It was in the summer of 1826 when I landed with my friend Ernst Fries in the beautiful bay, on the northern navy of Capri. The sun was leaning towards distant Ischia when we jumped down into the rattling shore gravel. Capri was the first island I set foot on, and never will I forget the impression. One of my dearest wishes came true. I could now hear the sea roaring around all those wonderfully shaped rocks that had already captivated my mind magically from Naples. Each crashing row of waves sang to me: I am separated from the mainland, on a cliff where a simple people of fishermen and gardeners live, and the hoofbeat of horses and the roll of carts are unknown. With its rocks and caves, and hanging gardens and ancient ruins, and new cities and rocky staircases, the island had already appeared to me from afar as a special world, filled with wonders and surrounded by horrible and lovely legends, and now that my time was not closely limited, I could hope to be able to explore this world in detail in all its boundaries. This thought made me indescribably happy. - On our arrival the beach was filled with people from both towns of the island, men and young men, women and girls, who were well able to recall the ancient, beautiful, Greek population of the island. They received the cargo of the market-boat, which had also brought us, and carried it with particular dexterity, partly up the high rocky steps to the town of Anacapri, partly up the gentler slope to Capri. A lively fellow took hold of our little luggage, and slowly we followed the train to the latter town. At first we found ourselves in the scene of a huge rock theatre: in the foreground a row of white houses with flat roofs, above which vineyards rose in ever larger semicircles, terrace after terrace, until magnificently rising rock walls and the city towering upwards bordered the view. Our path wound its way up those terraces. We saw the steeper slopes covered with evergreen myrtles and laurel bushes, also mastic trees and single fan palms became noticeable. Birds fluttered above us and cicadas sang their monotonous song from the olive trees. The way was long, the evening lovely. Everything I had ever read about that island appeared in my memory and mingled with the charming scenes of the present. When we looked back, the charming Gulf of Naples, Ischia, Procida and all the Pontine islands shimmered in the distance.
Astonished and often lingering, we finally reached the yoke of the island, through a tower gate, into the small town of Capri, built in an almost oriental style. The boy who carried our belongings led us past the church to the beautiful white locanda of Don Giuseppe Pagano, where we found the friendliest welcome for a moderate fee.
Our landlord, a small, comfortable man of fifty, led us down staircase after staircase in his quaint but very cheerfully built house, and when I stopped at a small collection of old books, he told me that he had collected them in Naples when he was studying there, and at the same time introduced himself to me as the notary of the place. I was very pleased to find in him an instructed man and to find in his library several books, Latin and Italian, some of which dealt with Capri. When he saw that I intended to get to know the island quite thoroughly, he was very happy to gather together everything from his books that could be useful to me, and promised to provide more from friends the next day. He took part in our evening meal, which consisted of all kinds of sea animals, some of which were still unknown to me, and we soon became good friends. After we had refreshed ourselves with food and drink, the whole family of the notary climbed with us to the roof of the house, where we settled down, chatting comfortably and enjoying the beautiful view over the city and the island in the starlight. Don Pagano, however, pointed out everything that seemed strange to him in the light of the clear night and told us everything he knew. Our eyes followed him intently into the mystical darkness and the less we were actually able to recognise, the more our curiosity was aroused. We discussed with him the excursions we wanted to make little by little, and resolved to stay at home during the hot noon hours and read the Odyssey; I also wanted to use this time to study in the books mentioned, in order to become, where possible, the most thorough connoisseur of the island. To tell you how faithful we remained to the resolutions made on that first romantic night, how we raved soon after this soon after that smashed villa of Tiber, soon down to the Siren Rock, soon up the rocky staircase to Anacapri, up to the summit of Monte Solaro, and what happy days we spent with the family of the notary, would take the reader too far. As much as there is to be said about it, I prefer to sketch a slight outline of the island's shape and history here, and then move on to describe an adventure that unexpectedly caused the island and Don Pagano's house to be visited more often by strangers than ever before. If one wants to get a clear idea of the shape of Capri, imagine a part of the sea bed, here consisting of Apennine limestone, from the morning, with an evening inclination, raised to a plateau three quarters of a mile long and half as wide, but this broken across, from south to north, in such a way that the western half, close to the break-off, remained the highest, about 2,000 feet high, while the eastern half (at first the highest) sank back, and remained standing in ruins half as high. The cleft between the two, though filled high by the tumbling debris, left a larger bay to the north, a smaller one to the south. To the southeast, the shattering is so severe that several tower-like rock fragments, called the Fariglioni, still protrude singly from the shore. One of them forms a huge gate through which one can sail. All around, however, the whole steep, more or less shattered rocky edge of the island is rich in manifold grottos, formed by collapses, adorned with colourful stalactite spikes. The salty element roars into many of these caves, with all its play of colours. In the most ancient times, the island was more rugged than it is now, and overgrown with scrub alone; only wild goats were its inhabitants, from which it received the name Capreae. A flat stone in the southern bay is called the Siren, and the legend goes that Odysseus heard the perilous song here. The first city was probably built in the northern bay by the Teleboi. The island remained subject to the Greek colony in Naples for at least a long time. It flourished happily and, according to Greek custom, its beautiful young men were well practised in wrestling, fist-fighting, running races, throwing lances and all the dainty dances.
When Emperor Augustus went there, he liked the island with its merry inhabitants so much that he gave the much larger island of Ischia to the Neapolitans in exchange. An old barren holm oak is said to have replanted itself on his arrival and this miracle determined him even more to make that choice. On the easternmost rocky peak he built himself a magnificent palace, where he often threw off the burdens of his imperial labours and enjoyed the competitions of Capraean youth. Later, Capri became the place of exile of the beautiful Juliet. The ruins of her palace are found on the western slope of the mountain which now bears the telegraph.
When Tiberius came to rule, he remembered the happy days he had spent with August on Capri, threw the plagues and dangers of government on Sejanus' shoulders, and retired to this secure rock, where he surrendered himself to the most loathsome pleasures, while his dreadful spells of power tormented the world. For many years he lived here, constantly peering suspiciously around him from the high cliff, which he turned into a sensual heaven, in which to revel - he was already too worn out to do so. The old tyrant wove roads around steep peaks, he rode on horses to all the summits. He changed the shape of the island, swung immense rows of arches over deep valleys, and created artificial levels on which he let lush gardens blossom, in whose grottoes, temples and bushes the shameful slaves of his vices swarmed as fauns and nymphs. He built twelve palaces in various places on the island and dedicated them to the twelve great gods. The one dedicated to Jupiter rose to the east, on the outermost overhanging rocky peak (now St. Maria del Soccorso), from which the tyrant had the slaves he wished ill plunged down sharp spikes into the sea and pounded with oars below. A palace dedicated to Mater magna was built more to the south in a dependent cleft, around and in a cave. The one dedicated to Neptune lay to the north, from the centre of the island, with beautiful baths out into the sea; on the gentle slope above it leaned the palace of Venus, a little away from it an amphitheatre; on the same slope still further east rose another palace, dedicated to some other deity; but the summit next to the city bore the one in which the tyrant walked up and down, gazing across the sea, as he awaited news of the execution of Sejan, whom he had condemned. The other palaces of Tiber were spread out over the island, down to the southern shore, where he built the arsenal for the fleet that protected him, by those fantastic rock towers rising from the sea. There he had his ships built or erected in a mighty beach cave. From his palaces, secret passages led everywhere through the rocks down to the sea, whereby he made frequent use of the caves he had found. At that time the island must have been a truly unique sight, for the wildest, most torn nature offered the most varied motifs for architecture, and the treasures of the world were lavishly used to quickly turn every fantastic idea into reality. But all this splendour disappeared, according to legend, soon after Tiber's death, destroyed by the hatred and loathing of the Roman people, and everywhere, on heights, in crevices and down to the sea, lie the cursed ruins.
After Tiber, Caligula visited the island, but did not linger there long. Vitellius was also here in his youth, Lucilla and Crispina were banished here by their brother, the emperor Commodus. With this news, they want to refute the above legend and attribute all the destruction on the island to the barbarians and Saracens, who certainly raged terribly in these regions.
The terrible pirate Barbarossa destroyed the city on the shore and is said to have built a castle on a sheer rocky spur. Its ruins can be seen high above the 554 steps leading up to the western part of the island. The later inhabitants built the new town on the yoke of the island, close to the mountain Madonna della Libera. A vaulted grotto several hundred feet high on this mountain housed the entire 2,000 inhabitants in those days, when the island was attacked by an overpowering force of pirates. This grotto is located on the south side of the mountain and hangs impregnably over the sea, so that the fugitives could only reach it by hanging ladders from each other. The young men often fought off the enemy, while the sick and old, in baskets on long ropes, were first lowered in some places, in order to be able to pull them further up to the grotto in others, probably over a hundred feet high. Fireplaces and the ruins of a wall built to defend the cave are still visible in the imposing cave, which is decorated with stalactites at the top.
In those troubled times, the second town of Anacapri on Monte Solaro may also have been built, to which the aforementioned staircase leads, still equipped with a drawbridge at the top.
In more recent times, when the French had already taken Naples, the English still occupied the island under Church and built fortifications and forts everywhere. Nevertheless, at night the French climbed the western side of the island, where it slopes into the sea, with ladders tied together, and drove the English over Anacapri down the endless stairway, over the heights of the other city down to the shattered arsenal of the Tiber, where they soon embarked and sailed away. The garrison of the fort on the highest peak of the island knew nothing of the progress, and after a few days sent a detachment down to fetch provisions. So the French first learned that there were still enemies up there, went up and, without finding much resistance, also took that highest point. They destroyed the fortifications up there because they proved to be completely useless. But nothing compares to the view that one enjoys from that highest point. Rising two thousand feet, the highest spike plunges southward so precipitously that one could throw a stone into the sea. To the west, it still drops steeply, but not so abruptly, towards the town of Anacapri, forming behind it a gently sloping, broad, beautifully cultivated ridge that goes into the sea with countless hollow and cracked reefs. To the north one looks over the Barbarossa Castle, but to the east one overlooks the beautiful fertile cleft which divides the island, in the middle the town of Capri, to the right and left the southern and northern bays, the aforementioned mountain with the mighty cave, crowned by a castle, behind it the rock towers with the rock gate in the sea, to the left above it the Telegraph Mountain and all the jagged vineyards up to the easternmost end, where the Augustean and Tiberian palace ruins, sacred to Jupiter, and the little church of St. Maria del Soccorso stand out from the sea. Maria del Soccorso rises from the farthest spike. All this forms the most varied background for the distant view of the blue sea, the Pontine islands and Ischia, Procida, the gulfs of Gaeta, Bajä, Naples, Sarno and Salerno, behind them all the blue Abruzzi, in the middle ground the steaming Vesuvius, closer, forming the strait of Capri, the splendid promontory of Minerva, further on the Sirenusian Islands, deeper in, the lowlands of Paestum, and further south the beautifully curved Cape Licosa, which sinks dreamily into the lowlands of the sea. When I think of that beautiful view, I still feel as if I were surrounded by the heavenly etheric current I breathed there; at that time, however, climbing that peak was the keystone of the excursions I made during my first stay to get to know the island, and nothing remained for my next purpose but to circumnavigate and examine all its shores.
We had appointed the first still morning for this purpose, as the sea around the island had hitherto been violently agitated every day. At last a lovely evening seemed to announce it to us. We told our landlord, the notary, of our hopes. He found it well-founded and promised to get us an experienced skipper for the journey who, as he put it, could bring the dead back from the underworld, if he knew how to row. "He is old," he said, "but has an eye like a hawk, a heart of stone, and an arm of iron." - I liked the man beforehand and even better afterwards, for he saved our lives twice the next day. - It was sent for him.
I used the long time before the messenger returned to question the notary about the whole expedition in detail, in order to make a note of everything interesting for tomorrow. As an old Capraeer, he gave me very detailed information about all the beautiful places on the shores and their names, which were very incorrectly indicated on his poor maps.
When I had finished taking notes, I gave him the sheet to read through. At one point he scrunched up his mouth, nodded his head several times and mumbled whimsically to himself. I asked him if he remembered anything else. "Yes," he said after a long pause, "of course I will think of something, but - it has its own significance: - I am now fifty-six years old and have never been able to talk anyone into it in my life, so it is better that I let the thing go! - With that he wanted to be silent, but as my curiosity only grew the more excited and I repeatedly asked him what he meant by that? he finally continued his speech thus: "Yes, I am fifty-six years old, and have carried a wish around with me almost as long. The wish is this:
On the north-western side of our island rises a kind of tower called Damecuta. There are a lot of Roman ruins around it and probably a palace of Tiber was there as well. There is also a popular legend that the place was otherwise called Dame chiusa, i.e. women's lock, because Emperor Tiber locked his girls there." - I jokingly interjected: Surely it was not his intention to redeem them? -
"No", he answered laughing: - "but a castle of Tiber's stood there! Listen to me further," he continued again very seriously: "below those ruins, on the shore of the sea, is a place called Grottelle, where the sea penetrates into many small caves more or less deep. One of them with a tiny entrance is very disreputable and the boatmen keep away from it even in broad daylight, thinking that the devil lives there with many evil spirits. But I," - at this he looked around to see if any of his own could hear him, and when he saw us alone, continued more quietly: - "but I don't believe it. - Here on the island, you mustn't let such things be heard, otherwise you'll be thought not very pious. - But you are a studied stranger, and will admit to me that piety consists in something else than belief in devilish ghosts. Enough, from my youth I have felt a longing to swim into this very cave and explore it. But I confess to you so openly that I shudder at the thought, and that I would never dare, and now, as a family man, will dare even less, to swim into it alone. God forbid! But a hundred times, as a boy, a youth and a man, I have asked friends and acquaintances who were able swimmers to accompany me, in vain! - The fear of the devil was too strong in them for my pleas to have been of any avail. But now listen to what later strengthened my desire even more. About thirty years ago, I heard from an old fisherman that two hundred years ago, a few clergymen wanted to pass the haunting. They swam a little way into the grotto, but soon turned back again, having been struck by a terrible fear. According to these priests, the inside of the grotto looks like a very large temple with a high altar, but all around it is full of idols, and the water inside is so strange that the fear of swimming in it is indescribable. In older books there is also a message about it, which one writer always copied from another: for many hundred years, however, no one has actually been in it."
"To all this is added," said the excellent notary, laying his hand firmly on mine: "for my part I hold the ruins above to be by all means a castle of the Tiber, and, as Tiber had no palace without a secret exit, I assert and assure you: the secret exit of those ruins passes through this grotto! Thus the grotto, which is vaulted on the inside, could well be a temple of Nereus and the Nymphs, all the more so since it is known from the ancient classics that Tiberius used the caves of Capri many times and decorated them in his sense. Nor must I tell you that all strangers to whom I have hitherto spoken of it have smiled at my thoughts as whimsical dreams; but in you I trust that you will prove me right when I assert that the matter is worthy of closer investigation!"
I replied: "Dear notary, the strangers who laughed at your conclusions seem to me almost as simple-minded as the natives with their fear of the devil. Everything you are telling me has hand and foot, and I am so completely of your opinion that I am burning with eagerness to investigate the infamous devil's temple with you." -
"But one can only enter by swimming!" interjected the notary, still doubtful; "within, the grotto is deeply filled with water." -
"So much the better!" said I, "that way we can submerge ourselves when the evil spirits want to torment us with fire."
"You jest?" said the notary.
"No, I am not joking!" I answered him, "You have found in me at last, after fifty-six years, the man who is ready to go on the adventure with you, and, that you may see that I am in earnest, I invite you to go with us to-morrow. We can, since we were going to bathe, stop at that grotto, and take our bath with the demons, in the water that so frightened the good clergy two hundred years ago?" -
Then the notary's face brightened. "Topp!" he said, "I'm in! Know, old as I am: I still swim the race with everybody! - Allow me to kiss you, dear Don Augusto! Let us only speak softly, that no one in the house may know: they will not let me go otherwise; for the fear is great, as I tell you!" -
"We have only now to consult," I continued, "how to arrange the enterprise. If the entrance is as small as you say; it must be dark in the grotto: we shall therefore have to take torches, or a pitch fire in a skid?" -
"Certainly," said the notary, "we can float them before us, and see perfectly what the grotto is like. Let Angelo take care of everything!" -
My travelling companion, who had hitherto kept silent, interjected here that the matter was becoming too cumbersome and time-consuming, and that there were also many such caves, and that the Italians thought they would find treasures everywhere: he voted against the enterprise. - Then the notary's face, which had just been cheerful, turned pale as a sheet, but I told him that he should rest assured that the matter would be carried through in any case. Now I repeatedly told my friend how we had wanted to bathe tomorrow, and how one bath in the grotto would not last longer than another. We could therefore combine everything quite well with the circumnavigation of the island, but if he didn't feel like it tomorrow, I wanted to postpone the matter. Finally he gave in and promised to swim in with us. No one was happier than the notary. Then came Angelo Ferraro, the old skipper, a man to whom the sea air and sunburn had given the colour of cinnamon bark. He stepped in front of us with a simple, firm demeanour, his skipper's cap in his hand. We asked him if he dared to take us all around the island? - "Gentlemen, as good as another!" was his reply. The notary then gave him the necessary orders concerning the grotto. - The man's eyes widened.
"These gentlemen want to swim into the grotto?" -
"Yes! and so do I," said the notary: "will you go in with them Angelo?"
"You too?" said the boatman, taking a step back in wonder. "And if it be so," he concluded, stamping his foot, "I'll go in too! Yes, Angelo goes along!" -
"Bravo Angelo!" exclaimed the notary.
"Yes!" said Angelo: "I have long wanted to peep into this devil's house, but alone? - God forbid! But now there are four of us, and where there are four of them, the demons give way. I will put myself in a skid, and row in first, but drive the skid with the pitch fire tied in front of me; so the gentlemen can look around better than if they toil with it themselves, and have the fire so close in front of their noses." -
"Bravo Angelo!" repeated the notary.
"Bravo Angelo!" suddenly echoed softly and ironically from a corner.
We looked over.
"Alas, my brother the Canonico!" sighed the notary to himself. We had become too noisy with Angelo, and all was betrayed.
The Canonico approached with forced politeness, and began with grim anger: "Forgive me, gentlemen, for sneaking in so naughtily. It would never have happened if my brother had always wanted to act as a good Christian should. I have been standing here behind the glass door for some time, listening with amazement to what the old man, who should at last be wise, is negotiating with you strange gentlemen and Angelo." -
"Alas! just he had to come to this! Now it will be well!" sighed the notary, shrugging his shoulders. "Leave us, dear brother!" he begged the clergyman: "I have to speak with the gentlemen." -
"So? to speak? - Well, and what all? Evil, pure evil! Look here, gentlemen, here is my brother, the much respected notary of the place, Mr. Giuseppe Pagano, a studied man, a learned man (Don Giuseppe took off his little cap at every praise, out of anger), an excellent family man, a good husband, a sensible educator of his children, honoured and loved by everybody; but - a sack of folly and a pot of folly, boiling over! boiling over!" he repeated eagerly. "Go Angelo!" said the notary: "go, and do as I bid thee." - Angelo went; but the Canonico, turning to us, continued, "You, gentlemen, pardon me, being strangers on the island, let my brother's garrulity persuade you to an enterprise more dangerous than it seems. To swim into a cave may seem easy to you, because you have swum over streams, and do not sink in the sea. - But do you know what kind of water you will find in the cave, whether the water will carry you, whether the devil will not deceive you, and you will sink into the eternal flames? Look, gentlemen, you do not know. Perhaps you have not heard how the island is teeming with sharks that eat men, which is why one dares to bathe here only among the stones. Well, you will say, if we are in the cave, we are among the stones, and the sharks will not harm us. What do you think? don't you think the devil can keep other fish in there, whereas the sharks are only pious lambs? Oh, do not laugh, gentlemen! What I say is not empty imagination. Facts, pure facts speak for it. You will have read in ancient books of sirens and tritons. Well, these Sirens and Tritons are devils who take such shapes, and others, to harm man, and to draw him away from eternal salvation!" -
"Mr. Canonico," I interjected, "the siren stories are old Greek fairy tales, we don't believe in them!" -
"Ancient Greek fairy tales?!" exclaimed the Canonico, raising both arms. "If God wanted them to be just old Greek fairy tales, we wouldn't have to see them nowadays! How long has it been since a fisherman died on the island. What was his name?"
"Nobody knows!" the notary interjected, full of annoyance.
"Oh yes! Many still know!" continued the clergyman: "In short, the fisherman died of a horrible sinister illness because he had seen a merman. But how did this happen? - He went near the devil's cave to harpoon fish. The morning was very beautiful, and he could see the shells crawling on the bottom of the sea, although it was 60 cubits deep. Suddenly he saw all the fish fleeing, but only one fish remained in the depths; it began to swim around, higher and higher in circles around his boat. The fish was the length of a man. So the man took the strongest of his harpoons in his right hand, laid out the line and lay in wait, his left at the oar. The fish came up more and more, and soon looked red and soon green, just as the eyes were red and soon green. The fisherman, who had never seen such a fish, was a little afraid; but, instead of praying an Our Father like a good Christian, so that the fish would be gone again, the man took heart, as the children of the world say, and, when the fish came near him, threw the harpoon in the devil's name. He saw the harpoon enter the fish's neck, but the sea turned so red with blood that soon he could no longer see anything in it. He thought that the fish had been killed on the spot, because the line was not taut, and he began to pull it up. Lo and behold, the harpoon came up without fish and without fork, and was broken in two, not broken off, but as if it had melted away. Then a fear came upon the fisherman. He let the end of the harpoon fall into the ship, seized both oars, and began to row with all his might to get away; but the barque did not go from that place, but always went round in a circle just as the fish had swum before; at last, however, she stood quite still, and out of the red water a bloody man arose, who had the fork of the harpoon stuck in his breast, and threatened him with his fist. Then the poor fisherman sank down unconscious and the barque drifted with him on the waves to the navy of Capri. There, friends soon came to his aid. For three days he was completely mute, and finally on the fourth day he was able to tell what had happened to him. But now he was doing wonderfully. The hand with which he threw the harpoon began to wither and wither like a leaf, and in the same way his arm and all his limbs gradually withered, and finally his body and head shrivelled up so that he had to die. But the corpse did not look like a human corpse, but like a dried root at an apothecary's." -
"Why not even like the plait on a wig!" said the notary, getting up angrily, and pacing back and forth in the room. The canonico, however, would not be disturbed, but kept on talking, and was quite inexhaustible in tales of this grotto, which he took for pure facts. Sometimes, he said, one saw fire in it, sometimes animals, like crocodiles, came out of it. The entrance changes seven times a day, and is sometimes wider, sometimes narrower. At night the sirens sing in it, and inside everything is full of dead bones. Now and then there is screaming inside, like little children. Moaning and groaning are the most unusual things to be heard there, and it is not at all uncommon for young fishermen to disappear in that region. -
"All this is not true, and all fable!" cried the notary at last, who had run out of patience: "Leave us, dear brother! We have once firmly resolved on the journey, and nothing in the world can dissuade us!"
The Canonico now tried to turn the notary's mind with spiritual exhortations. These began very gently, but as the notary spoke more and more contrary, they became more and more vehement, and both brothers at last became so loud that the notary's wife, with the whole family behind her, came in and asked what was making them so divided?" The Canonico called to her solemnly: "Hear, dear sister-in-law, what your husband, my brother, is doing! Hear, dear children, what your father is up to! Into the cave he intends to swim, tomorrow, with these gentlemen!" -
"Into what cave?" -
"Ah! to the devil's cave, which he is always talking about!" -
"I, my husband won't do that!" said the woman, quite frightened.
"Yes wife, now I am doing it!" said the notary: "will you come with me, my son?"
"Yes!" said the munificent twelve-year-old lad, grasping his hand, "where the father goes, I go with him!" - "Bravo!" we said.
This was too much for the good clergyman. He clasped his hands and, praying for his brother's soul, went to his rooms.
"Now we have peace!" said the notary; "now, wife, have supper put on! Arguing makes one hungry. I will go down, and fetch up of the best wine I have any." - With that he went out, and the woman, accustomed to submit to his will, sighed to herself, and did as he commanded. The daughters, however, asked us very sympathetically whether we really wanted to risk body and soul, and did not respond in the least when I tried to make a joke of the matter. The evening meal was served, the notary dragged in a huge vial of the most delicious wine, and, disliking the sadness in his daughters' faces, ordered them to go to rest. All three looked around at us again, as anxiously as if they thought we were lost people. Then they pulled the door shut behind them.
But the notary spoke with a sigh of relief, "Now we are among ourselves, now let us be merry!"
The admonition went to our hearts. We bravely sat down to the excellent sea spiders and the huge bottle, and toasted more than once to the good success of our adventure. The notary let go of all the ideas he had had about the grotto since his youth, and I invented new ones, always talking about statues and great treasures that we would and must find there! - In his joy, nothing seemed too adventurous for the notary. He said to everything: "You can't know! Who knows! Why not? Anything is possible! and the like. My German friend, who was less enthusiastic about the matter, finally concluded: "Do you know how I imagine the grotto inside? Wet, damp, dark and gloomy, and thus punctum! Let us go to sleep!" - With that, we got up. The notary embraced us, and as it had grown late, we hastened to rest.
I passed the night half slumbering, half whimsically dreaming. Of course, the dream took me to the grotto. We had got out of there and entered long corridors. Here and there were skeletons in all sorts of positions, hung up in shackles, one of which was always swearing in Latin. Suddenly we heard footsteps and saw the Emperor Tiberius coming. A Roman soldier stepped forward and asked what we wanted? I woke up while trying to think of an answer - then I fell asleep again and dreamt that we were back in the cave and found a door made of ore. We had crowbars, and when we bent the door open, we saw a magnificent hall through the cracks. Suddenly the door burst open in front of us and a storm blew towards us. The sea had broken into the hall, smashing the splendid seats, the image columns and tripods. Everything rolled around. The waves took hold of us too, and flung us around along the painted walls. Finally thrown against the ceiling, I held on to a ring attached to it and remained suspended for a while, but the ring gave way, the ceiling caved in, everything collapsed, and I - woke up. Not long after, the morning dawned, I woke my friend, we got dressed and went to Don Pagano, whom we found already in full gear and train. He had filled a basket with food for our expedition, and also packed a lantern in case we got out in the grotto. Then breakfast arrived, the little son of Pagano behind it, cheering. Having refreshed ourselves, we set out merrily. - The notary's family looked on sadly. In half an hour the little train descended to the northern navy, where Angelo, joined by our donkey driver Michele Furerico, was already waiting for ours. The skids, pitch pans, lanterns and ropes were packed onto a smaller boat. We ourselves boarded a larger boat and towed it along. The donkey driver and Angelo rowed along with us so fast that we had to ask them to slow down so that we could look at the banks, which offered all kinds of curiosities. Turning left, leaving a long stretch behind us, we cut through the mirror-like element, close to the northern coast, past the Neptune Villa of Tiber, and soon found ourselves under the almost overhanging rock face. Where it sloped lower and lower, we noticed various niches and stalactite caves, into some of which the sea surged. I was burning with impatience to get to the one in question, but my travelling companion testified that the closer we got, the less he wanted to swim in. "The notary told us something, we won't find anything, and he'll laugh us out of it!" he said. - I said that the notary should not do that, that we should take him in the middle, so that I would swim in front and he would follow, and if nothing was found in the grotto, we could dive him as we pleased as punishment; then the laughter would be on our side. My friend was satisfied with this suggestion. Preparing for the bath, we began to throw off our troublesome clothes and admonished the notary, who had become somewhat serious, to do the same.
"I am still too warm!" said the same, and remained as he was. The rowers, previously quite talkative, now became noticeably more solemn. Not long after, we turned a corner of rock, the oars were retracted, the barque stood still. No one spoke a word.
"Why are they stopping here?" asked I.
"Here's the cave!" replied Angelo, with a little bias.
"Where?" asked I again.
Then he showed me, in the background of the small bay, the dark entrance to it, not much bigger than a cellar hatch. The deep blue sea surged calmly in and out. Everything was silent. Don Pagano had become very thoughtful.
"Now Angelo, light the fire!" interrupted I the anxious silence: "we have not much time, and want to be in and out briskly!" - Angelo now got into the little barque, put the pan into one skid, struck steel to stone, like Aeneas's companions, and soon a pitch fire blazed and seethed as merrily as one ever saw one. The embers and smoke were so great that Angelo, setting the skid with it on the sea, made a face like a lemon under the press.
We strangers laughed heartily at this, but the notary became more and more serious.
"Well, Mr Notary," I said, "nimbly undressed! Let us now enter!" -
"I am still warm, do not be embarrassed! Always swim ahead, I will soon follow!" was the reply.
"No, dearest friend," I said in reply. "That's not the way the thing is meant. We are all swimming together!"
"But why all of them?"
"Because otherwise it looks as if you were afraid, dear Notary! Let me help you undress a little!" -
"No, no, let me, I am really still too warm!" -
"Now then, let us wait a little!"
The notary at last began to throw off his outer garments, "Go right in, I'll be sure to join you soon!" - "No!" said I, seizing him by the shoulders, "Mr. Notary, if you do not prepare to swim at once, I will throw you into the water like this!" - This word, spoken half seriously, half jokingly, did not fail to have an effect. He was soon freed from any artificial cover, but he still didn't want to jump in. Then, at the right moment, I gave him a light push on the shoulder, and plump! he lay in the water, from which he immediately shot up again, like a cork stopper, and jumped up and down, splashing. He was one of those light creatures who don't sink in the water, but rise far above it. We strangers plunged in too and swam around him merrily. He didn't take offence at my joke, but in no way shared my amusement, for - the fateful moment was approaching. Angelo, crouching in one skid in the Turkish manner, rowed towards the entrance with the other carrying the fire in front of him. I don't think any of us was without a certain anxiety. Not as if I were afraid of fabulous things, but I thought of the real sharks mentioned by the Canonico, and asked the good Angelo if there were any to be suspected here? - His answer: "Don't be afraid, they don't go among the rocks!" did not sufficiently reassure me; for, I thought, he speaks well, he has his legs in a skid! - Now he was under the entrance, now - he groped his way in along the walls. The enormous smoke of the pitch fire hit him and me, and we had to close our eyes when we came under the inner mighty vault. When I opened them again, I saw everything dark around me. Fire and smoke dazzled where Angelo groped his way along the wet walls, and only with my hearing, after the reverberation of the crashing surf all around, could I measure to some extent the size of the vaulted basin. I swam on in whimsical, anxious anticipation, searching in vain for antiquities. Then I noticed that the notary and my German friend, who had been following me, were both turning back at the same time, and I turned to scold them; but what a shock came over me when I saw the water below me, like blue flames of ignited spirit of wine. Involuntarily I went up, because still blinded by the fire, I thought at first I saw a volcanic apparition. But when I felt that the water was cool, I looked up at the ceiling of the vault, thinking that the blue glow must come from there. But the ceiling was closed, and at last, turned away from the fire, I recognised half and half of its shape. The water, however, remained wonderful to me, and I felt dizzy in it, for when the waves rested a little, it was as if I were swimming in the unpredictable blue sky. A tremulous delight went through me, and I called out to my companions: "By all that is beautiful, come in again; for, if there is nothing in the grotto but the heavenly water, it still remains a wonder of the world! Come, do not be afraid: there are neither sharks nor devils to be seen here, only a splendour of colour without equal!" - At this exultant shout they took courage again and swam back in. Both of them now shared my delight, but none of us understood the miracle, we could only marvel at it. At the same time, it seemed very understandable to us that two hundred years ago those clergymen found swimming on this sky of water frightening. Angelo had now reached the background with his fire, where a landing place presented itself. I swam there and climbed the bank, wonderfully stimulated; for the cave, large as it already was, seemed to go on much further there.
"Here will be the passage of Tiberius!" cried the notary from the water. I thought it not improbable, had Angelo hand me a lantern, in which a small lamp burned, and went trembling forward; for the floor was uneven and very slippery, from the ceiling hung down spikes of stalactites, and at every step the shadows changed, wandering everywhere on the adventurously formed walls. Soon here, soon there, something seemed to move. My imagination, stimulated by the unexplained wonder of the water and the manifold forms, saw shapes every moment, and the thought flashed over me: the cave could be the abode of pirates. Now I suddenly saw something white shimmering in the light of the dim lamp, and stopped to look at it. - My companions, however, asked from the water, why I stepped back so? - "Because I see a skeleton!" I was about to say; but when I looked more closely, it was a stalactite formation, which had taken on this shape before my tense imagination, because I began to think the cave was a murder cave. I continued to advance, but a cold shiver ran over me when, shining before me, I suddenly caught sight of my shadow not behind me, but beside me. What is this? I thought to myself: is a door opening here, will the murderers now come against you unarmed, and your companions leave you horrified? - But when I turned defiantly to the right, I saw that a window had been cut into the passage. It opened into the great grotto, and the light from the entrance, which had been swum through, gleamed in. "Here is trace of man's hand!" cried I to the companions, "come hither and see a hewn window!" - The notary came hastily nearer, and scrambled eagerly up the rock, followed by his German friend. - "Truly, a hewn window!" cried Don Pagano: - "here is the passage of Tiber, - towards it I want to lose my head!" -
From the window the grotto now appeared in full splendour, a mighty large and deep basin, vaulted by stalactite-ornamented, beautifully curved rocks, the water a billowing sky whose blue light magically illuminated the ceiling above. On the bright red fringe, formed by sea animals all around, all the edges of the grotto were decorated, the surf sparkled around and the colours of all the precious stones played. At the entrance, however, the bright daylight shimmered and spread its light over the water like a moon.
We decided to draw the grotto, forgetting about its beauty, the passage, the Tiber and everything, in order to try later whether we could paint it. To do the former, we jumped into the water, swam out, fetched our field chairs and folders, and sat down in the window. One held the lantern to the other in turn, so that he could see what he was drawing. - Thus we made two views of the grotto. In the meantime, the little Pagano and the donkey driver had handed over the barges to other skippers outside, and were now swimming in jubilantly and rejoicing in the splendid water of the grotto; they looked like black demons. Wherever they struck, blue sparks flew. But Don Pagano, for whom our drawing took too long, swam out, he had business in Capri, and could not stay, as much as he would have liked to. In front of the grotto he met the owner of the terrain. He had climbed down the rock like a goat at the shouting and cheering he had heard, and was looking with open mouth and curious timidity at the entrance when - a familiar face, our notary, came swimming out of it! - "Mr Notary, that's where you came from?! What is this shouting and rejoicing inside?" - "The devil is in it!" said the notary, who was now quite courageous, with a comfortable humour, and swam towards the barque: "Look into it yourself, and see what sort of a face he has!" he called from there, as he threw over the shirt. The astonished owner of the property, after more coaxing, also plucked up courage, threw off his clothes and swam in to us. The donkey driver and little Pagano greeted him with cheers. The cheering, the cave, the water, the fire, our peculiar drawing establishment, everything astonished him more and more. "How could you have had the courage to swim into this hatch? I grew up here, all this is mine, and I have never dared to look at what I have! You strangers have hearts of stone and iron!" he exclaimed once over the other. -
Now we had finished our drawings. We decided to investigate the cave further, I took the lantern and went ahead, peering, the others followed. We first came to the left, into a labyrinthine vault of stalactites, and walked over hollow crusts which, often only half an inch thick, nevertheless carried us safely.
This section of the grotto opened again with a kind of gateway to the larger one, affording one of the most splendid views. We turned back again, and found a longer passage, more to the right. Following this, we encountered some stones that looked like masonry....
"Here is a treasure, and it is mine!" cried the owner, throwing himself over it. We had to laugh heartily. Nothing was found. The treasure-seeker, however, was not fooled, and the scene was repeated several times in other places, to our amusement, until a small incident suddenly upset him. While he was walking eagerly in front of me, he suddenly stumbled and came rushing back so quickly that he almost knocked the lantern out of my hand.
"What is it?" I asked in amazement.
"Listen!" was his reply, at which he pressed close to me, pale as a corpse, and I felt him tremble. The donkey-driver and the little Pagano put their hands to their lips, were silent and trembling too; my travelling companion said: "Well?" and dead silence surrounded us. Now we clearly heard a sound like "piong, pang, pang, pang, pang" coming from the black depth of the passage. "It's only dripping water on hollow stone!" exclaimed I, "forward!" - With that I went on; but soon it went strangely, if I held the lantern low it burned badly, if I held it higher it burned brighter. - "Look how strange things are here, things are not right in the cave, let's get out of here!" whispered the owner to the other two captains, and all three crossed themselves.
"There's nothing here but bad air!" said I to the startled ones.
"Yes, yes the very worst!" they said, "let us go out again in the name of God!" - We strangers thought it best to turn back, but before we did so, I shone a little ahead with my lantern held high: we saw something like heavy white smoke on the ground. We took this something for a so-called bad weather, and lingered a moment to look at it, for we had never seen anything like it. The Capreans, however, summoned us to turn back and were already groping back into the darkness. None of them wanted to stay at the back. As ridiculous as this hurried staggering away seemed at first, we became more serious when we realised that we were no longer in the same passage in which we had first entered. The confused groping of those rushing ahead did not allow me to see the error even in the light of the lantern until the place we reached was strikingly different from the earlier places. "God, save us!" cried the Capreans. As the passage in which we now found ourselves was much more spacious and regular than the first, I laid down some stones in a certain order as a marker at the place where we had discovered the error, and exhorted all to examine this passage also. This was probably the right main passage, as the other one seemed too small for a Roman work, but we would find the other one again after the marker. The Capreans implored me to abandon the new enterprise, and my friend was about to point out to me the lack of oil in our lamp, when suddenly it really went out. - Suddenly we were standing in impenetrable darkness, lost and at a loss; for even the marker I had just laid down, as there were more stones lying around, we could no longer find in the dense darkness. "We must starve here," was my friend's first word: "we shall never find our way out of here!" - The Capreans rattled with fear, as if in great cold, and murmured prayers to all the saints. I, who blamed myself for all the misfortune, had to summon up all my strength not to lose my senses.
"There is nothing left here," I exclaimed, "but to trust in God! One of us must stand firm here in one direction or another, but the other four of us must stagger around and look for exits as best we can. By calling out to each other, we will keep together and find our way around the stationary area until we have reached our destination! -
My German companion found the suggestion not without sense, and was just helping me to exhort the Capreans to carry it out, when a terrible cry, like the howl of a wild beast, rang out to us through the darkness. Involuntarily we all pressed together. - The screaming repeated itself. - "Thank God, it's Angelo's voice!" cried Michele, the donkey driver: "the cave only makes the sound horrible. It's Angelo, he's calling Michele!" - "Truly it is an angel!" I cried. "He is not far, now we may well find our way out!" - We walked cautiously, now calling, now listening, in a long line after the sound, and the foremost had not advanced fifty paces when he cried, "I see a glimmer, we have won!" - "We have won!" shouted one to the other, and not long after, the last one saw the hewn window again. After the terrible darkness, the miracle of the blue-flamed water appeared to us in double splendour, and we all greeted good Angelo with a jubilant eh viva! He was still rocking in his skid, but the fire had burnt out, and as we had stayed so endlessly, he thought that some misfortune had befallen us, and he had cried out so terribly, half out of fear for himself, half out of fear for us. We now all rushed together out of lust back into the subterranean sky. It was now billowing more strongly from the increasing fresh wind, and Angelo urged us to leave the grotto. "If you still want to go round the island, we must hurry." - Once more we scaled the subterranean shore, packed our folders and field-chairs into the skid that carried the fire, threw ourselves again into the beautiful element, and swam out delighted, without having comprehended the wonder of its colour at all, but I with the firm resolution to explore it to the bottom another time. - The Capreans were now heroes, and looked proudly at the entrance: "We have come out after all! Sant' Antonio has protected us!" - "The people in Capri will stand and open their mouths!" said the donkey driver, packed the skids into the smaller boat and boarded it with the young Pagano, the old one had gone to Capri with a fisherman on another boat. We boarded the big one with Angelo.
"Does no one row us but you?" I asked.
"Be of good cheer," Angelo replied, "I am yours for two!" With that he seized two oars, hung them on the pegs, and drove us out of the little bay, turning left, around the northwestern part of the island. There we found many more small caves, and, as the wind grew fresher, beautiful surf on the innumerable reefs. In a wedge-shaped narrowness, the waves always rose up into a jet, and, raining down atomised, adorned themselves with iridescent colours. As we rounded the many cliffs to the south, the waves went higher and higher, while the shores rose ever more unclimbable and mighty. We had the opportunity to admire our Angelo. All alone, he conquered all the surge of foaming water with his two oar fins. Our barque, with its painted eyes, shot up and down like a dolphin. My friend could not enjoy the magnificent spectacle of Angelo's boldness on the waves. He had had the fever just before, and from the rocking he felt a headache.
"Sant' Antonio!" suddenly resounded from Angelo's mouth. A rudder peg had broken in the mighty battle with the waves. The oar, however, slipped from Angelo's hand and floated on the thundering waves against the rock face. I was frightened, for with an oar in such turmoil, what was to become of us? Even swimming, we could not have landed, for the jagged shores rose almost steeply right over a thousand feet. The danger was increased by submarine cliffs, whose presence was announced by the irregularly rising foam. I noticed a man on one prong of the cliff face, lowered by a rope, felling scrub. He leaned the axe down and clasped his hands together when he saw us in such danger. He seemed to want to help us, but it was impossible for him to come down any further, so help from him was out of the question. - But Angelo had already recovered his composure from Sant'Antonio, and with one oar not only knew how to keep the boat from the rock face, but at the same time to steer it in such a way that I, anticipating the favourable moment, could catch the lost oar again and hand it to him. Before he was able to get it ready again, a peg back, an enormous wave took us and drove us against the steep wall in such a way that we cried out in horror; - but Angelo had already wrested it from the wave with both oars, stopped it, and, rolling far back, it drove us far away from the surrounded rocks. The woodcutter shouted from above: "Bravo, Angelo! bravo!" and we shouted along from the bottom of our hearts. It was indeed a masterpiece of rowing. Angelo's whole figure had risen in that fateful moment. The oars suddenly grew into his hand, his eye looked fixed, his feet rooted to the ground, a sure pressure, and - we were saved. - Our shout of applause changed his face little, he worked on calmly; but after a few minutes he looked at the cliff, then at me, and said, "Thank God you gave me the oar, so we escaped!" - Then he struck the new peg harder with his hand, and threw himself with renewed strength into the oars.
Now we passed, some distance away, several caves, the most beautiful of which is the "dell' orefice" (of the goldsmith). It pierces a protruding reef, just below the two thousand foot high tip of the island. It was impossible for us to pass through this time. Later I visited this grotto from time to time, which is very strange because of the colour of the walls. Collapsed at one point, it forms a small, quiet bay. A Caprean fisherman once took refuge here from a pursuing Barbary ship. The pirates thought they had caught him if they lay quietly in front of the entrance to the bay. Fortunately for the skipper, however, they did not know that he could escape through the rock, and were still waiting in vain for his reappearance, while he had long since arrived happily with his own.
Skirting this reef, we soon reached Siren Rock. On this flattened rock we saw, already from a distance, a man and a boy standing and waving both arms at us. As we came closer, we heard their shouting. It was Michele, the donkey driver and little Pagano. We landed in the sandy bay next to the stone. Michele told us that Don Pagano was afraid for our lives because the sea was so high, and had sent him down to look after us and advise us not to go any further. My companion, shaken by a relapse of his fever, decided to hurry home with little Pagano and went ashore. But I made Michele get into the boat with me and help Angelo to row. He was with us in one leap and took the oar. It was not long before we were under the Madonna della Libera mountain. With its thousand-foot-high peak, it almost forms a niche on this side, so enormous is the aforementioned saving grotto, which gave the mountain the name "della liberazione", mountain of liberation, from which "libera" was undoubtedly mutilated. At the foot of the mountain there is a second cave at quite a height, into which a passage from the now abandoned Carthusian monastery leads. Down on the shore, more to the east, is the mighty grotto of the Tiberian Arsenal, with many ruins of Roman masonry. Now we came closer and closer to the rock towers, the Faraglioni, which stand alone in the sea, up to three hundred feet high. The waves surrounded them with terrible force. Now the magnificent gate formed by one of the rocks opened. As daring as it seemed with the rising sea, the two men steered our barque through it; indeed, when they noticed that I wanted to look at the walls and ceiling of the gate, they stopped and guided their oars so skilfully that I had, admittedly dangerous, leisure to look at the beautiful stalactite formations with which the enormous, almost Gothic rock arch is decorated. The high summit of these cliffs is constantly swarmed by sea birds, and is full of their nests everywhere; sometimes it is climbed by courageous young men. On the top is said to be a very varied vegetation.
When the dark blue waves had swept us between the magnificent cliffs, golden here and there, the surprising sight of the south-eastern shore unfolded. Nowhere have I encountered a more wild and rugged rocky coast. Here is an abundance of the most varied forms of jags, slopes, precipices, clefts, gates, reefs, crevices and land and sea caves, and nothing is more picturesque than the view of the island from the south-east, in the midday light. No depiction of it has yet become known, presumably because the almost constantly rising waves here prevent drawing from nature. We were shaken violently and only found the sea calmer when we came near the monk's grotto. I asked my skippers to land there, and found the grotto full of the most beautiful stalactites. Inside, a second grotto arches, where the sea penetrates, and above it another smaller one, where the stalactites resemble a procession, at least the one in front can easily be mistaken for a monk. From this the grotto may have the name del Monaco, the monk. Jumping back into the barque, we now rocked around the eastern end of the island, under Tiber's Jupiter Villa and its grotto. There we were completely sheltered from the wind by the thousand-foot cliff. This was all the more desirable as the sea on the northern beach, along which we were now sailing, was strewn with small cliffs. Anyone who gets between them with just a little wind is lost, for they have been so washed out by the surf that only their hardest veins remain, but these are in the shape of thistles with countless thorns. Some rise above the water with only very thin stems. - The closer we came to the place of our departure, the faster Michele and Angelo swung the oars, and, again sailing around a lot of rocky debris that had rolled down into the sea, we finally reached the now longed-for bay of Capri. The barge rushed onto the beach and we jumped down onto the shore gravel. The people we met on the shore looked at us with a secret horror, pushed each other with their arms, and said: they come from the devil's dwelling (casa del diavolo). I laughed and called out to them: we were bringing an evil spirit in a sack: did they want to see it? "Don't say that!" began Michele, "people really believe it, and end up thinking we are black artists, that wouldn't be good!" - Now I went up to the people and told them that I was joking, and that this grotto was no more the devil's dwelling-place than any other they went to every day. - But the people, I might say what I would, kept their horror of the enterprise. I now made a present to good Angelo for his bravery, and went with Michele up the long road to Capri. When we arrived at the notary's house, the notary's whole family met me. Each of them gave me a flower and expressed their joy that we had all survived happily and had escaped with our skins intact. "But we have also prayed for you," they said, and now I learned that while we were in the disreputable grotto, the good Canonico had said a mass for the salvation of his reckless brother, and the whole house of the latter was present, praying fervently. The joy of the kind people that their prayer had been answered was indescribable. They took part in our midday meal and were very receptive to all our jokes. I told them: Angelo had caught a siren of wonderful beauty: he was keeping her in a net in the sea because we had told him that she could die if he brought her up from the water. The young girls were about to go down to the navy to look at her when I laughed at them and they realised the joke. At dessert, the notary began: "Don Augusto, now let's talk about something serious. Our grotto is such a wonder of the world that it could attract many strangers here to Capri; put a description of it in my tourist book, who knows if it might not benefit me and my children?" - I was glad to comply with his wish, and wrote down - what many have already read and copied. As I started to write, Don Pagano held back my hand and said: "But Don Augusto, one more thing! What shall we call the grotto? - As yet it has no name." - I read in his features the wish that I might call it Grotta Pagano after his name; I would also have given it that name, but, having first brought him in, as it were by force, I did not think him entirely worthy of the honour, and therefore answered him: I know of no better name to suggest for it than that: Grotta azzurra, the sky-blue grotto. -
"Azzurra?" asked the good notary.
"Yes," I said, "azzurra."
"Azzurra? - What is that azzurra supposed to mean?" he asked, shaking his head.
I paraphrased the word to him as best I could.
After a while of thoughtful silence, he said, "My dear Don Augusto: azzurra is not a good word?"
"Because nobody understands it, it sounds so special!"
"Well," I said, "there's no harm in that, the grotto is special too."
"Yes," he said: "that, I suppose; but..." he continued with friendly politeness, "why don't you rather give the grotto your name?" - He expected me to give it his name out of courtesy, but I told him that no one in Italy could pronounce my name, and that Angelo had gone ahead with the fire, and that if it were to be named after one of us, it would have to be named after the first. I would prefer to call it azzurra, as this would attract the curiosity of strangers far more than any human name. "So many caves are named after people!" I concluded my speech.
"Yes, but," Don Pagano began again, "azzurra is not good Italian!"
"So?" said I, "shall I prove to you from books that it is a good word?" -
"What need of books? I am a native Italian, and know that it is neither said nor written!"
"Mr. Notary!" said I, "let us look a little in your library, I will find the word!" - Reluctantly he followed, and even more reluctantly he saw it, when I proved to him the same word in a great many writings. - Nevertheless, he resisted, saying: "But dear Don Augusto, here in Capri, no one understands it." - "Well," I said, "the foreigners will understand it, they read your poets, the word appears often enough in them! - Why didn't you swim into the grotto first? Then I would have called it Grotta Pagano." - "Yes," said the notary, "I was a right *** to stay behind; but at that moment I remembered my children, and, I do not deny it, also the stories of my brother the canonico. Now then, I did not deserve the honour; so it is called Grotta azzurra!" - With that, he surrendered to Everything, and let me write what I wanted.
The pleasant feeling of having been surprised by a phenomenon of such extraordinary beauty, where I had only suspected old ruins, was heightened to the point of over-excitement by the fact that the magical flaming blue of the water in the grotto had remained an inexplicable mystery to me at the time. In my thoughts, I was still constantly swaying around in the subterranean sky, with the dizzying sensation as if I had to fall into the incalculable infinity, and fall away, as one is wont to do in a dream, and I made every effort to find some reason for the wonderful appearance of light, but in vain. This fruitless effort finally put me into a tormenting restlessness, which of course could not end until I examined the grotto anew. As the weather was constantly stormy, I suffered for several days from a veritable torment of hypotheses. Finally the sky cleared and one afternoon there was no wind at all. Then I hurried down to the navy alone, as best I could. The beach was teeming with fishermen, and I immediately thought of hiring a boat and going down there, but - Angelo was not there, and none of the fishermen wanted to take me anywhere near the grotto. Yes, they shouted my desire from one end to the other, and as far as I could see, I saw nothing but holding my right hand to my neck - as a sign of denial. The people also gathered whimsically in groups, murmured among themselves, and pointed at me with both hands. But a very old man said to me, "My lord, be blessed, in the cave is the devil!" - Whatever I said and offered, no one would lay a hand on the oar, "even if you offered a hundred ducats!" they cried. Finally, after the evening had almost come, Angelo swung ashore from the Tunnara in a very small boat. I ran to meet him and, tired as he was, I found him ready to fulfil my wish. His friends tried to dissuade him from going, but he told them: "God help us, what will happen to us?" - "What will happen to us?" cried another voice. It was Michele, who had seen me from afar and was very willing to take part in the venture once more. I got in with him, and the boat sailed across the glassy surface as fast as an arrow. The sea was so calm on that beautiful evening that when we arrived at the grotto, Angelo said: "We don't need to swim today, the sea has no waves at all: I want to see if I can't slip through the entrance with the whole boat?" - No sooner said than done, we rocked, pushed and bent the little boat back and forth in the narrowness of the cave, so that at last it suddenly, as if in a flash, entered the interior. "Sant' Antonio!" cried Angelo, taking the brown cap from his head, folding his hands, and beginning to pray.
"What have you, Angelo, what fear befalls you?" asked I.
"Yes," said Angelo, "in we are now - but - how do we get out again? My little ship is all bruised, so narrow is the gate, I almost fear we must stay here for ever!"
"Do you also think of such superstitions?" I said: "Have good courage! If we do not take the barque out when we are in it, we shall scoop it half full of water, and push it out swimming." -
"You are right: that is the way!" now said Angelo; "but our clothes will get wet!" - "All the same!" said I. Meanwhile we had come to the back of the grotto, and the spectacle which now presented itself to our eyes was entirely new, and of indescribable grace. As the evening sun shone on the entrance, the cave was much brighter than it had been that morning, and its many-pronged curvature showed itself in all its colourful splendour, where it was brighter, slightly reflected by the sky-clear water. I let the oars retract; there the lovely element was almost completely at rest, and one could have taken it for the blue sky itself, had it not been for the silver drops falling from the ceiling, soon here and soon there, which, melodically sounding and throwing blue sparks, adorned it with a graceful play of flowing rings. Into this melodic drizzle moaned now and then, like a breathing human breast, the soft surf, first outside, then inside the grotto. I now also saw flocks of a kind of small fish, which, although they usually appear colourful like hummingbirds, here flew around like black swallows in the sky below me. My eyes, peering down into the blue, thought I could finally make out the bottom of the sea in the grotto, just as one thinks one can make out a distant mountain range. I drew the skippers' attention to how the almost yellow-brown pillars that supported the vault continued with a greenish shimmer under the water and surrounded a wide rocky cauldron in the deepest depths. But as they always claimed that it was the mirror of the vault above us, I finally let a stone that was in the boat sink down quietly. After a long time I saw it, where I had suspected it to be, surrounded by air bubbles, like a lump of silver, and my proof was given. - I now drew the grotto from two other points. In doing so, I noticed how the blue did not shine brightest from the northern entrance, but from the western rock face; the pillars there also did not seem to me to go far down, but only to hang, as it were, into the water. I examined the rock with the oar and found that it had an enormous opening under the water, towards the outer deeper sea, so that a good diver could swim under this rock into and out of the cave. This is also the path taken by the rays of light, and since the water continues the illumination into the cave, while the deeper sea itself serves as a dark background, it must necessarily appear blue as an illuminated middle, like the air of the sky during the day, and likewise spread blue light. Since the floor of the grotto itself is illuminated, the blue gradually diminishes towards its interior, and becomes more and more a duller greenish-grey, until the surf strikes the coloured hem of the rocks, and throws back the received light in a brilliant multicolour. I now had an oar held still in the water, and the illumination of it, at various points in the grotto, confirmed my opinion, until at last, looking quite attentively, I could distinguish perfectly the whole submarine gate and the sea-bottom, which sloped precipitously outwards. A swarm of fish, which came in and swam out again, left no doubt about it; the miracle was explained, and doubly delighted, I could hardly separate myself from the place. At last Angelo drew my attention to the fact that it was getting darker and darker. The sun was sinking, - so we hurried to get out; but haste makes haste: we still had to exercise great patience before the demons released us! The boat was too wide, and after sunset a breeze began to stir up the waves, making our work even more difficult. Finally we braced ourselves against the ceiling of the entrance, pushed the boat a little into the water, and look, we succeeded! This time we escaped dry-footed; Angelo exclaimed, "Thank God my barque is out! If I had had to leave it in, all Capri would say the devil had kept it, and look upon me for no good!" - "Yes," said Michele: "already because of the other day, my own people regard me as a half-lost soul!"
Highly delighted by the happy outcome of my second visit to the grotto, I returned to Don Pagano and my German friend.
As often as I later swam and travelled to the grotto under various graceful circumstances, of which many a story could be told, I will conclude here with only a brief description of a visit I made to the grotto in the company of the bold young Prince of T. and the Count of L. during a rather violent storm. - We had spent several days on Capri hoping in vain for calm seas, so that Prince T. became impatient and, being a good swimmer, decided to force his way into the grotto in defiance of the storm. When he could not be dissuaded, Count L. and I also showed ourselves ready for the adventure. It was with difficulty that Angelo and Michele were persuaded to go. We took a rather large boat, and our rowers struggled through the white-foaming waves to the bay of the grotto.
"Here is the grotto!" said I.
"Where?" asked the prince. There was nothing to be seen of the low entrance: the swollen waves hid it completely. All at once, as the billow went hollow, he appeared in the depths. - "Down there is the entrance!" I cried hastily. -
"Very well," said the Prince: "so it does appear now and then, and we can slip in at the end, can't we?" - With these words he had already leaped out on a projecting rock, and invited us to do likewise. - Angelo and Michele now wrestled again with the white foam, and brought the thrown-back ship, not without danger, so close again that Count L. and I could also jump out. Prince T. had already undressed for swimming. We tried in vain to dissuade him from the venture by also undressing. Before we knew it, he had disappeared from our side. - "For God's sake, where has he gone?" exclaimed Count L.
"Certainly he has already gone in!" replied I: "it is horrible enough! He may have been smashed on the rocks!"
"I can't bear it!" cried the Count,-"I must go after him!"
I wanted to hold him back, and swim in in his place; but, with me at the same time, he threw himself as if in despair on the water, and slipping in with a hollow surge, we saw ourselves in a moment in the middle of the grotto. We found the lost prince unharmed. He swam back and forth in the sky-blue turmoil, rejoicing and cheering, and we both joined in his delighted shouting, which, of course, was far over-echoed by the thunder of the surf. The spectacle that presented itself to our gaze was truly unique. Sometimes the waves came in so hollow that they opened the submarine gate and let the daylight shine through under the rock. Then the surf inside the grotto was terribly beautiful; for when it struck, the gate and entrance were already closed again, and it overflowed as a mighty blue blaze, to which the dissipating foam was like smoke. But when the wave was full, a full, silver jet shot into the entrance in the shape of an arch, and dissipated with a blue rain of fire on the water raging inside, which was a roll of millions of precious stones.
We could not be satisfied with the sight, and, swimming to and fro all the time, at last became so bold that we swam out to jest and in, at last swimming to the boat struggling outside, where we fetched wax torches brought from Naples, lantern, lighter, measuring ropes, and a good breakfast, all packed in a skid, and landed happily inside the grotto. We left the skid only a long rope, from which hung a huge stone, and swam with it to the centre of the basin, to measure its depth, - which, of course, was different every moment, given the huge turmoil. We let the stone go down, and the rope immediately pulled one of us down with it. - After we had taken the middle measurement in the fluctuations, the pulling up of the stone was a source of endless laughter; for, because it was so heavy, each person pulling it up always dived a little into the water, while the waves whirled us all together with the skid and the rope in the most ridiculous way. Finally we had the stone back in the skid, and now we measured the grotto in other directions. We found it to be a little over a hundred feet long, not quite as wide, and the water in it half as deep. The very unequal height of the vault above the water we estimated at its summit to be something over thirty feet. - After this measurement, which was not very precise, but not overestimated, we disembarked at the inner landing place, if one can call being hurled upwards and hastily clinging on, in which we were quite battered, anything like that. Nevertheless, we were soon sitting heartily and happily on the upturned skid, and comfortably consumed our breakfast, watching the splendid raging of the element. But when the craving for drink and food was satisfied, we lit the torches and hastened to investigate the passage of Tiber. We advanced further than we had done the first time, but at last the passage was so narrowed by new dripstone formations that first I, then the Prince, had to stay behind. As far as the slimmer Count L. had advanced, he too was finally trapped and had to turn back. Going back was not as easy as going in. We had slipped in easily in some places, but on our way out we often had prickly prongs against us, so that we did not get through with our skins intact. - We couldn't find the large passageway that I had seen on my first visit to the cave. Here and there we saw the ceiling collapse again, and it is to be assumed that it was closed in this way. The footprints that the first visit to the grotto had made in the soft mud, we now found had already turned into hard stone. - After the dropped drops of the wax torches we found ourselves safely towards the landing-place, and throwing ourselves again into the splendid element, drew the skid with the implements into it, and thrusting them jubilantly before us, passed through the entrance, scaled the rock, and, quickly dressing, jumped again into our boat. As the wind was blowing from the north, we decided, in spite of the motion of the sea, to sail round the island, finding also the swells on the south side so moderate that we completed the voyage with real pleasure.
Since that time, the grotto has been visited more and more by locals and strangers alike. It has provided the setting for episodes and fairy tales for many a story-telling poet; I have contented myself here with describing some of the things I really experienced and saw there. -
Entry in Giuseppe Pagano's guest book of 17 August 1826 under the names Ernst Fries from Heidelberg and August Kopisch from Breslau:
I would like to draw the attention of friends of wonderful natural beauties to a grotto which I discovered with him and Mr. Fries according to the information provided by our host Giuseppe Pagano and which fearful superstition dared not visit for centuries. Until now it has only been accessible to good swimmers; when the sea is calm it is possible to enter in a small boat, but this is dangerous because the slightest rising air would make it impossible to get out. We named this grotto the blue (la grotta azzurra) because the light from the depths of the sea illuminates its wide space in blue. You will find yourself strangely surprised to see the water filling the grotto like blue fire, every wave seems a flame. In the background, an old path in the rock leads perhaps to Damicuta above, where, according to legend, Tiber is said to have locked up girls and it is possible that this cave was his secret landing place. Until now, only a marinaro and a donkey driver have been so hearty as to venture on this venture, because all kinds of fables about this cave are circulating. However, I advise everyone to make an agreement with these two beforehand because of the price. The innkeeper, whom I recommend because of his knowledge of the island, wants to have a very small, narrow boat built, which could then be driven in more comfortably. For the time being, I only recommend it to good swimmers. It is most beautiful in the morning because in the afternoon the daylight falls in more strongly and disturbingly, and the wonderful magic is thereby diminished. The picturesque impression is enhanced if you swim in with flaming pitch pans, as we do.