October 1903 – Italy


​It is now October 1903 and Marjorie has just spent an idyllic month in Venice — visiting churches, art museums, palaces, a glass factory, and a lace factory.  She spent a day at the Lido and took daily walks to St. Mark’s Square where she never tired of gazing at the glorious façade of the Cathedral of San Marco.  She loved exploring the city, getting lost in the narrow, warren-like streets, or gazing awe-struck from a gondola as she lay back on the cushioned seat listening to the “dip…dip” of the oars, and the beautiful arias sung by the gondoliers. At the end of September Marjorie, Dorothy, Gertrude, and Miss Macartnay “…had a most mournful last gondola ride down to the station and took the 2.30 o’clock train for Milan.”

​The train from Venice passed through Padua, Verona, Vicenza, and Brecchia, arriving in Milan in the evening.  The next day was delightfully clear and sunny, so they decided to take a trip to Lake Como while the weather was good.  They arrived at the town of Como just before noon, and immediately boarded a boat to take them up the Lake. The glorious fall weather enhanced the colors of the water, the surrounding hills, and the gardens of the villas along the lakeside:  “The vines that covered the Italian villas had all turned red and shone so exquisitely in the sun.  Each shore of the lake was terraced and crowded with grape vines, gracefully twined —and the grey green of the olive was seen everywhere.  It was a perfect day with the blue sky reflected in the water, and vines so red, and the villas so bright and picturesque in the sunlight,” wrote Marjorie to her mother. Their destination was Bellagio, a charming little town on a point of land between Lakes Como and Secco.  They left the boat and wandered around among the roses and oleanders, walking through the quaint arcade, “where everything imaginable is for sale, from roast chestnuts to real shell combs and brushes.” They climbed the cobble-stone path leading from the town up the hillside to the silk factory where they watched the workers making scarves and blankets.

​Back in Milan they visited the museums and churches, and particularly enjoyed the Cathedral: “It is wonderful.  All white and glistening outside, with hundreds of carved Gothic spires.” They shopped in the famous “Galleria” and had hotchocolate at the celebrated restaurant “Biffis.”

​The next stop was Genoa, a flourishing seaport where the town is built on a semicircle of hills surrounding the harbor, the birthplace of Christopher Columbus.  They stayed overnight at the Hotel Savoie, and then took the train to Pisa. They drove straight to the “…wonderful group of buildings —the Cathedral, baptistery, Campo Santo and Leaning Tower.  I am so glad we saw them first by evening —for the marble turned yellow with age was so exquisite against the sunset sky. The great dome of the baptistery with the rose colored clouds behind it, I think I shall never forget.”

​Marjorie was fascinated with the enormous bronze lamp that hangs in the Basilica whose swinging (so slight that you can hardly notice it) gave Galilieo the idea of the pendulum and the earth’s motion.

​On to Siena!  “One of the very red letter days.  Siena is the most fascinating Italian town – the streets so tiny and winding and all up and down hill, and the houses are old and so interesting.  The city is built on three hills, and in the very centre is a square or campo where all three meet.” They studied the della Robbias, commenting on and comparing the work of the father, son, and nephew. They left Siena reluctantly, “…but even on the train we didn’t quite lose our memories of a delightful time for we had one of the famous cakes called ‘Panforte di Siena’ as a delicious reminder.”

​A four-hour train journey took them to Florence, a city Marjorie would return to many times.  They took rooms at the Hotel de la Ville on Piazza Manin with views of the River Arno and its graceful bridges.

Hotel de la Ville, Florence, 1903

Hotel de la Ville, Florence, 1903

Here they studied the Medicis, and visited the Uffizi Gallery several times to see the del Sartos, Botticellis, Peruginos, andFra Angelicos.  They shopped on the Ponte Vecchio (old bridge), “…with shops on each side and a streetway in the middle – the shops are so gay, pinks and blues and yellows, and there’s a lovely open portico in the centre where you can look up and down the river and see the city as if it were in a frame. At the Pitti Palace they saw Raphaels and Titians, and at the Santa Maria Novella the exquisite Cimabues.  They went to Michael Angelo’s house and saw his desk and chair and many of his great statues; then Dante’s tiny home, (one room full of relics of his life, and the chair he sat in while writing the “Inferno.”) They visited the Convent of San Marco to see the frescoes by Fra Angelico, and the Bella Arti to see Michael Angelo’s famous statue of David.  They rode out into the country – to Fiesole, San Miniato, Prato, and Poggio a Caiano.  Every day, after their exhausting sightseeing, they went toGiacosa’s Tea Room, still in business today on the Via dellaSpada.

Giacosa’s Tea Room, Florence, 1903

Giacosa’s Tea Room, Florence, 1903

​With their time in Florence running out, Marjorie took a quick trip to Perugia, Assisi, and Orvieto.  She would have liked to stay in Florence longer, but by the end of October she was looking forward to the next part of the tour – two months in Rome.  They had applied for tickets to the Vatican to attend the first Consistory on November 12th.  Pope Pius X (who was himself later canonized) had called the assembly of Roman Catholic Cardinals to witness the canonization of a new Saint.

​The November issue of “Notes from the Archives” will be a tour of Rome, through Marjorie’s letters, including the extraordinary experience of attending the Consistory.