DURING the last year circumstances have enabled me to fulfill a long-cherished design to visit Ithaca and Same and to verify the topography of the Odyssey. Incidentally another ambition has been unexpectedly realized. A fortunate conspiracy of the elements which have no regard for human obligations and the limitations of time has carried me to a place to which the associations of romantic youth have always attracted me, but which I had renounced all hope of seeing in a maturer phase of life because of its seclusion in a region destitute of even those moderate conditions of comfort which the latter years demand. Ever since I had followed the thrilling story of heroic Suli, still touched in my younger days with the magic of the Byronic afterglow, a compelling fascination had clung to the name of Parga, that little territory and seaport on the Epirote, then the Albanian, coast, which, owing to its occupation by a French garrison after the end of a Venetian rule of four centuries, had made it possible for Botgaris and some survivors of the mountain federation to find a doorway to the Ionian Sea and to escape to Corfu, from the inexorable vengeance of Ali Pasha of Janina.

The whole of that rugged Epirote coast is crowded with the sites of lesser-known townships of antiquity, and even of cities of the Augustan age like Nicopolis, built to commemorate the fateful battle of Actium. Almost every name invokes suggestion or memory. Only a few miles to the south of Parga, Acheron, racing in cataract through the deep-furrowed gorge of Suli, and mingling with Cocytus, its fellow stream of the infernal world, finds the way seaward through the Gulf of Phanari, the ancient haven of sweet water. In those prehistoric years when the first Achæan immigrants, descending from the northwest, originally from the Danubian grasslands, established themselves near Dodona, the deep and gloomy chasm of Suli, instinct with the awe of nature and haunted by the weird sound of rushing waters reverberated through the forbidding defile which no man dared to penetrate, was inevitably regarded as the gateway to their imagined kingdom of the dead.

The bar that obstructs the Gulf of Arta, with a barely two-fathom channel, makes Prevesa and Vonitsa accessible only to very light-drafted vessels, and many of the little ports are narrow of entrance with scant room inside for any manœuvre between shoaling banks. Once before, when I was sailing up this coast and had established the position of Parga to be not greatly off our course, I suggested this slight deviation to the responsible navigator of my small craft, but received no encouragement. So that for me that dream haven seemed to have been left behind for good, where the blue waters met the opal outline of unattainable mountains.

In June of this year, however, I was once more beating up for the Corfu Channel against a strong northwester, keeping well over to the mainland side opposite Paxos Island, so as to avoid the treacherous Madonna shoal, when at the end of a long coastward beat I was thrilled to see Parga, barely a mile to the south of us, with its bold promontory rock crowned by a Venetian castle looking to ‘the foam of perilous seas.’ The sun was setting in a menacing sky, the head wind had freshened considerably, and a big sea was setting up. I had urgent reasons for desiring to reach Corfu and find the mail we had now been without for many weeks, but my Italian captain expressed a doubt whether, if we arrived there, after beating through rough water all the night, we should be able to lie in the open roadstead, and eagerly accepted the suggestion that we should run back to Parga.

The Mediterranean pilot made it clear that there were two bays or havens, one on each side of the promontory on which the castle stands. The larger of these, the western, open only to the south, was three cables wide at the entrance and three cables deep, with an anchorage in ten fathoms or under. The passage to the eastern harbor, better protected against all winds by a chain of islands, was only one cable wide. As it might not be easy to get out again without a motor, and as ours was temporarily out of action, we decided for the former, dropped the mainsail, and ran back before the wind under mizzen and staysail. The sun was down, but the June glow continued until after the full moon was fairly high in the east. The mile was soon covered, and we slowly turned a clifflike cape on the crest of which a ruined church tower overtopped the trees. Just as we rounded the point we noticed, only a few yards away, the water fretting over a rock, submerged but almost awash, which none of our sea guides had indicated. Hoping that there might be no others, we drifted past it into the middle of the bay.

In front of us rose the castle rock, with its crenelated outlines mysterious in the twilight of sun and moon. A long white sand or pebble beach marked the head of the bay, under slopes which we could still see were finely wooded, and behind them rose the higher slopes which hid Paramythia and Janina. On the ridge joining the citadel and a few white houses the lofty minaret of a mosque showed plainly, but the town of Parga lay on the other side of the rock toward the eastern bay. A slight swell had accompanied us in, but we lay very peacefully when the anchor grounded in ten fathoms. After a little while a shore boat came out with the captain of the port, who was curious to know what had brought us to a place so out of the world that local steamers touched there only once a fortnight. Pratique was arranged over a cigarette. Bread and other supplies were promised in for the morrow, and a little petrol, which we had hardly dared to hope for, without which we were immobilized in the long calms which seem here in June to alternate with fresh breezes and squalls. An unexpected delay due to an accident to one of the crew, at Same in CephalIenia, where none could be obtained, and a series of contrary winds had reduced us to depending only on the sail of the earlier navigator.

About nine o’clock we went down to dinner, thankful for the good chance that had brought us to Parga, which in the half light promised more than to fulfill my highest anticipations. By the time we returned to the deck a Greek brigantine had come for a brief respite from the weary beat up the gulf against the strong wind and heavy sea. The glow had gone from the west, and she showed a black silhouette etched against a clear sky under the full moon, some fifty yards away from us. In the seafaring life such moments are worth living for, when the turbulence of the elements is replaced by perfect peace in an unknown haven, with the promise of a beautiful world to be revealed at dawn.

And Parga did not disappoint us. Rich olive woods ascended from the shore of our little bay, and to the left was a grove of planes and lemons vivid green to the water’s edge. On l he western headland, a golden cliff crested with green, such as Salvator Rosa loved to paint, were the ruins of a monastery, the tower of which we had seen rising above the trees. The clear water up to the base of the castle rock, a splendid mass of ochre and violet against the eastern sky, was the color of turquoise with ripples of sapphire. We set off early, rowing round the citadel to the inner harbor, sheltered by a chain of rocks or rocky islets, one of which bore the ruins of a smaller fort or castle and a chapel with its independent bell tower, both painted blue, relieving against the limestone crags. From here one could see Paxos and Antipaxos to the west. A long line of yellow cliffs ran south, and behind it rose the heights of Suli. The faint outline beyond might still be Leucas.

The little town of new Parga lies snugly in the elbow beach of the castle rock and the mainland. A few boats were clustered round a wooden pier. The streets, with no method in their twists and turns save adjustment to the rise of the ground, were delightfully picturesque. The houses were mostly low, with modest shops where baskets of lemons and cucumbers gave a bright note of color. There was no litter; all was clean and tidy. Almost every man wore some form of local costume, and many still affected the red fez which Turkey has discarded. The elder women carried the distaff. One, with gray hair escaping from the handkerchief tied round her head, and dressed in rusty black, might have posed for the Fate who spins the thread of life. Each passer-by gave us a kindly greeting, and we were not followed or harassed by children. The boys were no doubt at school.

Our friendly harbor master insisted that the local constable on duty should accompany us in our explorations, which he did with admirable discretion. So we left the steward to forage for what the modest market of Parga could offer our depleted larder, and started by a climbing street for the isthmus ridge on which the older Parga stands. Looking back over the tiled roofs, it was evident that on this side also the hinterland of this ancient territory was green and fertile. The houses of the old upper town, many of which had had some pretensions, were mostly roofless and abandoned. Below them were terraced levels which had once been gardens, where still a few pear and pomegranates grew among ancestral olives. From the crest of the ridge a path to the left led under a high wall of rock to the arched castle entrance. It was closed by an iron grill with sharp spikes pointing outward, made fast with a chain and padlock to a wooden inner door, but so inadequately, as our constable pointed out, that a strong pull at the gate from outside or a thrust from within made room for the reasonably slender to pass between it and the side post. And so we all slipped through.

Within the ample area of the curtain wall, once filled with churches and dwellings, there are only ruins now, but the bastions and the keep on the summit of the rock are fairly well preserved. The whole ground was overgrown with those scented herbs which, as you tread them underfoot, fill the clear air of Greece with perfume. The broken walls were tufted with the caper plant, with its passion-flower blossom now out in all its soft beauty. Old guns lay abandoned among the shrubs and fallen stones. I brought away with me a small iron ball.

The art of a master builder had here adjusted the stage of Nature to his needs, but Nature had once again asserted her more enduring mastery. What infinite toil of forced labor by enslaved humanity must have been expended to mortise redoubt and bastion to the sheer and jagged limestone, in the dim years at the close of the fourteenth century, when the inhabitants of the little territory of Parga, while retaining a semi-independence, placed themselves under the protection of Venice, and received in their double haven the vessels with the lion banner which dominated the Ionian Sea, bringing the wares of the East to the wealthier citizens living on the ridge. Almost one seemed to see the red hulls of the galleys drawn up on the shingle, while the men of Parga, under agreement with the Proveditori of St. Mark, raided beyond the hills, collecting oarsmen to make good the gaps in the crews.

What furious battles must have raged round those decaying walls, what heroisms have passed unrecorded, what betrayals unimpeached in the alternating phases of capture by the Turk and recovery by the republic. Until at last, enervated by prosperity and dissipating on frivolity the accumulations of her long monopoly, ‘Venice spent what Venice earned,’ and a great page of story closed in 1797. Ali Pasha of Janina had by then established himself all along the Epirote coast from Butrinto, opposite Corfu, to Vonitsa in the Gulf of Arta. Only Parga, occupied by a French garrison, continued to hold out until the Russians and the Turks, for once united in a common cause, dispossessed France of the Ionian Islands, which she had secured by the Treaty of Campo Formio. Then Russia in 1800 made over this old Venetian outpost to the Porte. And so at last a mosque, which still dominates the ridge, was built at Parga.

The site has been identified with that of the ancient Toryne. I could see, however, no trace of Hellenic walls. But obviously so strong a position, not unlike that of Monemvasia in the Morea, overlooking two harbors with splendid beaching ground for the old coastwise craft, must have been held from the earliest times. Any ancient material available would, of course, have been made to serve for the construction of the castle, but it would be in accordance with precedent that some courses of ancient masonry might have served for foundations in the fortress of more recent years.

An artist, if he could find some possible accommodation, might profitably spend many days or weeks in Parga, and the student could thence visit by bridle track a number of interesting places remote from Western civilization, always provided he were prepared to disregard those risks which one or two still recent incidents have revealed may still beset travelers through these untrodden byways. We could give but thirty-six hours to a place fantastically beautiful and quick with an ambience deriving not so much from conscious association as from a subconscious sense of history unrecorded, the crowded details of which imagination must fill in.