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Austria: Her people and their Homelands
by James Baker and Illustriations by Donald Maxwell (1913)

CHAPTER XVI

TRIEST AND ISTRIA

AUSTRIA is pre-eminently the land of dramatic surprises, and, after all the beauties of Carniola and the mysteries of Adelsberg, we cross, in descending to the Adriatic coast, that most barren yet ruggedly beautiful district of the Karst mountains.

It is an enlarged Dartmoor, with a wholly different scheme of colour. Here the rock is of light grey, with rich deep purple heather, and the rushing streams are of that wonderful turquoise blue I know of in no other district. It is said that all this barren rocky waste was richly afforested in Roman days, and that the Romans destroyed the forests to build their galleys. But Austria's schemes for education and agriculture and forestry are again making this wild lime stone region of bare rock, fresh and green with foliage, and the spines of larch and pine. One passes miles of young trees making good headway, and soon this district that for 2000 years has been a desolate waste, will be a profit-yielding forest-land.

We soon come to Opæina, which has quite lately been made a health-resort suburb of Triest. A mountain resort with the pure air of the altitude of 18 to 1500 feet, including sea bathing ! An impossibility it sounds, but a lift connects Opæina with the sea level of Triest, so that one can live up here amidst pines, and [142] rocks, and heather, and descend for a morning's sea plunge to the level of palms and roses. The look-out over the Adriatic, lying soft and blue in the sunlight along the indented shore, will charm the traveller, who gets thus his first glimpse of Adria's sea; and landward the view is very varied, with the grey scarps of the Earst leading up to the nearly bare uplands; but the villages on the lower slopes are in rich vegetation of vines, and chestnuts, and pasturage. There are good hotels, and pensions, and bathing establishments on this height, some linked with the sea-baths at the foot of the mountains. The ordinary rail takes a long time to get down to Triest, as it dives into tunnels, and winds and twists down the mountain side, giving glimpses of the sea, and the town of Triest and its harbour spread far below.

Trieste - Twilight

The city of Triest has a very modern appearance, and at first sight there seems to be little to detain the traveller, but the monuments that are left are of great interest, and excursions may be made by water to points of great beauty. I first entered Triest by water on returning from Greece in 1886, by the Florio Rubatino line of steamers, and as we entered the harbour the low sloping, green lands and ridges of the hills in the distance, and dotted houses, told of more cultivation than on the Grecian hills. The town itself was all varied with green from the open tree-shaded spaces, and, as it was in the spring, the chestnuts and Judas trees were in flower.

To-day the fine buildings at the quay of the Austrian Lloyd's palatial offices, and opposite the palace of Prince Hohenlohe, the Stadtholder of the province of Triest, with the town hall, enclose a [143] handsome square, the harbour and busy shipping forming the front. The peculiarity of the clocks always striking the hour twice, had worried me, because one could get no satisfactory explanation of these redundant strikings, but Prince Hohenlohe, upon my putting the question to him, said it was because so often people did not hear the first striking; but another reason given was that the clock of St Mark's strikes twice, and Triest likes to copy Venetian customs.

The Grand Canal, Trieste

There are scenes in Triest, on the canal, that vividly recall Venice, with her narrow waters, her rich-toned sails, and public buildings. But Venice has not the hills to climb that Triest can give you, neither has it the terrific Bora that sweeps down off the Karst mountains, that seem to shelter the city, and tears great ships from their moorings, and will even lift people bodily and hurl them into the harbour. The city has nearly doubled its population during these last twenty years, and now numbers considerably over 200,000 inhabitants, largely an Italian-speaking people.

Triest and its district has a population of Italians, and Slovaks, with a small proportion of Germans, and a sprinkling of Servian or Croats and Slavs, but Italian is the language mostly used, although German is understood in all the public offices and large business premises.

There are winding routes for carriages through streets and piazzas named after famous writers, such as Silvia Pellico, Goldoni, that lead up to the upper old town and the castle and cathedral, but for the pedestrian the most interesting way is to climb by [144] "The Steps of the Giants," that give occasion for frequent halts to look down on the city below and study the people who clamber up and down these steps, but it is a hot climb on a warm day.

Arrived at the summit, from the embattled platform near the cathedral, a great view repays the climber. Far over the brown-roofed houses of the whole city, with the dark smoke rising from the shipbuilding yards, out to the Mole and lighthouse, and far out to the open Mediterranean beyond. The bay is sheltered from the east and north by the dark hills and jutting headlands. Then when one has drunk in the view one can turn aside and enter the cathedral, some parts of which have stood since the days of Rome's dominance. In the tower, at the entrance, may be seen a pillar of the Roman Temple that stood upon this site; and in the Lapidarium, a tree-shaded space with a museum near by, some most beautiful relics of Roman sculpture and architecture, and also a fine monument to Winckelmann, who was killed here in 1768. The interior of the cathedral is at first a great puzzle to the archaeologist. It is really two early churches of the fifth and sixth centuries, linked by a fourteenth-century nave. The inlaid marbles and mosaics are of exceptional value. The cathedral is dedicated to St Giusto, our St Just, and the frescoes illustrating his life are remarkable. The church is unfortunately very dark, and it requires good eyesight to be able to examine the really interesting details of this strange and impressive building.

To obtain even a wider view of the landscape around, if permission is obtained, the castle height can be climbed, and the grey ridges of the Earst mountains [145] can be seen, as well as the distant Alps. It is hoped in Triest that even the dreaded Bora will be tamed, as the afforestation of the Earst goes on; and certainly the fresh vigour of the young trees we saw in some of the rocky districts promised thorough success to this bold movement, that should be a tremendous lesson to some British, or especially Irish, grumblers at home difficulties of cultivation, because of indifferent soil.

Triest, like Pilsen, is noted for its beer, for here is located the great brewery of Dreher, producing yearly something like a million and a half hectolitres of the well-known light beer.

It is a most interesting study to stroll along the harbour and quays of Triest, and watch the arrival of the Ocean liners, or still more, the small local steamers from the near ports and islands of the Adriatic; and numerous are the excursions one can arrange. In the town there are pleasant walks in the Giardino Publico, where the band plays, and the people are in light-hearted crowds, all orderly, but jovial. One sees but little quaint costume; now and then a grey-coloured head-dress, but most of the girls are bareheaded. Another popular place is the Boschetto, a lovely wooded hill with oaks, ash, and many trees, with shady little paths and water-courses, and peeps down to the city below and the hills beyond. Here, in the groves in spring, one can hear the music and laughter of the crowds, and in the retired paths the song of the nightingales.

Of the numerous excursions near Triest the one that all take is to Miramar that lies just across the bay. The pleasant way to reach this is by boat; one can get [146] there by rail or tramway, but the approach to this stately chateau and its beautiful gardens by water is by far the most impressive. On landing at the marble steps we ascend into the beautiful gardens, with their bowers and seats in shady avenues looking out on to glorious flowers. Perhaps between tall dark cypress trees, on the blue waters of the bay there floats a tiny boat with deep orange sails, under the paler blue of the sky. All is beauty, colour, and soft, contented peace; and then one looks away to the white marble palace, and remembers that it was the home of Maximilian and his wife—he, executed in Mexico, and she lingering on in Laachen as a demented widow. The rooms within the castle are very lovely and hold many art treasures; but their greatest beauty is the superb views from the windows upon the beauteous bay, and the charm of landscape around it. A day that gives very much to remember is one spent in a trip to Capo d'Istria. A call at the offices of the Austrian Lloyd's will secure much useful information upon the possibilities of short or long tours on the Adriatic, and also interesting local booklets that give valuable notes.

Capo d'Istria can be reached in various ways; its name implies it is a headland of Istria, formerly an island, and as one sails around the great point the whole bay opens out, and soon a great building, that we were told was the Carceria, is seen.

The little town is very quiet now, but on entering the Piazza one halts almost with a shock of surprise. Here is a miniature Venice. The Campanile, the lion of St Mark, and farther on the great cathedral, and the Palazzo communale, with its Venetian windows, [147] and estrade for public announcements. A veritable bit of Venice.

Once when visiting here, Il Brolo, the three old churches and a monastery, with the rich old cloisters had been utilised for an Istrian exhibition, and some remarkable historic pictures and relics of the province had been collected. Among their special art treasures were Carpaccio's Virgin and Child, and a rich collection of Pyxs and Chalices. In one of the churches a Gewerbeschule (Trade-school) has been established.

The whole little town is full of rich corners and quaint bits, and many of the houses of the former patrician families still speak of their former state. But Istria must not too long detain us, although in our tour down the Dalmatian coast we shall halt at a couple of points at the extreme south of the Istrian promontory. [148]


CHAPTER XVII

DOWN THE ISTRIAN COAST TO DALMATIA, TO SEBENICO

THE fleet of Austrian Lloyd steamers that make the tour of the Dalmatian coast are varied; some fine vessels of big tonnage with every possible comfort, others smaller, suitable for calling in at the smaller ports, with not such luxurious accommodation, but with all reasonable comforts, and it is on these steamers that one sees more of the real life of the people, and there is a marvellous deal of pleasurable, exciting, and deeply interesting life, antiquity, and beauty to be seen on this journey.

Leaving Triest, we recede from the city and glide out over the wondrous-hued sea; as we look back a deep cloud hangs over the town, proving how much of work there is in the capital of Istria, the great seaport of Austria; but we soon lose sight of the smoke, and see only the white and richly coloured sailed boats, and the Medusae in the clear blue waters, and the beautiful outline of the distant hills. We are sailing into one of the most romantic lands left to modern life, over a sea that is full of beauty, but that can show its passion, especially in the northern part, known as the Quamero and Quarnerolo, the two sections forming the beautiful gulf that we shall traverse on our return route for Abbazia.

Rovigno, Istria

[149] At first, after leaving the Gulf of Triest, we sail down the Gulf of Venice, noting the strange deep red hue of the earth on this coast, getting a view of Mount Maggiore, near Abbazia, and a glimpse of Venice. But we soon bear eastward and begin to see the islands and towns on the Istrian coast that are so full of antique lore and remains, and whose people offer so many traits in speech and in customs to interest the linguist and the ethnologist. Rovigno is one of these towns that well repays a halt. Here, again, is Venetian influence dominant in the architecture of the cathedral, the campanile of which rises high above the city dwellings. Sailing onwards we soon reach the small isle of Brioni, a lovely little spot with most charming walks—groves of arbutus and laurels that are filled with nightingales, or of palms and magnolias, scenting the air with their flowers. The sweet scent of the flowers and the hay makes one feel we are back in idyllic days, alone amidst nature, and then we light upon excavations, with rich Roman remains, villas, and temples, and we hear that Pliny wrote of this island, and that in later mediaeval times it was well known. Then suddenly, after a lovely, silent walk amidst pastoral scenes, we come back to the harbour to see a fine hotel with a Kursaal, and all the amenities of life of to-day. On one evening we spent here we looked out over a roseate silver sea, with the little boats with their rich-hued, ruddy orange sails, standing out against the setting sun, whilst eastward were the silver ripplets from the moon that was arising over the silent wooded islet; all seemed to speak [150] of absolute peace and beauty; but farther away rose up on the sea the dark black mass of an ironclad, and lights sprang up in the distance of a town; it was Pola, the great naval seaport of Austria.

The first visit to Pola gives one almost a shock as we steam in between the silent and wooded islets. Suddenly we meet three or four torpedo boats, then an ironclad. White-sailed yachts are dotted here and there; The surprise of an Austrian who had never seen an ironclad, was intense at this sight. " Dass ist kein Kriegsschiff " (that is no warship), he muttered repeatedly, sotto voce. " What do you think it is ? " I asked. " I don't know, but it is no ship." He could not believe such a dingy, dark-coloured wall of iron could be a ship, and as one of them lay against the rocky islets it did look like part rock, or too solid to float. But it is not the Austrian navy that draws the traveller to Pola, although the Marine Museum, with historic relics of Lepanto, and other episodes in Austrian history, is worthy of a visit. But the one thing that all go to linger over is the great arena standing on the rocky hillside, in lonely grandeur, where once 20,000 spectators looked on at the games in Roman days. The interior of the arena is a good deal filled in by debris of past ages, but the outer walls are in good condition, and some excavation has been done. Pola reminds one frequently of the Isle of Wight by its modern life; and then in its churches one is pleasantly thrown back into mediaeval days; and then again by such monuments as the Temple of Augustus with its relics and the handsome Sergius triumphal arch, we are [151] back once more in the midst of Rome's imperial days.

Pola

There are excellent hotels in Pola, and delightful music. Travellers, especially those with good introductions, can spend a most enjoyable time here; in the near vicinity are crowds of places where the historian and antiquary can revel in the past life of the district, and modern sport is not neglected. As all the boats call in at Pola, and it is also linked with the rail, it makes an excellent halting-spot for exploring the promontory of Istria.

But we are now on the borders of Dalmatia, that country into which Titus went. A learned canon once travelled thither to find out why Titus took this journey; he came back deeply impressed with the country and its beauties, but never solved the Titus problem.

As we sail on southward we pass the two islands of Lussino, the sea in the evening being tinted with opal and gold, and in the far distance the grey islands and white towns stand up against the varied outlines of the Velebit mountains. Here the Austrian hills begin to assume that strange, soft grey elusiveness in certain lights that is so characteristic of Greek scenery, whereas at other times cloud-covered, they are stern, rugged, and hard in outline. After having passed the open gulf of Quarnero there is rarely any sea to affect unpleasantly the weakest passenger.

Velibite Islands

The myriad islands and islets break all force to influence a good-sized ship, and the beauty and interest is continuous. The only thing is, one wants to remain on deck all night, the afterglow and mysterious [152] weirdness of the gloaming is so enticing, and then very frequently one feels compelled to be up before sunrise to see some famous spot.

I once entered Zara at 8 a.m. and went ashore in the darkness, just as the first faint gleams of dawn gave glimpses of towers and buildings. It was one of the most impressive walks I have ever taken. All was so silent. I met no one, but I passed through narrow streets and under archways, and suddenly came into the square before the cathedral. The grey gloaming was increasing. I could trace the Romanesque arches, and the tall towers, and all seemed to breathe of the dead past in the darkness and silence, the life of the centuries seemed present. Far, far back, even to a thousand years b.c., legend says Zara was an important town, and the Romans have left many a monument here, and on through the troublous ages Zara has always been of importance. The curiously varied races that have fought for and occupied Dalmatia we shall have space to refer to in more detail when sailing up the Bocche de Cattare As I wandered on in the increasing light I came to another open space, and here rose a tall Corinthian column, certainly of Roman origin; a stray passer-by told me I was in the Piazza de l'Erbe, and snowed me that the ancient column used to be a pillory, for there were still the irons hanging by a chain. At its summit was a strange beast, said to be the lion of St Mark. As I was standing before this column the light seemed suddenly to increase, there passed over the square a curious cold shiver, it was the shiver of the dawn heralding another day that was breaking. I [153] passed on in my walk round through narrow streets, past churches that promised much of interest» again through that archway that I learnt was the Porta Marina. Now I could see the Lion of Venice upon it, and the inscription that tells of the battle of Lepanto.

That there are many interests aroused in Zara was evident even in this walk in the dawning light; and afterwards I was able to see the beauty of the work that has been left, and the remains that have been collected in the museum of St Donato, formerly a church built of fragments of Roman work, with narrow Romanesque arches. This church has gone through all kinds of vicissitudes, having been a military magazine and a wine-cellar, but now the building is rescued for an honourable purpose, and the collection within its walls is of great historical value. The learned Monseignor Bulic, of whom we shall hear more at Spalato, suggests that here, or near here, was built a temple to Livia, the spouse of the Emperor Augustus, and part of this temple was used in the ninth century to build this church.

In the cathedral is a vast deal to detain the traveller — architecture, wood-carving, and rich metal shrines for relics. In the church of St Simeon the minutely worked and richly decorated sarcophagus with the bones of Simeon is said to have been brought here from Jerusalem in 1290. St Simeon is the patron Saint of Zara, and on October 8th his feast is kept up, an excellent opportunity to see the population of Zara and the surrounding country,

To show that Zara is by no means to-day given wholly up to antiquity, we once met a party of [154] British tourists, who, at the short halt o! the steamers, entered the town solely to find the Maraschino factory, for which the place has a great renown. As a fact, there are several factories that make this liquor from the fruit and leaves of the local cherry or small plum that here has a peculiar flavour which will not survive the transplantation of the trees. All around Zara are spots of historic charm, and perhaps one of the best routes whereby to explore the interior of Dalmatia and the hill district is to take the route to Benkovac, and on to Kistanje, and then on to Knin. Vineyards and wild barren lands are passed, and there is plenty of work for geologist and historian, and for the lover of picturesque peasantry. Of course the best hotels must not be expected in this district, but the strangeness and freshness of the experience well repays all trouble and inconvenience, and between the towns Kistanje and Knin, is the Roman Arch that tells of a town referred to by Pliny as a fortress, that became a most important commercial town of the Romans in the fourth century, where many gold and silver coins, inscriptions, and fibulae, rings, weapons, statues, etc., have been found.

In the picturesque town of Knin, that lies on the river Krka at the foot of a precipitous crowned rocky hill, there is a good hotel and an interesting house industry of the peasants, and, above all, a museum with finds of the Neolithic and bronze ages, and a remarkable collection of Croatic antiquities, Byzantine coins, and finds of women's ornaments, that are partly like those found in Bosnia, and others as those discovered amongst the Cechs and Wends.

From Knin excursions may be made into the waterfall [155] district of the Erka. The Velebit mountains that lie to the north rise to a height of 6000 feet, as do the Dinaric Alps that he to the north and east. The costume, dances, and folklore of the peasantry is full of matter for the student and artist. [156]

Source:

  • James Baker, Austria: Her people and their Homelands, Illustrations by Donald Maxwell, John Lane, London, The Bodley Head, New York and John Lane Co., Toronto, Bell & Chockburn (1913), Chapters XVI and XVII, pp. 140-159.

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