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AQUINO AND PONTECORVO.
(This delightful excursion may easily be made from the comfortable hotel (Albergo Pompei) at S. Germano. A carriage for the day, with two horses, costs 10 francs, and a buono-mano of 2 francs.)
E left S. Germano on a lovely April morning, when
V V the effect of the mountains was greatly enhanced by the mist which underlaid them, and wrapped the "Nebulosi rura Casini " in a soft veil of haze. The road passes beneath the amphitheatre, and continues under the mountains, with their towns of Piedemonte and Palazzuolo. Oaks are allowed to grow here for the sake of the acorns, and form avenues— most beautiful in a country where timber is so scarce. By the way-side, shepherdesses in whitepanni sit spinning with distaffs, while they watch their goats, and form beautiful pictures, as the light falls through the branches upon their gold ornaments and scarlet embroidered aprons. In this land of strong light and shadow, how wonderful an effect is given by the massy folds of the projecting headdress and the simple lines of the costume.
At the mediaeval tower of S. Gregorio, the road to Aquino turns off to the left through the brilliant plain of young corn, and the carriage stops near the desolate Church of Santa Maria Libera.
S. Maria Libera, Aquino.
It is a most lovely spot. A gigantic flight of massive marble steps, worthy of the Acropolis of Athens, was once the approach to a temple, and now leads to a church which is built out of its ruins, and encrusted with fragments of its carving. The great door is surrounded by glorious friezes of acanthus in the highest relief, which it was intended to remove to the Museum at Naples, but which have fortunately been permitted to remain here. In front was a portico like that of Civita Castellana: its pillars remain, and its restoration is intended. Over the principal door "is a mosaic of the 12th century—" of the best style," says Salazzaro, "and like that of Capua." It represents the Virgin, in a blue tunic, with the Child holding a scroll, and below, on either side, a sarcophagus, with a female head projecting from it, one inscribed "Ottolina," the other "Maria." The introduction of these sarcophagi in the mosaic, is believed to REMAINS OF AQUINO.
render it certain that the persons alluded to were the founders, and are buried in the church, where two stone coffins have been found and are ascribed to them. Ottolina has been identified with the wife of Adinolfo, son of Landolfo of Aquino, first Count of Alsito, and sister of Gregorio and Aimone of Isola. She was sister-in-law to S. Thomas Aquinas. Nothing certain is known of Maria, but she is believed to have been either the mother or the daughter of Ottolina.
The interior of the church was very curious, having six pillars on one side of the nave and only three on the other. It has till lately been roofless and used as a Campo Santo. Now, Mgr. Paolo de Niguesa, the venerable and much honoured bishop of Aquino, is restoring it for use, but, alas, from a love of uniformity, is destroying its interest, by making one side exactly like the other.
Close to the church is a beautiful little Triumphal Arch, through it, and it stands reflected in the clear water, which falls below it in a series of miniature cascades. It it a subject unspoilt by Rosa and his followers, and which would entrance an artist.
Descending the great marble staircase, we find a lane following the Via Latina, which retains some of its ancient lava pavement, but in other places this is torn up to make the walls at the sides. Passing a succession of Roman fragments, we reach the ruined Church of S. Tomaso, in which are several beautiful pieces of frieze from the temples. A little beyond, the Via Latina is crossed by the massive Porta S. Lorenzo, a Roman gateway in perfect preservation,
by which we enter the circuit of the ancient city, passing through the still existing line of the old walls.
Aquino was once a most important place. Strabo speaks of it in his time as "a great city, chief amongst the Volscian cities," and Cicero mentions it as "frequens municipium.'' Tacitus says that Dolabella was exiled and put to death here. The Emperor Pescennius Niger was born here. Now, the
circuit of the town is filled with vineyards and gardens, amid which gigantic fragments of ruin appear at intervals. The Volscian city was destroyed by the Lombards, when the inhabitants took refuge at Castro Cielo, on the top of the mountain, where only a church and castle now remain. Thence, after a time, they descended to Palazzuolo, where their descendants probably exist still. The ancient coins of Aquino bore a head of Minerva on one side and a cock on the other.
Following further the Via Latina, we see a succession of buildings in ruins—a theatre, some colossal blocks shown as having belonged to a temple of Diana and now called S. Maria Maddalena, and a huge mass of wall believed to have been a temple of Ceres, afterwards converted into the basilica of S. Pietro Vetere. All the ruins are embedded in vineyards, and surrounded by the most radiant loveliness of vegetation.
Returning through the Arco S. Lorenzo, and following the little stream in the valley, we find a strange old church supported upon open arches, through which there are most picturesque views of the present town scrambling along the edge of tufa rocks, crested and overhung by fig-trees.
This is the city which rose in the middle-ages under the powerful Counts of Aquino, but it now only contains 2700 inhabitants. It is however the oldest bishopric in the Roman Church, its bishops sign all ecclesiastical documents immediately after the archbishops, and the whole cathedral chapter of Aquino have still the right to wear mitres and full episcopal robes.
The long single street, for the width of the cliff allows no more, presents a charming diorama of the most thoroughly