« PreviousContinue »
sive flights of marble steps, extending four hundred feet in length, and towering to the elevation of one hundred and eighty, he beholds the majestic front of the Basilica itself.
This front is supported by a single row of Corinthian pillars and pilasters, and adorned with an attic, a balustrade, and thirteen colossal statues.-Far behind and above it, rises the matchless Dome, the justly celebrated coonder of Rome and of the world. The colonnade of coupled pillars that surround and strengthen its vast base, the graceful attic that surmounts this colonnade, the bold and expansive swell of the dome itself, and the pyramid seated on a cluster of columns, and bearing the ball and cross to the skies, all perfect in their kind, form the most magnificent and singular exhibition that the human eye perhaps ever contemplated. Two less cupolas, one on each side, partake of the state, and add not a little to the majesty of the principal dome.
The interior corresponds perfectly with the grandeur of the exterior, and fully answers the expectations, however great, which such an approach must naturally have raised.--Five lofty portals open into the portico or vestibulum, a gallery in dimensions and decorations equal to the most spacious cathedrals. It is four hundred feet in length, seventy in height, and fifty in breadth, paved with variegated marble, covered with a gilt vault, adorned with pillars, pilasters, mosaic and basso relievos, and terminated at both ends by equestrian statues, one of Constantine, the other of Charlemagne. A fountain at each extremity supplies a stream sufficient to keep a reservoir always full, in order to carry off every unseemly object, and perpetually refresh and purify the air and the pavement.
Opposite the five portals of the vestibule are the five doors of the church; three are adorned with pillars of the finest marble; that in the middle has valves of bronze.
As you enter, you behold the most extensive hall
ever constructed by human art, expanded in magnificent perspective before you; advancing up the nave, you are delighted with the beauty of the variegated marble under your feet, and with the splendour of the golden vault over your head. The lofty Corinthian pilasters with their bold entablature, the intermediate niches with their statues, the arcades with the graceful figures that recline on the curves of their arches, charm your eye in succession as you pass along.-But how great your astonishment when you reach the foot of the altar, and standing in the centre of the church contemplate the four superb vistas that open around you; and then raise your eyes to the dome, at the prodigious elevation of four hundred feet, extended like a firmament over your head, and presenting, in glowing mosaic, the companies of the just, the choirs of celestial spirits, and the whole hierarchy of heaven arrayed in the presence of the Eternal, whose “throne high raised above all height,” crowns the awful
When you have feasted your eye with the gran deur of this unparalleled exhibition in the whole, you will turn to the parts, the ornaments, and the furniture, which you will find perfectly corresponding with the magnificent form of the temple itself. Around the dome rise four other cupolas, small indeed when compared to its stupendous magnitude, but of great boldness when considered separately; six more, three on either side, cover the different divisions of the aisles, and six more of greater dimensions canopy; as many chapels, or, to speak more properly, as many churches. All these inferior cupolas are like the grand dome itself, lined with mosaics; many indeed of the master-pieces of painting which formerly graced this edifice, have been removed and replaced by mosaics which retain all the tints and beauties of the originals, impressed on a more solid and durable substance. The aisles
and altars are adorned with numberless antique pillars, that border the church all around, and form a secondary and subservient order.
The variegated walls are, in many places, ornamented with festoons, wreaths, angels, tiaras, crosses, and medallions representing the effigies of different pontiffs. These decorations are of the most beautiful and rarest species of marble, and often of excellent workmanship. Various monuments rise in different parts of the church; but, in their size and accompaniments, so much attention has been paid to general as well as local effect, that they appear rather as parts of the original plan, than posterior additions. Some of these are much admired for their groups and exquisite sculpture, and form very conspicuous features in the ornamental part of this noble temple.
The high altar stands under the dome, and thus as it is the most important, so it becomes the most striking object. In order to add to its relief and give it all its majesty, according to the ancient custom still retained in the patriarchal churches at Rome, and in most of the cathedrals in Italy, a lofty canopy rises above it, and forms an intermediate break or repose for the eye between it and the immensity of the dome above. The form, materials, and magnitude of this decoration are equally astonishing. Below the steps of the altar, and of course some distance from it, at the corners, on four massive pedestals, rise four twisted pillars fifty feet in height, and support an entablature which bears the canopy itself topped with a cross. The whole soars to the elevation of one hundred and thirty-two feet from the pavement, and, excepting the pedestals, is of Corinthian brass! the most lofty massive work of that or of any
other metal now known. But this brazen edifice, for so it may be called, notwithstanding its magnitude, is so disposed as not to obstruct the view by concealing the chancel and veiling the Cathedral or Chair of St. Peter. This ornament is
also of bronze, and consists of a group of four gigantic figures, representing the four principal Doctors of the Greek and Latin churches, supporting the patriarchal chair of St. Peter. The chair is a lofty throne elevated to the height of seventy feet from the pavement; a circular window tinged with yellow throws from above a mild splendour around it, so that the whole not unfitly represents the precminence of the apostolic See, and is acknowledged to form a most becoming and majestic termination to the first of Christian temples.
DESCRIPTION OF ÆTNA. At day break we set off from Catania to visič Mount Ætna, that venerable and respectable father of mountains. His base, and his immense declivities, are covered with a numerous progeny of his own; for every great eruption produces a new mountain ; and, perhaps, by the number of these, better than by any other method, the number of eruptions, and the age of Ætna itself, might be ascertained.
The whole mountain is divided into three distinct regions, called La Regione Cultra, or Piedinontese, the fertile region ; La Regione Sylvosa or Nemorosa, the woody region; and La Regione Deserta or Scoperta, the barren region. These three are as different, both in climate and productions, as the three zones of the earth; and, perhaps, with equal propriety, might have been styled the Torrid, the Temperate, and the Frigid Zone.
The first region surrounds the mountain, and constitutes the most fertile country in the world on all sides of it, to the extent of fourteen or fifteen miles, where the woody. region begins. It is composed almost entirely of lava, which, after a number of ages, is at last converted into the most fertile of all soils. At Nicolosi, which is twelve miles up the mountain, we found
the barometer at 27: 1-2, at Catania it stood at 29: 8 1-2.
After leaving Nicolosi in an hour and a half's travelling over barren ashes and lava, we arrived on the confines of the Regione Sylvosa, or Temperate Zone. . As soon as we entered those delightful forests, we seemed to have gotten into another world. The air, which before was sultry and hot, was now cool and refreshing; and every breeze was loaded with a thousand perfumes, the whole ground being covered with the richest aromatic plants. Many parts of this region are surely the most delightful spots upon earth.
This mountain unites every beauty, and every horror; and the most opposite and dissimilar objects in nature. Here you observe a gulf, that formerly threw out torrents of fire, now covered with the most luxuriant vegetation; and from an object of terror, become one of delight. Here you gather the most delicious fruit, rising from what was but lately a barren rock. Here the ground is covered with flowers; and we wander over these beauties, and contemplate this wilderness of sweets, without considering that under our feet, but a few yards separate us from lakes of liquid fire and brimstone. But our astonishment still increases, upon raising our eyes to the higher regions of the mountain. There we behold in perpetual union the two elements which are at perpetual war; an immense gulf of fire, forever existing in the midst of snows which it has not power to melt; and immense fields -of snow and ice forever surrounding this gulf of fire, which they have not power to extinguish. The woody region of Ætna ascends for about eight or nine miles, and forms a zone or girdle of the brightest green all around the mountain. This night we passed through little more than half of it; arriving some time before sun set at our lodging, which was