Shining white, Pompeian red, colonnades, vaults and secret gardens are found in Capri’s most fascinating villas, where famous guests relax gazing at the astonishing blue sea waters under bright sunshine. In the name of poetry or lofty laziness, the historical villas of Capri recall the life, joy, love stories and sufferance of the great from the time of the Romans to today. Augustus was a regular visitor of the island where Tiberius spent the last 10 years of his life.
Villa Jovis one of the 12 villas built by the emperor Tiberius and at the same time a fortress and a palace was built exploiting the natural slopes of the ground to give its visitors a sense of superiority and inaccessibility, 7,000 square meters on a cliff 354 meters above the sea and offering a breathless view of the Gulf of Naples to the visitor’s eyes when strolling the 90 meter loggia.
It is also in Capri, the oasis of pleasures where everything is licit, that the dream of the refined aesthete, the wealthy baron Jacques Fersen D’Adelsward, (1880-1923, related paternally to Axel von Fersen, a count who had a relationship with Marie Antoinette) Villa Lysis, takes shape.
Built also in an alluring setting of mount Tiberius, and “to live in beauty” was the Baron, attempting to calm the harsh treatment he suffered in Paris from the merciless scandal of being arrested on the very day of his engagement to the daughter of Viscount de Maupeou and thrown in a cell with charges of soliciting young males.
While his house was under construction, he went to Ceylon with some friends and here he discovered the sensual pleasures of opium. On his way back, the man who wanted to live in total beauty met a young laborer named Nino Cesarini onthe streets of Rome. The baron easily gained favor with the family of the ephebe, who followed him to Capri where he would receive an education and keep his company. Nino became his personal assistant and faithful lover. The young laborer from Rome became the object of his desire, the living statue of the temple he was building, the companion of a long and happy love story. In fact he lived the love story in the complete promiscuity of the island.
Fersen completed his ‘sanctuary’ in honor of the adolescence of love, built right on the cliff under Villa Jovis, the ancient residence of Tiberius. The splendid Neo-Classic building was called Villa Lysis in honor of the young friend of Socrates mentioned by Plato in the Dialogue of Friendship (Lysis). A monument in the name of love and his wounded ego. “If I were to built a city or simply a villa, I would do it to host poets, especially the maudit ones.” Inside, he built a little pagan temple with a statue of Narcissus, for which Nino posed as model. In the basement, Jacques built the famous “Chinese Room” where he kept the world’s most beautiful collection of opium pipes bought from the Emperor of China.
From 1905 to 1914 the owner of Villa Lysis lived a life of total pleasure, a poet with great ambition yet with poor skills who invoked the sky to grant him genius and glory, even if he knew he would never receive it. Only in his Chinese room the dream would become true. After another scandal — in Capri this time at the Grotto Mitra, the god without a woman, a mock sacrifice was emulated where Nino played the victim. It happened that such shocking performance was witnessed at dawn, by the daughter of the councilor who was mowing the grass and caused — after many rumors describing Tiberius representation of the worst orgies and dissoluteness — the baron to leave the island for a while putting down the scandal before it rose.
Soon the First World War broke out. On his return to Capri, opium had already become the support of Jacques’ life. A former sergeant from the 19th Infantry rejected him for “toxicomania” on a medical examination, obliged him to close Villa Lysis and enter the international hospital in the Vomero quarter (Napoli) where he experienced the horror of detoxification while Nino went to the front. Considered incurable, he went back to Capri where he started to smoke opium again, but this time mixed with cocaine. His poor health did not stop him from publishing, at his own expense, a new series of poems on opium. Fersen– missing his long time and irreplaceable relationship with loyal Nino, who returned with a two point cross from war and noticed he was quickly replaced by a younger love Manfredi — felt that death was near and recalled his friend Oscar Wilde’s thought: “We must leave before the dream ends.”
One evening, in company of Nino and young Manfredi, all dressed in Thai pink silk sarongs –in a corner of the Chinese room, alone — he dissolved 5 grams of cocaine in his drink and drank it all at one go. He only had time to hand to Manfredi the the golden box containing the powder before he died.
It was in November 1923 that Nino and Manfredi led the funeral cortege that took Jacques to the cemetery down by the Marina. The baron Jaques D’adelsward had devoted all his life to freedom, beauty and pleasure.
In his villa, he carved a in a black marble slab the title, “Amori e dolori sacrum” in honor of the “adolescence of love.” He understood the charm of a young face, the real value of a benevolent look and the sweetness of innocence. He pursued D’Annunzio ‘s dream to live an inimitable life, he tried to do in the Modern Capri of the 19th Century, yet never achieved it, as he could not stop time.
My friend is calling me. My mind is still traveling the century while my eyes rest on this breathless view of an emerald green sea. With its imposing and inexhaustible charm, I am bewitched by its grandeur and sensation of pleasure, its fairy-tale image of purity in the essence is the source of my inspiration…
My souls is at rest.
“I am coming… I am coming… what’s the pasta for lunch today at Luigis?”
The book: la jeunesse d’amour – Villa Lysis a Capri: 1905-2005 #221 – AA.VV.
The Store: Libreria delle Edizioni la Conchiglia /Via Le Botteghe, 12 – 80073 CAPRI (NA) – tel. +39 081 837 6577 – fax +39 081 837 9989
The Place: Villa Lysis / Guided tours 80073 Capri (Napoli)
Ph. +39 081 8377878
Mob. +39 329 1115749