Lergina Gradina – Secret Dalmatia donation 2017

As our readers know, each year we donate funds to archaeology digs and last year, to a caving action saving bones of ancient bear and deer (https://secretcroatia.blog/2018/01/04/rescuing-the-bones-of-prehistoric-bear-and-deer/)
and our past funding made some serious discoveries few years back: https://secretcroatia.blog/2014/07/11/underwater-archaeology-in-croatia-with-secret-dalmatia/
This discovery is now fully supported by Ministry of Culture and local municipality but we still provide logistics support. It was time to move on and open some new stories.

So, when we asked where next, our friends recommended Lergina gradina near Slivnica: a tiny village just few miles from Posedarje in North Dalmatia.

The fortress defense ring still visible

Why this hilltop and note some other? There are several hundred of hilltop towns in Croatia but this was convenient enough to Archaeology department of Zadar University we work with and it is also known that it has very little or almost no Roman traces on top of Liburnian settlement. A rare find!

Velebit is just across the narrow channel

The gradina or hilltop fort, was a settlement or a refuge during the pre-roman period and some of them date back 4000 years. Most of the interesting ones are much younger and have been built by an ancient Liburinan tribe that lived in this area before Romans. After the Roman conquest, most of them were abandoned as people moved to towns during Pax Romana. Liburninas are still a mystery to us as very little is known about them. Very little written records, limited archaeology materials… so every excavation counts!


The winter was very mild this past year so digging outdoors was simply a lot of fun. But also a lot of serious work. Students had a great practice in the field and abundance of great finds!


Lergina gradina is a nicely preserved fortress of about 3,5 hectares in size and it had one section of really finely done carved rock wall. The wall was abandoned soon after it was started. Probably they all left for the city…

Fine work on stone blocks for the wall
The abandoned fine wall and later rough addition with some thorn branches to keep the sheep inside

The archaeologists excavated two ancient houses – better say remains – and found a plethora of really special finds:

The seal on one of the amphora
Carthage coin

There is a great number of coins from Carthage found on these shores of North Dalmatia and that is still a curiosity. Carthage always had horses on one side of their coins and there is a theory they got here through trade during Hanibal’s Second Punic War campaigns on Italian soil.

In general, lots of great finds and details on artifacts that will help give some answers but also give a lot of new questions!

I got there just in time of the first break and the sheep were calmly eating grass among the students. Perfect harmony in a classical Dalmatian landscape.

So, this year we will repeat our donation for the same location as it seems that the archaeologists have found the chieftain’s home so it would be a pity not to explore it and see what stories newly dug artifacts will be telling us.


Rescuing the Bones of Prehistoric Bear and Deer

A year ago, my friend Tonči Radja of “Špiljar” speleology club, informed me of a very curious find in one of the pits of Biokovo. Unlike something he has ever seen, he found complete skeletons of bear and deer at the bottom of one hard to reach pit near Biokovsko selo.

Snow on Biokovo

To get the bones out and to finance research, we were asked for some funds but had to wait till November to make the donation. It is not a big donation but every little helps in the situation when our economy is struggling. So, after we made a donation, all that was left was to set the date for action!

The day chosen was Sunday, December 10th and we met in Split till the entire crew gathered. It was a good day for practice for younger members of “Špiljar”, too! The pit Zovine is about 60 meters (cc 180 ft) deep with a small lake at the bottom. It is REALLY difficult to find it without a guide!

Meeting point

The entire terrain is extremely inhospitable and difficult but, at some point in time, people lived even here. At least for some part of the year while there was pasture.

Abandoned hut

Once we were all the meeting point and everyone who would be going down was ready, we headed into the woods.


Not exactly a forest but a labyrinth of thin trees and limestone rock formations, deep pits and small amphitheaters. Basically, the terrain is very difficult to move through and you really have to know where you are going and have a local guide to get to the pit.


Which is good. As the pit is hard to notice and fairly easy to fall into if coming from a different direction.

The pit

Once at the location, the group set all the gear and ropes and assigned the roles and sequence who is going first, second…and so on.


The pit is also great for training young crew so there was a number of beginners with us. There is also a small lake at the bottom and I wish I am able to get down. It did not take long, for the rest of the team, to get to the bottom and soon, the first remains started coming up. There were 5 full bags with bones of both animals quite nicely preserved.


Next stop was Biokovsko selo where we were supposed to meet with the biologists from the Museum of Natural History of Split.

Biokovsko selo

This is a tiny hamlet with only few inhabitants left. The traces of hard life are evident everywhere. Closed doors that open rarely.


And soon we all met in front of our host’s place to show what was found and for biologists to pack it properly and send for analysis and conservation.


The finds were extraordinary according to biologists! Apparently, at least 10 000 years old but a proper dating and analysis are needed. Quite proud that we enabled this and hope to be able to help even more in the future.

Deer antlers
Bear scull and jaw


It was an exciting day and a proper way to finish this successful operation was to have a small party at our host’s home. It does not go without grilled meat prepared the classic way.


And it was great to see our host’s pride and joy!


The sun slowly set behind Biokovo. In this part of Zagora (hinterland), days are short as massive Biokovo casts a long shadow… Shadow that will soon very few notice.

Hilltop Fortress of Orlić and true abandoned Croatia

Every year, before the holidays, my last post is on one of the forgotten and, for most people, completely lost hilltop fortresses. Not only that winter is the best period for exploring but it is also a time when most of us think of our past year, accomplishments, failures, desires and wishes. It feels natural to visit places where people no longer live. Places that sit abandoned for millenia.

One of those places is Orlić hilltop fortress (or Gradina how it is called locally). These sites are generally atributed to local Liburnian or, commonly known, Illyrian tribes that inhabited these regions before the Roman arrival but also mixed with all later settlers.


Gradina Orlić is located just off the old road from Krupa village to Ervenik. Strange thing is that it was not mentioned in any of the numerous books and scripts I had a chance to read. That was a reason more to go to the actual place and see what it is all about.


The road is mostly in a good shape until one reaches the path that goes to the foothill of the Orlić Hill. That path is for serious off-road vehicles and for those who don’t mind their cars getting scratched as it is a demanding and slow rocky goat path…

The landscape is rugged but fascinating. The very edge of Dalmatia offers a mixture rocky hillside and desert looking plane filled with small patches of woods and interesting stone walls so characteristic for the region.



One can see the remains of a large family estate in the foothill called Macure.

The unusual stone walls usually just mark the fertile lands so the plants would not get eaten by goats. Now these shapes are just filled by oak trees and bushes… The hinterland of Zadar and Šibenik, as well as Split, are filled with these unusual shapes even reminding of ancient symbols or some mysterious civilization. With the way our progress and migration to the cities these will become mysterious and unknown “signs” quite soon.

The hilltop fortress is in a lovely position overlooking this impressive valley and having all control of the hillside in the back – towards modern day Knin.

Orlić fortress on satelite image


The climb is not difficult but it is somewhat demanding due to really rocky terrain. One can easily break a foot or leg in this landscape!


The winter colors are mostly yellow and brown mixed with gray. It is a dramatic change from the lush greens of our spring and summer…



The fallen oak

There is nothing much to see once on the top. The fortress – probably just a refuge, not even a settlement – is now just a pile of rocks.

Both stone walls seen from below

But the place is perfect for listening to the winds of Velebit and enjoying great views. The place is perfect to enjoy solitude.

Great view of hilltop fortress of Trebačnik in the distance
Velebit in the distance

I try never to go back the same way so I continued towards Ervenik. Traces of past war visible at every step…


True abandoned Croatia.

This part of the country will probably never be inhabited again. Just like former settlers abandoned Orlić fortress, past villagers left their stone villages after centuries living there just to look for better life somewhere else.


I usually have at least one more person coming along as it is better to travel in these remote areas with someone who can call for help in case of a need. This time, no one was able to join me so I decided to go on my own. Sometimes, the urge is hard to resist.



One of my goals is to travel every old road in the region. The journey continues!