The Black Eagle, October 14th. - Perhaps I had something more to say of San Quirico, but I shall merely add that there is a stately old palace of the Piccolomini close to the church above described. It is built in the style of the Roman palaces, and looked almost large enough to be one of them. Nevertheless, the basement story, or part of it, seems to be used as a barn and stable, for I saw a yoke of oxen in the entrance. I cannot but mention a most wretched team of vettura-horses which stopped at the door of our albergo: poor, lean, downcast creatures, with deep furrows between their ribs; nothing but skin and bone, in short, and not even so much skin as they should have had, for it was partially worn off from their backs. The harness was fastened with ropes, the traces and reins were ropes; the carriage was old and shabby, and out of this miserable equipage there alighted an ancient gentleman and lady, whom our waiter affirmed to be the Prefect of Florence and his wife.
We left San Quirico at two o'clock, and followed an ascending road till we got into the region above the clouds; the landscape was very wide, but very dreary and barren, and grew more and more so till we began to climb the mountain of Radicofani, the peak of which had been blackening itself on the horizon almost the whole day. When we had come into a pretty high region we were assailed by a real mountain tempest of wind, rain, and hail, which pelted down upon us in good earnest, and cooled the air a little below comfort. As we toiled up the mountain its upper region presented a very striking aspect, looking as if a precipice had been smoothed and squared for the purpose of rendering the old castle on its summit more inaccessible than it was by nature. This is the castle of the robber-knight, Ghino di Tacco, whom Boccaccio introduces into the Decameron. A freebooter of those days must have set a higher value on such a rock as this than if it had been one mass of diamond, for no art of mediaeval warfare could endanger him in such a fortress. Drawing yet nearer, we found the hillside immediately above us strewn with thousands upon thousands of great fragments of stone. It looked as if some great ruin had taken place there, only it was too vast a ruin to have been the dismemberment and dissolution of anything made by man.
We could now see the castle on the height pretty distinctly. It seemed to impend over the precipice; and close to the base of the latter we saw the street of a town on as strange and inconvenient a foundation as ever one was built upon. I suppose the inhabitants of the village were dependants of the old knight of the castle; his brotherhood of robbers, as they married and had families, settled there under the shelter of the eagle's nest. But the singularity is, how a community of people have contrived to live and perpetuate themselves so far out of the reach of the world's help, and seemingly with no means of assisting in the world's labor. I cannot imagine how they employ themselves except in begging, and even that branch of industry appears to be left to the old women and the children. No house was ever built in this immediate neighborhood for any such natural purpose as induces people to build them on other sites. Even our hotel, at which we now arrived, could not be said to be a natural growth of the soil; it had originally been a whim of one of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany, - a hunting-palace, - intended for habitation only during a few weeks of the year. Of all dreary hotels I ever alighted at, methinks this is the most so; but on first arriving I merely followed the waiter to look at our rooms, across stone-paved basement-halls dismal as Etruscan tombs; up dim staircases, and along shivering corridors, all of stone, stone, stone, nothing but cold stone. After glancing at these pleasant accommodations, my wife and I, with J - - -, set out to ascend the hill and visit the town of Radicofani.
It is not more than a quarter of a mile above our hotel, and is accessible by a good piece of road, though very steep. As we approached the town, we were assailed by some little beggars; but this is the case all through Italy, in city or solitude, and I think the mendicants of Radicofani are fewer than its proportion. We had not got far towards the village, when, looking back over the scene of many miles that lay stretched beneath us, we saw a heavy shower apparently travelling straight towards us over hill and dale. It seemed inevitable that it should soon be upon us, so I persuaded my wife to return to the hotel; but J - - -and I kept onward, being determined to see Radicofani with or without a drenching. We soon entered the street; the blackest, ugliest, rudest old street, I do believe, that ever human life incrusted itself with. The first portion of it is the overbrimming of the town in generations subsequent to that in which it was surrounded by a wall; but after going a little way we came to a high, square tower planted right across the way, with an arched gateway in its basement story, so that it looked like a great short-legged giant striding over the street of Radicofani. Within the gateway is the proper and original town, though indeed the portion outside of the gate is as densely populated, as ugly, and as ancient, as that within.