Dalmatia : the land where East meets West.
Holbach, Maude M.
Page  94


T0 appreciate Salona you must go there in the proper spirit, knowing something at least of the story of the destruction of Roman Salon and of its palmy days in the preceding centuries. You must remember that the sea, which has since receded, once washed the city wall; that it was a naval station with its harbour full of the imperial galleys; that double walls with many towers surrounded it, and were battered in many a siege before at last it fell before the Avar hordes, and lay waste and desolate.

You must go prepared to dismiss your carriage, if you have driven from Spalato, and spend half a day at least dreaming among the ruins. You can go back in the train, if you will, in the late evening, and if your visit should be in the month of May or June, the spell of Salona will grow upon you as the twilight deepens; you will hear the nightingales pouring out a flood of melody into the silence, and Page  95maybe you will see fireflies flitting-among the ruins.

The superstitious natives fear Salona by night. They believe that the ghosts of the old Romans walk among the tombs, perhaps that the shades of the barbarous Avars also revisit the scene, and gloat over the destruction they wrought; but I saw nothing more alarming than a few sheep, whose white forms certainly did look ghostly on first approach, when I traversed the buried city by the aid of a lantern. It is true that Monsignor Bulic was of the party, and it may be the ghosts respect his intrepid spirit, for he has his house, where we had just partaken of his hospitality, literally among the tombs. And a very unique house it is, built of stones hewn centuries ago by Roman workmen for far other use ! We supped in a room decorated and furnished in the style common in the first Christian era, but with additions in the shape of sepulchral urns standing all round the room, and stone benches formed of slabs, which once covered sarcophagi, resting on broken fragments and capitals of columns. The stone table off which we ate was supported by two finely carved capitals from some church or public Page  96building of ancient Salon. A smaller capital placed upon it supported the candlestick. The paintings on the ceiling brought to my mind the rude designs on the walls of the catacombs at Rome-birds and fishes are depicted, together with wreaths of vines interspersed with vases, presumably full of the juice of the grape, all grouped around the central figure of the Good Shepherd. Pagan and Christian influences seem to have mingled in the mind of the designer of this original ceiling from which this was copied.

A notable feature of this notable house is the inscriptions. On the doorstep is written "Salve"; over the entrance- -

"Ex eventibus Pax."
On the wall of the room-

(Translation of Latin inscription: I.H.S. Christ, King of Kings, Lord of Lords. To whom day and night are open without darkness. Look mercifully upon this house.)

It was my privilege to spend a long quiet day in this quaint room on another occasion;Page  [96a]

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Page  [96b]Page  97while my husband, full of photographic enthusiasm, braved the tropical sun to procure pictures of the exterior of the house, and the ruins of the basilica and amphitheatre; for the courtesy of Monsignor Bulic placed his house at our disposal whenever we wished to visit Salona in his absence.

In what strong relief that day stands out in my memory, a day of the "simple life" lived in the home of a scholar and antiquarian, whose remarkable personality is impressed upon his dwelling, even though he may be absent pushing his labours at Spalato. I wandered up to his study where so much of his wonderful work has been done, and looked reverently about me, but though a well-stored library on the history of Salona lay upon the bookshelves, and I had the owner's permission to use it, I had no desire for the dry facts of history, but preferred to let my imagination wander back into the past.

I am sure that if Salona could rise again by the stroke of a magician's wand, as it was on the day of its destruction, its streets full of busy life, Monsignor Bulic would walk among the people as one of themselves, as much, if Page  98not more at home, than he is to-day in the streets of Spalato. I fancy that when he enters by the Porta Csar it rises before him, still the stately structure it was when a stream of chariots passed all day through the central archway, that when he stands within the precincts of the great basilica, he sees-not the outline of nave and aisles formed by low walls with a central space of greensward, but a noble edifice adorned with precious marbles and rich mosaics, where once again

"The shrill bell rings--the censer swings The solemn chant resounds between."
It must be that telepathy imparts something of his power of making dry bones live to those who come within his influence, for in the hours spent in his company, the day spent in his house, I learnt more of the history of Salona than any books could teach me, because I lived it !

The rains of centuries have washed down from the slopes of Mount Caban the earth which buried all that remains of the once prosperous city some six to nine feet beneath the present level of the ground, until the Page  99excavations were begun soon after the first visit of the Austrian Emperor Franz in 1818. In 1820 a small museum was opened at Spalato to receive the objects of antiquarian interest dug up at Salona, and a grant was made by the Government for the excavations, but it was not till 1849 that the work was sufficiently advanced for a plan of the city 'to be made, its division into two parts, the Eastern and Western quarters, the former being the older. The director of the works at that time also has the credit of locating the city-gates, and bringing to light the ruins of the theatre.

An important discovery of sarcophagi (among them the famous ones of Hippolytus and Phdra and of the Good Shepherd) was made in the seventies. In the following year the visit of the present Emperor Franz Joseph to Dalmatia resulted in a larger grant for the work of excavating, which had up to then proceeded but slowly from want of funds.

Monsignor Bulic was appointed Director of the Museum, and Conservator of the Ancient Monuments in 1883, and so for twenty-three years he had brought his enthusiasm to bear upon the work he loves. The discovery of Page  100the great basilica and early Christian burial-place within and around it will ever be associated with his name.

The first tomb erected here was that of a wealthy Christian named Ulpius, who lived in the first century, and set apart a portion of his estate, apparently the stoniest and least useful for cultivation, for his family burial-place, and that of his friends and fellow-believers.

Traces of his dwelling remain in two ancient presses, one of wine, the other for oil, which are really very little different in form to those in use in Dalmatia to-day.

In this private cemetery many of the martyrs were buried, who sealed their faith with their blood in the succeeding centuries, and near their shrines (for the piety of their fellow-believers had raised sacred chapels over their graves) other Christians desired to lie. So the cemetery grew in size and beauty till the invasion of the barbarian Goths and Huns laid it waste in the fifth century.

It was restored a little later, and a basilica built over the graves of the martyrs for their greater protection; but this early building, probably damaged by another invasion of the Page  [100a]

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Page  [100b]Page  101Goths, was replaced in the sixth century under the Emperor Justinian, by the great basilica, of which we see the ruins to-day.

The cathedral church of Salona had a nave with two side aisles, the eastern end finished with an apse with seats for the bishop and clergy; the pavement was of mosaic, the walls covered with finest marble. The roof was supported on monolith granite columns, of which many still stand, and are visible from afar, while others lie prone upon the grass among the graves, with which the subterranean portion of the church was crammed. Nearly all the stone vaults have holes made by the Goths or Avars in the hope of finding treasure buried with the deceased; some are wholly broken open, and others can be entered by raising a sliding stone at one end.

And all this strange scene of destruction and desolation is framed in by the sweetest, most smiling landscape: hills on one side, the blue waters of the Gulf of Salona sparkling in the sunshine at a little distance on the other. Wild flowers bloom among the tombs, vineyards and mulberry groves are round about. Dark-eyed, dark-haired Page  102peasant children play among the ruins, or search diligently for the oft-found coins and broken bits of Roman glass and crockery which they sell readily to strangers as mementos of Salona. On my first visit with Monsignor Bulic, I was greatly interested to see him looking over the finds brought by the owners of the land for his inspection-coins for the most part, sometimes articles of jewellery or precious stones which had become detached from their setting. He selects only the finest specimens for the museum; the rest the peasants no doubt easily dispose of to tourists during the travelling season.

After the great basilica, the most interesting ruins in Salona are those of the Baptistery, which is in octagonal form with a fine mosaic pavement, wherebaptism by immersion was practised; of the " Basilica Urbana " (a church of the first century with some well-preserved mosaic pavements), close by it, and of the amphitheatre a little larger than that of Pompeii; remains of seats are to be traced around it, and pipes have been discovered underground which brought water into the arena. The amphitheatre is magnificently situated on high ground, from which Page  [102a]

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Page  [102b]Page  103 the whole of the lovely Riviera della Castella is visible as far as Trau, as well as the opposite island of Bua and the inland sea of Salona.

Of the city walls little is left; but this little shows that they were broken and repaired in many a siege. We know that the city was walled in the second century B.C., from inscriptions which relate that the Roman armies stormed the town during the great rebellion, while others tell that later on the people of Salona fought bravely for Csar against Pompey's General Octavius. The outline of one of the fortified towers can be made out not far from the Porta Suburbia and the Porta Cesare, by which Diocletian entered and left the city for his palace by the sea. While it was building, he dwelt at Salona from A.D. 305 to A.D. 313, and those were the days in which life grew more and more luxurious in the provincial city of the Roman empire. The aftermath came when the effete, pleasure-loving people, utterly unable to withstand the onslaught of the Avars a few centuries later, fled before the foe; most unworthy descendants of their sterner forefathers, whom Csar had specially honoured for their bravery in his cause.

Page  104When you lift your eyes from Salona to the Mosor mountains, which shelter it from the north, they are irresistibly drawn to the fortress-crowned rock and village of Clissa, and you will be well repaid if you proceed thither either on foot or by carriage along the new road, which ascends by easy windings through lovely scenery. As you mount, the fig and pomegranate trees, together with the grey olives, are left behind with the green valley of the Jader and exchanged for the flowers and plants of Central Europe; the wild roses and honeysuckle of our northern clime greet you like old friends, and the air grows fresher and keener.

If you were charmed with picturesque Clissa from below, what will you say of the ravishing views on the road which change from minute to minute ? Below, the fertile plain and the Adriatic with its islands; above, the stern mountains and Clissa, even more romantic on near approach than when seen from afar, its castle surmounting a pyramidical rock, its white houses built in terraces below which green vineyards slope to the plain.

Clissa is a town of great antiquity, and on account of its strategical position, once of great Page  105importance. Porphyrogenitus speaks of a fortress named Clissa. During seven centuries of Croatian dominion, "Klis" was of sufficient consequence for its possession to be frequently disputed.

In the fifteenth century it was taken by the Venetians, and a little later gave refuge to the Uscocs, who had fled from Bosnia before the Turks, and made it their headquarters under the protection of the Hungarian count. From Clissa they made such fierce raids into Turkish territory as led to the taking of the fortress by their enemies in reprisal and the murder of the Hungarian governor.

Clissa was taken by the Venetians in 1648, and remained subject to the republic till its fall and the annexation of Dalmatia by the French at the beginning of the last century.

It is of interest to English people that, in the war of 1813, Admiral Host forced the French commander of the fortress to capitulate. Of all the varied fortunes of the old fortress, there is but little trace to-day. You will be wise to content yourself with a view of the exterior, for inside there is nothing of interest unless it be the old walls which sheltered the Page  106fierce Uscocs. But the views from the height are superb and very varied, for here is the borderland between the coast with its luxuriant southern vegetation and the less fertile country of the interior, where the laborious peasants wrest a scanty living from a stony soil.