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- Churches, monasteries, and all kinds of religious houses, with their inmates, cluster around,
Thick as autumnal leaves that strew the woods
The cathedral had suffered severely by the earthquake of 1088, and of the ancient building there only remained the front, the belfry, the large bronze gate, the columns supporting the naves, and the two marble chairs; the rest is modern. It possesses no architectural beauty, and displays the barbarous taste of the Archbishop Roger, who about A.D 1200 erected it anew, sparing the stones of no ancient building which could be turned to account. Its solidity, however, must have been great, as the front has withstood the shocks of repeated earthquakes. In front of the dome there is a small Egyptian obelisk, covered with hieroglyphics, of red granite, from Thebes, surmounted with a cross. The bronze gate is of the eleventh century, and believed to have been made in Constantinople. The columns are most of them of white Parian marble, and no doubt originally ornaments of Roman temples. At the side of the principal altar I was much struck by two ancient marble chairs, constructed by an artist called Niccola, A.D. 1311, as an inscription states, one used for the pulpit, and the other by the archbishop when he listens to the service. The French plundered the church in 1795 of all its rich treasures of gold and silver vessels; the inhabitants made an attempt to recover the plunder to their sad loss, as upwards of two thousand of them fell in the vain attempt. The court of the palace contains many Roman inscriptions, bas-reliefs, and pieces of ancient Egyptian obelisks, and the library is said to have preserved a large collection of Lombard manuscripts of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, though we did not consider it necessary to examine them. In the court close to the palace of the archbishop is a large fountain of Carrara marble, with a statue on a high pedestal of Pope Benedict XIII., who had been a benefactor of the town. The church of S. Sophia, though small, is ornamented with six columns of Oriental marble, the only remains of a former church, which had been destroyed by an earthquake in 1702. The court of the municipal palace contains a fine relievo of the Rape of the Sabines, which originally adorned the fountain in the square in front of S. Sophia. Near to the church is the castle, where the Pope's representative resides, who governs the duchy of Benevento. Of all the ancient remains, the Triumphal Arch of Trajan, now called Aurea Porta, is perhaps the most interesting. It is constructed of marble, flanked by four columns, with entablature, frieze, and cornice of the Corinthian order. On the top there was a space, on which there must have been a statue or triumphal chariot of the emperor. Between the columns are numerous bas-reliefs, so united that they seem to be of one single stone, notwithstanding the many earthquakes which have overtaken this part of Italy. They represent the glorious deeds of the emperor, particularly the war against the Dacians, A.D., 104, and the victories over their king, Decebalus. The author was Apollodorus of Damascus, who was also the architect of the Forum Trajani at Rome. It was erected A.D. 112, according to the inscription, by order of the senate and Roman people. This arch is by far the most magnificent of those that have come down to us from ancient times. The town stands between the rivers Sabatus, now Sabato, and Calor, now Calore. The ancient bridge over the Calor still exists, consisting of five arches, now called Ponte Leproso. The first arch alone appears to be ancient, constructed of immense polygonal masses of stone without mortar, whereas the other arches are of brick of a later date. On the opposite side of the river Calor you are shown the plain which was the scene of the bloody battle, A.D. 1265, between Charles of Anjou and Manfred of Swabia, whom you may recollect that I mentioned as founding the city of Manfredonia in Apulia, close to Mons Garganus. Here Manfred fell, and near the bridge two heaps of stones are pointed out as the memorial of his burial-place. The ancient amphitheatre had been of considerable size, and its ruins are found near the parish church of S. Modesto. The interior is entirely filled with rubbish, and is now occupied with the miserable houses of the poor inhabitants. Indeed, we were particularly struck by the poverty and filth of the inhabitants in all parts of the town. We walked along the banks of the river, and enjoyed the freshness of the evening breeze, proceeding about two miles to a spot called Le Colonne, where the battle, B.C. 275, between Pyrrhus and the Romans under M. Curius was fought, in which the former was defeated. To-day we were to make an attempt to find the Lacus Ampsanctus, though we had only a vague idea of its position; and, in order that we might have a long day before us, we determined to start the moment there was the slightest streak of light. We considered that our best plan was to reach the post-road from Naples to Foggia, which was said to be about a dozen miles across the country by mule-paths. The morning was fresh, and the country through which we passed was hilly, affording many delightful points of view, more particularly in the valley of Sta. Maria, which was well cultivated, with here and there copses of wood on the hills. We reached the road at Dentecane, where some ancient inscriptions have been found, and ruins of buildings. What ancient town it represented is unknown. Being ignorant of the proper direction to take, we proceeded at a venture to the village Taurasi, where we determined to rest our horses and take a fresh start. We found it a miserable village, and soon had a crowd of its inhabitants around us, who had never seen an Englishman before. The priests came to pay their respects; they were intelligent, and from them we learned that the Mofete, the object of our search, was about six miles distant, though we would find the path difficult for our horses. This was the site of the ancient Taurasia, mentioned in the inscription on the tomb of L. Scipio Barbatus, given by Orellius, and in the church there was an inscription to Publius Virgilius. Was he a relative of the poet? For the benefit of future travellers, who may be in search of Lacus Ampsanctus, I may give my experience, which was bought dearly by the fatigues of a long day's journey. We made an unnecessary détour to Taurasi, groping in the dark. The traveller ought to take a guide at Dentecane or Venticane, on the Foggia road, to the village Gesualdo; and as this guide will in all probability know nothing of the position of the lake, though he may assert that he does, a new guide ought to be hired at Gesualdo, where the position of the lake called Le Mofete is well known, being about six to seven miles distant, or three hours' ride. If the traveller trusts to groping his way, he will wander for hours, and probably never find the object of his search. At Taurasi we inquired if any one had seen Le Mofete, when a man came forward and declared that he knew it well, and was willing to be our guide. We started with him at eleven o'clock, and began to cross the country, sometimes up the channel of mountain torrents, which in winter must have been impassable, and sometimes up steep declivities, which we had to climb on foot, dragging on our horses with difficulty. We had to make numerous détours before we got clear of these difficulties, and no sooner were we out of one ravine than we found ourselves in another. These mountain streams are the feeders of the river Calor, which we had crossed at Beneventum. We saw small villages perched on the distant hills, but did not approach any of them. The country was quite bare and uncultivated, with brushwood scattered here and there. Neither sheep nor cattle met our eye. We continued to plod on under a broiling sun for several hours, anxiously inquiring of our guide when the lake would appear, and getting very impatient, as the distance seemed to increase the farther we advanced. At last matters began to look serious, as the hours were rapidly passing, and I insisted that our guide should tell us honestly whether he really had ever seen the lake, when he confessed that he never had, and only knew the direction in which it was to be sought. Here we were in a pretty mess; but while we were debating anxiously what course we ought to pursue, we came across two rough-looking men, the only individuals we had met since we left Taurasi. They assured us that they knew Le Mofete, from which we were distant about two miles, and as we had no time to lose, we engaged them to conduct us to it. Ere long we stood on the edge of what might be called a crater, about two hundred yards in circumference, at the bottom of which was the Lacus Ampsanctus, of which we had been so long in search. The following is the description by Virgil (AEn. vii. 563): Est locus Italiae medio sub montibus altis Nobilis, et famâ multis memoratus in oris, Amsancti valles: densis hunc frondibus atrum Urget utrinque latus memoris, medioque fragosus Dat sonitum saxis et torto vortice torrens : Hic specus horrendum, saevi spiracula Ditis, Monstratur, ruptoque ingens Acheronte vorago Pestiferas aperit fauces; quís condita Erinnys, Invisum numen, terras coelumque levabat. In midst of Italy, well known to fame, There lies a lake (Amsanctus is the name): Below the lofty mounts on either side, Thick forests the forbidden entrance hide. Full in the centre of the sacred wood An arm arises of the Stygian flood, Which, breaking from beneath with bellowing sound, Whirls the black waves and rattling stones around. Here Pluto pants for breath from out his cell, And opens wide the grinning jaws of hell.
When I said that we stood on the edge of a crater, you must understand that it was not complete, but something like a semicircle, and that the bottom of it, where the small lake was seen, was on a level with the surface of the narrow valley which ran towards it. The hills in its immediate vicinity rise to no great height, nor yet are they covered with wood, though there is some slight brushwood. There was nothing solemn nor religious in its aspect. The water had a dark, pitchy appearance, and was thrown up occasionally in several places to the height of four or five feet. At the edge on which we were standing we were possibly forty feet above the water, and we did not dare to descend, as the exhalations of sulphur were so strong that we should have been suffocated long before we reached the water. We were standing to windward; I made a slight descent, but our guides declared that it was death to attempt a nearer approach, and the strong smell of sulphur convinced me that they were correct in their assertion. Everything around was covered with efflorescent sulphur, and vegetation had that pale, deadly hue which the presence of sulphur always causes. One of the Tratture de Pecori, from the Tavoliere of Apulia to the mountain regions, passes close to it. It was the first that I had seen, though I had heard of these sheep-roads when I was passing through Apulia. Its breadth was about sixty paces, and on each side rose a fence of rough stones, raised to the height of a couple of feet. Our guides told us that this lake proved very dangerous to these flocks of sheep, as the shepherds sometimes in ignorance remained in its neighbourhood during the night, and a change of wind bringing the exhalations of sulphur, suffocated them in sleep. There was a small pool on the ridge of this eminence, which was spouting the water up in a slight degree. It was lukewarm, and had a sulphureous taste. In fact, the whole of this country seems to be volcanic, and is constantly subject to earthquakes. In the distance we saw a lofty peaked mountain, and, on asking its name, were told that it was Monte Voltore, up which a few weeks before I had attempted to ascend. The peak, in fact, was Il Pizzuto di Melfi, which had appeared so striking from the point to which I had climbed. I had thus again nearly crossed Italy to its eastern coast. We inquired if there were any ancient ruins in this neighbourhood, but our guides knew of none. Pliny (ii. 95, 3) speaks of a temple to Mephitis, the origin of the present name Le Mofete, in this quarter; but, though we looked all around, we saw no appearance of rulnS.
We had now satisfied our curiosity, and it was necessary to consider where we should pass the night. Frigento was some four miles distant, but said to be of difficult approach, and out of our direct road to Naples. We determined, therefore, to proceed to Gesualdo, a distance of eight miles, particularly as it was larger, and we had a better chance of getting accommodation. The path was much the same as it had been in the morning, and we had to walk, leading our horses, for the greater part of the way. About eight we reached Gesualdo, and found a tolerable albergo. The principal inhabitants hastened to pay their respects, and from them we found their silver articles got tarnished by the sulphureous on. of the lake when the wind blew for several days towards them.
Next morning we proceeded back towards Naples across a hilly country, passing the river Calor, somewhat south of Taurasi, and making straight for the Foggia road, which we struck in the vicinity of Serra, a straggling little village close to the banks of the Sabatus, which joins the Calor near Beneventum. We were now passing along one of the celebrated passes towards Apulia, spoken of by Polybius, though the hills on each side rise to no great height. This is the third defile which I have threaded. You will recollect the defile leading from AEsernia, past Venafrum, with the lofty mountain Matese rising by its side; then the pass of Arienzo and Arpaia, where some place the Caudine Forks; and lastly, this of Avellino. The first is by far the most striking and picturesque. We reached Avellino at an early hour, a city of some size and of great commercial activity, having manufactures of cloth, paper, and extensive dye-works. Its maccaroni is considered to be the best in the kingdom, and most of the workmen in this manufacture at Naples come from this neighbourhood. The sausages of Avellino, called cervellate, have a high reputation at Naples. Two miles to the right is the village Atripaldi, on the opposite bank of the Sabatus, which numerous ancient remains prove to have been the site of Abellinum. It was destroyed in the wars between the Greeks and Lombards, and the inhabitants established themselves on the site of the modern Avellino, which has thus retained the name, but not the situation, of the ancient Abellinum. We traced the vestiges of the ancient amphitheatre, and some portions of the city walls, along the banks of the Sabatus. In Avellino there are some bas-reliefs, altars, and inscriptions, which had been found on this site. As we passed along we saw large fields covered with filbert-trees, which are extensively cultivated, and are said to bring a large income to the inhabitants. They are cultivated with great care, being regularly pruned, and having fresh manure at their roots every year. These nuts were known to the Romans, who are said to have introduced the tree from Pontus, in Asia Minor, whence they also got the cerasus, our cherry. They called it Nux Pontica, and afterwards Avellana, either from this town, Abellinum, or Avella, in this vicinity, where it was propagated with great success. Our horses, accustomed to the level country round Naples, were sadly knocked up, and it was evident that they must rest here for the remainder of the day, so that we determined to leave them in the hands of the room, to come on at their leisure, and take post-horses on to Naples, which we should be able to reach in the evening, visiting Avella and Nola on our way. We started at once, and hurrying past Monteforte, with its ruined castle picturesquely perched on the peak of a rock, soon reached Avella, where we stopped a short time to visit its ancient remains. The site is still called Avella Vecchia, and here the vestiges of its amphitheatre, of considerable size, may be traced. How few of these ancient towns existed without such a place of amusement, and how few of them could now support an exhibitor, even of their favourite Punch and Judy The city walls are still visible; but what is most striking is the commanding view over the plains of Campania, with Vesuvius in the foreground and the beautiful Bay of Naples in the distance. You can easily understand s