stair-way of ascent stands the famous portrait, usually called that of Sigilgaita Rufolo, wife of the founder of the Cathedral. The striking face, which is surmounted by an elaborate diadem with two pendent lappets, is evidently an excellent likeness of the original; yet there can be no doubt that this interesting bust has been wrongly named, since the pulpit itself, as a Latin inscription duly records, was erected in the year 1272 by Niccolo Rufolo, a descendant of the famous Grand Admiral, so that we may fairly conclude that the portrait represents the wife, or perhaps sister or daughter, of the donor. But popular tradition dies hard; and the name of Sigilgaita will probably cling for ever to the female face which has for over six centuries looked calmly down upon generation after generation of worshippers. Perhaps those severe proud features may have impressed the ignorant Vandal-Bishop as that of some unknown Saint, whom it might be dangerous to offend, and may thereby have saved the pulpit of Niccolo Rufolo from the destruction that must have seemed inevitable. Be that as it may, the bust has survived uninjured, which, apart from the feeling of sentiment, is particularly fortunate, for it belongs to a small class of artistic work, of which existing specimens are rare and highly prized. For there must have been a local and premature Renaissance in this part of Italy during the thirteenth century, otherwise a statue so imbued with true classical feeling and so correct in technical finish as that of Sigilgaita in Ravello Cathedral could never have been produced; yet the names of the artist or artists who thus anticipated the great plastic revival remain undiscovered. Portrait-busts, similar in treatment and idea to that of the so-called Sigilgaita, are to be found here and there in museums, but this effigy in remote Ravello remains unique amidst its original surroundings.
Turning aside from Sigilgaita's steady gaze and making the round of the bleak white-washed building, our eyes are suddenly attracted by a fine picture, in the manner of Domenichino, representing the martyrdom of Pantaleone, the popular Amalfitan Saint to whom this church was dedicated by the Rufolo family.
The cult of this Asiatic martyr in Amalfi is of course another legacy of the Republic's close connection with the Levant, whence some relic-hunting admiral or merchant of the state reverently brought Pantaleone's bones to the Italian coast. As the veneration of this Saint still exists so deep-seated that his Hellenic name is frequently bestowed on children at baptism, it may not be deemed amiss to give a very brief account of this eastern Martyr, who is so closely associated with Amalfitan, and later with Venetian life. Pantaleone was born at Nicomedia, in Bithynia, the son of a Pagan father and a Christian mother. Well educated by his parents, he became a physician, and on account of his skill, his learning, his graceful manners and his handsome face, was finally selected to attend the person of the Emperor Maximian. At the Imperial Court the young doctor, who had meantime neglected the faith of his mother, was recalled to a true sense of Christian duty by the precepts of an old priest named Hermolaus. Pantaleone now began to heal the sick and to preach the Gospel, and even at times to perform miracles. Information as to his conduct having reached the Emperor's ears, Maximian gave the young physician the choice of renouncing Christianity or of suffering death, whereat Pantaleone boldly declared he would rather die than apostatize. Thereupon the Saint, together with the Christian priest Hermolaus, was bound to an olive tree and beheaded with a sword. The story of his martyrdom has been frequently treated in Venetian art, for as an eastern Saint Pantaleone has a church dedicated to him in Venice, wherein the brush of Paul Veronese has painted in glowing colours the chief incidents of his life and death. As in the case of other physician-saints of the Roman Church—St Roch, St Cosmo and St Damiano—Pantaleone was especially besought in cases of the plague, which owing to the intercommunication between Amalfi and the Orient, frequently ravaged the towns of this coast.
From the Cathedral we proceeded to visit the quaint little church of Santa Maria del Gradillo, that with its oriental-looking towers and cupolas affords a pleasing example of the mixed Lombard and Saracenic style which was in vogue in the years when the house of Hohenstaufen were masters of Southern Italy. We found little that was worth seeing inside the building, except the pretty black-eyed daughter of the toothless tottering old sacristan, who slunk off grumbling on his child's appearance, leaving her to do the honours of the place. Her merry face with its welcoming smile and her modest loquacity excited our interest, and in answer to our questions we gathered that she was twenty years old, and was still unmarried, not for lack of opportunity, she naively told us, but because she was unwilling to leave her old parents, who had no one in the world but herself to attend to them. Coming to the door of the church, Angela (for that was her name) pointed out her home, a little white-washed cottage with a heavily barred window over-hanging the grass-grown lane. We wished our pleasant companion a warm good-bye, or rather a riverderla, at the entrance of the dwelling, where through the open doorway we could espy a small sun-smitten courtyard tenanted by a wizened old woman sitting in the shade of an orange tree, by three cats, and by a large family of skinny hens. On a low wall we noted some shallow earthenware pans filled with carnation plants, whose red and yellow heads were clearly silhouetted against the blue sky over head. Perhaps Angela's life, we thought, is after all happier thus spent in the tending of her parents, her poultry and her garden, than if joined to that of some swarthy rascal of the beach below or dull peasant of the hillside. Long may the old people survive to keep their guardian Angel from the mingled sorrows and joys of matrimony!
"Tenete l'uocchie de miricula nere; Che ffa la vostra matre che n'n de' marite? La vostra matre n'a de' marito' apposte Pe' ne' lleva' son fior, a la fenestre."
("Your eyes are marvellously black and bright! How is it that your mother does not wed you? She will not wed you, not to lose her light— Not to remove the flower that decks her window!")
The well-known hotel kept by Madame Palumbo, who is thoroughly conversant with English ways and requirements, occupies a delightful position in the old aristocratic quarter of Ravello known as "Il Toro," the name of which is still retained in the interesting little church of San Giovanni del Toro close by. This comfortable hostelry has been constructed out of the Vescovado, the ancient episcopal residence, and it still retains many curious and attractive features of the original building, notably the quaint little stair-way that descends from the bishop's private chamber into the chapel, which is now the salon of the hotel. With its magnificent views, its interesting buildings and its pure exhilarating air, Ravello would seem to be an ideal spot wherein to linger, and it affords a most agreeable change in the later Spring months from the close atmosphere and enervating heat of Amalfi or the coast towns. Perched on this breezy hill-top, from the terrace of the hotel can be observed the whole circuit of the Bay of Salerno, whilst behind to the north and east the ring of enclosing mountains rises sharp and distinct against the sky. From this point we are presented with a complete view of the territories of the ancient Republic, spread out like a map beneath our feet and stretching from the Punta della Campanella to the heights above Vietri, and backed by the arid grey mountain peaks. If the garden of the Hotel Palumbo seems a fitting place wherein to idle or to dream, might not it also appeal to some historian, not tied to time nor to the hard necessity of money-making, as a suitable spot for the conception of a history of the origin, rise, decline and fall of the great maritime Republic, whose dominions, still smiling and populous, surround Ravello on all sides? Gibbon found the first suggestion for his Roman History whilst musing upon the ruins of the Capitol, and he finished his great work in a Swiss garden amidst the scent of acacia bloom; might not the annals of the Amalfitan Republic likewise spring from reflections made upon this terrace, where the memories of a former greatness still beautiful in its decay must operate so powerfully? Well, perhaps some future Gibbon—or more probably some budding Mommsen—may in time present the world with a true impartial and erudite history of the Costiera d'Amalfi.
We bask lazily in the afternoon sunshine, to the soft, rather soporific cooing of some caged doves, that live in the back-ground out of sight behind a screen of lemon trees in huge red jars, such as Morgiana must have been familiar with. Beyond the terrace wall we note the carefully tended vines, precious plants, for their grapes produce the delicate Episcopio wine, perhaps the choicest vintage to be obtained around Naples, and boasting a flavour and bouquet that are rarely to be encountered except in the products of the most celebrated vineyards of France or Germany.
"O quam placens in colore, O quam fragrans in odore, O quam sapidum in ore, Dolce linguae vinculum.
"Felix venter quem intrabis, Felix guttur quod rigabis, Felix os quod tu lavabis; Et beata labia!"
Below the vinery we catch glimpses of the dancing waters of the Bay and of the little towns of Minori and Majori, seen through a screen of olive and almond trees that are gently swayed by the south wind. Opposite to us towers the huge form of the mountain of the Avvocata, upon whose slopes centuries ago the Madonna herself appeared in a flood of glory to an ignorant but pious shepherd lad, promising the startled youth to become his mediator, the avvocata of his simple prayers. The story must be true, say the peasants, for there on the hillside can still be seen the ruins of the shrine that the wondering and grateful villagers raised upon the very site of the apparition in honour of their celestial visitor. But the whole country-side teems with interesting and often beautiful legends and traditions, handed down by generations of the simple hardy folk who toil for their daily bread amidst the vineyards and olive groves that clothe the sun-baked slopes descending to the shore.
The intervening distance is not great between Ravello and La Scala, which surmounts the opposite ridge of the valley of the Dragone, whence good walkers can easily descend by the ancient mule track that leads down direct to Amalfi by way of Scaletta. Like its neighbour and historic rival across the valley, the annals and fortunes of Scala are closely interwoven with those of Amalfi; and it was during the palmy days of the Republic that this daughter-town reached its height of prosperity. Although the tradition that once Scala possessed a hundred towers upon its walls and a hundred and thirty churches is obviously exaggerated, yet it must have been a place of importance even as early as 987, when Pope John XVI raised it to the rank of a bishopric, an honour which did not fall to Ravello until many years later. Early in the twelfth century Scala was pillaged by the Pisans, but some years afterwards, when the mother city tamely submitted to the demands of these Tuscan invaders without the smallest effort at self-defence, the higher-spirited mountaineers of La Scala manned their walls with skill and vigour, though without avail. The hill-set city was ultimately carried by storm, and so thoroughly did the enraged Pisans wreak their vengeance upon the place that Scala never again rose to fame or eminence, but henceforward dwindled in wealth and size until it finally sank to the condition of a large village, whilst Clement VIII offered an additional indignity to the city in its dotage by depriving it of episcopal rank. But though the citizens of modern Scala no longer possess a bishop in their midst, they are still the proud possessors and jealous guardians of the magnificent mitre presented by Charles of Anjou, who was greatly pleased by the men and money that this ancient town sent to aid his brother, St Louis of France, in his Crusade. Some sculptured tombs, one of them a monument in honour of Marinella Rufolo of Ravello, who was married to a Coppola of Scala, remain in the churches to interest the curious traveller, but most visitors will find the principal charm of this dilapidated little city in its lofty striking situation beneath the frowning mass of Monte Cerrato.