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A walk between light and dark

I walked through light along the Terrazzo dell’infinito and looked down to the bluest of blue seas and mirrored skies. Stood at the very edge and in a dizzying moment may have shared the heavens with ravens.

This was my first and possibly last visit to Villa Cimbrone in Ravello perched high above the Amalfi Coast. The house and garden were developed by Ernest William Beckett from about 1904. He had abandoned his family seat of Kirkstall Grange, the Palladian mansion darkened by the encroaching sprawl of Edwardian Leeds and embattled by grey Yorkshire skies. He sold it to Leeds Corporation and from this estate grew the City of Leeds Training College.

Beckett died in 1917, in a sanatorium near Aberdeen, and never saw Cimbrone develop into maturity. Others would enjoy the drama and theatre of his house and garden, among them  D. H. Lawrence, T. S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Greta Garbo and Gore Vidal. Beckett along with his local gardener Nicola Manzi introduced grottos, shrines, sanctuaries, statues, poetic inscriptions, cedar trees, roses, wisteria and among these was a Temple of Bacchus under which Ernest Beckett’s remains were laid to rest.

The temple had an air of abandonment and secrecy, crowded by cedar and oak and gnarled olive trees which tumbled down into lemon groves below. Vegetation interrupted crumbling masonry, stones straining against iron bands and rusted metal. In reality the temple was perched high above the valley and at certain times of the day must be bathed in golden light; at that moment it seemed strangely subterranean cold and forgotten, in contrast to the warm celebration of the Terrazzo. Two forces in conflict, the light and the dark.

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By Dr Keith Rowntree
07 Mar 2019
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