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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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!

Dolmen in Dalmatia?

I get to cross a lot of territory when traveling. It still amazes me how there are still so many beautiful places to see and things to discover in this little country of ours. Yesterday, I was doing an inspection in Tugare: a tiny village in the hillside of Omiš best known for Tugarke cherries. The entire region is known as Poljica: an autonomous community which existed in the late Middle Ages and the early modern period. It was organized as a “peasants’ republic”, and it’s best known because of the Poljica Statute first written in 1440. Today, the region is slowly getting abandoned as people moved to the coastal towns and work mostly in tourism,

Overlooking Srednja Poljica and peaks of Očur in the distance
Overlooking Srednja Poljica and peaks of Očur in the distance

First we met with locals in a tiny hamlet of Truša. Very colorful Điđi is the soul of the place and a walking encyclopedia of everything related to the region as he was born and grew up here.

Điđi! Điđi!

Our goal was very scenic view point of Stomorica with an ancient church and a stunning panorama of the region and Brač Island. But, along the way, I have noticed something strange in the woods.

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Dolmen?

The structure has all the features of a dolmen and definitely looks like one. This is on Wikipedia on dolmens:
A dolmen, also known as a cromlech, portal tomb, portal grave or quoit, is a type of single-chamber megalithic tomb, usually consisting of two or more upright stones supporting a large flat horizontal capstone (table), although there are also more complex variants. Most date from the early Neolithic period (4000 to 3000 BCE). Dolmens were typically covered with earth or smaller stones to form a barrow. In many instances, that covering has weathered away, leaving only the stone “skeleton” of the burial mound intact.

Or read more on the actual page

However, this is not something encountered in Croatia!

Dolmens are characteristic for most of Europe and Asia but almost none have been discovered in Croatia. There is only one on Cres Island: http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=15452 and it does not really look anything elaborate like this one in Truše. Here are more images:

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From above From above

There are several structures nearby that need proper inspection.

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It is quite unlikely that no one ever wrote about this as it is on a very popular route. However, I have not encountered a single word on this particular structure. It is particularly strange as Mons. Ante Škobalj (a local priest) was born here and actually wrote a well known book on ceremonial mounds, customs and traditions. It is almost impossible that he was not familiar with this place!

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Obredne gomile

In any case, this should be inspected soon. I am sure there were lots of dolmens in Croatia in the past but all were destroyed for all sorts of reasons. Is this the last one standing?

And that is not the only mystery these woods hide…

Some 50 meters from the road, is a set of strange, megalithic ruins. Called “Muratov dvor” (Murat’s home), it is a set of ancient buildings built of large rocks. Very large rocks…

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The walls with windows
The walls with windows

No one really builds houses this way…

Entrance to first floor?
Entrance to ground floor?
The interior
The interior

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Tugare… small village with some serious mysteries.

 EDIT: Not a dolmen. A small team of local experts did further research and we realized it was juts a conveniently positioned flat rock that fell (or was broken off) the larger cliff nearby. It was positioned as a shelter.