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CHAPTER VII GALERA AND BRACCIANO
(Bracciano is within an easy day's excursion by rail, or cycle, from Bome. Alberghi Sabazio and della Fosta: 3100 inhabitants.)
STORMS were sweeping over the Janiculan, and occasionally shrouding S. Peter's in a white mist, while the Campagna beyond the Aventine towards Ostia seemed blotted with ink; but as we had settled to go to Bracciano (Fundus Braccianus), we determined to be firm with the weather, and, as usual in such cases, things turned out better than we anticipated.
It was the Via Cassia which had led us to Veii ; but beyond La Storta, the Via Clodia turns to the left to Bracciano, over a dreary thistle-grown part of the Campagna, with here and there deep cuttings in the tufo. A bridle road, turning off on the right, one mile from La Storta, leads to the picturesque and lonely convent of La Madonna del Sorbo (about eight miles from Rome), founded in 1400 by the Orsini.
On the main road there is little interest, till the tiny rivulet Arrone, an outlet of the lake of Bracciano, crosses the road, and tumbles in a waterfall over a cliff into one of those rather gloomy glens which suggest the sites of so many Etruscan towns, and which here encircles that of the forgotten Etruscan fortress of Galeria, afterwards occupied by the mediaeval town of Galera. Those who pass along the high road catch glimpses of its tall tower and ivy-grown walls, but they must cross the fields, and descend into its ravine (leaving the carriage at the farm-house called Santa Maria di Galera) to realise that the whole place is absolutely deserted except by bats and serpents, and that it is one of the most striking of 'the lost cities of the Campagna.'
The situation is wonderfully picturesque; the town being entered by a double gate, and the walls rising from the edge of a precipice, round which the beautiful Arrone circles sparkling through the trees, and unites itself to another stream, the Fosso, below the citadel. In the eleventh century Galera belonged to the Counts Tosco, troublesome barons of the Campagna, against whom in 1058 Pope Benedict X. called in the Normans, who were happy enough to ravage and plunder the town. In the thirteenth century the place became a stronghold of the Orsini, who held it by tenure of an annual payment of three pounds of wax to the Pope. Their arms are over the gateway, and they built the tall handsome tower of the church, which was dedicated to S. Nicholas; but they were unable to hold the town against the Colonna, who took and utterly sacked it in July 1485. Charles VIII. of France lodged here for ten days in December 1494, making the place the headquarters of the army. The last historical association of the place is that Charles V. slept there, the day he left Rome, April 18, 1536.
A short time ago Galera had ninety inhabitants. Now it has none. There is no one to live in the houses, no one to pray in the church. Malaria reigns triumphant here, and keeps human creatures at bay. Even the shepherd who comes down in the day to watch the goats scrambling about the broken walls, might pay with his health for passing the night here. It is a bewitched solitude, with the ghosts of the past in full possession. The town walls, some of which date from the eleventh century, are sliding into the thickets of brambles. Above them rise remains of the old Orsini castle, from which there is an unspeakably desolate view, the effect of the scene being enhanced by the knowledge that the strength of Galera has fallen beneath no human foe, but that a more powerful and invincible enemy has been found in the 'scourge of the Campagna.' The only bright point about the ruins is the old washing-place of the town in the glen, where the waters of the Arrone, ever bright and sparkling, are drawn off into stone basins overhung with fern and creepers.
Beyond Galera, leaving the Convent of Santa Maria in Celsano to the east, the road to Bracciano enters a more fertile district. On the left is passed a marsh, once a lake, called Logo Morto. Green corn covers the hill-sides in spring, and here and there is an olivegarden. Soon, on the right, the Lake of Bracciano (540 ft.), twenty miles in circumference, and six miles across in its widest part, is seen sleeping in its still basin surrounded by green wooded hills. Then the huge Castle (945 ft.) of the Odescalchi (1696) (now an interesting museum) built of lava, and guarded by machicolated towers, rises before us, crowning the yellow lichen-gilded roofs of the town. We rattle into the ill-paven street, and, between the whitewashed yellow-lichened houses, we see huge towers frowning upon us. At last the carriage can go no farther, and stops in a piazzetta. The steep ascent to the fortress is surmounted on foot, and is cut out of the solid rock. On and in this rock the castle was built by the Orsini in the fifteenth century, just after their normal enemies, the Colonna, had destroyed a former fortress of theirs, and their predecessors the De Vico, hereditary prefects of Rome. They were invested in its possession by Martin V. (Colonna), and rendered for it yearly one vulture. They were determined to make it strong enough. As we enter the gateway surmounted by the arms of Orsini, we see that the rock still forms the pavement, and reaches half-way up the walls. The rest of these grim walls is of lava, plundered from the paving-blocks of the Via Clodia. Gloomy passages, also cut out of the rock, lead into profundities suggestive of romantic adventures and escapes. One does not wonder that Sir Walter Scott was more anxious to see Bracciano than anything else in Italy, and set off thither almost immediately after his arrival in Rome.
The inner court of the castle is more cheerful. It has a gothic loggia and a curious outside staircase, at once descending and ascending, and adorned with frescoes. As we were sitting here to draw, the old housekeeper came out to welcome us. She had been the German nurse of the young Prince Odescalchi, to whom the castle now belongs; we brought her a letter from the Princess-mother, and she was delighted to have the break in the monotony of her life. She had 'told the Princess she wished for repose—she wished to have time to think in her old-age—and here she found it, but sometimes the repose was almost too much. The wind whistled through the long galleries louder than was pleasant, when there was no voice to enliven it; and last week in the earthquake—when the castle went crick-crack, and the plaster fell from the walls, and the tiles rattled upon the roof—oh, then it was roba da spaventare.'
Of the mediaeval castles in Italy which are still inhabited Bracciano is one of the largest. The Odescalchi family occasionally come here in summer, when the vast chambers must be delightfully cool, and the views over lake and town and mountains most enjoyable. On the upper floor is the Hall of Justice, where the Orsini, who had the right of appointing magistrates, and being judges in their own persons, used for several centuries to sit in judgment upon their dependants. The Great Hall on the ground floor has some rapidly-vanishing frescoes by Zuccaro, and looks like a place where ten thousand ghosts might hold carnival, only perhaps their revels would be hindered by the tiny chapel which opens out of it. In the living apartments are some fine old chairs and carved modern furniture, splendid beds and wardrobes, and infinitesimal washing apparatus. One room has family portraits from old times down to the present possessors. These are very proud of their home, though they are not often here. In 1803, poverty obliged them to sell their castle, but they did so with aching hearts, to Giovanni Torlonia; a reservation was made, that if the wheel of their fortunes should revolve within a limited space of years, they should be allowed to buy it back again at the same price which he had given. Torlonia felt secure, spent much time and money at Bracciano, and was devoted to his new purchase. As the time was drawing to a conclusion, all doubt as to the future vanished from his mind, but, just in time, the fortune of the Princess-mother Odescalchi enabled the family to redeem their pledge, and the former possessors returned, to their own triumph and the delight of the inhabitants. The Princess Sofia Odescalchi, whose fortune redeemed Bracciano, for 778,618 scudi, became almost an historical character in Rome. She was one of the strongest supporters of Pius IX., which is not unnatural, for in a great illness the physicians had given up her case as hopeless, and declared that nothing short of a miracle could save her. At this juncture, when all her family were assembled to see her die, the Pope, from the Vatioan, sent her his absolution and blessing, and with it a very tiny loaf of bread—' panetella '1 which he desired her to swallow—he had prayed over it and blessed it, and perhaps it would save her life. She did swallow it,recovered, and the next day went in person to the Vatican to return thanks to the Holy Father!
"When the Odescalchi purchased Bracciano from the Orsini, the latter were then beginning to fall into decadence, after an historical career of more than six hundred years. Pope Celestine III. (1191-98) was an Orsini, and Pope Nicholas III. (1277-81), whom Dante sees in hell, among the Simonists.
'Sappi ch' io fui vestito del gran manto;
—Inferno, xix. 69.
But having bestowed two popes upon the Church is the least of the glories of the Orsini, and it is their ceaseless contests with the Colonnesi, in which they were alternately victors and vanquished, which gives them historical consequence.
'Orsi, lupi, leoni, aquile e serpi
—Petrarca,' Cam.' vi.
* The Ursini migrated from Spoleto: the sons of Ursus, as they are styled in the twelfth century, from some eminent person, who is only known as the father of their race. But they were soon distinguished among the nobles of Rome, by the number and bravery of their kinsmen, the strength of their towers, the honours of the senate and sacred college, and the elevation of two popes, Celestin III. and Nicholas III., of their name and lineage. Their riches may be accused as an early abuse of nepotism; the estates of S. Peter were alienated in their favour by the liberal Celestin; and Nicholas was ambitious for their sakes to solicit the alliance of monarchs; to found new kingdoms in Lombardy and Tuscany; and to invest them with the perpetual office of senators of Rome. All that has been observed of the greatness of the Colonna, will likewise redound to the glory of the Ursini, their constant and equal antagonists in the long hereditary feud, which distracted above two hundred and fifty years the ecclesiastical state. The jealousy of pre-eminence and power was the true ground of their quarrel; but as a specious badge of distinction, the Colonna embraced the name of Ghibellines and the party of the Empire; the Ursini espoused the title of Guelfs and the cause of the Church. The eagle and the keys were displayed on their adverse banners; and the two factions of Italy most furiously raged when the origin and nature of the dispute were long since forgotten. After the retreat of the popes to Avignon, they disputed" in arms the vacant republic; and the mischiefs of discord were perpetuated by the wretched compromise of electing each year two rival senators. By their private hostilities, the city and country were desolated, and the fluctuating balance inclined with their alternate success. But none of either family had fallen by the sword, till the most renowned champion of the Ursini was surprised and slain by the younger Stephen Colonna. His triumph is stained with the reproach of
1 'Panetelle di San Nicolo' are still eaten by the lower classes in and near Rome on the festival of that popular saint—the Bishop of Myra—' per divozione,' in remembrance of the little loaves of this kind which he used to distribute to the poor.
violating the truce; their defeat was basely avenged by the assassination, before the church door, of an innocent boy and his two servants. Yet the victorious Colonna, with an annual colleague, was declared senator of Rome during the term of five years. And the muse of Petrarch inspired a wish, a hope, a prediction, that the generous youth, the son of his venerable hero, would restore Rome and Italy to their pristine glory; that bis justice would extirpate the wolves and lions, the serpents and bears, who laboured to subvert the eternal basis of the marble Column'—Gibbon, 'Roman Empire,' ch. lxix.
The broad terrace immediately under the castle looks down the steep slope of vine and olive upon the blue Lake of Bracciano, which anciently was called Lacus Sabatinus, and is mentioned by Festus. Near the site of Bracciano, says tradition, stood the city of Sabate, which was overwhelmed by the lake long ago, though its houses, temples, and statues, may still be seen, on a clear day, standing intact beneath the glassy waters. The silvery expanse is backed by distant snow mountains, and here and there a little feudal town crowns the hill-side, or stands on the shore and is reflected in the lake. Oriolo has a villa of the Altieri, and its church-porch bears an inscription which shows that it occupies the site of a villa called Pausilypon, built by Metia, wife of Titus Metius Herdonius. Vicarello (from Vicus Aureliae) has the ruins of another Roman villa (Forum Clodii), and is still celebrated for baths useful in cutaneous disorders, which were known in old times as Aquae Aureliae. Many Roman coins and vases have been found there. Beyond Vicarello, on a little cape, is Trevignano, another Orsini stronghold, crowned by an old castle. Lastly we must notice silver-white Anguillara, with a fine machicolated castle, bearing the celebrated ' crossed eels' of the Counts of Anguillara, of whom were Pandolfo d'Anguillara who built the church of S. Francesco a Ripa at Rome, Everso d'Anguillara, a robber chief of the fifteenth century, and Orso d'Anguillara, the senator who crowned Petrarch, as laureate, upon the Capitol (1343), and lived in the old palace which still remains in the Trastevere (now a museum). Their country castle, which successfully withstood a siege from the Duke of Calabria in 1486, overhangs the quiet lake, which indeed at one time bore its name, and the town, which is twenty miles from Rome, is worth visiting, by a road which turns off (R.) not far from Galera.
As we stood on the terrace, looking down upon all these historical scenes, the violet sky suddenly opened, a rainbow arched across the expanse of waters, and rays of light streaming along the green encircling slopes, lit up one old fortress after another, with a golden glory, which lasted for an instant, and faded again into the purple mist. It was a beautiful effort of Nature, cheering the monotony of a cloudy, misty day.