When you are walking away from the old city eastward, through the suburb of Ploče, in truth, you are following in the footsteps of the past travellers, merchant caravans that journeyed to the Muslim world of the East, or diplomats and dragomans*, that headed to the Ottoman empire. The Ploče suburb was the starting point of their long itinerary. The Ragusan envoys, who had a delicate task to carry the annual tribute to the sultan of the Ottoman empire with which the old Republic of Dubrovnik had many political and economic relations, before leaving to the East would spend a night in the Benedictine monastery of St Jacob at Višnjica. The path leading to the old monastery diverges from the main road passing through Ploče right next to today's hotel Argentina.
Somewhere at the beginning of this charming street offering the magnificent views of the Dubrovnik sea and the city itself, decorated with lush greenery, is the former home of the old aristocratic Getaldić family. The ancient stone villa, encased in the cliff, overlooks the mysterious island of Lokrum. From the house, a stairway descends into the cave, opened to the sea, and in front of which there is the most lovely little pebble beach one could think of.
This alcove in the rock sheltering the beach from the curious views from the land was the mysterious den of the most unusual man, a renowned Dubrovnik patrician - Marin Getaldić (1568 –1626), nicknamed Bete.
According to the legend, our Marin was the powerful wizard, so were the claims of the common folk of those days who had believed Marin to had been a powerful necromancer**. They rumoured that he could see the future in the stars that he was observing from the beach. Furthermore, in his cave, he performed his devilish sorcery; he commanded natural elements, capable of burning ships to the ashes with his magical apparatus from a distance.
Our Bete certainly terrified the sea captains and fishermen who avoided the sea in front of the magical cave after he burned several vessels without feeling any remorse. He seemed to have somewhat a wicked character. However, the intellectuals from his time called this magician „an angel in heart, but a demon in mathematics“.
To break the spell, what we today, know for truth is that Marin conducted many scientific experiments with his optical instruments. As the result of these experiments, he published at least six scientific studies in optics, and he was also the constructor of the parabolic mirror with a diameter of 66 centimetres that is being kept at the National Maritime Museum in London. With his mirrors, he was able to achieve very high temperatures, even sufficient for melting lead.
Ergo, our Marin occupied his mind with physical science, dwelling on the fields of optics and mathematics in particular. He was quite respected by his contemporaries among which he cultivated a friendship with the much-celebrated Galileo Galilei.
Bete's cave is a wondrous place of nature, only accessible from the sea. People don't need to be frightened of the old wizard Bete and his sorcery anymore, but if you happen to sail by or swim to the beach, remember that the cave was once a mystic laboratory of the great Dubrovnik's scholar.
* Interprets of Turkish language
** Legromant,-i; negromant,-i, in the local dialect. In older Croatian language and literature, the word negromant commonly meant a wizard, sorcerer.