The weather this October was truly beautiful with mild temperatures and lots of sunshine. One day we decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather and visit a fairly remote place in the heart of Zagora- Svilaja mountain is one of the iconic mountains of Dalmatian hinterland but I visited only few times. It is easily accessed by car as the road Drniš – Vrlika takes one across the mountain but that is not a proper visit. One really has to walk to experience the mountains and nature.
The main reason for me going there was to finally visit one remote field with several interesting wells. The satellite images show 7 nicely positioned wells in the middle of nowhere. I simply had to see them in real life!
So, we boarded the Defender and headed to Ogorje Donje and up Svilaja. The dirt road was not in the best shape after all the rains we had during the summer, and we did not have the proper tires so we had to stop at one point and continue on foot.
Svilaja is a beautiful mountain but, like other mountains in the region, with not so many woods. Mostly rocky plains with some wooded areas. It is only about 30 km in length and its highest peak is Bat at 1508 meters. It is also a very pleasant mountain for hiking and walking and abandoned stone huts prove that there was life here not so long ago. Actually, one can see several modern huts and houses that people still use. Some of them grow cabbage, some have cattle…
We also saw several signs for land mines warning of recent war activities in this area as Svilaja was right in the middle of unfortunate events. As we later learned, the signs are positioned much closer to the road than the actual mines are, just to warn the potential hikers of the dangerous zones.
And then we reached the wells.
The valley, or vrtača as this would be in Croatian, is quite spectacular and off the main road so not so easy to spot. It is also much. much bigger than I assumed looking at the satellite images! The descent is not so easy as the slopes are very rocky and one has to be careful. But once at the bottom, it is a huge and flat field.
The wells are quite interesting with sides made of nicely positioned blocks of stone. Some blocks look quite ancient but, as we later learned, the story goes that 7 families each built one for their cattle some 300 years ago. It was always puzzling why 7 and not one but I guess it is easier to manage one’s cattle by one’s well and not get in conflict. This is a rugged land and the people had little finesse in dealing with each other.
We spent some time next to the wells soaking up the serenity of this ancient place and then, as the clouds were slowly moving in, we decided to go back to the car.
On our way back, we saw quite a noisy bull being chased away. We immediately moved from its path as it did not look happy! Ante, the modern Svilaja cowboy, was chasing this young bull as he keeps bothering his bulls on a daily basis. And always gets his butt kicked. So it is not so smart to stay on its way when he is frustrated and angry going back to his herd…
Ante was happy to join us part of the way. It is not so often that he meets people up in the mountain. He is actually from Split but works with his cousin in the hillside for summer months.
We learned a lot from Ante: about the actual mine situation, history of the wells, local bull fighting, wolves… He was accompanied by his faithful dog that, according to him, is a proper menace to all the wolves of the mountain. And there are plenty of wolves!
We also saw Ante’s bulls – gorgeous animals all belonging to ancient and indigenous cattle species called buša.
Buša (busha) is also known as the Illyrian cattle and some scientists are saying that it has been in these areas from the Stone age. In the 19th Century, Busa from Croatia and Bosnia ( Austria-Hungarian Empire at the time) were crossed with an Austrian breed. This cross is larger than the original busa and it is exclusively grey in color while original busa is brown.
The bulls are not so big and up to 450 Kg in weight. There are only about 900 busas left in Croatia and it is somewhat protected with cattle breeders being subsidized for raising this very special cattle.
As the dusk was catching up with us, we decided to hurry up and say good bye to our new friends.
Svilaja is one of those regions well of the beaten path. Only few mountaineers, scarce dirt bike drivers, hunters… come up here. It really deserves more visitors for the hikes are great and easy.