Dalmatia : the land where East meets West.
Holbach, Maude M.
Page  183


IT would be unpardonable to visit Cattaro, on the border of the Land of the Black Mountain, and not penetrate into the heart of that wild little country whose war annals Mr. Gladstone said, "exceed in glory all the war annals of the world"; when its tiny capital Cettinje, thanks to that magnificent new road made by the Austrian Government in the seventies, with the consent of the Prince of Montenegro, is within six hours' drive through some of the most striking scenery in the world.

The making of the road symbolized a new era in the history of the principality; for centuries the mountaineers relied for safety on the inaccessibility of their little capital, and the fact that they have made it easy for the stranger to enter their gates, by themselves continuing the road from the Austrian frontier to Cettinje, is a great step towards civilization, and may be taken as a sign of the passing of the old régime. Page  184Not that the Montenegrins of to-day have abated one jot in their devotion to their fatherland-they are ready to defend it with their life, blood if need be; so dear to their hearts are their forbidding mountains that every son of the soil who has been absent for any length of time falls on his face to kiss it when his feet touch the stone which marks the boundary of his Prince's dominions. It is the savagery that has died out, the spirit which counted victory by the number of Turks' heads brought home from a successful foray to adorn the battlements of the palace, and which refused to come into contact with the world beyond the Black Mountains.

Looking at these splendid people, however, it is hard to believe that their forefathers can have been as bloodthirsty as some historians would have us believe,-there is absolutely no trace of savagery in the features of these dignified, noble-looking men. If their ancestors committed excesses in their perpetual warfare with the Turk, it surely must have been because to them it was a holy war of righteous vengeance, and as such carried on with the fanatic zeal which emulated the Crusaders. It is equally impossible to believe that the national type has Page  [184a]

[missing figure]
Page  [184b]Page  185wholly altered in less than a hundred years, or that the forefathers of these men delighted in bloodshed from mere savagery.

The principality of Montenegro has been called "a kingdom founded and maintained solely on physical valour;" and such it truly is. Since the conquest of the old Servian kingdom by the Turks, when a mere handful of Servians sought safety in the Black Mountains, and there founded an independent state, it has owed its very existence to the heroic courage and constant vigilance of its citizen army, in which every Montenegrin, including old men and mere boys, is enrolled. Not till the Treaty of Berlin in 1878 was its independence formally recognized by the Powers. It has now two ports, Antivari and Dulcigno, for which last it has to thank Mr. Gladstone. It is a sign of the times-the ending of the perpetual feud with the Turk-that the Prince of Montenegro's yacht, often seen in the Bocche di Cattaro, was presented to him by the Sultan.

The long line of the Prince-Bishops or Vladikas of Montenegro came to an end when Daniolo II., the predecessor of the present Prince Nicola, ascended the throne just before attaining Page  186his majority (at which age, according to old custom, he ought to have been consecrated bishop), and had the courage to own that he felt no vocation for the life of a priest. This progressive prince having sounded the Emperors of Russia and France personally on the subject, and obtained their support and that of Austria, took matters into his own hands by marrying the daughter of a rich Austrian merchant, quite, as it seems, to the satisfaction of his people, who no doubt thought what their Prince did must be right, so close is the bond that has always united the head of the State with his people in Montenegro.

Nor is this less the case to-day. Prince Nicola is the father and friend of his subjects, no less than their ruler, and even the meanest peasant can have access to him if he has a grievance or wrong to be redressed. Probably at no other court in the world are prince and people so closely in touch.

This, then, is the entrancingly interesting little principality to which the winding road from Cattaro leads up. And what views spread before you as you mount, leaving the green valley and the blue waters of the gulf below !

Page  [186a]

[missing figure]
Page  [186b]Page  187Like all mountain roads, this ascends in zigzags cut in the face of the rock, and sometimes the mountain slopes beneath are so precipitous that it seems as though you could drop a stone into the sea, thousands of feet below. But at first the ascent is gentle till reaching the fort on the height of Gorazda, at which point you overlook the Gulf of Cattaro as far as Monte Cassone. Further on, by a turn in the winding road, the Bay of Teodo comes in sight. Still further it follows the north side of Gorazdo, and you look down to the luxuriant Mediterranean vegetation that clothes the shores of the gulf and up to the savage barrenness of the mountains above. Little by little the panorama of the Bocche unfolds itself, until at last the Bay of Topla, on which Castelnuovo stands, is visible before crossing the frontier.

On reaching the plateau of Krstac there is a glorious view towards the Lake of Scutari, and the effect of the wild mountain ranges one behind another is indescribably grand. From here the road continues through a barren rocky region, where here and there the stones have been cleared away to grow a patch of corn or potatoes, to the village of Njegusi, where the Page  188present Prince of Montenegro was born, in a very simple house which stands beside the road. At Njegusi a halt is usually made to rest the horses, and refreshments are served at a little new hotel, which is quite superior to anything you might expect in the wilds of these mountains, and you make your first acquaintance with a Montenegrin village, though along the way you have passed primitive human habitations, hardly discernible in the distance from the background of grey rocks, being built of stone, with roofs of coarse thatch or shingles.

Every peasant you meet will greet you with a dignified grace that seems to say, "You are my country's guest-I bid you welcome in my country's name," as he passes your carriage with the easy swinging gait that distinguishes the

The tall well-knit figures of the men are set off to the utmost advantage by their picturesque and practical national dress, of which a distinguishing feature is the long scarf, like a Scotch plaid, thrown gracefullyover one shoulder, and finished with a fringe which almost touches the ground as the wearer walks. I was told that when the men sleep in the open one end Page  [188a]

[missing figure]
Page  [188b]Page  189of this plaid, called a "struka," is put beneath, and the other thrown over them. 'Every son of the Black Mountain, from prince to peasant, wears on his head a round cap of crimson cloth edged with black silk, the latter, it is said, in token of perpetual mourning for the loss of Servian freedom. On the crown the prince's initials, " H.T.," are embroidered within a rainbow, emblematic of hope that the lost kingdom may one day be regained. The waistcoat worn beneath the long white home-spun coat is of crimson cloth of the same dark rich hue as the cap, and likewise embroidered in black or gold, and round the waist a scarf is twisted as a belt to hold the weapons. The full trousers of dark blue cloth reach only to the knees, and are worn above close-fitting leggings and the pointed shoes, called "opanken," which must be wonderfully light and comfortable as well as strong. The women's dress is very like that of the men; they, too, wear the long coat of white lamb's wool, but over it on Sundays and festas comes a sleeveless jacket of velvet, which is of red if the wearer is young, and of blue or purple if elderly. On their heads the unmarried women have the same red cap as their fathers and Page  190brothers, but without the prince's initials, while the married women are distinguished by a black handkerchief instead of a cap--all but the very poorest have belts of silver.

No more delightful costume can be imagined than this, both in outline and colour, and it is sincerely to be hoped that increased communication with the outside world may not result in its gradual dying out.

After passing Njegusi the road to Cettinje still ascends till the watershed is reached at a height of nearly four thousand feet above sea-level, and a sea of mountains, in which the various ranges look like huge billows, stretches to north and east, but opens a little to the southeast to give you a peep of the Lake of Scutari, which is partly in Montenegro and partly in Turkey.

The snow lies in patches here till late in May, but grass and shrubs grow in between the rocks, and further on trees gladden your eyes as you approach Cettinje. You see it from afar when you come to the last mountain crest, and the plain lies below surrounded by mountains, with the regularly built little capital lying atthe farther end. Its outlying houses, scattered Page  191along the main street, are all of grey stone with red roofs, built on much the same pattern of unassuming modesty. The really interesting buildings are further on, grouped about the monastery, which was the town's foundation, and recalls the memory of the national hero, Ivan Crnojevic, who founded it in the fifteenth century. This former home of the Vladikas is now their place of sepulture, and on a height above it the monument of the last Prince Daniolo II., covered by a picturesque copula, is seen from afar.

The Prince's Palace is in accordance with his unassuming capital, and certainly less pretentious than the new Austrian and Russian Embassy buildings; except for the soldiers on guard there is nothing to distinguish it from any gentleman's country house. Prince Nicola is frequently to be seen sitting on the veranda, where he daily holds a little court, to which any and all of his subjects have the entree.

When the trees in the little park adjoining the palace have grown to larger dimensions the whole aspect of the place will be changed, but though Cettinje is in the same latitude as Rome, its two thousand feet elevation makes the climate Page  192unpleasantly cold, and hinders the growth of vegetation. The best view of the town is from the heights above, where the Turk has so often poured down upon it, and so often been driven back with great loss. It is on record that eight thousand Montenegrins once defeated eighty thousand Turks, and in the eighteenth century, when the Montenegrins were persuaded by Russia to invade Turkey, and a counter-invasion resulted, eighty-six standards of the armies of the Crescent fell into the hands of the mountaineers.

The officers of the Montenegrin army to-day are a magnificent-looking body of men. The commander of the military school, who is at the same time aide-de-camp to the Prince and a brigadier-general, was an imposing figure when he called upon us after receiving our letter of introduction, in his gorgeous parade uniform, which consisted of a coat of the delicate eggshell blue cloth over a vest of crimson, and high boots reaching to the knees to meet the full Turkish-looking dark-blue trousers. He wore by his side the Russian sword, which has replaced the Turkish in the Montenegrin army, a hilt of elaborate workmanship. From Page  193him we learnt much of the conditions of Montenegrin life to-day, and he expressed the delight that a visit to London some years previously had afforded him, and his preference for it over all other capitals of Europe.

My wish to see the Prince was not gratified, for he was absent with his family in Vienna; but many Montenegrin notabilities, including the Minister of War and other officers of State, were pointed out to me in the streets of Cettinje, all going about on foot like ordinary citizens. Their salaries are probably insufficient to support a carriage, judging by the very modest houses they inhabit.

We were advised to ascend the Loveen, the sacred mountain of the Montenegrins, on which the last prince-bishop is interred in a little chapel erected to his memory; but time did not permit of this, nor of our visiting the Lake of Scutari, and driving thence to Antivari, and so back to Dalmatian territory, which would have been a most interesting experience; yet I was not sorry to return to Cattaro by the way we had come, along that marvellous road over the Black Mountains which nothing in Europe can surpass in interest.