Edward Augustus Freeman.

Sketches from the subject and neighbour lands of Venice online

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coast scenery changes its character in a marked way. Hitherto hills,
comparatively low and utterly barren, come down straight to the sea,
while the higher mountains are seen only farther inland. From this
point the great mountains themselves come nearer to the water. We are
thus reminded of the change in the political boundary, how from this
point the Hadriatic territory of Austria and of Christendom becomes
narrower and narrower, till we reach the stage when the old dominion
of Ragusa becomes a mere fringe between the sea and the Turk, fenced
in from the former land of Saint Mark by the two points at either end
where the less dangerous infidel was allowed to spread himself to the
actual sea-board. But as the mountains come nearer to the sea, a
fringe of cultivation, narrower or wider, now spreads itself between
them and the water. Small towns and villages, detached houses, land
tilled with the vine and the olive, now skirt the bases of the
mountains, in marked contrast to the mere stony hills of the earlier
part of the voyage. The islands too among whose narrow channels we
have to make our way change their character also. After Spalato,
instead of mere uninhabited rocks, we come to islands of greater size,
some of them thirty or forty miles long, islands several of which have
a distinct place in history, islands containing towns and cities, and
which are still seats of industry and cultivation. These are the
islands which give such a marked character to the map of this part of
the Hadriatic, and they form the most marked feature in the fourth
day's voyage of the course from Trieste to Cattaro. The endless
islands which we have seen along the northern part of the Dalmatian
shore, bare and uninhabited rocks as many of them are, are without
history. Some of the Croatian islands indeed have somewhat of a
history; but with these we are not dealing; the barren archipelago of
Zara could never have had any tale to tell. First we pass through the
channel which divides the mainland from the large island of Brazza,
distinguished at a glance by its solid shape from its endless long
and narrow fellows. Dreary and rocky as it seems, it is the most
populous and industrious of the group, and at one point of its coast,
San Pietro, the steamer makes a short halt. So it does at the
picturesque little port of Almissa on the mainland, a nest of houses
and trees at the mountain's foot, standing so invitingly as to make
the traveller wish for a longer sojourn. Then comes Makarska, where we
are allowed a short glimpse of the little hill-side town, smaller and
more Dalmatian than any that we have yet seen. Presently we plunge
into the full intricacies of the Dalmatian seas. We pass through the
narrow channel which parts the mainland from the eastern promontory of
the long, slender island of Lesina - the _awl_. Here we come within old
Hellenic memories. We are now within the full range of Greek
colonization, though of Greek colonization only in its latest stage.
Issa, now Lissa, Black Korkyra, now Curzola, amongst the islands, and
Epidauros on the mainland, were all of them undoubted Greek
settlements. But Issa and Pharos, the only ones to which we can fix a
positive date, were colonized only in the first half of the fourth
century, and Dionysios of Syracuse had a hand in their colonization.
Lesina is Pharos, the ancient colony of the Ægæan Paros, whose name
still lives on Slavonic lips in the shape of _Far_ or _Hvar_. It
plays a considerable part in the history of Polybios, as the island of
that Dêmêtrios whose crooked policy formed an important element in the
affairs of mankind in the days when Greek and Roman history began to
flow together into one stream. These islands form one of the highways
by which Rome advanced to the possession of Illyricum, Macedonia, and
Greece. But we see neither the ancient nor the modern city, neither
Pharos nor Lesina; we merely skirt the island to find ourselves in the
channel of Narenta. That name suggests yet another pirate power, later
than that of Tenta and Dêmêtrios, that power of the old Pagania against
which Venice, in her early days, had to wage so hard a struggle. We
seem to be pressing on between the mainland and a long, slender,
mountainous island; but our course suddenly turns; the seeming island
is no other than the long peninsula of Sabioncello, a peninsula not
Venetian but Ragusan. We get merely a glimpse down the gulf, at the
end of which Turkish Klek once divided the possessions of the two
maritime commonwealths, and still, nominally at least, breaks the
continuity of Austrian dominion. But, if the peninsula was Ragusan, a
narrow channel only parts it from an island which was a chief seat of
the power of the rival city. We skirt the western horn of Sabioncello,
and another turn leads us through the channel - narrower than any
through which we have passed - which divides it from Curzola, Black
Korkyra of old. We stop for a little while off the island capital, the
fortress of Curzola, which was to the declining navy of Venice what
Pola now is to the rising navy of Austria. This channel passed, we
come to the last of the great islands. For miles and miles we skirt
the Ragusan island of Meleda, long, slender, with its endless hills of
no great height standing up like the teeth of a saw - a true sierra in
miniature. Here volumes of scriptural controversy are open to us. As
we are not tossed up and down in Hadria, but are floating along as on
a lake or a river, we muse on the claims which all local and some
independent authorities have set up for Illyrian Meleda, as against
Phoenician Malta, to be the true seat of the shipwreck of Saint Paul.
But Meleda can have its claims admitted only on the condition of being
shut out from Hellenic fellowship, even though its barbarians were of
a mood which led them to show no little kindness to strangers. It is
hard also to understand how those who were making their way from
Meleda to any point of Italy could have any possible business at
Syracuse. At all events, with Meleda the island history ends, though
the island scenery does not end as yet. Several islands, smaller than
these more famous ones, but not so small as they look on the map,
fringe the coast till we enter the haven of Gravosa, the port of
modern Ragusa, with its thickly wooded shores, a marked contrast to
the bleakness and barrenness of so many other points of the Dalmatian

Ragusa, the city of argosies, the commonwealth which so long was the
rival of Venice and which never stooped to be her subject, so
thoroughly suggests maritime enterprise by her very name, that we are
surprised to find that Ragusa herself has ceased to be a port of any
moment. Her mighty walls, her castles, her more distant forts, still
rise out of the sea, and the mightier wall of mountains just behind
her still fence off her land, as the narrowest rim of Christendom,
from the land of the infidel beyond. All this is as it was; modern
military art has added to the defences of Ragusa, but it has not taken
away her elder bulwarks. But her haven is now of the very smallest,
and admits only vessels of the smallest size. The modern haven is at
Gravosa, and the road which Sir Gardner Wilkinson describes as so well
kept, but as useless because no carriages went upon it, is still as
good and more useful. At this moment Ragusa bears the honourable
character of a city of refuge for the unhappy ones who seek shelter
under the government of a civilized state from the barbarian rule
beyond the mountains. Her suburbs are crowded with women and children
flying from the seat of war, for whom the charity both of the state
and of private persons is doing much, but whose sufferings - as one who
has seen them can bear witness - cry for the sympathy and help of all
who have hearts and who have not invested in Turkish bonds. As we pass
by and look on the city - no city surely fronts the sea more proudly
than Ragusa - as we turn round to the island of La Croma, lying off
what was Ragusa's harbour, the island which suggests the names of
Richard of Poitou and of Maximilian of Mexico - the scene is so
peaceful and lovely, the warlike defences look such mere things of the
past, that it is hard indeed to believe that, just beyond the mountain
barrier, warfare is going on in its bitterest and yet its noblest
form - the struggle of an oppressed people to cast off the yoke of
ages. This form of speech may grate somewhat on the received phrases
of Western diplomacy; but, however we might be bound to write in
England, in Dalmatia - so close to the facts - we may be allowed to
write as all men in Dalmatia think and speak. We pass La Croma, and
our time among the islands is over; no other that can be called more
than a mere rock meets us between Ragusa and Cattaro. At last we enter
the loveliest of inlets of the sea, the _Bocche di Cattaro_. A narrow
strait leads us between points of land which were once Ragusan on the
west and Venetian to the east, into the winding gulf, girded by
mountains, and now for nearly its whole extent fringed by towns,
villages, houses, cultivation in every form - a land where the
sublimity of the rugged mountain has come into close partnership with
the loveliness of the smiling dwelling-places of man. As we pass
through the strait, a piece of barren mountain to the left marks the
second piece of territory where the Turk was allowed to isolate the
two commonwealths, and where, in name, his dominion still reaches to
the shore of the lovely gulf. We pass on, as on the smoothest of
lakes, round mountain headlands, with their rich fringe of life, by
towns and villages, many of which have their own local history both in
earlier and later times, till we reach the most distant of Dalmatian
cities, Cattaro at the innermost point of her own unrivalled _Bocche_.
Hemmed in between the mountains and the sea - though it seems almost
strange to apply the word sea to the gentle waters of her
harbour - with the mountains again rising on the other side, Cattaro
seems indeed to be the end of its own world. Yet in the days of
Venetian greatness, Cattaro was far indeed from being the last point
of the dominion of Saint Mark. Climb the heights above the city, and
the eye stretches far away along the Albanian coast, a coast along
which many a city and island once bowed to the winged lion, till in
fancy we track our course, as by stepping stones along the sea, to
distant Crete and to more distant Cyprus.

Cattaro, the end of the outward journey, will also be the beginning of
the journey back again. The little town, with its narrow paved
streets, its little piazze, still keeps up the same Venetian tradition
as elsewhere. And the walls of the fortress climbing far up the
mountain show how firm was the grasp of the ruling city over its
subjects. But at Cattaro and throughout the Bocche another feature
strikes us which we do not see either at Spalato or at Ragusa. The
churches do not all belong to one denomination; the Eastern, the
Orthodox, Church, holds its own in this corner of Venetian or Austrian
rule at least as firmly as its Latin rival. The fact is, what is
forced upon our notice at every step, that, the further we go along
this coast, the Italian element dies out and the Slavonic element
grows. It is so in language, in dress, in everything. Zara, Spalato,
Ragusa, Cattaro, each city is less and less Italian according to its
geographical position. The inland country is, of course, Slave
throughout. But at Cattaro the Slave element distinctly predominates,
even in the town; Italian can hardly be said to be more than the best
known among foreign languages. The pistol and yataghan worn in the
belt, a general costume essentially the same as that of the
Montenegrin, has gradually been growing upon us; here in Cattaro it is
the rule, almost more than the rule. In short, the Bocchese, the
Montenegrin, the Turkish rayah of Herzegovina, really differ in
nothing but the difference of their political destinies. They are
members of the same immediate family, whose fortunes have led them in
three different directions. Now the religious tendency of the
south-eastern Slaves, as is only natural from their geographical
position, has always been towards the Eastern Church rather than the
Western, towards the New Rome rather than towards the Old. Here, where
the Slavonic element is so distinctly the stronger, the religious
developement has taken its natural course, and the Orthodox population
in Cattaro and all the coasts thereof is always a large minority, and
in some places it actually outnumbers the Latins.

We have professed to give only the impressions of the outward voyage,
though our account may have here and there been influenced by later
impressions drawn from fuller observation on the way back. But the way
back, and the fuller knowledge gained in its course, only brings out
more strongly the intense charm of Dalmatian coast and mountain
scenery, fitly united with the deep historic interest of cities which,
though they seem to form a world apart by themselves, have played
their part in the world's history none the less. No one can visit
Dalmatia once without a wish that his first visit may not be his last;
no one can take a glimpse of any of her cities without the desire that
the glimpse may be only the forerunner of more perfect knowledge.



We part from Spalato; by the time that we have made two or three
voyages in these seas, we shall find that there are several ways of
reaching and parting from Spalato. We speak of course of ways by sea;
by land there is but one way, and that way leads only to and from
places at no great distance, and it does not lead to or from any place
in the direction in which we are now bent. By sea the steamer takes
two courses. One keeps along the mainland, that which allows a glimpse
of the little towns of Almissa and Makarska, both nestling by the
water's edge at the mountain's foot. Of these Almissa at least has an
historical interest. Here Saint Mark was no direct sovereign; his
lion, if we rightly remember, is nowhere to be seen, a distinction
which, along this whole line of coast, Almissa alone shares with
greater Ragusa. Was it a commonwealth by itself, cradled on the
channel of Brazza like Gersau on the Lake of the Four Cantons? Or was
it the haven of the inland commonwealth of Polizza, which, like
Gersau and a crowd of other commonwealths, perished at the hands of
their newborn French sister for the unpardonable crime of being old?
But far more interesting is the other route of the steamers, that
which leads us among the greater islands. Here, as soon as we pass
Spalato, as soon as we pass the greatest monument of the dominion of
Rome, we presently find ourselves in a manner within the borders of
Hellas. We pass between Brazza and Solta, we skirt Lesina and think
once more of its old Parian memories. We look out on Lissa, where the
Hellenic name lives on with slighter change, but we are more inclined
to dwell on those later memories which have made its name an unlucky
one in our own day, a far luckier one in the days of our grandfathers.
At last we make our first halt for study where a narrow strait divides
the mainland, itself all but an island, from another ancient seat of
Greek settlement, the once renowned isle of Curzola.

Curzola - such is its familiar Italian form - is the ancient Black
Korkyra, and on Slavonic lips it still keeps the elder name in the
shape of _Kerker_. But the sight of [Greek: hê melaina Korkyra]
suggests a question of the same kind as that which the visitor is
driven to ask on his first sight of Montenegro. How does a mass of
white limestone come to be called the Black Mountain? Curzola can
hardly be called a mass of white limestone; but the first glance
shows nothing specially black about it, nothing to make us choose this
epithet rather than any other to distinguish this Hadriatic Korkyra
from the more famous Korkyra to the south. That some distinguishing
epithet is needed is shown by the fact that, not so very long ago, a
special correspondent of the _Times_ took the whole history of Corfu
and transferred it bodily to Curzola. The reason given for the name is
the same in Curzola and in Montenegro. The blackness both of the
island and of the mountain is the blackness of the woods with which
they are covered. True the traveller from Cattaro to Tzetinje sees no
woods, black or otherwise; but he is told that the name comes from
thick woods on the other side of the principality. So he is told that
Black Korkyra was called from its thick woods, its distinctive feature
as compared with the many bare islands in its neighbourhood. But no
black woods are now to be seen in that part of the island which the
traveller is most likely to see anything of. There were such, he is
told; but they have been cut down on this side, while on the other
side they still flourish. As things are now, Curzola is certainly less
bare than most of its fellows; but the impression which it gives us
is, of the two, rather that of a green island than of a black one. It
is not green in the sense of rich verdure, but such trees as show
themselves give it a look rather green than black. At any rate, the
island looks both low and well-covered, as compared with the lofty and
rocky mountains of the opposite peninsula of Sabioncello. The two are
at one point, and that a point close by the town of Curzola, separated
by a very narrow strait. And the nearness of the two formed no
inconsiderable part of their history. There was a time when Curzola
must have been, before all things, a standing menace to Sabioncello,
and to the state of which Sabioncello formed an outpost. Sabioncello,
the long, narrow, stony peninsula, all backbone and nothing else,
formed part of the dominions of the commonwealth of Ragusa. Curzola
was for three centuries and a half a stronghold of that other
commonwealth which Ragusa so dreaded that she preferred the Turk as
her neighbour. Nowhere does the winged lion meet us more often or more
prominently than on the towers and over the gates of Curzola. And no
wonder; for Curzola was the choice seat of Venetian power in these
waters, her strong arsenal, the place for the building of her galleys.
If Aigina was the eyesore of Peiraieus, Curzola must have been yet
more truly the eyesore of Sabioncello.

It is only of what must have been the special eyesore of its Ragusan
neighbours, of the fortified town of Curzola and of a few points in
its near neighbourhood, that we can now speak. Curzola is one of the
larger Dalmatian islands; and it is an island of some zoological
interest. It is one of the few spots in Europe where the jackal still
lingers. Perhaps there is no other, but, as we have heard rumours of
like phænomenon in Epeiros, a decided negative is dangerous. We
believe that, according to the best scientific opinion, "lingered" is
the right word. The jackal is not an importation from anywhere else
into Curzola; he is an old inhabitant of Europe, who has kept his
ground in Curzola after he has been driven out of other places. But he
who gives such time as the steamer allows him in the island to the
antiquities of the town of Curzola need cherish no hope or fear of
meeting jackals. He might as soon expect to meet with a horse. For,
true child of Venice, Curzola knows neither horse nor carriage. Horses
and carriages are not prominent features in any of the Dalmatian
towns; but they may be seen here and there. They are faintly tolerated
within the walls of Ragusa, and we have certainly seen a cart in the
streets of Zara. But at Curzola they are as impossible as at Venice
itself, though not for the same reason. Curzola does not float upon
the waters; it soars above them. The Knidian emigrants chose the site
of their town in the true spirit of Greek colonists. It is such
another site as the Sicilian Naxos, as the Epidauros of the
Hadriatic, as Zara too and Parenzo, though Zara and Parenzo can lay
no claim to a Greek foundation. The town occupies a peninsula, which
is joined to the main body of the island by a narrow isthmus. The
positive elevation is slight, but the slope close to the water on each
side is steep. From the narrow ridge where stands the once cathedral
church, the streets run down on each side, narrow and steep, for the
most part ascended by steps. The horses of the wave are the only
steeds for the men of Black Korkyra, and those steeds they have at all
times managed with much skill. The seafaring habits of the people take
off in some measure from the picturesque effect of the place. There is
much less to be seen, among men at least, of local costume at Curzola
than at other Dalmatian towns. We miss the Morlacchian turbans which
become familiar at Spalato; we miss the Montenegrin coats of the brave
_Bocchesi_, which fill the streets of Cattaro, not without a meaning.
Seafaring folk are apt to wear the dress of their calling rather than
that of their race, and the island city cannot be made such a centre
for a large rural population as the cities on the mainland. But, if
the men to be seen at Curzola are less picturesque than the men to be
seen at Spalato or Ragusa, their dwellings make up for the lack.
Curzola is a perfect specimen of a Venetian town. It is singular how
utterly everything earlier than the final Venetian occupation of 1420
has passed away. The Greek colonist has left no sign of himself but
the site. Of Roman, of earlier mediæval, times there is nothing to be
seen beyond an inscription or two, one of which, a fragment worked
into the pavement of one of the steep streets, records the connexion
which once was between Curzola and Hungary. With præ-Venetian
inscriptions we may class one which is post-Venetian, and which
records another form of foreign dominion, one which may be classed
with that of Lewis the Great as at least better than those which went
between them. From 1813 to 1815 - a time memorable at Curzola as well
as at Cattaro - the island was under English rule, and the time of
English rule was looked on as a time of freedom, compared with French
rule before or with Austrian rule both before and after. It is not
only that an official inscription speaks of the island as "libertate
fruens" at the moment when the connexion was severed; we believe that
we are justified in saying that those two years live in
Black-Korkyraian memory as the one time for many ages when the people
of Black Korkyra were let alone.

The formerly cathedral church is the only building in the town of
Curzola which suggests any thought that it can be older than 1420.
Documentary evidence, we believe, is scanty, and contains no mention
of the church earlier than the thirteenth century. In England we
should at first sight be tempted to assign the internal arcades to the
latter days of the twelfth; but the long retention of earlier forms
which is so characteristic of the architecture of this whole region
makes it quite possible that they may be no earlier than the Venetian
times to which we must certainly attribute the west front. Setting
aside a later addition to the north, which is no improvement, this
little _duomo_ consists of a nave and aisles of five bays, ending in
three round apses. Five bays we say, though on the north side there
are only four arches; for the tower occupies one at the west end. The
inner arcades and the west doorway are worthy of real study, as
contributions to the stock of what is at any rate singular in
architecture; indeed a more honourable word might fairly be used. The
arcades consist of plain pointed arches rising from columns with
richly carved capitals, and, like so many columns of all ages in this
region, with tongues of foliage at their bases. Above is a small
triforium, a pair of round arches over each bay; above that is a
clerestory of windows which within seem to be square, but which
outside are found to be broad pointed lancets with their heads cut
off. In England or France such a composition as this would certainly,
at the first sight of its general effect, be set down as belonging to
the time of transition between Romanesque and Gothic, to the days of
Richard of Poitou and Philip Augustus. And the proportions are just as
good as they would be in England or France; there is not a trace of
that love of ungainly sprawling arches which ruins half the so-called
Gothic churches of Italy. But, when we look at the capitals, we begin
to doubt. They are singularly rich and fine; but they are not rich and
fine according to any received pattern. They are eminently not
classical; they have nothing more than that faint Corinthian stamp

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Online LibraryEdward Augustus FreemanSketches from the subject and neighbour lands of Venice → online text (page 12 of 23)