IT was by a happy chance that ray first acquaintance with Crete and the Cretans was made just previous to the outbreak of the insurrection which has just now brought the island so strongly to the attention of the world, and which will prevent any future traveller of this generation from seeing it, as I saw it, at the highest point of that comparative material prosperity which thirty-five years of such peace as Christian lands enjoy under Turkish rule had created, and before the beginning of that course of destruction which has now made the island one expanse of poverty and ruin. It was in the beginning of the last year of the administration of Ismael Pacha, in August, 1865, that, blockaded a month in Syra by cholera, I finally got passage on a twenty-ton yacht belonging to an English resident of that place, and made a loitering three days’ run to Canea.
Crete, though never visited by cholera, was in quarantine at all Greek ports, and intercourse with the great world was limited to occasional voyages of the little caïques of the island to Syra, where they endured two weeks’ quarantine, and whence they brought back the mails and a cargo of supplies, so that any arrival was an event to the Cydonians, and that of a yacht flying the English and American flags at once was enough to turn out the entire population. The fitful northerly breeze had kept us the whole afternoon in sight of the port; and it was only as sunset closed the doors of the healthoffice that we dropped anchor in the middle of the little harbor, — the wondering centre of attraction to a wondering town, whose folk came to assist at the sunsetting and our arrival. Lazy soldiers, lying at full length on the old bronze cannon of the batteries, looked out at us, only raising their heads from their crossed arms ; grave Turks, smoking their nargiles in front of the cafes that open on the Marina, turned their chairs round to look at us without stopping their hubble - bubbling ; and all about us, where nothing else was, a line of motley humanity — Greek, Turk, Egyptian, Nubian, Abyssinian, under hats, caps, tarbouches, turbans, hats Persian and ecclesiastical, and no hats at all — half circled us with mute and mostly stupid admiration.
It was toy first experience of a Turkish town, and perhaps I was more struck with, the dilapidation and evident decay than I ought to have been. The sea-wall of the massive Venetian fortification seemed crumbling and carious ; the earth-work above it was half washed away ; the semicircle of houses on the Marina looked seedy and tottering ; the Marina itself was in places under-cut and falling into the water ; and above us, overtopping the whole city, the Pacha’s palace, built on the still substantial, though time-worn and neglected walls of the old Venetian citadel, reared a lath-and-plaster shabbiness against the glow of the western sky, reminding one of an American seaside hotel in the last stages of popularity and profitable tenancy, — great gaps in the plaster showing the flimsiness of the construction, while a coating of unmitigated whitewash almost defied the sunset glow to modify it. On the western point of the crescent of the Marina, under the height on which stands the palace, is a domed mosque, — one large central dome surrounded by little ones, — with a not ugly minaret, slightly cracked by earthquakes, standing at one side in a little cemetery, among whose turbaned tombstones grow a palm and an olive tree, and beyond which the khan (also serving as custom-house), a two-story house of the Venetian days, relieves the dreary white with a wash of ochre, stained and streaked to any tint almost. A little nearer the bottom of the port is an old Venetian gate, which once shut the Marina in at night while the custom-house guard slept, and over the keystone of which the Lion of St. Mark’s still turns his mutilated head to the sea.
On the whole, the look of the thing was not unpicturesque, except for the hopeless whiteness and shabbiness of the principal architectural features, and especially the “ Konak” (palace), which was, beyond all disguise of light or circumstance, an eyesore and a nuisance, the more so that its foundations were fine old brown stone masonry, delicious in color, solid, and showing at one end a pointed arched vault, with its portward end fallen down to show the interior, and crowned with an enormous mass of cactus. On the south side, invisible from the port, are three fine Gothic windows, now filled up, but preserving the traceries. The palace could scarcely have had a nobler site, or the site a more ignoble occupancy.
Too late for pratique, we had nothing to do but turn in early, and get ready to go ashore at sunrise.
Once landed, I began to wish that the comparison I had drawn for the Konak was a more just one. and that inside its card-board classicalism could be found the slightest approach to American hospitality. Not an inn of any kind exists in Canea : a dirty, dingy restaurant, which called itself “ The GuestHouse of the Spheres,” offered one small bedroom, which the filth of the place, with its suggestions of bugs and fleas, forbade the title of a sleeping room. While the yacht stayed I had a bed; but after that it was a dreary prospect for a man who had intended living at his ease in his inn the rest of the summer. And here let me, once for all, give due credit to Crete, and say that, though there is not from one end of the island to the other an inn, the stranger will never wait long, even in the smallest village, to know where he may sleep, and will rarely find a greater difficulty than to reconcile the rival claims to the honor of his presence. In my case, I had no greatly prolonged anxiety, and accepted the proffered hospitality of Mr. Alexis, then ViceConsul of the United States of America, and now Dutch Consul, to whom most of the few travellers in Crete are more or less under obligations.
I thoroughly enjoyed some days of careless loafing about Canea. I have intimated my slight experience of Turkish towns ; and if the critic should think it worth while to remark that I should have seen Constantinople and Cairo, Smyrna and Salonica, before attempting to describe one, I admit the justice of the criticism, and pass over readily all that is Turkish in Canea, the more that it is mainly of negative or destructive character. What remains of interest in Canea is Venetian, though of that there is almost nothing which represents the great period of the sea-republic, except the fine, and in most parts wellconditioned walls. Here and there a double-arched window, with a bit of fine carving in the capitals, peeps out from the jutting uglinesses of seraglio windows, close latticed and mysterious ; one or two fine doorways, neglected and battered as to their ornamentation, some coats of arms, three or four arched gateways, and as many fountains, are all that will catch the eye of the artist inside the walls, unless it be the port, with its quaint and picturesque boats of antique pattern.
Canea had its west-end in what is now known as the Castelli, - the slight elevation on which, most probably, the ancient city was built, and on which stood the Venetian citadel, and the aristocratic quarter, enclosed and gated with an interior wall, whose circuit may still be traced in occasional glimpses of the brown stone above and between the Turkish houses. The Castelli of to-day is the principal street of this quarter, running through its centre, and guarded by tire gates whose arches remain, valueless and without portcullis, but showing in their present state how strong a defence was needed to assure the patricians in their slumbers against any importunate attempts of their malcontent subjects and fellow-townsmen to clear off the score which the infamous government of the Republic accumulated. One doorway in this street struck me particularly, from the exquisite ornamentation of its stone doorway ; but the palace to which it opened is abandoned, and in ruins. Most of the better class of these houses are in the same state, modern repair being only a shabby patching up and whitewashing. The quarter is inhabited almost entirely by Mussulmans; and, though habitable houses are greatly in demand in the business parts of Canea, and many of these old palaces could be made available at a small cost, their owners have so little energy, or so great an aversion to new-comers and Christians, that none of them are put under repairs,
On the walls of the city are many old bronze guns of both Venetian and Turkish manufacture. The former still bear the Lion of St. Mark’s, and one long nine-pounder is exquisitely ornamented with a reticulation of vines cast in relief over the whole length of it. It bears the name of Albergetti, its founder. The only modern guns I saw were half a dozen heavy cast-iron thirty-two-pounders of Liege, and a few light bronze guns on the battery commanding the entrance of the harbor. The whole circuit of the walls is still furnished with the ancient bronze guns, of which several are of about twelve-inch calibre, with their stone balls still lying by them.
The harbor of Canea approximates in form to a clumsy L, the bottom of the letter forming the basin in the centre of which our yacht was moored, with a longer recess running eastward from the entrance, and divided from the open sea only by a reef on which the mole is built, following the direction of the coast at this part of the island. The narrow entrance is at the exterior angle of the L, between the water-battery and the lighthouse ; and in the interior angle are the Castelli, Konak, &c. Along the inner side of the eastern recess, and across its extremity, is a line of galley-houses, — the penitential offering, it is said, of a patrician exiled here, to purchase his repatriation. Earthquakes have rent their walls, decay has followed disuse, for the harbor has now become so filled up that only a small boat can get into the furthermost of the arches, and the greater part of the galley-houses have dry land out to their entrances, and the ship-yard of to-day is in the vacant space left by the fall of two or three of them.
As might be expected, Canea is a very dull city. Out of the highway of Eastern trade or travel, whoever visits it must do so for itself alone, for the arts of amusing idlers and luring travellers are unknown to it. The only amusements for summer are a nargile on the Marina, studying primitive civilization the while, during the twilight hours, and the afternoon circuit of the ramparts, where every day at five o’clock an execrable band tortures the most familiar arias with clangor of discordant brass. From the ramparts we overlooked the plain, bounded by Mount Malaxa, above which loomed the Aspravouna, showing late in summer strips of snow in the ravines that furrowed the bare crystalline peaks, brown and gray and parched with the drought of three months. The Cretan summer runs rainless from June to October ; and the only relief to the aridity of the landscape is formed by the olive-orchards, covering nearly the whole expanse between the sea sands and the treeless ridge of Malaxa with so luxuriant a green, that, accustomed to the olive of Italy, I could scarcely believe these to be the same trees. This I at first supposed to be owing to some peculiarity of the plain, but subsequently found it to be characteristic of the Cretan olive ; and I remember hearing Captain Brine of the Racer express the same surprise I myself felt on first seeing the olive here. The trees are like river-side willows in early summer.
To get a clear comprehension of the position of Canea and the ancient advantages of Cydonia, its local predecessor, and at the same time of the whole northwestern district of Crete, one must ascend the hills of the Akroteri, — at least the first ridge, from which the view is superb. The Aspravouna towers higher: we look into the gorges of the Malaxa ridge, and up the ravine of Theriso, to the mountains about Laki, — an immemorial strong-hold of the Cretans, behind which, a sure and impregnable refuge to brave men, is the great plain of Omalos. Farther on are the hills of Selinos and Kisamos, sending off northward two long parallel ridges of considerable altitude, the peninsula of Grabusa, the ancient Corycus, tire western land of Crete, and, from where we look, visible in portions above the nearer ridge of Cape Spada, the Dictynnian peninsula, which divides the plain of Cydonia from that of Kisamon and Polyrrhenia, and, but for the glimpses of Corycus above it. shutting in our view, as it bounds the territory dependent on the ancient city.
No site in Crete is more distinctly recognizable from the indications of the ancient geographers than Cydonia. It had “ a port with shoals outside,”and from this elevation one looks directly down the longer fork of the harbor, and can see how the mole is built on a black reef, whose detached masses extend from the lighthouse eastward to the corner of the city wall, which is built out to meet it, and then descends to the mole, with which it is continuous. Beyond the entrance of the harbor, the reef again appears, gradually nearing the shore ; and beyond this, as far as the eye can reach, are no rocks, — no other nook where a galley could have taken refuge.
Flow the hearts of the Pelasgian wanderers . must have bounded when their exploring prows pushed into this nook, which offered them shelter from all winds that blow ! It was a site to gladden the eyes of those builders of cities. Up above them, the bluff rock waiting for the layers of huge stones, — the eastern nook of the port more perfectly protected than the southern, which receives more or less the swell from the northerly winds, and whose inner shore of hard sand tempted the weary keels, — while all around stretched a wide, fertile, and then probably forest-clad plain, doubtless abounding in the stags for which the district was long famous. Here the restless race “ located,” and seem to have prospered in the days of those brave men who lived before Agamemnon, to whom and to whose allies in the Trojan war they seem to have given much the same trouble that their reputed descendants, the Sphakiotes, did to the Cretan Assembly of 1866, not being either then or now over-devoted to Panhellenism, though never averse to a comfortable fight.
Pashley quotes a Latin author to show that Cydonia was one of the most ancient, if not the most ancient, of Cretan cities, — “ Cnossus and Erythræa, and, as the Greeks say, Cydonia, mother of cities.” The alleged foundation of the city by Agamemnon was clearly, if anything, only a revival of the more ancient city; and after him successive colonizations rolled their waves in on this beautiful shore, obedient to its irresistible attraction. Dorian, Samiote, Roman, followed, adding new blood, and perhaps new wealth ; and when finally, in the degradation of the Byzantine empire, Venice took possession of Crete, Cydonia had so far passed into insignificance, that, “seeking a place to build a fortress to quell the turbulent Greeks,” she refounded Cydonia, and called it Canea, — an evident corruption of the old name. With all this building and rebuilding, nothing remains of the ancient city. A mass of masonry near the Mussulman cemetery, which Chevalier in 1699 saw covered with a mosaic pavement, is still visible, but is Roman work, rubble and mortar. As Pashley says, the modern walls of Canea would have been sufficient to consume all vestiges of the ancient building. The citations he gives ought to put at rest all question of the identity of Canea with Cydonia, and we shall presently see the only serious objection which has been raised against it disappear under an examination of the geological character of the plain.1
Looking from our hill-top south-westwardly across the plain, the eye is carried between two low ranges of hills into a valley which seems a continuation of this plain. Here runs the Iardanos, along which, according to Homer, the Cydonians dwelt. But it is now in no point of its course nearer than ten miles to Canea. This discrepancy troubled the early travellers, who were finally inclined to solve the riddle by supposing Cydonia to have been a district, and not a city merely. But study the plain a little, or Spratt s chart of it, and we shall see that from that far-off river-bed an almost unbroken and very gentle inclination leads through the plain, by the rear of the city, to the bay of Suda, a considerable ridge rising between it and the sea.
Suppose the mountains reclothed with forests, the hillsides pierced with perennial springs, and the flowing of the waters, not, as now, fitful and impetuous, but copious and constant. Then dam up the narrow opening the river has cut through the coast line of hills, in its direct course from the mountains to the sea, with a smaller and similar one cut by a stream coming down from Theriso, and you have the whole water sheet of the north side of the Aspravouna emptying into the bay of Suda. In this supposed route of the Iardanos (now the Platanos), just where it commences its cutting through the hills, is a large marsh, the remnant of what was once a lake of a mile or more in width, when the lardanos, then a gentle, bounteous river, turned from its present course to run eastward, and deposit its washings where they made the marshes of Tuzla, and the shallows at the head of Suda Bay. Civilization, ship-building, commerce, carried away the forests; and, thus changed * into a furious mountain torrent, — three months a roaring flood which no bridge can stride, and the rest of the year almost a dry pebbled bed,— the lardanos made a straight cut for the sea, drained its lake, forgot its old courses, and changed, in time, its name; and so it happens that the Cydonians no longer dwell along the lardanos.
While we are on our look-out, let us try to study out another puzzle, which even Spratt left in doubt, i. e. the site of Pergamos. We know that it was near both Cydonia and Achaia, and Spratt pretty conclusively fixes the latter on the Dictynnian peninsula; so that it must have been in our present field of view. Looking this over, we can see but one point of land which offers the indispensable requisites for a city of the heroic ages, and that is the site of the modern Platania, midway between Canea and the peninsula, — a bold hill with a nearly perpendicular face to the north and east, and so abrupt on the west as to be easily fortified, and connected with the hills on the south by a narrow neck of hill, — such a site, in fact, as any one familiar with Pelasgic remains would seek at once in a country where any such remains existed. The fact that no remains exist to show that an ancient city stood here proves no more than at Canea; while the fact that none of the possible sites in the neighborhood show any such remains is conclusive against them, as no modern cities are there to consume the ancient masonry. In our researches in the island, we shall almost invariably find that, where there are remains of ancient cities, there is no modern town, and that, where a modern town stands on an ancient site determined, there are few, if any, antique vestiges. The reason is evident, — the ruins serve as quarry. The change of name even proves more for our hypothesis than against it. The plane-tree was not in ancient times so rare in the island as now, and would hardly have then given a name to a city, while now it not only names Platania, but the river even,— a grove of plane-trees occupying the valley between the city and the mouth of the river. The probability is, then, that the names of both are synchronous ; and it would be useless to look for any Platania in ancient times, or any vestige of the name “ Pergamos ” in modern times, while, if the ancient city stood on a site now abandoned, we should in all probability find both ruins and name to indicate the locality.
The conjecture of Spratt, that Pergamos was near Pyrgos Pori is only a conjecture, Pyrgos being too common a name for any strongly situated village or ruin to have any significance. A city at that locality would, moreover, have been cut off from all sea approach by the lardanos in its ancient course ; and as Pergamos was one of those cities founded by the wanderers from Troy, — either, they say, by Agamemnon or Æneas, — it would probably not have been founded on an inland site, or even on a river navigable, as the lardanos must have been, for small craft, the access to which would be commanded by Aptera, Minoa, and Cydonia. So far as conjecture goes, it seems to me much more likely that Hagia Irene — which Spratt supposes the ancient city — was Achaia, the location of which he avoids by supposing it a district, rather than a city, forgetting that in those days no one dwelt outside of city walls. My hypothesis, coupled with that of the identity of Platania with Pergamos, would satisfy all the exigencies of the case, which that of neither Spratt nor Pashley does. For the rest, Pergamos is mainly interesting as the burial-place of Lycurgus.
From our point of view on the Akroteri, we see the whole domain of Cydonia, — as at our left Suda Bay terminates the view, (on the first plateau eastward of the bay Aptera presided,) while the Dictynnian hills divide it from the plain of Kisamos to the west, and the mountains rise abruptly to the south;—a little kingdom well defined, one of the most perfectly beautiful territories the tourist can find, and still fertile,— though the hills have forgotten their fruit and the plain its river, — and capable of sustaining a much larger population than it now supports, if the Mohammedan blight were off it.
Almost at the foot of the ridge where we stand is a beautiful example of a Venetian fortified country-house, — a little castle, turreted and loop-holed, with a drawbridge thrown from a tower rising opposite the doorway, and still in excellent preservation. Other similar houses may be seen, but I have nowhere in the island found one so fine as this. At the farther edge of the plain, lying along under the hills, is a succession of white villages, — Zukalaria, Nerokouro (running water), Murnies, celebrated for its oranges and the brutal and gratuitous massacre by Mustapha Pacha (late Imperial Commissioner), in 1833, Boutzounaria (dripping water), first place of assembling of the Cretan malcontents in 1866, Perivolia, Galatas, Hagia Marina, and Platania, by the sea.
Off Platania is the island of St. Theodore, whose fortress, defended by the Venetian mercenaries against the Turks, showed one of those examples of heroic constancy we so generally and erroneously attribute to patriotic courage; for, defying the enemy to the last, the garrison defended the castle until the Turks had stormed and filled it with their numbers, and then blew it up, destroying every one within the walls. The foundations still remain, but level with the cemented floor ; everything is razed cleanly, while the fragments lie along the slopes like the ejections of a volcano.
Midway between the Akroteri and Canea lies Kalepa, a suburb where most of the foreign consuls reside in summer, with many of the wealthier Khaniotes, and the only place in the vicinity where the summer can be passed in comfort. A few houses are fitted with European improvements, but the greater part are the simple and cheerless residences of the Cretan peasant, furnished with the merest necessities of existence. Even here, in the most prosperous of the villages I have been in, life is, tor most of the people, only a struggle against poverty, thrift being impossible where every surplus meets a new impost. Many houses tire still in ruins from the devastations of 1821 - 1830, showing how incompletely the island had recovered from that war before being . plunged into another more destructive still. From the ravages of this, however, Kalepa is saved so far, thanks to a few consular residents, — but saved alone of all the villages of the plain country.
If it be true that civilization is determined by natural advantages, it must be that Cydonia was the “ mother of cities,” at least of all the Hellenic realm, for no more enchanting or tempting site have I ever known through travel or description. With its climate of paradisiacal softness and healthfulness, and the beauty of its framing hills, — fanned in summer by the north winds from the Ægean and by south winds tempered by the snows of the Aspravouna, — with a winter in which vegetation never ceases and frost never comes, — with its garden-like plain and its old-time river, and its port unexceptionable in ancient times, — nothing was wanting to render prosperity and security complete in former days, as nothing but freedom is wanting now to restore both, and make the city the most attractive place in the classical world. Hitherto, its charms have but tempted invasion, and its fertility has only grown harvests for the sword. Here began the Cretan conquest by Metellus ; here began the movements which, one after the other, have shaken the Ottoman chain only to make it heavier; and here began the latest struggle, which, so long and gallantly upheld, may finally bring back to Crete the civilization born on her shores, but for so many centuries an exile.
NOT to make one’s first excursion from Canea to the Akroteri, with its convent of the Hagia Triada (Holy Trinity), and its sacred Grotto of St. John, would be lesa maesta to the Khaniotes, who regard a pilgrimage to the latter as entitling one to a Hadjiship.
The ride (or walk, which I recommend, in preference, to good pedestrians) is a delightful one in early summer; and, even after the heats of August have browned the plain of the Akroteri, an early start from Canea will leave a memory of breezy upland with wide expanse of mountain and sea, — including some of the most picturesque views to be found in Crete, — and of the rich odors of many aromatic herbs and flowers, through whose rifled sweets the Akroteri is famous for its honey. A three hours’ ride — first up the zigzag road that climbs the ridge above Kalepa, and then over an undulating plain sparsely dotted with hamlets and clouded here and there with olive-orchards — brings one, with a sufficient appreciation of good cheer, and clean, cool rooms, shade, and quiet, into the cloistered court of Hagia triada, a semimilitary building of the Venetian days, still unfinished, the Turkish conquest having interrupted its progress, with all other in the seventeenth century. In the centre of the quadrangle, round which are the rooms of the monks and the guest-rooms, stands the church, an edifice nondescript as to style, with a facade of a species of Venetian Doric, fronting a building whose plan is a Latin cross, and whose roof observes Byzantine tradition. On the entablature over the doorway are the dedicatory Greek capitals, BƬƳƟTH, the meaning of which none of the priests could tell me, though a duplicate inscription in Latin and Greek beside the door told by whom the convent was built ; and the Hegoumenos added the tradition, that the two founders, being converted by an extraordinary illumination from the Latin to the Greek Church, gave an edifying proof of their devotion to their new creed by erecting this convent.
The Hegoumenos was a Sphakiote, a very shrewd, clear-headed and energetic man, and, though betraying no great familiarity with books or dogmas, showed that he was a better fisher in those waters where men are to be caught than most of his confreres of any creed. He had that manner of innate authority which never fails to impose itself on the indecisions and selfdistrusts of the mass of men, and which in a wider circle of ambition would certainly have won him a larger place. Like the Hegoumenos of every other Greek convent, he was elected by the monks, and, though completely in the hands of his brethren, and at any time liable to be removed by another election, the subordination to him was perfect as could have been imagined. It was a curious exemplification of the force of democracy. Yet not only in Hagia Triada, but in other Cretan convents, I have seen how the mass of men find their governors as surely and wisely, and often more fitly, than if they had had men born to the place, or appointed by some superior hierarchy.
In Italy I had always been accustomed to find the convents posted on the hill-tops, and almost inaccessible ; but in Crete the loveliest valleys are almost certain to have been chosen as their locations. The convent of the Hagia Triada is indeed on a plain, but at the foot of the range of hills which skirts the Akroteri to the north, and is thus almost shut in from two sides, while to the south the plain extends to Suda Bay, which is hidden in the chasm between the Akroteri and Mount Malaxa, and beyond which the mountains of Sphakia rise in picturesque and alluring redundance of ravine and massive rock. All the nearer plain is green with the olive-orchards, and the road which approaches the front entrance is flanked with two lines of cypresses, and carob-trees grow up the rocky heights overlooking the convent, where no other tree will grow. The hum of bees filled the air, and mingled with the notes of nightingales (poetically fabled to sing only by night), the chirping of multitudinous sparrows, wrens, and linnets, and the twittering of swallows. At the outer gate sat two or three aged monks, picturesque and sculpturesque at once, like enchanted porters at the doors of some spellbound palace, their long, gray beards and sunken, listless eyes according with their own and the convent’s external dilapidation.
The beauty and quiet of the place were almost enchantment enough to account for the gray-headed porters, their immobility and longevity, and I longed to draw the charm over me. But I was one of a party which had come under the inspiration of the most inane motive of travel, — the desire to see all there was to be seen ; and so, after a half-hour’s repose, and the usual refreshments, — preserved fruits and a glass of water, followed by coffee, — we enlisted the Hegoumenos in our party, and set out for the grotto, taking in the way Hagios Joannes, a still more incomplete and still more secluded convent than Hagia Triada, among the hills between the latter and the sea. The road which we followed would be called by no means a bad road for Crete, but anywhere else would be execrable, — a mere bridle-path through a gorge in a range of hills from which all the soil seems to have been washed with most of the small stones, and where, with much precaution, your beast goes picking his way as if in a laborious, slow-paced minuet. The convent stands in an opening of the hills, on a little bit of comparatively plain land,— a half-finished battlemented square pile, offering defence against a slight attack; but the monks said that the Turks always found the road so bad that they never came to attack them during any of the island wars, though Hagia Triada was twice pillaged. The comparative poverty of Hagios Joannes may have had something to do with its exemption, but the road would defend it from my encroachments forever ; and, in fact, visitors only pass it on the way to the grottoes and convent of Katholikon, which lie near the opening of the gorge, where it becomes a wild glen, and approaches the sea. The path, descending, led us to the Cave of the Bear, where we had arranged to lunch, and the bounties of Canea, spread on the ground in the mouth of the cave, went to repair the wear and tear of body and temper caused by the badness of the road. The cave derives its name from a mass of stalactite which has a traceable resemblance to a bear, but it had no further interest than being our lunching-place. Here the road became so bad that even a donkey could not follow it, and we clambered down on foot by zigzag and rock stair to the mouth of the Cave of St. John. Caves per se have no kind of attraction to me. Stalactite and stalagmite are pretty much the same : so, half the way in, I made excuse of the fatigue of some of the ladies, and, determining to go no farther, proved my gallantry by stopping to keep them company, thus abandoning my Hadjiship, which can only be claimed when the inner chamber is attained. If, then, the reader would know more, he must consult the guide-book, when there is one ; and meanwhile let me assure him, on the authority of Pashley, that the cave is four hundred and seventy feet deep, and, on that of my more persevering fellow-visitors, that at the bottom is a chamber, very fine and imposing by torchlight, where is a couch of natural formation on which died the saint, leaving his name with his bones and the odor of his sanctity. The story is that this St. John — neither the Baptist nor the Evangelist, but a hermit of Crete — centuries ago made his abode here, and lived many years without seeing the face of another man. Lest he should in daylight chance upon his abhorred and outcast brethren, or any of them, he only ventured out at night, and lived on what he could find in other people’s gardens or orchards. Happening one night to be discovered in the act of laying in a provision of corn, he was mistaken for a thief, and received an arrow from the owner of the provision. He crawled back, mortally wounded, to his grotto, and never came out again except in the shape of relics.
The convent of Katholikon, long abandoned, did not invite entrance : a Venetian bridge spans the ravine, and gave access to the chapel for the hermits whose little dens still remain on the other side, the denizens having long since deserted them. Down by the sea are some Venetian ruins, a boat-house, and some masonry of a landing. I advise travellers who will visit Katholikon, its cave and hermitages, to order a boat round from Canea to meet them at this place, and then go home in comfort,—the only point to be gained from going back by land being a more thorough experience of Cretan roads. To those who intend seeing the rest of the island, opportunities will not lack for this ; to others, the knowledge is superfluous. A careful horse will make his way down, but he ought to be strong to get up. Mine was not ; and, in climbing, his force or his footing failed him, and over he went backwards, and I narrowly escaped being crushed under him. Stunned and half bewildered by the fall, — for I had struck on my back amongst sharp stones, with one of which my head had made intimate acquaintance, — I managed, I know not how, to extricate myself from the flourish of legs ; the horse lying more helpless than myself in the narrow path between two slopes of stone, and vainly plunging to get over on his side. He finally completed his somerset, to the confusion of the line of equestrians behind, the nearest of whom were speedily dismounted; and the chances of a kicking match among the quadrupeds were good for a moment, until two prompt Arabs, in attendance on Miss T—, restored the disorderly elements to peace. Sore, bleeding, and faint, I lay awhile on a bed of wild thyme, until I began to feel the good effects of a cordial administered by the patéras, and we resumed our file, most of the party returning directly to Canea, — myself, with a companion who served as guide and interpreter, passing the night at the convent, the good Hegoumenos being urgent in bis entreaties that the whole company would likewise honor his roof. None of the ladies felt inclined to do so, and perhaps it was just as well for their repose that they did not ; for, clean as the rooms of the convent were, and white as was the linen, there were discomforts which, though infinitely small, were infinitely numerous, and, by the law of majorities, our tormentors turned us out of bed to pass the night in the open air, — a change always safe, and even delightful at this season, in Crete.
The Greek convent is a true hostel; no one is refused admission and hospitality, —no restrictions on the gentler sex make it impossible for real parties of pleasure to visit its beautiful valley, — no Pharisaic rigidity of selfdenial makes it imperative to refuse visitors good cheer, though the community observe their long and trying fasts with a severity which puts to shame abstinence in Catholic countries. (The Greek fasts two hundred and forty-six days out of three hundred and sixty-five, and most of this time not even fish is allowed, while part of the time oil, milk, and shell-fish are also forbidden.) And the welcome is no mere show of kindliness ; the longer you stay at the convent, the better the monks are pleased, and staying longer than you intended is the highest compliment you can pay them. What change a larger acquaintance with the world will produce, of course I cannot say, or how much the spirit of hospitality will diminish by an increase of the calls on it ; but now no English country-house makes you more at home than a Cretan convent.
In the morning, the patéras guided us to a peak, near the northeastern point of the Akroteri, whence we could overlook, not only the peninsula and Suda Bay, but the Apokorona, the coast from Cape Spada to Cape Stavros, the Rhiza as far as the mountains of Kisamos, Mount Ida, and the mountains of Sphakia, Lampe, and even, in the dim distance, Lassithe. Included in the field of view were the sites of seven of the Cretan cities of early days, not counting Minoa and Canea, hidden from view. On the north, we had the Greek islands Cerigotto, Cerigo, Milo, Santorini, and others less prominent. It was my intention to return by the shore of Suda Bay, in order to visit Minoa, but the badness of the roads, and the utter want of interest in the intermediate distance, determined me to visit that part of the Akroteri by boat at a later period.
Returning to the convent, we had not long to wait for a capital dinner, — soup, a boiled chicken, mutton stewed with artichokes and beans, new honey, and rice prepared with milk, sugar, and spices, with a dessert of figs and grapes. The wine of the convent had a bitter taste, from an herb steeped in it, which was preferable to the pitch of Greek wines, but still not a desirable addition. One of the monks, who had a small property close by the convent, brought us a bottle of wine of his own production, which was one of the best I have ever tasted in the East, and to my mind better than that of Cyprus. With coffee and cigarettes we stretched ourselves on the sofas before the windows, through which the east wind blew the odors extorted from the fragrant herbs and flowers by the overpowering sun. No other sound than the hum of the bees darting past with unwearying haste, and the chirping of a few birds amongst the olives, disturbed the air, and the monks left us to dream or doze as we pleased. The charm of the place was complete, and it would not have been a penance to make the convent a summer’s abode. The fleas were a drawback, surely ; but nowhere in Crete can one get away from that plague, and at Hagia Triada they were less offensive, as I learned by later experience, than in many other convents, and even in most private houses.
When, the sun cooling his fires, we ordered our steeds out, and prepared to return, the whole personnel of the convent came to assist, with the inhabitants of a little village adjoining, which finds protection and Christian charity from the convent. The monks, excepting two or three, seemed of an ignorant and boorish quality, but hard-working and kind-hearted. Here, evidently, a certain kind of bliss was in ignorance, and the most learned were not wise enough to be accused of much folly. The Hegoumenos, in bidding us good by, begged us warmly to come again and stay long, — a month at least. All joined in the kindly wish ; and we rode back through the lengthening olive shadows, which never had fitter accompaniment than in the peace and content which the convent promised us, and i am sure not vainly. Not that I am a believer in the peace that does not come of fighting, — the retreat before battle, — or think that quiet and laziness are one. Content is a piggish virtue and one which no earnest soul can abide in, and unsleeping ambition is the only Jacob’s ladder; but when my reader is tired of struggling, and must repose, I am sure that he (or she, even) would find in Hagia Triada such peace and content as may be healthfully known, and no begrudging of the solace and satisfaction to heretics. It seems to me that only those who have no right to a quiet life envy it in others, and, as our monks earn their right to be charitable, they are not envious, even with sinners.
- As I shall have constant occasion to draw from Pashley information and quotations which my own classical reading, time, and library facilities do not permit me even to verify, I shall, once for all, confess indebtedness for almost all the classical knowledge I possess of the island, as well as for almost all the topographical information and direction in my visits to antique sites, to either him or Spratt, without whose invaluable researches the half of Crete would still be in a measure terra incognita. What I hope to add to the knowledge of Crete will be in a different vein from theirs.↩
- Consult Marsh’s “ Man arid Nature.”↩