Dalmatia : the land where East meets West.
Holbach, Maude M.
Page  69


THE dawn of the fourth century witnessed the building by the seashore, a few miles from the busy prosperous city of Salona, of one of the giant edifices of the world; to receive in his retirement an Emperor, weary of empire, who yet desired to surround himself in his declining days with all the splendour of pomp and circumstance of the Roman court he left behind.

So ships from afar brought to the port of Salona all manner of costly freight, and workmen swarmed like ants, hastening to accomplish the imperial will and raise a palace worthy of Diocletian.

They built it with a view to defence in troublous times, never far off in the Dalmatia of those days, somewhat in the form of a Roman camp-that is, in a quadrangle, with towers at the four corners. But towards the sea it had an open cloistered walk, where its imperial owner Page  70could take the air and look across the waters of the Adriatic; watching the Roman galleys pass to the neighbouring port of Salona, with news of the world he had left.

Many have wondered that Diocletian chose to return to the country where his father had been a slave; it may be it pleased him to contrast the heights to which he had risen with his parent's humble state, just as it pleases men of to-day who have attained by their own endeavours to riches and honour from lowly beginnings to revisit the scenes of their birth. He lived nine years to enjoy his magnificent creation, and those were the years which witnessed the overthrow of paganism, and the conversion of the Emperor Constantine to the despised faith of the followers of the Nazarene. But Diocletian remained to the end faithful to his old gods-witness the temples he raised to Jupiter and Esculapius, now the cathedral and baptistery, though there are those who say the former was not a temple at all, but built by the Emperor for his own burial-place. Robert Adam, who visited Dalmatia in the eighteenth century, and published a book on the " Ruins of the Palace of Diocletian at Spalato," which is still the standard Page  [70a]

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Page  [70b]Page  71authority, gives the measurement of the sea front as 514 feet, and the two sides 698 feet, but the fact that some three thousand human beings live within its walls to-day gives a better idea of its colossal size than any other figures. Not even Rome herself can show a like example of a monument of antiquity adapted to the needs of modern times, and containing within its ancient walls a busy hive of human bees. For the palace of Diocletian is no more a palace, but the heart of the city ! And how this came about is part of the story of Roman Salona, for it was when she lay desolate, ravaged by the Avars in 639, that her homeless people, who had first fled to the islands, bethought themselves of the security offered bythe strongwalls of Diocletian's palace, and repaired thither and built a new town within its precincts.

If you walk to-day along the quay or old Riva, with its picturesque orange-boats from the opposite shores of the Adriatic, and look up above the shops and cafes of the basement, you will see a long line of noble Doric half-columns which formed Diocletian's cryptoporticus. There were originally fifty-two, but only thirty-eight can now be made out, and the intervening Page  72spaces are filled in with masonry, the walls of the mean houses crowded between them. Above is more masonry, part Roman, part medival, but pierced with little modern windows with bright green shutters, in curious contrast to the ancient stonework below.

The whole of this south front of the palace was devoted to the Imperial apartments. It had a water-gate where Diocletian could embark or disembark, just as the three other sides of the palace had their great gateways towards the land. That on the north side, known as the Porta Aurea (Golden Gate), admitted to a street which divided that portion of the buildings behind the Imperial apartments into two quarters, east and west; a cross street running from the Porta Nova to the Porta Argentea separated north from south, and passed through the court before the Imperial apartments, which is to-day the piazza of the Duomo. One quarter of the palace is said to have been devoted to the use of Diocla, Diocletian's mother, but this is only conjecture, and a large portion of the building was of course occupied by the officers of the household and servants.

The Porta Aurea, which was the principal Page  [72a]

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Page  [72b]Page  73entrance and the one by which Diocletian always entered from Salona, is in excellent preservation to-day, and one of the most picturesque bits in the city.

Of the Porta Argentea, otherwise called the Silver Door, but little remains; the west or Iron Door is still in good preservation, though encroached upon by the surrounding houses; above the gateway is a cross with the Greek initials T.C. X.C.

The peristyle of the palace has on each side seven Corinthian arches resting on mighty columns; to the south steps ascend to what was the portico of the vestibule which opened (according to Adam's plan made on the spot from the ruins that remained, and supplemented by his own conclusions) into a magnificent hall or atrium, with side aisles like a church, out of which again the private apartments of Diocletian opened.

The ancient temples, now, as I before mentioned, converted into the Duomoand Baptistery, are on each side of the peristyle, and were formerly enclosed by courts of their own. Before the Duomo, where the portico once stood, a medival campanile rises, which has for so Page  74many years been hidden in scaffolding that Spalato has almost forgotten what it looks like without it. As this unsightly excrescence hid it from my sight, I must fall back for its description on a writer in the sixties, the Rev. J. M. Neale, who waxes enthusiastic over it. He says, "The campanile, of one hundred and seventy-three feet in height, is one of the noblest erections of the kind that I ever yet saw.... No words can give an idea of the exquisite system of panel shafting from apex to lowest stage; the shafts, usually speaking circular, with square base and Corinthianizing caps.... A good many of the shafts and capitals used came from the ruins of Salona, the bishopric, to the destruction of which Spalato succeeded."

Next year, if all is well, the restorations will be complete, and the campanile will blossom forth in all its pristine beauty, the crowning glory of the city.

Whether originally tomb-house, or temple of Jupiter, the Duomo is, after the Pantheon at Rome, the best preserved and most interesting example of a Roman temple in existence. Externally it is octagon in form, but the interior forms a circle; eight lofty Corinthian columns Page  75of granite rise around it, and above their capitals another series of slender columns of porphyry meet the domed roof, whose capitals were all renewed in the last restorations to the great loss of the antiquarian, who is by no means compensated by finding the originals in the museum. The dome is built of brick, covered with red tiles, which some authorities say must have been put on later, as it was very unusual for the Romans to finish their buildings in this way; but according to Professor Bulic, the Conservator of Ancient Monuments, who has closely examined it, the brickwork is too rough ever to have been visible externally, and some of the tiles bear the mark of a maker of Salona, and cannot therefore be later than the seventh century.

A remarkable feature of the interior of the Duomo is the frieze, on which are depicted in relief hunting scenes, in which Cupids on foot, on horseback, or driving chariots, are mixed up with stags and wild animals. This frieze is a perpetual reminder of the pagan origin of the Duomo, and contrasts curiously with the little Gothic chapels on either side of the high altar, which are dedicated to St. Doimo and St. Page  76Anastasio respectively, and both of fifteenth-century work, though not that of the same sculptor.

The pulpit will at once attract your attention, for it is beautiful alike in form and colouring, fashioned of marble and limestone of varying tints. It rests on six octagonal columns, whose quaintly carved capitals are a study in themselves, and have been highly praised by Mr. Jackson,* who says he knows nothing in Romanesque art to surpass them. He places the date of the pulpit in the earlier part of the thirteenth century, as also that of the famous carved doors, now, alas! lying in the Baptistery awaiting restoration, from which ordeal let us hope they will emerge safely, for their carvings are truly marvellous. Each door is divided into fourteen panels, each representing some incident in the life of our Lord, and they are said to be among the earliest and best examples of medieval woodwork in existence.

An old MS., which has been translated by Professor Eitelberger, gives the information that the doors were the work of a certain Andrea Guvina, and completed in 1214. They Page  [76a]

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Page  [76b]Page  77were originally painted and gilded, and here and there a touch of colour or glimpse of gold suggests their former glory, though to my thinking they are more attractive in the natural tints of the wood than they could ever have been in fresh paint and gilt, or will be if the restorer repaints them. The little figures are exceedingly quaint, and the scroll designs which separate the panels are most graceful.

Similar carving is found in the choir-stalls, which are therefore generally believed to be the work of the same master. Their lattice-work panels give them a distinctive character suggestive of the East. The choir was built by the famous Archbishop Mark Antony de Dominis, sometime Master of the Savoy and Dean of Windsor, whose sad story I must tell you now, in case you do not know it, for it has an interest for every Englishman, and still more for every English Churchman.

De Dominis the visionary, the philosopher, the man of science, the reformer, versatile, brilliant, rash, unwise, had the misfortune to live before the times were ripe for such as he.

His character is fascinating, whichever way you look at it, so long as you look fairly, Page  78though, like that of many another great man, his memory still suffers from the malice of his enemies.

His strong Churchmanship was partly hereditary, partly the result of his education under the Jesuits. The noble family of De Dominis of Arbe, whose ancient palace still stands there to-day, had given many sons to the Church, of whom three became bishops: so the boy Mark Antony was early marked out for a career in which he would have the advantage of influence.

But in spite of the stories told of his wild youth and dismissal from the Jesuit College, he grew to manhood with the inconvenient possession in those times of an over-sensitive conscience.

Whatever he may have been as a boy, we find him later at Padua, a grave, learned Professor of Philosophy, studying among other things the colours of the rainbow, which had till then baffled all men of learning, and giving to the world the first explanation of this wonder of nature. Then we find him Bishop of Segna, the most turbulent diocese of Dalmatia, charged with the task that had baffled the Venetians, the putting down of wholesale piracy on that Page  79coast. Probably his strict discipline and rigid notions of duty suited him better for that post than for the dizzy height to which fate and his own ambition later raised him as Archbishop of Spalato and Primate of all Dalmatia. It was not till he ascended to the archbishop's throne that the troubles began, which, after thirteen years of striving after an unattainable ideal, drove him, disappointed in Rome, defeated in his efforts at reform, to seek in the Church of England that which he had failed to find in his own.

The troubles began in the very first year of his archbishopric, with the energetic primate's determination to preach every day during Lent; a custom of the early Church which had been allowed to lapse, and no one but himself in his diocese seemed to wish restored. In the quarrel with the Bishop of Trau he certainly had right on his side, yet the Pope decided against him and suspended him from his office. Perhaps this enforced leisure was the beginning of his study of the papal claims which he turned to in the bitterness of his spirit, and which resulted in the enormous book, "De Republica Ecclesiastic," which he published when in England, Page  80two years after resigning his see. This book was read and commented on in all countries, and gave great satisfaction to English Churchmen. He had the courage of his convictions, and made no secret of his gradual change towards Rome, even while still Archbishop, so it is little wonder that it became the common talk that the primate was guilty of heresy.

In the introduction to his great book, which is supposed to have been written some years before he left Spalato, he says: "When the troubles occasioned me by my suffragans, and much more the excessive power of the Roman Court, threw every metropolitical right into confusion, I found it necessary to investigate the root and origin of all ecclesiastical degrees, powers, offices, and dignities, and especially of the Papacy . The sacred and ancient Canons, the orthodox councils, the discipline of the Fathers, the former customs of the Church, all passed in review before me. I found in these that for which I was looking. . . . It was once an article of faith that the Universal Church, scattered throughout the world, is that Catholic Church of Christ to which Christ Himself has promised His perpetual presence, and which Page  81Paul calls the pillar and ground of the truth. Our present Romans have contracted this article so that by the Catholic Church they understand the Roman Court, and in that, or rather in the Pope alone, the whole Spirit of Christ resides."

Of course, thinking thus he could not do otherwise than resign his see, and then came the journey to England with the British chaplain at Venice, who, as well as our ambassador, had received him very kindly when, finding his position in Spalato intolerable, he journeyed to that city.

In England the Archbishop was received with open arms, and at once identified himself with the English Church. He might have ended his days in peace if temporal honour and sufficient of this world's goods to make life pleasant had sufficed him: he was presented to the King, who, in addition to the honourable offices of Master of the Savoy and Dean of Windsor, gave him a rich Church living in Berkshire.

But here the late Archbishop's troublesome conscience came in again, he found abuses in the Church of England as well as in that of Rome- the Church of his dreams was not on earth. Page  82Some have thought his ambition was to reform both and reconcile them to one another. He applied for leave to return to Italy, which, of course, gave great offence to King James and the Archbishop of Canterbury, and his departure from our shores was a sad contrast to his arrival. His indecision had estranged every one from him, both early friends of the Church of Rome and later friends of the Church of England. He was grateful for a kindly reception by the Pope, which was more than he had expected, but which had to be paid for by recantation; but even this did not save him from the Inquisition. When Pope Gregory died, his successor, Urban VIII., withdrew his protection from the poor old man, who was thrown into the Castle of St. Angelo and died there.

It is not to the credit of any one concerned that the body of De Dominis was burnt as that of a heretic, and shows that the hatred of his enemies followed him beyond the grave; but those were times, alas! when the bitterest of all foes were those who differed in religion- the greatest of all sins to worship otherwise than as your forefathers.

It is a sad story, and if you have once heardPage  [82a]

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Page  [82b]Page  83it and listened with sympathizing ears, you are haunted with the thought of poor De Dominis when you stand within his cathedral at Spalato.

The interior of the Baptistery remains much as it was in Diocletian's time, and is one of the best existing examples of a Roman temple. It is a simple square building, measuring only sixteen feet by twenty-seven and a half, with a stone waggon roof that may have suggested that at Sebenico. I was told that three huge curved stones form the span of the vaulting.

The font which is all that shows the present uses of the temple, is in the form of a Greek cross and dates from the fourteenth century.

The great doorway, of very massive proportions and elaborately carved, is the most striking feature of the building. Before it once stood a portico long since vanished, and it is said that a court with trees surrounded each temple when Diocletian worshipped the gods of old Rome within their walls.

Oldest of all the ancient monuments of Spalato is the red granite sphinx before the Duomo, which once rested by the waters of the Nile. Former visitors of Spalato speak of a splendid Roman sarcophagus which stood Page  84before the Baptistery, but its former place knows it no more, and I recognized it in the museum.

The archeological museum should more properly be at Salona, for here is writ in stone the story of that unfortunate city-so written, thanks to the loving labour of Monsignor Bulic, the Conservator of Ancient Monuments, that all who will may read.* The richest and most important collection is that of the inscriptions, from which much has been learnt of ancient Salona. There are altogether in the museum no less than two thousand, some wholly decipherable, others fragmentary; of different periods; some are dedicated to the gods of ancient Rome, some to the Roman emperors, but only one, strange to say, has reference to Diocletian. Many refer to the athletic feats, arts, combats of gladiators, and municipal and social life of the last days of Salona. There are an immense number of inscriptions on early Christian tombstones, brought from the cemeteries, which throw light on the first centuries of Christianity.

The museum seems at first a bewilderingPage  85medley of antique busts, vases, funereal urns, carved sarcophagi, vases of terra-cotta and glass, antique jewellery, and everything imaginable for use and ornament. But a little study, and a visit to Salona, where all these things were found, even without the advantage that was mine of the invaluable guidance of Monsignor Bulic, who lives close by the museum that is the scene of his labours, will enable you to discern the uses of them, and with their help to picture something of the people who fashioned and used them.

In the first room at the museum are some remarkable sarcophagi, on one of which, in splendid preservation, the legend of Phdra and Hippolytus is represented in bas relief. A second, which stood till within recent years before the Baptistery, has a representation of the story of Meleager hunting the Calydonian boar, but none compares in interest to that known as the sarcophagus of the Good Shepherd, which was discovered, in 1871, about a hundred yards to the north of the city walls of Salona, and underneath that the Hippolytus and Phdra sarcophagus. Both, of course, were bought for the museum from the peasants in whosePage  86ground they were discovered. The French writer, Dumont, was the first to publish an account of them; since then much has been written, and many theories started to account for the figures on the sarcophagus of the Good Shepherd. Since 1874 excavations have been made at the place where they were found which are still going on, with the result that one of the largest known cemeteries of the early Christians has come to light underneath the great basilica. It is said to have been laid out at the introduction of Christianity to Salona, when, according to the legend, St. Paul and Timothy visited Dalmatia and made many converts to the faith.

The sarcophagus of the Good Shepherd, which takes its name from the central figure, is the tomb of a man and woman who were early converts to the faith, and its style, according to Professor Jelic, who has described it at great length in his book " Das Cemeterium von Manastirine," is mixed Greek and Roman; it is the only known Christian sarcophagus on which the life-size figures of man and wife recline, though this was a favourite device of pagan times. The heads unfortunately havePage  87been knocked off, but the bas reliefs on the sides are in excellent preservation, though the hands that carved them have been dust for sixteen centuries and the sarcophagus has lain buried in the ground for at least twelve hundred years. On the front, which is divided into three partitions by twisted Corinthian columns, an immense number of figures are represented in relief. The Good Shepherd, in a niche in the centre, carries a lamb on his shoulders, and others on each side look up to him for protection, behind them trees give the effect of a pastoral landscape. In the wider spaces to right and left are carved larger figures, a man to the right, a woman with a baby in her arms to the left. These Professor Jelic thinks represent the inmates of the tomb, and the smaller figures clustering round, their children and grandchildren; though others have said the smaller figures are too numerous to support this theory, and that the man and his wife were evidently Christian teachers, and the smaller figures represented those of all ages, from bearded men to little children, whom they brought to the faith.

The sarcophagus is, on the whole, in excellentPage  88preservation, but, like many of the others found at Salona, there is a hole at one end made by the Avars at the destruction of the city in the hope of finding treasure buried with the deceased.

The oldest of all things in the museum is a headless sphinx, the companion to the one which still stands before the Duomo, but of black marble instead of red. Its history has been traced back to the time of an Egyptian king who lived fifteen hundred years before Christ.

It is a relief to turn from these relics of antiquity, these hoary stones that, for all their wondrous interest, are a little bit depressing, and make you feel yourself so small and slight a thing in- the history of the ages, to the busy streets of Spalato, with their crowds of gaily dressed peasants, and to the sunny fruit market beneath the Venetian tower where the country folk display their wares and the most delightful feast of colour is spread for your eyes. Gold of oranges, red of cherries, green of vegetables galore ! And the costumes alike of those who buy and sell are not those surely of the prosaic twentieth century, but of the time when the oldPage  [88a]

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Page  [88b]Page  89tower above was a strong fort, strongly guarded by the soldiers of the great republic. One or two of them, to the mingled pride and consternation of the wearers and the intense delight of the crowd of fully one hundred persons which flocked around, are represented in these pages, immortalized by the camera, but alas, not the colours, which gave more than half the charm! The crimson turbans of the men, their twisted waist scarves of many hues, their sleeveless jackets of crimson cloth adorned with embroidery or silver buttons, suggest a scene on the stage, and the dress of their womenkind is not a whit less picturesque and gay; varying according to the different villages or districts round Spalato from which they came.

The townspeople, alas ! at all events, those of the upper classes, have adjured the national costumes for the fashions of Vienna, and as we sat outside the cafe of the hotel on the evening of our arrival and watched the fashionable world of Spalato promenading in the square to listen to the band the scene was very un-Dalmatian and typical of Austria proper, though so far away. But to our joy we found next dayPage  90the officers and smart ladies were but few in number and inconspicuous among the populace, and that the middle-class townsman still clings fondly to his red Dalmatian cap, even though he combines it with an ordinary tweed suit, so the promenade along the Riva between the many cafes and the sea when all Spalato takes the air is a study in scarlet.

You cannot visit Spalato without wishing to ascend the wooded heights of Monte Marjan, which rises to the west of the town, and promises even from the distance to command exquisite views over sea and land-a promise that is more than fulfilled when you stand upon the summit. Though little over five hundred feet in height, this hill is so uniquely situated at the end of the peninsula on which Spalato is built that it overlooks to the west the city with Diocletian's palace, to the north-west the lonely shore of the Gulf of Salona, with the ruins of the buried city, to the north and north-east the romantic Riviera of the Seven Castles, while to the east the Isle of Bua, lying opposite to Trau, stretches out to meet it, and southward are the blue waters of the Adriatic, with their distant isles, and here and there the sails ofPage  91fishing-boats or the faint line of smoke of a distant steamer.

The summit of Marjan can easily be reached in an hour from the centre of Spalato, by good walkers; but the way is too beautiful to be hurried over. Far better is it to devote a day to its exploration, and dream some hours away when the sun is fierce at noon, in the shade of its thick woods. The sulphur springs on the way are worth noticing, and you must turn aside to see the Campo Santo of Spalato, where white oleanders blossom among the pines and cypresses and scent the air. No fairer God's-acre could well be found than this, and from the little temple at the crossing of the ways which separate the churchyard of the rich, with its costly monuments, from the churchyard of the poor, with its rows of simple wooden crosses, there is a glorious view.

This separation of rich and poor, of capital and labour, though sanctioned by custom, is surely unseemly. Why should they not lie all together in their last long sleep? After leaving the churchyard the way leads along the southern slopes of Marjan, where the vegetation is far more varied and luxurious than on the north,Page  92and spring flowers blossom in midwinter ! Here, indeed, is one of Nature's health resorts, where many invalids might come if there were but houses to lodge them.

Among the plants and flowers peculiar to the shores of the Mediterranean an Englishman finds an old friend-the mistletoe of our Christmas merrymakings-and a botanist's heart is rejoiced by the variety of the flora.

The heights of Marjan are crowned by the pilgrimage chapel of Bethlehem, and still higher the tiny hermitage chapel of San Girolamo stands on a natural terrace, watched over by a mighty cypress tree, while all round is a perfect riot of semi-tropical vegetation. The rock cells, once inhabited by the monks, are not far distant from the chapel, and the view from the point over the sea southwards is sublime. You see the islands of Brazzo and Solta, and in clear weather even as far as Lesina and Lissa, forty miles away. The monks who dwelt here must have found some compensation for the world they had turned their backs on in the exquisite surroundings of their hermitage if they were lovers of nature; that they had a keen appreciation of the beautiful, in spite of the asceticismPage  93of their lives, is shown by their choice of sites for their monasteries, which are almost invariably in idyllic surroundings.

The Franciscan convent of Madonna della Paludi, also within a walk of Spalato, is another example of this. It is on rising ground, evidently selected for the delightful view it commands, and has a lovely garden full of sub-tropical plants.

Some remarkable choir-books are shown by the monks, hand-painted with the juices extracted from plants, the work of one of their order who lived in the seventeenth century; but the greatest curiosity here is a picture over the side altar of Mahomet holding a scroll, and around him men of letters who have written in his praise. Jackson relates that this picture more than once saved the monastery from destruction by the Turks.