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!

 

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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?