Edward Augustus Freeman.

Sketches from the subject and neighbour lands of Venice online

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of making use of the swifter means which modern skill has provided for

* * * * *

At last, by whichever road he goes, the traveller finds himself at the
little town of Monfalcone, and there he who comes by the railway must
now look for the capital barouche and the excellent horses, or such
substitutes for them as Monfalcone can supply. A small castle frowns
on the hill above the station, but the town contains nothing but an
utterly worthless _duomo_ and some street arcades, to remind us once
more that, if we are under the political rule of the Apostolic King,
we are on soil which is Italian in history and in architecture. After
a railway journey which has mainly skirted the sea, perhaps even after
a journey over the hills during a great part of which we have looked
down on the sea, we are a little surprised at finding that the road
which leads us to what once was a great haven takes us wholly inland.
We pass through a flat and richly cultivated country, broken here and
there by a village with its campanile, till two Corinthian columns
catch the eye in front of a modern building, which otherwise might be
passed by without notice. Those two columns, standing forsaken, away
from their fellows, mark that we have reached Monastero; in the days
before Attila we should have reached Aquileia. We are now within the
circuit of the ancient colony. But mediæval Aquileia was shut up
within far narrower limits; modern Aquileia is shut up within narrower
limits still. Within the courtyard of the building which is fronted by
the two columns, we find a large collection, a kind of outdoor museum,
of scraps of architecture and sculpture, the fragments of the great
city that once was. We go on, and gradually our approach to the centre
is marked by further fragments of columns lying here and there, as at
Rome or Ravenna. A little farther, and we are in modern Aquileia,
"città Aquileia," as it still proudly calls itself in the official
description, which, as usual, proclaims to the traveller the name of
the place where he is, and in what administrative division of the
"Imperial and Royal" dominions he finds himself.

Of the village into which the ancient colony has shrunk up we must
allow that the main existing interest is ecclesiastical. So far as
Aquileia is a city at all, it is now a "church city." The patriarchal
church, with its tall but certainly not beautiful campanile, soars
above all. But, if it soars above all, it still is not all. Here and
there a fragment of a column, or an inscription built into the wall,
reminds us of what Aquileia once was. One ingenious man has even built
himself an outhouse wholly out of such scraps, here a capital, there a
bit of sculpture, there inscriptions of various dates, with letters of
the best and of the worst kinds of Roman lettering. Queer and confused
as the collection is, the bits out of which it is put together are at
least safe, which they would not be if they were left lying about in
the streets. Another more regularly assorted collection will be found
in the local museum, which has the advantage of containing several
plans, showing the extent of the city in earlier times. At last we
approach the church, now, and doubtless for many ages past, the one
great object in Aquileia. In front of it a single shattered column
marks the place of the ancient forum. To climb the tower is the best
way of studying the geography of Aquileia, just as to climb the tower
of Saint Apollinaris is the best way of studying the geography of
Ravenna. In both cases the first feeling that comes upon the mind is
that the sea has become a distant object. Now the eye ranges over a
wide flat, and the sea, which once brought greatness to Aquileia, is
far away. A map of Aquileia in the fifteenth century is to be had, and
it is wise to take it to the top of the tower. There we may trace out
the churches, gates, and other buildings, which have perished since
the date of the map, remembering always that the Aquileia of the
fifteenth century was the merest fragment of the vast city of earlier
times. A good deal of the town wall of the mediæval date may still be
traced. It runs near to the east end of the church, acting, as at
Exeter and Chichester, as the wall at once of the town and of the
ecclesiastical precinct. The church itself, the patriarchal basilica
of Aquileia, is a study indeed, though the first feeling on seeing it
either within or without is likely to be one of disappointment. We do
not expect outline, strictly so called, in an Italian church; when we
come in for any grouping of towers, such as we see at Saint Abbondio
at Como and at more wonderful Vercelli, we accept with thankfulness
the boon which we had not looked for. So we do not complain that the
basilica of Aquileia, with its vast length and its lofty tower, is
still, as judged by a northern eye, somewhat shapeless. But in such a
place we might have expected to find a front such as those which form
the glory of Pisa and Lucca, such a tower as may be found at Pisa and
Lucca and at a crowd of places of less renown. We enter the church,
and we find ourselves in a vast and stately basilica; but one feature
in its architecture at once amazes us. There are the long rows of
columns with which we have become familiar at Pisa and Lucca, at Rome
and Ravenna; but all the main arches are pointed. And the pointed
arches are not, as at Palermo and indeed at Pisa also, trophies of the
vanquished Saracen; their details at once show that they are actual
mediæval work. We search the history, for which no great book-learning
is needed, as inscriptions on the walls and floor supply the most
important facts. The church was twice recast, once early in the
eleventh century, and again in the fourteenth. The pointed work in the
main building is of course due to this last change; the crypt, with
its heavy columns and rude capitals, looks like work of the eleventh
century, though it has been assigned to the fifth, and though
doubtless materials of that date have been used up again. And in the
upper church also, the columns of the elder building have, as so often
happens, lived through all repairs. Their capitals for the most part
are mediæval imitations of classical forms rather than actual relics
of the days before Attila. But two among them, one in each transept,
still keep shattered Corinthian capitals of the very finest work.

The fittings of the church are largely of _Renaissance_ date, but the
patriarchal throne remains, and there are one or two fragments of
columns and the like put to new uses. On the north side of the nave is
a singular building, known as the _sacrario_, of which it is not easy
to guess the original purpose. It is a round building supporting a
miniature colonnade with a conical roof above, so that it looks more
like a model of a baptistery than anything else. Those who see
Cividale before Aquileia may be reminded of the baptistery within the
_Templum Maximum_. But the Forojulian work is larger than the
Aquileian, and we can hardly fancy that this last was really designed
to be used for baptism; at all events there is a notable baptistery

In the basilica of Aquileia we have three marked dates, but we may
call it on the whole a church of the eleventh century, keeping
portions of a church of the fourth, and itself largely recast in the
fourteenth. Thus, setting aside later changes, the existing church
shows portions of work a thousand years apart, and spans nearly the
whole of Aquileian history. When the rich capitals of the transepts
were carved, the days of persecution were still of recent memory;
when pointed arches were set on the ancient columns, the temporal
power of the patriarchate was within a century of its fall. The first
church of Aquileia is assigned to the bishop Fortunatian, who
succeeded in 347, the last prelate who held Aquileia as a simple
bishopric without metropolitan rank. The builder and consecrator of
the present church - for present we may call it, though it shows less
detail of his work than of either earlier or later times - was Poppo or
Wolfgang, patriarch from 1019 to 1042, a man famous in local history
as the chief founder of the temporal power of the patriarchate. His
influence was great with the Emperors Henry the Second and Conrad the
Second; he accompanied the latter prince to his Roman coronation, and
must therefore have stood face to face with our own Cnut. The name of
this magnificent prelate suggests his namesake, who at the very same
moment filled the metropolitan throne of Trier, and was engaged in the
same work of transforming a great church of an older day. If we
compare Trier and Aquileia, we see how men's minds are worked on by
local circumstances and local associations. Poppo of Aquileia and
Poppo of Trier were alike German prelates, but one was working in
Germany and the other in Italy. The northern Poppo therefore gave the
remodelled church of Trier a German character, while the remodelled
church of Aquileia remained, under the hands of the southern Poppo, a
church thoroughly Italian. We may even say that the essential
character of the building was not changed, even by the still later
remodelling which brought in the pointed arches; these were the work
of Markquard of Randeck, who was translated from Augsburg to the
patriarchal see in 1365, and who held it till 1381. He brought in the
received constructive form of his day, but he did not by bringing in
pointed arches turn the building into Italian Gothic. The church of
Markquard remained within and without a true basilica, keeping the
general effect of the church of Poppo, perhaps even of the church of
Fortunatian. The walls of the church moreover show inscriptions of
much later date, recording work done in the church of Aquileia in the
days of Apostolic sovereigns of our own time. The newest of all, which
was not there in 1875, but which was there in 1881, bears the name of
the prince who has ceased to be lord of Forum Julii, but who still
remains lord of Aquileia.

But the basilica itself is not all. A succession of buildings join on
to the west: first a _loggia_, then a plain vaulted building, called,
but without much likelihood, an older church, which leads to the
ruined baptistery. The old map shows this last with a high roof or
cupola, and then the range from the western baptistery to the great
eastern apse must have been striking indeed. Fragments of every kind,
columns, capitals, bits of entablature, lie around; and to the south
of the church stand up two great pillars, the object of which it is
for some local antiquary to explain. The old map shows that they stood
just within the court of the patriarchal palace, which was then a
ruin, and which has now utterly vanished. They are not of classical
work; they are not columns in the strict sense; they are simply built
up of stones, like the pillars of Gloucester or Tewkesbury. Standing
side by side, they remind us of the columns which in towns which were
subject to Venice commonly bear the badges of the dominion of Saint
Mark. But can we look for such badges at Aquileia? The lands of the
patriarchate, in by far the greater part of their extent, did indeed
pass from the patriarch to the Evangelist. But had the Evangelist ever
such a settled possession of the city itself as to make it likely that
columns should be set up at Aquileia as well as at Udine? The treaty
which confirmed Venice in the possession of the patriarchal state left
the patriarchal city to its own bishop and prince. Was the winged lion
ever set up, and then taken down again? The old map which represents
Aquileia in the fifteenth century shows that, as the pillars carry
nothing now, so they carried nothing then. Again, would Venetian taste
have allowed such clumsy substitutes for columns as these? And, if
they had been meant as badges of dominion, would they not have stood
in the forum rather than in the court of the Patriarch's palace?

We are far from having exhausted even the existing antiquities of
Aquileia, further still from exhausted its long and varied history.
Within the bounds of the fallen city pleasant walks may be taken,
which here and there bring us among memories of the past. Here is a
fine street pavement brought to light, here a fragment of a theatre.
But men do not dig at Aquileia with the same vigour with which they
dig at Silchester and at Solunto. The difference between the diggings
at the beginning and the end of a term of six years is less than it
should be. But we have perhaps done enough to point out the claims of
so wonderful a spot on those who look on travelling as something more
than a way either of killing time or of conforming to fashion.
Aquileia has a character of its own; it is not a ruined or buried
city; nor is it altogether like Trier or Ravenna, which, though fallen
from their ancient greatness, are cities still. In the general feeling
of the spot it has more in common with such a place as Saint David's
in our own island, that thorough "church city," where a great minster
and its ecclesiastical establishment still live on amid surrounding
desolation. But there is no reason to believe that Saint David's, as
a town, was ever greater than it is now. Still Saint David's keeps its
bishopric, it keeps its chapter; at Aquileia the patriarch with his
fifty canons are altogether things of the past. We must seek for their
surviving fragments at Udine and Gorizia. Aquileia then, as regards
its present state, has really fallen lower than Saint David's. But
then at Aquileia we see at every step, what could never at any time
have been seen at Saint David's, the signs of the days when it ranked
among the great cities of the earth. Aquileia, in short, is unique. We
turn away from it with the feeling that we have seen one of the most
remarkable spots that Europe can show us. It may be that our horses,
excellent or otherwise, take us back to Monfalcone, and that from
Monfalcone the train takes us back to Trieste. In theory, it must be
remembered, we have not been at Trieste at all; we are going thither
from Venice, by way of Treviso, Udine, Gorizia, and Aquileia. In going
thither, we shall outstrip the strict boundary of the Lombard Austria,
though we shall keep within the Italy of Augustus and the Italy of
Charles the Great. On the other hand, in matter of fact it may be
that, as we have come by the older mode of going from Trieste to
Aquileia, we go on to make our way by the same mode from Aquileia to
Gorizia. In favourable states of the astronomical world, we may even
be lighted on our way by a newly-risen comet. We follow the precedent
of our forefathers: "Isti mirant stellam." Such a phænomenon must,
according to all ancient belief, imply the coming of some great
shaking among the powers of the world. In such a frame of mind, the
gazer may be excused if he dreams that the portent may be sent to show
that the boundary which parts Aquileia and Gorizia from Udine and
Treviso need not be eternal.


1875 - 1877 - 1881.

We have already learned, at Gorizia and at Aquileia, that, whether in
real travel or on the map, the subject lands of Venice cannot be kept
apart from those neighbour lands which were not her subjects. The
Queen of the Hadriatic could at no time boast of the possession of the
whole Hadriatic coast; could she now be called up again to her old
life, to her old dominion, she would feel very sensibly that she had
only a divided rule over her own sea. She would find her peer in a
city, a haven, all claim to dominion over which she had formally
resigned more than four hundred years before her fall. Facing her from
the other side of her own watery kingdom, she would see a city too far
off to be an eyesore, but quite near enough to be a rival. She is
fronted by a city which hardly comes within the old Venetian land,
though it comes within the bounds of the old Italian kingdom, a city
which for five hundred years has been parted from Venetian or Italian
rule, emphatically a city of the present, which has swallowed up no
small share of the wealth and prosperity of the city of the past.

_Tergeste_, Trieste, stands forth as a rival of Venice, which has, in
a low practical view of things, outstripped her. Italian zeal
naturally cries for the recovery of a great city, once part of the old
Italian kingdom, and whose speech is largely, perhaps chiefly, Italian
to this day. But, cry of _Italia Irredenta_, however far it may go, he
must not go so far as this. Trieste, a cosmopolitan city on a Slavonic
shore, cannot be called Italian in the same sense as the lands and
towns so near Verona which yearn to be as Verona is. Let Trieste be
the rival, even the eyesore, of Venice, still Southern Germany must
have a mouth. We might indeed be better pleased to see Trieste a free
city, the southern fellow of Lübeck, Bremen, and Hamburg; but it must
not be forgotten that the Archduke of Austria and Lord of Trieste
reigns at Trieste by a far better right than that by which he reigns
at Cattaro and Spizza. The present people of Trieste did not choose
him, but the people of Trieste five hundred years back did choose the
forefather of his great-grandmother. Compared with the grounds on
which kingdoms, duchies, counties, and lordships, are commonly held in
that neighbourhood, such a claim as this must be allowed to be
respectable indeed.

The great haven of Trieste may almost at pleasure be quoted as either
confirming or contradicting the rule that it is not in the great
commercial cities of Europe that we are to look for the choicest or
the most plentiful remains of antiquity. Sometimes the cities
themselves are of modern foundation; in other cases the cities
themselves, as habitations of men and seats of commerce, are of the
hoariest antiquity, but the remains of their early days have perished
through their very prosperity. Massalia, with her long history, with
her double wreath of freedom, the city which withstood Cæsar and which
withstood Charles of Anjou, is bare of monuments of her early days.
She has been the victim of her abiding good fortune. We can look down
from the height on the Phôkaian harbour; but for actual memorials of
the men who fled from the Persian, of the men who defied the Roman and
the Angevin, we might look as well at Liverpool or at Havre. Genoa,
Venice herself, are hardly real exceptions; they were indeed
commercial cities, but they were ruling cities also, and, as ruling
cities, they reared monuments which could hardly pass away. What are
we to say to the modern rival of Venice, the upstart rebel, one is
tempted to say, against the supremacy of the Hadriatic Queen? Trieste,
at the head of her gulf, with the hills looking down to her haven,
with the snowy mountains which seem to guard the approach from the
other side of her inland sea, with her harbour full of the ships of
every nation, her streets echoing with every tongue, is she to be
reckoned as an example of the rule or an exception to it?

No city at first sight seems more thoroughly modern; old town and new,
wide streets and narrow, we search them in vain for any of those
vestiges of past times which in some cities meet us at every step.
Compare Trieste with Ancona; we miss the arch of Trajan on the haven;
we miss the cupola of Saint Cyriacus soaring in triumph above the
triumphal monument of the heathen. We pass through the stately streets
of the newer town, we thread the steep ascents which lead us to the
older town above, and we nowhere light on any of those little scraps
of ornamental architecture, a window, a doorway, a column, which meet
us at every step in so many of the cities of Italy. Yet the monumental
wealth of Trieste is all but equal to the monumental wealth of Ancona.
At Ancona we have the cathedral church and the triumphal arch; so we
have at Trieste; though at Trieste we have nothing to set against the
grand front of the lower and smaller church of Ancona. But at Ancona
arch and _duomo_ both stand out before all eyes; at Trieste both have
to be looked for. The church of Saint Justus at Trieste crowns the
hill as well as the church of Saint Cyriacus at Ancona; but it does
not in the same way proclaim its presence. The castle, with its ugly
modern fortifications, rises again above the church; and the _duomo_
of Trieste, with its shapeless outline and its low, heavy, unsightly
campanile, does not catch the eyes like the Greek cross and cupola of
Ancona. Again at Trieste the arch could never, in its best days, have
been a rival to the arch at Ancona; and now either we have to hunt it
out by an effort, or else it comes upon us suddenly, standing, as it
does, at the head of a mean street on the ascent to the upper town. Of
a truth it cannot compete with Ancona or with Rimini, with Orange or
with Aosta. But the _duomo_, utterly unsightly as it is in a general
view, puts on quite a new character when we first see the remains of
pagan times imprisoned in the lower stage of the heavy campanile,
still more so when we take our first glance of its wonderful interior.
At the first glimpse we see that here there is a mystery to be
unravelled; and as we gradually find the clue to the marvellous
changes which it has undergone, we feel that outside show is not
everything, and that, in point both of antiquity and of interest,
though not of actual beauty, the double basilica of Trieste may claim
no mean place among buildings of its own type. Even after the glories
of Rome and Ravenna, the Tergestine church may be studied with no
small pleasure and profit, as an example of a kind of transformation
of which neither Rome nor Ravenna can supply another example.

* * * * *

Whatever was the first origin of Tergeste, whoever, among the varied
and perplexing inhabitants of this corner of the Hadriatic coast, were
the first to pitch on the spot for a dwelling-place of man, it is
plain that it ranks among the cities which have grown up out of
hill-forts. Trieste in this affords a marked contrast to Marseilles,
as it supplies a marked analogy to Cumæ and Ancona. The site of the
Phôkaian settlement marks a distinct advance in civilization. The
_castellieri_, the primitive forts, in the neighbouring land of
Istria, were, according to Captain Burton, often made into places of
Roman occupation, and something of the same kind may have been the
case with Tergeste itself. The position of the cathedral church,
occupying the site of the capitol of the Roman colony, shows of itself
that Tergeste was thoroughly a hill-city. It has spread itself
downwards, like so many others, though this time, not into the plain,
but towards the sea. Standing on the border-land of Italy and Illyria,
its destiny has been in some things the same as that of its
neighbours, in others peculiar to itself. It must not be forgotten
that, setting aside the coast cities, the land in which Trieste stands
has for ages been a Slavonic land, except so far as it is also partly
a Rouman land. How far the Italian and the Rouman elements may have
been originally the same, is a puzzling question on which it would be
dangerous to enter here. But one thing is certain, that, if the
present inhabitants of the Tergestine city had obeyed the call of
Garibaldi, "Men of Trieste, to your mountains," they would have found
Slavonic possessors claiming those mountains by the strongest of all
titles. For we have now distinctly passed the national border. We have
come to the lands where the body is Slavonic, where the Italian
element, greater or smaller, is at most only a fringe along the coast.
Tergeste with the neighbouring lands formed part of the dominion of
Theodoric and of the recovered Empire of Justinian; but it never came
under the rule of the Lombard. Its allegiance to the lords of
Constantinople and Ravenna, lords whose abiding power in this region
is shown in the foundation of the Istrian Justinopolis, lasted
unshaken till the Frank conquest, when Tergeste became part of the
Italian kingdom of the Karlings. From that time to the fourteenth
century, its history is the common history of an Italian city. It is
sometimes a free commonwealth, sometimes subject to, or claimed by,
the Patriarch of Aquileia or to the Serene Republic itself. By the
treaty of Turin in 1381, the independence of the commonwealth of
Trieste was formally acknowledged by all the contending powers. The
next year the liberated city took the seemingly strange step of
submitting itself to the lordship of a foreign prince. Leopold, Duke
of Austria, he who died at Sempach, he to whom Venice resigned

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Online LibraryEdward Augustus FreemanSketches from the subject and neighbour lands of Venice → online text (page 5 of 23)