Shadows and Graffiti of Šepurine Military Base

There are numerous cool abandoned places in Croatia. From castles, lost villages  to abandoned factories and military bases. There is something very special about them. An aura of times that are long (or not so long) gone, lives that were closely connected to those now abandoned walls…

One such place is a big, and once important, military base of Šepurine near Zadar.

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This military base was built by Yugoslav National Army (JNA) as an anti-aircraft training base but, when it was taken by Croatian forces, it became a center for education of special forces (https://www.tportal.hr/vijesti/clanak/pogledajte-u-sto-je-pretvoreno-mjesto-na-kojem-su-se-celicili-hrvatski-komandosi-20160804). In 1995. the 1160 meters long air strip was constructed in record time and the base was used by Croatian and US forces in planning operation Storm that liberated the occupied parts of Croatia in August that same year.

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Airstrip today

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But the base was proclaimed a “non-perspective” one in the mid 2000s and soon abandoned. Then the destruction started… The same scenario has been seen as early as 1995 when the hordes of scrap metal scavengers would invade abandoned objects and strip them of ALL metal. Usually, those are bands of gypsies but not only them… Trucks and trucks of scrap metal were taken from the base without any action taken by the police. Sad. It was our heritage and now it is just a monument to incompetence of our governments and local authorities. As many other places in the country. Progress of devastation can be seen at this Forum.

Only now, there are talks of investors being interested in 1 mil sq meters of prime real estate. Like so many areas in Croatia, it will probably take decades before something happens. And just see how beautiful the coast is right next to the airstrip:

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Punta Skala resort in the distance

But, there is something good about all this as we have an easy access to a beach here and folks have a GREAT place for car racing. The rest is just left to rot. The little that is left.

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Command center?
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All hangars have been destroyed and here is the last one standing.
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All this was covered in hangars

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And then there are some graffiti on the walls of the remains of hangars.

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Have not seen the signature on these

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But true art awaits once you enter the main restaurant for soldiers and the rest of the dormitories.

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Wash your hands before the meal, soldier!

Apparently, an Austrian graffiti artist Perkup (or Perk Up) was here and left an amazing series of graffiti. You can find his work at the following Instagram profile: https://www.instagram.com/perk_up/

Combination of modern, abstract art and this very unique space was quite astonishing.

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Art with some explicit lyrics by a Croatian “poet”

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There were few other artists painting on the walls but Perkup did most of the work and it is just stunning.

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The entire place has a very special aura in a hot summer afternoon and I cannot deny an abstract beauty in this total devastation.

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But small details like a mess of old cups and trays brings you back to the days of serving in the army. I was serving in 1998 in Sinj and Šibenik and always thought of those days as complete waste of time. But that period was always quite emotional and even now some folks have fond memories of their friends whom they served with in JNA and Croatian army.

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There are few other graffiti in the dormitory, but nothing had the power of Perkup’s work.

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Even some forms of very basic devastation I found beautiful:

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Šepurine are now just a place of ghosts. It could have been at least preserved as an important witness of the glory days of the 1995 or at least guarded better. It reminds me of the abandoned military tunnels on Solta and that curious art gallery I focused on a while back: Curious “gallery” on Šolta Island

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But this way we can have it for ourselves. This way the only shadows can be ours.

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Wonders of Dalmatian karst

Dalmatian landscape is made up of mostly limestone. Karst, as it is a scientific name for it, is by a definition a landscape formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks such as limestone, dolomite, and gypsum. It is characterized by underground drainage systems with sinkholes and caves.

So there are A LOT of caves in Croatia! Many known for millenia and explored but still hundreds all over the country that have not been discovered.

We had a great opportunity last month to visit two very special caves in Dalmatian hinterland. One, Velika Ćulumova pećina, is near Kijevo and Vrlika and is well known for its massive bat colony.

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Dinara mountain in the distance
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Velika Ćulumova pećina is clearly marked

This cave is easy to visit – with permits! – as it does not have drops and serious differences in heights. The initial descent is some 7 meters difference from the entrance and then it is fairly flat all 360 meters of its length. But it is also very decorated and considered to be one of the most beautiful caves in this part of the country.

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The colony of bats inside is several thousand strong and the sound of them squeaking above your head may not be the most pleasant sound you ever heard. We tried not to disturb them and I even turned off my strong helmet light. I have a custom helmet light that makes all of modern helmet lights shamefully weak so I turned it off in the big hall with bats. Bats are not blind, contrary to general opinion. We also kept as quiet as possible.

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All over the cave, mud like leyer of bat dung is found. The guano does not smell nice and there is a LOT of it! Some places even knee deep so we all had boots on. It is that black matter on the ground.

We continued exploring and finally reached the last hall. Evidence of human devastation is very present as many of the ornaments have been broken and taken away… There are even graffiti from 1930s in the last hall. Sad.

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I do think the entrance should be closed by some sort of iron gates like on other protected caves in order to preserve the cave and its bats. Not everyone is responsible and loves nature…

Next stop was a very special treat!

There are caves and pits that have been used as places of worship, shelters and even storage facilities but very few as wells. One of them – and it is simply a marvel of traditional architecture – is cave near Kistanje in Bukovica region of Dalmatia.

One can reach it by taking a main trail though the fields near the village of Bezbradice.

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This traditional dirt road is work of perfection with all these flat rocks making up a massive wall leading to the actual well and deeper in the fields.

It was about 34 Celsius (93 F) and there was no place to hide from the hot sun. But then we reached the well. It is basically a combination of a man made structure and a cave that, long time ago, someone thought to be an excellent source of fresh water for most of the year.

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In order to get to the water, locals build a structure with several steps all the way down to the actual well. The water can get awfully high as seen from the marks it left on much higher level of the well.

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The water is so still that I thought there was nothing there till we threw a small rock. We did not have any vessel to get water from below as it was quite lower than the last step but I will return.

According to local legends, the water from this cave is part of a large, underground river Marica. This water has healing powers and healed fertility issues with one local girl long time ago. Just legends or…? In any case, this is one of most wonderful spots I have seen in a while! It looks almost as entrance to the underworld. Maybe it is…

Wonderful world of Dalmatian karst does not stop to surprise!

 

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!