**** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE ****

Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!

The Terracina Road
by [?]

Nowadays the traveller gets into the train at Rome and goes south by express. He sees a little of the wide and waste Campagna, sees a few of the broken arches of the mighty aqueducts which brought water to the Imperial city so long ago, but he is not steeped in the soil; he misses the best, because he is living wholly in the present. The beauty of Italy, its mere outward beauty, is one thing; the ancient spirit of the past brooding in desolate places is another. And the road which runs from Terracina south by sullen Fondi, by broken and romantic Itri and Formia of the Gaetan Gulf, is full at once of natural beauty and the strange influences of the past. It is To-day and Yester-day and Long Ago; the age of the ancient Romans and the Samnites with whom they warred is mingled with stories of Fra Diavolo and piratical Saracens. And To-day marches two and two in the stalwart figures of twin carabinieri upon dangerous roads, even yet not wholly without some danger from brigands. These carabinieri (there are never less than two together) represent law and order and authority in parts where the law is hated, where order is unsettled, where authority means those who tax salt and everything that the rich or poor consume. And down that ancient Appian Way, made by Appius Claudius three centuries before the Christian era, there are many poor, and poor of a sullen mind, differing much from the laughter-loving lazzaroni of Naples. I saw many of them: they belonged still to a conquered Samnium. Or so it seemed to me.

The train now runs from Rome to Velletri, and on to Terracina. The Sabine and Alban Mountains are upon the left soon after leaving the city. Further south are the Volscian Hills. Velletri is an old city of the Volscians subdued by Rome even before Samnium. The Appian Way and the rail soon run across the Pontine marshes, scourged by malaria at all seasons of the year but winter. Down past Piperno the Monte Circello is visible. This was the fabled seat and grove and palace of Circe the enchantress. One might imagine that her influence has not departed with her ruined shrine. Fear and desolation and degradation exist in scenes of exquisite and silent beauty. From Circello’s height one sees Mount Vesuvius, the dome of St Peter’s, the islands in the bay of Naples. Below, to the south-east, lies Terracina; on its high rock the arched ruins of the palace of Theodoric, King of the Ostrogoths, who conquered Odoacer and won Italy, ruling it with justice after he had slain Odoacer at Ravenna with his own hand.

I got to Terracina late at night one January, and though I own that things past touch me with no such sense of sympathy as things yet to be, my heart beat a little faster as I drove in the darkness through this ancient Anxur, once a stronghold of the Volscians. Here too I left the railway and the southern road was before me. Terracina was touched with literary memories; Washington Irving had written about that very same old inn at Terracina to which I was going, that inn which poor deceived Baedeker called Grand Hotel Royal in small capitals. I was among the Volscians, in the Appian Way, in the country of brigands, with the spirit of Irving. And suddenly I drove across rough paving stones in the heavy shadows of vast corridors, and was greeted by a feeble and broken-down old landlord, who wished the noblest signor of them all, my undistinguished self, all good things. Poor Francia was the very spirit of a deserted landlord. I imagined that he might have remembered prosperous days before the railway through Monte Cassino and Sparanise robbed Terracina of her robber’s dues from south-bound travellers. His vast hotel, entered meanly by a little hall, was dimly lighted by candles. With another feeble creature, once a man, he preceded me, and speaking poor French said he had had my letter and had prepared me the best apartment in his house. We climbed stone staircases as one might climb the Pyramids, wandered on through resounding and ghostly corridors, and finally came to a room as vast as a quarry and almost as chilly as a catacomb. When he placed the candle on a cold slab of a table and withdrew with many bows I could have imagined myself a lost spirit. There was just sufficient light to see the darkness. The room was a kind of tragedy in itself; the floor was stone; a little bed in one far distant corner was only to be discovered by travel. It was a long walk to the window. Outside I saw white foam breaking in the harbour now silted up and wholly useless.