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CASTELLARE, THE CAPE ST. MARTIN, AND ROCCABRUNA.

Dec, 24.

CASTELLARE is usually one of the first expeditions made from Mentone, as well as one of the most characteristic and picturesque.

Opposite the Hotel des Quatre Nations, a dirty little path diverges from the street, between two walls, overhung on either side with oranges. Following its windings, you emerge at the foot of the yellow tufa rocks behind the town, up which a paved donkey-path winds by many shallow steps, to the high olive terraces, from whence even the cemetery of Mentone appears to be left deep below in the valley, while a wide expanse of blue sea rises above it. The scenery is thoroughly Italian, especially one point where a broad umbrella-pine shades the rock, while behind stands a white cottage in a berceau of vines, backed by the magnificent mountain barrier of St. Agnese.

As the path enters the pine woods, these mountains develop new beauties at every step, and most lovely is the view towards evening, when the blue peaks, with the Saracenic castle on their highest summit, are seen relieved by the red stems of the old pine-trees, and the rich undergrowth of heath and myrtle. The trees are full of linnets, which the natives call "trenta cinques," from the constant sound of their note being "trenta-cinque — trenta-cinque," and as the path is a high way to the mountain olive gardens, the air resounds with the cries of the donkey drivers, "Ulla" ("Allez") go on, and "Isa" (for shame), remonstrances which the donkeys constantly require to induce them to amble along with their heavy burdens of oil-casks, or loads of olives and wood, and, in addition to these, one or two children often clinging on behind. All the peasants turn round to salute those they meet, with a pleasant "bonjour," and a kindly feeling towards strangers, which is very unlike the bad reputation they had during the last century, when the inhabitants of Castellare were quite celebrated for their cruelty, and for the cupidity which led them to murder numbers of emigrants, as they were attempting to escape into Sardinia during the French Revolution, by the unfrequented paths of these desolate mountains.

Castellare is 1350 feet above the sea, and from its elevated position, is a onspicuous object long before you reach it; the houses and tower of the church rising above the feathery olives. The last part of the way is up a steep path, which ends at the entrance of the central and most picturesque of the three little streets of the town; this is very like the old street at Mentone, but is lined by even filthier houses, and redolent of even more disgusting smells. A little coloured campanile is perched upon a house-top near its entrance, and several dingy neglected chapels, belonging to different confraternities, remain with closed doors and grated windows, through which you may descry the decaying pictures, and the collections of tinselled lanthorns and ragged banners, which are left to rust and moth, till the next annual festa of their patron saint, when they are earned out in grand procession. At the entrance of this street on the right, is a quaint kind of piazza, with an old tree, of unusual size for this country, in its centre, from which you gain a view of the ruined entrance of a second street, having tall weather-beaten houses, which stand out against the rugged peaks of the mountains beyond, on one of whose lower slopes is the grey citadel of Castiglione.

Beyond a narrow archway is another miniature piazza, which contained the abode of the once famous family of Lascaris, who ruled this, with almost every other mountain village in the neighbourhood. On one side is the principal church with its tall red tower, and in the little valley below are two old chapels, dedicated to St. Antonio and St. Sebastiano, the latter a very old Romanesque building, with a round apse. Altogether Castellare is full of antiquated beauty, and many a picture might be made of its old buildings, and background of distant mountains and olive gardens, by an artist who does not object to a crowd of dirty people, almost as picturesque as their habitations; for in Castellare no one seems to have any thing to do all day long, and the whole population fluctuated to and fro between us, as five of us sat drawing, four at one end of the town, and one at the other; the former proving in the end the greater attraction, for one child exclaimed, as an excuse for not staying to watch the drawing of the solitary artist, "E molto bella, signora, ma gl'altri vi sono quattro"! One old man in particular hovered round us mysteriously the whole day, and discoursed learnedly on our work; till at last, when he appeared at a window we had sketched, and which the children had long since recognized as "La finestra del maestro," we discovered him to be the unfortunate Italian schoolmaster, who had been ejected since the annexation of Castellare to France, and was now left without occupation, on the world. A member of our party who sat near the door of a Café, heard the inmates discoursing furiously in French, upon this and other miseries consequent upon the change of rulers, which they had only just become aware of; the heavy French taxes not having been enforced till the commencement of the New Year. On observing the foreigner, the landlord gave the grumblers a signal, upon which the conversation was abruptly transferred to patois, probably from a newly-awakened dread of the espionage which is so keenly felt in these lately acquired dominions of the Emperor.

Castellare has many more traces of a Spanish government, than the villages nearer to the high road, and the world. Uersted. "Your Excellency," for instance, still takes at Castellare, the place of Signor or Monsieur.

In January and February, the terraces under the olives near Castellare, are gay with purple anemones, narcissus, and many other spring flowers. Among our visitors while drawing here, was the priest, who was quite tipsy, and who roared and shouted like a maniac. In these mountain villages, this is unfortunately no unusual occurrence. The other day a gentleman asked a peasant at Esa if any carriage had ever been up the rocky way to the town. "Only one," was the answer, "and that was the other day, when it went to take the priest prisoner." The priest of Esa was tried in a closed court at Nice, for secret crimes committed in his isolated cure, and was condemned to the galleys for life.

The walk back from Castellare may be varied by turning off at the chapel of St. Sebastiano, and taking the path through the valley on the other side; this path emerges on the hill above the cemetery of Mentone; but it is longer than the other, and more difficult to follow in its windings.


Another of the short excursions from Mentone is that to the Capo Martino, or Cape St. Martin, the wooded promontory, which is so conspicuous in all the views from the Genoa side of the town.

It is about two-miles-and-a-half to the point of the Cape by the shortest way, but the distance may be lengthened, and the road varied, by ascending the hill, and seeing the view on the other side; by wandering through the many woodland paths which cross the peninsula in every direction; or by following the Monaco road. On leaving Mentone by the Nice road, the torrent of Carei or Careye, is crossed by an iron bridge, bordered on each side by a tropical looking mass of aloes and prickly pear, and possessing a fine view of the mountains with the castellated crag of St. Agnese. Then, passing on the right the Hotel de Londres, the road reaches the torrent of Boirigo or Bouriques, where there is only a long wooden bridge for foot passengers, donkeys and carriages being left to splash as best they can.

The highway now runs through an avenue of oleanders, on the left of which is the sea, and on the right, first the house of Count Alberti, whose wife is the last representative of the historical and almost royal family of Lascaris, and then the long wall of what is called "Les Jardins du Prince," though his actual garden, long since deeply mortgaged, is further on, while the building in this garden was once a convent, "La Madone," whose foundation dates from the xvth century. The dark chapel of the Virgin attached to the end of the building, and shaded by a palm tree, still keeps up its annual fair and festa and attracts its processions.

Here the English artist, Mr. Alfred Newton, is making a picture, in which the sunshine streaming through the magnificent overhanging pine trees upon golden oranges, and a blue dancing sea, will give to those who gee it in the London Exhibition, a pleasant as well as true idea of Mentone.

This spot, though called a garden, is nothing but a wilderness of heath and myrtle, yet is well worth visiting. Entrance may always be obtained, either at the green door in the wall opposite the sea, or at the house near the chapel.

Just beyond is Carnoles, the decaying villa of the Princes of Monaco, with an ill-kept garden, abounding in beautiful flowers, bouquets of which may be bought in the gardener's cottage adjoining. The house built on a much larger scale by Prince Antoine I. was partly destroyed by Honorius V. Opposite, on the sea shore, exposed to the elements, are the remains of an object, which looks like a worn-out waggon, but which was once the carriage of the hated Florestan, from which he was forced to descend by his ex-subjects, when, on his last visit to Mentone, they compelled him to believe that they would not always be slaves.

The next orange gardens on the right, are those of the ancient family of St. Ambroise, of which the Abbč St. Ambroise is considered the most learned, as well as the best priest in Mentone.

Here are some fragments of Roman masonry and a sepulchral chapel, supposed to have been once a Roman temple, dedicated to Diana. A mutilated inscription bears the words —

     TERTVLLINO
     E          V
— VLLINUS.

Local tradition declares that this is the burial place of the Roman general Manlius, and of hundreds of others, who fell in a great battle fought on this spot. The name Carnoles is said to have its origin in "Champs de Carnage."

The Ponte del Unione, built in 1860, to commemorate the annexation to France, crosses the torrent which comes down from Gorbio. Here are some of the finest orange gardens in the neighbourhood, and a little beyond this the lane leading to the Cape, branches off to the left from the high road. The direct path mounts a hill, and then loses itself in the many paths which intersect the pine-woods, at a point near which are some remains of a Roman wall, supposed to be relics of the little town of Limone, mentioned in the itinerary of Antoninus, and decided by antiquarians to have been situated on the Cape St. Martin. But a nearer way to the point itself, is the second turn to the left after leaving the high road, which diverges through splendid orange-groves to join a path through the wood, at the foot of the hill; this path was once the high road to Nice, and occupies the site of the old Roman way.

A circular space in the wood marks the site of the "Aristocrat's Tree," whither the gentry of Mentone were accustomed to resort every summer evening before the Revolution, and beneath which it was the fashion to sit round, drinking coffee, "making conversation," and playing at cards. When the revolution came, the aristocrats all escaped across the neighbouring frontier, but the tree which had given them shelter so long, was considered "perdu," and was cut down and chopped to pieces by the republicans, under the brother of the celebrated Robespierre. The pyramid on the left of the path owes its existence to the gratitude of an Englishman, who was cured long ago of a dangerous illness at Mentone, but the inscription which marked it is now effaced, and his name is lost, though some believe it was that Duke of York, who once lived in the Pavilion des Princes, near the Madone.

Several villas are now being built here, and a new colony seems likely to be made by the higher classes of the Mentonese population, who will seek here a cool resort during the hot summer months.

The point is a reef of black and jagged rocks, overgrown with samphire, and washed alternately from either side of the bay by grand waves, which break in perfect mountains of foam upon their sharp edges, with a roar like that of cannon.

The Cape St. Martin is the centre of the Old Principality, and the whole of the tiny kingdom of the Grimaldis may be seen from it, guarded in front by the sea, and behind by the mountains. But the view extends on either side, far beyond the limits of the State; on the left, first Mentone is seen through the tall pines, its houses rising terrace-like to the fine tower of its church; beyond is Ventimiglia with its frontier castle on a projecting rock, while the same mountain chain ends in the houses and church of Bordighera, which look as if they were cut out in white paper, against the deep blue sky. On the right is Turbia, with its Trophaea Augusti, throned high among the mountains, and beyond, a succession of little sandy coves, and coruba-clad promontories: the rock-built town of Monaco, with its fine palace, and hanging gardens, nestling at the foot of the purple rock, known as the Tete de Chien. Behind, above the cape itself, covered with pines and olives, rise the peaks of Mont Garillon and Mount Boudon and the castle of St. Agnese.

It would be difficult to exaggerate the beauty of the Pine wood into which the path now ascends, through an undergrowth of myrtle, rosemary, genista, euphorbia, mediterranean heath, and the different varieties of cistus. Each group of trees serves to frame a new view of mountain peak, or sea and headland. Deep, down below on the western side of the cape is a chine, equally remarkable for its views and for the abrupt red rocks which shut it in on one side. In the centre of the promontory buried among the woods are the ruins of the convent of St. Martin, which gave its name to the cape, now consisting only of a few low walls, and the apse of the gothic church, but beautiful from their situation, and the exquisite views of blue mountains which are seen through the golden green of the Pines. At the time when the Saracens were attacking the shores of Liguria, the nuns of this convent, aware of their danger, extracted a promise from the inhabitants of the neighbouring town of Roccabruna, that at the first sound of their convent bell they would fly armed to their assistance. But the abbess distrusting their promise, determined to prove their fidelity, and rang the bell on the very first night, to see if they would come. The people of Roccabruna hurried down immediately, and finding no Saracens, received the blessing of the abbess and retired, feeling angry and insulted. The abbess twice repeated this experiment with success, but on the fourth night when the people of Roccabruna heard the convent bell, they no longer thought it worth while to take any notice, and staid quietly at home. At dawn, the convent was a smoking ruin, and all the nuns were carried off by the Saracens.


Three miles from Mentone, above the road to Nice, amid huge yellow rocks, the debris of a landslip of centuries, stands the town of Roccabruna, the third place in the Old Principality, and one of those for which the Princes of Monaco, through many generations, were forced to do homage on bended knee, first to the Dukes of Savoy, and afterwards to the Kings of Sardinia. This was originally a stronghold of the famous family of Lascaris, who sold it to Charles Grimaldi in 1353 for 16,000 florins, from which time it followed the fortunes of the other Grimaldi possessions till 1848, when the tyranny of its princes, long endured in silence, forced it to seek with Mentone the protection of Sardinia. In 1860 it was annexed to France, and now forms part of the Department des Alps Mari-times.

Tradition tells that Roccabruna was once situated high upon the mountain which now overhangs it, but, that one night the inhabitants went to bed as usual, and in the morning awoke to find the view from their windows quite changed, and the situation of their town entirely different, the whole town, with its houses, gardens, chateau, and church, having quietly slid down to its present site, but so gently, that the position of no single building was disturbed, and no single inhabitant awakened by the move. No one has ventured to assign a date to the event, and the belief probably arose, from the strange manner in which the great tufa rocks, when they fell from their bed in the mountain above, spared the buildings of the town, beyond and among which they lie. From the approach to Roccabruna from Mentone, by the windings of the Nice road, there is a most picturesque view of the straggling town, with its brightly coloured houses, crowned by the chateau, and a solitary palm tree overhanging the olive terraces, and nestling in the purple shadow of Mount Agel. A staircase leads up to the low, narrow, fern-clothed gate of the town, through which you enter the steepest streets imaginable, running up almost perpendicularly to the old castle of the Lascaris; from whose keep there is a fine view over Monaco and Mentone. In one of the ruined chambers is a curious piscina, with an inscription now almost effaced.

The yellow rocks have a curious effect, mingled with the old buildings, which are perched on and around them. The principal church has been newly adorned with a large presepio, where, in a forest of moss and weeds, prettily woven together, a doll virgin in pink glazed calico, is receiving the congratulations of a number of other dolls, the principal figure being a little blue shepherdess, who is making her curtsey in front of the sacred persons, whilst all her little cotton wool sheep, with similar intent, are flocking down behind her through the moss; Herod, meanwhile, in gorgeous attire, surrounded by his guards, sits grimly in the back-ground, and gloomily surveys the pastoral scene.

On the festa of Notre Dame de la Neige, a curious procession takes place, which dates almost from the middle ages, in which the passion of our Saviour is represented ; peasants taking the parts of Pontius Pilate, Herod, Sta. Veronica, St. Mary Magdalene, &c. The costumes are very absurd, but the actors go through their parts with imperturbable gravity.

The return to Mentone should be varied by taking the Vieille Route, which branches off near the church, along the olive terraces to the left of the town, and re-enters the high road near the Prince's Gardens. It is a wild, narrow mountain-path winding through old olive woods, carpetted here and there with pale blue periwinkle, and showing lovely glimpses of the bay, with the town of Mentone. A tiny chapel half-way has some quaint old frescoes of the Resurrection, where the Virgin is represented sheltering a number of souls under her cloak, while the rest are resignedly going off to Purgatory.