The Sleepy Silba

Many wonderful islands are still “hidden” from the masses of sailing guests enjoying the central Dalmatian archipelago all the way to Dubrovnik. And that is absolutely fine. It is not like these islands don’t get anyone, but that is far from the crowded shores of Hvar, busy bays of Brac or the lines in front of Blue Cave of Biševo.

One of such, less visited pearls is definitely Silba. Beautiful island paradise North West of Zadar and just a short sailing distance from the southern shores of Lošinj.

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(image from TZ Silba web site)

Silba is an island where one can only think of peace and tranquility when mentioned. There are no cars on the island and there are only 290 inhabitants year round. Summer is, of course, more lively but that is a very short period.

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The main pier and ferry harbor

History of the island and its only settlement is quite simple as it was always owned by some of the local noble families from Zadar or Losinj with “independence” bought only in the 1852. The rise of captains and ship owners from Silba started all the way in the 1600s but Napoleon burned down the entire fleet in the early 1800s. The second rise of Silba merchant marine was in the mid 1800s with an impressive fleet of 98 sailing ships. Orebić and Lošinj are more famous as their fleets were larger but the same fate got them all as they did not see the advantages of steamers…

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Silba harbor in the 1970s

Another terrible disaster was the arrival of Phylloxera and the death of all of Silba’s vineyards. The vineyards were never replanted which is a pity as Silba was home to one very special type of vine that would ripe earlier than any other grape variety on the coast: as early as July.

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Typical view of Silba from turn of the century

Today, Silba is best known as an oasis of peace. I had a rare chance to visit this May and enjoyed immensely walking the silent streets, enjoying the genuine tranquility and calmness. Almost a meditation.

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Silba is also known for its best known monument – toreta.

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It was built by a local captain Marinić who built it so his loved one can watch for his ship when returning. In those days, one would sail for years so the young lady could not wait and married another man. When he returned, he realized the sad truth but he also saw a young daughter of his former love and waited for her to grow up and merry her. They lived a happy life and had nine children!

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Before forestation

Silba is also a popular stop for fishermen fishing in this part of the Adriatic for many centuries now.

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With tourism getting to all islands and parts of the coastline, Silba seems to be escaping the faith of southern islands and enjoying the more relaxed atmosphere even in the peak season.

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But spring is the best time to visit. Very different from anything one can see south of Šibenik, Silba should stay a secret!

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European Green Lizard

The general opinion is that Europe has no exotic fauna nor exciting wildlife but that is only partially true. Wherever a true lover of nature looks, he or she can find exciting animals. In Mediterranean countries, besides sea life,  the coastal landscape hides several interesting animals and one of the most beautiful ones is definitely European green lizard (Lacerta viridis). There are three very similar species living in Croatia and all three are protected: Lacerta bilineata (Daudin, 1802), Lacerta trilineata (Bedriaga), 1886) and Lacerta viridis (Laurenti,1768)

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The local name is zelembać. This beautiful lizard is easily recognized and cannot be mistaken for a different lizard in this area as it looks almost fluorescent!  It is easy to differentiate Balkan green lizard and European green lizard – European green lizard has blue throats while the Balkan one has yellow. Biggest differences are noticeable when the animals are young as all the various colors and stripes are visible at that stage of their lives.

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Young Balkan green lizard

Zelembać is a large lizard that can grow up to 16 cm (cc 6,3 ”) but the tail can be twice as long! It is usually seen enjoying sunshine on rocks or lawns, or hiding in the bushes. Or running across the road. It is not a very shy lizard but it does usually stay hidden and will not allow one to approach it too close. Natural predators are birds of pray but also cats. Zelembać is very useful in the fields feeding on snails, bugs, small lizards but also mice.

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The females nest about 6 – 20 eggs in really humid and hot places and the lizards mature at the age of two. There can be up to 200 lizards living on one hectare!
The males are easily differentiated from females for the vivid blue color of their throats but they are also bigger and with bigger heads.

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Although not critically endangered, all three species are protected – the fine is 400 Euros for killing one. There is no real reason for doing so as this is a very useful animal in all habitats.

Maskovica Han in Vrana – The curious history of the latest heritage hotel in Croatia

Ever since I was a kid, the unfinished remains of Maškovića Han were one of the most fascinating monuments I have seen. The original idea of Yusuf Mašković was to build a final retreat for his retirement days in the region he originated from. The retreat was to include the area for his own personal use but also (free of charge) rooms for travelers passing through the region.

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Vrana (and Zemunik) – Coroneli, 1687

Story of Jusuf Mašković is a strange one. At the time of his birth, Vrana was already under the Turkish rule (since 1538). It has about 500 houses, two mosques, school for Muslim children…

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Vrana – Kupferstich Mortier, 1704

Yusuf was born (cc 1604) in a Christian family (Maškov it is believed to be the family last name) but, according to the Venetian records of the time, it was a very poor family. The legend says that a local old lady from Nadin gave him leather slippers (opanci) seeing him barefoot. It is assumed that it was then that he decided to convert to Islam and he started the service for local Beširagić bey of Nadin. The later events took him to Sarajevo and then all the way to Istanbul where he rose to the position of the gardener of the palace.

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Palace Seven Towers Istanbul – Mallet, 1718

Now things started changing – while being a gardener, Yusuf became friends with brother of the Sultan Murat IV. Sultan was getting rid of all possible usurpers of the throne but spared his brother by locking him in the area of saray. In the year of 1640, Murat died and Ibrahim becomes a new Sultan not forgetting his old friend so Jusuf Mašković gets to a much higher – this time military – position. Next step was – only 4 years later – to become a chief admiral of Turkish fleet.

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Turkish galley of the 17th century

At that time, in 1644, Maltese corsairs seized a ship carrying high-status pilgrims to Mecca. Since the pirates had docked in Crete, Kapudan Yusuf Pasha encouraged Ibrahim to invade the island. This began a long war with Venice that lasted 24 years—Crete would not completely fall under Ottoman domination until 1669. In spite of the decline of La Serenissima, Venetian ships won victories throughout the Aegean, capturing Tenedos (1646) and blockading the Dardanelles. Kapudan Yusuf enjoyed temporary success in conquering Canea, starting a jealous rivalry with the Grand Vizier that led to his execution (January 1646) and the Grand Vizier’s deposition (December 1645).

In our, local stories, Yusuf disobeyed an order from the Sultan and acted chivalrously sparing some Christians and was executed for that. That seems unlikely as he was not executed right after the events. Also, When Yusuf Pasha returned to Constantinople in 1645, he married Fatma Sultan, the three-year-old daughter of Sultan Ibrahim I. He was also given the Ibrahim Pasha Palace as a residence. However, one year later in 1646, he was executed by the Sultan at the persuasion of Grand Vizier.

And the construction on his han in Vrana stopped ever since…

Until 2009 when EU agreed to give 75% of the 2,9 mil Euros for the completion of the han.

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Han before the restaurantion

It took 6 years before it was completed and only now, in 2017, the local authorities have enough funds to put the entire building into the use as a heritage hotel/events venue/museum and also an information center for this part of the county.

Maškovića han was restored with help of Turkish historians as it was important to complete it as close to the original idea from 1644 as possible! And the results are impressive!

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This area was to be for family only. Now, these are also rooms for travelers

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The aerial view

There is also a museum with collection from the entire Pakoštane region.

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And the originally planned mosque became a very unique restaurant that will serve a mix of Dalmatian classics and oriental dishes.

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Still in the works…

The entire property should open by summer of 2017.

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Inside on of the rooms. Furniture is coming soon.

Yusuf was a very special person. Raising from rags to riches but never forgetting his original home. Legend goes that he even sent 500 gold coins to the lady who gave him the leather shoes in Nadin! He never got to return but the local authorities managed to complete his dream 370 years later. It is never too late, I guess. The westernmost example of Turkish civil architecture shines as a wonderful example of preservation and care for our heritage.


Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ibrahim_of_the_Ottoman_Empire
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silahdar_Yusuf_Pasha
http://www.zadarskilist.hr/clanci/13052008/pakostanac-na-celu-turske-flote