Read CHAPTER XXV of Fair Italy‚ the Riviera and Monte Carlo, free online book, by W. Cope Devereux, on

Climate of Milan--Magenta--Arrival in Turin--Palazzo Madama--Chapel of the Holy Napkin--The lottery fever--View from the Alpine Club--Superga --Academia delle Scienze--Departure--Mont Cenis railway--The great tunnel--Modane--Farewell to Italy.

Before leaving Milan, I should like to say a word on its healthfulness. An eminent medical man, recently writing on the subject, says, “On account of the neighbourhood of Milan to the Alps, its climate in winter is cold and damp, and occasionally foggy. The irrigation of the rice-fields, with which Milan abounds, is a fertile source of fevers of all types, which, together with thoracic inflammation, phthisis, rheumatism, and affections of the digestive organs, are the most prevalent diseases.” The same authority gives Como a scarcely less baneful character. For my own part, I can only say that, whatever may be the condition of Milan in the winter time, in the month of March, when we were there, the climate was most enjoyable, the air pure and bracing. All the hotels, however, are not equally healthful in their sanitary arrangements, one of my friends having been subjected to a serious illness from this very cause; and the Italian doctor (a Milanese) who attended him did not hesitate to condemn the sanitary condition of the hotel where he was staying at the time of his illness. The hotels in the Corso Vittorio Emmanuele are, I believe, without reproach in this respect.

After leaving Milan, we passed through Magenta, situated amid fertile corn-fields and plantations of mulberry trees. This was the scene of one of the greatest battles in the war which gained Italy her freedom from the hated rule of Austria. Close to the railway station is a huge pyramidal monument, indicating the spot where the brunt of the battle was borne, and erected to the memory of the brave French who fell in the contest. All along the route are mementoes of the late war. Casting our eyes over the level plains, occasionally broken by the river Ticino, and undulating towards the hills, it was interesting, though sad, to imagine the desperate conflicts of which it had so recently been the scene these now peaceful plains and valleys saturated with the blood of valiant men, whose bones lie beneath the green sod and waving corn! The result, however, was glorious a People’s Freedom! Very different to the selfish ends and aims of the insatiable Napoleon!

Reaching Turin, we found the station, like that at Milan, an imposing structure, standing in a fine open space planted with trees, the Piazza Carlo Felice. This is surrounded by a colonnaded square from which runs the Via Roma, one of the principal streets and extends as far as the Piazza Castello. The streets, which are long and straight, like those of an American city, in some cases seem to run right up to the circling foot of the snowy Alps; and, looking up these streets towards the north, one gets most lovely vistas of the grand Alpine range, and feels their majestic presence by the dazzling light reflected from their snowy slopes, and the cold air from their icy peaks, to which the fair blue of the sky above forms a beautiful canopy.

Turin seems to have been badly treated; the removal of the seat of government from her to Milan, Florence, and ultimately to Rome, caused the value in land, etc., to fall considerably. The city was extended, great piazzas and streets lined with handsome shops, tramways laid down in all directions, theatres built on a large scale, and all preparations for making it the capital of Italy; and this expenditure proved, after all, a needless outlay, for soon the city was comparatively deserted, so far as fashion and gaiety are concerned, and these go far to make the vigour and wealth of a rising town. It is, however, busy and industrious in its trade and commerce, and alive with factories; yet recent events have left very distinct traces in Turin, almost more so than in any other Italian city.

Turin, or Torino, was founded by the Taurini, a Ligurian tribe, and was destroyed by Annibal about the year 218 B.C. It was ruled during the Middle Ages by its own dukes. The House of Savoy continued to hold it from the middle of the eleventh century until the late disturbances in Italy. Most of the streets of Turin converge into the Piazza di Castello, in the centre of which stands the Palazzo Madama, a weird-looking, half-ruined building overgrown with ivy, with a gloomy look about its desolate towers. It is a fine and picturesque old place, especially on a moonlight night a unique relic of the Middle Ages. Near it are the Royal Palace and the Duomo. The former is not unlike a barrack externally; but it contains a noble staircase and fine banqueting and reception rooms, the ceiling and floors being especially worthy of admiration. From the palace chapel, which is entered from the great hall, you can look right down to the Cathedral adjoining. This chapel of the Santo Sadano (or Holy Napkin) was built in 1648, to receive one of the folds of the shroud in which the Saviour was supposed to have been wrapped by Joseph of Arimathaea. This relic is contained in an altar under the cupola. One cannot help feeling anger and amazement at these miserable impostures on the ignorance of credulous devotees. We were actually shown by one of the priests an oblong frame, about thirty inches by twelve, containing a tracing, probably photographed, of this holy napkin, which, having been pressed against the Saviour’s face, retained the imprint of His features; and so this piece of old linen was duly worshipped, and has probably brought a comfortable income to the priests from the pockets of the superstitious and easily beguiled multitude. There is no end to the so-called marvels in these Romish churches.

The Cathedral is built on the site of a Lombard church of the seventh century, but does not contain anything of much interest. Indeed, among the hundred churches at Turin, there are really few worth a visit; perhaps the Consolata Church, including a chapel of the tenth century, is the best of these. Canon Wordsworth quotes an incident relative to this church. “A poor man prayed to the Madonna to reveal to him some lucky numbers for the lottery. He had a dream, in which, as he imagined, she suggested a trio of numbers. He made his purchases accordingly, but they turned out blanks. In revenge for this delusion, he attacked the image of the Madonna della Consolazione, when borne in procession through the city to the Superga, and mutilated it with a hatchet. The mob was enraged, and would have torn him in pieces had he not been rescued by the soldiers, and he was conveyed as a madman to a lunatic asylum.” These lotteries are a means of ruin and demoralization in every Italian town, the lottery offices, where the winning numbers are displayed, being only less plentiful than the cafes. I believe many of the poorer people invest their savings in these “official” gambling-places, and the majority are much the worse for so doing. But the State evidently profits by this infatuation for gaming, just as the pope and the priests enrich themselves by the blind superstition of the ignorant and foolish. The suppression of these Lotto banks should be among the first reforming acts of Italy: far wiser to substitute a State savings-bank, on the lines of our Post-office system. Bearing to the eastward of the Castello, up the Via di Po, we came to the Ponte di Po, a fine bridge across the river, which greatly resembles the Arno, but is rather cleaner in colour. Crossing the bridge, we mounted the rather steep hill to the Capuchin Church of Del Monti at the top. This hill has been of great military importance in a strategetic point of view, commanding, as it does, the town, river, and valley. A little higher up is a kind of observatory; and on ascending the stairs, we found ourselves in the Alpine Club of North Italy. Here is an interesting little Museum, with a very good and instructive collection of Alpine plants, minerals, maps, etc. From the balcony outside we had a most glorious and impressive view. Immediately below, the river Po, pursuing its rapid course towards the sea, watering the valleys on its way, rich plains stretching far and wide, and the city of Turin lying in a grand mountain hollow, spread like a map before us; beyond, like an impenetrable barrier, and arranged in a mighty semicircle, towered the great Alpine range. On the left, the Maritime Alps; then the Cottians, with Monte Viso, Mont Cenis, and the Grand Paradis, the Pennines to Monte Rosa, and the Lombard Alps. I looked up at this mighty barrier, its summits deep in misty clouds and vapour, the bright sun glittering on the thick snow, and the blue sky reflecting all manner of lovely hues on the white slopes and beautiful plains beneath:

“Above me are the Alps,
The palaces of Nature, whose vast walls
Have pinnacled in clouds their snowy scalps,
And throned Eternity in icy halls
Of cold sublimity, where forms and falls
The Avalanche the thunderbolt of snow!
All that expands the spirit yet appals,
Gather around these summits, as to show
How Earth may pierce to Heaven, yet leave vain man below.”

It was indeed a sublime and impressive sight one of the grandest views of the Alps to be obtained in Italy. The early forenoon is the time to see it to the best possible advantage, which we were not fortunate enough to do, the heights being frequently enveloped in mist. Away to the south is the great hill called Superga, some 2000 feet above the sea. From thence there is probably a much more extended view from west to east, but the Alps would be seen from above to my mind a far less majestic and imposing sight; moreover, it occupies some three or four hours to climb the Superga, whilst the observatory of the Capuchins is but half an hour’s walk. Yet this hill is decidedly worth a visit if time be no object, not only for the noble extent of landscape surveyed from its heights, its convent, and church, but as the mausoleum of many of the royal family of Italy. The best views are, I believe, to be obtained from the gallery of the college.

The Academia delle Scienze, in the Piazza Carignano, should not be missed, as it contains a very interesting Museum of natural history; Egyptian, Grecian, Etruscan, and Roman antiquities; and a fine gallery of paintings, including some of the best works of Vandyke, Raphael, Paul Veronese, Guido, Titian, Rembrandt, Guercino, Carlo Dolci, and other of the great masters.

Turin appeared to me to be a particularly quiet city, especially after business hours. The evening delights and amusements would seem to consist of the underground concert-rooms, where the long and silent drama is enjoyed over wine and tobacco. A peep into one of these places showed the evident disfavour in which the priesthood is held, a nun and a priest being introduced on the stage for the exposure of the laughter and hisses of the audience.

Although leaving much unseen in Turin, we did not regret our departure, as we were anticipating our journey on the morrow, by the Mont Cenis railway, through the magnificent and sublime scenery of which we had heard so much. It is said and I can well imagine the truth of it that, owing to the circle of mountains around it, Turin is exceedingly cold in winter, and very hot in summer, and therefore to be avoided during these seasons. The autumn is considered the pleasantest time for a visit. However, we fortunately found it bright and bracing during our brief stay.

We left Turin on April 12, by the 8.50 a.m. train.

It was a fine, bright morning, and we had a capital and comprehensive view of the whole of the glorious Alpine range; the peak of Monte Viso towering majestically to the clouds, and in the foreground the deep purple tints of the nearer hills contrasting finely against the white slopes in the distance, the green fields relieving the eye from the dazzling loveliness of the snow. Passing Alpigano, and entering a gap in the line of hills, the train left the plains, and commenced the ascent. San Ambroglio is soon passed, with its octagonal church; in the distance, on the top of Mount Piecheriano, is the old monastery Sagra di Michele. It is said that in the tombs of this Abbey, owing to the peculiar nature of the soil and atmosphere, the dead bodies are preserved perfectly mummified. Crossing the river Dora, and passing Borgone and Bassolemo, we now really commence the Mont Cenis railway. On the left is the old castellated fortress Bruzolo, picturesquely perched on the hilltop, a little village with a large church at its base. Recrossing the Dora, we pass some beautiful chestnut woods, through several tunnels, and thence on to Susa, the valley expanding, cultivated with terraced vineyards and gardens. We now obtain grand retrospective views of the beautiful valley below, with glimpses of ancient Roman ruins and aqueducts; the arch of Augustus peeping out of the magnificent scenery, and reminding one of the great spirits of the Latin race, with their eye ever open to the beautiful and the grand. The old Mont Cenis road winds prettily up the hill; the snow-clad Alps on the right and left, the great Roche Melon and Roche Michel soaring to the clouds. The valley then contracts and winds round a great rocky chasm (the Wild Gorge), where the hills are veritably rent asunder, passing through which one involuntarily shudders, and dreams of being in the land of some Titanic race, whose rocky thunder-bolts are ready to fall upon and crush the small, fragile creatures who have ventured to their mountain fastnesses.

After passing through several tunnels, with occasional glimpses of the scenery between, we at last emerge into the more peaceful plains near Chiomonti, the white-tipped mountains still soaring high above us. Now we once more plunge into the bowels of the earth, fitfully emerging into the bright sunshine, and skimming by splashing mountain streamlets and picturesque waterfalls, now and again gliding between banks of primroses and bluebells. At Saibertrand our two small engines are replaced by one of equal power. Here we have the snow lying in patches on the ground around us, and a fine rushing mountain stream fed by the many springs and rivulets from the mountain slopes, the Alpine range on our left beautifully timbered with fir forests. Now come another series of sparkling streams, flowing through the alluvial deposits carried down from the mountains, and so on to Casa N. Passing a rushing mountain stream, spanned by an iron bridge, we leave the snowy Alps behind us, only one bold peak appearing at the end of the valley where a little town is nested almost filling up the gap with its wintry summit, and making a beautiful outline against the blue sky. And now we stop at Onyx, a station of some importance. Here we find the Hotel Gozie, a nice-looking building, close to the great Mont Cenis tunnel, and evidently intended for the convenience of Alpine climbers. Here we are apparently locked in by a little circle of hills, grand Alpine peaks forming a crescent on our left. The atmosphere is now much colder, for we are nearing the snowy hills. Another engine is attached to the train, and we are soon winding round and between the mountain barrier, then through a short tunnel, the fir-clad, rocky hills towering up on our left, great snow-drifts and icicles hanging down the gorges and slopes. One more short tunnel, and we wind round past Stazione 89 and stop at Bardonnecha, the line abruptly ascending. Now a little town appears, and conspicuous in its square is the statue of some eminent citizen, surmounted by an outspread eagle; and then we penetrate the snowy mountains; and at last, when expectation is almost spent, we enter the great Mont Cenis tunnel, at first getting little intermittent flashes of light, and then indeed entombed within the great mountains, like frogs in granite.

Here indeed minus the dreaded sea above us was an experience of the horrid discomfort of the insanely wished-for Channel Tunnel, and I heartily prayed the scheme might never be accomplished. We entered the tunnel at about 12.7 p.m., and emerged at about 12.35, having been about half an hour in going through. Yes! we have really pierced the great Groge range of the snowy Alps at a height of some 8000 or 9000 feet, and can form some faint idea of the God-given power of Man over Nature. Hovering on the outskirts of this thought, there comes a far-off glimpse of the infinite greatness and goodness of God; and where indeed could such a reflection more fitly come than here, amid the grandeur and beauty of these mighty, snow-clad hills, rearing their icy summits to the skies; the wild passes, with their solemn rocky chasms and narrow defiles; the rushing torrents and sparkling cascades; the cloudless blue sky; and the innocent bluebells and primroses lying so trustfully at the feet of the great frowning rocks above all working together like the moving light and shadow in such perfect majestic harmony?

One feels

In beauteous vale, on Alpine snow-clad heights,
In splendours of the days or glories of the nights,
In frowning rocks o’erhanging depths below,
On mossy banks where sweet flowerets grow,
We see Gods power and love infinitely wide
“Thy Truth, most mighty Lord, on every side.”

As a tunnel, Mont Cenis is of no very extraordinary length; but, being composed of almost solid rock, the boring operation for so great a distance must have proved exceedingly difficult, the width being twenty-six feet, and the height nineteen feet. Some 2000 men were constantly employed at each end for nearly nine years. The steep ascent, of some 8000 feet, is another marvellous feature. The total cost was, I believe, about three millions of pounds sterling. The boring machines were worked by compressed air. The men who accomplished this great work should not be forgotten their names were Sommellier, Grandis, and Grattoni.

Before leaving the tunnel there was an evident feeling that we were already descending, and when at length we emerged a grand and wonderful panorama burst upon our view, all the more beautiful and refreshing after our late dark imprisonment, which made us dread the very thought of a Channel Tunnel. The great snow-capped mountains were still on our left and behind us; while beneath, almost buried in the valley, lay a little town, Stazione 86. Yet once more we are engulfed in a long tunnel, almost seeming to fly down the rapid descent. We now leave the great Alpine range circling in our rear; and now precipitous mountains tower on our right hand, the fir-tree forests with which they are clothed evidently a source of great profit to the good people here, who are felling, cutting, sawing, and evidently preparing to send the timber away. And now, at 12.45 p.m., we reach Modane, are past the Italian boundary, and once more in la belle France.

Here there is a good buffet, and a French breakfast ready for those who wish it.

And now farewell to fair Italia! Her loveliness of Nature and beautiful works of art; her magnificent Cathedrals and splendid Palaces; her treasure-filled galleries and wonderful museums; her noble monuments and queenly ruins fit emblems of her glorious past; and to her generous and patriotic men and women a reluctant adieu and tender farewell.

Alas, that there should be any reverse to such a picture! that there should still linger in her churches and religious life the fluttering rays of a blighting superstition! that there should be a want of true modesty and cleanliness in the habits of her people! that an ignoble love of ease should still characterize her upper classes, while the lowest orders generally are steeped in ignorance and importunate mendicancy! and that enervating and dirty habits should be engendered in her people by their inveterate indulgence in the cheap wine and tobacco of the country! though, in common fairness, I should add that it is as rare to see drunkenness in Italy as, unfortunately, it is common in our own country.

There are things in fair Italy, as doubtless there are in fair England, to which there is no reluctance on our part to bid adieu, and among them, to descend to smaller grievances, are the exorbitant hotel charges; disgusting railway station accommodation; and dirty railway carriages, owing chiefly to the national habit of persistent smoking, and the difficulty of keeping the smokers to their own compartments.

Yet with all these drawbacks, one cannot but feel that Italy is springing into a noble national life. I believe she has a great heart and a great future before her, which will prove worthy of her past nobility and glory, and of the generous sympathy felt for her perhaps most unselfishly so by England. I think we are justified in feeling a greater sympathy for Italy than for France, for I believe she truly reciprocates it; while the French show towards us a dislike almost verging on jealous antipathy, while in themselves they are entirely given to frivolity and caprice a hopeless scepticism and impudent immorality: their naturally great powers seem exclusively devoted to selfish objects, and the worship of Fashion and Pleasure!