LASCIATE OGNI SPERANZA
[ALL HOPE ABANDON . . .]
IN the Middle Ages, once a building was completed there was almost as much of it in the ground as outside. Unless it was built on piles, like Notre-Dame, a palace, a fortress, a church, always had a double bottom. In cathedrals it was, as it were, another cathedral underground, low, dark, mysterious, blind and dumb, beneath the upper nave flooded with light and resounding day and night with organ and bells; sometimes it was a sepulchre. In palaces, in fortresses, it was a prison, sometimes again a sepulchre, sometimes both together. These mighty buildings, whose method of formation and 'vegetation' we have discussed elsewhere, did not simply have foundations but, so to speak, roots, whose ramifications extended into the soil as chambers, galleries, stairways, like the building constructed above. Thus churches, palaces, fortresses had earth up to their waists. A building's cellars were another building, in which you went down instead of up, and whose underground storeys joined on beneath the pile of external storeys of the structure, like those forests and mountains reflected upside-down in the waters of a lake beneath the forests and mountains on its shore.
At the Bastille Saint-Antoine, at the Palais de Justice in Paris, at the Louvre, these underground constructions were prisons. The storeys of these prisons, as they plunged deeper into the earth, became darker and more cramped. They amounted to so many zones on a graduated scale of horror. Dante could find no better scheme for his Inferno.⋆ These funnels of cells usually ended in a sump-like dungeon, where Dante put his Satan, and where society put those condemned to death. Once a wretched being had been buried down there it meant farewell to daylight, fresh air, life, ogni speranza [all hope]. It came out only for the gallows or the stake. Sometimes it rotted away down there.