By Robert Hichens
|Roman Amphitheater at Pola|
Miramar faded across the pale waters of the Adriatic, which lay like a dream at the foot of the hills when Triest seemed sleeping, all its activities stilled at the summons of peace. Beneath its tower the orange-colored sail of a fishing-boat caught the sunlight, and gleamed like some precious fabric, then faded, too, as the ship moved onward to the forgotten region of rocks and islands, of long, gray mountains, of little cities and ancient fortresses, of dim old churches, from whose campanile the medieval voices of bells ring out the angelus to a people still happily primitive, still unashamed to be picturesque. By the way of the sea we journeyed to a capital where no carriages roll through the narrow streets, where there is not a railway-station, where the citizens are content to go on foot about their business, and where three quarters of the blessings of civilization are blessedly unknown. We had still to touch at Pola, in whose great harbor the dull-green war-ships of Austria lay almost in the shadow of the vast Roman amphitheater which has lifted its white walls, touched here and there with gold, above the sea for some sixteen hundred years, curiously graceful despite its gigantic bulk, the home now of grasses and thistles, where twenty thousand spectators used to assemble to take their pleasure.
But when Pola was left behind, the ship soon entered the watery paradise. Miramar, Triest, were forgotten. Dalmatia is a land of forgetting, seems happily far away, cut off by the sea from many banalities, many active annoyances of modern life.
Places that are, or that seem to be, remote often hold a certain melancholy, a tristesse of "old, unhappy, far-off things." But Dalmatia has a serene atmosphere, a cheerful purity, a clean and a cozy gaiety which reach out hands to the traveler, and take him at once into intimacy and the breast of a home. Before entering it the ship coasts along a naked region, in which pale, almost flesh-colored hills are backed by mountains of a ghastly grayness. Flesh-color and steel are almost cruelly blended. No habitations were visible. The sea, protected on our right by lines of islands, was waveless. No birds flew above it; no boats moved on it. We seemed to be creeping down into the ultimate desolation.
|The Pyramidal town of Sebenico|
Zara, Trau, Spalato, Ragusa, Castelnuovo, Cattaro, Sebenico—these, with two other places, represent Dalmatia to the average traveler. Ragusa is, perhaps, the most popular and interesting; Spalato the most populous and energetic; Cattaro the most remarkable scenically. Trau leaves a haunting memory in the mind of him who sees it. Castelnuovo is a little paradise marred in some degree by the soldiers who infest it, and who seem strangely out of place in its tiny ways and its tree-shaded piazza on the hilltop. But Zara has a peculiar charm, half gay, half brightly tender. And nowhere else in all Dalmatia are such exquisite effects of light wedded to water to be seen as on Zara's Canal.
Zara, like other sirens, is deceptive. The city has a face which gives little indication of its soul. Along the shore lie tall and cheerful houses,—almost palaces they are,—solid and big, modern, with windows opening to the sea, and separated from it only by a broad walk, edged by a strip of pavement, from which might be taken a dive into the limpid water. And here, when the ship tied up, a well-dressed throng of joyous citizens was taking the air. Children were playing and laughing. Two or three rowboats slipped through the gold and silver which the sun, just setting behind the island of Ugljan opposite, showered toward the city. Music came from some place of entertainment. A simple liveliness suggested prosperous homes, the well-being of a community apart, which chose to live "out of the world," away from railroads, motor-cars, and carriage traffic, but which knew how to be modern in its own quiet and decorous way.
Yet Zara had a great soaring campanile. It had been visible far off at sea, and tiny streets and old buildings, San Donato, the duomo, San Simeone, and five fountains,—the cinque pozzi,—and a Venetian tower,—the Torre di Buovo d'Antona,—and fortification gardens, and lion gateways. Where were all these? A sound of bells came from behind the palaces. And these bells seemed to be proclaiming the truth of Zara.
Bells ringing in hidden places behind the palaces, and bells calling across strange gardens lifted high on mighty walls; bells whispering among pines and murmuring across green depths of glass-like water, bells chiming above the yellowing vines on tiny islands! Who that remembers Zara remembers not Zara's bells?
Walk a few steps from the sea, passing between the big houses which front it into the Piazza delle Erbe, and you come at once into a busy strangeness of Croatia girdled about by Italy. Dalmatia has been possessed wholly or in part by Romans, Goths, Slavs, Hungarians, Turks, Venetians. Now smart Austrian soldiers make themselves at home in Zara, but Italy seems still to rule there, stretching hands out of the past. Italian may be heard on all sides, but the peasants who throng the calle and the market-place and the harbor speak a Slavonic dialect, and in the piazza on any morning, almost in the shadow of the Romanesque cathedral, and watched over by a griffin perched on a high Corinthian column hung with chains, which announce its old service as a pillory, you may hear their chatter and see the gay colors of costumes which to the untraveled might perhaps suggest comic opera.
There is a wildness of the near East in this medieval Italian town—a wildness which blooms and fades between tall houses of stone, facing each other so closely that friend might almost clasp hand with friend leaning from window to opposite window. Against the somber grays and browns of facades, set in the deep shadows of the paved alleys which are Zara's streets, move brilliant colors, scarlet and silver, blue and crimson and silver. Multitudes of coins and curious heavy ornaments glitter on the caps and the dresses of women. Enormous boys and great, striding men, brave in embroidered jackets, with bright-red caps too small for the head, silver buttons, red sashes stuck full of weapons and other impedimenta, gaiters, and pointed shoes, march hither and thither, calmly intent on some business which has brought them in from the outlying district. It varies, of course, with the changing seasons. In the latter part of October and beginning of November most of the male peasants were selling very large hares. Live cocks and hens were being disposed of by many of the women, and it is a common thing in Zara to see well-dressed people bearing about with them bunches of puffed-out and drearily blinking poultry which they have bought casually at some corner, by the great Venetian tower, or near the round, two-storied church of San Donato, founded on the spot where once stood a Roman forum, whose pavement still remains, or perhaps by San Simeone, close to the palace of the governor, where under the black eagles of Austria the sentry in blue and bright yellow stands drowsily in the sunshine before his black and yellow box.
|Harbor of Mezzo|
Sometimes the peasants bring livestock to church. One morning, in a week day I went into San Simeone, to which Queen Elizabeth of Hungary gave the superb arca of silver gilt which contains, it is said, the remains of the saint. I found there a number of peasants, men and women, all in characteristic costumes. Only peasants were there. Some were quietly sitting, some kneeling, some standing, with their market-baskets set down on the pavement beside them. In a hidden place behind the high altar, above which is raised the great, carved sarcophagus, priests were droning the office. A peasant in red, with a gesture, invited me to sit beside him. I did so, and he whispered in my ear some words I could not understand; but I gathered that something very important was about to take place. Every face was expectant. All eyes were, earnestly fixed upon the sarcophagus. A woman came in, carrying in her arms a turkey, which looked anxious-minded, crossed herself, and waited with us, gazing. The droning voices ceased. A sort of carillon sounded brightly. We all knelt, the woman with the turkey, too, as a priest in scarlet and white mounted the steps which divide the altar from the arca. There was a moment of deep silence. Then the great, glittering, and sloping lid, with its recumbent figure of the saint, slowly rose between the bronze-supporting figures. My peasant friend touched me, stood up, and led the way toward the altar. I followed him with the rest of the congregation, and we filed slowly up the steps, and one by one gazed down into the dim coffin. There I saw a skull and the vague brown remains of what had once been a human being lying in the midst of votive offerings. On the fingers of one hand, which looked as if made of tobacco leaf, were clusters of rings. The fat, bronze faces on each side seemed smiling. But the peasants stood in awe. And presently the great lid sank down. All made the sign of the cross. The market-baskets were picked up, and the turkey was restored to the sunlight.
Close to San Simeone are the cinque pozzi—five fountains in a row, with iron wheels above them. They are between four and five hundred years old, and lie almost at the foot of the Venetian tower, near a Corinthian column and the fragments of a Roman arch. Just behind them some steps lead up to one of the delicious shady places of Zara. Mount them, and you will have a happy surprise such as the little Dalmatian cities are always ready to give you.
|Rector’s Palace and |
Public Square at Ragusa
You have been walking away from the sea, with your back to the harbor, and here is another, but minute, harbor resting under a great fortress wall above which, in a garden, some young soldiers are idly leaning and laughing under trees with leaves of gold and red-brown. Brightly painted vessels, closely packed together, lie on the blue-green water. Beyond them are the trees of Blazekovic Park. And just beneath you, on your right, is the great, yellow stone Porta di Terra Ferma, with its winged lion of St. Mark. Beyond, over the narrow exit from the harbor, the landlocked Canale di Zara, which sometimes, especially at evening, reminded me of the Venice lagoons, lies glittering in the sun. And a Venetian fort on the peak of Ugljan shows like a strange and determined shadow against the blue of the sky.
The great white campanile which dominates Zara, and which from the sea looks light and graceful, is the campanile of the duomo, Sant' Anastasia, and was partly built by the Venetians, and completed not many years ago. From the narrow street which skirts the duomo this campanile, though majestic, looks heavy and almost overwhelming, too huge, too tremendously solid, for the little town in which it is set. And its blanched hue, beautiful from the sea, has a rather unpleasant effect against the deep, time-worn color of the church, the façade of which, with its two rose windows, one large, one small, its three beautiful, mellow-toned doorways, and its curious and somehow touching, though stolid, statues, is very fine. The interior, not especially interesting, contains some glorious, Gothic stalls dating from the fifteenth century. They are of black wood, relieved with bosses and tiny statuettes of bright gold, and above each one is the half-length of a gilded and painted man, wearing a beard and holding a scroll. The Porta Marina, through which the chief harbor is gained, is remarkable for its carved, dark-gray lion, companioned by two white cherubs of stone brilliantly full of life despite their almost terrifying obesity. One of the most beautiful things in Zara is the delicate and lovely campanile of Santa Maria, over six hundred years old. St. Grisogono, the church of the city's patron saint, was in the hands of workmen and could not be visited when I was in Dalmatia.
Almost the whole of Zara is surrounded by water. On the great walls of the ancient fortifications are gardens, and from these gardens you look down on quiet inlets of the sea. Old buildings, old walls and gardens, tiny, medieval streets through which no carriage ever passes, fountains, lion gateways, painted boats lying on clear and apparently motionless waters shut in from the open sea by long lines of mountainous islands, pine-trees and olives and golden vineyards, and overall an ancient music of bells. It is difficult to say good-by to Zara, even though Spalato sends out a summons from the riviera of red and of gold, even though Ragusa calls from its leafy groves under the Fort Imperiale.
Bora, the wind of the dead, blew when our ship rounded the lighthouse of Spalato long after darkness had fallen. And the following day was the "giorno dei morti." The strange cathedral, octagonal without, circular within, once the mausoleum of the Emperor Diocletian, was crowded with citizens and peasants devoutly praying. Incense rose between the dark, hoary walls, the columns of granite and porphyry, to the dome of brick. Outside in the wind the black hornblende sphinx kept watch on those who came and went, mourning for their departed. The sky was a heavy gray, and the temple was dark, and looked wrinkled and-seared with age, and sad despite its pagan frieze showing the wild joys of the chase, despite the loveliness of its thirteenth-century pulpit of limestone and marble, raised high on wonderfully graceful columns with elaborately carved capitals.
Spalato is the biggest, most bustling town of Dalmatia. Much of it is built into the great palace of Diocletian, which lies over against the sea, huge, massive, powerful, once probably noble, but now disfigured by the paltry windows and the green shutters of modern dwellings, by a triviality of common commercial life, sparrows where eagles should be. When nature takes a ruin, she usually glorifies it, or touches it with a tenderness of romance. But when people in the wine trade lay hold upon it, hang out their washing in it, and establish their cafes and their bakeries and their butchers' shops in the midst of its rugged walls, its arches, and its columns, the ruin suffers, and the people in the wine trade seem to lose in value instead of gaining in importance.
Spalato is a strange confusion of old and new. It lacks the delicacy of Zara, the harmonious beauty of Ragusa. One era seems to fight with another within it. Here is a noble twelfth-century campanile, nearly a hundred and eighty feet high, there a common row of little shops full of cheap and uninviting articles. Turning a corner, one comes unexpectedly upon a Corinthian temple. It is the Battistero di San Giovanni, once perhaps the private temple of Diocletian. For the moment no one is near it, and despite the icy breath of Bora raging through the city and crying, "'This is the day of the dead!" a calm of dead years enfolds you as you enter the massive doorway and pass into the shadow beneath the stone wagon-roof. A few steps, and the smell of fish assails you, hundreds of strings of onions greet your eyes, and the heavy rolling of enormous barrels of wine over stone pavements breaks through the noise of the wind. You have come unexpectedly out through a gateway of the palace on to the quay to the south, and are in the midst of commercial activities. The contrasts are picturesque, but they are rough, and, when complicated by Bora, are confusing, almost distressing. Nevertheless, Spalato is well worth a visit. It contains a small, but remarkable, museum, especially interesting for its sarcophagi found at Salona and its collection of inscriptions. The sarcophagus showing the passage of the Red Sea is very curious. Apart from the now disfigured palace, the Battistero, the very interesting and peculiar cathedral, with its vestibuled rotunda, and its Piazza of the Sphinx, like nothing else I have seen, the town is full of picturesque nooks and corners, and its fruit market at the foot of the massive octagonal Hrvoja Tower, which dates from 1481, is perhaps even more animated, more full of strangeness and color, than Zara's Piazza delle Erbe. Here may be seen turbans of crimson on the handsome heads of men, crimson elaborately embroidered jackets covering immense shoulders and chests, women dressed in blue and red, white silver, or with heads and busts draped in the most brilliant shade of orange color. When Bora blows, the men look like monks or Mephistopheles ; for-some—the greater number —wrap themselves from head to foot in long cloaks and hoods of brown, while others of a more lively temperament shroud themselves in red. They are a handsome people, rustic-looking, yet often noble, with kind yet bold faces, steady eyes, and a magnificent physique. Their gait is large and loose. There are giants in Dalmatia in our days. And many of the women are not only pretty, but have delightful expressions, open, pure, and gay. There seems to be nothing to fear in Dalmatia. I have driven through the wilds and over the flanks of the mountains both in Dalmatia and Herzegovina, in the dead of the night, and had no unpleasant experience. The peasants have a high reputation for honesty and general probity as well as for courage. And beggars are scarce, if they exist at all, in Dalmatia.
Trau has a unique charm. The riviera of the Sette Castelli stretches between it and Spalato, along the shore of an inlet of the sea which is exactly like a blue lake. And what a marvelous blue it is on a cloudless autumn day! Everyone knows what is meant by a rapture of spring. Those who traverse that riviera at the end of October, or even in the opening days of November, will know what a rapture of autumn can be.
Miles upon miles of bright-golden and rose-red vineyards edge the startling blue of the sea. And the vines are not stunted and ugly, but large, leafy, growing with a rank luxuriance. Among them, with trunks caught as it were in the warm embraces of these troops of bacchantes, are thousands of silver-green olive-trees. And peasants in red, peasants in orange color, move waist-deep, sometimes shoulder-deep, through the glory, under the glory of the sun. Here and there in a grass-grown clearing, like a small islet in the ocean of vines, appears a hut of brushwood and woven grasses, and under the trees before it sit peasants eating the grapes they have just picked warm from the plants. Now and then a sportsman may be seen, in peasant costume, smoking a cigarette, his gun over his shoulder, passing slowly with his red-brown dog among the red-gold vines. Now and then a distant report rings out among the olives. Then the warm silence falls again over this rapture of autumn. And so, you come to Trau.
Trau.is a tiny town set on a tiny island approached by bridges, medieval, sleepy, yet happy, almost drowsily joyous, in appearance, with that air of half-gentle, half-blithe satisfaction with self which makes so many Dalmatian places characteristic and almost touching. How odd to live in Trau! Yet might it not be a delicious experience to live in dear little Trau with the right person, separated from the world by the shining water,—for Who comes over the bridges, when all is said?—guarded by the lion and the statue which crowns the gateway, cradled in peace and mellow fruitfulness?
|Market Place at Spalato|
The gateway passed, a narrow alley or two threaded, a corner turned, and, lo! a piazza, a loggia with fine old columns, a tiled roof and a clock-tower, a campanile and a cathedral with a great porch, and underneath the porch a marvel of a doorway! Can tiny Trau on its tiny island really possess all this?
The lion doorway of the duomo at Trau is certainly one of the finest things in Dalmatia. The duomo dates from the thirteenth century, but has been twice enlarged. It is not large now, but small and high, dim, full of the smell of stale incense, blackened by age, almost strangely silent, almost strangely secluded. In the choir is a deep well with an old well-head. There are many tombs in the pavement. The finely carved pulpit, with its little lion, and the fifteenth-century choir-stalls are well worth seeing, and the roof of the chapel of St. Giovanni Orsini, which contains a great marble tomb, has been made wonderful by age, like an old face made, wonderful by wrinkles. But Radovan's doorway is certainly the marvel of Trau. In color it is a rich, deep, dusty brown, and it is elaborately and splendidly carved with two big lions, with Adam on a lion and with Eve on a lioness. The lioness is grasping a lamb. There is a multiplicity of other detail. The two big lions, which stick out on each side of the round-arched doorway, as if about to step forth into the alleys of Trau, have a fine air of life, though they both look tame. Their mouths are open, but almost smiling.
When you leave the duomo, wander through the Venetian streets of this wonderful little island city, where Gothic windows and beautifully carved balconies look out to, bear forth to, the calm, blue waters, edged by the red and the gold of the vines. For this place is unique and has a unique charm. Peace dwells here, and beauty has found a quiet abiding-place, where it lingers, and will linger, I hope, for many centuries yet, girdled by olive-groves, by vineyards, by sun-kissed waters, guarded by the lions of Venice.
From Spalato I visited the white ruins of Salona, where the Emperor Diocletian was born, and near which, in his palace at Spalato, he spent the last eight years of his life, cultivating his garden and seeking after philosophy, and, let us hope, repenting of his bitter persecution of the Christians. From the hill, on the site of the Basilica Urbana, I saw one of those frigid and almost terrible lemon sunsets which come with the wind of the dead. I stayed till night despite the intense cold, till the fragments of the city, scattered far over the sloping ground above the riviera of the Sette Castelli, and creeping up to the solitary dwelling-house built by Professor Bulic of old Roman stones, took on sad and unnatural pallor in the darkness, till lonely columns stood up like watching specters, and fragments of wall were like specters crouching. For a long while the lemon hue persisted in the western sky, and the voice of the wind rose with the night, crying among the burial-places.
A few hours' voyage on a splendid ship, and you step ashore at Gravosa; the port for Ragusa, the most popular place in Dalmatia, and in many ways the most attractive. For it is embowered in woods and gardens, contains remarkable old buildings, is girdled about by tremendous fortress walls, and by forts perched on bastions of rock overlooking the sea and the isle of Lacroma, where Richard Coeur de Lion touched land and founded a monastery, is thoroughly and deliciously medieval, yet full of Slav and Austrian life, possesses a railway station, many well-built villas, and a good hotel, and is surrounded by delightful country. Perhaps in all Dalmatia Ragusa is the best center from which to take long walks and make expeditions. It is cheery, cozy, and wonderful at the same time. The terrific walls of the fortress do not appall or overwhelm, for all about them cluster the gardens. Ivy climbs over the archways. In what was once a moat the grass grows thickly, the flowers bloom, and many trees give shade. This is a medieval paradise, and its inhabitants have reason to rejoice in it and to say there is no place like it.
Though small, it is intricate. At every moment one is surprised by some unexpected view, by some marvel of masonry, militant or ecclesiastical, by a fountain or a statue, an old doorway, a courtyard, a campanile, an exquisite facade, with arches and lovely columns, balconies and carved window-frames; by cloister, a strange alley ending in flights of steps which lead to a mountain from which a fort looks down, by a secret harbor or a secret garden or a little magical grove nestling beneath a protecting wall which dates from the Middle Ages, when Ragusa was a proud republic.
Was Burne-Jones ever in Ragusa? It is like one of the little enchanted towns he loved to paint in the background of his pictures. Was William Morris ever there? It is like a city in one of his poems. It is full of churches, and their towers are full of bells. Monks and priests pass perpetually through the narrow streets with smartly dressed Austrian soldiers. And military music, the triumph of bugles and trumpets, the beat or rattle of drums, joins with the drowsy sound of church organs and the old voices, of clocks chiming the hours to make the symphony of Ragusa. Men and women from the Breno Valley, from Canali the golden, where oaks grow among the rocks, and the autumn vineyards are a wonder forever to haunt the memory, from Melada and the Stag Islands, from the Ombla and Herzegovina, pass all day down "the Stradone," stroll in the Brsalje, a piazza with mulberry-trees overlooking the sea, talk by the Amerling fountain, or sit on the wall by Porta Pille under the statue of San Biagio, the patron saint of the town. And each one is in a picturesque, perhaps even a brilliant, costume. The men often wear long chains, and carry handsomely chased weapons and long, elaborate pipes. Some have sheepskins flung jauntily over their shoulders, and bright-red caps. The women wear golden ornaments, embroidered jackets, and marvelous aprons almost like prayer-rugs, handsome pins, pleated head-dresses, bright-colored handkerchiefs or tiny caps, coins hanging on chains over their thickly plaited hair.
|The Porta Di Terra Firma, Zara|
The chief hotels, the villas, and the railway-station, where a row of victorias is drawn up,—for this is no Zara, but a city which believes that it "moves with the times,"—lie among roses, oleanders, single rhododendrons, trees, and masses of luxuriant vegetation outside Porta Pille. As soon as you have passed beneath San Biagio and descended the hill, you are in a bright, medieval world, in the heart of one of the most original and fascinating little cities that exist in Europe.
On the left of the Stradone, the chief street and the newest, between two and three hundred years old, at right angles to it, shadowed by tall and ancient houses, tiny alleys, ending in steep flights of steps, lead up toward the mountain. On the flat to its right is a happy maze of alleys, clean, strange, old, yet never sad. A delicious cheerfulness reigns in Ragusa. From the dimness of venerable doorways smiling faces look forth. They lean down from carved stone balconies. Gay voices chatter at the foot of frowning walls, huge bastions, mighty watch-towers, before the statue of Roland, near the Dogana which has a loggia and Gothic windows, by the fine and massive Onofrio fountain, which for over four hundred and seventy years has given water to the inhabitants, among the doves by Porta Place, which leads to the harbor. The wide, but intimate, Stradone toward noon and evening is thronged with cheerful and neatly dressed citizens strolling to and fro in the soft air between the delicious little shops full of fine rugs, weapons, chains, and filigree ornaments.
Opposite the fountain of Onofrio are the church, monastery, and cloisters of the Franciscans, with a courtyard and an old pharmacy containing some wonderful vases. At the east end of the Stradone away to the right, are the church of San Biagio, the cathedral, and the Palazzo dei Rettori. On the other side of the street are the military hospital and the church of the Jesuits. Not far away is the Dominican monastery.
Of these the most remarkable is the rector's palace. But the cloisters of the Franciscans are beautiful and hold an extraordinary charm and peace. The rector's palace is a noble Renaissance building, with a courtyard containing a very handsome staircase, and with a really splendid fifteenth-century colonnade fronting the piazza. The carving of the capitals of the columns is wonderfully effective. Three are said to be inferior to the remaining four, which were the work of an architect of Naples, Onofrio. But all are remarkable. The little winged boys have a tenderness and liveliness, a softness and activity, which are quite exquisite. The windows of Venetian Gothic are beautiful, and the whole effect of this facade, with its carved doorway, the round arches, richly dark, with notes oaf white, the two tiers of stone seats raised one above the other, and the double rows of windows, square and arched, in the shadow of the colonnade, is absolutely noble.
The cathedral is not very interesting, and the "Assumption" over the high altar, though attributed to Titian, cannot be by him. Much more attractive is a copy of the Madonna della Sedia of Raphael. The treasury contains some remarkable jewels and silver and many relics.
In the Dominican church there is a genuine Titian, and there are some very curious and interesting pictures by Nicolo Ragusano, a painter of Ragusa who lived in the fifteenth century. The cloisters contain a white well-head, guarded by graceful columns, orange trees, and flowers, above which peer the small windows of the monks. But if one had to be a monk in Ragusa, surely it would be wise to cast in your lot with the Franciscans at the other end of the street, whose Romanesque fourteenth-century cloisters with octagonal columns are quite beautiful and in excellent preservation. The capitals of the columns are carved with animals. Palms flourish there, and roses. Above a terrace, with a wonderful balustrade—a series of tiny arches resting on tiny columns, a sort of stone echo of the arches columns below,—runs all around the court. The peace is profound, but not sad. As one lingers there one can understand, indeed one can scarcely help understanding, the very peculiar charm which must often attach to the monkish life.
Ragusa contains some nine thousand inhabitants. One of them remarked that eight hundred of these were ecclesiastics. And he was unsympathetic enough to add, "E molto troppo!" Perhaps his statement was untrue. But certainly the ways of Ragusa swarm with religious. Nevertheless,—one thinks of Rome, with its crowds of priests and its crowds of free-thinkers, —the inhabitants of Ragusa seem to be very devout. In almost all of the many churches, at all times of the day, people may be found praying, meditating, telling their beads, worshiping at shrines of the saints.
Around Ragusa there are many beautiful walks, on Lacroma, on Lapad by Gravosa, on Monte Sergio, on Monte Petka. A really superb drive is the expedition to Castelnuovo in the Bocche di Cattaro, along the Dalmatian riviera, which is as fine as almost any part of the French riviera, and which is still wild and natural, not yet turned into a vanity-box. Those who take this glorious drive will cross the frontier into Herzegovina, and, best of all, they will pass by the wonderful vineyards of Canali, which roll in waves of gold to the very feet of a chain of naked and savage mountains.
The voyage from Ragusa to Cattaro you is one of the finest in Europe. The entrance into the bocche, the journey through them, and the arrival at Cattaro, hidden away, like some precious thing that must not be revealed to the dull gaze of the ordinary world, almost, but mercifully not quite, under the giant shadow of the Black Mountain, make for the voyager what comes to seem at length a deliberately planned, and triumphantly carried out, scenic crescendo, which closes in sheer magic.
The coast of Dalmatia is guarded by chains of islands and is pierced by many long and narrow inlets. During the voyage from Triest or Fiume to the extreme south of the country, the ship, often for many hours, seems to be traveling over a series of lakes. Rarely does she emerge into open water. But between Gravosa and the bocche there is open sea. Nature has not neglected to make her preparations. She gives you the stretch of open sea as a contrast to what is coming. And just when you are beginning to feel its monotony, the prow of the vessel veers to the left, seems to be sensitively searching for some unseen opening in the rugged coast. She finds that opening between Punta d'Ostro and Punta d'Arza, leaving the little isle of Rondoni, with its round yellow fort, on the, right and the open sea behind.
The mountains which guard the bocche are nearly six thousand feet high, bare, cruelly precipitous, in color a peculiar, almost ashy, gray. When you are at a long distance from them they seem to descend sheer into the water; but as you draw nearer over the waveless sea, you find that along their bases runs a strip of beautiful fertile country, green, thickly wooded in many places, with gay little villages set among radiant gardens, with a white high road, along which peasants are passing. There is Castelnuovo on its hill among leafy groves, with its old, narrow fortress on the rock fought for by Turks and Venetians; nearby is Zelenika; and there another large fortress, with the Austrian flag above it. The sensitive prow of the ship veers again, this time to the southeast, where the ash-gray precipices surely hold the sea forever in check. But the ship knows better. The Canale di Kumbur shows itself, leading to the splendid Bay of Teodo surreptitiously observed from afar by the mountains of Montenegro. If you held your breath and listened, might you not hear the boom of guns by the lake of Scutari? All sense of being at sea fades from you as the ship penetrates ever more deeply into the secret recesses of the mountains. This is like superb lake scenery, austere, grand, almost terrible, and yet radiant. Nature is even coquettish on this perfect morning of autumn, for in these remoter regions she has cast a swathe of the lightest and whitest possible mist, like one of those scarfs of Tunis, over the cultivated land which edges the precipices. As the ship draws near, the mist seems to disperse in a sparkle of gold, revealing intimate beauties, full of charming detail: a little Byzantine church with a pale-green cupola, a priest in a sunny garden leaning over a creeper-covered wall, white horses trotting briskly along a curly, white road, soldiers marching through a village with a faint beat of drums, children perhaps going to school through a riot of green. But the mist is ever there in the distance, part of the spirit of autumn.
Do not miss the tiny twin islands with their two little churches. One of them, Santa Maria dello Scalpello, is a place of pilgrimage. Old, gray, minute, yet dignified, with its few tall cypresses about it, it so completely covers the island that you see only a church with cypresses apparently floating upon the water. Now there is a scatter of ivory-white birds on the steel-colored surface, a glint of powder-blue on the ridges made by the ship. Marvelous harmonies of pearl color, gray, and blue, with here and there faint dashes of primrose-yellow, make magic in the distance before you. This is really an enchanted place, home of a peace that seems touched with eternity. And the ship creeps on, as if fearing perhaps to disturb it, farther and farther into places more secret still, and of a peace even more pro found, till the pearl color and the gray, with their hints of yellow and blue, begin to give way to another dominion. The last bay has been gained. The secret of Cattaro is to be at length revealed. Through the wondrous delicacies of the now rather suggested than actually seen mist, and above them, dawns a marvelous pageant of autumn, which bears a curiously exact resemblance to one of Turner's superb visions.
It is like a dream, but a dream of ardor and power, in which browns, reds, russets, greens, and many shades of gold and of yellow march together from the circle of the waters through climbing valleys to the mountains, which here at last give pause to the sea. And bells are ringing in this great, this triumphant dream. And now surely faint outlines are becoming visible, as of turrets and cupolas striving to break in glory through the mist. The fires of autumn glow more fiercely, like a furnace fanned. Trails of smoke show here and there. Mist, smoke, and fire—it is like a grand conflagration. The turrets reveal themselves as great groups of trees. But the smoke rises from household fires. The cupolas are cupolas of churches, and the bells are the bells of Cattaro, calling from this vale of enchantment to the cannon which are thundering before Scutari beyond the mountains of Montenegro.
From The Century Magazine – March 1913.