Monday, March 11, 2019

An Artistic Description of Dalmatia

(Written by Luigi Villari, taken from “The English Illustrated Magazine”, Vol. 27, 1902.)

Of the many thousands of travellers who annually spend a few weeks in Venice, who know the towns of the Venetian mainland as well as those of their own country, only a very small proportion push on a little further and visit the former territory of the Venetian Republic on that wonderful Eastern coast of the Adriatic. There a group of towns may be seen, thoroughly Italian in character, which once formed one of the chief bulwarks of Christendom against the advancing Turk. Dalmatia is full of interest for the historian, for the artist, for the lover of natural beauty, and for the student of political affairs. The importance of the Dalmatian cities in European history is greater than one generally realises, for whether as independent communes or under Hungarian or Venetian rule, they constituted a most formidable obstacle to the tide of Turkish invasion. When all the interior, far to the north, had succumbed before the Moslem conqueror, when Hungary was a Turkish province and Vienna itself was threatened, these little coast towns still held out bravely for Christianity and civilisation. They were ever a thorn in the side of the Turkish Sultans, and they contributed in no small degree in preventing them from invading Italy, the land which, above all others, they desired to conquer. The rest of Europe is under a debt of gratitude to these poor, half-forgotten townships of the Dalmatian Littoral.

A tour in Dalmatia may now be accomplished with little expense and no great discomfort. There are numerous good steamers plying between Trieste or Fiume and Cattaro, touching at most of the towns, one or two railways into the interior, and good carriage roads. The hotels, with the exception of the “Impérial,” at Ragusa, are somewhat primitive, but not impossible.

One of the first impressions which Dalmatia makes upon us is the violent contrast between the towns and the country. In few other lands is this difference so marked. The coast towns might be little pieces of Italy, fragments of Venice, for the mother-city left her impress on her colonies in the most unmistakable way. The buildings are Roman, Byzantine, Romanesque, Venetian Gothic, and in the Renaissance style. There is the same café life with which all who know Italy are familiar – the crowds within the café, or sitting round small tables in the piazza outside, sipping their vermouth or their maraschino and reading the papers. The language spoken by the people is to a great extent Italian, especially at Zara, and it is pronounced with the soft lisping Venetian accent. Another thoroughly Venetian feature is that in no Dalmatian town, save Ragusa, are carriages seen in the streets, which are narrow and not constructed for wheeled traffic. Outside the harbours flocks of gaily-painted Venetian sails add still another Venetian touch.


The country people, too, are very different from the town dwellers. The former are entirely of Slavonic origin, and wear the most wonderfully brilliant costumes. Their language is Serbo-Croatian, and the majority of them speak no Italian at all. At the present moment there is a fierce struggle raging between the Slaves and the Latins of Dalmatia. The Slaves are gradually penetrating into the towns, and banishing wherever they can the Italian language. Zara alone has remained quite an Italian town. Everywhere else the Slaves are in a majority. Sebenico, Spalato, Traù, Ragusa are no longer known by their historic Italian names, but have been turned into Sibenik, Spljet, Trogir, Dubrovnik. The names of the streets have undergone the same translation, and the Piazza dei Signori has become the Gospodski Trg. It is a pity to see these interesting islands of Latin civilisation being gradually absorbed by the advancing tide of Slavonic invasion. With their glorious past they seemed destined to a better fate.

Zara, the capital of the whole province, is its northernmost town, and is usually one's first stopping-place. And it is a good place to begin with, for it sums up all the most characteristic features of Dalmatia. Built on a promontory stretching out towards the north-west in the midst of an island-studded sea, with Ugliano and Pasman to the west and the hazy blue snow-capped range of the Croatian Velebit to the east, its situation is unrivalled. Zara has two harbours, the old harbour ensconced in a bay, the other formed by the fine new piers. The town was formerly an almost impregnable fortress, and parts of the mighty bastions are still left. The channel which separated it from the mainland has now been partially filled up, and the outer bastion beyond turned into a pleasure garden. One gate alone communicates with the mainland—the Porta di Terraferma. It is a handsome but simple piece of architecture by Sammichieli, consisting of a broad central arch surmounted by the ubiquitous lion of St. Mark, and two lateral doorways of rusticated Doric.

On two sides of the town there are broad quays, but inside the streets are narrow, and, as we have said, closed to wheeled traffic. Among its architectural remains there are examples of all the styles found in Dalmatia, bearing witness to its many different rulers. Two fine Corinthian columns, one in the Piazza delle Erbe and one in the Piazza San Simeone, and some fragments of arches and temples are Roman work. The curious round church of San Donato reminds one of Byzantine Ravenna. This church is the most curious edifice in Zara. Built in the ninth century by a certain Bishop Donatus in imitation of San Vitale at Ravenna and of the Cathedral of Aix-la-Chappelle; it is now turned into a museum. But in making excavations beneath it, it was discovered that not only had the Roman fragments been let into the walls, but that beautiful Roman columns had been cut into sections and laid lengthways to serve as foundations for the Christian church, the rude work of the early Middle Ages! A striking example, as Mr. Graham Jackson observes, of the triumph of spiritual over temporal pride.

The Duomo is a fine specimen of Romanesque work, and the facade, with its rows of small arches, recalls the churches of Pisa or Lucca. An effective contrast is produced by the simplicity of the lower part of this facade with the elaborate ornamentation of the upper. San Grisogono is another exquisite piece of Romanesque work. Santa Maria has been rebuilt in the Renaissance style of the Lombardi. The public buildings and private palaces are mostly in the best style of Venetian Gothic, with the familiar pointed arches and elaborately carved balconies.

Zara cannot boast of many pictures as compared with Italian towns, but it possesses examples of several Venetian artists, and one work which may claim to rank as a masterpiece—the early Carpaccio in the church of San Francesco. It is an Assumption of the Virgin in the midst of a host of saints and angels. The costumes are of a rare brilliance, and the landscape of little green hills crowned with castles is in the master's best manner. In the middle a small Lombard church, through the open door, of which glitters a golden altar. But unfortunately the painting is in a most deplorable condition, and unless promptly attended to it will soon fall to pieces.

The rich costumes of the Morlak peasantry lend a touch of the East to the town, and proclaim that we are not in Italy. The men wear small red and black caps, red waistcoats, dark brown jackets with crimson facings, blue trousers elaborately embroidered, sometimes red and yellow leggings, and curious boat-like shoes called opankas. The women's costume is less becoming.

Sebenico is the most thoroughly Venetian town (as far as architecture is concerned) in Dalmatia. It is situated on a steep hill overlooking a rocky landlocked bay, with one narrow opening to the sea guarded by a Venetian castle. To the North the bay penetrates still further inland, forming a sort of fjord fed by the river Kerka. The hill on which the town is built has on its summit a splendid mediaeval castle, the walls of which creep right down to the   sea. Behind are two other castles of a later date, the three being known as the Castelli del Barone, after Baron Degenfeld, who defended them successfully against the Turks in 1647. The principal building in Sebenico is the cathedral, one of the most perfect specimens of Renaissance architecture in existence. It was built in two periods, the earlier showing traces of Romanesque influence. The simplicity of the plan, the great height of the vaults, and the elevation of the choir, produce an impression of extraordinary grandeur and spaciousness. It has the peculiarity, too, of being one of the largest churches in Europe, according to Mr. Graham Jackson, in which neither timber nor brick is employed. All is of squared stone, marble, and metal. The bold waggon roof is of stone without beams or leads. Even the beautiful choir stalls are of marble. The whole building is full of beautiful details, marble balustrades, exquisite stone carving, and elaborate galleries. The baptistry is a jewel of sculptured marble.

There are no other churches of any importance in Sebenico; but the steep and tortuous streets, the quaint archways, the handsome Venetian doorways charged with well-designed heraldry, the town walls, and the massive towers, form a most fascinating ensemble. From some gloomy courtyard in a half-ruined palazzo one may issue forth on to a neglected terraced garden all sunshine, overlooking the azure bay, the lilac rocks which enclose it, the picturesque fishing boats, the heavy Lloyd steamer, and the smart Austrian corvette floating on its waters.

Sebenico is a good starting-point for an expedition into inland Dalmatia, as there is a railway to Knin. The latter is a curious little town, quite Slavonic in character, on the banks of the Kerka, protected by a huge castle built by the Venetians as a bulwark against Turkish raids, and the scene of many fights between Christian and Moslem. The scenery is very different from that of the coast, for while the former is stony and treeless, round Knin and Drnis there are fertile well-watered plains and wooded hills. From Knin roads lead to all parts of Dalmatia and beyond the Dinara range into Bosnia.

From Sebenico the steamer follows a channel between the mainland and a chain of islands to Spalato, the ancient Aspalatum, is the largest and most flourishing town in Dalmatia, but its chief interest for the traveller lies in the ruins of the world-renowned palace of Diocletian. Formerly the whole town was contained within the four walls of the vast edifice, but it has subsequently spread out beyond them. The palace itself from an aesthetic point of view is somewhat disappointing. The architecture is clumsy and thoroughly decadent, and while numbers of small houses have filled up the interstices of  the colonnades and porticoes, the few open spaces are encumbered with immense scaffoldings, as parts of the building are being restored. But it is highly interesting for the archaeologist and the architect. It is the most complete specimen of Roman domestic architecture in existence, and in the irregularities of the classic work we find the beginnings of the Byzantine and Romanesque styles. The finest parts of the building are its walls; the wide sea front with its stately colonnade is imposing and grand, and the enormous size of this pleasure-house cannot fail to impress one. There are some fine details of Byzantine work in the Duomo (the old temple of Jupiter) and in the Baptistery, also a temple. The mediaeval and Venetian buildings, although picturesque, are in no way remarkable.

The environs of Spalato offer many attractive excursions of which the most beautiful is the drive along the Riviera dei Sette Castelli to Traù. This riviera is with one exception the most fertile stretch of the Dalmatian coast, for although the mountains behind are bleak and bare, the land between them and the sea is cowered with luxuriant vegetation; olives, vineyards, cactus, fruit-trees grow in abundance, and the whole scene with the grey heights of Mossor on one side and the sapphire island-studded sea on the other is of singular beauty. The Croatian peasantry are a curious feature. One sees men in the gay national costume riding sideways on diminutive donkeys, each leading a small lamb by a string. We were told that they take their pet lambs out into the fields as companions, and they keep them in their rooms at night.

The first villages one passes is Salona, when on the extensive ruins of a Roman city of that name, the “Pompeii of Dalmatia.” Then come the “Sette Castelli,” seven small castles along the shores of the bay built by the Venetians as outposts against the Turks. Round each castle a village has grown up, the houses of some forming an uninterrupted line. They are much frequented by the people of Spalato as a summer villeggiatura.

At the north end of the bay Traù comes in sight. The town is built on a small island in a channel between the mainland and the larger island of Bua, and is connected with both by means of bridges. It is the most mediaeval town on the coast, and within its walls nothing has altered for five hundred years. Over the Porta di Terraferma the ever-watchful Lion of St. Mark guards the entrance, embowered in a cypress bush which springs from between two stones over the gateway; round this bush many legends are gathered. The streets are narrow and dark, the only open space being the Piazza del Duomo. The stately and sombre thirteenth-century cathedral with its massive piers, mellow brown in tone, fine but sober sculptures, and its superb porch, is a splendid specimen of mediaeval architecture. Opposite is the open Loggia whence the rulers of the town dispensed justice in public. There are other churches Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance, and many a fine old Venetian palace; but one of Trau's most attractive features is the riva towards Bua. It is a broad quay faced by a row of palaces, gate-towers, and fragments of walls. At the sea-ward end is the imposing Castello Camerlengo, now in ruins.

The island of Bua, unlike the opposite mainland, is very bleak and stony and typically Dalmatian. It served in Roman times as a place for the relegatio in insulan, and one can easily imagine the feelings of an exiled Roman, wandering about the sterile hills and valleys of the island meditating on the delights of the Urbs and the fickleness of princely favour.

We travelled from Spalato to Ragusa by night and so did not see much of the islands near the former place, nor of the peninsula of Sabbioncello, the only spot in Europe, with the exception of the neighbouring island of Curzola, where the jackal is still to be found. One lands at Gravosa and drives across a narrow peninsula to Ragusa, for the harbour of that once famous maritime republic is too small for steamers of any size.

Taken altogether Ragusa is the most attractive town in Dalmatia. Its position is unrivalled, the vegetation more luxuriant even than that of Spalato, its streets are wide and stately, and its buildings, if inferior to a few others in the country, bespeak a queen among cities. It would need a volume to tell of all the many beauties of Ragusa, of her wonderful history, of her successful diplomacy, her art, her culture, the graceful Rector's Palace, the Sponza, the splendid circuit of walls. The town is built on a promontory and a narrow strip of coast between the Monte Sergio and the sea. One broad main thoroughfare goes right through it, some streets climb up the steep hillside, while others descend to the water's edge. The walls were built partly by Dalmatian architects such as Orsini, and partly by Michelozzo Michelozzi and other Italians. Ragusa is rich in monasteries, among which that of the Franciscans and that of the Dominicans with their shady cloisters are particularly beautiful. The former has a charming little garden in a sort of second cloister, with the old pharmacy under the loggia. In this garden the simples for the chemist's decoctions were grown, and there are still some curious instruments lying about—a large green pressing machine, a range for preparing medicines, &c. The costumes at Ragusa are gayer and more brilliant even than at Spalato or Zara, and more Eastern. Here too one sees still stranger costumes from the Herzegovina, and the bright embroidery and the red slippers in the shop windows, show that we are still nearer to the Orient.

Ragusa, too, is an excellent centre for excursions, but we have no more space to tell of them. Ragusavecchia, Ombla, the Isola di Mezzo, Cannosa all show us different aspects of Dalmatian scenery, and everywhere we find palms, cactus, and other semi-tropical plants, besides cypresses, vineyards, olives, and cornfields. And in every garden, almost in every field, graceful little columns of marble or stone are used as supports or merely as ornaments. In some places I have seen whole avenues of them. It is a peculiar and charming custom of the Ragusan campagna, said to be of Spanish origin. After Ragusa comes Cattaro, hidden at the end of the Bocche, gloomy, forlorn, and desolate, with steep mountains coming sheer down to the water's edge. Beyond again is the last strip of Dalmatian coast with the towns of Budua and Spizza. Then the wild shores of Montenegro and barbarous Albania.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Blessed Giuliana Malgranello - February 16

The first artistic depiction of Giuliana Malgranello, painted by Angelo Zerbo

February 16 is the feast of Blessed Giuliana Malgranello, virgin.

Giuliana was born into the Malgranelli family in Capodistria, Istria. She joined the Servite Order as a tertiary at the initiative of Blessed Antonio Martissa, leader of the Servites in Capodistria, and entered the Servite Monastery of San Martino.

She was known to be a mirror of mortification and of every virtue, living an exemplary life of prayer, faith, penance, piety and modesty, and devotedly serving the poor, the hungry, the sick and the suffering. She died in Capodistria in 1551.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

The Extermination of Dalmatian Italians in Lagosta

Island of Lagosta, off the coast of Dalmatia

Unlike most of the other Dalmatian islands which were given to Yugoslavia after World War I despite being promised to Italy in the Treaty of London, the small Dalmatian island of Lagosta, which had been occupied by Italian troops since 1918, was formally acknowledged as Italian territory by the Treaty of Rapallo, signed in 1920 between Italy and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.

Lagosta thenceforth would belong to the Kingdom of Italy for the next thirty years, or thereabouts, forming part of the Province of Zara together with the islands of Cazza, Pelagosa and Saseno.

According to the 1921 census, the island's population counted some 1400 inhabitants, of which 208 (about 15%) were Dalmatian Italians. In the following years, several hundred other Dalmatian Italians – fleeing from the nearby Dalmatian territories which had been annexed to Yugoslavia – would settle on the island, so that by 1939 the Italian Dalmatian population had risen to 933 (38%). Many of them came from the nearby islands of Lissa, Curzola, Lesina, and from the Dalmatian city of Traù, which had been subject to Yugoslav rule since the Treaty of Rapallo.

The Italo-Dalmatian refugees preferred to live under Italian administration, rather than face difficulties or potential persecution under the Yugoslavs. The island of Lagosta thus became their new home.

The living standards of Lagosta improved significantly under the Kingdom of Italy. As in the rest of Italy during this period, many public works were initiated, and in 1939 the island reached its peak population with 2,458 inhabitants. A small fish farming industry was established in the village of San Pietro by fishermen from Puglia in 1941, aiding in the economic productivity of the island.

In August 1943 the island counted nearly 3000 inhabitants – including civilians and some military personnel – and was enjoying economic prosperity despite the ongoing war. The Italians numbered some 1500 people, or about half the island's population.

The extermination of the Italian population began on September 14, 1943, when Josip Broz Tito's Yugoslav Partisans occupied the island. The ethnic cleansing initially took the form of forced expulsion. In September 1943 about 100 Italians were expelled from Lagosta. These consisted of Italian citizens who were resident in Lagosta, but who were not born on the island.

Between October and December 1943, nearly 200 Italians were killed or disappeared. Tito's men began by killing the local governor Tomasin. They continued the terror by murdering Don Nicola Fantela, a priest of the Diocese of Ragusa, on October 25, 1944; the Communist Partisans tied a stone around his neck and drowned him in the sea between Ragusa and Lagosta.

Don Nicola Fantela was born on September 9, 1880 in Lagosta. After studying in Ragusa and Zara, he entered the priesthood in Zara in 1904. In September 1905 he became an assistant to the parish priest of Curzola. Later he served in Toppollo, Stagno Piccolo, Sarajevo and Sebenico. From 1930 to 1932 he was the parish priest and dean of Stagno. In 1934-1935 he was rector of San Biagio in Ragusa. After retiring as a military employee in 1935, he lived in Castelnuovo. In 1943 he happily returned to Lagosta, his native land.

However, after only four months, on February 6, 1944, he was subject to interrogation by the Yugoslav Partisan Kommissar, during which time he was harshly tortured, disfigured and mutilated. He was transferred to the partisan boat PC-62 “Ivo” in the bay of San Michele, just north of Lagosta, where, on the night of February 7, 1944 (other sources say October 25, 1944), a stone was tied around his neck and he was was thrown into the sea.

Aurora Corsano, a native of Lagosta, was shot to death on March 1, 1944 following a show trial by the Yugoslav Partisans. In 1944 and early 1945 the Yugoslavs conducted many such show trials and summary executions, murdering many Italians on the island and generally terrorizing the Dalmatian Italian population. Through these methods, they forced almost all of the Dalmatian Italians to completely abandon their homes by mid-1945.

After World War II, Lagosta was annexed to Communist Yugoslavia – made official by the Paris Peace Treaties of 1947 – and its name was officially changed to Lastovo. In the same year the government proclaimed that only Yugoslav military personnel were permitted to live on the island. The few Dalmatian Italians who still remained – about 200 in number – were forced into exile.

In the span of four years an entire population and ancient community was wiped out.

Following the same fate as neighboring Lissa, the island of Lagosta became a Yugoslav militarized region immediately after the war, which led to economic stagnation and the depopulation of the island. This sealed the island's fate for the next several decades up to the present day.

Today the island has only 792 inhabitants, almost all Croats. According to the 2011 census, the Italian community has been reduced to just five people.

As a result of Yugoslav policy and the ethnic cleansing of the Dalmatian Italians – who comprised the productive element of the population – the island today remains one of the most impoverished and underdeveloped areas of southern Dalmatia.

See also:
The History of Lagosta: From Its Origins to the Present (To be published soon...)

Sunday, January 27, 2019

St. Julian of Sora - January 27

Relics of St. Julian of Sora
Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta in Sora, Italy

January 27 is the feast of St. Julian of Sora, martyr.

St. Julian of Sora (San Giuliano di Sora), according to tradition, was a young Roman soldier born in Dalmatia in the 2nd century AD, belonging to the family of the gens Julia. He was a Christian and came to Italy to preach the Gospel during the reign of Emperor Antoninus Pius.

On his way to Campania he encountered a group of fellow soldiers near Anagni, whom he greeted, saying “Peace be with you, dear brothers”. The soldiers immediately suspected that Julian was a Christian, and they set about questioning him. Upon affirming his Christian faith, Julian was immediately arrested, put in chains and brought to Atina (or Sora, according to other sources).

The governor Flavianus (or, according to others, the proconsul Dacianus) sentenced him to a week in prison without any food or water, in the hopes that Julian would abandon Christianity. When Julian refused to betray his religion, he was subjected to torture on the rack.

While undergoing torture, the nearby pagan Temple of Serapis collapsed. Despite being in prison at the time, Julian was blamed for the collapse and accused of being a magician by a pagan mob. The governor then sentenced Julian to death. He was beheaded in Sora, Italy on January 27th in the year 161 AD.

Originally buried near the collapsed temple, Julian's relics were discovered in 1612 inside an ancient eponymous church near Sora. In 1614 the relics were transferred to the Church of Santo Spirito in Sora. In 1802 they were transfered to the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta in Sora, where they remain today.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Blessed Antonio Martissa - January 17

Blessed Antonio Martissa

January 17 is the feast of Blessed Antonio Martissa, confessor.

Antonio Martissa was born in the 15th century in the city of Capodistria, in Istria, then part of the Republic of Venice. He attended the University of Padua, where he became a doctor of theology in 1473. He joined the Order of Servants of Mary, also known as the Servites, and became leader of several monasteries throughout Istria, including Servite monasteries in Capodistria and Isola.

He died in 1520 and was buried in the former Servite Church of Santi Martino e Benedetto in his native Capodistria. His life of penance, austerity and mortification earned him the title of “Blessed”. Today he is still commemorated at the former Servite Monastery and at the Cathedral of Capodistria.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Blessed Assalone of Capodistria - January 15

Commemoration Mass for Blessed Assalone
Cathedral of the Assumption, Capodistria
Sunday January 19, 2014

January 15 is the feast of Blessed Assalone, bishop.

Assalone, according to tradition, was born in the 12th century in the city of Capodistria, in Istria. He was nominated bishop of Capodistria in either 1210, 1212 or 1220, according to different sources. He consecrated several Istrian churches, including the Church of San Ulderico in Capodistria and the Church of San Giorgio in Paugnano. In 1222 he consecrated the Church of Santa Maria in Monte, in the village of Monte di Capodistria, and in 1225 he consecrated the Church of San Servolo in the village of the same name. He died around 1245.

The sanctity of his life led to him being publicly venerated by the faithful in Capodistria. His effigy is preserved in the episcopal chapel of Sant'Alessandro in Capodistria.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Italy's Right to Her Natural Boundaries (1918)

Italian Oriental Defense According to the Roman Plan

God, with the immortal
writing of mountains and waters,
has traced mother countries.



Since when — parallelly and contemporaneously to the political and military expansion of republic Rome — the designation « ITALY » became extended, from the peninsula part to the entire geographic Italian region, it at once appeared to the practical minds of the Romans that the logic natural boundary of this region was to be the complete circle of the Alps.

The bitter experience of the Carthaginian invasion, led by Hannibal, the threatening raid of the Cimbri and Teutons, overcome only by the strategical genius of Marius, indeed the Romans to fix their attention on the Alpine bulwark which alone could hinder the plains of the River Po from becoming the natural battle field of the invaders breaking in from the north and from the east.

With the constitution of the Empire, the Alpine circle appeared always more clearly to the Romans as being the natural barrier against the threats of the barbarians. In the historical and political writings of the late republic and empire times numerous references to this geographic and military function of the Alps are to be found. Without calling to mind the lesser writers, mention of the above is made by Polibius, and later on by Titus Livius, Velleius Patercolus, Anneus Flavius and also Diogenes of Alicarnassus besides Pomponius Mela of Rheims.

Although there is wanting, in the expressions of these writers, a precise indication of a « geographic or political-administrative boundry », and although their knowledge of the alpine system could be only slight, they already considered the « Infames frigoribus Alpes », as Titus Livius called them, a real natural limit.

And, though the Alpine region presented but slight interest to the Romans, the importance of the great alpine vallies as ways of communication and invasion certainly did not escape them. So much so, that under Augustus they carried out the occupation of the Trentino, which became a colony of the Empire, and in a very short time, Trent, on the highway of Lamagna, assumed great importance.

In the 3rd Century, when the Empire was reorganized administratively on firm foundations in order to oppose the Germanic danger which was becoming more apparent, full of disastrous consequences for the structure of the Roman Empire, the political and military boundaries of Italy were progressively extended, even to the external slopes of the Alps.

With the arrangements made in the times of Diocletianus and of Constantinus, when the Germanic danger more closely threatened Latin civilization, the occupation was extended to the Vindelicia and the Rezia, thus enclosing within the boundaries the greatest part of the Alpine region.

Analogously, the eastern part of the Illiricus (Carniola) was united by firm administrative and political bounds to Italy, as being part of the government of Upper Italy; Aemona (Laibach) and Nauporto (Ober-Laibach) were also considered in Italian territory.

Istria — conquered by Rome two centuries before the birth of Christ — was always closely connected with Italy, being considered as an integrating part of Venetia, and Roman civilization reached such a high point there as to leave indelible traces in the beauty of the monuments, which can still be admired in the coastal cities (Triest, Pola, Parenzo), in the juridic institutions of private rights, and in the popular traditions jealously preserved by the peoples there in spite of the brutal and violent invasions of the Germans, Slavs and Hungarians.

Though the Roman Empire collapsed as a political and military organism- the treasure of its culture was always maintained by these peoples of Italic conscience. Through every vicissitude, notwithstanding Barbaric domination, the Roman tradition was maintained vigorous and alive and from it, even in the dark ages, manifestations of Roman Italian sentiments sprung forth.

Nor did the constitution of Roman-Barbaric kingdoms, appearing as new branches on the great felled trunk of the Roman Empire, succeed in destroying what there was of eternal in the civilization of Rome, for both the « Regnum Longobardorum » and the « Regno Italiae » created by the Carlovingians, carrying out the traditions of Imperial Rome, included within their boundaries the Dukedom of Trent and also Venetia and Istria, not only for defensive reasons, but also because the Barbarians themselves felt that these provinces, for the common character of the language, the institutions and the traditions, formed, with the remainder of Roman Italy, an inseparable and insoluble whole.

With reference to this we may remember the act of the Longobard king, Alboino, who, looking towards the Italian region from Mount Re (Mt. Nanos), fixed the boundaries of the new kingdom of Italy there.


Should these historic precedents, in the valuation of a military and political problem, seem to some to have but relative value, a direct interest instead will be presented by the example of the military criteria which inspired Rome for defence of the threatened eastern entrance to Italy.

The thought of fortifying the eastern boundary of Italy, to defend it from the threat of the barbaric trans-Alpine peoples, came to the Romans as soon as Istria was conquered.

The defences built by them aimed essentially at closing up the traditional roads of communication and invasion of Nauporto, Postojna and of the Liburnica coast.

In the first period (even in the year 128 B.C.) it seems that a line of entrenchments was built from Quarnero to Longatico (Loitsch), along the external arch of the Carso heights in which the gap of Nauporto, the road of the defiles of Clana, and the coastal road, were the only accesses then practicable.

The « Limes » meanwhile included not only the Adelsberg basin, but also the Ober-Laibach and Zirknitz basins.

In a second period, perhaps about in the second century after Christ, an internal « vallum » appeared which from the basin of Aidussina probably reached the strong-point of Mt. Catalano, which seems to have been reinforced by a « castrum ». This internal « limes », though militarily it had the advantage of being shorter, less winding and nearer to the supply depots, had on the contrary to defend a larger number of ways of access.

The barrier defences were prepared with particular care, especially those along the most dangerous and well known way of invasion, which from the gap of Nauporto led to the basin of Aidussina. In front of the eastern ridge of the Piro Woods and of the highest point of elevation (Hill 882) two « valli » were built, the one in the rear being reinforced by a « castle » dominating both slopes. Another solid « castle » dominated the basin of Aidussina.

It seems that the coastal road was guarded by two « castles »: one overlooking Fiume, the other on the height of Castua.

The « valli » in the accompanying map are marked according to the riconstruction made by scholars. It seems however that its trace was discontinued according to the greater or lesser difficulties of access apposed internal « vallum » and of the two « valli » of the Piro Woods, remains of unanimously and concordantly through the medieval and modern periods by the ground in front. The « valli » marked indicate, not so much continued entrenchments, as the line on which the Romans considered it necessary to base the eastern defence of Italy.

Of the « valli » and castles shown, scholars have frequently found traces (excavations and reconnaissance have ascertained: portions of the internal « vallum » and of the two « valli » of the Piro Woods, remains of a defensive wall to the north west of Fiume, ruins of the « castri » in the neighbourhood of « ad Priuin », Aidussina, Fiume): in the local folk lore also they are still remembered (1).

At any rate, whatever opinion one may have on the existence of this complete fortified military system, the fundamental fact results certain that the Romans themselves recognized the military necessity of placing the eastern defence of Italy on the external arches of the Julian Alps.


If the Roman tradition is a splendid proof of the vital necessity of validly closing up that eastern entrance to Italy which from the most remote times had been barred against the danger of invasions, it is not work done in vain to remember how the conception — that the boundary of Italy must be the circle of the Alps, from the Brenner to the Quarnero — passed unanimously and concordantly through the medieval and modern periods to reach us adorned by the thoughts of poets, enriched by historic testimony and strengthened by the opinions of statesmen and scientists.

The testimony of poets and men of letters, considered in itself and for itself, in a political problem, cannot assume the value of an absolute and irrefutable testimony, but it constitutes the surest and most eloquent index of the currents of thought and the convictions of their ages (2).

Not only Dante, who fixed admirably the boundaries of Italy on the north, east and west, but ancient poets and medieval chronicle writers clearly say that our Peninsula is defended by the arch of the Alps.

Petrarca and Fazio degli Uberti in the XIV Century; Cammelli, called Pistoia, and Galezzo di Tarsia in the XV and early XVI centuries lament that the Alps are not a sufficient defence for Italy against the greed of the new barbarians: « Insecure barrier to your beloved shores » sings Gaelazzo di Tarsia.

And so also in the successive centuries up to Pindemonte who calls the Brenner the extreme boundary of Italy towards Germany: « The heights of the Brenner arise between you and Italy ».

« A right sanctioned by God and by nature » is the expression running through the Italian poets even also when, in the XVII and XVI II centuries, the conscience of nationality seems to have grown feeble.

But, as already said, the poets only manifest a vital and deep current of thought, of which we find pure and clear expression in all the series of historians and statesmen. The idea appears limpid even in most obscure, and often anonymous, medieval chronicle writers. Through numberless vicissitudes and historical crises, the Roman tradition never perishes and in all geographic descriptions, often in the midst of the dark ages, the tradition of the Roman boundaries are maintained unaltered. « Venetiae et Histriae pro una provincia habentur » (Venice and Istria are one province) writes the Longobard historian Paolo Diacono, and he gives great importance to the eastern boundary as a defence against the aggressiveness of the Avari and Slavs.

Istria was always considered by all medieval chronicle writers to be Italian: not the slightest doubt was admitted on this point.

Flavio Biondo da Forli, a humanist of great fame, and Guicciardini, the historian, considered Nauporto (now Ober-Laibach) as belonging to the Italian region.

When chartography arose as an art in itself, the chartographic represtations of the boundaries of Italy corresponded to the ancient and classic tradition both Roman and Italian, Italy is therein enclosed in the crown of the Trentino, Carnia and Julian Alps which separate her from Germany, Carniola, Croazia (or Pannonia). In a word, the boundary falls on the edge of the basin of Lubiana, generally including the region of Postojna (Adelsberg).

But it was really the reawakening of a national conscience, due to the influence of the French revolution. Which vividly gave rise to the question of the boundaries of the future country. And every writer, every statesman who studied the question, clearly conceived the boundaries of Italy as marked out by the necessity of closing the doors of Italy against the rapacity of the neighbouring peoples and rulers.

Two thousand years of bitter historical experience could not be passed over in vain by these thoughtful men of ours who, at the dawn of the « Risorgimento », expressed the new conscience of Italy.

For all of them, the Brenner and the chain of mountains which send towards the east the waters of the Sava, and fall on the Quarnero, are the sacred limits which nature has fixed for Italy and beyond which the foreigner is to be driven. And the Brenner and the Kauporto Gap are indicated as the doors which New Italy must essentially guard.

In 1806, in a letter of C. Testi to the minister Marescalchi in Paris, we read of the desire, ardent and diffused, in political and Milanese circles, to have Triest and Fiume and to place the boundary on the ancient line of the Alps (3).

Napoleon himself, in 1813, considered Istria as necessary to the defence of Venice (4); and in his « Memoires », dictated on St. Helena, he refers to the natural boundary of Italy constituted by the line which passes on the mountains between Lubiana and the Isonzo and touches the Adriatic and Fiume.

From 1815, among writers and statesmen, the conception of the real frontier of Italy became determined always more clearly. « The Romans conquered Triest for the political necessity of establishing there a barrier against the transalpine peoples » writes Domenico De Rossetti, solicitor to the commune of Triest in 1815. And in a memorandum presented by the Czar Alexander to the Piedmont Ambassador, the Count of Brusasco, reference is made to the constitution of an Italian state strong enough to close the doors of Italy in the face of the foreigner. Here we read « The limits of this state are traced, by nature, from the slopes of the Moncenisio to the Mountains of Carniola ».

And after these manifestations still isolated, there arose a numerous array of historians and political men who guided and determined the public opinion of the « Risorgimento ». There was no hesitation in their minds with regard to the north eastern boundaries of Italy; in all was clear, limpid, the perception that there could be no sure peace in the new Italian state if the openings to invasion were not well closed. And this thought formed from then, a lively and constant preoccupation.

Terenzio Mamiani when, in 1848, inciting the Italians to cross the Isonzo also at the cost of much blood, to reach the ancient natural frontiers of Italy, wrote « To the Julian Alps, Soldiers! I would cry out to them », (Political Writings, page 264). And elsewhere the same writer says « And it is necessary that the Alps be followed everywhere marking the bounds of Italy as mother nature in the first place created them ».

And Cavour, in 1851, said that « as long as the Austrians are on this side of the Alps, he could not give up his policy ».

A distinguished group of historians, with Cesare Balbi at their head, extended the frontier to the east as far as the Mount Bittorai, basing themselves on a well defined strategic geographic criterion.

The patriot, Alberto Cavalletto, in 1862, wished to render popular the idea that the real Venetia embraced all the territory included within the Po, Mincio, Adriatic, Raetic, Carnic and Julian Alps, from the Brenner to the Quarnero.

Joseph Mazzini, in 1866, thus spoke « Istria is the key to our eastern frontier, the door of Italy on the Adriatic side: the Trentino is ours as far as the chain of the Raetic Alps ».

Francesco Crispi was anxious, in 1877, on account of Italy's wanting an eastern frontier and did fail to make Bismark note that this deficiency exposed Italy to aggressions from the East.

Aurelio Saffi, Paolo Fambri, Prospero Antonini, S. Bonfiglio, and P. Borghi all examined the question of the Italian frontier with regard to political and military matters: for all of them it was clear that the defence of Italy was to be placed on the external arches of the Julian Alps.

The detailed work by P. Antonini « Eastern Friuli » (Vallardi, Milan 1865) especially shows as being necessary, from a military point of view, besides the rectification which returns to us the defile of Saifnitz (Tarvis), both the basin of Adelsberg and the basins of Ober-Loitsch-Planina and of Zirknitz.

Finally, it is necessary to recall to mind the careful study made by the Sardinian General Staff in 1815, which considers the Trentino and Julian Alps as the only and real boundary, the bulwark of Italy against the dangers from the East.

If the question of the boundaries of Italy arose, after the Roman period, in such a vital form only after a great interval of time, and that is, at the beginning of the XIX Century, it is because the Middle Ages, breaking the sovereignty of the state into small feudal and municipal fragments, caused to be lost to view the importance of the political frontier of Italy, considered as a sole and inseparable nation.

And yet, from the fall of Rome to the advent of Napoleon Bonaparte (which coincides with the ripening of a new Italian national conscience) the political problem of the unity of Italy is never forgotten: it is in the minds of writers and statesmen, it takes form in the Roman tradition that Italy must have her boundaries on the Alpine watershed and at the Quarnero.

But, when a great Italian national conscience was formed and the tendency to unite became manifest, the unanimous agreement of writers, historians, political men, military specialists arose and clearly demonstrated the necessity of placing the frontier of New Italy where nature marked it and that is, on the north, on the Brenner and, on the east, at mount Tricorno, mount Nevoso as far as the Quarnero confuting, as did Cesare Correnti and Pietro Maestri, in 1864, the absurd German theory that Italy on the east should have no frontier.

And thus — and it is certainly a thesis which does not require further demonstration — it is of no use to illustrate the persistence of Italian sentiments in each of the territories through the particular vicissitudes of history.

Let us remember only — as a proof how deeply the beneficial dominion of Venice was rooted in the regions on the other shore — the demonstrations of grief and affection for the Venetia republic which, even in the Slav districts of Istria, as also in the Dalmatian districts, took place when the « Serenissima » ended with the Pact of Campoformio in 1796), and the continual manifestations of Italian sentiments expressed in every way by the inhabitants of Istria during all the XIX Century.

The ardent appeals of Triest and Fiume, in the present days, and the enthusiastic welcome received by our troops, have, on the other hand, consecrated the fact that centuries of struggle and oppression have not succeeded in destroying or bribing the Italian soul of the people of our « irredente » lands, who have arisen happy in their sacred enthusiasm, as soon as the chains which kept them slaves were broken.

(1) The information referred to is taken from the well known studies of P. Kandler's Istrian Diplomatic Code, Trieste, Lloyd, 1864, G. Sacchi, Ancient boundaries of Italy.

Reports of the Lombard Literature and Science Institute 1864.

A. Müllner and A. Puschi, Archeografo Triestino. 1902.

(2) What a profetic accent resounds in the limpid verses of Petrarca: « Nature provided well for our state when she placed the Alps as a defence between us and German ire ».

(3) Milan — Napoleonic Archives — Drawer 305.

(4) Sorel — L'Europe et la revolution francaise 1904 Vol. 8-19-174.