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The sad tale of Lorko

Lorko, noun: a ghost, a spirit, an apparition

Lorkati, verb: to roam, to wander or to haunt

The famous writer from Dubrovnik Ivo Vojnović mentiones the place from our story in his dramatic work called The trilogy of Dubrovnik. Thus, he speaks of the old castle of Gučetić - the mysterious Lorko, which disappeared forever on the bottom of the murky bay with all of its good-natured spirits and the proud Lombard windows. To start the sad tale of Lorko, we will go on a journey to the past when Dubrovnik was still an independent city-state led by aristocracy, our famous Republic of Ragusa.

* * * * *

Once upon a time, in old Dubrovnik, society was divided into noble and common people. Back then, the laws were very rigorous, and the marriage between classes was strictly forbidden. This resulted in many broken hearts and lonely fates, just like it happened in this very tale.

Long ago, the seafront of Lapad, where the sea softly pours itself into the Bay of Gruž (Gravosa), was much less inhabited than today. It was mostly adorned with old stone summer palaces of nobles that stood in line like a strand of pearls. Some of these exist no more, like the palace that belonged to the noble Gučetić family. It once stood at the same spot where today's villa Elisa flaunts itself between Sorkočević summer palace on one side and Little Venice (today's hotel Lapad) on the other side.

Gruž (Gravosa) bay

Before it was demolished and sent into oblivion, the old palace was, in fact, a place that made locals shiver out of fear, always looking at it with aversion. They were telling the tales of woe to one another, testifying about the strange noises that were coming from inside the villa during the night, even though nobody had been living there for a very long time now. They called it Lorko. This nickname meant the palace was possessed by some kind of restless spirit, trapped between the worlds. Once surely beautiful palace became, indeed, a miserable sight. It had been greatly damaged during the Russian – Montenegrin siege in the early 19th century. Ruined walls were much greyer than the ones of the neighbouring buildings. The window shutters that still remained were distressed from many gloomy rainy days. Much of the roof tiles were broken, loose or missing. The damp southern wind made its interior soggy and the moss grew on its walls. When the wind blew through its halls, the howling that resonated inside made it seem like the palace itself was wailing over its sorrowful destiny.

Some locals of the time still remembered and whispered its sad story that I will try to repeat here. During the golden age of Dubrovnik, the palace Lorko was home to the wealthy aristocrat lord Melko Gučetić. He had already been in his old age when he decided to marry a younger woman, a beautiful daughter of a wealthy captain. Her name was Cvijeta. She was full of youth and life, longing for tenderness and happiness, which her elderly husband couldn’t provide. It was a loveless marriage, so Cvijeta got involved in a love affair with a younger commoner. Their passion grew stronger and eventually, the lovers conceived a child, a girl who was born 16 months after Melko married Cvijeta. She was given the name Marija. When Melko realized that Cvijeta has given birth to another man’s child, in his wrath, he killed Cvijeta’s father. She knew that she could not stay in their house any longer, so she abandoned Melko and her daughter, little Marija who would never see her mother again.

Melko accepted the child as his own, so he raised her and cared for her with affection and love. Wanting to hide her mother's shameful act, he told little Marija that her mother died while giving birth. Even though many people in Dubrovnik have gossiped about Melko's secret and calling Marija noble bastard daughter, she had never learned about her real origin, until the following events in our story.

Marija grew up and bloomed into a beautiful young woman. She inherited her mother's features that appealed to the eyes of many young men. One, in particular, won her heart, young nobleman Maroje who fell in love with the softness that radiated from Marija's gentle soul. Marija ended up carrying Maroje's child. They felt as they were blessed by God. Therefore, the young couple decided to get married straight away. The only thing left was to ask Melko for his approval.

About that same time, a terrible illness confined old Melko to a bed. He knew that his life was coming to its end. One day Marija approached her father with a smile on her face, took his trembling hand and started to pour the words, telling him about Maroje, about their love and how they were expecting a child. While listening, Melko's face frowned more and more. Finally, when Marija told him that they were planning to get married, the old man didn't want to hear about it. Instead, she got the bitter truth.

He told her everything. He lifted the veil that concealed their family secret. He revealed to her that he wasn't her father but a simple commoner, so her marriage with Maroje was impossible. He told her how her mother betrayed him, and how she abandoned her, how he had to endure the mockery of the society. He couldn't give her his blessings, but he had one last wish, though. He made her promise him that when she gives birth to the child, that she would hand it away at the orphanage in the City. Marija burst into tears, realizing that all the dreams about the future she had shared with her beloved Maroje broke down like the house of cards. Brokenhearted and with tears pouring down her rosy cheeks, Marija left her dying stepfather without saying a single word.

After a while, dying Melko called upon a priest to give him the last rites. In his last hour, he repeated, in a shaky, frail voice, his last wish, and that is how the priest learned who the father of Marija's child was.

When Marija gave birth to her little daughter, she gently pressed her cheek to her baby's, whispering the words of love in her ear. Then she instructed the midwife to take the newborn to the orphanage in the City. She didn't want her child to carry her stepfather's name, the name of a murderer and a liar. She said goodbye to her little one forever, thus fulfilling Melko's last wish. At that moment, something tore inside her soul, leaving the scar that would never heal.

Marija was now living alone with only an old maid as her company. The memory of her daughter's face was slowly fading away, but the wound in her heart burned more with each passing day. She wanted to find her mother, believing that she was still alive. She spent her days at the cemetery of St. Michael in Lapad, visiting Melko's grave. She was hoping that one day that is where she would meet the woman that was once married to him. Kneeling on the hard stone of Melko's tomb, she prayed to the almighty God to have mercy on her soul.

She blamed her departed stepfather for her sad destiny. The deepening hatred she felt for him, drove her insane. She spent nights wandering the halls of the palace, seeking to find her baby in one of them. She could hear the cries, but could never catch the sight of her. Then she would cry out calling her mother or Maroje to come to help her. She would end up screaming, cursing her stepfather's name. Finally, she would collapse somewhere in the house, utterly exhausted from her agonizing pain.

Her loyal maid called the priest for help, the same one that heard Melko's last confession. He saw that Marija's state could be fatal, and he knew right away what needed to be done. To tell you the truth, the good priest had a secret of his own. Right after Melko's death, he informed Maroje about his last wish, so, when Marija gave birth, the young nobleman surprised the midwife on her way to the orphanage. He intercepted her at Boninovo, where he lived and paid her good money to give him a child and to keep it a secret. Then he handed the baby over to a family in Rijeka Dubrovačka (the River of Dubrovnik) that he confided in much.

After visiting Marija and witnessing her suffering, the priest came back the next day. Early in the morning, at the door of Gozze's palace, he stood with a child in his arms. He hoped to ease Marija's pain by bringing her daughter to her and by giving her a chance to see her and embrace her again. He hurried upstairs to her chamber. Inside, Marija was laying on the bed, staring at the wall, but something was wrong. Her eyes were dark and empty, her skin was cold and pale. It was too late. The priest closed her eyes, saying a last prayer for her tormented soul.

Marija was buried in the cemetery of St. Michael, under the shadows of centuries-old cypresses. It could be that in the afterlife, she finally found peace that she deserved.

Although even after Marija's death, people living in Lapad could often hear different sounds in the middle of the night, coming from inside the old palace. The doors were slamming shut, woman's sobbings and screams were heard, and so they started to call the house Lorko. Many believed that Marija's spirit remained trapped in its empty, dark halls, forever longing to find her beloved ones. Today, this sad tale of Lorko palace lives only as a memory of old and lost fragments of Dubrovnik's history, because Lorko stands no more.

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