Dalmatia : the land where East meets West.
Holbach, Maude M.
Page  165


When you enter the Bocche, you will fancy that a Norwegian fjord somehow lost its way at the creation of the world and strayed into Southern waters. The narrow entrance between the threatening forts--where the waves lash themselves in fury on the cruel rocks-gives no hint of the extent of the lake-like sea within this forbidding portal, nor of the smiling beauty of its green banks. From Punta d'Ostra, the extreme end of the long narrow strip of land which forms a natural breakwater on which the lighthouse stands, to Cattaro, the most important place on the Bocche, is a distance of twelve miles as the crow flies; but the distance by steamer, which has to follow the windings of the fjord, is nearly double, and even then you will not explore the innermost recesses of the four bays into which this inland sea divides itself.

To do this you must take one of the small Page  166local steamers which ply between the various little towns and villages on the Bocche, or hire a boat manned by stalwart rowers, if the times of the steamers do not suit.

The first stopping-place of the express boats is Castelnuovo, a most enchanting spot, which for picturesqueness and sheer beauty it would be hard to beat on the shores of the Adriatic. Medival fortifications and walls showing the rents made by siege and earthquake, are girt about with greenest of woods and overgrown with luxuriant creepers and flowering plants.

The old Turkish forts, grey as the rocks they are built on, are reflected in the mirrorlike water beneath, A little to the north is Fort Spagnuolo, with its towers silhouetted against the sky, on a commanding height. It has its name from the tradition that the Spaniards built it; but an Arabic inscription on the door of the fortress- ascribes it to the Turks in 1 548, and other inscriptions relating to the times of Ottoman dominion are to be seen on one of the town gates and an ancient well.

The history of the Bocche is that of much fighting; for centuries the Venetians contended Page  [166a]

[missing figure]
Page  [166b]Page  167where with the Turk. It seems to be the fate of this lovely land to be never far from war's alarms, for to-day its hillsides bristle with forts, and your harmless camera is "taboo" as soon as your steamer sights Punta d'Ostra and as long as you remain in the Bocche, whether on board or ashore.

Trusting that our letter from the Governor of Dalmatia, instructing all officials to assist' us, would be sufficient to make an exception in our favour, we went boldly forth one morning at Cattaro with the camera well in evidence, and took some pictures under the very noses of the military; only on our return to the steamer on which we had slept on our way further south, were we warned by the ship's officers that we had narrowly escaped being put under lock and key, from which the civil authorities could only have rescued us after many formalities. On this, we called on the commander of the garrison, showing our introductions; but he, though courteous, was adamant, and the camera had to go to bed.

Another person in authority, whom we met subsequently, however, at Castelnuovo, seemed to read his instructions differently, for he not Page  168only gave us permission to photograph anything (except modern forts) in and around that place, but told us, with a twinkle in his eye, that a sergeant had come to him a few days previously bursting with importance for instructions to arrest our humble selves (who had been loitering in a suspicious manner upon the quay with the little black box that caused all the trouble), and he had told the over-zealous soldier to look the other way!

But I have wandered far away from the history of the Bocche, which goes back to the days when the Illyrian Queen Teuta fled from her capital at Scutari to these shores before the avenging Roman armies, after she had put Csar's envoys to death. Sixty years later, B.C. 168, the last King of Illyria was carried prisoner to Rome, and the Bocche became part of the Roman province of Prvalitana. Some few antiquities found at Cattaro seem to show that the town of Ascrivium occupied that site. At the partition of the Roman Empire, Southern Dalmatia became subject to Constantinople, was conquered by the Goths early in the sixth century, but recovered by the Emperor Justinian in 527.

Page  [168a]

[missing figure]
Page  [168b]

Page  169In the tenth century the Bocche, together with Servia and Montenegro and the country round the Lake of Scutari, formed the kingdom of Dioclea under the protection of the Byzantine Empire. The province of that name to-day is so called from the ruins of the ancient capital on the shores of the Lake of Scutari, where many Roman coins (now in the possession of the Prince of Montenegro) have been found. In 1173 a certain Stephan Nemanja took Cattaro, fortified it, and built himself a palace within the walls. His son and successor founded the Greek bishopric of Dioclea, or, as it was later called, Zeta.

In 1370 the republic of Cattaro asked for the protection of King Ludwig of Hungary against the Venetians; but, in spite of this, their town was besieged and captured by the armies of the Republic a few years later,-a picture of which siege still hangs in the Doge's Palace at Venice. The Hungarians, however, recovered, but were not able to hold Cattaro, and ceded it to the Bosnian King Tvrtko, who already had possessed himself of the north of the Bocche, and founded Castelnuovo.

Like the Ragusans, the nobles of Cattaro Page  170always managed to preserve their ancient constitution and civic liberties under change of masters, even when, in I420, they. became subject to Venice. At this time the duchy of Herzegovina was founded, extending to the Bocche, and having for its capital Erzegnove, which gave its name to the province (the Castelnuovo of to-day); but the new duchy was soon swallowed up by the advancing tide of Moslemism, and became a part of the Ottoman Empire for over two hundred years, till taken by the Venetians in 1687. The Serene Republic had now undisputed possession of the whole Bocche, except two tiny strips of territory belonging respectively to Ragusa and to Turkey, and the times of Venetian rule were palmy days for the people of the Bocche, who enjoyed the protection of a strong Government together with a great deal of liberty. When the sun of Venice set, the prosperity of the towns on this coast declined also, and some of them, such as lovely ruined Perasto, have become mere ghosts of their former selves.

The Austrians first occupied the Bocche in I797, without resistance; but the French annexation of 18o6 was not taken so quietly. Page  171With the help of the Russians and Montenegrins, Cattaro was besieged, and the French commander forced to retreat till the peace of 1807 gave the Bocche to the French for the next six years. In 1813 it capitulated to our ships under Admiral Hoste, who gave it up in January, 1814, to the Vladika (Prince) of Montenegro. The rule of the little mountain republic lasted, however, but six months; the Bocche was given back to the Austrians on payment of an indemnity in the following June, not altogether to the'satisfaction of its inhabitants, who at that time still recalled their greater freedom under Venice, and have opposed strongly the imposition of land-taxes and military service by Austria. The last measure, indeed, provoked an insurrection in 1869, which the Government found it no easy task to put down, and a considerable number of the insurgents emigrated across the border into Montenegro.

To a stranger it seems that the Dalmatians sometimes expect more than their fair share of attention and financial help from the Government at Vienna; but that is a subject outside my range.

And now, having told you of the many Page  172vicissitudes of this land-locked sea, and the blood of many nations shed upon its shores, I will go back to sweet, smiling Castelnuovo, and thence to one of the most beautiful and historically interesting monasteries in Dalmatia, that of Savina, the summer residence of the Greek Orthodox Bishop of Cattaro, which was founded in the eleventh century, and received the monks which fled from Trebinje at the time of the Moslem conquest, after which Savina became the head of the Metropolitanate.

The convent, backed by lofty mountains, is built upon a wooded height, which slopes abruptly to the sea. A broad flight of mossy stone steps leads up to it, and at their foot a magnificent cypress, truly a monarch among trees, stands sentinel. It is a perfect picture at any time, and when the Feast of the Assumption is celebrated here on August 27, and the dark figures of the bearded monks descend in solemn procession with their sacred banners unfurled and the white-robed acolytes going before, the scene with such a background is one to linger long in the memory.

But not alone for the unrivalled beauty of its surroundings is Savina worth a visit. Art Page  [172a]

[missing figure]
Page  [172b]Page  173lovers would go far alone to see the silver plate of pure Slavonic workmanship brought by the refugee monks from Trebinje.

There is a curious piece of plate, with divisions to hold oil, wine, grain, and bread, the emblems of plenty, which is used on certain great feasts of the Church. A crystal cross set in silver gilt is said to have belonged to St. Sava (the Servian saint of royal lineage, who exchanged his throne for a monk's cell), and there is a copy of the Gospels with inscriptions in Illyric on its silver cover.

After leaving Castelnuovo the steamer, on its way to Cattaro, passes through a comparatively narrow channel, which opens into the Bay of Teodo, the largest of the divisions of the Bocche. To the south of the bay are three small islands, which, like our own Iona, were seats of learning and culture, little havens of peace and refuge in troublous times from very early ages. The convent of Prevlaka, on one of them, was once the residence of the Metropolitan of Zeta.

The Bay of Teodo is almost closed to the north, so narrow is the opening through which you pass into the innermost part of the Bocche, Page  174that in the frequent wars of the Middle Ages a chain was fastened from shore to shore, to prevent an enemy's ships from entering, and from this it still has its name of the Canale delle Catene (the Channel of the Chain).

It is as you approach Cattaro that the scenery becomes more and more reminiscent of Norway, sterner and wilder; the mountain-sides on the east rise like a wall of rock, but on the western shore little white houses and villages shine out from a background of greenest verdure. The village of Dobrota, a little before you come to Cattaro, was formerly inhabited by old sailors, whose houses, filled with treasures brought from all over the world, tempted the lawless mountaineers to plunder, hence the owners made loopholes in the walls through which to shoot at the robbers, which may still be seen to-day. Perzagno opposite had a great trade with Venice, and the fine church, which is still unfinished, had its origin in those prosperous days.

The first sight of Cattaro from the water is very impressive--its fortified walls, zigzagging up to the frowning fortress on a mighty rock above the town, kindle the imagination no Page  175less than another zigzag line of white behind it, winding like a thread up the " black mountains" of Montenegro. It is the new road made by the Austrian Government, which leads to the heart of that romantic land where the mountaineers contended for centuries with their hereditary enemy, the Turk. Cattaro has been the site of a Roman Catholic bishopric since the sixth century, and the Greek Orthodox bishop has also a residence here. It is a military station of considerable importance, from which all the movements on the Bocche are directed. The presence of the officers adds animation to the streets of the little town, and the scene in the gardens of the cafe on the promenade by the waterside is a very gay one on summer evenings, when the band plays, and the townspeople take their supper or drink Dalmatian wine at the little tables beneath the trees. The harbour is frequently enlivened by the presence of English or American yachts, and sometimes the large yachting steamers call and land their passengers for a day or longer to explore the town or drive to Cettinje, as their individual taste may direct. Of "sights " there are few, as the repeated earthquakes of the Page  176sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries destroyed many of the old buildings, and left of Roman Ascrivium only a reminder in a stone altar and the statues, which are to be seen in the principal square just within the picturesque Porta Marina.

The Duomo is chiefly remarkable for the picturesque background of rocky mountains which seem to rise abruptly behind it. The first building which stood here was erected to receive the remains of St. Trifon, in 809. Tradition says that the saint's bones were bought from Venetian merchants, whom a storm had driven into the bay, and the men of Cattaro seized the opportunity to acquire a patron saint, the indispensable requisite for a self-respecting community of that period.

Without interruption since the dedication of the cathedral, the festival of St. Trifon has been celebrated with much solemnity and great popular rejoicings on the third of February of each year, except during the time of French rule, when it was forbidden. To-day, however, only those take part in the processions who still possess their old costumes and arms.

The twenty-fifth of January is another festival Page  177in Cattaro, when the Montenegrin Saint Osanna is venerated by the Greek Church, and many subjects of the neighbouring principality make a pilgrimage to the shrine.

The Montenegrin market, where the picturesque mountaineers offer for sale such dainties as smoked mutton and goat-flesh, as well as vegetables from the fertile district round Scutari, interested me greatly, and I longed for an artist's brush to reproduce the splendid figures of the men in colour, but was sorry to see that these noble-looking individuals left the hard work of carrying their produce to market to the overworked, prematurely aged women, whose existence seems to be little different to that of a beast of burden.

Before leaving Cattaro I was determined to ascend to the little chapel of Maria delle Salute above the town, or, if permission could be obtained, still higher to the Fort of St. Giovanni. This, the guide-book said, was not allowed, but our experience proved the contrary, for the courteous commandant of the garrison accorded it to us at once, and, armed with his signed order, we set out.

At the postern-gate at the foot of the rock Page  178on which the fortress stands we were challenged by the watch, who kept their rifles pointed in our direction till our pass was examined by their officer, and the word of command given to lower them from this threatening attitude; a gentle reminder that every stranger at this eastern outpost of the Austrian Empire is regarded as a possible foe till he proves himself a friend. Within the precincts of the fort we were given a soldier as guide, and commenced our ascent, the view of the town beneath and the blue waters of the gulf growing more strikingly beautiful at every turn of the winding way. At the little chapel of Maria delle Salute we stopped to admire the glorious view over land and sea, the masses of delicate mauve iris growing out of the rock, and the pretty little lizards darting hither and thither.

The ascent to the fortress is fatiguing, and the distance much greater than appears from below, but the little effort it involves is well repaid when you arrive at the highest point. Here, again, on entering the fortress we looked down the barrels of loaded rifles, and this delicate attention was repeated when we left. But apart from this little ceremony, which we Page  179could well have dispensed with, and which no doubt is an order from headquarters which has to be rigidly carried out, we met with great courtesy from the garrison, ind I must note that our soldier-guide absolutely refused to receive a "tip" for his services.

Just behind the fortress, but far below it, is the boundary between Dalmatia and Montenegro, and a miserable hovel was pointed out to us almost within stone's throw as the first house in the principality. The fortress commands for many miles the new road to Cettinje, but one cannot but think in time of war it would be by the almost inaccessible footpaths and mule-tracks that the mountaineers would pour down to Cattaro; their national dress, the creamy coat of undyed wool and the brownish plaid, likewise of home manufacture, is so exactly the colouring of the rocks that it would render them practically invisible.

There is one lovely spot upon the Bocche seldom visited which I mentioned as the ghost of its former self-this is Perasto, at the foot of Mount Cassone, with its ruined monastery and palaces, of which we were told that one was recently sold for the equivalent in Austrian Page  180money of £50. So are the mighty fallen! We visited Perasto from Zelenika, and devoted a day to the excursion, going by carriage to a point opposite the town, to which we crossed by rowing-boat, and returned by local steamer. No one seems to know much of the history of the place, except that its seafarers were famed throughout the Bocche, and the wealth those ruined marble palaces represented was amassed in commerce, as was that of Venice. In the church is still a banner which recalls Perasto's proudest memory. It was taken from the Turks, who, over six thousand strong, attacked the town in the seventeenth century, and were repulsed by its brave defenders. Beneath the altar is the standard presented by the Doge, and buried there on the fall of the Republic.

On our homeward way we were enchanted by the picturesque aspect of the two islets which rise from the waters of the Bocche between Perasto and the opposite shore. On one of these, our boatmen told us, once stood the oldest Benedictine abbey in Dalmatia, from which it is still named St. Giorgio. The abbey perished like so many others when the Bocche was swept by Turkish fire and sword, and only some grey Page  181walls still remain; but on the other islet there is a little church which is visited by pilgrims from near and far, and crowded with the votive offerings of sailors escaped from shipwreck. It is dedicated to the Madonna, from the legend that she appeared upon this islet to a sailor when it was but a bare rock appearing above the waves. The ground the church stands upon was brought year by year by the people of Perasto, who discharged boatloads of stones and earth on the rock till it became the little island of to-day, with room for the church and a surrounding space of greensward. A picturesque procession of boats visits the island once a year on the anniversary of Our Lady's appearance to the sailor, which, according to the story, was July 22, 1452.

We left the Bocche with sincere regret, for it was looking its loveliest in the last days of April, with all the fresh green out like an English June. Nowhere else in Dalmatia did we see the woodlands of Northern lands.

Ragusa with its palms and giant aloes, and all the riotous vegetation of the South, is connected with Zelenika, near Castelnuovo, by railway, and only a few hours distant; but Page  182what a difference is there in the landscape! It is like going from the French Riviera to the English countryside. All the tender plants and trees of Ragusa will flourish on the Bocche if planted, but they are not indigenous. The climate, too, is more like that of England than that of the rest of Dalmatia; the rainfall is much greater, with the natural consequence that here is a verdure not found elsewhere on this coast, and grateful to English eyes.