Open main menu

Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 130.djvu/445

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

the fountain, all recall various Italian cities one has seen.

Its position on the Adriatic, surrounded by olive-clad hills, suggests Amalfi; its terraces of red-roofed houses are like Pistoja; while the architectural features of the principal buildings betray the influence of Venice. But, like her sisters across the Adriatic, Ragusa is only the shadow of her former self. Looking at her deserted palaces and grass-grown streets, one can hardly persuade oneself that her merchantmen once carried "argosies" to the farthest parts of the civilized world, and that her citizens were (next to the Venetians) the most arrogant race in Europe.

The hereditary aristocracy still retain exaggerated ideas of their rank; but their means are extremely small, and by intermarrying among themselves they have degenerated mentally and physically.

Ragusa, in the days of her prosperity, thoroughly understood the advantages to be reaped by maintaining communication with the inland provinces of Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Servia, and thereby developed her commerce, and infused new Slav blood into her population. Now, however, Austria possesses only the narrow seaboard, and does not attempt any intercourse with the interior, so that Dalmatia is, as the Slavs themselves say, "like a face without a head." Bravely did Ragusa withstand the incursions of Venetian, Turk, and Slav; asserting her independence until nature itself conspired against her, and by the great earthquake of 1667 absolutely destroyed her pre-eminence and power. It is curious to note that, in spite of this catastrophe, the inhabitants should have rebuilt their houses on the very site of the disaster, instead of moving a mile away to the shores of the Bay of Gravosa, which is now the principal port.

The duomo, custom-house, and palazzo, are the only remains of the old city; and truly one can say that Ragusa has gone to sleep. Her lethargy is disturbed just now, however, by the fighting which is carried on so close to her, and by the extra call made on her resources by the refugees and wounded combatants, who seek shelter across the frontier. The Austrian government has given them the lazzaretto to herd in, and nothing could be imagined sadder than the spectacle the place presents. Creatures scarcely human in aspect crawl about on the barren, rocky ground in front of the long, low building. They are half-clothed, and scarcely bear the semblance of humanity; wretched-looking women, crouching down, mending the only rags they have to cover them, whilst little naked children appeal vainly to them for food. Old men, dazed and stunned by misery, look on listlessly, as if indifferent to what fate holds in store for them. Six thousand Herzegovinian refugees are here now. The government has done its best to help them, but the emergency is greater than its powers. An allowance of ten farthings a day has been made per head, but in consequence of the strain put upon the resources of the town, the price of all the necessaries of life has doubled; and how, under such circumstances, can ten farthings suffice to keep body and soul together?

Not only are there the refugees to think of, but whenever an engagement occurs between Ragusa and Trebinje, and the wounded have to be brought here (it may be in considerable numbers), they must be accommodated and nursed somehow. In sooth, Ragusa has enough to occupy her, and to stir her to the very heart. One of the best apartments has been taken and fitted up as a temporary hospital, and one would have thought it a haven of refuge for these poor creatures after their privations on the hills. But as well ask a caged eagle to be happy, as one of these wild Herzegovinians to submit to the tedium and restraint of a sick-room. As soon as it is possible for them to move, they invariably beg kind Baroness Lichtenberg to allow them to go back to their homes at Cattaro and elsewhere; they will listen to no persuasion, and many must perish on the road. Next to this are some of the dens where the sick among the poorer classes are housed. These consist of one dark, dank room without a window, where, on the stone floor, we saw huddled up in their brown blankets the forms of the wretched invalids. We then scrambled up, through groups of women and girls, who came to gaze on us as a sort of curiosity, to the main building. What we saw there would tax a far more eloquent pen than mine to describe. I should think there were about a hundred and fifty people, living, eating, sleeping, and dying, side by side. The atmosphere was so thick and close that we had to stand for several minutes before we could either see or breathe, and then by degrees weird and ghastly figures became visible; the most conspicuous being the women, who rushed towards us, gesticulating, and pointing to holes in the