Edward Augustus Freeman.

Sketches from the subject and neighbour lands of Venice online

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this feature far more skilfully treated in the other smaller church of
which we have already spoken. And here we must confess that it is
possible to make two visits to Trani, and each time to make a somewhat
careful examination of its great church, and yet to miss - not at all
to forget to look for, but to fail to find - the bronze doors which
form one of the wonders of Trani. This may seem incredible at a
distance; it will be found on the spot not to be wonderful. We will
not describe the doors at second-hand; we will rather hasten within to
gaze on the surpassing grandeur of an interior, which, as an example
of architectural design, may, as we have already hinted, rank beside
the church by the Arno and the church by the Wear, beside the
Conqueror's abbey at Caen and King Roger's chapel at Palermo.

We say King Roger's chapel advisedly; for the palace chapel of
Palermo, were every scrap of its gorgeous mosaics whitewashed over,
would still rank, simply as an architectural design, among the most
successful in the world. And the chapel of Palermo has points which at
once suggest comparison and contrast with the great church of Trani.
We see the traces of the Saracen in both; but at Palermo the building
itself is thoroughly Saracenic, at Trani the Saracen contributes only
one element among others. In Sicily, where the Saracen was thoroughly
at home, the Norman kings simply built their churches and palaces in
the received style of the island, a style of which the pointed arch
was a main feature. In southern Italy, where the Saracen was only an
occasional visitor, a style arose in which elements from Normandy
itself - elements, that is, perhaps brought first of all from northern
Italy - are mixed with other elements to be found on the spot, Italian,
Saracenic, and Byzantine. The churches of Bari, Bitonto, and Trani,
all show this mixture in different shapes. One feature of it is to
take the detached Italian bell-tower, and to make it, Norman fashion,
part of the church itself. In such cases the general character of the
tower is kept, but Norman touches are often brought into the details;
for instance, the common Norman coupled window, such as we are used to
in Normandy and England, often displaces the oecumenical
_mid-wall_ shaft which the older England shared with Italy. Thus here
at Trani, the tower joins the church, though it is not made so
completely part of its substance as it is at Bari and Bitonto. The
inside of the church shows us another form of the same tendency. The
Norman in Apulia could hardly fail to adopt the columnar forms of the
land in which he was settled; but he could not bring himself to give
up the threefold division of height and the bold triforium of his own
land. An upper floor was not unknown in Italy, as we see in more than
one of the Roman churches, as in Saint Agnes, Saint Laurence, and the
church known as _Quattro Coronati_, to say nothing of Modena and Pisa,
and _Sta. Maria della Pieve_ at Arezzo. But in some of these cases the
arrangement is widely different from the genuine Norman triforium, and
the threefold division certainly cannot be called characteristically
Italian, any more than characteristically Greek. But it is
characteristically Norman; and when we find it systematically
appearing in churches built under Norman rule, we must set it down as
a result of special Norman taste. At Trani each of the seven arches of
the nave has a triplet of round arches over it, and a single
clerestory window above that. The Norman in his own land would have
made more of the clerestory; he would have drawn a string underneath
it to part it off from the triforium; he would have carried up shafts
to the roof to mark the division into bays. But the triforium itself,
as it stands at Trani, might have been set up at Caen or Bayeux, with
only the smallest changes in detail. But where in Normandy, where in
England, where, we may add, in Sicily, is there anything at all like
the arcades which in the church of Trani support this all but
thoroughly Norman triforium? These have no fellow at Bitonto; they
have hardly a fellow at Bari. In those cities the Norman adopted the
columnar arcades of the basilica, while in Sicily the Saracen still at
his bidding placed the pointed arch on the Roman column. At Trani too
we see the work, or at least the influence, of the Saracen; but it
takes quite another form. The pointed arch would have been out of
place; in Normandy and England it is ever a mark of the coming Gothic,
and there is certainly no sign of coming Gothic at Trani. But the
coupling of two columns with their capitals under a single
abacus - sometimes rather a bit of entablature - to form the support of
an arch, is a well-known Saracenic feature. Not that it was any
Saracen invention. In architecture, as in everything else, the Saracen
was, as regards the main forms, only a pupil of Rome, Old and New;
but, exactly like the Norman, he knew how to develope and to throw a
new character into the forms which he borrowed. The coupled columns
may truly be called a Saracenic feature, though the Saracen must have
learned it in the first instance from such buildings as the sepulchral
church known as Saint Constantia at Rome. We may fairly see a
Saracenic influence in a crowd of Christian examples where this form
is used in cloisters and other smaller buildings where the arches and
columns are of no great size. It is even not uncommon in strictly
Norman buildings in positions where the shafts are merely part of the
decorative construction, and do not actually support the weight of the
building. It was a bolder risk to take a pair of such columns, and bid
them bear up the real weight of the three stages of what we may fairly
call a Norman minster.


But the daring attempt is thoroughly successful; there is not, what we
might well have looked for, any feeling of weakness; the twin columns
yoked together to bear all that would have been laid on the massive
round piers of England or their square fellows of Germany, seem fully
equal to their work. It may be that the appearance of strength is
partly owing to the use of real half-columns, and not mere slender
vaulting-shafts, to support the roofs of the aisles. But the slender
shaft comes in with good effect to support both the arch between the
nave and the transept, and the arch between the transept and the great
apse. The lofty transept is wholly an Italian idea; but the general
idea of these two tall arches is thoroughly Norman.

In looking at such a church as this, so widely different from any of
the many forms with which we are already familiar, there is always a
certain doubt as to our own feelings. We admire; as to that there is
no doubt. But how far is that admiration the result of mere wonder at
something which in any case is strange and striking? how far is it a
really intelligent approval of beauty or artistic skill? Both
feelings, we may be pretty sure, come in; but it is not easy to say
which is the leading one, till we are better acquainted with the
building than we are likely to become in an ordinary journey. It is
familiarity which is the real test. It is the building which we admire
as much the thousandth time as the first which really approves itself
to our critical judgement. We have not seen Trani for the thousandth
time; but we did what we could; we were so struck with a first visit
to Trani that, at the cost of some disturbance of travelling
arrangements, we went there again, and we certainly did not admire it
less the second time than the first. And, whatever may be the exact
relation of the two feelings of mere wonder and of strictly critical
approval, it is certain that a third feeling comes in by no means
small a measure. This is a kind of feeling of historic fitness. The
church of Trani is the kind of church which ought to have been built
by Normans building on Apulian ground, with Greek and Saracen skill at
their disposal.

But at Trani, as commonly in these Apulian churches, it is not enough
to look at the building from above ground. The great height of the
apses will have already suggested that there is a lower building of no
small size; and so we find it, conspicuously tall and stately, even in
this land of tall and stately under-churches - crypt is a word hardly
worthy of them. The under-church at Trani shows us a forest of tall
columns, some of them fluted, with a vast variety of capitals of
foliage. A few only can be called classical; some have the punched
ornament characteristic of Ravenna. A good many of the bases have
leaves at the corners, a fashion which in England is commonly a mark
of the thirteenth century, but which in Sicily and Dalmatia goes on at
least till the seventeenth.

* * * * *

But the metropolitan church is not all that Trani has to show. In some
of the buildings which we pass by in its narrow streets, we see some
good windows of the style which it is most easy to call Venetian,
though it might be rash hastily to refer them to the days of Venetian
occupation. And there are other windows seemingly of earlier date,
certainly of earlier character, which bear about them signs of the
genuine Norman impress. But the strength of Trani, even setting aside
the great church, lies in its ecclesiastical buildings; the best
pieces even of domestic work are found in one of the monasteries. Two
smaller churches deserve notice; one of them deserves special notice.
This is the church of All Saints, of which we saw the east end on our
way to the great minster, and on whose west end we shall most likely
light as we come away from it. That west end is covered by a portico,
or rather something more than a portico, as it contains a double row
of arches. The front to the street forms part of a long and
picturesque range of building, of which the actual arcade consists of
four arches. One only of these is pointed, and that is the only one
which rests on a column, the others being supported by square piers.
But beyond this outer range, the vaulted approach to the church
displays a grand series of columns and half-columns, with capitals of
various forms. One is of extraordinary grandeur, with the volutes
formed of crowned angels; the forms of the man and the eagle, either
of them good for a volute, are here pressed into partnership. Within,
the church is a small but graceful basilica, which, notwithstanding
some disfigurements in 1853 which are boastfully recorded, pretty well
keeps its ancient character, its columns with their capitals of
foliage. He who visits Trani will doubtless also visit Bari, and such
an one will do well both to compare the great church of Trani with
the two great churches of Bari, and to compare and contrast this
smaller building with the smaller church at Bari, that of Saint
Gregory. Besides this little basilica, Trani possesses, not in one of
its narrow streets, but in its widest _piazza_, a church, now of Saint
Francis, but which, among many disfigurements, still keeps the form of
the Greek cross within, and some Romanesque fragments without. Here,
as also at Bari and at Bitonto, oriental influences - something we mean
more oriental than Greeks or even than Sicilian Saracens - may be seen
in the pierced tracery with which some of the windows are filled. In
these cases this kind of work suggests a mosque; with other details,
it might have carried our thoughts far away, to the great towers of
the West of England.

* * * * *

Among the other members of this group of cities we might have expected
to find Brindisi, so famous as a haven of the voyager in Roman days,
and no less famous in our own, fill a high, if not the highest, place
among its fellows. And Brindisi has its points of interest also, one
of them of an almost unique interest. Over the haven rises a
commemorative column - its fellow has left only its pedestal - which
records, not the dominion of Saint Mark, but the restoration of the
city by the Protospatharius Lupus. Is this he whose name has been
rightly or wrongly added to certain annals of Bari? Anyhow there the
column stands, one of the few direct memorials of Byzantine rule in
Italy. There is the round church also, the mosaic in the otherwise
worthless cathedral, and one or two fragments of domestic work. The
lie of the city and its haven is truly a sight to be studied; we see
that in whatever language it is that _Brentesion_ means a stag's horn,
the name was not unfittingly given to the antler-like fiords of this
little inland sea. We trace out too the walls of Charles the Fifth,
and we see how Brindisi has shrunk up since his day. But we are
perhaps tempted to do injustice to Brindisi, to hurry over its
monuments, when we are driven to choose between Brindisi and the
greater attractions of the furthest city of our group, in some sort
the furthest city of Europe. We pass by Lecce, which lies outside our
group, as between Trani and Brindisi we have been driven to pass
Monopoli, the spot which saw the first beginnings of the short
Venetian rule in these parts. Everything cannot be seen, and we shall
hardly regret sacrificing something to hasten to a spot which may well
call itself the end of the world, and which forms the most fitting
link between the central and the eastern peninsulas of Europe.



Hydrous, Hydruntum, Otranto, has as good a claim as a city can well
have to be looked on as the end of the world. It is very nearly the
physical end of the world in that part of the world with which it has
most concern. When we have reached Otranto, we can go no further by
any common means of going. It may pass for the south-eastern point of
the peninsula of Italy: it is the point where that central peninsula
comes nearest to the peninsula which lies beyond it. It is the point
where Western and Eastern Europe are parted by the smallest amount of
sea. It has therefore been in all times one of the main points of
communication between Eastern and Western Europe. The old Hydrous
appears as a Greek colony, placed, as one of the old geographers
happily puts it, on the mouth either of the Hadriatic or of the Ionian
sea. Hydruntum appears in Roman days as a rival route to Brundisium
for those who wish to pass from Italy into Greece. A city so placed
naturally plays its part in the wars of Belisarius and in the wars of
Roger. Held by the Eastern Emperors as long as they held anything west
of the Hadriatic, it passed, when the Norman came, into the hands of
Apulian Dukes and Sicilian Kings, and it remained part of the
continental Sicilian kingdom, save for the two moments in its history
which bring it within our immediate range. Otranto is the one city of
Western Europe in which the Turk has really reigned, though happily
for a moment only. It is one of the cities in this corner of Italy
which formed, for a somewhat longer time, outlying posts of Venetian
dominion; and it is a spot where the memory of the Turk and the memory
of the Venetian are mingled together in a strange, an unusual, and a
shameful way. In most of the other spots which have seen the presence
of the Turk and the Venetian, the commonwealth which was the
temple-keeper of the Evangelist shows itself only in its nobler
calling, as "Europe's bulwark 'gainst the Ottomite." At Otranto,
Venice appears in a character which is more commonly taken by the Most
Christian King. Before Francis and Lewis had conspired with the
barbarian against their Christian rivals, the Serene Republic had
already stirred him up to make havoc of a Christian city.

At Otranto then we finish our journey by land, and from Otranto, as
Otranto is now, we have no means of continuing it by sea. We cannot
sail straight, as men did in old times, either to Corfu or to Aulona.
To make our way from the central to the south-eastern peninsula, we
have to make the "iter ad Brundisium" back again from the other side.
It is the natural consequence of being at the end of the world, that
when we reach the point which holds that place, we have to go back
again. And when we find ourselves at Otranto, the fact that we are at
the end of the world, that we have reached the end, not only of our
actual journey, but of any possible journey of the same kind, is
forcibly set before us as a kind of symbol. We have come to an end, to
a very marked end, of the great railway system of central Europe. From
any place within that system we can find our way to Otranto by the
power of steam. Beyond Otranto that power can take us no further;
indeed we have so nearly reached the heel of the boot that there is
not much further to go by the help of any other power. We are at the
end of Italy, at the end, that is, of the central peninsula of Europe,
in a sense in which we are not even at more distant Reggio. For Reggio
is before all things the way to Sicily, and Sicily we must allow to be
geographically an appendage to Italy, strongly as we must assert the
right of that great island to be looked on historically in quite
another light. And that at Otranto we have distinctly reached the end
of something is clearly set forth by the arrangements of the railway
station itself. The rails come to an end; the buildings of the
station are placed, not at the side of the line, but straight across
it, a speaking sign that we can go no further, and that the thought of
taking us further has not entered the most speculative mind.

At Otranto then we have come to the end of one of the great divisions
of the European world; it is therefore a fitting point to form a main
point of connexion between that division and another. Otranto and its
neighbourhood are the only points of the central peninsula from which
we can, as a matter of ordinary course, look across into the eastern
peninsula. We say as a matter of ordinary course. There are Albanian
or Dalmatian heights from which it is said that, in unusually
favourable weather, the Garganian peninsula may be descried; so it may
be that the Garganian peninsula is favoured back again with occasional
glimpses of south-eastern Europe. But a stay of even a few hours at
Otranto shows that there south-eastern Europe comes within the gazer's
ordinary ken. It is easy to see that it does not so much need good
weather to show it as bad weather to hinder it from being shown.
Before we reach Otranto, while we are still on the railway, the
mountains of Albania rise clearly before our eyes; from the hill of
Otranto itself they rise more clearly still. And even to those to whom
those heights are no unfamiliar objects from nearer points of view,
it is a thrilling and a saddening thought, when we look forth for the
first time from a land of which every inch belongs to the free and
Christian world, and gaze on the once kindred land that has passed
away from freedom and from Christendom. From the soil of free Italy we
look on shores which are still left under the barbarian yoke, shores
where so many whose fathers were sharers in the European and Christian
heritage have fallen away to the creed of the barbarian and to all
that that creed brings with it. On the other hand, it is said that
there are more favourable moments when it is possible to look from
free Italy into free Greece. It is said that, sometimes perhaps Corfu
itself, more certainly the smaller islands which lie off it to the
west, may be seen from the hill of Otranto. If so, we look out from
that one spot of the central peninsula, from that one spot of the
general western world, where the Turk can be said to have really
ruled, for however short a time, and not simply to have harried. And
we look out on that one among the many islands which gird the eastern
peninsula, which has gone through many changes and has bowed to many
masters, but where alone the Turk has never ruled as a master, but has
shown himself only as a momentary besieger.

The Turk then was never lord of Corfu; he was for a while, though only
for a very little while, lord of Otranto. The winged lion floated
over Corfu while the crescent floated for a season over Otranto. It
was therefore perhaps not wholly unfitting that, for another somewhat
longer season, the winged lion should float over Corfu and Otranto
together. But it was not in his nobler character that the winged lion
floated over Otranto. It would have been a worthy exploit indeed, if
the arms of Venice, by that time a great Italian power, had driven out
the Turk from his first lodgement on Italian soil. But instead of
Venice driving the Turk out of Otranto, it was the common belief of
the time that it was Venetian intrigue which had let him in. Nay more,
if there was any truth in other suspicions of the time, the good old
prayer of our forefathers, which prayed for deliverance from "Pope and
Turk," might well have been put up by the people of Otranto and all
Apulia in the year 1480. Not only the commonwealth of Venice, but the
Holy Father himself, Pope Sixtus the Fourth, was believed to be an
accomplice in the intrigues which enabled the infidel to establish
himself on the shores of Italy. A time came, almost within our own
day, when Pope and Turk were really leagued together, and when the
Latin Bishop of the Old Rome owed his restoration to his seat to the
joint help of the Mussulman Sultan of Constantinople and the Orthodox
Tzar of Moscow. But in the fifteenth century we need hardly expect
even such a Pope as Sixtus of deliberately bringing the Turk into
Italy. His own interests both as priest and as prince were too
directly threatened. But it is hard to acquit the Venetian
commonwealth, under the dogeship of Giovanni Mocenigo, of risking the
lasting interests of all Christendom, and of their own Eastern
dominion as part of it, to serve the momentary calls of a petty
Italian policy. We even read that Venetian envoys worked on the mind
of the Sultan by the argument that it was the part of the new lord of
Constantinople to assert his claim to all that the older lords of
Constantinople had held east of the Hadriatic. No argument could be
more self-destructive in Venetian mouths. If the Turk had inherited
the rights of Eastern Cæsar in the Western lands, how cruelly was
Venice defrauding him of a large part of the rights of the Eastern
Cæsar in his own Eastern lands.

* * * * *

The conquest of Otranto was the last of the conquests of him who
rightly stands out in Ottoman history as pre-eminently the Conqueror.
The second Mahomet, he who completed the conquest of Christian Asia by
the taking of Trebizond, who crowned the work of Ottoman conquest in
Europe by the taking of Constantinople, who by the taking of Euboia
dealt the heaviest blow to the Venetian power in the Ægæan, who
brought under his power, as a gleaning after the vintage, the Frank
lordship of Attica and the Greek lordship of Peloponnêsos, in his last
days stretched forth his hand to vex Western Europe as he had so long
vexed Eastern Europe and what was left of Christian Asia. He was in
truth attacking both at the same time; he won Otranto almost at the
moment when he was beaten back from Rhodes. Each scene of his warfare
illustrates the nature of the Ottoman power at that moment, how it was
by the hands of her own apostate sons that Christendom was brought
into bondage. Against Rhodes the infidel host was led by a Greek,
against Otranto by an Albanian, both renegades or sons of renegades.
And under the first Ferdinand of Aragon such was the state of things
in the land which had once been ruled by good King William that
soldiers of the Neapolitan King were willing to pass into the service
of the Turk. Nay, the inhabitants in general seemed ready to believe
the Turk's promises and to accept his dominion as likely to be milder
than that of their own stranger king. The invader was his own worst
enemy. A contemporary writer witnesses that the prisoners taken by
Achmet _Break-Tooth_ - such is said to be the meaning of his surname
_Giédek_ - pointed out to him that by his cruelties at Otranto he was
losing for his master a province which otherwise might have been won
with little effort.

But happily things took another turn. Otranto was in the Western world
what Kallipolis - the Kallipolis of the Thracian Chersonêsos - had been
in the Eastern. It was the first foothold of the barbarian, the gate
by which he seemed likely to open his way to the possession of the
central peninsula of Europe, as he had by the gate of Kallipolis
opened his way to the possession of the eastern peninsula. Otranto was
the last of the conquests of the great Conqueror; what if he had been

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Online LibraryEdward Augustus FreemanSketches from the subject and neighbour lands of Venice → online text (page 18 of 23)