Travels in Epirus, Albania, Macedonia, and Thessaly
F. Pouqueville



Ragusa, a sea-port, situated on the Dalmatian coast of the Adriatic, in north lat. 42 deg. 35 min. and long. 18 deg. 20 min. east from Greenwich, was founded by the remaining inhabitants of Epidaurus, overthrown by the Goths in the reign of the Roman Emperor Valerian, in the middle of the third century. The site of Epidaurus is pointed out at Ragusa Vecchia (old Ragusa) six miles south-east from the present Ragusa, on the opposite side of the bay. Attacked by the Moors, harassed by the Venetians, and by the chiefs of the Bosnians, in the interior of the country, the Ragusans were indebted for their independence to the protection of Orchan, son of Othoman, Emperor of the Turks, early in the fourteenth century. Hearing of the success of Orchan against the degenerate Cæsars of Constantinople, the Ragusans requested, by a deputation of their principal citizens, the favour of the conqueror. A treaty of amity and commercial intercourse with the Othoman was brought back, characteristically ratified by the impression of his hand clipped in the ink. By this act was the independent constitution of Ragusa established; an independence universally respected until 1815, an epoch fatal to all the free republics of the old continent. For then Ragusa and Venice, Genoa and Lucca, Geneva and the


Ionian isles, were either annexed to other states, or placed under the protection of distant sovereigns. Ragusa stands on a rocky platform, at the foot of Mount Saint Sergio, between the harbour and the bay of Santa Croce. The town, inclosed by a wall and bastions, is built in the Italian fashion; containing the government-palace, five churches, and the former college of the Jesuits, now a Dominican convent; none of them buildings of much note. The original government of Ragusa, still subsisting in 1805, when I was in the town, resembled in general that of Venice. It consisted of a grand council, composed of all the nobles of the republic without exception, who had attained to their twenty-first year, and whose names were inscribed in the register called the specchio, the mirror. This body assembled yearly on the 1st of December, under the presidency of a chief called the rector, to elect the several magistrates of the republic. A number of balls, some gilt, others black, were placed in an urn, from which they were drawn by the nobles assembled, beginning with the oldest; and those who drew the gilt balls became the electoral body, who nominated the magistrates for the ensuing year. The same grand assembly discussed and determined all other business relative to the general concerns of the state. Such was the opinion entertained of the knowledge and integrity of the grand council, that the neighbouring subjects of the grand-seignor were frequently permitted to refer their contests to the decision of the nobles of Dobrovich, the name of Ragusa in the Sclavonian language. The executive authority was lodged in the petty council, consisting of eleven members of the most ancient in descent as well as in age among the nobles, presided by the rector, the title conferred on the chief magistrate for above 450 years. The rector continued in office only one month, and his appointments consisted in four shillings and two pence, and twelve ox-tongues per diem, to defray the expences of his table. The ancient salary never having been increased, his office, however dignified, was the reverse of lucrative. The nobles were divided into two classes, the first composed of seventeen families of high antiquity, the second dated only from the year 1667. In council both classes sat in common, but in all other cases the old nobles maintained a very lofty demeanour with regard to the new. In that year, in consequence of a dreadful earthquake which laid desolate the territory as well as the city, many of the old nobles perished by the fall of the council-chamber; and to supply their place a number of the most respectable citizens were admitted among the members of the noblesse; in so far only however as regarded the administration of public affairs.


Among the plebeians were reckoned the ship-masters and seamen, and even the consuls appointed in foreign parts. The peasants were in fact serfs attached to the soil, and considered rather as fixtures than as members of the republic. The ancient practice of selling them in the market had long been disused; but they were disposed of to the new proprietor when lands were sold or otherwise transferred. Such was the state of Ragusa in 1805. Among the nobles were many persons, not only highly respectable but well versed in literature and science. The traders were in general men of considerable stock and credit; their shipping amounting, as I was informed, to about 300 sail, and their commerce extending not only along the coasts of the Mediterranean, but occasionally beyond the Strait of Gibraltar, to those of the north of Europe. Notwithstanding the antique nature of the government, and of the laws of the republic, so greatly had it been improved by the moderate spirit of the administration, that even the serfs of the country were contented with their situation. In the distribution of their soil, mountainous and unproductive, nature had been unkind to the Ragusans; but she had amply compensated them by the qualities of body and mind bestowed on the people.

In itself Ragusa possessed neither baker nor butcher; bread and animal food were brought in from the country; and when the usual supplies were interrupted the inhabitants subsisted on biscuit and salted provisions, as is done on board ship. With the exception of the Malmsey, the wine was but indifferent, and the water was not always very fit for use. In particular times the town was overstocked with game of all sorts, and with vegetables, among which the Ragusans boasted of their broccoli as highly as ever the Israelites did of the onions of Egypt.

By ceding to Turkey certain portions of their territory on the north and south, the Ragusans detached themselves entirely from the possessions of the Venetians, whom they respected, but dreaded. Their territory therefore extended above 100 miles from north-west to south-east along the Adriatic: but the breadth up from the coast was only from three to four miles: the whole divided into eight districts. The population of the first district comprehending Ragusa with its suburbs, olive-grounds, and gardens, amounted to 15,000 persons of all ages; and that of the whole continental territory to 60,000. To the republic also belonged the island Meleda, absurdly imagined to be the Melita of antiquity, on which St. Paul was wrecked on his voyage as a prisoner to Rome, A. D. 61; an event applicable to the present Malta alone.


Meleda is in length about twenty-five miles, but the greatest bread only five. The air is good, and the coast affords good harbours and road-steads, but the inhabitants are only about 1,100 in number. To the westward lies Agosta, the ancient Augusta, mountainous and rugged, but abounding in olives and vines. Though of only half the size of Meleda, the inhabitants are 1,200, chiefly employed in navigation and fishing. Some small isles near the land contain about 1,600 people. The whole population of the republic of Ragusa amounted therefore in 1805 to 53,900 people. The district of Breno is distinguished by the valley of Ombla, watered by the Arion, the prince of all subterrene rivers, which bursts forth with amazing volume and force from the foot of Mount Bergat. From the sea we sailed in a boat up its channel, containing depth of water sufficient for a ship of the line. At a spot where a branch is drawn off to drive some mills we were surprised to be accosted in French by a miller, a native of Burgundy, who for thirty years had been comfortably settled in that place. According to his report loud hollow sounds are heard to proceed from the interior of the mountains above the issue of the Arion; and speedily succeed water-spouts of great violence. The people of the interior, by observing the increase and decrease of the river, conclude it to be the discharge of the lake Popovo, in the country of Herzegovina.

Ragusa was garrisoned by 100 men paid by the state, under a commander dignified, as in Venice, by the title of general, recommended by the King of Naples. This officer was selected, it might be suspected, from among the Lazzaroni; for his appointments amounted only to fifteen pence per day, and his palace was only a small decayed tower on the walls of the town. Such, however, was the jealousy of the Ragusans that, excepting on the festival of St. Blaise, the patron of the republic, the mighty garrison was never entrusted with other arms than an old halbert, or a musket without a lock. The mild manners of the Ragusans, the knowledge and ability of the nobles, the good character and dispositions of the people in general, naturally prompted the wish that with the loss of their independence, they might not also lose the happiness they enjoyed before their republic was extinguished, and their state placed under the protection of the house of Austria.

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