KISAMOS. — POLYRRHENIA.
WHOEVER rides out by the western gate of Canea will have occasion to remember (it lie should know it) the way in which Sir Latinial was taken aback, in Lowell’s poem, when, coming out of his castle gate on just such a morning as all summer mornings arc in Crete,
And midw ay its leap Ids heart stood still
Like a frozen waterfall ” ;
for not only one leper, but a score of lepers beset the roadside, some in the dust and some in the doors oi the village they have built themselves just outside the walls. Like him above mentioned,
they thrust out their mutilated hands as proof that they are lepers, and therefore entitled to alms, meantime moaning inarticulately, — some with voices reduced to a whisper which scarcely retains a human tone, — while, a living denial of the leprosy’s contagion, there stands in one of the doorways a woman quite free from it, pointing you, as you pass, to the bed inside where her husband lies, too far gone to do duty outside. Perhaps twenty houses form the village, containing a community between which and the rest of the world there is no tie but almsgiving.
Yet, here the lepers marry and are given in marriage, and breed leprous children to succeed to their places and perpetuate their lucrative loathsomeness. I have seen groups of lepers at nightfall counting out and dividing the alms of the day, before going home, and exhibiting a total much beyond the average wages of laboring men. Modern medical science has entirely disproved the notion of the infectiousness of leprosy, but it will be many generations ere a sound Oriental will give bis hand to his leprous relative, or willingly touch anything that is his, though the sum of the lepers’ alms flows back into circulation without pratique. Money, I notice, is never infected.
Emerging from the leper suburb you come on a Turkish cemetery, in which nothing appears remarkable except two domed tombs, where, on certain days, you will see the families of the buried Turks, or the worshippers of the defunct saints, — whichever it be that lies there, — in the performance of their religious exercises, of the nature of which I confess the profoundest ignorance.
I only know that I once raised a storm of indignation and unmistakable expletives by trying to see the inside of the dome during a ceremony, and beat a retreat which I should have been ashamed to execute before a scimitarbearing Turk.
Shortly after passing the cemetery we cross the Kladiso, the torrent which runs through the ravine of Theriso, and there find our road fork, one path leading to Platania along the shore, and the other to Alikianu. The former is the high road to Kisamos ; the latter to Omalo, via Laki. We took the seashore, a fresh north-wind rolling the surf up to our horses’ feet, and filling the air with salt sea odors. At intervals we met parties of villagers coming into Canea with their little donkey loads of fruits or vegetables, or a few fowls, not enough to pay the clay’s wages in any developing country. This is the way communication is carried on through the island. The wretchedness of the roads makes it impossible to use even horses profitably, and the benighted restrictions on coastwise transport prevent the Cretans from making use ot the sea as their highway. So it happens that the oil of Selinos is worth only half the market price where it is sold, and the magnificent chestnuts of the same province come to Canea, via Syra, whither they have been smuggled.
The rolling hills which lie inland on our way are mainly covered with olivetrees, and a pretty village, Hagia Marina, looks out from the green. The hills rise higher and higher, and finally we reach Platania, perched on the last and highest of them, before coming into the valley of the river Platanos. Passing the town, we turned up by the river, a clear sparkling stream that suggested fly-rods and a day’s wading; but people told us that there were no fish to be found in it. It flows through a passage evidently cut by its own current, with bold and unexpected approaches of the hills, and a bottom-land plentifully interspersed with large planetrees ; and our path wound between the fields and along the river-banks without much regard to the extent of ground appropriated.
We selected a spot in the centre of a grove of plane-trees to lunch in. and spread the tablecloth on the dried and parched herbs which held the place of turf. We saw around us the famed vines of Platania, climbing and bearing their crop in the tree-tops. — huge clusters, not yet fully ripe, though graphs had long been in market. There were none of those mammoth vines of which Pashley speaks, — as large as a man’s body ; but the Cretans of the party said that his story was not exaggerated ; that during the prevalence of the grape disease their crop was all destroyed and the vines were cut up, leaving in consequence only the youngest and most vigorous. One of Miss T—’s Arabs, with an excited recollection of dates and palms perhaps, climbed one of the trees and brought us a cluster which weighed three or four pounds, but which was pronounced by the natives small ; some declaring that, before the disease made its appearance, the clusters often weighed from twelve to sixteen pounds ; and I have since seen clusters that weighed above eight pounds.
The apparition of Europeans in the glades of Platania soon brought a crowd of admiring natives, who formed a respectful circle, and in silence watched the animals feed. Not one approached, not a word was spoken ; but sitting cross-legged on the ground they gazed with a mute admiration which would have stamped them philosophers In the days when their ancestors attended the course of academe lectures. A grave and gray-haired priest presently joined the gazers, and, approaching us, bade us welcome, and invited us to his house in the village. We reciprocated by asking him to partake the lunch, to which some timely figs were added at a hint from the patdras to one of the youngsters. We asked, seeing all in holiday attire, what fete was that day, and were told that, one of the more prominent young men of the village having been married that morning, they were celebrating the wedding. And in effect we heard the occasional banging of fire-arms which accompanies all high festivities in Crete, —especially in those parts where the race of Sphakia mingles with the lowland races, as in this province.
We accepted an invitation to participate in the demonstrations, and adjourned to the village eti masse, the crowd preceding and following. A dance was going on in the house of the bride, which we were told was the Sphakiote supposed to be derived from the Pyrrhic of other days. A long line of “youths and maidens,” hand in hand, filed round and round the room, the head of the line, always a male, doing all the dancing, and yielding his place to another when fatigued. His tie with the next in file, a lady, was a handkerchief, round which and under which he stepped, gyrated, and stamped, striking his long Cretan boots together, dropping on one knee and then on the other, and going through a series of gymnastic exercises which can hardly be described intelligibly. They were all performed to the time of a plaintive song, in which the non-dancing sex took the leading parts, — a sad, monotonous ditty, of which the burden was the exploits of an unhappy lover. Dropping suddenly on one knee and rising again so quickly as not to lose the time seemed to be the principal feat. The passive assistants filled the space around, barely giving the file its moving-room ; and a bearer of refreshments from time to time squeezed his way between the two divisions of society. The room zuas n't a dancing-hall and was very crowded, and soon became very hot, our presence operating as stimulus both to the dancers and the outsiders. Those who had not cared to see the dance pushed in to see the spectators ; and after two or three changes of the dancers we departed, taking away the chief interest of the scene, and breaking up the dance for the time. We went to the priest’s house by special and urgent invitation, and took some refreshment,— this being a ceremony no visitor must refuse to go through ; received curiosity calls from some ot the personages of the place, tried our little Greek with the family, — of which the eldest daughter was really very pretty and Greek-like, not to say classic, — and as the sun was growing less oppressive in the west bade the festive Platania adieu. I, with my guide and dragoman, continued my journey westward, and the rest went back to Canea.
We forded the Platanos (even now a rapid, and for a pedestrian a dangerous stream to cross, and in winter quite impassable) near a ruined bridge of the Venetian days. A flood had carried away its central pier, and so far no repairs had been made, its fragments lying as they had fallen. We had hoped to sleep at Gonia, — a convent by the seaside, just where the shore turns off toward Cape Spada, — but the time lost at Platania made us too late. After night began to fall we drew up at a little place by the wayside, half hostelry, half shop, where the path turns off to Kondomari, a village so buried in olive-orchards as not to be visible from the road, and asked for shelter. They had quarters for the horses, they said, but none good enough for us ; so, leaving the quadrupeds to the care of one of the two landlords, — a Mahometan, by the way, — we went with the Christian associate to his house in the village. A zigzag path took us up hill, and amongst the olive-trees. In the waning twilight we saw many houses in ruins, left so since 1830. then one or two houses inhabited, and a crooked narrow lane, at one turn of which a shout from our guide brought a light to the door of a cottage. Like all the other cottages of Cretan peasants who are at all well to do, it had two rooms on the ground, — one to cook and eat In, and one used as a store-house and stable ; while above were a guest-chamber and a—-parlor, I am obliged to call it, but the name is misapplied. It served to receive visitors in, however, and had two divans, on which, after a supper of fried eggs and bread, with good wine of the country, my guide and dragoman went to sleep, while my host ushered me into the chamber, where a clean, well-made bed, with mosquitonets, surprised me into a sound and: long night’s rest. It was only in the morning that I noticed that I had occupied the only bed in the house, and that my host and hostess had spread their mattress on the table.
These villages differ little ; the ordinary houses have only two rooms, and in general the inhabitants are but little removed from daily want. The olive, which is their principal support, is aprecarious crop ; and if from the superabundance of one year they accumulate a little, another year with a deficient crop absorbs it all. They are almost universally obliged to borrow from the usurers for their summer’s subsistence, paying with oil, when it comes in, the loan with interest at twelve to twenty per cent for six months, with the additional burden of a contract to sell the oil in preference to the money-lender at some five piasters the mistach below the market price, which usually increases the interest to twentyfive or thirty per cent. Of course, under the circumstances, and weighed down as they are with taxes, they remain poor. Yet they are always cheerful and respectable in their appearance, and very rarely ask alms. My hosts of Kondomari would not accept any compensation whatever for their hospitality ; but, as the partner in the stable business was a “Turk,” I was permitted to pay ten piasters for the horses (one hundred and twelve piasters make a pound sterling), which, I may add, was all I ever succeeded in paying for entertainment during my summer’s wandering.
The early morning, delightful always and everywhere, is especially so in this rainless country, where only heavy dews water the country from spring to late autumn. The nights are seldom very warm ; when the sirocco blows I have found the house-top more comfortable than the chamber ; but at other times the night and morning are refreshing, and the long rides through the oliveorchards which cover all the northern plains of Crete are such as leave the pleasantest recollections of travel. We breakfasted at Gonia, where the monks made us doubly welcome, it being long since they had had u visitor from the outside world, and my nationality exciting anticipations of sympathy with the patriotic aspirations for which the monks of Gonia are always obnoxious to the Turkish government. The convent, a building not remarkable for antiquity or beauty, stands low on the hillside looking eastward; a buttressed platform giving room for the building, while above and below is a steep slope of rugged rock, at whose toot the sea dashes. In all the later insurrectionary movements Gonia has had the reputation of being the head-quarters of the conspirators and the store-house of their munitions.
As we neared the convent we met a Cretan, who, without invitation or question, turned his horse’s head to accompany us. He entered the convent with us, and attached himself to me with such persistence that I supposed him to be in the service of the convent. He entered the room where the table was spread, and took his place in front of me, standing, where he remained until a slight commotion outside called him out, when the Hegoumenos told me that lie was a spy quartered on them bv the Governor-General, and whom they dared not take any steps against openly, though it was said that he had been Several times in his late goings to and fro caught by unknownpersons, and dreadfully beaten. His own family, even his wife and children, refused to speak to him ; and, stigmatized as the “ Pasha’s man,” he was an outcast from the whole Christian community. I took the responsibility of ordering the door to be shut in his face ; and when we left, of telling him to mind his own business, instead of accompanying me as he intended.
From Gonia I desired to visit Dictynnseon, near the point of Cape Spada ; but the almost impassable nature of the roads (little else than goat-paths, in fact) determined me to make this the object of a sea excursion. Passing by Hagia Irene, where exist some ancient walls, probably the remains of Achaia, we crossed the ridge of the peninsula and descended into a little secluded valley, with a village so charmingly buried in its dense olive-orchards that I wondered why the monks had not established a convent there. We skirted the valley, and, mounting the ridge beyond, obtained a superb view of the plain of Kisamos, like that of Canea a wide expanse of olive-orchards, with white villages in glimpses here and there. In the far distance was Kisamo-Castelli, and beyond the peninsula of Grabusa, emulating Spada in its reach toward the kindred Grecian lands. At the south rugged, abrupt hills, cloven by torrents, admitted the Typhlos, on whose mouth at the right is Nopia, anciently Methymna, lying under the slopes of Cape Spada. NO ancient remains invited examination, except what seemed to be a Roman tomb, and this had lost its casing stone-work, and was little more than a shapeless ruin.1
We reached Kisamos at about four, P. M., and sought the mudir (governor of a canton), for whom I had a note from the Governor-General, ostensibly inviting his attention to my wants, but really, I presume, warning him to look out for my intrigues. What I wanted of him was very little, — to find me a night’s lodging with some person whose loyalty was so undoubted that I should not afterwards be accused of hatching conspiracies, and a sight at two statues recently dug up near the town. The first 1 obtained from the captain of the town, always a tool of the government, and in this case tire most wellto-do citizen apparently of Kisamos. The mudir, an old soldier, with frank, soldierly ways and a jolly rotund physique, inspiring confidence at first sight, received me smoking his nargile in the street before the public cafe, and invited me to partake the hubble-bubbling pastime, while he called up the neighboring shoemaker, who served him as dragoman and secretary, to read the letter and translate. We smoked our pipes while the crowd gathered around, on hearing that a consul had arrived. They looked at me, and looked for mv retinue, and, consulting each other in whispers, finally came to the conclusion that there was some humbug in the matter, as it was impossible that a person of so much importance as a consul should travel without pipe-bearers and guards at least as many as a mudir. I don't think that over half a dozen of the people really believed in me. Nevertheless, they all went to help me see the statues, which we found noteworthy. One, the torso of a Roman emperor, with part of a leg and an arm, was in the ornate Roman style, heavy, pose plastique, and tasteless in its ensemble, but elaborate in ornamentation, the breastplate bearing an armed Minerva, standing on the she-wolf, with the Roman twins, and being crowned by two winged Victories. The wolf was supported by a leaf bracket, under which was a border of scroll-work, with two eagles and sundry fantastic heads. The other was a Greek statue, a Minerva, broken in several pieces, but lacking only the right arm, and when set up showing its intention perfectly, as the right arm had evidently been pendent. The left, carried across the breast, held a nest from which a serpent uncoiled itself. It was of a late and conventional style, characteristically Greek, and in Parian marble, but much corroded. They were both shown in the London “ Illustrated News ” last year. I was entertained in great state that night, the captain wishing to be well reported to the Pasha, who was popularly supposed to be my particular friend ; but I did not sleep as I had at Kondomari, for the mosquitoes. In the morning we strolled about the place, and went into the earthwork, — a diminutive fortification compared to those of Canea and Candia, and incapable of resisting a battery of field guns. It was taken by investment in the war of Greek independence, after nearly the whole garrison had died from plague. The ruins of the ancient city are in the plain south of the town, — fragments of Roman brick-work, the foundation walls of what seemed to me to be a theatre, uncovered by the recent excavation ; a few columns scattered here and there in the city and around it, and some fragments of sculpture, set in the garden walls ; one of these, a Diana, had been a noble work, but was now a mere fragment. The remains, few as they were, indicated a wealthy city, and I anticipate that, if ever excavations are made, some fine works will be brought to light. The basin of the ancient port still remains, though by the recession of the sea it is now useless.
Before the heat of the day set in, we started to visit Polyrrhcnia, whose ruins crown one of the hills south of Kissamos. The road is excessively bad and abrupt, and after half an hour’s ascent, coming to a place more than usually steep, my horse refused it, rearing. The girths having been loosely buckled, saddle and girth slipped over the horse’s tail, and horse and rider rolled together in the narrow rocky torrent-bed. The horse was quickest in getting to his feet, and walked deliberately over me, planting one foot on my thigh and another on my chest, my head, by an instinctive movement, dodging the third step, when, alter walking a few steps farther, the vicious wretch stopped and launched two or three kicks in the direction of my head. At least so said my guide, who stood paralyzed with fear while the manoeuvre was performed, and scarcely spoke or moved until he saw me gathering myself up from among the stones. He never thought to see me stand again, he said. Rubbing and striking out a little, I found no serious damage done, though sundry bruises prophesied a sore morrow. So, to prevent stiffness, and a repetition of the feat, I walked up to the ruins. (On getting back to Canea I found I had one rib broken ; and I here profit by the incident to inform the reader that Cretan horses are all vicious, and Cretan roads all bad ; so, if he visits the island, he had better use a mule, or, better still, an ass, or, best of all, go afoot, having a mule to carry his baggage.) The road leads over a ridge of a kind of sandstone, easily excavated, and we found here and there traces of tombs; one especially was remarkable, with the appearance of having been cleft in two by an earthquake, the road passing between the parts. Descending into a valley, we commence the ascent of the hill on which,Polyrrhenia stood. A difficult and precipitous road leads up a mile or so, to a fountain issuing from an exc.avated cistern, fed by an aqueduct which is cut in the rock. The duct is large enough lor a man slightly stooping to walk in, and some peasants watering their sheep there told us we might walk in it for an hour, and emerge on the other side of the hill near the top. The play did n't seem worth the candles we should burn, and we were not provided with any, moreover, so I did n’t test the truth of the assertion. In front of the cave is a sort of tower of Roman construction, but containing fragments of marble exquisitely carved with architectural ornaments, evidently parts of an earlier building. The water of the fountain ran through it, and in a stream, from the fort. It was apparently a monument built to serve at once as a fountain, and commemorate the piercing of the duct. We left the horses at a little village, a short distance farther on, and went by a footpath up the rocks to the summit The village itself showed tombs economized as houses and stables, and it had evidently been the site of a necropolis. The old city was built on a breezy height, overlooking all the province of Kisamos and most of Canea, the Akroteri being in easy view. The remains are very interesting. There are cisterns which stili hold water, and walls Hellenic and Roman, with some towers of Saracenic construction. I copied some inscriptions of Greek and Roman times ; but Spratt has recorded them so carefully that I need not give them here. It was impossible, in visiting the site, and seeing the remains, not to recognize a kindred spirit to that which built the Pelasgic cities of Central Italy. 'The same conditions of inaccessibility and security, the same relations of the hill chosen to the near and allied peaks that may be seen in most of the ancient cities of the Romagna, and especially Prameste, which in position it much resembles, except that the city was limited to the summit,— as, indeed, appears to have been the case with the early Prameste, though not with the city of Roman date.
How much the choice of the sites of these old cities depended on æsthetics, and how much on strategics we, of course, have no means of knowing; but I am persuaded, by examination of many sites, that the love of a breezy outlook and a command of horizon had as much to do with it as purely defensive considerations ; and getting on the leeward side of a bit of Middle-Age parasitic structure, while the sun dried my clothes, damp with perspiration, I had ample leisure to approve the taste of those Achseans and Laconians who came here and collocated the Polyrrhenian villagers within the walls they had learned the art of building, anti established a great state (among those of Crete), dividing with Cydonia the western part of the island. The remains indicate a city of magnificence, even under the Roman emperors ; and we know that it was a place of peculiar sanctity, since Agamemnon, visiting the island, during his exile, came here to sacrifice.
There were two dependencies of Polyrrhenia whose rival claims to the first visit I had weighed before leaving Castelli, — Kutri, the ancient Phalasama, and Rocca, anciently Rhokka ; but 1 had been deterred from the former by the accounts of the road thither, and had concluded to take it by sea at the same time with Dictynmeon and Gralmsa, the road to which latter place from Castelli was described as impassable for beasts of burden. My way from Polyrrhenia to Rocca was clear, though rough, and I could see the site from where l sat; but the effects of my fall began to be felt, and a pain about the footprint the horse had left on my chest suggested getting near a physician, in ease anything should be out of order.
I excused myself to myself then, and reluctantly deferred even Rocca and its ancient temple to another trip.
Returning, we took the road clown the opposite side of the mountain from that which we had ascended, —a way exceedingly circuitous, but through one of the most picturesque of ravines, overhung by bold ledges, under which a mountain brook sparkled and bounded. I looked carefully for signs of fish, but saw none, and indeed have never found in any fresh-water stream of Crete any other than eels. The view of Polyrrhenia from the plain just after emerging from this ravine (of the river of Kamara) is of great beauty as a landscape, and shows to advantage the surpassing strength of the position of the ancient city.
The sun was getting low when we struck the open plain, and there was not time to reach Gonia ; so, as my guide had a relative living at Drepania, (a village half-way there,) we turned our horses’ heads toward that place. We were fortunate in arriving a little before dark, for the guide did n’t know exactly where his relative lived. After stumbling through the most wretched of lanes, leading our horses part of the time, we found him on the outskirts of the village, in a ruined Venetian house, of which only two rooms were inhabited,—one by the horses, etc., the other by his family of wife and five or six children. One half the family-room was chamber and the other half kitchen. Blank dismay Seized me at the thought of a night to be passed in such circumstances ; but the poor man was so much honored by the choice, and held so strongly to my taking his bed, that I hardly knew how to refuse it. Luckily, in our search for his house, we had fallen on trie guardian ot the quarantine at Kisamos, who resided in Drepania, and who had been inconsolable that I had not passed the previous night at his house : he was trie only person in the district who could speak English, and was wry loath to lose an opportunity to exercise it. He had followed us, and, finding the strait I was in, renewed his invitation with an energy equal to his rival’s; and so I compromised the question by leaving the beasts at the Venetian villa and taking to the sanitary bachelor’s abode for my own repose and that of my companion.
My host gave me a number of terracotta images, — which he had taken himself from the necropolis of what is now known as Selino-Castelli, on the south shore, — and a lamp curiously modelled in the form of a human foot.
Our next day’s ride was by a road slightly divergent from that by which we had come. At Platania we struck the sea-slmle, reaching Canea just before closing of the gates. I found general gossip engaged with my fall, which had already been reported with all the additions of an imaginative people. Two persons, who accompanied us from Castelli to Polyrrhenia, had reported it on their return, and a horseman, who, I think, must have gone post on purpose, had carried the news to Canea. Subsequent gossip elicited two facts,— that the horse I rode had a reputation as dangerous, and that the Pasha, who was violently opposed to any foreigners going into the interior, had anticipated an accident to me, the horse’s owner being a dependant of his. I requited this wretch by making him wait a few weeks for his pay for the horse, and gave him to understand that if he ever gave me such another, I should shoot the beast on the first misbehavior,— a way of treating the case he perfectly comprehended, being in the spirit of Cretan institutions.
- Of this Pa hley says : “ I may add, that, at the southeast corner of Hagios Georgies, is a fragment of circular walling, 1 learn from Antonios that the Greeks dug here during the Revolution, and found a. woman and a child of marble, which they sent to Anapli. There were twenty-five of them who excavated, and they afterwards received nine dollars apiece, the amount of each man’s share of the sum obtained for the statues. A Melian )of Milos) of the name of Joannes, called, from his profession of dealer in antiquities, Antika Yaunis, also came and dag here afterwards. ,1 am told marvellous stories .-bout the supernatural appearance of a negro, who, when the excavators had discovered a certain entrance, was seen to stand with a drawn sword, forbidding them to proceed with their work, and who, in fact, deterred them from doing so.”↩