ZARA-the Zadera of the ancients-is the portal by which you enter Dalmatia, after sailing many hours along a barren shore!
It looks across to the long low island of Ugljan on which a Venetian fort proudly rears its head! In Zadera pulsed the luxurious life of ancient Rome even as at Salona, of which ruined city I will tell you more anon, in days before the Emperor Diocletian built his palace by the seashore at Spalato.
Where now the ancient Christian Church of St. Donato stands was the forum centre of the city's life-and round about were noble temples dedicated to the gods and thronged with worshippers, and many stately homes of proud patricians. Broken fragments on which St. Donato rests, and two beautiful Corinthian columns, one of which still stands, they say, where the Roman builders reared it to the sky; that is all except a few inscriptions to tell the Page 30story of the first city which stood upon this site!
Byzantine Zara, medieval Zara, replaced it in turn; and medival Zara has been wiped out by twentieth-century Zara you will say, when you first view it from the steamer's deck and your eye discovers nothing but a long line of modern buildings fronting the water-side, while your memory recalls the tale of how its mighty walls seen from the sea carried dismay to the stout hearts of the Crusaders.
The imposing esplanade is but the outer shell Old Zara is within, old Zara with her narrow streets peopled with figures more than half Oriental-for here you have entered the borderland - the fringe of the Orient! So much less known than the East itself--the forgotten country where the Middle Ages linger and time has stood still!
This is no more Europe, no matter what the map may tell you! It is a terra incognita where, if you are not too luxurious a traveller, if you care sufficiently for that which is old-world and curious as well as often beautiful, to put up with some little inconvenience for the sake of seeing a strange world, you will find Page [30a]
Among the traveller's impressions there are always some that stand out vividly when others, even though more important, have grown dim. Among the first is my first sight of the market at Zara and of the Morlacchi, the peasants of Northern Dalmatia, who, seated on the ground in the fashion of the East, offered their eggs and vegetables for sale in the strangest tongue that ever assailed my ears. At the first glance they seemed to me more like North American Indians than any European race; authorities differ, however, concerning their origin, some holding that they are the descendants of Romans who fled before the Slavs to the mountains. Swarthy faces met my gaze, framed in white linen handkerchiefs, gold earrings sometimes visible beneath, sandaled feet (so I called them then, but later I learnt to use the native name " opanka," for their home-made shoes, formed of a single piece of leather turned up to form a pointed toe and laced across with string), abbreviated skirts, curiously worked aprons of Page 32many colours, gaily embroidered leggings, worn alike by men and women, made up a costume picturesque and strange!
The dark and often grimy hands held out to offer me their wares were plentifully bedecked with rings of gold filigree. The men folk, too, were not behind in lending colour to the scene ! No dull drab tones for the Dalmatian, he leaves that to those who have made greater advances in civilization, and attires himself in scarlet and blue and silver-scarlet for his head covering, blue for his nether garments, and silver galore according to his wealth in the beautiful buttons whichfasten his embroideredwaistcoat. Certainly he does more to contribute to the brightness of the world than those who think themselves his betters and wear the dull livery of European uniformity.
I have another memory of the market at Zara ! It was my second visit to the capital of Dalmatia in the last days of May, and there was even more colour in the scene, for it was cherry-time. Such cherries in such profusion I had never seen before, and perhaps, unless some good fairy brings me back to Zara in the merry month of May, shall never see again. Page 33Picturesquely shaped baskets of very large proportions were everywhere heaped with the lovely fruit-whitehearts, blackhearts, glowing in the sun! Vegetables, eggs, and home-made olive oil, accustomed objects of the market, were swamped by the mass of colour and faded into insignificance. It was a cherry market- a symphony in crimson!
Hard by the market stands one of those Roman pillars of which I told you that they are among the few relics of ancient Zadera; once, perhaps, forming part of a temple, this column served in Venetian time as a kind of pillory, where offenders against society were exposed to the public gaze and scorn, to which the chains still hanging from it bear witness.
Of the lordship of Venice you will find many tokens in Zara, over the city gates where the lion of St. Mark still watches (and look well at the Porta Marina, for you will not find its match even in Italy) and in the tower known as Bovo d'Antona, which is all that remains of the Venetian fortifications. It watches over one of the most picturesque bits in Zara, a tree-shaded space with the Cinque Pozzi (five fountains) erected by San Micheli in the Page 34seventeenth century, where the townspeople still go to draw water and bear home the brimming vessels on their heads.
Zara is a city of churches which will well repay some study; according to Jackson, whose interesting book on Dalmatian architecture you will find a valuable companion everywhere in this country, it contains samples of every period from the eighth century and is "rich in buildings of earlier styles often disguised as hay-lofts." They are overlooked by most travellers who give little time to Zara, far less than it deserves. San Donato, a church no longer but a museum, valued at last according to its merit, was rescued from neglect and use as a military store and wine cellar, less than thirty years ago. - It is one of the oldest churches in Austria, and a most interesting relic of early Christian work, erected in the ninth century by Bishop Donatus, who took the idea of circular buildings from the cathedral of Aix-la-Chapelle, and to give it additional sanctity according to the ideas of that time, brought the relics of St. Anastasia to rest in his church which, first dedicated to the Holy Trinity, was afterwards called by his name.
Page 35It is mentioned in the Emperor Constantine's writings of the tenth century, but there is no record of the exact date of its building. Professor Smirich explained to us, that a huge marble block with an inscription, which was deciphered as early as the fifteenth century, for long misled antiquarians into taking the whole building for classical work and part of a Roman temple; but this theory was done away with in I877, when excavations led to a very unlooked-for discovery; nothing less than that the early Christians, in their fanatical hatred of everything beautiful that had been pagan, took for the foundation of their church broken columns and capitals of noble buildings instead of common building stone. The removal of the church pavement laid these bare. After a thousand years they have come again to the light of day; the marble block, which alone had been visible before this discovery, being too large to be hidden from sight beneath the pavement, was used in the building.
A mark upon the inside walls shows the level of the early Christian pavement, and the ground you stand upon to-day is the pavement of the old Roman street.
Page 36The many treasures San Donato holds have come from far and near and are of many periods ; coins of the Greek Illyrian time, fragments of a Roman triumphal arch which once stood in Zara, dainty ornaments which adorned the women of that far-off day ! Many of these things were found in Nona, which place, now a deserted village, but a seaport of importance at the time of the Trajan wars, you will visit by-and-by. But before you leave St. Donato I want you to ascend to its upper story, set apart by the early Christians for the women of the congregation, and reached in those days by a separate entrance, because here best you see the rude construction of the walls; perhaps purposely left in so rough a state to show contempt for the finished workmanship of the pagan temples by workmen whose frame of mind was akin to that of the reformers, who at a later period of Church history, hid many a beautiful fresco under a coat of whitewash, mistaking narrow-minded asceticism for religion. The Duomo, which is said to have the finest faade in Dalmatia, was erected in the thirteenth century on the site of an earlier basilica, of which only some columns remain. In the Page [36a]
The charming Campanile, so like that of Arbe, which is one of the beauties of Zara from the distance, was completed not so very many years ago from Mr. Jackson's designs, a graceful compliment to the distinguished Englishman who has done so much to make Dalmatian architecture known to us.
This tower was commenced by the Venetian Archbishop Valaresso after the style of the Campanile of his birthplace, but never completed. His pastoral staff is shown in the treasury of the Duomo. It is of most exquisite workmanship and of very curious design. In the centre of the crook are the figures of a bishop, probably meant for Valaresso, and the Virgin Mary. Like that of Ragusa, this Page 38treasury is rich in reliquaries containing arms or legs of saints, and one is said to contain a finger of St. John the Baptist.
The crypt below the apse of the Duomo is very interesting to students of architecture, part of it, if not all, being of the date of the Byzantine basilica. In the front of the altar is a curiously carved figure of St. Anastasia between two trees.
St. Grisogono, the patron saint of Zara, has a church dedicated to him which once belonged to an ancient abbey-existing, as documents prove, at least as early as the tenth century: the present church was probably rebuilt by Archbishop Lampridio in II75, though as in the case of many Dalmatian churches authorities differ on the point, and Professor Eitelberger places it as late as the fifteenth century. The exterior of the east end, with its three apses and little gallery formed by arches resting on slender columns, is beautiful enough to strike the eye, even of any one not versed in church architecture, and bears comparison with anything in Italy. At St. Simeon's, another of the famous churches of Zara, is a marvellous silvergilt sarcophagus said to contain the body of the Page 39Simeon of the Presentation in the Temple, and held in highest honour by the inhabitants of Zara. It was given to the church by Queen Elizabeth of Hungary, who, according to a quaint legend, stole a finger of the saint and hid it in her bosom, which it caused to mortify. The Queen in her terror quickly restored it to its proper owner, and presented him with an ark of silver for his future resting-place to show her penitence.
To turn to facts. An inscription on the back of the sarcophagus records that it was finished in 1380. It is embossed with figures of Simeon and of the King and Queen of Hungary entering Zara, as well as with scenes representing the miracles wrought by the relics. Nor has it lost its ancient fame in this respect, for to-day pilgrims come from far to visit St. Simeon's shrine.
One of the loveliest campaniles in Zara, if not in all Dalmatia, is that erected by King Coloman of Hungary to commemorate his triumphal entry into the city in 1105; it forms part of the Convent of St. Maria, in which his deserted wife later hid herself and her sorrows, and rises very picturesquely from Page 40one corner of a forecourt. We passed beneath its shadow to a room outside the convent proper, where, thanks to the good offices of Professor Jelic, we were shown the antique lace for which the convent is famous. I was permitted to handle it as much as I pleased, but was watched very carefully by two bright eyes behind a grating all the time. Many of the designs are Byzantine-a style which lingered longer in Dalmatia than elsewhere and of which the influence is felt even to-day.
Besides the lace, some magnificent altar-cloths were brought for our inspection, of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, with figures worked upon them very curiously, by cunning fingers of those bygone ages. And then we went on to the Franciscan convent to see the beautiful Gothic carvings of the choir stalls, which old records state were made at Venice for the convent in the year 1395. One of them St. Francis, who, according to tradition, visited Zara and founded this convent himself, is represented receiving the stigmata.
Nowhere in all Zara did I love to linger better than by the Porta Marina, where the quaint boats of the islanders land their fish and Page [40a]