Dalmatia : the land where East meets West.
Holbach, Maude M.
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RAGUSA is a dream city by the sea. Picture to yourself one of the walled Etruscan towns of Northern Italy, only with more massive, sterner walls and towers, and set it down by the laughing waters of the blue Adriatic; add palms and flowering aloes of giant size growing wild wherever they can gain a foothold in the rocks right down to the edge of the sea, together with cacti and oleanders of every shade from purest white to deepest crimson; people it with figures more than half Oriental, with knives stuck in their belts, and cloaks rivalling in colour the crimson of the oleander blossoms, and you have Ragusa, the proud little republic of yore which never yielded even to the might of Venice in the zenith of her power, the half-Eastern, half-Western, yet unspoilt Ragusa of to-day!

Would you know something of the tale those frowning bastions have to tell ? Then comePage  119with me a little while into the " storied past," far back before the days when our King Richard the Lion-hearted landed on the fair little island of Lacroma, which lies off the mainland to the south, and founded the monastery which still exists to-day, though perhaps not a stone of the original walls is standing.

But first let me tell you that the Ragusans are citizens of no mean city," little as we in our northern land know about them. They can boast of something more than Rome or Naples, Venice or Constantinople ! This tiny Republican city stood firm as the rock it is built on, an outpost of Western civilization and culture, holding aloft the banner of the Cross, while all around and past it in the Middle Ages swept the conquering armies of the Crescent.

Bosnia, Herzegovina, Servia, Hungary bowed before them; like a sea they swept up to the very walls of Vienna, but no Moslem hordes ever entered the gates of Ragusa. Within her cloisters the convent bells have sounded daily without intermission since first they hung in their flower-like campaniles and called to prayer.

In the days of Rome's glory, when the Imperial city was the mistress of the world, a Page  120Roman castle stood upon this rock, and down by the shore was a fishing-village--a mere handful of huts secure in the protection of the castle above them.

One day there came to the castle for refuge men of another race, with a tale of wasted homes and murdered kindred, bearing with' them in some cases a few treasures or. household goods saved from destruction, but most escaping only with their lives. They were Greeks from Epidaurus, which occupied the site where Ragusa Vecchia stands to-day; their little territory had been ravaged by the barbarian Slavs and Avars, who about that time overran Istria and Dalmatia, and reached to the very gates of Constantinople. The poor refugees sought safety on the rocky castle-crowned peninsula; they begged the protection of the garrison, and were not refused, and when the immediate danger was over they decided to remain, and founded a city beneath the castle walls.

There were good workmen among them and skilful artificers, for being Greeks they excelled in the arts of peace; so the fishermen's huts were replaced by the new town of Ragusium,Page  [120a]

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Page  [120b]Page  121which was raised to the dignity of a republic by the charter of their civic freedom the Greeks brought with them, and enjoyed more independence than the republics of the Middle Ages.

Two hundred years later-that is, early in the tenth century-you might have heard Slavish and Latin spoken had you walked in the streets of Ragusa, just as you heard Slavish and Italian to-day; for as times of peace followed times of war, the Greek and Roman inhabitants of Ragusium intermarried with the surrounding Slavs, and so a mixed race sprang up-a people apart from the rest of Dalmatia, who loved to call themselves the Ragusan nation, and are so designated in old official documents relating to diplomatic negotiations of that time.

The Ragusans ever excelled in diplomacy, or they would not have preserved their liberties intact through the centuries. They were farsighted enough to make a treaty with the Orient to secure trade privileges before the rest of Europe recognized the growing power of the Turk or the value of the Levant trade. They made firm and often powerful friends byPage  122giving the shelter of their strong city to neighbouring rulers in time of war when the tide of battle turned against them, and they prided themselves on giving up no refugee to his enemies, even though they themselves should suffer in his defence !

This chivalrous conduct won the respect and even admiration of their enemies. A sultan of the fourteenth century, Mural II., at the time when Ragusa succoured refugees from Herzegovina, Bosnia, and Albania, flying before his armies, paid the little state, which might so easily thereby have drawn his vengeance on its own head, the tribute of saying, " So hospitable a state can never fall ! "

No doubt the religious character which Ragusa always bore had much to do both with her humanity and culture in days when hospitality and chivalry were religious virtues, and the Church the centre of learning. It is the proud boast of the Ragusans that they abolished the slave trade in the fifteenth century, and that a hospital where the sick were tended by Sisters of Mercy existed in the Middle Ages. There are those who have charged them with siding with the strongest because of their manyPage  123changes of protectorate. Twice they allied themselves with the Byzantine Empire, and twice with the Republic of Venice, whose rulers, however, they always so mistrusted that they gave a little strip of territory on each side of their city to the Turks to act as a buffer state against the powerful Republic. From the fourteenth to the fifteenth century they were under the protection of Hungary, and when that country and all the surrounding lands came under the banner of the Crescent, Ragusa preserved her independence, and was allowed to stand-a little Christian island in the surrounding sea of Mahommedanism-by paying yearly tribute to the Sultan, thanks to her foresight in imitating the policy of the unjust steward, and making to herself friends of " the mammons of unrighteousness." Under Osman's protection her trade with the Levant became so important that Ragusan merchants were to be found in every large Turkish town, and Ragusan ships in every Turkish port.

On the surface, therefore, the charge of "time serving" seems not to be without ground; but to be just to the Republic one must consider her position. A little frontier Page  124State exciting the cupidity of her enemies and even of her professed friends, by her unique position at the end of the long archipelago of the Illyrian Isles and the beginning of the open sea, with no other port all the way to Corfu, as well as by her wealth. Her first duty was to her citizens, and her only chance of preserving their freedom and ancient rights an alliance with a strong power.

As the balance of power shifted, Ragusa had to shift too. When she discovered that her "protector" was plotting against her liberties, as was the case with Venice at least once, she withdrew her allegiance and sought an ally elsewhere.

The advantages she thus gained were not used selfishly, but freely shared with others; during the period of her alliance with Turkey, she formed the most eastward bulwark of Christendom, and was able to afford protection to the Christians in the surrounding Turkish lands.

Not without personal bravery, as well as diplomacy, did Ragusa maintain her independence. The town was invested by the Saracens from Sicily in the ninth century, and suffered Page  125all the horrors of a siege of that time; but the valiant Ragusans held out for fifteen months. They would probably not have yielded as long as a man was left within the walls; but the allied fleets of the Doge and the Byzantine Emperor came to their assistance and drove the foe back to Bari.

In the twelfth century the Ragusans fought bravely for the Greeks against the Venetians; they readily sent their battleships at all times to the assistance of their friends, among whom were the Spaniards; and, it is said, Ragusan ships sailed with the Spanish Armada. If so, this was fully avenged on our side during the Napoleonic wars, for a member of the oldest patrician family of Ragusa, the Baron Ghetaldi, whose ancestor was rector of Ragusa at the time of the great earthquake, has assured me that we coolly took away his forefathers' ships among others during that period, and thereby dealt a blow at Ragusan trade, from which it never recovered.

It is true we had the excuse that the French flag waved over the citadel beside the Ragusan; but that was the misfortune, not the fault, of the poor citizens, who suffered for the sins ofPage  126others in a quarrel not their own. They were, indeed, " between the devil and the deep sea," and had been forced to open these gates to the French general to save their town from destruction. By this they drew on themselves the vengeance of the Russians, to whose help came gladly the then fierce Montenegrins from their mountains, glad of a chance to loot and plunder. Together they burnt the beautiful country houses of the wealthy Ragusan merchants without the walls, and laid waste their pleasant gardens and olive groves. The traces of this wholesale destruction exist to-day in many ruins in the environs of Ragusa, for, alas ! with the shipping went the wealth of the town, her ruined nobles and wealthy citizens could not rebuild their homes. So, often in your walks around Ragusa you see a stately doorway with armorial bearings, leading to a wilderness where broken parapets and fountains, maybe a sundial, show what was once a fair garden; and in this wilderness four roofless walls, more or less hidden by a tangle of flowers and climbing plants, for Dame Nature in this land of prodigal vegetation kindly seeks to hide the sad traces of man's destruction.

Page  127Sit down in some such garden-wilderness, and picture to yourself what Ragusa was in the zenith of her power, when this was the home of one of her merchant princes, whose ships traded to all lands, whose hospitality was a byword ! Picture her busy streets with their forty thousand inhabitants, her harbour filled with shipping, recall her centuries of noble history, and you will not wonder that her patrician families tell you to-day they are Ragusans, not Austrians. You will almost believe what is commonly said, that some of them glory in the fact that they are dying out-too proud to live under foreign rule. Go from these ruins to the little noble churchyard on the lonely promontory of Lapad, where only patricians sleep their last, and every tombstone bears a name famed in Ragusan history. Then say, did not this grand little State deserve a better fate than to be wiped out with a stroke of Napoleon's pen ? Was it not base ingratitude to a city that had suffered in his cause to take away her freedom-extreme arrogance for the usurper to declare that the Republic of Ragusa had ceased to exist ?

I have told you now a little of the Ragusa of the past !-sufficient, I hope, to awaken yourPage  128interest in the Ragusa of the present--that far-away point of Austrian territory which in common with all Dalmatian towns is far more akin to Italy than to its present rulers !

I take it for granted, my reader, that you love beauty and reverence antiquity, that for you old palaces and churches tell again their story of the past; for if such be not the case, it will but weary you to visit Ragusa with me in mind, just as it would bore you to walk its quiet streets and miss the gaiety and bustle of life's great centres if you were actually landed there to-day.

I hope, too, that though you have an interest in art and history, and perhaps a smattering of archaeology, you are not learned in any of them, for if so I fear to be your guide ! I have but a little knowledge and a great interest in all these things ! The world is so wide, its interests so manifold, I hover like the bee from flower to flower, but unlike that industrious insect, find it hard to settle down to extracting all the honey in any one pursuit.

So, with this warning, if you will still come with me, let us pass together under the massive ivy-clad archway of the Porta Pile, one of thePage  [128a]

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Page  [128b]Page  129two entrances to the city; but pause a moment to look up at its frowning bastions and ancient watch-tower. It is all just as it was in the Middle Ages, excepting that the bridge before the portal has replaced the old drawbridge !

Through this gateway passes all day long a stream of life, peasants from the surrounding mountain valleys so picturesquely clad that I must draw your attention more closely to them. When you see a man in a red cap or turban, a gold-embroidered vest and short red jacket, with full blue knickers and Turkish-looking shoes, you will know that this gorgeous individual hails from the Breno valley, and his womenkind are just as delightful, with their gay-hued'kerchiefs quaintly folded round their heads, so that the ends hang down behind, their finely pleated full skirts edged with a gay-coloured border, and worn short to show the white stockings beneath. Their bodices are adorned with ornaments of fine gold filigree. On Sundays, when the ladies have no market baskets to carry, you will find them promenading with fans, after the manner of the Spanish women they are said to resemble.

Page  130The women of the valley of Canale are good to know by their white pleated caps; if you are acquainted with the head-dress of the peasants of the Roman Campagna, the likeness to the latter will strike you at once; but if you can peep under the head-covering of the Canalese, you will find a quaint little round cap, not unlike that of the women of Herzegovina. The latter are the most un-European-looking figures imaginable, with their white veils surmounted by the tiny caps, the latter always adorned on Sundays and ftes with flowers, and the veils fastened by silver pins joined by chains. They have white garments of coarse linen, and curiously woven aprons of many colours. This Oriental-looking garb suits their dark-haired Slavish type. The men of Herzegovina wear the Turkish fez, but are less often seen in the streets of Ragusa than the women.

You cannot hope to master all the intricacies of the various costumes, which differ for married and unmarried women as well as according to the station of the individual, unless you spend months in studying them, and even then when you have learnt to discriminatePage  [130a]

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Page  [130b]Page  131between the more common ones, strangers from the surrounding peoples, from Bosnia, Montenegro, and Albania, will come into Ragusa and puzzle you.

It is best just to revel in the wealth of colour, to feast your eyes upon it as a memory that will be precious when you return to the sombre black-coated throngs of great cities! You might well spend hours at this portal watching the procession of passers-by, among whom the dark figures of the priests, the white robes of the Benedictine monks, and the brown habits of the Franciscan friars are frequent; but I want you to follow me through the winding way within the walls to the Franciscan Monastery with its ancient pharmacy, the third oldest in Europe, dating from A.D. 1307. Many a collector of old pottery has looked with envy at its precious vases, which held the herbs and simples of the monks from earliest times; museums have offered large sums for them, but, to the honour of the Franciscans be it said, they will not let them go. It is remarkable that they survived the great fire following the terrible earthquake of 1667, by which the valuable library and church treasures werePage  132destroyed. The cloisters- are delightful with their octagonal shaped pillars and capitals carved in representations of curious beasts, and do not fail to notice the ancient sarcophagus of the family Gozzi, whose lowly estate of Canosa, with its giant plane trees, you will visit from Ragusa.

On my last visit to the cloisters, dark red roses bloomed in the little garden by the statue of St. Francis, and mingled their breath with that of the orange blossom, which covered the great tree in one corner of the cloisters. Tradition says that the first monastery, which stood outside the walls, was founded by the saint himself, that the monks were driven thence in time of war to one of the neighbouring isles, and finally settled in their present home early in the fourteenth century, where they amassed great treasures. To-day there is little of interest in the interior of the church, imagination must help us to picture how it looked when the high altar was of silver, adorned with many statues of that precious metal, and priceless pictures hung upon the walls. It is only one of many places in which we are reminded that the glory of Ragusa is departed.

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Page  133Perhaps you will hardly believe this as you stand at one end of the Stradone-at once the Corso and High Street of Ragusa-it looks so bright and gay with its picturesquely clad populace; its goldsmiths' and silversmiths' shops, where are fashioned the filigree ornaments, often very beautiful and costly, which the peasants wear, the rich display of Oriental wares, carpets and embroideries hung outside the shops of Albanese and Herzegovina merchants-the wide, clean, attractive street does not suggest a city whose life is past, for this is the newest of the streets of Ragusa, rebuilt after the great earthquake of 1667, in which no less than four thousand persons perished, among them so many nobles of Ragusa's " Golden Book," that afterwards burghers had to be admitted to the Government. You must go to the side streets to look for palaces, that are palaces no more, with balconies overhanging the narrow streets whence ladies fluttered handkerchiefs or rained flowers on their favoured knights, in olden days, bidding them "God speed " when they went forth to battle or "welcome" on their return from the fray.

In the Middle Ages a canal of sea water ranPage  134where we stand to-day, cutting the city in two, and isolating the castle on an island for purpose of defence--later this was filled up, and the nobles and wealthy burghers who survived the earthquake rebuilt their homes on either side of the Stradone and made it the pleasant place it is to-day.

The most interesting building in the Corso is the Dogana, which played a great part in the life of the Republic, for it was not only the custom house, as it still is, but also the ancient mint; in the upper rooms the nobles of Ragusa met for social gatherings, and two distinguished literary societies assembled, whose fame has gone far beyond Dalmatia, that of the Concordi, which concerned itself principally with Italian literature and the Academy of the Oziosi, which founded the Slav theatre, of which Guinio Palmotta (Palmotic in the Slav language)

"Here must often have been seen the mathematicians Ghetaldi and Boscovich, whose European reputation reflected such honour on their country, Elio Lampridio, Cerva, the poet laureate, Archbishop Beccatello, the correspondent of our English Cardinal Pole and thePage  [134a]
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Page  [134b]Page  135friend of Michelangelo Buonarroti, who addressed to him a sonnet and the other illustrious Ragusans who earned for their little republic the title of the Dalmatian Athens."*

Not alone though for its memories is the Dogana of interest, but also for the beauty of the building, with its charming loggia and Venetian Gothic windows, which, though of many periods, makes a delightful whole.

It faces the piazza, which is the heart of Ragusa's life to-day, just as it was when the banner of the Republic still waved from its flagstaffand the bell in the Campanile summoned the citizens to the palace of the Rector. Here the townspeople and country-folk entering the city through the Porta Ploce, beneath the clock-tower which overshadows the Dogana, come together to gossip and bargain, and some, it seems, judging by the picturesque reposeful figures on the stone steps, to idle away the sunny hours.

The clock-tower, alas ! is doomed ; it may be it exists no more, for the edict for its destruction had gone forth when I left Ragusa * onPage  136account of its leaning from the perpendicular, the result of an earthquake shock some years ago. The Austrian Government, taking warning from the fall of the Campanile in Venice, decided that it was a menace to public safety; but intended to rebuild it with the old stones as before; for without the "Torre d'Orologio," where the quaint bronze figures used to strike the hours, Ragusa would not be herself.

Hard by the clock-tower is a lovely fountain of Onofrio de la Cava, where the women of Ragusa come to fill their drinking vessels, and pigeons flutter round just as they do in the great piazza before St. Mark's at Venice; and still a little further is the jewel among Ragusa's buildings--her crowning architectural glory, the Rector's palace.

Those are to be envied who come here without knowing what awaits them; so that this lovely poem in stone bursts unexpectedly upon their vision, startling them into sudden realization of the manner of men who dwelt there and raised this glorious pile to be the centre-stone of their civic life. The building has had many vicissitudes since the castle which once stood here was removed to make way for the firstPage  [136a]

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Page  [136b]Page  137palace in 1388. This, however, was destroyed by fire shortly afterwards, for which the Ragusans had to thank their own folly in the proximity of a powder magazine which exploded; but they rose to the occasion, and determined to rebuild it with greater magnificence. Onofrio, the Neapolitan, was the architect to whom the task was entrusted, and some of his work remains (how much is a point on which authorities differ) ; but the second palace shared the fate of the first, and fell a victim to the flames. For the rebuilding this time, an architect was taken whose tastes inclined not to the Gothic, like Onofrio's, but to the Renaissance, none other but Michelozzo, the pupil of Donatello, and designer of the Palazzo Riccardi at Florence; but he was assisted by a Dalmatian, Giorgio Orsini, who is said to have finished the work alone. Without going too deeply into the question of which portions of the building belong to 1435 or which to the later period, it is interesting to notice that the famous sculapius capital, one of seven in the Loggia, is described by a fifteenth-century writer, De Diversis, who had been an eye-witness of the first fire, and so is undoubtedly Onofrio's work. The columnsPage  138on which the capitals rest, he says, were brought by sea from Curzola, and the figures of sculapius were carved upon one of them at the suggestion of Nicolo de Laziri the poet, because the patron of the healing art was a native of Ragusa. An epitaph to him was also carved upon the wall.

Most authorities agree that four of the capitals, including the Esculapius one, are of Onofrio's work, and the other three later and inferior.

It is marvellous that the great earthquake of April 6, 1667, which destroyed the Duomo of that time and buried five thousand citizens in the ruins did not cause more damage to the palace, and that so much of the early work has survived fire and earthquake. The doorway leading from the loggia to the interior, for instance, with its exquisite carvings, is said to be Onofrio's, and the walls of the loggia, if not the whole portico, as well as the lovely Venetian Gothic windows; though it is said they were loosened by the shock, and the stones taken out and reset. Perhaps the most ancient piece of work in the whole palace is the Byzantine knocker on one of the great doors in the form of a lion's head, of which no one seems to know the date.

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Page  [138b]Page  139But, after all, to the unlearned it is not the details of a building that impress, but the whole !

I cannot bring before you the beauty of the Rector's palace by telling you of dates, nor of architectural periods.

I want you rather to imagine you are standing with me before a building that recalls just a little, on a smaller scale, the Palace of the Doge at Venice-a building that in its noble proportions expresses the dignity of the noble Republic that gave it birth. That you see the sunshine gilding its carven stone, throwing into strong relief the perfect symmetry of its gleaming pillars against the dark shadow of the arches. Nay ! Carry your imagination yet a little further if you can, till you see the marble benches occupied by the Rector, and the Great Council in their magnificent robes of office, and the piazza before the palace thronged with a great multitude-a glowing mass of colour in the southern sun. Then you will divine, perhaps, far off and dimly, something of the poetry and romance that clings around the Rector's palace.

Alas, that Richard Cceur de Lion's Duomo,Page  140with its rich mosaics, priceless carvings, reredos, and figures of the Virgin of solid silver, perished in the earthquake of 1667.

According to the old chroniclers, it must have been the most magnificent building of its period in Dalmatia. Something of its outward form we know from the little model of Ragusa in the hand of the statue of St. Biagio, the patron saint of the city, whose skull is preserved in a marvellous inlaid casket in the treasury, of which I will tell you more when we come thither, for it is quite unique.

St. Biagio, sometimes called St. Blaise, an Asiatic bishop, replaced St. Sergius as protector of the city in the tenth century owing to the following incident.

A pilgrim had come to Ragusa from Armenia bearing with him the saint's head; there the bishop appeared to him in a dream, telling him to warn the inhabitants of an impending attack by the Venetians; the Ragusans who, through the timely warning, were able to save their city, in gratitude appointed St. Biagio their patron, and have rendered him great honour ever since.

The present cathedral was built in the seventeenth century. Its most striking feature is aPage  141fine cupola, which adds beauty to the town from afar, and though some authorities have said it is architecturally worthless, as a comparatively modern building, it is, at least, pleasing to the eye of the uninitiated. Over the high altar is a picture of the Ascension, attributed to Titian, and a Madonna is shown as Rafael's, but may be a copy. Here, too, is an Ecce Homo of Andrea del Sarto, and an interesting early Flemish triptych in the style of Memling, which accompanied the Ragusan ambassadors (who alone had the privilege of hearing Mass in Turkey) on their journeys in the Orient.

The bishop's throne, too, is worth noticing, for it was once the Rector's, and was brought from the palace; and there is a Byzantine lectern bearing the eagle of the eastern Roman Empire.

To see the famous treasury, permission has to be obtained beforehand, but it is now fortunately easily accorded on certain days; far different was it formerly when you had to gaze through iron bars at the treasures in their niches afar off. But even to-day opening the treasury is not without ceremony; no less than three keys are necessary to unlock the ponderousPage  142iron door which closes the treasure chamber. One is in the keeping of the bishop, one of the Commune, and one of the treasurers of the church, and their representatives have to be present. The different relics in their jewelled caskets are shown one by one by a priest who stands behind a dividing bar like an altar rail; he kindly allowed us to handle them, and most carefully explained something of the history and value of each one.

I have told you already of the enamelled casket containing the skull of St. Biagio, long said to be made out of the Byzantine imperial crown of the twelfth century and priceless in value; but this theory has been dissipated by Mr. Jackson, who had opportunities for studying it closely, and discovered when drawing from its designs that some little lines of twisted gold which look at first sight like a part of the pattern are in reality the date 1694.

From this he argues that in its present form it is only a little over two hundred years old, but that the Byzantine work upon it is part of an older casket of the date usually attributed to it ! Others since Mr. Jackson's discovery have thought that 1694 may be the date at which itPage  143was repaired after being damaged by the earthquake which buried all the church treasures in the ruins ! But whatever be its age and history, the casket is of exquisite workmanship, lovely alike in colouring and design.

Besides the skull of St. Biagio, his hand and foot are here preserved, the first enclosed in a hollow hand of gold of more than life size, worked with enamel and set with precious stones, the second in a covering of gold filigree. Another curiosity of the Ragusan treasury is a silver ewer and basin ornaniented with sea creatures and plants which are found in the neighbourhood of Ragusa; so marvellously life-like that the creeping things almost seem to move as you watch them. The story is that this remarkable set was intended for a gift to the Hungarian king Mathias Corvinus from the Republic, and was so curiously ornamented to represent the maritime town, but the king died before the arrival of the ambassadors, and they therefore brought back the basin and ewer to Ragusa. This account is hardly borne out by the workmanship of the pieces; however, experts differ, some saying they are Ragusan work of the fifteenth century, and others thatPage  144the mark they bear is that of a Nuremberg silversmith who lived two centuries later.

These are but the most notable of the church treasures. I was shown so many in so short a time that bewilderment was the result. The leg and arm cases of silver are very numerous, and once a year they are all carried in procession round the town. If Ragusa had nothing of interest beside her famous treasury, art lovers would still count it worth the long journey to see.

When your brain is weary from overmuch sightseeing, I know no place so restful to turn into as the cloisters of some old monastery. So from the treasury, I went for refreshment to the Dominican cloisters, and thither I want to take you now. With the cloisters in the Franciscan monastery I have already made you acquainted, and I know not which I prefer. The Dominican cloisters have a Venetian well, and a tracery above the arches is in the style of the Venetian Gothic. On one side is a little balcony, on which occasionally a white-robed monk appears, while others come now and then for water to the well-the sunshine throwing into strong relief their white draperies againstPage  [144a]

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Page  [144b]Page  145the dark green foliage of the orange trees which grow in the court. The old grey walls shut out all the noises of the town beyond them, though this is one of its busiest quarters by the Porta Ploce, and the silence is only broken by the buzzing of bees amongst the flowers and the chime of the convent bells.

When you have rested sufficiently in this retreat, you must visit the church, which has suffered from restoration as well as from fire and earthquake, if only to see the paintings of Ragusa's greatest artist, Nicolo Ragusano, who lived in the first half of the fifteenth century, and whose work you will meet elsewhere in Ragusa. On the left of the high altar is St. Blasius holding the model of Ragusa in his hand, with the Virgin and Child, St. Paul, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Augustine. In the other painting of Nicolo, St. Nicolas-his own special patron and that of the Slavs-is represented with other saints. All the faces in these paintings are most expressive-the style that of the Italian School some fifty years before Nicolo's time, which shows that the arts in Dalmatia did not keep pace with the opposite shores of the Adriatic.

Page  146The Dominican monks' greatest treasure is a veritable Titian, in which the Magdalen is represented with St. Biagio; it was the gift of a certain Count Pozza, who is shown kneeling in one corner, and evidently painted specially for this church.

Before leaving you must notice the great Byzantine crucifix before the altar, which was placed there during the awful plague of 1348 to stay its ravages.

In the sacristy sleep many patricians and famous men of Ragusa beneath the ancient pavement, which is composed of well-worn grave-stones, and here is another painting of Nicolo Ragusano's over the altar. The Dominicans have always been famed for their learning, and were the proud possessors of the first printing press in Dalmatia. Their library is still famous, though it has suffered by fire, for its hand-illuminated manuscripts and old Slavish works. But they could fight as well as work, and were in the days of the Republic entrusted with the defence of Porta Ploce, as the Franciscans with that of Porta Pile, and every noble with that of his own particular tower in the city walls.

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Page  [146b]Page  147You must make the circuit of the city upon those walls to realize how well-nigh impregnable were those ancient fortifications before the days of modern armaments, and the danger to which this far outpost of Western civilization was exposed to make them necessary. To stand upon the walls by moonlight looking over the sleeping city and to see the dark towers guarding its repose, is to imagine that the armies of Mahomet may be now creeping up to them, and almost to listen for the watchman's alarm and the call to arms ! Then you turn your eyes seawards to the wooded isle of Lacroma, dark against the shining water, and imagination carries you yet further back into the centuries! The sea is no more shining-but dark with storm-the sounds of waves thundering on the rocks is in your ears, and in the midst you see a ship, helpless in the trough of the sea, carried ever nearer and nearer to destruction on the cruel rocks--the forms of men are clinging to the masts, they have come from the Holy Land, where they vanquished the Turk, only to be in turn vanquished by the sea, and one of them is the lion-hearted king of England ! There is a crash and the cry of strong men in despair, andPage  148then no ship, but only a dark hulk and floating spars and human forms battling with the waves, some of which sink beneath while others reach the shore!

You have seen the shipwreck of the vessel which carried our King Richard and his soldiers of the Cross, and one of those who reached the shore was a monarch, who afterwards built the monastery on Lacroma and the first cathedral of Ragusa in token of gratitude for his deliverance.

But now the vision fades-the sea is smooth again, the moon shines in a cloudless sky, and you go home to rest, and dream perhaps again of Ragusa's stirring past.