When a great man has ruled a generation with his fame, popular traditions attribute to him all the great things that happened in his time, and in him they concentrate the works done before by other races already extinct, and it is like the symbol of the marvels of ‘a defunct civilization. If there is a temple in ruins, if there are ruins of monuments, these are all things left by this man passing through life; all the events, all the pomp of a century are knotted around him. Such is the memory of Charlemagne that presents itself to us! Scroll through the cities of the Rhine and the Main, Mainz, Frankfurt, Cologne, Aachen, the German or Belgian cities, every crumbling wall, every falling palace, every ruined church, to hear the people, were buildings of Charlemagne; in southern France too, attributed to him are the large and square towers of Roman art, as evidenced by the Magna tower of Nimes. From the cliffs of the Pyrenees, which still repeat Roncesvalles, up to Saxony, where the name of Vittichindo is still so popular, there is only this tradition. Charlemagne did it all; he is the founder of all that is most solid and strong in the eighth and ninth centuries.
It is therefore very difficult in historical investigations to define the true or false of all these traditions; Charlemagne was the great builder of public monuments, there is no doubt that he had drawn from Roman memories the need to leave after himself long vestiges of his name, and his affairs with the Lombards, his correspondence with Greece. they had given the genius and manners to make grandiose works of art. To take advantage of his military system, he first set out to erect stalwart towers and entrenched fields, or valleys, in the shape of the legions, to defend his borders against the irruptions of neighboring peoples, and still there are vestiges, which form they reveal the date of the eighth and ninth centuries. Which towers are built like the square ones that the Romans planted in the conquered countries, . Next to these towers, on the marina, there were lighthouses to explore the sea, some of which, as the Saxon poet and the monk of St. Gallen report, were built by Charlemagne so that they sent signs to each other to announce the presence of enemy fleets. In progress of time then, when the terrible invasions of the Normans threatened all the frontiers of Gaul and the rivers that fertilize the lands, those towers, planted here and there, were destined to preserve the country from Scandinavian pirates, and when, in the days of the decay, they were placed in non cale, the Normans were able to penetrate as far as the monasteries and cities of the Seine and the Loire, a fatal plunder that saddened the whole ninth century.
Charlemagne then mainly takes care of building chapels and basilicas, but that Christianity is his pivot of civilization, the backbone of his government, so that, as well as protecting the monasteries, providing them with treasures, and enriching them with new. Master as he is of the Germanic mines and forests, he sends to Rome the tin, lead and timber needed by the churches of the Christian world. But the cathedral, for which he has the greatest tenderness, is the one he built in Aachen; then he strips Ravenna of its marbles and porphyry  to build the royal chapel where he comes every solemn day to pray, and where his mausoleum will be erected.
Those who visit that ancient city will find the remains of Charlemagne in every place; that waters, which run hot there in that large reservoir, where the worker descends every day to drink in the leather cup common to all, like the sinner of the Middle Ages, were discovered by Charlemagne, and he built that pool where the poor sick went to seek healing, and where he himself loved to bathe. That cathedral, which is the pride and the jewel of the most ancient city of Cologne, was built by the emperor, he himself laid its foundations, and there you can see the cold stone seat where he sat down, the all splendid treasure of his memory, and the tomb where the gigantic man he wanted to be placed beneath the great marble dome. The cathedral of Aachen is anterior to Gothic art, the Byzantine style dominates it, and there is nothing of the Moorish school or those petty whims of the thirteenth century; there are indeed some additions made to them over time, and that ignorance to add came to the simplicity of the basilica; but the concept of this monument belongs to the ninth century, and the piety of generations has stolen these relics from the tooth of time that crushes and consumes everything.
Mainz, Cologne, Frankfurt, they too want to have all cathedrals and public monuments originating from Charlemagne. For the Germanic peoples, the august emperor is a conqueror, a legislator, a saint; her greatness was not, only for them, passing over the earth, but she still shines well in heaven among the angels, confessors and martyrs. In those countries of the Rhine where the companies of masons did such great things, we find Charlemagne written among their leaders, and the traditions represent it, and with it Rinaldo di Montalbano, and Orlando and the other more famous paladins, in the act of changing all their noble cloaks in the poor workman’s garment, to help build cathedrals, and build monasteries . Rinaldo, with the team in hand, also brought his great petrons to the basilica, and these fabulous traditions, together with the legends about the facts of the angels and the saints, help to explain most of the marvelous works of Cologne, of Mainz, Frankfurt and Aachen. Cathedrals, fortified castles on the hills of the Rhine, solitary towers, all these monuments refer to the story of Charlemagne; every blade of grass that sprouts on the ruins of Fulda repeats the name of the great emperor to you.
Among these immense works, which are attributed to a single man, are some drawings mentioned by the chronicles, which can show up to what sign of activity the mind of Charlemagne. Traditions report that he had a large bridge built over the Rhine in front of Mainz, the arches of which were carried away in a crescenza of the river, to his great sorrow, which he made of wood. Whoever observes the breadth of the river in Mainz, and the rapidity of the current, cannot help but be persuaded that if the genius of the emperor enjoyed overcoming the difficulties opposed by nature, and did not look at obstacles, the art of the worker should even be already brought to a great perfection. The solidity of the cathedrals and of the other buildings proved the greatness to which art had reached; however, Charlemagne had only at his disposal men of the Germanic race, patient and hardworking, but also the Longobard craftsmen, who had inherited part of the taste and traditions of ancient Rome, and together with them the Greeks, who in the works of industry had no equal. The war machines were driven to a great perfection, and in this too the Romans were the masters of all, both to erect a tower and to make a wall solid. That bridge over the Rhine, facing Mainz, rebuilt on piles of wood and stone, was set on fire due to the imprudence of the boatmen, nor Charlemagne, already drawing his reign to the end, had more time to do it again.
Far more vast and gigantic design still, and so much so that it perhaps competes with the most beautiful modern works, it was the one that Charlemagne formed to connect, with a wide canal, the Rhine and the Danube, with Regensburg on one end and Mainz on the other. . The importance of such a channel did not escape the emperor, who wished to join the Baltic to the Black Sea, so as to sail down the Rhine and the Main from the ocean to Constantinople. As soon as he saw himself master of the lands that stretch from Belgium to Hungary, he set about contemplating this design; the distance between Mainz and Regensburg is about a hundred leagues or around there; the canals of Drusus and Corbulo, the first connecting the Rhine to the Issel, and the second the Rhine to the Meuse, give it the imprint of a more grandiose work, which would make it embrace each other,
Whoever flows three leagues beyond Regensburg, in its suburbs, finds a river, not too large, also called in our day the Altmul, which has its sources near Rattemburg in Franconia; today it is not navigable in every part, because all those beautiful countryside have drawn streams from it, and absorb its waters. Going up the seven-leagues section of this river, you find the Riza not far away, which again meets in Franconia under the name of Renitz, and passing through Nuremberg, you take the road from Bamberg into the Main. Now in this stretch of rivers, which comes at very short distances, knotting together like a beautiful silver slate, I did not want to contend except against some obstacles in the terrain, and against the difficulty of navigating in waters which do not everywhere retain the same depth.
The annals of Fulda bring us some details about these remarkable works, and the Saxon poet celebrated them in his verses, where he calls this canal with the name of great, indeed very great ditch , in fact in some parts it was almost three hundred feet width, like a large basin. In carrying out it I had to collide with the invasions of the Saxons, and, what is more difficult to win, against the slopes of the land. To encourage the workers who worked there, Charlemagne personally made the journey of the canal that he wanted to open, and embarked in Regensburg , from the Danube he entered the Altmul, to climb it, up to the canal, in a very fragile little boat; not even that being completed, he went on land to the Renitz, where he once again embarked, followed the course of the river, until he entered the Main, whence he stopped for some time in Virzburgo, and then in Frankfurt , where he held a solemn diet. Even today we can see some vestiges of this canal, or rather of this large quarry of earth, which is now no more than a ditch; in fact the village situated there near still retains the name of Graben , which in German means ditch . Charlemagne is also to be attributed to the construction of those palaces and the foundation of those farms, which are still found in Bavaria and Saxony, and formed the subject of his capitulars. Several of these residences, in between to the dense forests of Gaul, real villages which later turned into cities, had been built by the Merovingian kings; Charlemagne had therefore greatly enlarged them, and some vestiges of the Carlingian palaces still exist in Frankfurt, and in France several cities owe their origin to these royal villas or colonies.
Speaking of these early days, when ideas never manifest themselves clearly, it is not possible to say absolutely that Charlemagne protected trade; this would be one of those systems that in history do not have to proclaim precisely because of their fallacy. Commerce arises and grows by itself, nor is it created, just as it is not governed. But Charlemagne’s regular administration favored more active and safer practices; the accounts, the judges, the missi dominici ceased most of those robberies and depredations that prevented communications from city to city and from province to province. Having had political correspondence with Greece, with the Lombards, with the caliphs and with the Saracens, he had to follow a more active frequency in communications and greater security in mutual trade, so that the apothecaries of Syria, the carpets of Baghdad, the silks of Constantinople, the gold reliquaries, the ivory manufactures, the wines of Spain and the perfumes of Arabia; which trade was the consequence of the practices with the East and of the new paths opened between people and people. The one that kept the devout pilgrims, shows us that the ships of the Franks already visited the cities of Syria in the ninth century. Except that,
Nevertheless, in some of his capitulars the emperor establishes certain disciplines, which refer to administration even more than to the increase in traffic; he wants to establish the unity of coins and measures in the midst of those peoples so different in laws and customs, and therefore assigns the value of the silver pound and the money, and divides and subdivides them, so that this basis becomes common to all contracts; he would like there to be only one coin in the whole breadth of his empire, and this unity proceeding from a simple principle is greatly dear to him, he deals with it in three or four capitulars, and what is even more curious, it is that in these acts we find the first idea of the maximum, or of the destination, or tariff, or taxation of the price of goods and commodities, as you prefer, which was later centuries, put in place in the big times of the French revolution. In fact, the thought of a taxation of the price of goods and the fixing of a goal, beyond which it cannot exceed, necessarily belong to a strong and violent government, which does not look to any private interest, as long as it reaches social order that he proposes. Luxury, that great spring of commercial transactions, is outlawed by him with that mocking brutality which often characterizes his mayor. The chronicles in fact retained some traits of mockery, used by Charlemagne towards his barons, and the monk of St. Gallen, that poetic narrator of ancient times, tells us about the stratagem that the emperor used to distort his courtesans from the sumptuous dress. “On a certain feast day, says the reporter, Carlo, after the celebration of the mass, said to his followers: – We do not allow ourselves to be annihilated in a rest that would lead us to go crazy, and we go as we are dressed, hunting, until we are made prey to some fair. – The day was cold and provigginal, and Carlo was wearing a suit of castrato leather, which was no more worth than the sarrocchino, which pleased the divine Wisdom to cover St. Martin’s shoulders, for having bare arms sent to celebrate the saint sacrifice. The other great ones, who had come from Pavia, where the Venetians had recently brought all the riches of the East from the overseas districts, were dressed, as on solemn days, in clothes all laden with Phoenician nozzle down, surrounded of silk, and of the feathers of the neck, back and tail of peacocks,; on some of them quilted fabrics shone, on others dormouse furs. In this tool the woods ran, from which they all returned torn by the branches of the trees, by the brambles and by the thorns, pierced by the rain and filthy by the blood of the beasts and by the filth of their bodies. – Nobody, said Charlemagne at the time, change your clothes until it is time to go to bed, that your clothes, so on, will dry better. – At this order each, more solicitous of the body than of the clothes that covered it, set about looking for fire to warm up; then when they had returned and dwelt with the king until dark, he sent them away and went to their quarters; where when they took off those thin furs and very fine fabrics, which by the fire had all wrinkled and contracted, they saw them fall to pieces, making a roar similar to that of dry broken wands, whereby those poor people wept and sighed at seeing so much expense go badly in a single day. Having the emperor ordered them to come to him the next morning with them dressed, they obeyed, but all of them then, instead of making a good appearance in their new clothes, were disgusting, covered as they were with rags all filthy and discolored. Meanwhile, Carlo, who was very shrewd, commanded one of his servants to cleanse his suit a little and bring it to him, and after doing this, taking it in his hands, and showing it all clean and intact to the bystanders: – O very fools, he said, that you are ! what is now the most precious and most useful of our clothes? Mine which cost me a penny, or yours which cost you only pounds of silver, several talents? – And they rushed with their faces against the ground, unable to sustain his terrible indignation . And so constant was Charlemagne in giving such examples throughout the course of his life, that none of those whom he deigned to admit in his grace and intimacy, ever dared to bring in the field and against the enemy any other garment than the his weapons and wool and linen garments. That if anyone of a lower grade and unaware of this pragmatic, presented himself to him in a silk dress and enriched with gold and silver, he would prove him strongly, and take his leave corrected, and also made wiser with these words: – O man everything gold! o all silver man! O man of scarlet! and is it not enough for you, wretched, to perish alone in battle, that you also want to leave these riches in the hands of your enemies, with which it was better to redeem your soul, so that they may adorn the idols of the gentiles with them? ”
Among the Frankish lords the love of furs, of fabrics, of long cloaks, of gold buckles, had spread, and already under the empire of Charlemagne the very sumptuous and oriental times of King Dagobert were reproduced; the counts and judges loved to show it off; the women, all covered with gold bandages, wore bracelets, such as were used in public ceremonies in Byzantium; in the palaces the ivory furnishings were multiplying; the books of the Old and New Testament were richly decorated and the manuscripts adorned with miniatures; the Franks wore deerskin gloves and crowns on their heads; the barons and counts also appeared in diets and councils adorned with beautiful joys; the bishops wore pastorals and mitres and golden capes.
The barters and purchases of goods took place in fairs, markets and landitti fired and awarded by diplomas, and because the streets were unsafe, the merchants came in caravans. Some of these markets and landitti were held around the cathedrals, where the nobles, monasteries and the common people came to take care of them, and enjoyed great reputation; goods and precious stones were displayed there, and Saxon, Lombard, Breton, Greek, Saracen and mainly Jewish merchants were gathered under tents under the protection of the patron saint of the place and of the abbey pastoral. All the goods were free of any gabelle, except for the level to the monastery that lent the place. Various are the diplomas of Charlemagne which authorize these markets, where, according to ancient custom, everything was sold, even the servant bought in Saxony or in Brittany, and shaved like the servants of God in monasteries; this subject to the continuous grievances of holy and merciful men, who could not suffer this trafficking of human flesh; and it is beautiful to read the exhortations of the bishops with which they tried to persuade Christians to desist from that wicked custom.
The transport of merchandise was carried out by water or by highways and other roads, of which the vestiges still remain; the Romans had cut Gaul into a thousand cobbled streets, useful monuments of their greatness, and the goods were transported through them to the fairs and markets, exempt, by way, from the toll and a thousand other taxes established by the use for profit of the count or bishop. When these merchandise came from distant countries, they were embarked and sailed on timbers with a thousand oars, most of which, Saxons, Danes or Frisians, came from the Baltic, and were long boats in the form of pirogues, so that they could resist against fortunes. of sea. These boats were Moorish or Longobard or Greek in the Mediterranean, and there they approached the Roman galleys; Marseille in the Mediterranean, and Venice in the
Charlemagne also wanted to have his navy, from which he had ports, and Bologna of France owed him its enlargement, and the foundation of the lighthouse which announces the nearby land to the ships. The ninth-century navy was in a military and merchant; the emperor had already understood that his empire was equally threatened by Saxon and Saracen ships at noon and north, and the fear of this damage appeared in the spirit of his laws and provisions; he is dismayed by them and sees them everywhere; to which the monk of San Gallo tells of the fact of those Norman boats he had driven out of the port of a city in Narbonese Gaul, and of his weeping foreseeing the evils that those would, in progress of time, bring to the empire his, which he has already touched upon above. Except that Narbonese Gaul was more exposed to the corruption of the Saracens, than to those of the Normans, but that the Scandinavians still had no attempt at the Mediterranean, where the Moors, daring like them, plundered Provence with their fleets and the Week; and those who the emperor he took for Normans, they were perhaps Moors of Spain or Africa, great being the confusion that reigns around this in the chronicles; nor in the midst of the great tribulations of those times, it was not well known where evil proceeded; they proved it, and they always accused its principal cause; in the time that the monk of San Gallo wrote, the Normans were the greatest scourge of the generation, and it attributed to them all the evils that overflowed it.
To avoid these depredations, Charlemagne founded a double order of fortifications at the mouths of the rivers, where the Saracens and Normans could penetrate into the major cities, and he made lighthouses and towers and military bridges erected at every mouth of the rivers that led to the Ocean, in the Mediterranean and in the Adriatic: on the Rhine, the Loire, the Seine, the Gironde and the Rhone; and to guard these fortifications, there must have been, under the orders of each count, a squad of small wood, which looked at the mouth, and defended it against all the attacks of the enemy. Then, certain workers trained in workers or companies, which are found in the diplomas indicated under the name of nautes, they had the task of building bridges with towers, where armed guards stood to prevent the passage of Norman and Saracen pirates. These woods had to protect the small merchant boats, which sailed from one port to another. Thus, when Charlemagne saw the danger that loomed over him at sea, he soon took steps to defend himself against the corruption of the new Barbarians, and in everything he fulfilled his concepts, leaving nothing in the way. Except that these various precautions succeeded rather in a military order than in a reasonable projection for commerce, since the arguments of industry and the transactions of traffic do not reach for the most part, if not at the times of the most advanced civilization. Charlemagne was more than anything else, a warrior and a barbarian cut to the Germanic style, and although by the popes Hadrian and Leo pushed little by little towards the Roman civilization, he preserves until the end the inclinations and customs of his origin; he does not need him, exemplary, more than an otter cloak, and a gelding skin to cover himself; and to administer and rule the empire he founded, he wants no help but that of his flashing eyes and his iron hand; scoffs at luxury, wants his leuds to persevere in their ancient and soldierly simplicity, fearing to see them soften, and he saves splendor for solemn days, when he wants to show everyone that he is the heir of the empire Roman, and that he can compete in luster with the princes who reign in Byzantium! he does not need him, exemplary, more than an otter cloak, and a gelding skin to cover himself; and to administer and rule the empire he founded, he wants no help but that of his flashing eyes and his iron hand; scoffs at luxury, wants his leuds to persevere in their ancient and soldierly simplicity, fearing to see them soften, and he saves splendor for solemn days, when he wants to show everyone that he is the heir of the empire Roman, and that he can compete in luster with the princes who reign in Byzantium! he does not need him, exemplary, more than an otter cloak, and a gelding skin to cover himself; and to administer and rule the empire he founded, he wants no help but that of his flashing eyes and his iron hand; scoffs at luxury, wants his leuds to persevere in their ancient and soldierly simplicity, fearing to see them soften, and he saves splendor for solemn days, when he wants to show everyone that he is the heir of the empire Roman, and that he can compete in luster with the princes who reign in Byzantium!