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WALL OF THE CITADEL AT ARGOS......
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“Whoever does not wish to see Athens, is foolish; he who sees it and is not pleased with it, is more foolish; but the climax of folly is to have seen it, to be pleased with it, and yet to leave it.”—Ancient Author.
On a beautiful morning toward the end of September, I found myself on board the French steam-ship Lycurge, off the eastern coast of Lacedæmonia. For the last three days, since leaving Valetta, we had been sailing slowly and quietly over a motionless sea in a direct course for Cape Matapan. Only at noon, on the previous day, had the faint outline of distant mountains become perceptible; and at dusk we approached the shores of Messenia. We were not yet near enough, however, to view with any distinctness the island of Sphacteria, behind which was fought the Battle of Navarino.
The wind had been contrary all night, and we made but little progress after doubling Cape Matapan. When I came on deck in the morning, the first objects visible on shore were the high mountains, not very distant, that skirt this side of Peloponnesus. So barren did they seem, that scarce a patch of verdure relieved their rugged uniformity. Below this rocky chain could be descried, as though rising out of the waves, the sea-girt walls and towers of Monembasia, a locality which finds no record in ancient history, but has appeared conspicuous in recent wars. Built, not unlike Gibraltar, on the end of a small peninsula, it is so strongly fortified both by nature and by art as to be nearly impregnable.
The sea was calm and unruffled. Not a ripple could be seen disturbing its placid surface. The sky was cloudless, and the day one of the fairest of autumn.
The clear atmosphere gave to all around a deceptive appearance, which was quite new
The most distant objects seemed close at hand, and I could scarcely credit the assertion of the captain that we were at least five or six miles from shore. The steamer plowed its way as over the dark blue waters of some small inland lake.
We were not many hours in crossing the mouth of the Argolic Gulf, and approaching the group of islands that lie off the extremity of the northeastern peninsula of the Morea. The pretty town of Spetzia appeared on our left, built upon the side of a hill and running down to the water's edge. In half an hour more we were opposite the picturesque town of Hydra, where were born most of the distinguished naval commanders in the Revolution. At length, about noon, we entered the Saronic Gulf, and Attica itself came into sight. The passengers collected on the bows, and watched with eager eyes the shore, which seemed rather to recede as we advanced. The only unconcerned spectators were a group of Frenchmen, who, seated on a pile of luggage on the forecastle, were diverting themselves with a game of cards. Running by the island of Ægina, on whose height we could easily distinguish with a glass the ruined columns of the temple of Jupiter, in the midst of a wild and desolate district, we made toward the port of Piræus. For miles far out on the Saronic Gulf, a white building served as a beacon to indicate the site of Athens it
PIRÆUS AND ITS HARBOR.
It was the palace of King Otho. The rest of the town was hidden from our sight by the hill of the Acropolis. Presently we could see the high signal-pole standing on the promontory Munychium. At about four o'clock we had rounded it, and were entering Piræus through a narrow opening, guarded on both sides by the ruins of ancient moles.
The paddle-wheels had scarcely ceased to move before we were surrounded by a multitude of row-boats, each manned by a Greek in the native costume, wearing the bright red fezi slouched on his head, and a long blue tassel fluttering in the wind. All were loud in their appeals; but as the quarantine officers had not yet made us their visit, they kept a respectful distance. “ Have a boat, sir ?" “ Voulez-vous un bâteau ?" resounded from all quarters; while the less favored linguists, relying mainly on the strength of their lungs to make themselves understood, poured forth a volley of unintelligible Greek. Though I had been schooling myself to the native pronunciation under the friendly direction of a pleasant Sciote, whose lessons had relieved the tedium of the passage from Marseilles, their volubility was too much for my small practice. Rather than resign myself to the tender mercies of the boatmen, I resolved to make common cause with my companion, the Greek merchant. After a 'short delay, leave was given us to land, and this served as a signal for the simultaneous onset of half a score of couriers and runners for the hotels, each eager to get custom.
We soon found the one we wanted, and, having secured our luggage, embarked in one of the boats for shore. We left the motley group of watermen, expecting every moment to see them fall from brawling to fighting; but their disputes never result in any thing more serious than the success of one in supplanting the rest.
The harbor of Piræus is less than three-fourths of a mile in length, and opens toward the west ; where, between the piers that project from either side, a heavy chain was stretched during the earlier ages. The modern town lines the eastern side with a continuous row of neat white houses, generally two stories in height. A number of sloops and caïques were drawn up to the wharves, but the brigs and larger vessels stood out at anchor in deeper water.
A custom-house officer and a dozen idlers awaited our arrival on Grecian soil. The examination of our effects was brief, owing, perhaps, partly to the happy influence of a silver coin or two, which my companion managed to slip dexterously into the hand of the inspecting officer. We were in no mood after our long sea-voyage to
emain longer than necessary at Piræus. My friend and myself were equally intent upon reaching our journey's end, and enjoying a respite from the fatigue and vexation of travel. I am wrong, however, in representing our eagerness as equal. I had before me only the prospect of a long, though, it is true, far from uninteresting course of study, on classic ground. The Sciote who stood beside me, an intelligent man of five-and-forty, had accumulated a handsome fortune in foreign parts, and was connected with the extensive mercantile house of A. and Co.* He had come hither, as I subsequently learned, on an errand of love.
* Mr. A., from his extensive business connections, was able to give me much valuable information respecting the Greek mercantile houses, which are every year increasing in number and in importance. I was astonished to learn how numerous they are. They already abound in England. Manchester may be styled their head-quarters, for there are no fewer than sixty Greek establishments in that city. London possesses forty more, and Liverpool seven. Trieste boasts of seventy, and Marseilles, Odessa, and Leghorn, each of more than twenty. How many are to be found in Constantinople it is quite impossible to state; certainly one hundred would be a very small estimate. Such were the statements of a merchant, than whom no one could be found with better means of acquiring accurate information. The wonderful success of these commercial houses he attributed to their unity of action more than to any other single cause. Prudence in all their investments, combined with rare sagacity, has insured them against loss of capital and reputation. The great houses of Rallis, Argentis, and others, have branches all over the globe, each to a certain degree independent, and yet each reposing an implicit confidence in the others. In this way, by their tact and by their union, the Greek houses have begun to exercise an important influence on the trade of the East, which is little by little falling into their hands. Through their instrumentality, Manchester fabrics are distributed over Asia Minor in exchange for native produce. The Eastern war has doubtless augmented their influence upon the grain market of the world, and the number of Greek merchants at Liverpool must now be far greater than in 1851. Mr. A.'s statements are confirmed in almost every particular by the writer of an able article on this subject in the New York Daily Times of October 20, 1855.