Secret Dalmatia Blog - Travel Experiences in Croatia

Gnalic Shipwreck Exhibition at Biograd City Museum

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This year’s Night at the Museum we spent at home as it was too cold for a baby to go out. So, it is a perfect opportunity to present one of Croatia’s most exclusive museum collections located in Biograd’s own City Museum.

Biograd and view of Pasman Channel
Biograd and view of Pasman Channel

The shipwreck of Gnalic and it’s find was a major news back in the mid 60s when fishermen from Murter Island discovered the shipwreck by accident.  Back in 1967, not too many people were scuba diving so the shipwreck’s precious cargo was saved. From the Venetian records we now know a fact or two about the ship and the shipwreck: during a storm in 1583.  the Venetian merchant ship Gagiana sank near the rocky inlet Gnalic located few miles south of Biograd.
The Pasman Channel gets some pretty rough seas from jugo wind and it is sometimes quite hard to even see Gnalic covered in big waves. Experienced it personally myself once battling seas for hours to reach Vrgada which is only 2 miles south…

Venetian galley from that period
Venetian galley from that period

The shipwreck and its rich cargo were salvaged mostly between 1967. and 1974. and then the remaining smaller objects were located in 1996. while the last expedition took place in 2010 in cooperation with one university from Texas.
The salvaging operation was conducted by former Yugoslav military that only had the equipment for such an operation back in those days.

Anchors on Biograd riva. One of them is still standing in front of the museum...
Anchors on Biograd riva. One of them is still standing in front of the museum...

However, the operation was not so successful in all aspects as, during the lifting of one of the canons, the rope snapped…

Nine canons were found on the the sea bed
Nine canons were found on the the sea bed

and the canon fell back down…straight on a perfectly preserved chest full of murano glasses…

Remains of glasses
Remains of glasses

There was plenty more where that came from so the collection of glass is still impressive.

Thanks for this find, he City  Museum in Biograd was established in 1970 and the remains of the ship were exhibited to the public. Some of the finds were simply spectacular:
Twenty little wooden boxes were recovered in 1968, each containing a dozen leather-framed spectacles. By the design, it is most likely they were made in Nuremberg, Germany. The great majority of the frames were damaged because of the 400 years of direct contact with the sea. There are less than twenty-five leather-framed eyeglasses in the US and less than one hundred in all the known European collections making this the largest collection of leather-framed glasses in the world.
There were other great treasures preserved as well.

Cargo on display
Cargo on display

Most popular find are the nine bronze cannons – two of which were dated 1582, great numbers of brass chandeliers from Lubeck in North Germany, sheets of brass, coils of brass wire, tin bars, bell-shaped cinnabar and very expensive and colored purple most likely from Lucca, Italy. Besides the mentioned items, the cargo consisted of numerous items for daily use:  thimbles, sewing needles, pins, razors, glass, scissors, various wether-bells, two precision scales… Most of the cargo, however, consisted of raw materials and semi-manufactured products.


The most important finds were not metal but textile!

Textile found in an iron chest on the bottom of the sea
Textile found in an iron chest on the bottom of the sea

Textile items found : rolls – 54 m of silk damask, three long white shirts and eight woolen caps.  All these items were been cleaned and conserved in a private foundation called ABBEGO form Riggesburg near Bern.
The damask is the longest historic piece of that fabric still preserved and it is so precious that the conservation was paid for by 3 meters of the actual fabric!

Although the most important finds have been preserved and saved, the amateur divers still plunder the location of the shipwreck in search of small pieces. Some local diving clubs even exhibit some of the finds with authorities doing nothing about it…

Artifacts from different periods
Artifacts from different periods

Biograd City Museum is still housed in a late 18th century building and not providing adequate exhibiting space for such an important find. There are numerous more exhibits found in the region that played very important part in our national history with Biograd being the crowning city of Croatian kings in late 11th century … before it was destroyed by the Venetians in 1125. never again to restore it’s influence and power.
A great place to visit and simply a must for all history lovers traveling to Croatia and coming to this region.

Biograd City Museum
Obala P. Krešimira IV 22
23210 Biograd na Moru
Tel./Fax – 023/383-721

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