Imago Dalmatiae. Itinerari di viaggio dal Medioevo al Novecento

Sette Castelli

“DRIVE ALONG THE RIVIERA OF THE SEVEN CASTLES. Our light open carriage, drawn by two fast horses, skims over a broad white road. The driver, a Dalmatian of the coast, speaks good Italian and cocks his red cap saucily, like Tommy Atkins, over his left ear. Peasants, bound for far-off fields, touch their hats as we pass and call out dobar dan! It is my birthday and we are out for a holiday.

To the left, mirrored in still waters, sleeps “la Piccola Venezia”, on an island just large enough to hold her. Her flat-stone roofs, painted dazzling white belie the geniel warmth of the autumn sun and would make us believe that new snow had fallen. We bowl merrily along, till we come to a cross-roads and notice a group of wrestlers, life-size - a bas-relief set in the wall of the peasant’s house. And now every wayside cottage displays some antique stone built into its simple front - one a bit of moulding, anothera granite shaft, and another a little Venus crowded among rough stones” (pp. 84-85).

“Soon Succurac comes into sight - the first of the seven castles, linked hand in hand along the sea, each sheltering its vassal town, first from the barbarian, later from the rapacious Turk. Our road, bordered by luxuriant foliage, now rises and falls on the slopes of hills. Wild rose-bushes and mulberries, hedges of myrtle and pomegranate laden with vermilion fruits, oleanders and clumps of dark cypresses, fields of feathery flax and smilax, of gorgeous tomatoes and autumnal peas strerch out on either hand, and everywhere the vines catch with their slender tendrils the drooping olive branches, marrying tree to tree.

It is time of the vintage. In every vineyard mountains of luscious grapes, purple as an emperor’s coat, are piled around a winepress, where men bare-legged in the vats squeeze put rich juices. Groups of donkeys and long-haired ponies patiently await their loads of goat-skins, filled to bursting with new-made wine. On the roads carts stand waiting, each with its huge cask gaping to be filled. In them the skins are emptied, spilling their contents in breathy gasps, dying in spasms, till thrown to earth collapsed and dead. Under the hedge-rows peasants sleep, their heads pillowed on wine-filled skins, their hands and bare feet puffed and crimson - a veritable orgy, a Bacchanalian rout, recalling the pagans and the Silenus of Pompeii” (pp. 87-88).