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CHAPTER XXVI THE LATIN SHORE
(An/.io, Albergo Milano, comfortable. The hotels lay themselves out for the Roman summer and take too little pains with spring visitors.)
AFTER quitting Albano, the line runs at first through a richlycultivated plain, leaving the hill of Monte Giove (Corioli) on the right: but soon it reaches a wilderness of asphodel, which eats up the country for many miles. The latter part of the drive is through cork and oak forest, here and there swampy and abounding with charcoal-burners, whose chains of mules laden with large burdens of the marketable carbon are encountered like caravans. The coach-road, if preferred, is excellent the whole way, and the descent upon the white houses of Porto d' Anzio, ranged along the blue sea, and backed by undulating green lands, reminds one of a quiet English watering-place. On entering the town, we pass, on the left, the Villa of the Aldobrandini.
Xenagoras, a Greek writer quoted by Dionysius, ascribes the foundation of Antium to Anthias, son of Circe and Ulysses: Solinus refers it to Ascanius. It was one of the Latin cities which united against Rome before the Battle of Regillus, but was afterwards taken by the Volscians, under whom it rose to great power and wealth, and continued irreconcilable with Rome. Hither Coriolanus retired when banished, and here he is said to have died. Dionysius speaks of Antium as 'a most splendid city of the Volscians.' Camillus succeeded in taking the town in B.C. 468, and it became a Roman colony. Revolting one hundred and thirty years later, it was recaptured in a sea-fight, and the beaks (Rostra) of its few ships were carried in triumph to the Capitol and used as ornaments for the 'suggestum,' or platform, for the orators in the Korum. During the latter days of the Republic, and under the Empire, Antium was most prosperous, and it became the favourite resort of the emperors. Cicero had a villa here, and amused himself by 'counting the waves.' Here Augustus received the title of 'Pater Patriae,' and here Caligula was born. Nero, who was also born at Antium, was greatly devoted to it, and constructed a magnificent port, together with a palace, and several temples. He was staying at Antium when he received the gratifying news of the burning of Rome. Antoninus Pius built an aqueduct for the town, and Septimius Severus added largely to the imperial palace. The place declined with the Empire, and became a prey to the Goths, and, later, to the Saracens. It has been much injured of late years by the filling up of its port, which is useless now except for vessels of two hundred tons burthen.
The existing Roman remains of Porto d' Anzio are obscure, and offer only suggestions of its former grandeur. But it must clearly be borne in mind that the early Antium lay on commanding high ground, while the later Roman Antium was adjoining the sea. The traces of the former will be found by crossing the vineyards beyond the railway to Nettuno, half a mile to the N.E. There is no trace of the temple of Equestrian Fortune, commemorated by Horace, who invokes the favour of the goddess for the expedition of Augustus to Britain ; it is also alluded to by Martial:—
'Sen tua veridicae dicunt responsa sorores,
Plana surburbani qua cubat unda freti.' ,
—Ep. v. 1.
Her oracle responded by casting lots, ' Sortes Antiatinae.'
A temple of JEsculapius was famous as the place where the Epidaurian statue rested on its way to Rome. The statue of this god now in the Vatican was found here.
Ovid speaks of a temple of Apollo: —
'Et tellus Circaea, ct spissi Iittorla Antium.
—Metam. xv. 718.
The Villa of Nero (opposite the modern barracks), has never, within the memory of man, presented more than some brick walls, scarcely projecting above the turf; yet here was found the Borghese Gladiator of the Louvre. The size of Antium is attested by the marble columns and fragments scattered over the fields for miles around, and by the opus-reticulatum which often lines and fills the cliffs near the sea-shore. Projecting far into the sea, worn and caverned by the waves, are the picturesque remains of the two moles of Nero, which enclosed the ancient harbour.
The town itself is very small, merely a knot of modern houses grouped around a square (in which stands the church of S. Antonio), with a few more ancient fishermen's cottages. These line one side of a pier, constructed by the architect Zinaghi, for Innocent XII., at a cost of 200,000 scudi, upon one of the old moles of Nero, of which he filled up the arches, and thus caused the accumulation of sand which has destroyed the harbour. The lighthouse at the end of the pier is picturesque. Behind the town are open downs, strewn here and there with fragments of ruin. The sands in either direction are delightful for walking, and the views towards Nettuno are most attractive, the cliff being crowned with successive villas.
'When you sit in the window of yonr chamber, before which the Neapolitan fishermen are seated on the white sands mending' their nets, the whole of the glorious gulf stretches before yon, and yon see the lovely shore as far as the Circean promontory. On the coast near Anzio rises the noble villa of Prince Borghese in a wild park of ilexes and olive-trees ; further off arc the castle and town of Nettuno, brown and picturesque, built into the sea, and celebrated through all the world for the beauty of its women, and their splendid costume. The liues of the coast become now ever softer, more delicate, and more drawn out, till, at the end, a little white-glimmering castle rises in the dreamy distance. This castle lends a melancholy tone to shore and sea, such as the Circean cape sheds over the Homeric poetry. To the eyes of every German it has a magical attraction, and his heart is moved to sorrow and tears, for it suggests one of the greatest landmarks in the history of his fatherland. It is yet the same tower of Astura, whither Conradin, the last of the Hohenstaufens, fled after the lost battle of Tagliacozzo, and where the traitor Frangipani took him prisoner, and delivered him into the hands of the bloodthirsty Charles of Anjou. At that tower the sun of the Hohenstaufens sank into the sea.*—Gregorovius, 'The Latin Shore.'
The fishing boats and the fishing operations are a great amusement to those who stay long at Porto d' Anzio.
* It is the custom of the fishermen to go out towards Ave Maria, and to fish through the night. That which is caught will be brought with the morning into the straw-roofed sheds, but in the evening it will be registered and packed up, and by night it will be carried in carts to Rome. Evening brings with it an exciting scene. The clerks sit at a table with a lantern and register the fish; all around fishermen are occupied in bringing in fish in baskets, while others pound pieces of ice, and lay the fish upon this frozen surface. The variety and wonderful forms of these creatures of the sea are astonishing. There is the long Grongo, the great and handsome Palombo, the beautiful spotted Murena, the flounder-like prickly Ray, the great multitude of glittering Triglie and Sardines, and the well-tasting Merluzzo. Sometimes a dolphin is brought up, and once I saw in a fish-basket two Pesce-cane, which had been found here. They were from eight to ten feet long, their black-steel blue colour had something uncanny about it.'— Gregorovius.
To the left of the town, the cliffs are covered with Mesembryanthemum, hanging in festoons with flowers like sea-anemones, making masses of purple colour. Aloes form the hedges of the villa-gardens.
'Precious marbles of every kind are found here. One might fill carts with gleaming wave-polished marble, which is sprinkled over the shore, go as far as one will. One can pick up Verde Antico, Giallo Antico, the gorgeous oriental Alabaster, Porphyry, Pavonazzetto, Serpentino, and blue Smalt. Wherever these rare stones exist, a glance into the waves tells us where they come from. For out of the sea rise the foundations of ancient Roman waterpalaces, and at a quarter of an hour's distance from Antium, the shore is nothing less than a ruin of continuous masonry. They look like masses of rock and the overthrowings of a cliff, and if one examines one finds that they are simply Roman walls of peperino stone, and the imperishable Pozzolano, and delicate Roman reticulated work. Now the whole weird coast yawns with grottos and halls or old baths and villas, and the foundations of temples and palaces crop up along the line of the shore. Here stood once the beautiful marble villas of the Emperors. Here Caligula besported himself, who particularly liked Antium, and had even formed a plan of making it his residence; here he celebrated his nuptials with the beautiful Lollia Paulina. Here Nero, who was born in Antium and planted a colony there, held his Bacchanalia ; here he made his triumphal entry with white horses after his return from his debut in Greece.
'Also in earlier days Antium was the beloved holiday resort of the Romans;
Atticus, Lucullus, Cicero, Maecenas, and Augustus, had here their villas; and where, on what charming hill, on what lovely Italian shore, had not these lucky fellows their villas! How this shore must once have shone with all the stones, the historic fragments, which the waves have constantly been tossing to and fro for centuries. These ruins bring- a singular elegiachistorical character into the delightful Idyll of Antium, and the voice full of memories which here everywhere accompanies the wanderer, heightens not a little the attractions of the shore. ... In Italy one cannot give oneself up to the quiet influence of Nature, without a grave spirit of the classical past taking possession of the soul, and leading one to meditate upon the recollections of its great men. So that one can sit upon the ruined palaces of the Romans, and, the waves murmuring round, may exclaim with Horace :—
"O diva, gratum quae regis Antium,
Mortale corpus, vel supcrbos
Vertere funeribus triumphos!"
And again the sight of the beautiful Cape of Circe leads to the song of Homer, while the ever-conspicuous but distant Astura draws one to other associations and poems; so that three periods of the world's poetry and the world's culture surround one, Homer, Horace, and the Hohenstaufen poet Wolfram von Eschcnbach.'—Gregorovius.
A chief feature in the views from Porto d'Anzio is the wonderfully picturesque little town of Nettuno which juts out into the sea about a mile and a half to the south. A broad road beside the railway lined with trees leads to it from Porto d' Anzio, but the pleasantest way is to follow the shore as far as the sea allows, and then clamber up the cliff by the winding path beneath the Villa Borghese. Another way of reaching it is by boat, and the full beauty of the coast can be appreciated in no other manner.
'Porto d' Anzio possesses scarcely even a remnant of female beauty and no national costume, because it is made up of a growing and miscellaneous population. But both noble female beauty and unique national character adorn the little town of Nettuno, which stands picturesquely upon the eastern shore, the black walls of its castle sinking down into the waves. One reaches it in three quarters of an hour, by a straight well-made road from Porto d' Anzio, one of the most beautiful on this coast. On the pleasantly wooded shore, half-way between the two villages, stands the handsome villa of Prince Borghese, who is the feudal lord of all the land in the district. In the far distance rise the Volscian hills, and the Cape of Circe soars up in its still shining form so enchantingly painted in light and shadow, that it would recall in its outline and appearance the most beautiful rocks in Europe—the island of Capri and the mountain of San Pellegrino near Palermo.'— Gregorovius.
At the entrance of Nettuno by road, stands a machicolated but now decaying fortress with four bastions, begun by Alexander VI. and finished by Alexander VII. (1(563). The town has been supposed on too little evidence to occupy the site of the ancient Caeno mentioned by Dionysius as a dependent port of Antium. Nettuno is full of picutresque nooks and corners, and fragments, perhaps of the temple of Neptune, whence its name is derived. The earliest mention of it is in 1163 A.D., when it belonged'to the monks of Grotta F errata. The number of women passing with brazen conchc upon their heads guided us to a quaint well, near which is a beautiful gothic house, with spiral columns dividing its windows, and a Boar on the coat of arms which adorns it. Beneath the town a wave-beaten terrace forms a wall only accessible in calm weather; in storms the waves beat almost against the old houses themselves.
The picturesque costumes of gold and silver tissue still surviving here are seldom to be seen now. The people were persuaded that a visitation of cholera was a judgment from Heaven for their barbaric costume, and it was left off temporarily by universal consent! Andrew Sacchi, the painter (17th cent.) was a native of Nettuno.
'Single and married women wear scarlet cloth, rimmed with gold lace, and violet when in mourning; widows black; their habit is like that of the Moorish ladies, and they are very tenacious of it; insomuch that it was not without considerable difficulty that Gregory XIII. induced them in some measure to lengthen their dresses, and leave off their Moorish boots, for which they have substituted slippers of rich silk or gold embossed leather, with cork soles two inches thick.'—' Latium' p. 116 (Cornelia Knight, 1805).
It is a dull drive (15 lire) from hence (7 miles) to Astura, but for pedestrians the walk is somewhat dangerous owing to the artillery practice.
After passing the stream called II Foglino, we reach the ruins called Grottoni. Other remains break the surface of the sea. Astura is now perceived to be united to the mainland only by a bridge. The tower of the Frangipani rises from other remains.
The shore is lined by the forest—arbutus, juniper, phillyrea, tall flowering heath, and myrtles which have grown into great trees, and are all tangled together with garlands of smilax and honeysuckle.
'But now all sign of civilised life ceases with Nettuno, for immediately behind the town begins the Pontine wilderness. The brushwood extends from this to Terracina. Not a single human dwelling exists again upon the coast, only solitary towers rise out of the romantic solitude, at distances of about two miles from one another. The melancholy desolation of this shore and the impressiveness of its time honoured solitude is great. One feels as if one were no longer on the classic shore of Italy, one seems to be wandering on the wild coasts of the Indian America. The constant murmur of the sighing sea-waves, the summer breeze breathing over the ever-smooth, everwhite-sanded shore, the endless deep green wood, which follows the sea on and on at a hundred paces distant, the shrill cry of the hawks and falcons the quiet and hiirh-hovering eagle, the stamping and bellowing of the herds of wild cattle, air, colour, sound, every existence and element is in unison with the most entire impression of an old-world wilderness.'— Gregorovius.
Cicero, who had a favourite villa at Astura, describes it, in writing to Atticus, as 'a pleasant place, standing in the sea itself, and visible both from Antium and Circeii.' Nothing can be more