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THROUGH THE LANDS OF THE SERB
by Mary E. Durham

CHAPTER IV

NIKSHITJE AND DUKLE

Nikshitje is but two hours' drive from the beginning of the Ostrog track, over a mountain pass and down on to a big plain. Nikshitje, says the Prince, is to be his new capital, and work is going on there actively. That it cannot be the capital yet a while seems pretty certain, for it is a very long way from anywhere, and the foreign Consuls and Ministers, who at present lament their isolation from the world and all its joys at Cetinje, would all cry "Jamais, jamais!" in their best diplomatic French, if called upon to transfer themselves to the heart of the land. It is certainly very beautifully situated ; the wall of mountains which encircle the big plain is as fine as any in the country, and it is neither so cold in winter as is Cetinje, nor in summer so hot and close as the low-lying plain of Podgoritza. But until there is a road or a railroad that will connect Nikshitje quickly with the coast, it cannot compete in importance with Cetinje. A line that would connect Serbia with Antivari via Nikshitje, join the two Serbian peoples, and give Serbia a port for export, is so much against Austrian interests, both commercial and political, that Austria will under no conditions permit it to pass through any territory over which she has control. There is no speedier way of drawing truthful political opinions from a mixed company of various nationalities than to design fancy railroads over tender territories. At present no line exists in the Balkan peninsula that runs from north-east to south-west. And in the present disgraceful state of all territory that is under Turkish "government" no new lines through any of the Sultan's property are probable. The love of the Montenegrin for Nikshitje is based partly on sentimental grounds; for the taking of Nikshitje, the biggest Turkish stronghold on their northern frontier, was one of the chief events of the last war. Nikshitje fell in 1877, after a four months' siege conducted by Prince Nikola himself.

That the Prince really intends Nikshitje to be the capital of his country is evident. We have a forecast of its coming splendour in the large and really fine church dedicated to St. Vasili, which stands well placed on a little hill, close by a solid and well-proportioned building, designed with a stern simplicity well in keeping with the Montenegrin spirit. Within, it is lofty and spacious, and the bare stone walls are hung with lists of those who fell in the last war. Russia found the money, and Montenegro the labour. The mouldings and capitals are all cut by Montenegrins, and the engineer chat built it is a Montenegrin. Nikshitje has a right to be proud of it. At the foot of the hill on which the new church stands is a tiny little old church, the church of the Montenegrins in Turkish times. In those dark days it was almost completely buried under the earth for safety. Now, with the addition of a fat new tower, it shows itself in the light of day.

The battered ruins of the great Turkish fort that was once a thorn in Montenegro's side stand on the long low hill that overlooks the town, and a stone or two with Turkish inscriptions and a few Turkish guns upon the grass are all that tell of its former holders. Whatever the future may have in store for the Montenegrins, let us hope that it will always be remembered to their credit that they have played an heroic part in the freeing of Europe from the Ottoman curse. A tumbledown mosque and some dozen Mohammedan Albanian families are now the only traces left in Nikshitje of the Asiatic invader.

Beyond the town, the land is well cultivated, and maize, tobacco, rye, and potatoes flourish, provided there is sufficient rainfall in the summer. Montenegro at present needs, more than anything, some system of water storage. A superfluity of rain falls in the wet seasons, and the melted snow swells the streams to torrents, but this all flows away for lack of dams or cisterns, and in a spell of hot weather the ground is parched. In the summer of 1902 no drop of rain fell between the middle of May and the beginning of September ; there was no corn for food, and no tobacco for export. The people in the mountains, who depend on the plains for corn, were in terrible straits, were reduced to eating fern, grass, and beech bark, and were only saved from starvation by buying foreign maize with the money that had been intended for road-making and other public works.

While Nikshitje, the capital that is to be, is slowly growing, Dukle (Dioclea), the capital that was, the birthplace of the line of Nemanja kings who led Serbia to greatness, is slowly mouldering on the plain of Podgoritza. Long prior to Serbian clays Dukle was known to the world. Already in the early years of the Christian era the Romans had conquered Illyria and organised it as a Roman province, and Dioclea, as it was then called, has come down to fame as the reputed birthplace of Diocletian. Some two and a half miles from Podgoritza, where Zeta and Moracha meet, lies all that is left of the old town. "The parents of Diocletian," says Gibbon, "had been slaves in the house of Anulinus, a Roman senator; nor was he himself distinguished by any other name than that which he derived from a small town in Dalmatia from whence his mother deduced her origin." Whether Dukle is or is not the "small town in Dalmatia," I cannot tell. It is, at any rate, known to be among the first towns taken from the Illyrians by the Romans. It would be interesting to learn whether it is not to a considerable intermixture of the aboriginal Illyrian blood that the Montenegrins owe their superiority to the other Serbs. Some theory is required to account for it, and as the strength of the Serbian empire arose from this particular corner, and as the Albanians, their next-door neighbours, are believed to be direct descendants of these same Illyrians, this seems to be the most workable one. There is a certain indefinable quality best described as "gameness," and tin's both Albanians and Montenegrins possess to a marked degree. It is also the quality of the Herzegovinese, who are mountain men too, and it was in the mountains, we are told, that the aboriginal inhabitants lived after the Serbian invasion.

Be this as it may, Dukle, by Podgoritza, was a Roman town of some size, and was afterwards the capital of the early kingdom of Serbia. It is a forlorn, lonesome, "sic transit" spot, inhabited by numbers of tortoises peering about with their aged, old-world little faces and wrinkled, leathery necks. Tessera work up through the turf, fine cornices and mouldings lie about among the brambles, and the live green acanthus flourishes near the stony leaves of big Corinthian capitals. One slab-paved road remains, all that is left of what appears to have been a forum, some fifty yards long, with the bases of columns strewn along it at intervals, and at the farther end of it the remains of a small building with a round apse. A man lives in a hut hard by and cultivates a few patches of ground among the ruins, which are so smothered in vegetation that it is difficult to form any good idea of the plan of the town. It was explored about ten years ago by some archaeologists, but there is probably a good deal yet to be found, as the peasants still pick up many coins and odds and ends of bronze work. The remains of a small basilica church have been dug out, whose broken shafts and bits of marble chancel rails are strewn on the ground, and tesserae are plentiful among the grass. The marble remains of the forum and many of the cornices and mouldings that are scattered about the ruins are Roman, but a large proportion of the houses, the foundations of which cover several acres, are, I believe, of a later date, and may belong to the old Serbian town. A bas-relief of Diana - a mediocre enough specimen of art - lies among the bushes on a bank, gaining a strange pathos from her surroundings, as she stares with stony eyes, the only survivor of the dead capital. All around stand the everlasting hills, keeping majestic watch over the ruins which have seen the passing of two empires, and the river tears along through a stony chasm hard by, and the lean rugged figures of the one or two peasants among the ruins only add to the loneliness.

But this place was once the centre of such learning and civilisation as the land possessed, and "the Monk of Dioclea" was one of Serbia's earliest chroniclers. The now almost forgotten town is marked in the map of Ptolemy (circa 150 A.D.). It is mentioned as a famous town in 1162, and it was given by King Milutin as the residence for his son in 1317. After this date little or nothing is heard of it, nor is it known when finally it ceased to be inhabited and crumbled into decay.



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