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"At Marsica pubes
Sil. Ital. viii. 497.
Below Celano, a road leads beneath the mountains along what was once the basin of the lake (6 miles) to Avezzano, a dull country town, with a fine old castle of the Barberini at one end of it, originally built by the Colonna, Here we found a tolerable little inn with a good mountain view, which is a pleasant centre for excursions.
Only about three miles from Avezzano, crowning one of the lower hills, is Alba Fucinensis, once a very important place, the head-quarters of the Legio Marsica, which Cicero praises in his Philippics, and the stronghold where Syphax, king of Numidia, Perseus of Macedonia, and other captive sovereigns were imprisoned by the Romans. It continued to be a strong fortress after the fall of the Empire, and its final ruin is due to Charles I. of Anjou, who destroyed the city, to punish its adherence to Conradin. Beneath the present town are very perfect polygonal walls, and there are some remains of an amphitheatre. It looks down upon the ancient territory of Alba, fruitful from early times.
"... interiorque per udos
Sit Ital. viii. 508.
Standing quite on a separate height, is the interesting Church of S. Pietro, occupying the site of a temple, portions of which are incorporated in its walls. It has an ancient mosaic pavement. The position is most beautiful, backed by Monte Velino and overlooking the plain of Tagliacozzo. In the valley, near the present village of Scurcola, Conradin, the unhappy son of Manfred, was defeated (August 26, 1268) by Charles I. of Anjou, a victory which established the power of the Guelphs in Italy. It is said to have been due to the advice given to Charles by Alard de St Valery, who was then returning from the Holy Land
"E la da Tagliacozzo
Dante, Inf. xxviii. 17.
Hence Conradin fled with a few faithful attendants to Astura, where he was betrayed by the traitor Frangipani, and hurried by Charles to Naples, where he was executed. The ruined Church of S. Maria della Vittoria was built by the conqueror to commemorate his victory.
It is about 10 miles from Avezzano to Tagliacozzo, which
for savage picturesqueness—" gli orrori," the natives call it—is almost unrivalled.
"I have never seen anything more majestic than the approach to Tagliacozzo. It is a precipitous ravine, almost artificial in appearance; and by some, indeed, considered as having been partly formed by the Romans, for the transit of the Via Valeria. A monastery, with a Calvario, or range of shrines, stands at the entrance of this extraordinary gorge, the portals of which are, on one hand, huge crags, crested with a ruined castle; on the other, perpendicular precipices: between them is placed the town, receding step by step to the plain below, while the picture is completed by the three peaks of the towering Monte Velino, entirely filling up the opening of the ravine.
"The lines of Dante have rendered the name of this town familiar to the reader of Italian poetry; not that the battle between Conradino and Charles was fought within a considerable distance, and one wonders why the celebrated though decayed city of Alba, or the modern Avezzano, near which the engagement actually took place, did not rather connect their names with so great an historical event. Tagliacozzo was then, perhaps, the more important place. At present, the town contains upwards of three thousand inhabitants, and is the most thriving in all the Marsica.
'' There is no record of Tagliacozzo having been the site of any ancient city; though Tagliaquitum, Taleacotium, have called forth a great deal of ingenuity from various antiquarian etymologists. It seems to have been a stronghold of importance, and its possession was often contested during the divisions of the middle ages, as commanding a passage between the Papal and Neapolitan dominions: the counts, or dukes ol Tagliacozzo, were consequently powerful barons. In 1442 A. D., it was bestowed on the Orsini by King Alfonso: and, in 1497, Fabrizio Colonna received it from King Ferrante; and the Colonnesi still hold much of the territory round the town. Tagliacozzo is much resorted to by the devout, from its containing the remains of the Bishop Tommaso di Celano, whose bones rest in the church of S. Francesco. The Madonna, called dell' Oriente, is also an object of great veneration. "—Lear's Excursions in Italy.
There is a bridle road from hence to Arsoli, which is only a short distance off the high road between Tivoli and Subiaco. Tivoli is only about 30 miles distant, so that this is the shortest way of returning to Rome, but it is necessary to ride for some hours. The path, for the most part, follows the ancient Via Valeria: and it passes Carsoli, on the site of Carseoli, where the Equi sacrificed foxes to Ceres, and where Bitis, son of the king of Thrace, was imprisoned by the Romans. Ovid speaks of the coldness of its climate:
"Frigida Carseoli, nec olivis apta ferendis,
Fast. iv. 683.
Cavaliere, beyond this, was built by a Cavaliere of the Colonna family, who was nearly lost on these desolate hills in the snow.
A third excursion, and one which should on no account be omitted, may be made from Avezzano to Luco. The road passes along the shore of what once was the Lago di Fucino, sometimes called the Lago di Celano. It is 2181 feet above the level of the sea, had an area of 36,315 acres, and was 35 miles in circumference. Having no natural outlet, the villages on its banks were subject to frequent inundations, and, as early as the time of Julius Caasar, the Marsi petitioned help and advice for carrying off the superabundant waters. The Emperor Claudius undertook the construction of an emissary at his own cost, on condition of receiving all the land reclaimed by the drainage. It was the intention to carry the waters into the Liris by a tunnel 3 J miles in length, and hewn, for a great part of the way, out of the solid rock. For this work, 30,000 men were employed for eleven years.
The Emissary was opened by Claudius and Agrippina with a great gladiatorial display in A. D. 52.
"A passage having been cut through the mountain between the lake Fucinus and the river Liris, in order that a greater number of persons might be induced to come and see the magnificence of the work, a seafight was got up on the lake itself; in the same manner in which Augustus before exhibited one on an artificial pool on this side the Tiber, but with light ships, and fewer men. Claudius equipped galleys, of three and four banks of oars, and manned them with 19,000 mariners; surrounding the space with a line of rafts, to limit the means of escape, but giving room enough, in its circuit, to ply the oars, for the pilots to exert their skill,' for the ships to be brought to bear upon each other, and for all the usual operations in a sea-fight. Upon the rafts, parties of the praetorian guards, foot and horse, were stationed, with bulwarks before them, from which catapults and balistas might be worked: the rest of the lake was occupied by marine forces, stationed on decked ships. The shores, the adjacent hills, and the tops of the mountains, were crowded with a countless multitude, many from the neighbouring towns, others from Rome itself; impelled either by desire to witness the spectacle, or in compliment to the prince; and exhibited the appearance of a vast theatre. The emperor presided, in a superb coat of mail, and, not far from him, Agrippina, in a mantle of cloth of gold. The battle, though between malefactors, was fought with the spirit of brave men; and, after great bloodshed, they were excused from pressing the carnage to extremities.
"When the spectacle was concluded, the channel through which the water passed off was exhibited to view, when the negligence of the workmen became manifest, as the work was not carried to the depth of the bottom or centre of the lake. The excavations were, therefore, after some time, extended to a greater depth; and, to draw the multitude once mire together, a show of gladiators was exhibited upon bridges laid over it, in order to display a fight of infantry. Moreover, an erection for the purpose of a banquet, at the embouchure of the lake, caused great alarm to the assembly; for, the force of the water rushing out, carried away whatever was near it, shook and sundered what was further off, or terrified the guests with the crash and noise. At the same time, Agrippina, converting the emperor's alarm to her own purposes, accused Narcissus, the director of the work, with avarice and robbery; nor did Narcissus repress his anger, but charged Agrippina with the »verbearing spirit of her sex, and with extravagant ambition."—Tacitus, xii. 56, 57.