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The white lady of Trsteno

Plane tree in Trsteno with a lady, the photo from 1900

Everyone who visits Dubrovnik should come to Trsteno, the coastal village, located about 12 miles northwest from Dubrovnik city, known for its arboretum. After the 15 minutes long drive, you are welcomed by two, 5 centuries old, gigantic oriental plane trees that spread their tired branches widely over the access path leading to the entrance of the arboretum. When you pass the gates, the beauty of nature bewilders you. The green scents of grass, laurel and citruses entice your senses. Everything is calm. You thread the gravel path slowly, not wanting to disturb such a peace. At the end of the pathway, the view over the sea and the Elaphite islands invites you to approach and to breath in the salty air. That is when you notice the modest villa on the left side, decorated with the vines of vividly pink bougainvillaea. This house and its predecessor that was ruined in the great earthquake of 1667, were once a summer home of the noble and wealthy Gučetić family from the Dubrovnik Republic. In front of it, you see the lovely gloriette that overlooks the small port. There is something written on the low garden wall near the house. It is a stone plaque that bears these words:

Neighbors speak highly of me, yet I please more

with the waters, the mild climate

and the zeal of my demanding master.

Behold, visitor, for these are the safe tracks

of man, artistry perfecting the wild nature.

The verses are the message from the past, left to visitors by Ivan Marinov Gučetić in 1502, who had envisioned and accomplished his personal Arcadia here in Trsteno. He had started the tradition of acquiring various Mediterranean and exotic species of flora, later continued by descendant generations that always requested the sea captains to bring them different plants from their voyages to fill the collection in their elegant and delightful gardens. This place soon became the centre of humanistic and cultural life in Dubrovnik. One of the most prominent members of Gučetić family, Nikola Vitov Gučetić, philosopher, literate and author of many scientific texts dwelled in Trsteno too. His work called „The Dialogue of Beauty“, published in Venice and among the most famous was written here. In it, he described the conversations that his wife Marija, born Gundulić, and her friend, alluring Cvijeta Zuzorić, led while walking the trails of this renaissance garden, in the shades of grapevine pergolas or while sitting in the sweet gloriette surrounded by the bushes of rosemary and lavender.

An old photo of the Gučetić villa in Trsteno

You leave the main walk to explore the backside of the house. Here is the simple family chapel from 1546, dedicated to St Jerome. You stand next to it, and even though the air is light, you feel the pressure to stop and gaze through the waving branches of the holy oak above. In the back of your mind you concentrate on the bubbling sound of nearby water flow, while you lose your every thought.

Suddenly, somebody touches your shoulder, waking you up from your daydream. You turn around, but there is no one there.

The uneasy feeling overwhelms you, as you reminisce about the tragic story from the end of the 16th century that you heard about one of the Gučetić daughters. Her name was Tereza. She was a beautiful, young redhead who found her love in Trsteno. Her beloved one was a young sailor, Nikola was his name, coming from the island of Lopud, from the common family. The young couple often met secretly during her stay in Trsteno, expressing their feelings gently to each other. Unfortunately, their love was doomed to end, since, in the old Republic times, marriage between members of different classes of the society was strictly forbidden. Tereza's parents promised her hand in marriage to an older wealthy aristocrat from the city and the date for this wedding was already determined.

The family chapel of St Jerome with an old oak

As the days passed, Tereza grew more desperate, with reckless thoughts crossing her mind. Forasmuch as she tried, she could do nothing to oppose her parents will, nor the rules of society. Thus when the day of her wedding arrived, Tereza escaped her family home in the city and came to Trsteno, with the help of her loyal servants. Here, in her room, on the first floor of the house, she dressed her long, white wedding gown, adorned her hair with the delicate rose flowers and attached her soft veil. In the end, she took out an ampule filled with potent poison and drank it to the bottom. She instantly regretted her foolish deed, so she ran down the staircase and through the back door of the house, trying to reach the small chapel where she could repent for her great sin. Before she could ask for God's forgiveness, Tereza collapsed on the third step of the back garden, just in front of the chapel, never reaching its door. That is how she was found, as beautiful in death, as she was in life. Her body was buried in this same chapel of St Jerome.

The young sailor, tormented by his sorrow, left the sea for good and became a hermit, living on the Vračevo hill, above Trsteno. Every year, on the day of her death, he would come down from the mountain to visit the final resting place of his darling. He would spend the entire day in the chapel since Tereza's parents never forced him to leave. He continued to do so to the rest of his life.

It is said that ever since then, Tereza's restless spirit still roams the renaissance pathways, between neatly shaped hedges. Sometimes the translucent form of a maiden in white, infused by the silvery beams of the morning Sun, can be seen amidst the trees. Once in a while, during cold autumn evenings, the sounds of the footsteps and whispers can be heard echoing the empty rooms of the old villa in Trsteno.

Old photo of the sunset in Trsteno


Buconić Gović, Tereza "Dubrovačke povijesne minijature "

Photos taken from the facebook group: Historical images of Dubrovnik

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