TRAVELS IN EPIRUS AND ALBANIA
Voyage along the Coast of Albania and Epirus, from Ragusa to Port Palermo.
Immediately after our arrival in Ragusa we dispatched a Tartar by land, to acquaint Aly, Pasha of Janina, with our position, and to solicit his instructions and assistance in repairing to his court. By Tartars, or more correctly Tatars, are meant messengers, couriers, or guides on horseback, employed over the Turkish dominions. The first persons so employed having been in fact Tartars, the name is still applied to their successors, of whatever country they may be. Thus in France the porters at the gates of palaces, public offices, hotels, &c. are still styled Swiss, because in former times natives of Switzerland were usually selected for porters, on account of their characteristic fidelity and attachment to their masters. With great difficulty and delay, on account of the snow and other obstacles, our Tartar accomplished his mission; and Aly, foreseeing that we strangers should encounter many more impediments and dangers in traversing the country, dispatched a vessel to carry us to one of his own ports. But the vessel was wrecked on the coast, and the crew had to hire barks to convey them to Ragusa, where our long residence seemed at last to create some uneasiness in the ruling powers. We learned also that the Turkish governors would most probably oppose our journey through their territories, on our way to their hated neighbour Aly of Janina. While in this embarrassing situation a French privateer put into Santa Croce, or Gravosa, an excellent haven on the north side of Ragusa. Embarking in that vessel on the 22d of January, 1806, we sailed in company with another French privateer for Port Palermo, the nearest port belonging to Aly, seven leagues to the northward of the island of Corfu. In the evening we observed the sun to set between the summits of Mount St. Angelo, formerly Mons Garganus, in Apulia in Italy, distant west-south-west forty leagues. Our course lay first south-east until we came off Durazzo, the ancient Dyrrachium and Epidamnus, a port and fortress memorable in various periods of history, particularly for the operations in its vicinity between Cæsar and Pompey, previous to the decisive action of Pharsalus. There the Albanian coast runs southward to the entrance of the bay of Valona, where the Sirocco, or south-east wind setting in strong, we came to anchor under the protection of Saseno, an island lying before it. The wind threatening to continue for some time, as it generally does in
winter in the mouth of the Adriatic, we passengers landed in a small sandy bay on the north-east part of the island, the only spot where it is accessible. Knowing it to be uninhabited we carried on shore an old sail, with which we constructed a sort of tent. We had also on shore our Tartar and a Wallachian of Epirus, whom Aly had sent along with him, to serve as our guide and interpreter when we should land in his territories. We soon, however, discovered that we were not alone in Saseno. Smoke rose up in several places, and in a little time appeared a number of Albanians in arms, observing us with keen attention. The strangers were shepherds from the adjoining coast, who are in the habit of transporting to the island large numbers of sheep and cattle in winter. Intercourse being opened with them through our interpreter, we procured some sheep for ourselves and for the people on-board the privateer; and a fire being kindled the Albanians with admirable dispatch fitted one of the sheep for the spit. In the night the south-east gale grew tempestuous with heavy rain and long and vivid lightning; well reminding us of the Ceraunian or thunder-stricken mountains in our near vicinity. It was with the greatest difficulty that our vessel kept her place.
The island Saseno, the Sazon, Sason, or Saso of the ancients, is situated in the entrance of the bay of Aulon, or Valona, distant from the north point twice as far as from the south point Cape Linguetta, or Glossa, the famous Acro-ceraunium of antiquity, situated in 40 deg. 26 min. 15 sec. north latitude. The island is about a league in length from north to south, and the distance across the Adriatic from it to the nearest part of Italy (the narrowest part of the entrance of that sea) is fourteen leagues one-third. Saseno is divided lengthwise by a range of seven hills, of which one rises to an elevation sufficient to contradict the epithet humilis, assigned to it by Lucan (Pharsalia, V. 650); unless he be supposed to compare it with the mountains on the continent, distant however above a league. While the Venetians possessed the adjoining continent Saseno was inhabited, and the walls of a ruined church assisted in protecting our tent. On the east side of the hills are considerable fragments of a brick structure, probably of the Augustan age. After a delay of six days in a very uncomfortable situation, especially considering the rude, we may say ferocious character of the Albanian shepherds on the island, a heavy fall of rain terminated the gale, and we proceeded on our voyage along the inhospitable Ceraunian coast, truly characterized by Horace:
"______________th Acroceraunian rorks
For frequent shipwrecks infamous."
Fano. Palæassa. Drimadez.
This part of the coast is, however, interesting in as far as relates to the final contest between Cæsar and Pompey: for on it landed the former from Brundusium, in pursuit of his antagonist, when the dissensions in the Roman state bad at last induced an appeal to arms.
Calms and the setting of the currents into the gulf of Valona, compelled us to use our great oars to draw off from the land, so that I could not make the remarks on the coast which I had projected. I resolved therefore to return at another time to survey that country as much as possible by land. I could, however, see that, for eight leagues from Cape Linguetta, the Acroceraunian coast presented only a range of barren mountains, absolutely deserted, excepting in winter, when it is visited by a few goat-herds with their flocks, who retire in spring, abandoning the country to vultures and reptiles of various sorts. The only vegetable productions seemed to be a few stunted pines and thorns.
In the evening of the 31st of January 1806, the south-east wind again setting in, we stood out to sea until we came near to Fano, the Othonos of antiquity, and the supposed abode of Calypso, celebrated in the Odyssee of Homer and the Telemachus of Fenelon. Fano, then occupied by the Russians, is situated in north lat. 39 deg. 50 min. 2 sec. and east long. from Greenwich 19 deg. 19 min. 50 sec. It is distant fourteen and one-third marine leagues, very nearly due-east from Cape St. Maria, the southernmost extremity of the heel of Italy, in north lat. 39 deg. 47 min. 30 sec. and east long. 18 deg. 23 min. 20 sec. Being placed in the middle of the fairway into the gulf of Venice, the accurate ascertainment of the position of Fano is an object of no small importance to mariners of all nations. Returning to the coast we were carried by the currents back nearly to the place where we had left it; and taking to our oars we continued our course to the southward. We soon came in front of a broad torrent from the mountains, called by the Italian seamen Strada bianco, a translation of the Epirote name Aspri rouga, the white way. A mile to the southward we had a view of Palæassa, the representative of Palæste, where Cæsar landed his legions when in pursuit of Pompey, as related in the third hook of his Commentaries of the Civil War. Three wiles farther on we came before Drimadez, a small town situated in ihe midst of precipices and fragments of rock, throngh which shoot out a few pitch pines. A mile to the east I remarked the chapel of St. Theodore, on the summit of an eminence surrounded by olive-trees. This tract of the coast, though not very lofty, was
steep over the sea, which our line showed to be from fifty-fire to seventy-four English fathoms deep in various places, not far from the land. The ground consisted of coral rock. The highest part of the Ceraunian mountains we then estimated to exceed 700 toises, or 746 fathoms, or 4,476 feet in elevation above the sea. It was covered with snow, through which appeared broad lines of dark green firs. Beyond St. Theodore half a mile, opened into the sea a river which never runs dry, in a deep rocky channel; and a mile farther we doubled a point of land, which on the north-west covers the creek and road of Vouno, now little frequented. A league more to the southward brought us opposite to Chimara, which has succeeded to the antique Chimæra, and now gives name to the district of the formidable Chimariotes. Chimara, as our interpreter told us, still stood out against Aly of Janina, as did all the villages of its district. The side of the hill on which the town is seated, broken into terraces, terminates on the shore in a white beach, to the southward of which is the bay of Gonea, which receives the waters, as I was informed, of what was styled the Royal Fountain. Two miles beyond Gonea we came before a tract of sandy beach, where fishing-boats are usually drawn up. This beach is probably formed by the waters of the river Phoenix, which, rising in the upper mountains, hurries down to the sea over precipices, forming numerous cascades, of which advantage is taken to draw off water to several mills on the banks. The Phoenix is now called the river of Chimara, as passing by that town; and two miles farther on the coast is the road or bay of Spilea, formerly protected by two towers, but now containing only some decayed storehouses. Night was now coming on; the wind freshened; and we were within sight of Corfu, occupied by the Russians: it was therefore with no small satisfaction that we at last discovered the white tower of Palermo, and at six in the evening of the 1st of February we entered the bay. Being recognized by Aly's officer in the tower, he saluted us, not with guns, but with musketry, which we did not understand, and therefore kept over to the north shore. There, on the other hand, we were assailed by the Chimariotes with sharp rounds of musket-ball, which however did no harm. Returning again to the south shore, we came to anchor near the tower, and received a visit from the commandant, who for a month past had been in attendance, to welcome us on the part of his master. Having accepted his invitation to sup and sleep in the tower, or fort, he entertained us with a sheep roasted whole, and maize bread baked under the ashes; our drink was drawn
from a skin of turpentined wine, and a tinned goblet served every guest in his turn. Our beds were the straw mats, neither new nor clean, on which we sat at our meal.
The bay or port of Palermo is in circuit about five miles; having an
opening of a quarter of a mile in breadth between rocky points on which
the sea beats with violence. The bay might therefore be well secured against
an attack from without. The depth of water varies from five to twenty fathoms;
but in one spot near Aly's tower, we found it seventy-five fathoms. The
ground is said to be in general rocky: but as the bay abounds with fish
of the stationary as well as of the migratory kinds, that information is
probably erroneous. On all sides it is surrounded by high mountains, from
which occasionally proceed severe squalls of wind: but in several parts
vessels may be moored with perfect safety. The tower or fort stands on
the southern point of the entrance, connected with the continent by a low
narrow isthmus. It consists of a square with bastions, having a few guns,
of no service either to command the entrance or to protect the shipping
at anchor. Near it are some warehouses, a custom-house, and a Greek church.
Upon the whole, the bay or port of Palermo might, in ancient times, and
even at present, be properly denominated Panormos; for in one part
of it or another vessels might be well secured against the sea.
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