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Through the Casentino with Hints for the Traveller

Through the Casentino with Hints for the Traveller
Title: Through the Casentino with Hints for the Traveller
Release Date: 2018-06-26
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
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Through the Casentino


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Through the Casentino

with   Hints   for   the   Traveller   by
Lina    Eckenstein
Illustrated by Lucy Du Bois-Reymond

London:   J.   M.   Dent   &   Co.
Aldine House, 29 and 30 Bedford Street
Covent   Garden,   W.C.     *     *   1902



All Rights Reserved


The Casentino1
Bibbiena and Cardinal Bibbiena13
La Verna and St Francis33
Camaldoli and St Romuald51
In the Apennines77
Poppi and Counts Guidi90
Capo d’Arno113
Hints for the Traveler133



St Francis by della Robbia (La Verna)frontispiece
Chiesa Maggiore, La Verna3
Bibbiena Marketplace14
Situation of La Verna34
Vine Cultivation (Casentino)36
Entrance to La Verna43
Camaldoli (Casentino)53
Courtyard of Camaldoli73
Landmark of Camaldoli76
Castle of Poppi (Casentino)91
Courtyard of Castle, Poppi99
Statue of Count Guido, Castle of Poppi109
Arms of the Guidi112
Church of Romena (Casentino)114
Castel San Niccolo123
Mapat the end of the Volume



“col cavallo di San Francesco”

The Casentino

“Li ruscelletti, che de’ verdi colli
Del Casentin discendon giuso in Arno,
Facendi i lor canali e freddi e molli
Sempre mi stanno innanzi....”
(Inf. 30, 65 ff.)

The Casentino is the name given to the upper valley of the Arno, wherethe river, rising in numerous streams on the slopes of the Falterona,flows southwards for about forty miles before it swings round in itscourse and runs north-westwards in the direction of Florence. Thedistrict, to use the words of a modern Italian writer, is “formed bynature in the shape of a basket”—those oval flower-baskets we seecarried about the streets of Florence—“with its lowest part green withmeadows, fields and vineyards, and encircled and, so to say, closed inby lofty mountains.” It is a district rich in memories of{2} Dante andother associations. The halo of early Christian life, the gloom andsplendour of feudal times, and the glow of the Renaissance, all lingerhere. And many beauties of nature, many feasts of the imagination hereawait the traveller who foregoes for a time the hasty temper of thetourist.

It was late one afternoon in April when we left the train at Bibbiena,and, shouldering our knapsacks, wended our way up from the station tothe town. We were well in the land of the ancient Etruscans, thatmysterious and visionary people whose fleet swept the Tyrrhenian Sea ata time when the greatness of Rome was not. Like other Etruscan cities,Bibbiena lies on the summit of a hill, and many examples of Etruscan artindustry have been discovered in its neighbourhood.

It had been cold and cheerless in the noisy Italian train rattling upfrom Arezzo. A dull, stormy sky gave a desolate aspect to the irregularcountry and cast a shadow over the rugged mountains. But as we climbedthe hill of Bibbiena our spirits rose. Side valleys opening up indifferent directions revealed winding roads and castle-crownedelevations; Poppi, with its soaring tower, stood up in bold outline; thehigher mountains, many of them snow-capped, seemed to unite in one bold,forcible sweep. Which of these heights sheltered Camaldoli,{3}

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with its reminiscences of St Romuald?—which the retreat of La Verna,with its thoughts of St Francis? Our anticipations were in no way dampedwhen we found ourselves half an hour later sitting in the littledining-room of the Albergo Amorosi. Certainly the chief merit of thebroth was its warmth,—the pigeon was not drawn, though it wastender,—and the cheese could never have suggested the differencebetween this commodity and chalk. But the delicious fried artichokes,and the assurance of mine host that to-morrow he could procure anythingwe pleased, went far to restoring our confidence. It was Easter Sunday,visitors could hardly have been expected at this late hour. Besides, thebedrooms and general appurtenances of the place were unexceptionable. Sowe made the best of our meal, examined the visitors’ book withdeliberate curiosity, and then we sat down by the window and watched thefading light of day across a bit of old-fashioned garden, with itsblossoming almond tree, the tender green of the budding fig, and therusty black of a row of cypresses between us and the distant mountains.

Looking back to the time when the Casentino as such emerges from thedimness of the unrecorded past, we find obscurity hanging over thisdistrict longer than over adjacent parts of Tuscany. The circle of itsenclosing mountains gave the Casentino a remoteness, which qualified{6}its fate in the past as it adds a special colour to its life of to-day.The period of Etruscan independence and the period of Roman rule haveleft few obvious traces; it is of the times following the barbarianinvasion that the district chiefly speaks. When men are thrown into newsurroundings, new qualities come into play. There is somethingfascinating in analysing the influence which race has had upon race, andthe results of bringing peoples of different degrees of culture intojuxtaposition. All that survived of Roman culture and learning after theadvent of the barbarians was to be found in the towns. The Germaninvaders on the banks of the Arno, as on those of the Rhine, wereimpatient of the restraints of mutual dependence—they avoided life incities. Once in possession of new lands, the leaders of the conqueringhost divided, each leader sought a centre of authority for himself, andthe lesser military chiefs strove to equal the autonomy of the greater.Solitary and as reserved towards compeers as the eagle, these men madetheir homes by preference on rocky heights, which nature protectedagainst surprise, and which the art of defence succeeded in renderingalmost impregnable.

History chronicled at least four distinct barbarian descents intoNorthern Italy in the fifth and sixth centuries. Different races anddifferent branches of the same race ousted one{7} another from possessionof the land. When the tumult of contrary tides subsided, the Langobardsheld the sway, which they retained for over two hundred years. TheLangobard’s spirit is that of the hunter—it lives to this day in thearchitectural decorations of North Italian churches, where the bristlingboar and the leashed hound, the fierce wolf and the rampant lion, theflying deer and the hungry bird, with nondescript monsters of variouskinds, do service in ornamenting façades, supporting columns andrelieving capitals.

We know little concerning the settling of Langobard chiefs in theCasentino, but the district, with its fruitful upland tracts, its rockyelevations and wooded side valleys, had great attractions for theinvaders, since it favoured the mode of life they held dear. Whenauthentic records begin, many strongholds of the district were in thehands of men who were Langobards by descent, and who became progenitorsof some of the most distinguished families of Tuscany. Among these theGuidi claim special attention. For the history of this family decidedthe history of the Casentino for over four hundred years. No familyattained a power at all equalled by theirs, no family so deeplyimpressed the mind of Dante, and none is so frequently mentioned in theDivine Comedy.{8}

It was against the further advance of the Langobards that the Pope inthe eighth century called upon the loyal Franks to interfere in behalfof the temporal estates of the Church. Once again the fertile plains ofItaly were overrun by Germans, but in this case by Germans who hadgrasped the idea of a centralised system of government. Before the unityof the Franks the scattered and divided nobles of Italy were as chaffbefore the wind. The greater number of her dukes, counts and baronsrecognised Frankish over-lordship, and in due course became feudatoriesto the Empire. This relation eventually secured to the Emperor hisstaunchest allies against the growing Italian communes—it in no waydebarred the Italian nobles from living as independent chiefs, warringagainst one another as personal hatred, jealousy and private revengeprompted. The distinguishing qualities of these men—they may well becalled virtues—were audacity, enterprise and a boundless self-reliance.But they were qualities unseparated as yet from the revolting contemptfor life and limb of a rough barbarian age, a contempt that foundexpression in wanton stabbing, poisoning and mutilation as a convenientmode of retaliation on enemies.

But a safeguard necessary to the very existence of these men now lay intheir recognition of the claims of the Church. The Pope, as a{9} temporalruler, might be defied; as a spiritual ruler, who had hosts untold athis command, he was a power and a strength to be respected. Turbulentbarons, whose play often ended in bloodshed, began to defer to thepriest and to patronise the monk. The ascent to the stronghold wasflanked by a chapel, and monastic colonies were invited to settle in themost fruitful districts.

There can be no doubt that the men who, thus prompted, accepted MotherChurch, accepted her from purely utilitarian motives. But Mother Churchwas apparently content to dwell with them on the terms proposed, for sheblessed them with many blessings. Exactly those dynasties prosperedwhose piety is borne out by the numerous endowments which they made.Certainly these were made on conditions which left a loophole forinterference on the part of those who made them. But the greaterprevails over the lesser, whatever terms the lesser may make. The Churchentered into the alliance in obedience to a call from the barons, but incourse of time she shook herself free from their control.

The history of the Casentino illustrates the sequence of these changes.Few rocky heights but are crowned by the ruins of a stronghold, fewupland expanses but preserve the remembrance of an ancient monastery.The word{10} badia, the ancient term for monastery, survives in a numberof local names, such as Badia a Tega, Badia a Prataglia. Thesemonasteries went through stormy experiences towards the close of thetenth century, and all owing to the high-handed manner in which theirpatrons dealt with them. The Church was defiled by iniquity of traffic.On the one side laymen sold Church property and privileges, simony inthe wider sense of the word. On the other, ecclesiastics themselvestraded in benefices, simony in its narrower sense.

One of the important movements set on foot to oppose this evil isassociated with the name of St Romuald, and through him with theCasentino, where the monastery of Camaldoli most directly embodied andmost religiously preserved the spirit of one of Christianity’s mostzealous champions. Camaldoli in the course of centuries has attractedvisitors of many tempers from many countries. In Dante’s estimationRomuald was so important a person that he pictured him in Paradise asone of the chosen two whom St Benedict pointed out to him by name.

Among those whom the fame of Romuald brought to the Casentino was StFrancis of Assisi. On his journey he passed La Verna, that

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