ROUND ABOUT RAGUSA
YOU can spend weeks at Ragusa and find new walks every day ! You will climb maybe to where twelve hundred feet and more above the city walls Monte Sergio crowned by the Fort Imperial watches over Ragusa: the upward way is toilsome, but it repays !
From this dizzy height the medival city lies like a toy town far beneath. Seawards on a clear day all the islands of the South Dalmatian archipelago are visible; landwards are the wild highlands of Herzegovina.
But most enchanting of all the walks around Ragusa are those on the peninsula called Lapad--all but an island in form-which lies between the Bay of Gravosa, where the steamer lands you for Ragusa, and that of Dance. Some one has said, that if the Roman poet, who sang so sweetly of Sermioni on Lake Garda, had seen Lapad, he would have found it worthier of his lyre.
Page 150No poet that I know of has written of Lapad, but a little bit of its exquisite beauty transferred to canvas by a master hand hung this year on the Royal Academy walls.
It may be, in the future, artists will discover it and make it the fashion, but I think not, for lovely Lapad lies too far from the world's highways for its solitudes to be easily invaded. Long may it rest wrapped in its ancient peace!
Thanks to the new road made by the generosity of Prince Lichtenstein, the peninsula can now be visited by carriage, but the drive, beautiful as it is, gives but a glimpse of the whole. If you would see all of beauty that Lapad can offer, you must follow the footpaths which intersect the pine forest in all directions; you must visit the garden wildernesses surrounding the ruined villas which have lain waste since the dark days of i8o6; you must see the yet inhabited idyllic homes on Lapad of a few remaining nobles of Ragusa, such as the Villas Bravacic and- Gondola; and you must climb at sunset to the hermit chapel of San Biagio, or better still, through dark pine woods, which open now and then to give you a glimpse of the blue water far below, ascend to the summit Page 151of Monte Petka. The sunsets here are glorious; the whole coast is visible from Punta d'Ostro to Stagno, and after a fine day, coast, islands, rocks, and sea are bathed in golden light, which changes, as the sun dips to the horizon, to every delicate gradation of rainbow colouring, while here and there on the headlands dark pines and cypress trees are sharply silhouetted against the light.
But in my admiration for Lapad, I must not withhold a meed of praise from other lovely spots where it is due! I have in mind a little lonely chapel by the seashore, which is a picture ready made for an artist's brush; and I should be no good guide did I not take you to the ruined convent of San Giacomo.
Like Cannosa to the north of Ragusa, San Giacomo to the south, owing to its sheltered position, is a garden paradise.
Here grows the locust tree, here flowering aloes rear their giant blooms upward to the sky, here oleanders shower their pink blossoms over the old grey walls, and ivy wraps them lovingly around, while palms wave over them. Dark cypress trees mingled with gnarled olives rise behind the convent, and still higher the Page 152mountains form a sheltering wall. Below, the rocks clothed with all manner of creepers and flowering shrubs, slope to the sea beneath, and over the blue water your eye travels to the fairy isle of Lacroma !
Youwill not be content with having seen lovely Lacroma from across the water. You will most assuredly want to visit the convent which was once the home of the late Emperor Maximilian of Mexico, and after him of his equally unfortunate nephew, Prince Rudolf, and to walk in the lovely though now neglected gardens full of such sad memories of their past possessors.
It is easy to wax superstitious about Lacroma, to think that its possession brings ill luck, when you muse on the untimely fate that has overtaken two of its owners, and, perhaps, it was with some such feeling that the Emperor Francis Joseph gave it back to the Church. The monastery of the Middle Ages had fallen into disuse, and lay in ruins before it was rebuilt for a residence of the house of Hapsburg, but now once more the convent bell rings out across the water, and dark-robed monks are the only occupants of the princely pleasure-house.
In any less favoured clime the woods of Page 153ilex, which cover the island, might be gloomy; but here their shade is grateful, and the paths which intersect them are singularly charming. Nature is prodigal on Lacroma, and many flowers and plants grow wild which are the pampered darlings of our greenhouses at home. There is hardly any time of year, except it be when the earth lies parched and panting under the midsummer sun, that you will not find a profusion of blossoms on this favoured isle; roses run riot among the palms and aloes, myrtle and rosemary and the heavy fragrance of the oleander scent the air even in mid-winter.
From the enchanting gardens it is but a few steps to where the waves dash upon the rocks with a noise like thunder, which echoes in the caves beneath. There is a spot upon the north side, where the cliff descends precipitously to the sea, that has tragic memories, for this, according to tradition, was the Tarpeian rock of Ragusa, where criminals guilty of treason or sacrilege were thrown into the sea.
It is worth while to tell your boatman to row you leisurely round the island before you leave it; to pass under the natural arch and see the great grotto, a curious hollow made in the Page 154cliffs by the action of the waves; to land in the little bays and examine the many beautiful and curious shells to be found there, among them the lovely pearly shell the Italians have christened by the quaint name of St. Peter's ear. Or you may dismiss your boatman with orders to return some hours later, and explore the island in leisurely fashion, visiting the dismantled fort erected by the French, from which there is a lovely view, and the white cross which recalls the loss of an Austrian man-of-war in 1859. 'You may, if you will, return by a little steam-launch which plies between Lacroma and the mainland, but this way is not so restful, and gives you little time to feast your eyes on the walls and towers of Ragusa, which make such a wonderful picture from the sea.
There is another garden within half a day's excursion from Ragusa, which surpasses in beauty even that of Lacroma, and must on no account be missed by garden lovers. It is part of the old domain of Count Gozze at Cannosa, to which I. have already alluded, and can be reached either by driving or by steam-launch, which latter way we chose to see the coast.
Page 155Count Gozze's charming villa stands on a height above the sea, and from the primitive landing -stage by a delightful path between laurel and bay trees, olives, and pomegranates, we climbed up to it to present our letter of introduction; but the Count was not at home, so through the delicious gardens of his sylvan retreat we made our way to see the great sight of Cannosa, the giant plane trees, which have stood here from times so far back that there seems to be no record of their age.
The mightiness of the larger tree is something stupendous. The trunk is twenty-five paces round above the roots where it emerges from the ground; the branches spread out horizontally for thirty to forty paces and then bend upwards, and the whole space shaded by the trees is large enough for a ballroom, being something like sixty-five paces across. Little tables for refreshments are spread in the shade, and the human beings who sit there eating and drinking look like midgets beside the giants, so out of all proportion are they to the ordinary comparative dimensions of men and trees.
I noticed a marble tablet recording the visit of the Austrian Emperor to Cannosa in 1875, Page 156and the admiration he expressed-for these monarchs among trees, and in Count Gozze's garden I was shown a chestnut on the trunk of which the Emperor Maximilian carved his initials and those of his wife, when he was still archduke, and had his home on Lacroma.
Many have been the visitors to Cannosa, from the days of Ragusa's glory when more than one Gozze was Rector of the Republic, and in the heats of midsummer the Senate assembled in this garden. The house, too, is a museum full of all things, rich and rare, to rejoice the heart of an antiquarian. We had a glimpse of its treasures, for its kindly courteous owner returned just before our departure, but it was only a glimpse, for the steam-launch was waiting, and we were unable to accept the cordial invitation we received to pay another visit to this lovely spot. Long there lingered in my memory a picture of a long low house on a sunny terrace watched over by an ancient ilex tree which has stood here for six centuries, of hedges of flowering cactus, of golden oranges against a deep blue sky, of spotless magnolia blossoms shining out against their dark foliage; all this with scent of violets in the air, humming of insects, and the gentle Page 157murmur of the waves below, rises before me at the name of Cannosa.
The excursion to the source of the Ombla river is sometimes combined with a visit to the great trees by energetic people, who have the whole day to devote to it, as the mouth of the Ombla is passed soon after leaving Gravosa. It may be that some minds are capable of receiving and retaining many impressions in a short space of time, and giving a just measure of appreciation to all; but personally I prefer to let one picture sink into my memory before I replace it by another, just as I find a painting gains infinitely by being seen in a room to itself instead of a crowded gallery. Acting on this principle of seeing leisurely one thing at a time, we went another day by carriage to the Ombla. It is a charming drive through beautiful Gravosa, where some ruined villas recall the destruction wrought by the Montenegrins and Russians in the last century, and along the banks of the river to its source, which is one of Nature's curiosities rather than Nature's beauties, though the scene is majestic. The river rushes forth from beneath a mighty wall of rock, no stripling, like other rivers at their Page 158source, but full grown, perhaps eighty feet or more in breadth. Like many streams of the Karst, it has doubtless had its course underground long before emerging into the light of day. It precipitates itself over a weir and broadens into a sheet of calm still water with reed-fringed banks, and then flows onward to the sea some four miles distant. A remarkable feature of this river is its very short course. I found the stream in the Val di Breno--which is of the same nature, but less in volume-more picturesque as in its short course it forms some little islands and miniature waterfalls. It is what artists would call a paintable river, with tree-shaded banks; the bit by the beautiful old moss-grown mill calls aloud for some one to immortalize it bn canvas. Our camera recorded what it could: of this delightful stream, but the colours, alas ! are lacking which lent half the charm.
The inhabitants of the Val di Breno are very prosperous, for there are few valleys of Dalmatia so fertile. They are, too, well-favoured people, and the women in particular are noted for their beauty, set off by their charming costume, which I mentioned as often seen in the streets of Ragusa.
Page 159The valley is reached by a coast road of surpassing beauty. We drove back towards sunset, and saw before us the medival walls and towers of Ragusa first bathed in rosy light, then silhouetted against a glowing sky, and Lacroma a dark spot upon a shining sea I Very often I took this road, or one beneath it, leading in the same direction to the ruined monastery of St. Giacomo at the sunset hour, and watched from among the palms and flowering aloes which fringe the way the pageant of sky and sea.
At Ragusa you are close to the border of Herzegovina, and a drive of a few hours takes you to Trebinje within the Orient.
We started betimes on this excursion before the freshness of early morning had vanished under the sun's rays; following the coast road and leaving the idyllic Breno valley, clad in its May verdure far below, we ascended gradually into the barren Karst, where from the highest point of the road we could feast our eyes on the wonderful views extending to the sea on one side, and to the highlands of Montenegro on the other.
Fleecy clouds drifting overhead in the Page 160summer sky cast purple shadows on the blue mountains, and in the distance the snow still lying on the highest peaks caught the sun's rays and glistened like silver.
It is but a very little while, as the history of nations is counted, since Herzegovina passed from Moslem rule, and the Turkish forts along the road to Trebinje are left just as they were during the hundreds of years of Ottoman dominion, but now occupied by Austrian troops.
It is hardly an exaggeration to say that the mountain pass leading to Trebinje bristles with forts new and old, some protected by wire entanglements, such as were used for the block-houses during the Boer war. One such beside the road we greatly desired to photograph, but as the sentry seemed to be casting a suspicious eye on our party, we thought it discreet to leave it till our return journey, and first ask our friend, Lieut.-Colonel Lilienhoff of the Trebinje garrison-with whom we were lunching-if we could take a picture of the fort with impunity. Alas ! his answer was a very decided negative, so, though strongly tempted to try a snapshot on the quiet, we refrained. Cameras, indeed, are Page 161regarded with great suspicion at Trebinje, even though used for the innocent purpose of taking pictures of the bazaars and native costumes, and no one is allowed to carry one without permission from the Commandant, though it must be admitted this is readily and courteously accorded.
The old town remains Turkish to all intents and purposes to-day, but by its side a modern quarter has sprung up since the Austrian occupation, which boasts an hotel and very European-looking houses and shops. The Turkish cemetery by a radical change has become the town park, where the little fashionable world of Trebinje, consisting of the officers and their wives, saunters under the trees, and discusses the gossip of the garrison and the news of the greater world from which they feel themselves so far away.
Under the present Government energetic measures are being taken to improve the surroundings of the town by planting the lower slopes of the barren mountains with trees, and tobacco is largely cultivated. Vineyards, too, are to be seen, and occasional patches of corn, but the torrid heat of summer and the lack of Page 162water place great difficulties in the way of cultivation, and the young plantations have to be watered by the soldiers as a military duty.
Even Turkish Trebinje has gained in cleanliness by coming into touch with European standards, but its picturesqueness remains.
Our visit was on a Friday, and as we sauntered down the main street all the male population were engaged in ablutions preparatory to visiting the mosques. The feet-washing was a wonderfully simple performance. A little water poured over each foot sufficed, and it was then stuck up against the house wall to drain and dry in the sun. This accomplished, began the long procession to the mosque of men of all ages, from hoary-headed grandfathers to mere boys.
At noon came the call of the muezzin from the minaret-half-prayer, half-chant, not wholly unmusical, and altogether melancholy-
We had been warned of the dire penalties awaiting the stranger who pollutes a mosque with his presence at the hour of prayer, but my husband entered without opposition, and I Page 163witnessed the genuflexions and final prostrations of the men in a small mosque, which is partly open to the street, quite plainly from without.
But my most interesting experience in Oriental Trebinje was a visit paid with the wife of Colonel Lilienhoff to the harem of an influential Turk who had shortly before taken to himself a wife. The bride, whose social importance may be gauged by the fact that she travelled by special train from her father's house at Sarajevo to Trebinje on her wedding-day, was a girl of perhaps sixteen, gorgeous in yellow flowered satin, made with the traditional full trousers that I hear the women in the harems of Constantinople are now rejecting in favour of Paris fashions. She wore a quantity of jewellery, including a necklace of heavy gold coins, which must have been uncomfortably weighty, and similar coins were suspended from her tiny cap, sewn all over with seed pearls, of all of which trinkets we expressed our admiration. She may have been happy, but her sad little painted face and lack-lustre eyes did not bespeak it, and her beauty did not certainly come up to what I had been led to expect in the veiled women.
Page 164In this house the customs of East and West met, for the apartment in which we were received contained some stiff-backed continental chairs, which were offered to us as the seats of honour, as well as the usual divans. Conversation was difficult, as our hostess spoke only Servian, and her lord and master had to act as interpreter. His views seemed remarkably liberal for an Oriental, as he told us he would not personally object to his wives going unveiled in the street, but in such a little place as Trebinje such a proceeding would be considered scandalous, though in Constantinople opinion inclined to greater freedom for women. We made our adieux after imbibing the sweetest of lemonade and some thimblefuls of black coffee, and when the doors closed behind us I thanked God that, being born a woman, I did not first see the light in the Orient.