DOWN TO THE PINETA
We drove three miles beyond the city, to the Church of St. Apollinare in Classe, a lonely edifice in a waste of marsh, a grand old basilica, a purer specimen of Christian art than Rome or any other Italian town can boast. Just outside the city gate stands a Greek cross on a small fluted column, which marks the site of the once magnificent Basilica of St. Laurentius, which was demolished in the sixteenth century, its stone built into a new church in town, and its rich marbles carried to all-absorbing Rome. It was the last relic of the old port of Caesarea, famous since the time of Augustus. A marble column on a green meadow is all that remains of a once prosperous city. Our road lay through the marshy plain, across an elevated bridge over the sluggish united stream of the Ronco and Montone, from which there is a wide view, including the Pineta (or Pine Forest), the Church of St. Apollinare in the midst of rice-fields and marshes, and on a clear day the Alps and Apennines.
I can imagine nothing more desolate than this solitary church, or the approach to it. Laborers were busy spading up the heavy, wet ground, or digging trenches, which instantly filled with water, for the whole country was afloat. The frogs greeted us with clamorous chorus out of their slimy pools, and the mosquitoes attacked us as we rode along. I noticed about on the bogs, wherever they could find standing-room, half-naked wretches, with long spears, having several prongs like tridents, which they thrust into the grass and shallow water. Calling one of them to us, we found that his business was fishing, and that he forked out very fat and edible-looking fish with his trident. Shaggy, undersized horses were wading in the water, nipping off the thin spears of grass. Close to the church is a rickety farmhouse. If I lived there, I would as lief be a fish as a horse.
The interior of this primitive old basilica is lofty and imposing, with twenty-four handsome columns of the gray Cippolino marble, and an elevated high altar and tribune, decorated with splendid mosaics of the sixth century,—biblical subjects, in all the stiff faithfulness of the holy old times. The marble floor is green and damp and slippery. Under the tribune is the crypt, where the body of St. Apollinaris used to lie (it is now under the high altar above); and as I desired to see where he used