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

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Megaliths and Secrets of Stolac

It is always a pleasure to go across the border to Hercegovina- a region full of amazing places and sites. Especially when friends organize it and we have Mr. Ante Vujnović as a guide. Ante is a director of Radimlja archaeological park near Stolac and the best person to show us around. He is very dedicated to preserving historical heritage of the region. Hercegovina, although being part of Bosnia and Hercegovina, culturally and historically cannot be separated from Dalmatia despite the borders set by Austrians in the 19th century.

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Austrian monarchy map from 1848

Stolac, due to its troubled past – both recent and distant – offers a variety of unique sites to explore and visit. From the very unique necropolis of Radimlja to the fascinating walls of Daorson and the Stolac fortress.

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Stolac on 1904 postcard

Our first stop and the meeting point is usually Radimlja necropolis. Numerous pages have been written on the stečci monuments and this particular site and you can read more on Radimlja and other historic sites of Stolac region on the official UNESCO web site: http://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/5282/UNESCO

This past year, stećak monuments have been listed with UNESCO as the World Heritage and that includes all the monuments in the region of Balkans – over 70 000 known monuments!

Bosnia and Hercegovina today holds the most of these unique monuments with Radimlja and Boljuni near Stolac being the most decorated ones.

The necropolis did not change much although the Austrian built road going to Stolac split Radimlja in two parts and destroying about 15 – 20 monuments. The landscape has changed significantly and, today, there are several modern buildings and warehouses a bit too close to the necropolis…

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The monuments have been cleaned some years ago loosing that historic patina seen on old photos. Of course, it will form again with time.

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Monuments have various decorations but Radimlja has the greatest number of human figures. Hunting, dancing, fighting… life as it was back in the days when they were carved. Most of the monuments have been carved between 1200s and early 1500s when the Turkish conquest completely changed the life in this part of the world. There is a controversy as some people consider these monuments to be much older but there is no evidence for that and, especially the ones at Radimlja, have been well documented and connected to the local, medieval noble family.

The next stop for our small group was the mysterious Daorson. Actually, quite a bit is known of this place but there is a lot to be discovered as only limited archaeology research was done in a single campaign almost 50 years ago.

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This impressive hill fort was built on a prehistoric fortified settlement which was dated to the early 17/16th century BC and existed to the end of the late Bronze Age: 9/8th century BC. The final destruction of Daorson is dated to mid or second half of the 1st century AD and we know this from the details of the Roman wars against the Delmati tribe that lived here at that time.

Today, Daorson is still very impressive with its unique megalithic walls surrounding what is believed to be the religious center/refuge.

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Besides Ante as a local authority, we had some proper archaeologists with us so we learned a LOT! And learned a lot about the hard-to-see defense structures in front of these massive walls, numerous graves and bases of ancient houses…

Basically, this is what the plan of Daorson looks like:

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By Nova Akropola

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Remains of the Daorson “Pyramid/Temple”

Daorson was built from the rocks from the nearby quarry and we took a short walk north to see what it looks like today.

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One can learn more on Daorson and it’s Hellenistic traditions from this paper (in Croatian): http://hrcak.srce.hr/file/118555

I also found a small piece of pottery just lying on the side looking completely unimportant:

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But, with us, we had Mr. Miro Katić  (of Trogir conservation department) who has a PhD on Hellenistic pottery and immediately attributed this small piece to Pharos colony – a Greek colony from Hvar Island that existed at the same time as Daorson and, obviously, had a strong connections with this area. Connections were numerous and Daorson was a very prosperous community at its heyday.

Next stop: Boljuni
The necropolis in Boljuni numbers 274 stećak tombstones, 92 of which are decorated and 9 of which have epitaphs, making it one of the most interesting necropolis in the area.

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This group of monuments is quite well preserved and with several unique decorations. One of the monuments even depicts some strange monsters/dragons:

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But most have simpler decorations and ornaments.

Boljuni is a very fascinating place well worth visiting when in the area!

And then it was time to finally visit Stolac. This very historic town is known for the impressive fortress on the hill over Bregava river shown below on numerous historic images.

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 Fortress is a bit of a climb but well worth it as the views are stunning and the fortress itself is impressive example of medieval fortifications in this part of the country. The earliest reference to Vidoški fort – as it is called – is in a charter dated 1444, followed by a series of charters up to 1454, as the possession of Stjepan Vukčić Kosača. Stolac became part of the Ottoman sultanate following the Ottoman conquest in 1465. And that changed everything as the introduction of a new religion divided people and that division continues till modern days…

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Inside the fortress, there is still quite a bot of work but, generally, it is in good shape and the effort to preserve is quite visible. This is also a location where Stolačka Tarča is taking place – a medieval fair with emphasis on education and traditions of the region. This event takes place in May.

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Image of Stolačka Tarča

Best description of Stolac today would be: “a sleepy town by Bregava”. It looks very lovely from the Vidoški grad fortress:

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But the walk through the town reveals all the tragedy of the recent war in Bosnia and Hercegovina. Many houses have not been restored and many more, due to emigration from the area, are collapsing. Today, the peace is just on the surface as both Croats and Bosniaks are trying to patch the wounds from the war of the 90s. The scars are still quite deep. Visiting the Podgradska mosque, we were approached by an elderly Bosniak telling us few things about the mosque and the local Muslim traditions.

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Podgradska mosque, 1732

Stolac is a lovely place. Layers upon layers of fascinating history and stunning nature. It should definitely be included when visiting the region as it offers quite a bit for travelers looking for unique and off the beaten path experiences. No matter if it is just a stop en route to inner Bosnia or even en route to Dubrovnik, this is a great stop.

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And we will return. Many more historic places to see and explore deep in beautiful Hercegovina!

Pyramid of Dalmatia – the mystery continues?

It has been a while since I last reported on the pyramid “mystery”: https://secretdalmatia.wordpress.com/2014/03/11/dalmatian-pyramid/ in the meantime, I was contacted by several very interesting people who were trying to locate it and challenge the location I established.
One of them  – Mr. Galic from Mostar – had a very interesting story and most likely the right location of the “pyramid” from the old map.

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Basically, he did a proper research on the toponyms mentioned on the old map and concluded that the “pyramid” cannot be where I put it (the hill of Zvonik) and is further south. He made correct assumptions and found a place that actually has a hilltop ruin named kulina. Yes, that is very close to Colina mentioned on the map! The place is located in Nisko, a tiny hamlet on the southern slope of Moseć mountain. The area suffered greatly during the Turkish wars and occupation and was brought back to life when the Franciscan monks brought new inhabitants from Bosnia back in 1720. so it is likely that those inhabitants had no clue of the region they were brought into and that the fortress was already a ruin.

Today, Nisko is nothing more than a sleepy hamlet…

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Nisko village and Kulina hill above it.
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Very few people live in Nisko…

One winter day, when vegetation wass low and one could actually see most of the structures, I drove to Nisko. The access to the hill is easy but there is not much to see. The hill is full of stone dry walls that don’t make much sense. And, it seems, someone from the village still plants some vegetables (potatoes?) in the only part of the hill that looks fertile.

It is very hard to make any educated guesses so I just took a lot of photos of structures and also studied a lot the aerial photos.

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The structure does not say much nor it indicates that it could be of a pyramidal shape. Mate Matas – one of the explorers of the gradina hilltop fortresses in this area – wrote that this could even be a possible seat of old-Croatian county Zmina. Here is the full text (in Croatian):

Oko 1 km južnije od spomenute Gradine odnosno oko 500 m sjevernije od zaseoka Galići nalazi se Kulina koju prema položaju i nekim drugim obilježjima treba ubrojiti u ilirska gradinska naselju. Naziv Kulina (stara ruševna kula), specifični ostatci (temelji građeni s vezivom) i predaje (u njih treba ubrojiti i usmene izjave stručnjaka arheologa i povjesničara), upućuju na zaključak kako se navedeno gradinsko naselje najduže koristilo. Dužina između temelja bedema Kuline u smjeru I-Z iznosi oko 70 m, a u smjeru sjever jug približno 50 m, što znači da se ona ističe primjernom površinom.
Kulina se ističe i impozantnim širinama i visinom nekadašnjeg bedema. Prema zapadu i sjeverozapadu odakle je i najbolji pristup prema utvrdi širina bedema iznosi oko 12 m, a njihova visine oko 4 m. Prema jugu i strmijem prostoru širina i visina bedema se postupno smanjivala. Prema količini materijala moglo bi se zaključiti da se bedemi prema jugu te istoku i sjeveru bili najniži i najtanji, što se donekle može objašnjavati i strmijim padinama odnosno lakšoj obrani utvrde s tih strana. Međutim, na južnoj i istočnoj strani naziru se tragovi temelja građenih s vezivom. Jesu li u pitanju temelji utvrde ili posebnih stambenih objekata građenih u novijem razdoblju teško je odgovoriti bez detaljnih arheoloških istraživanja lokaliteta.
Takvim bi se istraživanjima pronašao i odgovor na 
pitanje što predstavljaju pravilni kvadratični temelji također građeni s vezivom, a koji se nalaze uz zapadnu stranu već spomenutih dužih temelja građenih s vezivom (možda su u pitanju ostaci spremnika za vodu, zemunica, stambenih prostora i sl.). U zanimljivosti ili posebnosti Kuline treba ubrojiti i jasno izražen unutarnji prostor s naglašeno ravnom podlogom, ograđen suhozidinama. Dužina tog prostora u smjeru I-Z je 12 m, a u smjeru S-J iznosi 10 m. Na tom unutrašnjem prostoru još su vidljivi i veliki kameni blokovi koji su očiti predstavljali okvir vrata okrenutih prema jugu gradine. Postoje i pretpostavke kako je spomenuta gradina mogla biti i sjedište starohrvatske župe Zmina. Tome idu u prilog i pronađeni ostaci starohrvatske bazilike u polju ispod Kuline u blizini crkve sv. Ivana. Dio pronađenih ostataka pohranjen u samostanskoj zbirci u Sinju. Ispred sadašnje crkve sv. Ivana je stećak s ukrasom koji je nekada služio i kao oltar…

Today, nothing more of some indications of walls can be seen.

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Parts of the structure that can be followed in a in a semi-circular shape around the hill
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The fertile field of Nisko

Basically, the mystery stays. No one can prove that this was truly a pyramid but the theory that this was an important stronghold is based on facts.

There was another interesting discovery by Mr. Galic – he connected the Nisko “pyramid” to the ruins of Asseria and Varvaria… Those two important archaeology sites were connected by “lay lines” in another blog post I wrote 3 years ago: https://secretdalmatia.wordpress.com/2013/01/13/ley-lines-in-croatia-secret-dalmatia/

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From Nisko to Nin

The blog is just the discussion on whether all these important “temples” (structures) were found on a single line just by coincidence or it was done on purpose. I still believe it is pure coincidence but…

So, here are the exact locations of the line going through previously established locations of Visovac, Bribirska Glavica, Asseria and Nin (Temple of Jupiter – the largest Roman Temple on the Adriatic coast we know of)

The line continues north to Brijuni as described in that blog on the Lay line.

Now, calling it a Lay line may be completely wrong as this may be something very different. It is also VERY strange that all these important historic places are on the same line but let’s still say it is a pure coincidence due to the orientation of our coastline.

There is another curiosity connected to this “pyramid of Nisko”: Nisko – in Croatian – means “low”. The alleged “Bosnian pyramid” is in Visoko. Which translates “high”…

Another interesting coincidence! Or not?