網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版
[merged small][ocr errors]

is Ninfa, almost as entirely a ruin as Norba itstlf. It is an unspeakably quiet scene of sylvan beauty, and there is something unearthly about it which possesses and absorbs every sense. If fairies exist anywhere, surely Ninfa is their capital; Ninfa, where Flora holds her court, where the only inhabitants are the roses and lilies, and all the thousand flowers which grow so abundantly in the deserted streets, where honeysuckle and jessamine fling their garlands through the windows of every house, and where the very altars of the churches are thrones for the flame-coloured valerian. Outside the walls you would scarcely believe it was a town, so encrusted in verdure is every building, that the houses look like green mounds rising out of the plain. It is as if Nature had built the city for a perpetual Feast of Tabernacles. One tall tower stands near the entrance and watches its reflection

[graphic][merged small]

in the still waters of a pool white with lilies and fringed with forget-me-not. By the road-side a crystal spring rises

in great abundance in a little basin of ancient brickwork, and falls into the pool, where it turns a mill, and a little farther on becomes a lake, on which Pliny mentions the floating islands in his time, which were called Saltuares, because they were said to move to the time of dancing feet. An inscription on the mill tells that it was built by one of the Gaetani, lord of the place, in 1765. The town must have been inhabited then, yet none can tell now the story of its desertion. It has belonged to the Gaetani since the thirteenth century, and Pope Alexander III. was consecrated here, September 20, 1159. From the tower, say the natives of Norma, "la bella Ninfa," who was disobedient to her parents, flung herself-into the pool to evade becoming the sposina of the unsympathetic partito they had chosen for her, and ever since the name of the little city has kept her memory alive. Let it be so, though etymologists suggest the little river Nymphaeus as a godfather. The water-nymphs will avenge all insults by the fever-bearing vapours of their lake. Ninfa can never be rebuilt. Even the shepherds cannot dare to pass the night there. Death, garlanded with flowers, is death still. Gregory I., who built a church here in 1216, to "St. Mary of the Myrtle-branch, " dedicated it in vain. No sound will ever be heard but the hum of the myriad insects which float amongst the flower-possessed streets and houses, the croaking of the green frogs in the surrounding waters, and the everlasting sighing and rustling of the wind in the tall bulrushes.

"Here is Ninfa, the fairy-like ruin of a town, with its walls, towers, churches, convents, and dwellings half sunk in the marsh, and buried under thickest ivy. Truly this place looks even more charming than Pompeii, for there the houses stare like crumbling mummies, dragged from the volcanic ashes. But over Ninfa waves a balmy sea of flowers; THE CITY OF FLOWERS. 237

every building, every wall, every church, every house is veiled with ivy, and on all the ruins wave the purple banners of the triumphant god of spring.

"It causes an indescribable impression to enter this ivy town, to wander down the grassy, flowery streets, between the walls where the wind plays in the leaves, and no voice is heard, but the cry of the raven in the tower, the splash of the foaming stream Nymphaeus, the rustling of the tall reeds by the pond, and the melodious singing and sighing of the blades of grass all around.

"All the streets are filled with flowers, which seem to march in procession to the ruined churches. They climb on every tower, they lie laughing and smiling in all the desolate windows, they barricade every door, for within the houses reside elves, fairies, water-nymphs, and a thousand charming spirits of the fable world. Yellow marigolds, mallows, sweet narcissus; grey-bearded thistles who once dwelt here as monks; white lilies, who were nuns in their lifetime; wild roses, laurestinus, masticks, tall ferns, wreaths of clematis and bramble; the red fox-gloves, which look like enchanted Saracens; the fantastic caperplant growing in the clefts of the buildings, the sweet wall-flower, the myrtle, and the fragrant mint; brilliant yellow broom, and dark ivy which creeps over all the ruins, and falls over the walls like green cascades, — yes, one may fling oneself into this sea of flowers, quite intoxicated by the perfume, and the most charming fairy power enchains the soul.

"The walls of the town are still standing and encircle it like a great ring, but they are everywhere covered thickly with ivy, and only here and there peeps out a crumbling pinnacle on a square ruined tower. The gates of the town are no less barred and barricaded by the wild vine, the ivy, and the bramble, as if the flowers in Ninfa feared some enemy who wanted to break in upon them, as formerly the Saracen, or the soldiers of Barbarossa, or of the Duke of Alba, and the Colonna. They have entrenched themselves behind these ivy walls; perhaps it may be the swarms of meteors, or will-o'-the-wisps from the Pontine marshes, who by night besiege or storm this enchanted town to carry off the flower spirits into the marshes.

"Many squares and many streets are still standing, with their ruined houses covered with an ivy web, many palaces of a half-gothic architecture, once the dwellings of rich nobles. The churches, the ruins of four or five of which remain, look very strange. I never saw such fantastic ruins; but how can one describe them in words? How shall I depict such a brown shattered bell tower, with round windows, or windows divided by small pillars, with its frieze of the middle ages formed of sharp-pointed tiles, and with its romantic decorations of ivy and flowers waving in the wind? or how shall I picture the ruins of the arched niches, or the nave of the church, all overhung with tapestries of flowers?

"These churches are old, they belong to the eleventh or twelfth century if they are not of a still earlier date, for they are built in the simple basilica style. In their deserted space the flowers worship now, and the censers are swung by the bacchanalian roses. From the walls, or perhaps from an ivy-hung tribune, some old fresco paintings still look down. They represent early Christians with palms in their hands, and instruments of martyrdom by their side. With faded nimbi on their pale foreheads, in golden dalmatica, with stole upon their shoulders, they look down morosely from behind their veils of flowers, and seem shocked by the heathen rites which the children of Flora are daring to celebrate in these deserted churches.

'' The beetle hums continually his romance of summer, and the cricket chirps incessantly her Anacreontic love-songs. The flowers and beetles yield up these temples no more. A complaint was once brought to S. Bernard that countless swarms of flies had taken possession of a church which was just about to be consecrated, and would not leave it: 'I excommunicate them,' said he; and behold, when the messengers returned to the church all the flies lay dead. But a saintly exorcist would hardly succeed in excommunicating the flowers from the churches of Ninfa, and though the painted martyrs look angry, the ivy is already creeping up and will soon have entirely veiled and walled them in. Of many there is now nothing more visible than the hem of a robe, and the name in old Roman characters :—S. Xystus or S. Cesarius and S. Laurentius. I went into the last of these churches—what a sight! The original mosaic of the pavement with its arabesques and circles or squares seemed now to be imitated by living flowers, and from the shrine where the bones of the saint once lay the Indian vine waves joyously with its bluish red berries.

"Here also the counterpart of Pompeii is not wanting. As there the classic age expresses itself decidedly in the bright frescoes, so in Ninfa the Christian epoch of humanity speaks fiom the paintings on the walls of the ruins. There they are the attractive forms of life and pleasure: Cupids fishing in the pool, dancing satyrs, crickets driving a little chariot, hovering Bacchantes clashing cymbals, or holding in their hands a mysterious casket, or bearing juicy figs upon a dish, but in the Pompeii of the middle ages the frescoes only represent death and woe. Instead of those cheerful pictures, we find here the melancholy figures of the catacombs, the mythic gods of suffering and martyrdom, in the flames, NINFA AND THE NYMPHMUS. 239

on the cross, or kneeling with folded hands before the executioner who stands with uplifted sword.

"Is it not time that all these martyrs, saints, and decaying crucifixes were buried in flowers? Here Nature strews them plentifully on the graves of the unfortunate penitents and monks, and of all those who in the time of dark superstition scourged and tortured themselves—would that catholic humanity might imitate her, and give to the dead peace and a grave of flowers!

"At the entrance to Ninfa still stands the castle, once the seat of the barons in whose dungeons the victims of feudalism languished. High rises the square tower, built as strongly of bricks as the Torre delle Milizie in Rome, and it seems to belong to the same period. It stands close to a pool, which lies here like a Stygian marsh at the entrance to the city of the dead. Tall reeds surround it. It is a mythic spot, as if from the shadow-world of Eneas or Ulysses. The gloomy tower and other ruins fling their trembling reflection across the still water of the marsh. The reeds rustle sadly. Sometimes the sobbing voice of a water-hen is heard, like the souls of the departed, who dwell in this Hades and yearn after the upper existence. I sit on ruins and look into this green spirit world, then up to the blue entrancing mountains, on which stand the cyclopean stones of Norba and its citadel, then over the Pontine marshes to the sea in the sunshine of evening, whence rises the glittering Circean mount. Can the enchantress Circe have left her castle there? Does she now dwell in Ninfa? Has she become the ivy-queen? There is so much ivy here, it seemed to me as if this Ninfa must be the ivy store-house of Italy, and as if the ivy spirits of history supplied all the ruins of this noble country with creepers from this place.

"One must sit here when the evening floods every ruin of these ivy halls first with purple, and then with gold, and steeps mountains, and sea, and the Cape of Circe in unspeakable richness of colour—but I will not speak of it, or describe how this fairy land appears, so soon as the moon shines on it.

"Out of the pool rushes the spring Nymphaeus. It appears to take its rise here, and suddenly brings a startling contrast of young, noisy life into this green grave-world. For with the stormy force of a mountain torrent it dashes past the ruins, as if urged on by demons, as if winged, as if trying to escape from the deathly grasp of the ivy, and it looks like a living creature, as, sparkling and foaming, it flees across the Pontine marsh towards the sea.

"Near the pool it turns a mill, which has been erected in a building of the middle ages, for part of this house keeps still its pillared gothic

« 上一頁繼續 »