While the rest of Italy allured barbaric hordes by its smiling plains, the wild passes of the Alps and the lands contiguous were rather passed over than invaded. There were, indeed, of inroads and partial colonization by many ancient tribes. Saracens, Hungarians, Etruscans, Ligurians, Carthaginians, and Gauls found in what is now called Piedmont sometimes a terrible avenue to more genial districts, sometimes a temporary camp or fortification, now a battle-field, and now a barrier; but the few traces that remain of them justify the declaration of the historian, that all the martial tribes of antiquity were "shy of the Alps," and that, up to the period of the Roman conquest, Piedmont was untouched by the Gaul, and only broken through by the Carthaginian.
Thus left to themselves, the Subalpines preserved their normal vigor and individuality; and when absorbed, at last, into the empire of Augustus, Liguria held out longer than any region of Italy against the insidious corruption of Roman civilization, and although Cottius gave his name to the nearest Alpine range, more slowly than elsewhere in the South was the agriculturist won from rustic hardihood to urban luxury. Under Charlemagne, Piedmont was the border land between Burgundy and Italy. She dates her Christian civilization from St. Barnabas, one of the original apostles; and from that epoch, as elsewhere, the monastery and the fortress, the cross and the sword, power chiefly based on will and only tempered by a superstitious faith, moulded the character of a people thus isolated by the mountains, yet exposed by position to the contact and influence of other nationalities.
While she had within her bosom the most venerable of Protestant sects, the popular tendency was towards the grossest superstitions of Romanism. Defying papal authority, she yet was overrun by priests. Among the most genuine of Italians, her people were yet, on one side, identified in feeling and character with the French. While she gives ample evidence of progress, activity, and patriotism, the national sentiment is modified and baffled by diversity of opinion, interest, and faith.
The geographical features of this remarkable territory were not less varied than its historical fortunes. It touched and included all that is most characteristic of mountain and plain, river and lake, sea-shore and forest. Within the limits of the kingdom may be seen the maize-fields and mulberry-groves, the wheat-meadows and the vineyards, that belong to the most fertile regions of Italy, and with them the snow-crowned peaks, the fir-clad ravines, the military highways, and the inviolate summits of Alpine districts. Here streams are fed by glaciers ; here cling to a rocky hill-side groves of luxuriant chestnuts ; and there, on a marshy flat, waves the rice harvest. Now we behold the white and awful brow of Mont Blanc, and now stand in a hushed and green valley, where nature wears the most soft and sequestered aspect.
The fragrant orange plantations of Nice, the palatial architecture of Genoa, and the humble parish church of the Valais, the interior plain of Turin, the maritime beauty of the Mediterranean coast, - all belong to a common jurisdiction, and own a generic political name. It is easy to imagine the local contrasts which such a kingdom affords. Perhaps no domain yields more various scenic effects, or greater diversities of character. In Piedmont the Alps and Apennines blend. The region is, in fact, a succession of natural terraces formed by the mountains, with dells, gorges, and broad vales interspersed. Within the limits of the kingdom are the most fertile section of the valley of the Po, Mont Blanc, the little St. Bernard, and that memorable highway which crosses Mont Cenis, and the Lake of Geneva is on its borders.
Chambery is French, Turin Italian ; the Savoyards distinctively are neither. The Piedmontese are separated from Genoa hy the maritime Alps, France bounds them on the west, and the Milanese on the east. Of old separating Gaul from Germany, afterwards Burgundy from Italy, they long manifested more affinity to the Provencals than to Italians; and although we now trace a greater identity with the latter, a peculiar physiognomy, hue, and tone signalize their Northern origin.
The Piedmontese dialect more nearly resembles that of Provence than of Italy. The French language was first introduced into Turin at court by the house of Savoy, and its use confirmed by the repeated occupancy of the state by the armies of France. "French," said Montaigne, "is commonly spoken here, and everybody appears to hold our people in great esteem and affection ; the vernacular even has very little Italian about it, except the pronunciation ; in itself it seems made up, for the most part, of French words."
The importance of Piedmont, as a mountainous state intervening between others, is evinced by the value attached to her chief fortresses. In 1796, Napoleon's first demand upon the vanquished Piedmontese government was the surrender of Ceva and Alessandria; and to his possession of these and other strong-holds in that region is to be ascribed Austria's compliance with the treaty of Luneville, after the battle of Marengo. Fenestrelle acquired a poetical interest from its being the scene of Saintine's delightful little romance of " Picciola."
There is no chapter in the history of the Christian religion more significant than that which concerns the Waldenses of Piedmont. In the ravines of the grand crescent of the Alps which extends from the Gulf of Genoa to that of Venice, so sequestered as often to become visible only from some overhanging cliff, nestle the parish churches of these primitive Christians, whose boast it is, among the so-called Reformers, that Rome left them, not they Rome; who preserved the Gospel in their memories, and disseminated it in precious fragments. The most romantic scenery and the oldest fortresses of Piedmont are associated with the valor and the sacrifice of the Waldenses. The rocky mounds of Balsi signalize the pass where a few hundred dalesmen long kept at bay twenty thousand Savoyard and French troops.
This Protestant community is yet historically allied to the great nations of the world, - befriended by Holland and England, counselled by William of Orange, protected by Cromwell, sung in plaintive eulogy by Milton, and, in later times, relieved and gladdened by the contributions of Switzerland and the United States. Its annals are as romantic as its present aspect is interesting.
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