Edward Augustus Freeman.

Sketches from the subject and neighbour lands of Venice online

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kind of hollow between the lower slopes of the mountain on one side,
and a ridge which lies between the mountain and the sea, and which
thus adds greatly to the appearance of the fortifications as seen from
the sea. The one main street of Ragusa, the _Stradone_, thus lies in a
valley with narrow streets running down towards it on both sides.
Indeed, before the great earthquake of 1667 which destroyed so much of
old Ragusa, part at least of this wide street was covered with water
as a canal. It is so pent in with buildings that we hardly feel how
near we are to the sea; yet the small port, the true port of Ragusa,
is very near at hand. The two ends of the Stradone are guarded by
gates, which lead up - for the ascent is considerable - to the outer
gates at either end, still strong and still guarded, reminding us that
we are in what is still really a border city. And over those gates we
see, not the winged lion for which we have learned to look almost
instinctively everywhere on these coasts, but the figure of Saint
Blaise, _San Biagio_, the patron of Ragusa, whose relics form some of
the choicest treasures in the rich hoard of her once metropolitan
church. We pass under the saintly effigy, and we find that within the
walls the general aspect of the city is comparatively modern. Most of
the buildings, the metropolitan church among them, were rebuilt after
a great earthquake in 1667. Such remains however of old Ragusa as are
still left are of such surpassing interest in the history of
architecture that we must keep them for a more special examination.

* * * * *

The history of Ragusa, as we have already said, is of a kind which
must either be taken in at a glance or else dealt with in the minutest
detail. All Dalmatian history for a good many centuries wants a more
thorough sifting than has ever been brought to bear upon it. It wants
it all the more because it is so closely connected with early Venetian
history, than which no history is more utterly untrustworthy. But we
may safely gather that Ragusa had its origin in the destruction of the
Greek city of Epidauros, now _Ragusa Vecchia_. The old Epidaurian
colony fell, like Salona, before the barbarians. Its inhabitants had
no ready-made city to flee to, but they founded a city on the rocks
which became Raousion or Ragusa. Whether any part of the Ragusan
peninsula had ever become a dwelling-place of men at any earlier time
it is needless to inquire. It is enough that Ragusa now became a city.
As to the name of the city, our Imperial guide helps us to one of his
strange etymologies. With him Epidauros has sunk into [Greek:
Pitaura] - the _t_ seems to have supplanted the _d_ at a much earlier
time - and the city on the rocks which its exiles founded was first
called from its site [Greek: Lausion], which by vulgar use ([Greek: hê
koinê synêtheia, hê pollakis metaphtheirousa ta onomata tê enallagê tôn
grammatôn]) became [Greek: Rhaousion]. He tells us that, [Greek: epei
epanô tôn krêmnôn histatai legetai de Rhômaisti ho krêmnos lau,
eklêthêsan ek toutou Lausaioi, êgoun hoi kathezomenoi eis ton
krêmnon]. What tongue is meant by [Greek: Rhômaisti]? It is only
because the strange form [Greek: lau] seems to come one degree nearer
to [Greek: laas anaidês] than to anything in Latin, that it dawns on
us that it means Greek. But, under whatever name, the city on the
rocks, small at first, strengthened by refugees from Salona, grew and
prospered, and remained one of the outlying Roman or Greek posts which
in the days of Constantine, as now, fringed the already barbarian

For some centuries after the time of Constantine Porphyrogenitus, the
history of Ragusa defies abridgement. It is one web of intricate
complications between the Emperors of the East and West, the Republic
of Venice, the Kings of Hungary, Dalmatia, and Bosnia. Somewhat later
the story begins to be more intelligible, when the actors get pretty
well reduced to Venice, the Turk, and the Empire in a new form, that
of Charles the Fifth. The republic of Ragusa contrived, which must
surely have needed a good deal of skill, to keep on good terms at once
with Charles and his son Philip and with their Turkish enemies. Yet
Ragusa, though never incorporated by anything earlier than the
dominion of Buonaparte, stood at different times in a kind of
dependent relation both to Venice and to the Turk. At an earlier time
the commonwealth for a short time received a Venetian Count. He was
doubtless only meant to be like a foreign _podestà_, but Venice was a
very dangerous place for Ragusa to bring a _podestà_ from. In her
later days Ragusa must be looked on as being under the protection of
the Porte; but it was a protection which in no way interfered with her
full internal freedom - such freedom at least as is consistent with the
rule of an oligarchy. The geography of Dalmatia keeps to this day a
curious memorial of the feeling which made Ragusa dread the Turk less
than she dreaded Venice. To this day the Dalmatian kingdom does not
extend continuously along the Dalmatian coast. At two points territory
which till late changes was nominally Turkish, which is still only
"administered," not "governed," by its actual ruler, comes down to the
Hadriatic coast. These are at Klek, at the bottom of the gulf formed
by the long Ragusan peninsula of Sabioncello, and at Sutorina on the
_Bocche_ di Cattaro. These two points mark the two ends of the narrow
strip of coast which formed the territory of Ragusa. Rather than have
a common frontier with Venice at either end, Ragusa willingly allowed
the dominions of the Infidel to come down to her own sea on either
side of her.

At last all dread from Venice passed away, but only because Saint Mark
gave way to a more dangerous neighbour. The base conspiracy of
Campoformio gave Venetian Dalmatia to an Austrian master, and the
strips of Turkish territory which had once sheltered Ragusa from the
Venetian now for a while sheltered her from the Austrian. Then the
dividers of the spoil quarrelled; the master of France took to himself
what France had betrayed to Austria. Presently he disliked the small
oasis of independence, and added Ragusa to the dominion which was
presently to take in Rome and Lübeck. Lastly, when the days of
confusion were over, and order came back to the world, order at Ragusa
took the form of a new foreign master. The Austrian, who had reigned
for a moment at Zara and Cattaro, but who had never reigned at Ragusa,
put forth his hand to filch Ragusa as he has since filched Spizza. The
motive need not be asked. The pleasure of seizing the goods of a
weaker neighbour is doubtless enough in either case.

One point in the history of Ragusa which needs a more thorough
explanation than it has yet found is the fact that the Roman or Greek
city, founded by men who had escaped from barbarian invaders - who must
surely have been largely Slavonic - has become so pre-eminently a
Slavonic city. There is no Italian party at Ragusa. Not that the city
is strongly Panslavonic; the memory of local freedom has survived
through both forms of foreign rule. The Ragusan aristocracy is
Slavonic, and the Slavonic language holds quite another position at
Ragusa from what it holds, for example, at Spalato. There all that
claims to be literature and cultivation is Italian; at Ragusa, though
Italian is familiarly spoken, the native literature and cultivation is
distinctly Slave. The difference is marked in the very names of the
two cities. Spalato is in Slavonic _Spljet_, a mere corruption of the
corrupt Latin name. But Ragusa, on Slavonic lips - that is on the lips
of its own citizens speaking their own language - is _Dubrovnik_, a
perfectly independent Slavonic name. It may be the name of some
Slavonic suburb or neighbouring settlement - like the _Wendisches Dorf_
at Lüneburg - but at all events it is no corruption, no translation, of
Latin _Ragusa_ or of Constantine's _Raousion_.

* * * * *

As for King Richard, the Ragusan story is that he built the cathedral
which was destroyed in 1667. It is said that he vowed to build a
church on the island of La Croma, and that this purpose was changed
into building one in the city instead of the former cathedral, while
the commonwealth of Ragusa built a church on the island. La Croma thus
becomes connected with the memory of two princes who died of thrusting
themselves in matters which did not concern them. Richard, Count and
King, might have lived longer if he had not quarrelled with his vassal
at Limoges; Maximilian, Archduke and self-styled Emperor, was
perfectly safe at La Croma, but when he took up the trade of a
party-leader in Mexico, he could hardly look for anything but a
Mexican party-leader's end. Of the monastery which formed his
dwelling-place the great church is so utterly desecrated and spoiled
that hardly anything can be made out. But a good deal remains of the
cloister, and at a little distance stand the ruins of a beautiful
little triapsidal basilica, which surely, all save a few additions,
belongs to the age of the Lion-hearted King. Indeed we should be
tempted to fix on this, rather than any other church of Ragusa or its
island, as the work of Richard himself. It looks greatly as if a Count
of Poitiers and Duke of Aquitaine had had a hand in it. A single wide
body, with three apses opening into it, is not a Dalmatian idea, as it
is not an English idea. But something like it might easily be found in
Richard's own land of southern Gaul.

That Richard did come to Ragusa and to La Croma seems plain from the
narrative in Roger of Howden. He hired a ship at Corfu expressly to
take him to Ragusa. He landed "prope _Gazere_ apud Ragusam." _Gazere_
suggests Jadera or Zara, but "Gazere apud Ragusam" can hardly fail to
mean La Croma. "_Gazere_" is the Arabic name for _island_ - the same
which appears in _Algesiras_ - one of the Eastern words which passed
into the _lingua franca_ of the Crusaders. After all, Ragusa gives
more interest to Richard than any that it takes from him. Born and
twice crowned in England, he had little else to do with England than
to squeeze money out of it. It mattered little to Englishmen - or to
Normans either - whether their Poitevin lord was astounding the world
at Acre, at Chaluz, or at La Croma.

* * * * *

Two other rather longer excursions than that to La Croma may be
profitably made from Ragusa. There is, first of all, the short voyage
to the site of the city which Ragusa supplanted, the Dalmatian
Epidauros, now known by the odd name of _Ragusa Vecchia_. Beyond a few
inscriptions, there is really next to nothing to be seen of the
ancient city besides its site; but the site is well worthy of study.
It is thoroughly the site for a Greek colony, and it has much in
common with the more famous site of Korkyra and Epidamnos. The city
occupied a peninsula, sheltered on the one hand by the mainland, on
the other by another promontory, forming the outer horn of a small
bay. In this position the town had the sea on every side; it had a
double harbour, and was at the same time thoroughly sheltered on both
sides. Such a site was the perfection of Greek colonial ideas. We have
now got far away indeed from the earliest type of city - the hill-fort
which dreads the sea, and which finds the need of the haven, and of
the long walls to join the haven to the city, only in later times. The
highest point of the promontory, the akropolis - if we can use that
name in a city of such late date - is now forsaken, crowned only by a
burying-ground and sepulchral church. The view is a noble one, looking
out on the mainland and the sea, with the neighbouring island crowned
by a forsaken monastery, and directly in front Ragusa herself on her
rocks, with the beginnings of the Dalmatian archipelago rising in the
distance. The modern town, which is hardly more than a village, with
two or three churches and a small amount of fortification, covers the
isthmus and the lower ground of the promontory. Such is all that is
left of the northern city of Asklêpios, the city which played its part
alike in the wars of Cæsar and in the wars of Belisarius, which in the
great revolution that followed the Slavonic inroads perished to give
birth to the more abiding city from which it has strangely borrowed
its later name. That Ragusa Vecchia has so little to show is no ground
for despising it or passing it by; the very lack of remains in some
sort adds to the interest of the spot.

The voyage from New to Old Ragusa is not a long one. A shorter land
journey on the same side of the city will lead to the sea-side village
of Breno, which will not supply the traveller with anything in the
antiquarian line, but which will reward him with a good deal of
Dalmatian mountain and land scenery, especially with a waterfall,
though one not quite on the scale of Kerka. And, to those who peer
pryingly into all corners, the little inn of the place will suggest
some memories of very modern history. That piece of history it has
been the interest of exalted personages to keep unknown, and their
efforts have been crowned with a remarkable degree of success. As the
inn at Curzola contains picture memories of an unsuccessful struggle
for freedom in 1848, so the inn at Breno contains picture memories of
a more successful struggle waged twenty-one years later in the same
cause and against the same enemy. When in 1869 the present ruler of
Austria and Dalmatia strove, in defiance of every chartered right and
every royal promise, to trample under foot the ancient rights of the
freemen of the Bocche di Cattaro, the troops of the foreign intruder
were driven back in ignominious defeat by the brave men of the
mountains, and the master who had sent them was forced to renew the
promises which he had striven to break. People still chatter about the
mythical exploits of Tell, but hardly any one has heard of this little
piece of successful resistance to oppression done only twelve years
back. The deed is not forgotten by the neighbours of those who did it,
and in the inn at Breno rude pictures may be seen showing the
victorious Bocchese driving the troops of the stranger down those
heights which at Vienna or at Budapest it seemed so easy a matter to
bring into bondage. Strange to say, the pictures which record this
Slavonic triumph have the legend beneath them in the High-Dutch
tongue. Stranger still, it is the eye only and not the ear by which
any knowledge of the matter is to be picked up. The wary native, even
when spoken to in his own tongue, will not enlarge on the subjects of
those pictures to a man in Western garb. It is perhaps not without
reason if a stranger in Western garb is suspected in those parts to be
a spy of the enemy.

If the voyage from New to Old Ragusa is not a long one, the sail on
the other side of the city up the river's mouth to Ombla is shorter
still. Its starting-point will be, not Ragusa itself but its port of
Gravosa. Here the main object is scenery; but several houses, one at
least of which will deserve some further mention, a nearly forsaken
monastery with a good bell-tower and a not ungraceful church, and one
or two living or forsaken chapels may be taken in, and they help us to
complete some inferences as to the architecture of the district. But
our business at this moment is mainly with the basin which lies at the
foot of the limestone rock. The hills of Greece and Dalmatia
constantly suggest, to one who knows the West of England, the kindred,
though far lowlier, hills of Mendip. As the gorge under the akropolis
of Mykênê at once suggests the gorge of Cheddar, so the basin of the
Trebenitza at Ombla suggests, though the scale is larger, the basin of
the Axe at Wookey Hole. The river runs out from the bottom of the
rocks, and, to those who have been adventurous enough to cross the
heights and to make their way through the desolate land of
Herzegovina - the very land of limestone in all forms - as far as
Trebinje, the river that reappears at Ombla is an old friend. There
seems no doubt that it is the Trebenitza which, after hiding itself in
a _katabothra_, comes out again to light in the Ombla basin. The
journey to Trebinje itself is in its own nature less exciting now than
it was in 1875. What it was when the drive thither from Ragusa enabled
the traveller to say that he had been into "Turkey," and that he had
seen a little of a land in a state of warfare, may perhaps be worth
some separate mention. At present it is reported that Trebinje is
cleaner than it was then, that it has been adorned with a
_Rudolfsplatz_, and that justice is there administered to its Slavonic
folk, Christian and Mussulman, in the tongue of which _Rudolfsplatz_
is a specimen. It would therefore seem that the direct rule of the
stranger is at least better than his "administration." At Ragusa men
are allowed to speak their own tongue in which they were born.


1875 - 1877 - 1881.

We have spoken in a former article of the general aspect and the
historical position of the city and commonwealth of Ragusa, her hills,
her walls, her havens, her union of freedom from the lion of Saint
Mark with half dependence on the crescent of Mahomet. But this ancient
and isolated city has yet something more to tell of. There are several
of the municipal and domestic buildings of the fallen republic,
buildings which, as far as we know, have never been described or
illustrated in detail in any English work, and of which no worthy
representation can be found on the spot. In the work of Eitelberger
much will be found; but for the ordinary English student there is no
help at all. Yet, on the strength of these buildings, Ragusa may
really claim a place among those cities which stand foremost in the
history of architectural progress. And this fact is the more
remarkable, and the more to be insisted on, because of the seemingly
general belief that there is little or nothing to see at Ragusa in
the way of architecture. But the truth is that far more of the old
city escaped the earthquake of 1667 than would be thought at first
sight. Because the cathedral is later, because the general aspect of
the main street is later, the idea is suggested that nothing is left
but the municipal palace. That alone would be a most important
exception, but it is by no means the only one. If the traveller leaves
the main street and turns up the narrow alleys which run from it up
the hills on either side, alleys many of them which, at present at
least, lead to nothing, he will find many scraps of domestic
architecture which must belong to times earlier than the great blow of
the seventeenth century. Signs of that blow are seen in many places in
the form of scraps of detail of various kinds irregularly built up in
the wall; but there are a great number of pointed doorways still in
their places which no man can think are later than 1667. Some of these
are simply pointed; others combine the pointed arch with the tympanum,
sometimes with both the tympanum and the spandril. There is also a not
unpleasing type of _Renaissance_ doorway, a lintel resting on two
pilasters with floriated capitals, which one can hardly believe are
due to a time so late as the days after the earthquake. At all events,
if they are later than the earthquake, they only go to strengthen the
general position which we have to lay down, namely the way in which
early forms lived on at Ragusa to an amazingly late date. This same
examination of the narrow streets will also bring to light a few, but
only a few, windows of the Venetian Gothic. The strength of Ragusa, as
far as scraps of this kind are concerned, undoubtedly lies in its


In the churches too there is more left than the mere scraps which are
built up again. Parts at least of the tall towers - neither of them
detached - of the Franciscan and Dominican churches, the former in the
main street, the latter near the eastern gate, are also earlier. In
the former the line of junction between the older tower and the ugly
church which has been built up against it is clearly to be seen. The
upper stage of this tower, and the small cupola which crowns it, _may_
be later than the earthquake; but if so, they have caught the spirit
of earlier work in an unusual degree, and all the lower part is in a
form of Italian Gothic less unpleasing than usual. Both this tower and
that of the Dominican church show how long the general type of the
earliest Romanesque campaniles went on. Save in the small cupola, this
tower has the perfect air, and almost the details, of a tower of the
eleventh century: three ranges of windows with mid-wall shafts rise
over one another; only they are grouped under containing arches in
what in England we should call a Norman fashion. But, as this tower
forms part of a Dominican monastery, it cannot be earlier than the
thirteenth century, and its smaller details also cannot belong to any
earlier date. Yet the general effect of this tower, even more than of
the other, is that of a tower of the Primitive type. The Dominican
church also keeps some details of Italian Gothic which must be older
than the earthquake, and the cloister is one of the best specimens of
that style. Its groupings of tracery under round arches, the poverty
of design in the tracery itself, strike us as weak, if our thoughts go
back to Salisbury or to Zürich; but the general effect is good, and
the cloister - as distinguished from the buildings above it - may almost
be called beautiful. Of more importance in the history of Ragusan
architecture is the Franciscan cloister. Being Franciscan, it cannot
be earlier than the thirteenth century, and it may well be much later.
But it is essentially Romanesque in style. The general effect of the
tall shafts which support its narrow round arches differs indeed a
good deal from the general effect of the more massive Romanesque
cloisters to which we are used elsewhere. But it is essentially one
with them in style, and it is one of the many witnesses to the way in
which at Ragusa early forms were kept in use till a late time.

But the architectural glory of Ragusa is certainly not to be looked
for among its churches. The most truly instructive work that Ragusa
has to show in any of its ecclesiastical buildings does not show
itself at first sight, and its full significance is not likely to be
understood till the civic and domestic buildings of the city and its
suburbs have been well studied. When this has been done, it will be
easily seen that certain arches and capitals in the subordinate
buildings of the Dominican church have their part in the history of
Ragusan art; but the great civic buildings must be seen and mastered
first. Of these two of the highest interest escaped the common
overthrow. They both show the Italian Gothic in its best shape; but
they also show something else which is of far higher value. They show
that peculiar form of _Renaissance_ which can hardly be called
_Renaissance_ in any bad sense, which is in truth a last outburst of
Romanesque, a living child of classical forms, not a dead imitation of
them. Examples of this kind often meet us in Italy; we see something
of it in the north side of the great _piazza_ at Venice as compared
with the southern side; but the Ragusan examples go beyond anything
that we know of elsewhere. Give the palace of Ragusa - the palace, not
of a Doge, but of a Rector - the same size, the same position, as the
building which answers to it at Venice, and we should soon see that
the city which so long held her own against Venice in other ways could
hold her own in art also. The Venetian arcade cannot for a moment be
compared to the Ragusan; the main front of the Ragusan building has
escaped the addition of the ugly upper story which disfigures the
Venetian. As wholes, of course no one can compare the two in general
effect. Saint Blaise must yield to Saint Mark. But set Saint Blaise's
palace on Saint Mark's site; carry out his arcade to the same
boundless extent, and there is little doubt which would be the grander
pile. The Venetian building overwhelms by its general effect; the
Ragusan building will better stand the test of minute study.

[Illustration: PALACE, RAGUSA.]

The palace of the Ragusan commonwealth was begun in 1388, and finished
in 1435, in the reign, as an inscription takes care to announce, of
the Emperor Siegmund. What name shall we give to the style of this
most remarkable building, at all events to the style of its admirable

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Online LibraryEdward Augustus FreemanSketches from the subject and neighbour lands of Venice → online text (page 14 of 23)