Edward Augustus Freeman.

Sketches from the subject and neighbour lands of Venice online

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Austrian guards the road immediately up from Ragusa. But, if as yet we
see not the Turk, we feel his presence in another way. In one point
at least we have suddenly changed from civilization to barbarism. The
excellently kept Austrian road at once stops - that is to say, its
excellent keeping stops; the road goes on, only it is no longer mended
in Austrian but in Turkish fashion - a fashion of which the dullest
English highway board would perhaps be ashamed. We presently begin to
see something cf the land of Herzegovina, or at least of that part of
it which lies between Ragusa and Trebinje. It may be most simply
described as a continuous mass of limestone. The town lies in a plain
surrounded by hills, and it would be untrue to say that that plain is
altogether without trees or without cultivation. Close to the town
tobacco grows freely, and before we reach the town, as we draw near to
the river Trebenitza, the dominion of utter barrenness has come to an
end. But the first general impression of the land is one of utter
barrenness, and for a great part of our course, long after we have
come down into the lower ground, this first general impression remains
literally true. It is not like a mountain valley or a mountain coast,
with a fringe of inhabited and cultivated land at the foot of the
heights. All is barren; all is stone; stone which, if it serves no
other human purpose, might at least be used to make the road better.
That road, in all its Turkish wretchedness, goes on and on, through
masses of limestone of every size, from the mountains which form the
natural wall of Trebinje down to lumps which nature has broken nearly
small enough for the purposes of MacAdam. Through the greater part of
the route not a house is to be seen; there are one or two near the
frontier; there is hardly another till we draw near to the town, when
we pass a small village or two, of which more anon. Through the
greater part of the route not a living being is to be seen. In such a
wilderness we might at least have looked for birds of prey; but no
flight of vultures, no solitary eagle, shows itself. As for man, he
seems absent also, save for one great exception, which exception gives
the journey to Trebinje its marked character, and which brings
thoroughly home to us that we are passing through a seat of war.

It will be remembered that, early in the war, the insurgents were
attacking the town of Trebinje, and, among later rumours, were tales
of renewed attacks in that quarter. But at the time of our travellers'
journey the road was perfectly open, and no actual fighting was going
on in the neighbourhood. Trebinje however was on the watch: the plain
before the town was full of tents, and, long before the town or the
tents were within sight, the sight of actual campaigners gave a keen
feeling of what was going on. Flour is to be had in the stony land
only by seeking it within the Austrian frontier, and to the Austrian
frontier accordingly the packhorses go, with a strong convoy of
Turkish soldiers to guard them. Twice therefore in the course of their
journey, going and coming back, did our travellers fall in with the
Turkish troops on their way to and from the land of food. For men who
had never before seen anything of actual warfare there was something
striking in the first sight of soldiers, not neat and trim as for some
day of parade, but ragged, dirty, and weather-stained with the actual
work of war. And there was something more striking still in the
thought that these were the old enemies of Europe and of Christendom,
the representatives of the men who stormed the gates of the New Rome
and who overthrew the chivalry of Burgundy and Poland at Nikopolis and
at Varna. But the Turk in a half-European uniform has lost both his
picturesqueness and his terrors, and the best troops in Europe would
be seen to no great advantage on such a day and on such a march. And
perhaps Turkish soldiers, like all other men and things, look
differently according to the eyes with which they are looked at. Some
eyes noticed them as being, under all their disadvantages, well-made
and powerful-looking men. Other eyes looked with less pleasure on the
countenances of the barbarians who were brought to spread havoc over
Christian lands. All however agreed that, as the armed votaries of
the Prophet passed before them, the unmistakeable features of the
Æthiop were not lacking among the many varieties of countenance which
they displayed. But the Paynim force, though it did no actual deed of
arms before the eyes of our party, did something more than simply
march along the road. The realities of warfare came out more vividly
when, at every fitting point, skirmishers were thrown off to occupy
each of the peaked hills and other prominent points which line the
road like so many watchtowers.

The armed force went and came back that day without any need for
actually using their arms. Insurgent attacks on the convoys are a
marked feature of the present war; but our travellers had not the
opportunity of seeing such a skirmish. Still before long they did see
one most speaking sign of war and its horrors. By the banks of the
Trebenitza a burned village first came in sight. The sight gives a
kind of turn to the whole man; still a burned village is not quite so
ugly in reality as it sounds in name. The stone walls of the houses
are standing; it is only the roofs that are burned off. But who burned
the village, and why? He would be a very rash man who should venture
to say, without the personal witness of those who burned it, or saw it
burned. Was it a Christian village burned by Turks? Was it a Turkish
village burned by Christians? Was it a Christian village burned by
the insurgents because its inhabitants refused to join in the
insurrection? Was it a Christian village burned by its own inhabitants
rather than leave anything to fall into the hands of the Turks? If
rumour is to be trusted, cases of all these four kinds have happened
in the course of the war. All that can be said is that the village has
a church and shows no signs of a mosque, and that, while the houses
were burned, the church was not. The burned village lay near a point
of the river which it is usually possible to ford in a carriage. This
time however, the Trebenitza - a river which, like so many Greek
rivers, loses itself in a _katabothra_ - was far too full to be crossed
in this way, and our travellers had to leave their carriage and horses
and get to Trebinje as they could. After some scrambling over stones,
a boat was found, which strongly suggested those legends of Charon
which are far from having died out of the memory of the Christians of
the East. A primitive punt it was, with much water in it, which Charon
slowly ladled out with a weapon which suggested the notion of a
gigantic spoon. Charon himself was a ragged object enough, but, as
became his craft, he seemed master of many tongues. We may guess that
his native speech would be Slave, but one of the company recognized
some of his talk for Turkish, and the demand for the two oboli of old
was translated into the strange phrase of "dieci groschen." To our
travellers the words suggested was the expiring coinage of the German
Empire; they did not then take it how widely the _groat_ had spread
its name in the south-eastern lands. At first hearing, the name
sounded strange on the banks of the Trebenitza; but in the absence of
literal _groats_ or _groschen_, the currency of the Austro-Hungarian
monarchy was found in practice to do just as well. Then our four
pilgrims crossed and crossed again, the second time with much gladness
of heart, as for a while things looked as if no means of getting back
again were forthcoming, and it was not every one of the party that had
a heart stout enough even to think of trying to swim or wade. Charon's
second appearance was therefore hailed with special pleasure.

From the crossing-place to Trebinje itself our travellers had to
trudge as they could along a fearfully rough Turkish path - not rougher
though than some Dalmatian and Montenegrin paths - till they reached
the town itself, which this delay gave them but little time to
examine. The suburbs stretched along the hillside; below, the tents of
the Turkish troops were pitched on one side; the Mahometan
burial-ground lay on the other. After so much time and pains had been
spent in getting to Trebinje, a glimpse of Trebinje itself was all
that was to be had. But even a glimpse of Eastern life was something,
particularly a glimpse of Eastern life where Eastern life should not
be, in a land which once was European. It is the rule of the Turk, it
is the effect of his four hundred years of oppression, which makes
Trebinje to differ alike from Tzetinje and from Cattaro. The dark,
dingy, narrow, streets, the dim arches and vaults, the bazaar, with
the Turk - more truly the renegade Slave - squatting in his shop, the
gate with its Arabic inscription, the mosques with their minarets
contrasting with the church with its disused campanile, all come home
to us with a feeling not only of mere strangeness, but of something
which is where it ought not to be. It is with a feeling of relief
that, after our second trudge, our second voyage, our second meeting
with the convoy, we reach the heights, we pass the guard-houses, and
find ourselves again in Christendom. Presently Ragusa comes within
sight; we are in no mood to discuss the respective merits of the
fallen aristocratic commonwealths and of the rule of the Apostolic
King. King or Doge or Rector, we may be thankful for the rule of any
of them, so as it be not the rule of the Sultan. The difference
between four hundred years of civilized government and four hundred
years of barbarian tyranny has made the difference between Ragusa and



[I have left this paper, with a few needful corrections, as
it was published in March 1876. Since then, it must be
remembered, much has changed, especially in the way of
boundaries - to say nothing of a carriage-way to Tzetinje.
Neither Cattaro nor Budua is any longer either the end of
Christendom or the end of the Dalmatian kingdom of the
Austrian. That kingdom has been enlarged by the harbour of
Spizza, won from the Turk by Montenegrin valour and won from
the Montenegrin by Austrian diplomacy. But Christendom must
now be looked on as enlarged by the whole Montenegrin
sea-coast, a form of words which I could not have used
either in 1875 or in 1877. Of this sea-coast I shall have
something to say in another paper.]

The end of a purely Dalmatian pilgrimage will be Cattaro. He who goes
further along the coast will pass into lands that have a history, past
and present, which is wholly distinct from that of the coast which he
has hitherto traced from Zara - we might say from Capo d'Istria - onwards.
We have not reached the end of the old Venetian dominion - for that we
must carry on our voyage to Crete and Cyprus. But we have reached the
end of the nearly continuous Venetian dominion - the end of the coast
which, save at two small points, was either Venetian or Ragusan - the
end of that territory of the two maritime commonwealths which they
kept down to their fall in modern times, and in which they have been
succeeded by the modern Dalmatian kingdom. After Cattaro and the small
district of Budua beyond it, the Venetian territory did indeed once go
on continuously as far as Epidamnos, Dyrrhachion, or Durazzo, while,
down to the fall of the Republic, it went on, in the form of scattered
outposts, much farther. But, for a long time past, Venice had held
beyond Budua only islands and outlying points; and most of these,
except the seven so-called Ionian Islands and a few memorable points
on the neighbouring mainland, had passed away from her before her
fall. Cattaro is the last city of the present Austrian dominion; it
is, till we reach the frontier of the modern Greek kingdom, the last
city of Christendom. The next point at which the steamer stops will
land the traveller on what is now Turkish ground. But the distinction
is older than that; he will now change from a Slavonic mainland with a
half-Italian fringe on its coast to an Albanian, that is an
Old-Illyrian, land, with a few points here and there which once came
under Italian influences. It is not at an arbitrary point that the
dominion in which the Apostolic King has succeeded the Serene Republic
comes to an end. With Cattaro then the Dalmatian journey and the
series of Dalmatian cities will naturally end.

Cattaro is commonly said to have been the Ascrivium or Askrourion of
Pliny and Ptolemy, one of the Roman towns which Pliny places after
Epidauros - that Epidauros which was the parent of Ragusa - towards the
south-east. And, as it is placed between Rhizinion and Butua, which
must be Risano and Budua, one can hardly doubt that the identification
is right. But though Ascrivium is described as a town of Roman
citizens, it has not, like some of its neighbours, any history in
purely Roman times. It first comes into notice in the pages of
Constantine Porphyrogenitus, and it will therefore give us for the
last time the privilege of studying topography in company with an
Emperor. In his pages the city bears a name which is evidently the
same as the name which it bears still, but which the august geographer
seizes on as the subject of one of his wonderful bits of etymology.
Cattaro with him is Dekatera, and we read:

[Greek: hoti to kastron tôn Dekaterôn hermêneuetai tê
Rhômaiôn dialektô estenômenon kai peplêgmenon.]

We are again driven to ask, Which is the dialect of the Romans? What
word either of Greek or of Latin can the Emperor have got hold of? At
the same time he had got a fair notion of the general position of
Cattaro, though he runs off into bits of exaggeration which remind us
of Giraldus' description of Llanthony. The city stands at the end of
an inlet of the sea fifteen or twenty miles long, and it has mountains
around it so high that it is only in fair summer weather that the sun
can be seen; in winter Dekatera never enjoys his presence. There
certainly is no place where it is harder to believe that the smooth
waters of the narrow, lake-like inlet, with mountains on each side
which it seems as if one could put out one's hand and touch, are
really part of the same sea which dashes against the rocks of Ragusa.
They end in a meadow-like coast which makes one think of Bourget or
Trasimenus rather than of Hadria. The Dalmatian voyage is well ended
by the sail along the _Bocche_, the loveliest piece of inland sea
which can be conceived, and whose shores are as rich in curious bits
of political history as they are in scenes of surpassing natural
beauty. The general history of the district consists in the usual
tossing to and fro between the various powers which have at different
times been strong in the neighbourhood. Cattaro - [Greek: ta katô
Dekatera] - was in the reign of Basil the Macedonian besieged and taken
by Saracens, who presently went on unsuccessfully to besiege Ragusa.
And, as under Byzantine rule it was taken by Saracens, so under
Venetian rule it was more than once besieged by Turks. In the
intermediate stages we get the usual alternations of independence and
of subjection to all the neighbouring powers in turn, till in 1419
Cattaro finally became Venetian. At the fall of the Republic it became
part of the Austrian share of the spoil. When the spoilers quarrelled,
it fell to France. When England, Russia, and Montenegro were allies,
the city joined the land of which it naturally forms the head, and
Cattaro became the Montenegrin haven and capital. When France was no
longer dangerous, and the powers of Europe came together to part out
other men's goods, Austria calmly asked for Cattaro back again, and
easily got it. To this day the land keeps many signs of the endless
changes which it has undergone. We enter the mouth of the gulf, where,
eighty years ago, the land was Ragusan on the left hand and Venetian
on the right. But Ragusa and Venice between them did not occupy the
whole shore of the _Bocche_; neither at this day does the whole of it
belong to that Dalmatian kingdom which has taken the place of both the
old republics. We soon reach the further of the two points where
Ragusan jealousy preferred an infidel to a Christian neighbour. At
Sutorina the Turkish territory nominally comes down to the sea;
nominally we say, for if the soil belongs to the Sultan, the road, the
most important thing upon it, belongs to the Dalmatian King. And if
the Turk comes down to the _Bocche_ at this end, at the other end the
Montenegrin, if he does not come down to the water, at least looks
down upon it. In this furthest corner of Dalmatia political elements,
old and new, come in which do not show themselves at Zara and Spalato.
In short, on the _Bocche_ we have really got into another region,
national and religious, from the nearer parts of the country. We have
hitherto spoken of an Italian fringe on a Slavonic mainland; we might
be tempted to speak of Italian cities with a surrounding Slavonic
country. On the shores of the _Bocche_ we may drop those forms of
speech. We can hardly say that here there is so much as an Italian
fringe. We feel at last we have reached the land which is thoroughly
Slavonic. The _Bocchesi_ at once proclaim themselves as the near
kinsmen of the unconquered race above them, from whom indeed they
differ only in the accidents of their political history. For all
purposes but those of war and government, Cattaro is more truly the
capital of Montenegro than Tzetinje. In one sense indeed Cattaro is
more Italian than Ragusa. All Ragusa, though it has an Italian
varnish, is Slavonic at heart. At Cattaro it would be truer to speak
of a Slavonic majority and an Italian minority. And along these
coasts, together with this distinct predominance of the Slavonic
nationality, we come also, if not to the predominance, at all events
to the greatly increased prominence, of that form of Christianity to
which the Eastern Slave naturally tends. Elsewhere in Dalmatia, as we
have on the Slavonic body a narrow fringe of Italian speech, art, and
manners, so we have a narrow fringe of the religion of the Old Rome
skirting a body belonging to the New. Here, along with the Slavonic
nationality, the religion of Eastern Christendom makes itself
distinctly seen. In the city of Cattaro the Orthodox Church is still
in a minority, but it is a minority not far short of a majority.
Outside its walls, the Orthodox outnumber the Catholics. In short,
when we reach Cattaro, we have very little temptation to fancy
ourselves in Italy or in any part of Western Christendom. We not only
know, but feel, that we are on the Byzantine side of the Hadriatic;
that we have, in fact, made our way into Eastern Europe.

And East and West, Slave and Italian, New Rome and Old, might well
struggle for the possession of the land and of the water through which
we pass from Ragusa to our final goal at Cattaro. The strait leads us
into a gulf; another narrow strait leads us into an inner gulf; and on
an inlet again branching out of that inner gulf lies the furthest of
Dalmatian cities. The lower city, Cattaro itself, [Greek: ta katô
Dekatera], seems to lie so quietly, so peacefully, as if in a world of
its own from which nothing beyond the shores of its own _Bocche_
could enter, that we are tempted to forget, not only that the spot has
been the scene of so many revolutions through so many ages, but that
it is even now a border city, a city on the marchland of contending
powers, creeds, and races. But, if we once look up to the mountains,
we see signs both of the past and of the present, which may remind us
of the true nature and history of the land in which we are. In some of
the other smaller Dalmatian towns, and at other points along the
coast, we see castles perched on mountain peaks or ledges at a height
which seems almost frightful; but the castle of Cattaro and the walls
leading up to it, walls which seem to leap from point to point of the
almost perpendicular hill, form surely the most striking of all the
mountain fortresses of the land. The castle is perhaps all the more
striking, nestling as it does among the rocks, than if it actually
stood, like some others, on a peak or crest of the mountain. One
thinks of Alexander's Aornos, and indeed the name of Aornos might be
given to any of these Dalmatian heights. The lack of birds, great and
small, especially the lack of the eagles and vultures that one sees in
other mountain lands, is a distinct feature in the aspect of the
Dalmatian hills and of their immediate borders, Montenegrin and
Turkish. But, while the castle stands as if no human power could reach
it, much less fight against it, there are other signs of more modern
date which remind us that there are points higher still where no one
can complain that the art of fighting has been unknown in any age. Up
the mountain, during part of its course skirting the castle walls,
climbs the winding road - the staircase rather - which leads from
Cattaro to Tzetinje. On it climbs, up and up, till it is lost in the
higher peaks; long before the traveller reaches the frontier line
which divides Dalmatia and Montenegro, long before he reaches the
ridge to which he looks up from Cattaro and its gulf, he has begun to
look down, not only on the gulf and the city, but on the mountain
castle itself, as something lying far below his feet. From below,
Cattaro seems like the end of the world. As we climb the mountain
paths, we soon find that it is but a border post on the frontier of a
vast world beyond it, a world in whose past history Cattaro has had
some share, a world whose history is not yet over.

* * * * *

The city of Cattaro itself is small, standing on a narrow ledge
between the gulf and the base of the mountain. It carries the features
of the Dalmatian cities to what any one who has not seen Traü will
call their extreme point. But, though the streets of Cattaro are
narrow, yet they are civilized and airy-looking compared with those of
Traü, and the little paved squares, as so often along this coast,
suggest the memory of the ruling city. The memory of Venice is again
called up by the graceful little scraps of its characteristic
architecture which catch the eye ever and anon among the houses of
Cattaro. The landing-place, the _marina_, the space between the coast
and the Venetian wall, where we pass for the last time under the
winged lion over the gate, has put on the air of a _boulevard_. But
the forms and costume of _Bocchesi_ and Montenegrins, the men of the
gulf, with their arms in their girdles, no less than the men of the
Black Mountain, banish all thought that we are anywhere but where we
really are, at one of the border points of Christian and civilized
Europe. If in the sons of the mountains we see the men who have in all
ages held out against the invading Turk, we see in their brethren of
the coast the men who, but a few years back, brought Imperial, Royal,
and Apostolic Majesty to its knees. The same thought is brought home
to us in another form. The antiquities of Cattaro are mainly
ecclesiastical, and among them the Orthodox church, standing well in
one of the open places, claims a rank second only to the _duomo_. Here
some may see for the first time the ecclesiastical arrangements of
Eastern Christendom; and those who do not wish to see a church thrown
wide open from end to end, those who would cleave alike to the
rood-beam of Lübeck, the _jubé_ of Albi, and the _cancelli_ of Saint
Clement, to the old screen which once was at Wimborne and to the new
screen which now is at Lichfield, may be startled at the first sight
of the Eastern _eikonostasis_ blocking off apse and altar utterly from
sight. The arrangements of the Eastern Church may indeed be seen in
places much nearer than Cattaro, at Trieste, at Wiesbaden, in London
itself; but in all these places the Eastern Church is an exotic,
standing as a stranger on Western ground. At Cattaro the Orthodox
Church is on its own ground, standing side by side on equal terms with
its Latin rival, pointing to lands where the _Filioque_ is unknown and
where the Bishop of the Old Rome has ever been deemed an intruder. The
building itself is a small Byzantine church, less Byzantine in fact in
its outline than the small churches of the Byzantine type at Zara,
Spalato, and Traü. The single dome rises, not from the intersection of
a Greek cross, but from the middle of a single body, and, resting as

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Online LibraryEdward Augustus FreemanSketches from the subject and neighbour lands of Venice → online text (page 16 of 23)