Italy – Joys Of An Orario

IN an Italian short-story which I read recently, a wife begins a little domestic comedy by saying pettishly to her husband: “There is always an Orario between you and me.” For my part, an Orario would be a bond rather than a barrier, for that compact, complete and well-indexed monthly Italian time-table called the Orario Generale is one of my most fascinating and time-consuming companions. I pore over the map, the railroad-schedules, the automobile service, the trolley-lines, the Navigazione Maritima, planning jaunts through Italy and on her lakes and seas. Then, like Alexander, wishing for more worlds to conquer, I only regret that there is as yet no page for “Trasporti con aeroplani,” for in these novel geography lessons which I am taking from my Orario I would always begin my study from the air. When I did manage to go up over Rome for twenty minutes, a living, colored map of the city lay below me, clear as, none I had ever seen on paper, the shining Tiber curving around the city, the Colosseum still dwarfing all other buildings, even St. Peter’s beautiful pile. Between the excitements of turning in a high wind and being momentarily lost in a cloud, I found the Forum and the squares and the churches, and I saw the lines and the color and the size of all Rome, but the city was not so beautiful as the Campagna from whose daisy-starred grass we arose so lightly. I shall never forget the soft opaline colors of the plain below and the blue, cloud-hung Sabine and Alban mountains as we flew as a bird to their heights.

But let me drop to my Orario and, as a proof of its fascination, suggest some of the day-trips about Rome which can be made with its help. I plan my trips for walkers because I am one of those who love to poke about a piedi one sees more and hears more but there are virtually always carriages or donkeys for those who wish to ride, available automobiles save time for the wealthy and hurried, and so many kinds of trips near Rome are possible that all tastes can be suited. Let me plan for you, O Walker.

You will wish to go to the Campagna first, for whether you have never been here or are just returning to beloved Italy, there lie the most Roman mysteries and beauties. I began by the conventional after-noon drive in a little carrozza from the Colosseum and the Passeggiata Archeologica through the Porta San Sebastiano to the Scipios’ tomb and the catacombs and on to that “great round tower of other days” whose romance Byron wrote for Caecilia Metella. Then. I made my driver take the cross-road, the Strada Mili-tare, so that we got nearer the undulating fields of grain and poppies, the white oxen drawing loads of hay, the little rivulet Almo, the Sacred Grove, dark and awful on its mound, and went on to the Via Latina and up along its huge flat paving stones to the two tombs of the Valerii and the Pancratii (rarely visited) that contain in their underground chambers some of the most exquisite of Roman decoration in stucco relief and color.

Such a drive is only the beginning of the acquaintance with the Campagna or the Appian Way. One be-comes far more intimate in a day’s walk from Albano into Rome. Take an early train from the Termini ( Roma-Velletri line), carry your lunch, and give your self up to a long day, walking back from Albano along the Via Appia Antica which stretches as straight as the crow flies across the plain to Rome. Take time to be leisurely, for, as Horace wrote, the Appian Way is less difficult for the slow. Old paving-stones are hard on the feet and one wishes time to turn and enjoy the beauty of the hills, to browse with the sheep, to pick pink and white daisies, to read inscriptions on tombs, to let color and light paint indelible pictures on the mind.

Another day one may spend on the Campagna by taking the Rome-Fiuggi-Frosinone line to Pantano and walking back of the station straight across country towards the great golden cella of the Temple of Juno which marks the site of old Gabii. You remember its legends, how treacherous Sextus Tarquinius took the city, when it had given him refuge and friendship, by beheading all the leading men as his father had whipped off the poppies’ heads in his garden. Now you will find only the golden temple walls, a vague, grass-covered street, a great circular basin of a dried lake, and a mediaeval tower, but there will be sheep grazing, flowers blooming, birds flying, and from the level stretches of the green and gold plain, Soracte and the Sabine hills rise blue and clear.

After such a walk, go back to Rome and seek the studio of the artist of the Campagna, Signor Onorato Carlandi, a Garibaldian of seventy-eight years, who paints with the fire of youth in his fine boldness of color, his broad effects and varied moods, and who, singing while he paints, has won from his fellow-artists the name of the Cicala. It is a joy to see his water-colors and oils of many places to which I have walked Hadrian’s Villa with sunlight falling bright on marble ruins beside dark cypresses, the swirling Anio, the tawny Tiber, a road bordered with almond trees in full, pink blossom but most of all I adore the pictures of the Campagna : the Sacred Grove towering dark in the mist, or the plain stretching a blaze of color with the scarlet of the poppies, or the lavender of the thistles, or the yellow of the genestra, and in such brilliancy rows of aqueducts, ancient tombs, mediaeval towers, and, beyond, the lines of violet mountains. When I asked Signor Carlandi if he had ever painted in Dalmatia, he said characteristically: “No, Signorina, I rarely leave the Campagna. For me a love is. greater when it is life-long and absorbing. Mine leaves room for no other. To be sure, I have painted some little things in England, but those were only slight infidelities.”

Many a day-trip from Rome develops the acquaintance begun by these first introductions to the Campagna, for long train rides give new views on the way to the Sabine or the Alban Hills. Rushing tourists “do” Hadrian’s Villa and Tivoli in a day, but for real enjoyment one needs a day for each and then another for Horace’s Sabine country. A steam tram, starting from the Porta Tiburtina, arrives at the Villa Adriana in an hour. One does not need to be an archaeologist to find pleasure in wandering about Hadrian’s great country palace, for ruined walls, broken columns, gnarled olives, aspiring cypresses, distant mountains and Italian sky combine and recombine in pictures of a satisfying beauty even if imagination is not reconstructing and repeopling stadion, theater, library, baths, nymphaeum and all the rest of the imperial labyrinth, or thinking perhaps of the story of handsome, tragic Antinous.

On another day, let the same tram line carry you to Tivoli and start early, for there is much to see. When the trolley stops, take just a look at the Giardino Garibaldi for the sake of the noble inscription, then go at once to the Villa D’Este which is close by, look at the fresco decorations in the Casino and walk all over the park until you have heard the varying strains of all the waterfalls from the great one that feeds the three bagni to the little ones that keep the maiden-hair fresh in the walk of a hundred fountains. Then return to the loggia of the villa and sit for a while with the views of the magnificent old cypresses below and the white road that winds across the Campagna straight to St. Peter’s dome.

You must not sit too long, for with a glance at two pictures in Tivoli’s Santa Maria Maggiore, you should saunter through the town to the street of the Duomo, send some stray child for the custode of the new excavations and get a look at two interesting ancient rooms, one beautifully decorated in marbles, the other with a seated statue of Augustus which is broken, but worth studying. After that, if you are not misled into buying a huge copper water-jar with two handles which you can never carry on your head, as the Sabine women do, to America, follow the main street up to near the Ponte Gregoriano and turning off to the left, go to the Albergo della Sibilla. There you can eat lunch in a garden beside the famous little round temple, listening to the sound of the falls in the deep green gorge below. After dreaming a little to that music, go to the Villa Gregoriano and while it is still hot, visit the charming little Museum for its few treasures of ancient sculpture (ivy-wreathed column, bust of Julius Caesar) and its few choice pictures. The custode’s son has made a terraced garden behind the Museum over the Anio which you may see for fifty centesimi and he, while picking violets for you, will tell you his experiences as a soldier. Then you will take the green and winding walk down to the cool depths of the gorge, to the foot of the falls and the great cave, and after ascending you can go on to where the “new cascade” has flung its delicate long white veil across the rocks. The day will not be complete without walk or drive across the Anio along the Via delle Cascatelle, for here are beautiful views of Tivoli’s two greater falls and here, tradition says, Catullus, Horace and Quintilius Varus all had villas (Thomas Ashby’s articles in the “Papers of the British School at Rome” and the “Journal of Roman Studies” will tell you where) . Be sure to stop at the little church of Sant’ Antonio to see the quaint votive paintings and don’t turn back before reaching the farther side of the great platform on which Varus’ villa stood, for the sake of the view across the Campagna.

There are three trips in the Alban mountains that you should not miss: to Monte Cavo and Lake Nemi, to the Lago d’ Albano, to Frascati and Tusculum. The crested top of Monte Cavo had challenged me for days before I finally said: “I will conquer you” and consulted my Orario as to method of approach. The start is slow, by train from Porta S. Giovanni with three changes at Bivio Grotta Ferrata, at Valle Violata, at Valle Oscura where the funicular starts for Rocca di Papa, but after that the walk is a gradual climb and the descent to Nemi as easy as to Avernus if you have common sense, map and compass. On the way up, there are some of the largest trees I have seen in Italy and the path goes through real woods with an occasional view back across the Campagna to Rome, a white city glistening rosily from the morning sun in the pale blue distance. We had glimpses too of Lago d’Albano through the trees and finally as we walked up over the great blocks of the old Via Triumphalis, we came to a marvellous view of both Lago d’Albano and Lago Nemi, glistening like gems set in green hills, of distant mountains, of little cities dotting the Campagna, of great Rome and beyond all, the gleaming line of the sea. That view was the treasure of the day, more than the ancient moss-covered wall and the huge tree at the top, but all the walk was its own reward even to the end of the trail. We followed it down through the woods to Nemi, dirty and picturesque over the lake, and then around the lake to the left (by footpath, not high-road) through strawberry gardens and woods festooned with ivy and brightened by rose-pink cyclamen on to Genzano. There we had tea on the vine-covered terrace of the Albergo Belvedere over Diana’s haunted and mystic lake.

For a nearer view of Lago d’Albano take the train from the Termini to Castel Gandolfo (an hour’s ride) and walk first up the road to the green slope below the Capuchin monastery for the wide view of lake and Monte Cavo across. Here you can eat lunch. Then, retracing your steps, find the gate of the Villa Barberini on the left and try to get permission to see the ruins of Domitian’s villa and the enchanting garden where among great ilexes scarlet camelias flame, fountains play, and vistas open to the Campagna. For the venturesome it is worth while after leaving the Villa Barberini to go down by the foot-path at the south end of the village to the edge of the lake and try to find the elusive custode of the Emissario. We arrived at his gypsy looking cave-house near the water only to learn from a small girl that he was off working in the fields, “molto lontano” and had forgotten to leave the key, so there was nothing for us to do but scale, like human flies, the high and crumbling wall that surrounds the entrance of the famous tunnel which tradition says was built by the Romans during the siege of Veil in 397 B. C. Such early (or earlier) engineering work was interesting to see and so was the new shore-view of the lake glimmering through reeds and darkened by mauve and magenta shadows.

By the time we had climbed back to Castel Gandolfo we were ready for rest and tea at Marroni’s “Grottino” and under his trellised grape-vines we enjoyed the lake and read the Italian poems that decorate his walls.

“Allora se capisce quanta vale quer lago, quer silenzio e quella scena che in tutto er monno nun ce sta l’ uguale.”

To Frascati and Tusculum it is only an hour by the train from the Termini and in a day good walkers can see several of the villas and climb Tusculum, but there are carriages in plenty and the drive also is delightful. First of all go into the Cathedral and read the tablet to Charles Edward, the Young Pretender, who was buried at Frascati before his body was taken to St. Peter’s. Then go to the Villa Aldobrandini, get the aged custode to show you the frescoes, the treasures of the library and afterwards the ornate fountain where Pan plays his pipes to a semi-circle of gods and finally wander out through the superb ilexes and sycamores to the most marvellous of Campagna views.

From the Villa Aldobrandini the road leads up to Tusculum and presently you can find the overgrown hollow of the amphitheater, and walk up the paved way to that exquisite tree-arched dingle which was once the Forum and which still leads to the beautiful Roman theater on the deserted hillside. You must go on climbing above the theater to the summit of the Arx for the whole circle of the view round about the old city founded by Circe’s son. Afterwards, map in hand, you can make your way down to the Villa Mandragone and the Villa Falconieri, to wander through their magnificent gardens.

The lover of hills will not fail to climb another mountain north of Rome. Day after day in your wanderings you have seen rising like an island from the undulating sea of the Campagna

“… lone Soracte’s height, displayed Not now in snow, which asks the lyric Roman’s aid,”

and for the sake of Horace and the mountain’s own call, you start. The two hours’ train ride from the Piazza Libertà to the station of Sant’ Oreste will give you new views of the Tiber Valley. From the station of Sant’ Oreste walk up the open road towards the hill town, but turn off up the mountain-trail to the left just before you reach the city itself. Along the road and through the olive-grove we had views of the mountain’s long crest, rising like “a wave about to break.” The rocky trail up was so gradual that we could talk and enjoy every new picture from the sunlight flickering across the path through the olive grove on the lower slope to the gray monastery of San Silvestro which rises out of the rocks at the summit. The bell at the monastery door will summon a ragged, hermit monk who will point out every mountain, hamlet and lake in the view, and will unlock to your delighted eyes the fresco treasures of the small church. We enjoyed his entertaining loquacity about the former temple of Apollo and Persephone, San Silvestro’s life and the frescoes, even though we were starving for our lunch. Finally left alone, we ate in the blaze of Apollo’s golden light and for joy we might have been on Mt. Olympus with the gods. Our nectar was beauty: a circle of mountains around us except to the south where the line of the sea shone; to the left on the horizon, St. Peter’s dome; to the right, the quiet limpid blue of Lago di Bracciano; and behind us, winding through striated meadows all green and red, the silver Tiber.

I never can tell whether I love more the mountains or the sea, but fortunately one does not have to choose even at Rome. You can go off for one day and be sailing on the bluest of deep waters. The train ride to Anzio takes only a bit over an hour, so by nine-thirty you can be walking along the sandy shore north to the ruins of Nero’s great villa by the water. Here above on the cliffs in a grassy nook we ate our lunch, then back in Anzio we secured the services of a jolly old sailor named Cristoforo and in a boat with a golden sail tipped with red, we sailed for five hours to Astura to see the remains of Cicero’s villa, half under the water and to Nettuno where we landed just as an orange sun-set was lighting the Tyrrhenian sea and a long line of fishing-boats came in homing like gulls with sails spread.

Another trip that may end with a dip in the surf is a day at Ostia. An auto-bus starts every morning from the Via delle Vite arriving at Ostia Paese at 8 :25 and as the return trip is not until evening, you have time to wander all over the excavations, to see the finds in the Museum of the old Castello, and afterwards walk three miles to the coast, have a plunge and take the bus back from Ostia Mare. Ostia is as fascinating as Pompeii though its life was more commercial, and there is much to see : the colossal and beautiful statue of Minerva-Victoria, the street of tombs, houses, baths, theater, barracks, office building, temples, mithreum, then all the delightful decoration of bright frescoes on walls and magnificent mosaics on floors, also the sculpture in the Museum where a certain round marble plaque with a dancing Bacchante alone would reward a whole day’s journey.

I have not mentioned the Etruscan sites because there is so much to say about them that I despair. Yet nothing is more fascinating than to go with Dennis’s “Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria” in hand (out of date, but still the best interpreter) and visit Veii, Faleri, Corneto, Cerveteri, Orvieto, each possible in a day. If in limited time you have to choose among these for acquaintance with the Etruscans, select Veii, Corneto and Cerveteri. Veii (best reached by automobile) will give you an idea of a typical Etruscan site of high ridge protected by two rivers, a remarkable ex-ample of prehistoric engineering in the tunnel cut through the rock, one of the most ancient Etruscan tombs that has been found with beautiful frescoes of horse, rider and dog, then the later Roman city with ruins of road, water channel for sacred spring, and the temple where was found the remarkable archaic statue of Apollo, now in the Villa Papa Giulia, a life-sized painted terra-cotta representing the god running.

At Corneto (reached by train) you must find the custode of the Etruscan tombs, then visit as many of those underground sepulchres as time and strength allow. Sixteen we entered and in them for the first time I felt the Etruscans as living people, for in those painted chambers which copy the architecture of their houses are no gloomy death-scenes, but a most gallant picturing of every-day life : mounted horsemen, chariots with their drivers, athletes wrestling, musicians playing pipes and lyres, men and women dancing to music or banqueting. The brightness of the robes, the vivacity of their movements, the joy of life that those frescoes preserve!

Cerveteri was to me even more interesting, but perhaps that was because the distinguished excavator, Ingegnere Rainero Mengarelli himself, spent a day showing me all his work on the Etruscan necropolis : the street of tombs of the period after the fifth century, the different types of tombs found, the trench tombs, the tombs above ground, the earlier chamber tombs. The chamber tombs are startlingly picturesque both because the great earth-mounds which originally covered them have been restored and because the chambers them-selves display such variety of grouping and decoration from a bedroom with a simple fresco of lions in red and white to a great hall with places for forty-eight persons and walls covered with reliefs of weapons and animals and cooking utensils, a veritable museum of Etruscan everyday life. Signor Mengarelli gave me the thrill of excavation, for he had saved a recently discovered baby’s tomb to open while I was there, hoping for a rich harvest of toys and amulets such as he had found in another child’s tomb a few days before. I held my breath as the workman lifted off the tufa blocks which covered the tiny oblong box of stone, and carefully removed the accumulated earth with trowel and knife. Signor Mengarelli was most apologetic when only one small bronze fibula or safety-pin came to light, but I was thinking of the baby’s mother who had buried that one little object, and the workman’s softly murmured comment chimed in with my mood : “Era povero lui! Una piccola cosa ! Così Nostro Signore era un bimbo in una culla, ma egli risucitò !” “He was poor, had only one little thing! So our Lord was a baby and lay in a cradle, but He arose.”

Neither the pathos nor the gloom of the Etruscan dead had much hold upon us in Signor Mengarelli’s cheerful presence and I shall never forget him or his black horse, called Bucchero after the black Etruscan pottery, a free horse who has never been in a stall, who feeds himself when he is not working for the excavations and who all that day posed proudly on top of one of the highest tumuli as though he were the spirit of one of the painted Etruscan horses escaped from the tomb below.

Orvieto (three hours by train) has so much more than the Etruscan to offer that a stay of two or three days would be far more valuable than one. The town itself is so picturesquely mediaeval, the Cathedral with façade and frescoes of Fra Angelico and Signorelli so rich in interest. There are other towns to the south of Rome which can be seen easily in a day, Palestrina, Cori, Anagni, Ninfa-Norma-Norba, Velletri, even Terracina if time is limited. For Palestrina, the Rome-Fiuggi-Frosinone line arrives in about an hour and a half. One must be an energetic walker to cover the small town from low station to high citadel, for it lies on the hillside so that all the streets are stairs where no automobiles or carriages can ascend, only donkeys and bipeds. Sun-burned, strong-backed women carry up copper water-jars on their heads. Old crones stand twirling distaffs in doorways. Small donkeys encounter you suddenly around corners. All this picturesqueness we enjoyed as we hunted for ancient Praeneste in the modern town. There was much to find: the city-walls (the great prehistoric one down the hill, a sector of Sulla’s time over a carpenter’s shop outside the town), the enormous cement-lined, rain-water cisterns of the empire, the old forum and the various visible remains of the Temple of Fortune into which both the Barberini palace and much of the modern town are built, most interesting the room where the oracles were cast and the grotto where they were mysteriously announced through high hole in wall. A little Museum houses sculpture, vases, and even dice from this past splendor. The glory of Palestrina now is the view from the Castel San Pietro, the summit of the Acropolis, and that height explains the city’s ancient power, for Praeneste was not the typical Etruscan plateau site protected by gorges, but stood on a high limestone ridge commanding the pass to the sea between the Alban and Volscian mountains. From the site of the Arx opens one of the most magnificent views I have had in Italy. Back of us were gray limestone ridges of which Praeneste’s citadel seemed a part. To the west, between the hills stretched meadows of emerald grain, woods turning autumn russet and rose, two long white roads (the Praenestina and the Labicana) winding to Rome; farther north, an island in the misty blue rose majestic Soracte; and to the south between Alban and Volscian mountains we looked straight to the golden sunlight on the sea.

Anagni in the Hernican mountains has less varied reward for a train ride of an hour and fifteen minutes, but it is worth while to have a glimpse of the Hernicans and the valley of the Sacco, and when you reach the high little town (a stupid, dusty walk from the station; better drive up) you can lunch at the “Gallo” facing the mountain heights and the swirling clouds. The town’s treasure is not the piece of ancient wall, but the eleventh century Cathedral with its beautiful Cosmas pavements, its elegant bishop’s throne and, above all, the simple, unspoiled eleventh century crypt with the primitive frescoes of naïve feeling and exquisite colors. (Munoz thinks them the work of the unknown artist who painted the scenes from the life of Constantine in Quattro Coronati in Rome.) Madonna and child are there, the four and twenty elders adoring the lamb, beautiful saints, strange seraphim. The one that pleased me most was a figure of John the Baptist carrying a scroll in his hand, with this Latin below:

“Verbo petit astra Johannes St.,” “By word St. John sought the stars,”

a motto for all aspiring writers to take to heart. If you wish to vary your trip back to Rome, drive across country to the Fiuggi station on the Rome-Frosinone line and enjoy from the steam-tram four hours of mountain views in the Volscian, Hernican, Alban and Sabine ranges.

Three towns together you can see by taking an hour and a half train ride to Ninfa-Norma and each one will give you something different. First of all, take bus or carriage up to Norma and walk over to Norba. Superb on the ridge’s summit, it has preserved prehistoric walls and gate rivalled only by Mycenae and the ruins stand in all their early glory and isolation, for the later city, never rebuilt after Sulla’s destruction, lies low in grass-grown temple foundations and scattered pieces of marble. The walk to Norba will give you appetite for the gift which unprepossessing Norma can bestow, a beef-steak, tender and juicy, in the little upstairs “Locanda della Fortuna” of Raffaele Tomassini, a genial host. From the heights of the ridge, you will have had the fairest view of Ninfa, the deserted mediaeval village by the railroad, for from Norba you can see all the gray, story-book ruin: the circular town-wall, the moat, the bridge, the castle tower, the church, the houses, but when you descend from Norma in an hour by the donkey-path through the olive-groves, you will wish to walk through the melancholy ivy-draped hamlet and pick as a ricordo an ivy leaf, a rosebud and a violet as you listen to the fountain and the birds. Mediaeval Ninfa was more dead to me than prehistoric Norba. I know not why, unless its flatness on the plain which cuts off all views isolates it more from all beauty but its own, and the charm of its gray ivy-draped walls is so completely of the past.

Still I turn the pages of my Orario and think of many other day trips I have taken from Rome; for example, Terracina’s fascinating combination of surf and mountain, with Horace’s old Appian Way over the ridge and Trajan’s new cut through the rocks by the sea, her cathedral in Roman forum, and on the height above the town the great ruins of the temple of Jupiter Anxur through whose arches a small shepherd boy fled shyly from us, piping as he went. But part of the enchant ment of the Railroad Guide is the chance to make discoveries and if I have but started you on the quest for walking trips near Rome, I will resign to you my Orario; and afoot and light-hearted once more I will take to the Open Road, confident that it will lead me back to Rome.