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Sketches from the subject and neighbour lands of Venice online

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they are not unparalleled. The Po may perhaps be reckoned as the
frontier stream of the region towards the south, and the many paths by
which the Po has found its way into the Hadriatic need not be dwelled
on. We are more concerned with rivers further to the north-east. The
Isonzo no longer represents the course of the ancient Sontius; the
Natisone no longer flows by fallen Aquileia. The changes of the
coast-line which have made what is left of Aquileia inland have their
counterparts at Pisa and at Ravenna. In the range of historical
geography, the most curious feature is the way in which certain
political names have kept on an abiding life in this region, though
with singular changes of meaning. The land has constantly been either
Venetian or Austrian; sometimes it has been Venetian and Austrian at
once. But it has been Venetian and Austrian in various meanings. It
was Venetian long before the name of Venice was heard of in its present
sense; it was Austrian long before the name of Austria was heard of in
its present sense. The land of the old Veneti bore the Venetian name
ages before the city of Venice was in being, and it keeps it now that
Venice has ceased to be a political power. Venetian then the land has
ever been in one sense, while a large part of it was for some centuries
Venetian in another sense, in the days when so many of its cities
bowed to Saint Mark and his commonwealth as its rulers. Austrian the
land was in the old geographical sense, when it formed the Lombard
_Austria_ - the eastern half, the _Eastrice_ - that form would, we
suspect, come nearer to Lombard speech than _Oesterreich_ - of the
Lombard realm. But if the Lombard realm had its Austria and its
Neustria, so also had the Frankish realm. Wherever a land could be
easily divided into east and west, there was an _Austria_, and its
negative a _Neustria_. Lombardy then had its Austria, and its
_Austria_ was found in the old and the new Venetian land. No one
perhaps ever spoke of the Karlings as the House of Austria, or of
their Empire as the dominions of the House of Austria. And yet the
name would not have been out of place. Their dominion marked the
predominance of the eastern part of the Frankish realm - its
_Oesterreich_, its _Austrasia_, its _Austria_ - over the Neustrian
power of the earlier dynasty. The Lombard Austria became part of the
dominions of those who were before all things lords of the Frankish
Austria. And in later times, when the Lombard and the Frankish Austria
were both forgotten, when the name clave only to a third Austria, the
more modern Austria of Germany - the Eastern mark called into being to
guard Germany from the Magyar - the Venetian land has more than once
become Austrian in another sense; some of it in that sense remains
Austrian still. Dukes of the most modern Austria - plain dukes who were
satisfied with being dukes - archdukes who were Emperors by lawful
election - archdukes who have had a strange fancy for calling
themselves Emperors of their archduchy - have all of them at various
times borne rule over the whole or part of the older Austria of
Lombardy. To-day the north-eastern corner of Italy, land of Venetia,
the once Lombard Austria, is parted asunder by an artificial boundary
between the dominions of the Italian King and the lord of the later
Austria. And, what a passing traveller might not easily find out, in
this old Venetian land, in both parts of it, alike under modern
Italian and under modern Austrian rule, besides the Latin speech which
everywhere meets the eye and the ear, the speech of Slavonic settlers
still lingers. Settlers they are in the Venetian land, no less than
its Roman or its German masters. It is hard to say who the old Veneti
were, perhaps nearer akin to the Albanians than to any other European
people. At all events there is no reason for thinking that they were
Slaves. The presence of a Slavonic speech in this region is a fruit of
the same migration which made the land beyond Hadria Slavonic. But to
hear the Slavonic and the Italian tongues side by side is so familiar
a phænomenon under modern Austrian rule, that its appearance at
Aquileia or Gorizia may with some minds seem to give the land a
specially Austrian character, and may help to shut out the remembrance
that at Aquileia and Gorizia we are within the ancient kingdom of
Italy. Nay it may be a new and strange thing to many to hear that,
even within the bounds of the modern kingdom of Italy, there are
districts where, though Italian is the cultivated tongue, yet Slave is
the common peasant speech.

But besides physical changes, changes of name, changes of inhabitants,
we are perhaps yet more deeply struck with the fluctuations in the
history of the cities of this region. In this matter, throughout the
Venetian land, the first do indeed become last and the last first. No
city in this region has kept on that enduring life through all changes
which has belonged to many cities in other parts of Europe. We do not
here find the Roman walls, or the walls yet earlier than Roman days,
fencing in dwelling-places of man which have been continuously
inhabited, which have sometimes been continuously flourishing, through
all times of which history has anything to tell us. We need not take
our examples from Rome or Athens or Argos or the Phoenician Gades.
It is enough to look to one or two of the capitals of modern Europe.
At the beginning of the fifth century, London and Paris, not yet
indeed capitals of kingdoms, were already in being, and had been in
being for some centuries. But far above either ranked the great city
of north-eastern Italy, then one of the foremost cities of the world,
the ancient colony of Aquileia, keeper of one of the great lines of
approach towards Italy and Rome. No one city had then taken the name
of the Venetian land; no wanderers from the mainland had as yet
settled down like sea-fowl, as Cassiodorus puts it, on the islands of
the lagoons. By the end of the fifth century both London and Paris had
passed from Roman rule to the rule of Teutonic conquerors. London, we
may conceive, was still inhabited; at all events its walls stood
ready to receive a fresh colony before long. Paris had received one of
those momentary lifts of which she went through several before her
final exaltation; the city which had been favoured by Roman Julian was
favoured also by Frankish Chlodwig. But Aquileia had felt the full
fury of invaders who came, not to occupy or to settle, but simply to
destroy. As a city, as a bulwark of Italy, she had passed away for
ever. But out of her fall several cities had, in the course of that
century, risen to increased greatness, and the greatest of all had
come into being. The city was born which, simply as a city, as a city
bearing rule over distant lands, must rank as the one historic peer of
Rome. Not yet Queen of the Hadriatic, not yet the chosen sanctuary of
Saint Mark, not yet enthroned on her own Rialto, the settlement which
was to grow into Venice had already made its small beginnings.

But the fall of Aquileia, the rise of Venice, are only the greatest
examples of a general law. A nearer neighbour of Aquileia at once
profited by her overthrow; Grado, on her own coast, almost at her own
gates, sprang up as her rival; but the greatness of Grado has passed
away only less thoroughly than the greatness of Aquileia. So the
Venetian Forum Julii gave way to its more modern neighbour Udine. It
lost the name which it had given to the land around it. Its shortened
form _Friuli_ lived on as one of the names of the surrounding
district, but Forum Julii itself was forgotten under the vaguer
description of _Cividale_. Gorizia has been for ages the head of a
principality; in later times it has been the head of an ecclesiastical
province. But Gorizia is absolutely unknown till the beginning of the
eleventh century, and it does not seem even to have supplanted any
earlier city. It is thus a marked peculiarity of this district that
the chief towns, with Venice itself at their head, have not lived on
continuously as chief towns from Roman or earlier times. West of
Venice the rule does not apply. Padua and Verona are old enough for
the warmest lover of antiquity, and Vicenza, going back at least to
the second century B.C., must be allowed to be of a respectable age.

That the chief cities of a district should date from early mediæval,
and not from Roman times, is a feature which at once suggests
analogies with our own island. Both in Venetia and in Britain we are
struck with the prevalence of places which arose after the fall of the
elder Roman power, in opposition to most parts of Italy and Gaul,
where nearly every town can trace back to Roman days or earlier. But
the likeness cannot be carried out in detail. In the district which we
have just marked out it is absolutely the greatest cities - one of them
so great as to be put out of all comparison with the others - which
are of this comparatively recent date. In England, though the great
mass of the local centres are places of English foundation and bearing
English names, yet the greatest and most historic cities still carry
the marks of Roman origin about them. Some Roman cities in Britain
passed utterly away; others lived on, or soon came to life again, in
the forms of York, London, and Winchester. But in Venetia it is the
cities which answer to York and London which have lost their
greatness, though they have not utterly passed away. This last fact is
one of the characteristics of the district; the fallen cities have
simply fallen from their greatness; they have not ceased to be
dwelling-places of man. Aquileia and Forum Julii have ceased for ages
to be what Aquileia and Forum Julii once were, but they have not
become as Silchester, or even as Salona. Of the position of all these
places there is no manner of doubt. They are there to speak for
themselves; even Julium Carnacum, whose site has had to be looked for,
still abides, though those who have reached it describe it as a small
village. Aquileia under its old name, Forum Julii under its new name,
are still inhabited, they still hold the rank of towns; but while they
still abide, the rule that the first should become last and the last
first is carried out among them. As ancient Aquileia was far greater
than ancient Forum Julii, so modern Aquileia, though it keeps its
name, is now far less than modern Cividale, from which the name of
Forum Julii has passed away.

Aquileia then, once the greatest city of all, is the city that has
come nearest to being altogether wiped out of being. Venice,
afterwards the greatest of all, is the city which may most truly be
said to have been called out of nothing in after-times. Among the
other cities the change has been rather a change of relation and
proportion, than a case of absolute birth and death. Cividale is still
there, though it is but a poor representative of Forum Julii. Udine
has taken its place. But Udine, though its importance belongs wholly
to mediæval times, was not strictly a mediæval creation. It is just
possible to prove the existence of _Vedinum_ in Roman days, though it
is only its existence which can be proved; it plays no part whatever
in early history. The case is slightly different with another
neighbouring city, the Roman Tarvisium, whose name gradually changed
to _Treviso_. Tarvisium was of more account than Vedinum, but it first
comes into notice in the wars of Belisarius, and its position as an
important city playing a part in Italian history dates only from the
days of the Lombard League. And its general history is one in which
the shifting nomenclature of the district may be read with almost
grotesque accuracy. It has not only been, like its neighbours,
Venetian and Austrian in two widely different senses - it has not only
been Venetian in the old geographical sense, and Venetian in the sense
of being subject to the commonwealth of Venice - it has not only been
Austrian in the old Lombard sense, and Austrian in the sense of being
subject to the Dukes of the German Austria - but it has also shifted
backwards and forwards between the rule of the Serene Republic and the
rule of the Austrian Dukes, in a way to which it would not be easy to
find a parallel even among the old revolutions of its neighbours.

* * * * *

Treviso and its district, the march which bears its name, was the
first possession of Venice on the true mainland of Italy, as
distinguished from that mere fringe of coast along the lagoons which
may be more truly counted as part of her dominion by sea. That Treviso
lay near to Venice was a truth which came home to Venetian minds at a
very early stage of Venetian history. Even in the eleventh century,
the earliest authentic chronicler of Venice, that John whose work will
be found in the seventh volume of Pertz, speaks with some
significance, even when recording events of the time of Charles the
Great, of "quædam civitas non procul a Venetia, nomine Tarvisium."
When strictly Italian history begins, Treviso runs through the
ordinary course of a Lombard city; it takes its share in resistance to
the imperial power, it falls into the hands of tyrants of the house of
Romano and of the house of Scala. Along with Padua, it is the city
which is fullest of memories of the terrible Eccelinò. Won by the
Republic in 1338 from its lord Mastino della Scala, the special
strangeness of its fortunes begins. The modern House of Austria was
already in being; but its Dukes had not yet grown into Emperors, one
only had grown into an acknowledged King. They had not won for
themselves the crowns of Bohemia or Hungary, though, by the opposite
process, one Bohemian king, the mighty Ottocar, had counted Austria in
the long list of his conquered lands. But presently Treviso becomes
the centre of events in which Austria, Hungary, Bohemia, and the
Empire, all play their parts. It is perhaps not wonderful when the
maritime republic, mistress of the Trevisan march, vainly seeks to
obtain the confirmation of her right from the overlord of Treviso
though not of Venice, Charles of Bohemia, King of the Romans and
future Emperor. But the old times when Huns, Avars, Magyars,
barbarians of every kind, poured into this devoted corner of Italy,
seem to have come back, when in 1356 we find Treviso besieged by a
Hungarian king. But the Hungarian king is no longer an outside
barbarian; he is a prince of the house of Anjou and Paris. If Lewis
the Great besieged Treviso, it was not in the character of a new
Attila or Arpad; he attacked the now Venetian city as part of the war
which he so successfully waged against the Republic in her Dalmatian
lands. Not thirty years later we find the Doge Andrew Contarini, with
more wisdom perhaps than the more famous Foscari of the next age,
considering that to Venice the sea was greater than the land, and
therefore commending her new conquest on the mainland to Duke Leopold
of Austria. The words of the chronicler Andrew Dandolo are worth
remembering. They express the truest policy of the Republic, from
which she ought never to have gone astray.

"Ducalis excellentia prudentissima, meditatione considerans
proprium Venetorum esse mare colere, terramque postergare;
hinc enim divitiis et honoribus abundat, inde sæpe sibi
proveniunt scandala et errores."

But Leopold, he who fell at Sempach, had not the same passion for
dominion south of the Alps as some of his successors. He wisely sold
Treviso to the lord of Padua, Francesco Carrara, from whom, after a
moment of doubt whether the prize would not pass to the tyrant of
Milan, the Republic won it back after eight years' separation.
Henceforward Treviso shared the fate of the other Venetian possessions
which gradually gathered on each side of her. Having had for a moment
its share of Austrian dominion in the fourteenth century, Treviso was
able, in the wars of the sixteenth century, to withstand the same
power in a new shape, the power of Maximilian, Austrian Archduke and
Roman King. In later times nothing distinguishes the city from the
common course by which Treviso and her neighbours became Austrian,
French, and Austrian again, till, by the happiest change of all, they
became members of a free and united Italy.

* * * * *

In the aspect of the city itself, the Roman Tarvisium has left but
small signs of its former being. All that we see is the Treviso of
mediæval and later times. The walls, the bell-towers, the slenderer
tower of the municipal palace, the arcaded streets, the houses too,
though they are not rich in the more elaborate forms of Italian
domestic art, have all the genuine character of a mediæval Italian
town. Not placed in any striking position, not a hill-city, not in any
strictness a river-city, but a city of the plain looking towards the
distant mountains - not adorned by any building of conspicuous
splendour - Treviso is still far from being void of objects which
deserve study. As we look on the city, either from the lofty walk into
which so large a part of its walls have been turned, or else from the
neighbourhood of its railway station, its aspect, without rivalling
that of the great cities of Italy, is far from unsatisfactory. But
the character of the city differs widely in the two views. From the
station the ecclesiastical element prevails. The main object in the
view from this side is the Dominican church of Saint Nicolas, one of
those vast brick friars' churches so characteristic of Italy, and to
which the praise of a certain stateliness cannot be denied. Saint
Nicolas, with its great bell-tower, groups well with the smaller
church and smaller tower of a neighbouring Benedictine house. In
short, the towers of Treviso form its leading feature, and that,
though several of the greatest, above all the huge campanile designed
for the cathedral church, have never been finished. In the view from
the railway Saint Nicolas' tower is dominant; the tall slender tower
of the municipal palace, loftier, we suspect, in positive height,
fails to balance it. In the other view, from the wall on the other
side, the municipal tower is the leading object, which it certainly
would not have been if the bell-tower of the _duomo_ had ever been
carried up. There is a great friars' church on this side too, the
desecrated church of Saint Francis; but, though a large building with
marked outline, it does not stand out at all so conspicuously as its
Dominican rival on the other side. The _duomo_ itself, with its
eccentric cupolas, goes for less in the general view than either. On
the whole, the aspect of Treviso is very characteristically Italian;
it would be yet more so if it sent up its one great campanile to mark
its site from afar. Still, even as it is, this city of the Lombard
Austria proclaims itself as one of the same group as those cities
further to the west which we look down on side by side from the
castle-hill of Brescia.

Treviso, so near a neighbour of Venice, the earliest of her subject
cities of the mainland, does not fail to proclaim the relation between
the subject and the ruling commonwealth in the usual fashion. The
winged lion, the ensign which we are to follow along so many shores,
appears on not a few points of her defences. Over the gate of Saint
Thomas the badge of the Evangelist appears in special size and
majesty, accompanied, it would seem, by several younger members of his
family whose wings have not yet had time to grow. And Treviso too in
some sort calls up the memory of its mistress in the abundance of
streams, canals, and bridges. It has at least more right than some of
the towns to which the guide-books give the name, to be called a
little Venice. But the contrast is indeed great between the still
waters of the lagoons and the rushing torrents which pass under the
walls and turn the mills of Treviso. Venice, in short, though her name
has been rather freely scattered about hither and thither, remains
without likeness or miniature among either subjects, rivals, or

The heart of an Italian city is to be looked for in its town-house and
the open space before it. It is characteristic of the mistress of
Treviso that her palace, the palace of her rulers, not of her people,
stands somewhat aside from the great centre of Venetian life. The
church of the patron saint who had become identified with the
commonwealth takes in some sort the place which in more democratic
states belongs to the home of the commonwealth itself. Technically
indeed Saint Mark's is itself part of the palace; it answers to Saint
Stephen's at Westminster, not to Saint Peter's; but nowhere else among
commonwealths does the chapel of the palace in this sort surpass or
rival the palace itself. The less famous Saint Liberalis, patron of
the city and diocese of Tarvisium, does not venture, after the manner
of the Evangelist, thus to supplant Tarvisium itself. The commonwealth
fully proclaims its being in the group of municipal buildings which
surround the irregular space which forms the municipal centre of the
city. One alone of these, at once in some sort the oldest and the
newest, calls for special notice. The former _palazzo della Signoria_,
now the palace, the centre, in the new arrangement of things, not only
of the city of Treviso but of the whole province of which it is the
head, has been clearly renewed, perhaps rebuilt. But it keeps the true
character of a Lombard building of the kind, the simpler and truer
forms which were in vogue before the Venetian Gothic set in. It marks
the true position of that style that, though we cannot help admiring
many of its buildings when we look at them, we find it a relief when
we come to something earlier and more real. The buildings of which
Venice set the type are very rich, very elegant; but we feel that,
after all, England, France, Germany, could all do better in the way of
windows, and that Italy left to herself could do better in the way of
columns and arches. Old or new, rebuilt or simply repaired, there is
nothing very wonderful in the municipal palace of Treviso; but in
either case it is pleasing as an example of the genuine native style
of Italy. It has arcades below, groups of round-headed windows above,
and the tower looks over the palace with the more effect, because it
is not parallel to it. The arcades of the palace, continued in the
form of the arcades of the streets, are a feature of Treviso, as of
all other southern cities that were built by rational men in rational
times, and were designed, unlike Venice and Curzola, for the passage
of carriages and horses. At Treviso we have arcades of all kinds, all
shapes, all dates, some rude enough, some really elegant, but all of
them better than the portentous folly which has offered up modern Rome
and modern Athens as helpless victims to whatever powers may be
conceived to preside over heat, dust, and their consequences. Treviso
is not a first-class Italian city; it is hardly one of the second
class; but it is pleasant to thread one's way through the arcades, to
try to spell out the geography of the streams that are crossed by many
bridges; it is pleasant to mount here and there on the wall, to look
down on the broad foss below, and across it on the rich plain with its
wall of mountains in the distance.

In the ecclesiastical department what there is of any value above
ground belongs mainly to the friars. The interest of the _duomo_, as a
building, lies wholly in its crypt, a grand and spacious one,
certainly not later than the twelfth century. It may be that some of
the smaller marble shafts which support its vault had already done
duty in some earlier building, and there is no doubt as to the
classical date of a fragment of a large fluted column which in this
same crypt serves the purpose of a well. The church above has been
mercilessly Jesuited; yet, as it keeps more than one cupola, those
cupolas give it a certain dignity; the stamp of Constantinople and
Venice, of Périgueux and Angoulême, is hard wholly to wipe out.
Otherwise a few tombs and a fine piece of mediæval gilded wood-carving
are about all that the church of Treviso has to show. The great
Dominican church has been more lucky. The guide-book of Gsel-fels,
commonly the best of guide-books, but which cuts Treviso a little
short, rather sets one against it by saying that it has been wholly
modernized within. Repaired and freshened up it certainly has been;
but it can hardly be said to have been modernized; the old lines seem
not to have been tampered with. And there is something far from
lacking in dignity in the effect of its vast interior, even though its

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Online LibraryEdward Augustus FreemanSketches from the subject and neighbour lands of Venice → online text (page 2 of 23)