« AnteriorContinuar »
same spiritual curses. When the venal minister of religion is thus beheld prostituting the sacred rites of his church for a paltry gain, it will hardly be expected that the manners of the islanders are marked by the observance of the more rigid virtues. That mixture of the vices of Greece and Italy, which is here met with, may be traced to the mal-administration of the Venetian government, and the usual effects of despotic rule are exhibited in all their rankness. The people are, in general, timid, revengeful, and implacable;litigious, in a degree inconceivable to a sober inhabitant of the north ;-ignorant and superstitiously devout;full of professions which they have no intention of fulfilling ;and utterly unworthy of confidence in commercial dealings. In Zante this character might admit of still higher colouring; the opprobrium attached to the name of Zantiote had become proverbial. In all countries, the attention which is paid to the softer sex is a criterion of the advancement of civilization; but in the Ionian republic, oriental jealousy predominates. The women are treated as beings of an inferior nature; and are either altogether excluded from social intercourse with the men, as in the smaller islands, or, even if permitted to be seen in public, as in Corfu and Cephalonia, where English and Italian custom has softened the rigour of perpetual exclusion, their minds are deemed unworthy of cultivation, and are left from infancy unstored with religious or literary information. They are, in general, not celebrated for beauty; and frequently too much inclined to embonpoint. As a concluding proof of the low tone of moral feeling, in some of the islands, it is said that a Zantiote father, in spite of all his jealousy, will readily prostitute the person of his daughter, at a price proportioned to her charms; and that little, if any, immorality is attached by either to the action.
Though the outline, thus drawn, of the manners and morals of the Ionians, is by no means flattering, the picture, if completed, would, no doubt, be relieved, in its darker shades, by many pleasing tints; and the patriotism of a Briton will be gratified to learn, that the protection of his country is fast forwarding the work of amelioration. Already do the islanders wonder at the inflexible impartiality with which public justice is executed on criminals;—already has the uncompromising character of the English, and their uprightness in commercial transactions excited admiration; and to admire and to imitate are not often disjoined. A college, under powerful and noble patronage, had been projected in Ithaca,-but a building offered by the government, which was thought suitable for the purpose, and its proximity to the executive power, has induced the projectors to found the establishment in Corfu; and it is expected that a course of education will very soon be commenced. These islands could not
indeed be placed in a situation more favourable for moral improvement, or political importance, than that which they now occupy under the protection of Great Britain. Freed from all apprehension of external foes, the citizens of the septinsular republic enjoy all the advantages of internal freedom with the boast of independence; the last of which they are too weak to maintain alone, and would infallibly lose, were they merged in the territory of continental Greece. It may be, indeed, with truth asserted, that since the heroic ages, when the Ithacan monarch bore sovereign sway in the Ionian sea, these western isles have not held a rank so dignified among the nations of the world. The military force, which the republic is bound by the charter to maintain, ought to consist of 4000 British troops; at present they are somewhat less than this number, and are paid and subsisted by England, in order to obviate the necessity of immediate and excessive taxation. Besides these regular troops, there is also a native militia.
After these general remarks, which relate to the whole of the islands, we shall notice, more minutely, the different peculiarities
Corfu or Corcyra, the most northerly of the group, though only second in size is the first in importance. Its spacious harbour, its almost impregnable capital, and its position, guarding the entrance of the Adriatic, have all contributed to assign it this rank. Under the 39th parallel of latitude, and at the distance of 150 miles from Santa Maura, it stretches from north to south in a semi-circular shape, and is separated from the main land by a channel, which, at the narrowest point, is not more than two miles in breadth. Beginning from Cape Bianco, a conical cliff at the southern extremity, a chain of mountains, forming an inclined plane from west to east, runs nearly the whole length of the island, till it is met by the bolder elevation of Mount St. Salvador, which, crossing the greatest width, forms its northern barrier. This latter is a lofty ridge of table land, terminated, on the west by the celebrated Mount Titoul of antiquity, where the aristocratical party of Corcyra made their last stand in the Peloponnesian war. The extreme fertility of both forms a striking contrast to the barren rocks of Albania. A valley on the west called Val d'Europa, while in summer it exhibits the most romantic luxuriance of vegetation, gives interest and variety to the scenery, by assuming, in winter, the appearance of a lake; and the overflowing of the sea affords amusement to the sportsman, by its periodical importation of wild fowl. In the midst of the bay, shut in by these mountains, stands the capital, Corfu, pre-eminent in filth and deformity above the generality of Mediterranean towns. It is surrounded with walls, and strongly fortified with out-works.
The narrowness of its streets has been improved by the English, and shrubberies and plantations formed on the esplanade, the only beautiful or inhabitable part of the city, and which looks toward the ravine separating the citadel from the town. Here, and in the adjoining streets, the principal part of the public buildings are situated; and the palace of the high commissioner forms one of its most prominent ornaments. The cathedral, or archiepiscopal church, is dedicated to St. Spiridion, and is undistinguished for architectural beauty. In front of the harbour, about a mile from the shore, lies the battlemented rock of Vido, the batteries of which are bristled with heavy ordnance, and command both the town and the shipping. The island is divided into four districts; and of its population of 62,000 nearly one-fourth inhabits the capital, and the remainder is distributed in about eighty villages. The general appearance of the country is indicative of great fertility; its principal productions are wine and oil; and the climate, with a colder winter, differs little from the softness of Zante.
It is asserted by Strabo, that Corcyra was colonised by the Corinthians, six centuries anterior to the Trojan war; and if we give credit to the opinion which identifies this island with the Phæacia of Homer, the poet's description of the gardens of Alcinous expresses, in glowing terms, its riches and refinement during those ages of fable. When we descend, however, into the regions of historical truth, we find the Corcyræans, after having abolished monarchical government, essaying the new-born strength of their republic in a successful contest with the mother-country, then governed by the famous Periander. They afterwards contributed their quota to repel the invasion of the Persian king; and gave protection to Themistocles, when the illustrious fugitive sought refuge from the violence of the Athenian mob. But the most glorious page in their history is the second struggle which they maintained against Corinth, and which, in its results, was one of the proximate causes of the Peloponnesian war. It was in Corcyra, also, that Aristotle found shelter from Athenian vengeance; and here he was visited by Alexander of Macedon, and drawn from his retirement, to become the tutor and companion of the "world's great master.' After various reverses of fortune, the once powerful republic resigned its independence to Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, and soon after was absorbed in the overwhelming mass of the Roman commonwealth. On the decline of the eastern empire, the political state of the world induced the Corcyræans to court the protection of Venice, and the annals of the modern Corfu are not without their share of martial enterprise. In 1538 the island sustained a siege from a powerful Turkish army and fleet, the last commanded by one of the famous brothers, Barbarossa; who, after laying waste the country, and importing the plague, left the
victory in undisputed possession of the Christians. When the Turks again besieged the island, in 1716, the gallant Count Schulemburgh was intrusted with its defence; and his statue, in the citadel of Corfu, commemorates, to this day, the series of brilliant actions which compelled the infidels to retreat.
As to the antiquities of the island, not a vestige remains to indicate the ancient city of the Phæacians; but in the neighbourhood of the modern town are numerous ruins, among which scattered fragments of Doric and Ionic columns, large masses of square stone, and broken pieces of mosaic, attest the wealth and magnificence of the capital of the Corcyræan commonwealth.
Paxo, anciently Paxos, or Ericusa, the least of the islands, possesses little worthy of remark. It is supposed to have been originally joined to Corcyra, from which it is at present separated by a channel of seven miles in breadth. A small village, adjoining the harbour, aspires to the dignity of a capital. Its inhabitants, 4000 in number, have the credit of being more open and less jealous than many of the Ionians; but its principal celebrity is derived from the acknowledged superiority of its pale and fra grant oil.
Cephalonia, the largest of the Ionian islands, still retains its ancient name. It is situate midway between Santa Maura and Zante, at the distance of about twenty-four miles from the wes tern shore of the Peloponnesus, and is about 150 miles in circumference. The whole island consists of one irregular mountain mass, which traverses its greatest length from north-west to southeast; at the distance of fifteen miles from this latter extremity, rises abruptly into a lofty ridge the celebrated Mount Enos of antiquity. The twelve districts into which the island is divided, contain about the same number of inhabitants as Corfu. The soil, though but scantily spread over the rocks, is extremely productive; and the currants of Cephalonia are more highly esteemed than those of the other islands, and its wines celebrated for their exquisite flavour. Like Corfu, it has not yet attained its proper rank in commercial importance; but under British protection, its trade and consequence are gradually increasing. Here the Ro maic, or modern Greek, has been almost entirely superseded by the Venetian tongue; and though both the French and the English encouraged its revival, the Greek literature of the island is yet in its infancy.
On its southern side the Gulf of Livadi extends eight miles into the land, and forms a most spacious harbour. Upon its western bank stands the town of Lixuri, containing 6000 inhabitants; and on a peninsula, formed by a small bay of the gulf, on its eastern shore, the capital, Argostoli. The population of the latter amounts to about 8000. It consists prin
cipally of one long street collateral with the shore, the centre of which is occupied by a small quadrangle. The air is, in general, pure, except during the prevalence of the Sirocco winds, which introduce most offensive and deleterious exhalations from the shallow parts of the bay. During the winter months Mount Anos is covered with snow, and this, and the white rocks of its summit, when contrasted with its dark forests of pine, have rendered peculiarly appropriate the appellation of "black mountain."
The ancient greatness of Cephalonia is evident from the stupendous ruins of Samos, Cranii, Palæ, and Pronos, the capitals of the four states into which it was divided. The first of these is situated at the head of a valley of exquisite beauty opposite Ithaca, to which it was, of old, an appendage. Here a line of stones of immense proportions runs along the beach, and large masses, which extend under water, till undiscoverable by the eye, are the remains which time has spared of the "Same" of Homer. The remains of a citadel on a hill in the plain of Ragli, on the eastern side of the island, are sufficient to indicate the site of Pronos. About two miles from Argostoli, the antiquary may easily trace the whole circumference of the walls of Cranii, consisting, like those of Samos, of enormous blocks; while of the ancient Palæ the ruins are very inconsiderable, and are distant about a mile to the east of Lixuri. At the south extremity of Cephalonia there are also remains of a large city, and near them the ruins of a small stone temple, which may have been the renowned shrine of Jupiter Enos*.
The valour of the Cephalonians was once celebrated throughout Greece, and they were immortalized by their countrymen for their skill in the public games. They bravely repulsed the Roman consul, Flaminius, and the last sparks of their liberty were extinguished in a valiant but fruitless resistance to his successor, Fulvius. From that time, with a few trifling exceptions, their history becomes merged in that of Corcyra.
Next to Corcyra and Cephalonia in size and population is Zante, the ancient Zacynthus, being nearly 60 miles in circumference, 14 in length, and 8 at its greatest breadth. Ramparted on its western coast by a steep range of limestone hills upwards of 1000 feet in elevation, and on its eastern by Monte Skopo and other eminences, the intermediate space is occupied by a valley on which nature has lavished all her charms; its surface is thickly strewn with groves of orange and citron and olive. The "gadding" vine climbs on its trellis to an unusual height, whilst
*It is said that sacrifices were performed, at the same time, in the temple and on the top of the mountain.