Edward Augustus Freeman.

Sketches from the subject and neighbour lands of Venice online

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which no floriated capital seems able quite to throw away; they do not
come anything like so near to the original model as the capitals at
Canterbury, at Sens, or even at Lisieux. But neither do they approach
to any of the received Romanesque or Byzantine types, nor have they a
trace of the freedom which belongs to the English foliage of days only
a little later. They are more like, though still not very much like,
our foliage of the fourteenth century; there is a massiveness about
them, a kind of cleaving to the shape of the block, which after all
has something Byzantine about it. Those on the north side have figures
wrought among the foliage; the four responds have the four
evangelistic symbols. Here then we cannot fail to find the lion of
Saint Mark, but we find him only in his place as one of a company of
four. Would the devotion of the Most Serene Republic have allowed its
patron anywhere so lowly a place as this to occupy? Otherwise the
character of the capitals, which extends to the small shafts in the
triforium, might tempt us to assign a far later date to these columns
and arches than their general effect would suggest. But at all events
they are thoroughly mediæval; there is not the faintest trace of
_Renaissance_ about them.

Outside the church, the usual mixed character of the district comes
out more strongly. The addition to the north, and the tower worked in
instead of standing detached, go far to spoil what would otherwise be
a simple and well-proportioned Italian front. Both the round
window - of course there is a round window - and the great doorway are
worthy of notice. The window is not a mere wheel; the diverging lines
run off into real tracery, such as we might see in either England or
France. The doorway is a curious example of the way in which for a
long time in these regions, the square head, the round arch, and the
pointed arch, were for some purposes used almost indifferently. The
tradition of the square-headed doorway with the arched tympanum over
it never died out. We may believe that the mighty gateways and
doorways of Diocletian's palace set the general model for all ages.
But when the pointed arch came in, the tympanum might be as well
pointed as round. Sometimes the pointed tympanum crowns a thoroughly
round-headed doorway, and is itself crowned with a square spandril,
looking wonderfully like a piece of English Perpendicular. In the west
doorway at Curzola things do not go quite to such lengths as this; but
they go a good way. The square doorway is crowned by a pointed
tympanum, containing the figure of a bishop; over that again is a kind
of canopy. This is formed of a round arch, springing from a pair of
lions supported on projections such as those which are constantly
used, specially at Curzola, for the support of balconies. The lions
which in many places would have supported the columns of the doorway
seem, though wingless, to have flown up to this higher post. For here
the doorway has nothing to be called columns, nothing but small
shafts, twisted and otherwise, continued in the mouldings of the arch.
The cornice under the low gable is very rich; the tower is of no great
account, except the parapet, and the octagon and cupola which crown
it, a rich and graceful piece of work of that better kind of
_Renaissance_ which we claim as really Romanesque.

In the general view of the town from the sea this tower counts for
more than it does when we come close up to it in the nearest approach
to a _piazza_ which Curzola can boast. It is the crown of the whole
mass of buildings rising from the water. At Curzola the fortifications
are far more to the taste of the antiquary than they are at Ragusa;
they fence things round at the bottom, instead of hiding everything
from the top. We may shut our eyes to a modern fort or two on the
hills; the walls of the town itself, where they are left, are
picturesque mediæval walls broken by round towers, on some of which
the winged lion does not fail to show himself. He presides again over
a _loggia_ by the seashore, one of those buildings with nondescript
columns, which may be of any date, which most likely are of very late
date, but which, because they are simply straightforward and sensible,
are pleasing, whatever may be their date. Here they simply support a
wooden roof, without either arch or entablature. And while we are
seated under the lion in the _loggia_, we may look down at another
lion in a sculptured fragment by the shore, in company with a female
half-figure, something of the nature of a siren, Nereid, or mermaid,
who seems an odd yoke-fellow for the Evangelist. He seems more in his
natural place over the gate by which we shall most likely enter the
town, a gate of 1643, itself square-headed, but with pointed vaulting
within. Its inscriptions do not fail to commemorate the Trojan Antênor
as founder of Black Korkyra, along with a more modern ruler, the
Venetian John-Baptist Grimani. To the right hand, curiosity is raised
by a series of inscriptions which have been carefully scratched out.
About them there are many guesses and many traditions. One cannot help
thinking that the deed was more likely to be done by the French than
by the Austrian intruder. To scratch out an inscription is a foolish
and barbarous act; but it implies an understanding of its meaning and
a misapplied kind of vigour, which, of the two stolen eagles, was more
likely to flourish under the single-headed one. The double-headed
pretender, by the way, though he is seen rather too often in these
parts, is seldom wrought in such lasting materials as Saint Mark's
lion. So, when the good time comes, the stolen badge of Empire may, at
Curzola as at Venice and Verona, pass away and be no more seen,
without any destruction of monuments, old or new.

We are now fairly in the town. The best way to see Curzola thoroughly
is for the traveller to make his way how he will to the ridge of the
peninsula, and then systematically to visit the steep and narrow
streets, going in regular order down one and up another. There is not
one which does not contain some bit of domestic architecture which is
well worth looking at. But he should first walk along the ridge itself
from the gate by the isthmus to the point where the ground begins to
slope to the sea opposite Sabioncello. Hard by the gate is the
town-hall, _Obcina_, as it is now marked in the native speech. The
mixed style - most likely of the seventeenth century - of these parts
comes out here in its fulness. Columns and round arches which would
satisfy any reasonable Romanesque ideal, support square windows which
are relieved from ugliness by a slight moulding, the dentel - akin to
our Romanesque billet - which is seen everywhere. But in a projecting
building, which is clearly of a piece with the rest, columns with
nondescript capitals support pointed arches. Opposite to the town-hall
is one of the smaller churches, most of which are of but little
importance. This one bears the name of Saint Michael, and is said to
have formerly been dedicated to Orthodox worship. It shows however no
sign of such use, unless we are to count the presence of a little
cupola over the altar. We pass along the ridge, by a house where the
projection for balconies, so abundant everywhere, puts on a specially
artistic shape, being wrought into various forms, human and animal.
Opposite the cathedral the houses display some characteristic forms of
the local style, and we get more fully familiar with them, as we
plunge into the steep streets, following the regular order which has
been already prescribed. Some graceful scrap meets us at every step;
the pity is that the streets are so narrow that it needs some
straining of the neck to see those windows which are set at all high
in the walls. For it is chiefly windows which we light upon: very
little care seems to have been bestowed on the doorways. A square or
segmental-headed doorway, with no attempt at ornament, was thought
quite enough for a house for whose windows the finest work of the
style was not deemed too good. Indeed the contrasts are so odd that,
in the finest house in Curzola, in one of the streets leading down
eastward from the cathedral, a central story for which _magnificent_
would not be too strong a word is placed between these simple doorways
below and no less simple square-headed windows above. This is one of
the few houses in Curzola where the windows are double or triple
divided by shafts. Most of the windows are of a single light, with a
pointed, an ogee, or even a round head, but always, we think, with the
eminently Venetian trefoil, and with the jambs treated as a kind of
pilaster. With windows of this kind the town of Curzola is thick-set
in every quarter. We may be sure that there is nothing older than the
Venetian occupation, and that most of the houses are of quite late
date, of the sixteenth and even the seventeenth century. The Venetian
style clave to mediæval forms of window long after the _Renaissance_
had fully set in in everything else. And for an obvious reason;
whatever attractions the _Renaissance_ might have from any other point
of view, in the matter of windows at least it hopelessly failed. In
the streets of Curzola therefore we meet with an endless store of
windows, but with little else. Yet here and there there are other
details. The visitor will certainly be sent to see a door-knocker in a
house in one of the streets on the western slope. There Daniel between
two lions is represented in fine bronze work. And some Venetian
effigies, which would doubtless prove something for local history, may
be seen in the same court. Of the houses in Curzola not a few are
roofless; not a few have their rich windows blocked; not a few stand
open for the visitor to see their simple inside arrangements. The town
can still make some show on a day of festival; but it is plain that
the wealth and life of Curzola passed away when it ceased to be the
arsenal of Venice. And poverty has one incidental advantage; it lets
things fall to ruin, but it does not improve or restore.

Two monasteries may be seen within an easy distance of the town. That
of Saint Nicolas, approached by a short walk along the shore to the
north-west, makes rather an imposing feature in the general view from
the sea; but it is disappointing when we come near. Yet it
illustrates some of the local tendencies; a very late building, as it
clearly is, it still keeps some traces of earlier ideas. Two equal
bodies, each with a pointed barrel-vault, might remind us of some
districts of our own island, and, with nothing else that can be called
mediæval detail, the round window does not fail to appear. The other
monastery, best known as the _Badia_, once a house of Benedictines,
afterwards of Franciscans, stands on a separate island, approached by
a pleasant sail. The church has not much more to show than the other;
but it too illustrates the prevalent mixture of styles which comes out
very instructively in the cloister. This bears date 1477, as appears
from an inscription over one of its doors. But this doorway is
flat-headed and has lost all mediæval character, while the cloister
itself is a graceful design with columns and trefoil arches, which in
other lands one would attribute to a much earlier date. The library
contains some early printed books and some Greek manuscripts, none
seemingly of any great intrinsic value. A manuscript of Dionysios
Periêgêtês is described as the property of the Korkyraian Nicolas and
his friends. ([Greek: Nikolaou Kerkyraiou kai tôn philôn.]) Nicolas
had a surname, but unluckily it has passed away from our memory and
from our notes. But the local description which he has given of
himself makes us ask, Did the book come from Corfu, or did any
citizen of Black Korkyra think it had a learned look so to describe

On the staircase of the little inn at Curzola still hangs a print of
the taking of the arsenal of Venice by the patriots of 1848. Strange
that no Imperial, Royal, and Apostolic official has taken away so
speaking a memorial of a deed which those who commemorate it would
doubtless be glad to follow.


1875 - 1877 - 1881.

The voyage onward from Curzola will lead, as its next natural
stopping-place, to Ragusa. At Curzola, or before he reaches Curzola,
the traveller will have made acquaintance with what was once the
territory of the Ragusan commonwealth, in the shape of the long
peninsula of Sabioncello. He will have seen how all the winged lions
of Curzola look out so threateningly towards the narrow tongue of land
which bowed to Saint Blaise and not to Saint Mark. He will pass by
Meleda, that one among the larger islands which obeyed Ragusan and not
Venetian rule. After Meleda the islands cease to be the most important
features in the geography or in the prospect. They end, so far as they
give any character to the scene, in the group which lies off the mouth
of the inlet of Gravosa and Ombla, the ordinary path to Ragusa. But he
who would really take in the peculiar position of Ragusa will do well
to pass by the city on his outward voyage, to go on to Cattaro, and
to take Ragusa on the way back. The wisdom of so doing springs
directly out of the history of the city. The haven, which is said - and
we have no better derivation to suggest - to have given its name to
_argosies_, could certainly not give shelter to a modern argosy.
Nothing but smaller craft now make their way to Ragusa herself;
steamers and everything else stop at the port of Gravosa. It has been
only quite lately, long since the earlier visits which gave birth to
the present sketches, that Ragusan enterprise has so far again
awakened as to send a single steamer at long intervals from the true
Ragusan haven to Trieste. He therefore who visits Ragusa on his
outward voyage has to land at Gravosa and to make his way to Ragusa by
land. He thus loses the first sight of the city from the sea which he
has had at Zara and Spalato, and which at Ragusa is, setting special
associations aside, even more striking than at Zara and Spalato.
Before he sees Ragusa from the water, as Ragusa was made to be seen,
he has already made acquaintance with the city in a more prosaic
fashion. He will not indeed have had his temper soured by the
inconveniences which Sir Gardner Wilkinson had to put up with more
than thirty years ago. There is no more delay at the gate of Ragusa,
there is no more difficulty in finding a carriage to take the
traveller from Gravosa to Ragusa, than there is in the most
frequented regions of the West. Still, in such a case, the traveller
sees Ragusa for the first time from the land, and Ragusa of all places
ought to be seen for the first time from the sea. Seen in this way,
the general effect of Ragusa is certainly more striking than that of
any other Dalmatian city; and it is so in some measure because the
effect of Ragusa, whether looked at with the bodily eye or seen in the
pages of its history, is above all things a general effect. There is
not, as there is at Zara and at Spalato, any particular moment in the
history of the city, any particular object in the city itself, which
stands out prominently above all others. We draw near to Zara, and
say, "There is the city that was stormed by the Crusaders," and,
though we find much at Zara to awaken interest on other grounds, the
crusading siege still remains the first thing. We draw near to
Spalato; we see the palace and the campanile, and round the palace and
the campanile everything gathers. We draw near to Ragusa; the eye is
struck by no such prominent object; the memory seizes on no such
prominent fact. But there is Ragusa; there is the one spot along that
whole coast from the Croatian border to Cape Tainaros itself, which
never came under the dominion either of the Venetian or of the Turk.
Ragusa will be found at different times standing in something like a
tributary or dependent relation to both those powers, but it never
was actually incorporated with the dominions of either. In this Ragusa
stands alone among the cities of the whole coast, Dalmatian, Albanian,
and Greek. Among all the endless confusions and fluctuations of power
in those regions, Ragusa stands alone as having ever kept its place,
always as a separate, commonly as an independent, commonwealth. It
lived on from the break-up of the Byzantine power on those coasts till
the day when the elder Buonaparte, in the mere caprice of tyranny,
without provocation of any kind, declared one day that the Republic of
Ragusa had ceased to exist. This is the history of Ragusa, a history
whose general effect is as striking as any history can be. It is a
history too which, if we dig into its minute details, is full of
exciting incidents, but not of incidents which, like the one incident
in the history of Zara, stand out in the general history of Europe.
There is, to be sure, one incident in Ragusan history which may claim
some attention at the hands of Englishmen, and ought to claim more at
the hands of Poitevins. Count Richard of Poitou, who was also by a
kind of accident King of England, and who in the course of his reign
paid England two very short visits, paid also a visit to Ragusa which
was perhaps still shorter. But this again is an incident of mere
curiosity. The homeward voyage and captivity of Richard had some
effect on the general affairs of the world; his special visit to
Ragusa affected only the local affairs of Ragusa. Ragusan history then
may either be taken in at a glance, and a most striking glance it is;
or else it may be studied with the minute zeal of a local antiquary.
There is no intermediate point from which it can be looked at. In the
general history of Europe Ragusa stands out, as the city itself stands
out to the eye of the traveller, as that one among the famous cities
of the Dalmatian and Albanian coast where the Lion of Saint Mark is
not to be seen.

As is the history, so is the general effect. As we sail past Ragusa,
as we look at the city from any of the several points which the voyage
opens to us, we say at once, Here is one of the most striking sights
of our whole voyage; but we cannot at once point our finger to any one
specially striking object. There are good campaniles, but there is
nothing very special about them; there are castles and towers in
abundance, but each by itself on any other site would be passed by
without any special remark. What does call for special remark and
special admiration is the city itself, at once rising from the sea and
fenced in from the sea by its lofty walls. It is the shore, with its
rocks and its small inlets, each rock seized on as the site of a
fortress. It is the background of hills, forming themselves a natural
rampart, but with the artificial defences carried up and along them
to their very crest. Here we are not tempted, as we are tempted at
some points of our voyage, to forget that our voyage is one by sea,
and to fancy that we are floating gently on some Swiss or Italian
lake. Ragusa does not stand on a deep inlet like Cattaro, on a bay
like Spalato, on a peninsula like Zara, fenced in by islands on one
side and by the opposite shore of its haven on the other. Ragusa does
indeed stand on a peninsula, but it is a peninsula of quite another
kind; a peninsula of hills and rocks and inlets, offering a bold front
to the full force of the open sea. One island indeed, La Croma, lies
like a guard-ship anchored in front of the city, but we feel that La
Croma is strictly an island of the sea. The islands of the more
northern coast form as it were a wall to shelter the coast itself. And
such a function seems specially to be laid upon the small islands
which lie off the mouth of Ragusa's modern haven at Gravosa. Covered
indeed as they are with modern fortifications, it is not merely in a
figure that it is laid upon them. But La Croma fills no such function.
The city of argosies boldly fronts the sea on which her argosies were
to sail, and fiercely do the waves of that sea sometimes dash upon her
rocks. Ragusa seems the type of a city which has to struggle with the
element on which her life is cast, while Venice is the type of a city
which has, in the sense of her own yearly ceremony, brought that
element wholly under her dominion.

As we look up from the sea to the mountains, we feel yet more strongly
how purely Ragusa was a city of the sea. Venice was an inland power on
that Italian land off which she herself lay anchored. She might pass
for an inland power even on the Ragusan side of the Hadriatic. The
Dalmatian territory of Venice looks on the map like a narrow strip;
but, compared with the Ragusan coast, the Venetian coast has a wide
Venetian mainland to the back of it. But Ragusa lies at the foot of
the mountains, and the crest of the mountains was her boundary. She
has always sat on a little ledge of civilization, for four centuries
on a little ledge of Christendom, with a measureless background of
barbarism behind her. Those hills, the slopes of which begin in the
streets of the city, once fenced in a ledge of Hellenic land from the
native barbarians of Illyricum. Then they fenced in a ledge of Roman
land from the Slavonic invader. Lastly, when we first looked on them,
when we first crossed them, they still fenced in a ledge of Christian
land from the dominion of the Infidel. And the newest arrangements of
diplomacy make it still not wholly impossible to use the language
which we used then. The Archduke of Austria and King of Dalmatia is
immediate sovereign of Ragusa and her ancient territory; when we
cross the line between Ragusa and Herzegovina, he rules only in the
character familiar to some even of his Imperial forefathers, that of
the man of the Turk. The Christian prince simply "administers;" it is
the Infidel Sultan who is still held to reign. To form such a boundary
as this has been no mean calling for the heights which look down upon
Ragusa. It is well to climb those heights, best of all to climb them
by the road which so lately led, which we might almost say still
leads, from civilization to barbarism, from Christendom to Islam, and
to look down on the city nestling between the sea and the mountains.
The view is of the same kind as the view of the city from the sea.
Rocks, inlets, walls, and towers, come out in new and varied
groupings, but there is still no one prominent object. La Croma
indeed, with its fallen monastery - its fortress is not seen - now comes
in as a prominent object. But it shows by its very prominence the
difference between this part of the Dalmatian coast, with its one
island, all but invisible on the map, lying close to the shore, and
the two archipelagos, one of small and obscure, one of great and
historic islands, which the voyager has already passed by.

It would thus be well if we could look on Ragusa both from the sea and
from the mountains before we approach the city by the one possible to
reach it, by the road which leads from its port of Gravosa. This last
is a picturesque haven of thoroughly Dalmatian character, lying on a
smooth inlet with a small fertile fringe between the water and the
mountains. The road, rising and falling, looking out on both the
mountains and the sea, leads along among villas and chapels which
gradually grow into a suburb till we reach the gate. Here we see not a
few ruined houses, houses which have remained ruined for nearly
seventy years, houses whose ruin was wrought by Montenegrin hands in
the days when Ragusa was an unwilling possession of France and
Montenegro a valued ally of England. But, before we reach the gate, we
see what there was not in the time of Sir Gardner Wilkinson, carriages
standing for hire, carriages no very long drive in which will take us
over the late borders of Christendom. In that suburb too the traveller
will most likely take up his quarters - quarters, it may be, looking
down straight on the rocks and waves. And there, when war was raging
at no great distance, and when Ragusa was the special centre of the
purveyors of news, he was sure to hear both the latest truths and the
latest fables. But he is still outside the city. No city brings better
home to us than Ragusa the Eastern hyperbole of cities great and
fenced up to heaven. We must leave the military architect to discuss
their military merits or demerits. To the non-professional observer
they seem to belong to that type of fortification, between mediæval
and modern, which in these lands we naturally call Venetian,
inapplicable as that name is at Ragusa. But they have clearly been
strengthened and extended in more modern times. The city lies in a

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Online LibraryEdward Augustus FreemanSketches from the subject and neighbour lands of Venice → online text (page 13 of 23)