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!

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Adriatic dreaming

The 2012 is slowly passing by… Few more hours and it will be gone. But it definitely does not look like late December in Dalmatia! With extraordinary warm (well…15 Celsius…) and sunny weather, it is perfect to spend time outdoors. So, took my son for a boat ride to nearby Ricul Island.

Lighthouse on Ricul
Lighthouse on Ricul

Ricul is easily reached from our home town and it is quite close to the mainland. In the past, evidence exists, the island was a peninsula  connected to mainland by a narrow strip of land but, with sea level rising, it became an island. The name is still a mystery and it is assumed it is Liburnian in origin but the meaning is unknown. The island was once connected to the village of Tukljača that was destroyed and sunk after the water level rose back in the Middle Ages. Now, part of the former village is a graveyard for the village of Turanj. The island – when looked at from the main road, clearly had terraces so it was used for some sort of agriculture or as a pasture…

Definitely not December weather!
Definitely not December weather!

The island offers great views and is one of my favorite relaxing spots – not too far from home but still seems like it is in the middle of nowhere…

View of Pašman Island in the distance
View of Pašman Island in the distance

Once we got to the top of the island, we had a great view of heart-shaped Galesnjak island that recently started making all the headlines being the only natural heart shaped island on the planet.

Heart-shaped island of Galesnjak
Heart-shaped island of Galesnjak

The owners – some distant relatives of mine – decided it would be nice to plant olive trees so there are big “scars” going from one shore to another… It will recover but, with all the publicity the island got, there were much smarter investments to be made. Not in Croatia.

On the top, we disturbed a nice flock of wild pigeons. Once hunted, no one disturbs them any longer so there were over 60 birds flying above us in circles at one point.

Part of the flock of wild pigeons
Part of the flock of wild pigeons

The pigeons are hiding in a big hole/cave on the island. It is believed that the cave served for ritual purposes in the ancient times. Now, it is just an impressive hole! As a teenager, I went to the bottom and we actually found a small opening to another cave but the opening was too small for us to go through so we did not try it. The hole is about 8 meters deep.

 

The pigeon hole
The pigeon hole

The views from the top are beautiful: Muntan and Duzac Islands to your right, Komornink and Babac right in front, Biograd, Sv Filip Jakov, Turanj… Home.

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Pasman channel

Yes, there are other beautiful parts of the Adriatic, but this is a very special one: sailing route to Venice for millenia, calm hideout from most of the storms and strong winds, archeological and historical paradise with remains from all epochs of human activity in Croatia.

As the sun set behind Pašman island, the weather turned cooler and it was time to go…

Ričul
Ričul

Ricul can also be visited on our Heart Shaped Island picnic.

Travel in Croatia
Tours in Croatia

 

 

 

 

 

Gnalic Shipwreck Exhibition at Biograd City Museum

This year’s Night at the Museum we spent at home as it was too cold for a baby to go out. So, it is a perfect opportunity to present one of Croatia’s most exclusive museum collections located in Biograd’s own City Museum.

Biograd and view of Pasman Channel
Biograd and view of Pasman Channel

The shipwreck of Gnalic and it’s find was a major news back in the mid 60s when fishermen from Murter Island discovered the shipwreck by accident.  Back in 1967, not too many people were scuba diving so the shipwreck’s precious cargo was saved. From the Venetian records we now know a fact or two about the ship and the shipwreck: during a storm in 1583.  the Venetian merchant ship Gagiana sank near the rocky inlet Gnalic located few miles south of Biograd.
The Pasman Channel gets some pretty rough seas from jugo wind and it is sometimes quite hard to even see Gnalic covered in big waves. Experienced it personally myself once battling seas for hours to reach Vrgada which is only 2 miles south…

Venetian galley from that period
Venetian galley from that period

The shipwreck and its rich cargo were salvaged mostly between 1967. and 1974. and then the remaining smaller objects were located in 1996. while the last expedition took place in 2010 in cooperation with one university from Texas.
The salvaging operation was conducted by former Yugoslav military that only had the equipment for such an operation back in those days.

Anchors on Biograd riva. One of them is still standing in front of the museum...
Anchors on Biograd riva. One of them is still standing in front of the museum...

However, the operation was not so successful in all aspects as, during the lifting of one of the canons, the rope snapped…

Nine canons were found on the the sea bed
Nine canons were found on the the sea bed

and the canon fell back down…straight on a perfectly preserved chest full of murano glasses…

Remains of glasses
Remains of glasses

There was plenty more where that came from so the collection of glass is still impressive.

Thanks for this find, he City  Museum in Biograd was established in 1970 and the remains of the ship were exhibited to the public. Some of the finds were simply spectacular:
Twenty little wooden boxes were recovered in 1968, each containing a dozen leather-framed spectacles. By the design, it is most likely they were made in Nuremberg, Germany. The great majority of the frames were damaged because of the 400 years of direct contact with the sea. There are less than twenty-five leather-framed eyeglasses in the US and less than one hundred in all the known European collections making this the largest collection of leather-framed glasses in the world.
There were other great treasures preserved as well.

Cargo on display
Cargo on display

Most popular find are the nine bronze cannons – two of which were dated 1582, great numbers of brass chandeliers from Lubeck in North Germany, sheets of brass, coils of brass wire, tin bars, bell-shaped cinnabar and very expensive and colored purple most likely from Lucca, Italy. Besides the mentioned items, the cargo consisted of numerous items for daily use:  thimbles, sewing needles, pins, razors, glass, scissors, various wether-bells, two precision scales… Most of the cargo, however, consisted of raw materials and semi-manufactured products.

Canons
Canons

The most important finds were not metal but textile!

Textile found in an iron chest on the bottom of the sea
Textile found in an iron chest on the bottom of the sea

Textile items found : rolls – 54 m of silk damask, three long white shirts and eight woolen caps.  All these items were been cleaned and conserved in a private foundation called ABBEGO form Riggesburg near Bern.
The damask is the longest historic piece of that fabric still preserved and it is so precious that the conservation was paid for by 3 meters of the actual fabric!

Although the most important finds have been preserved and saved, the amateur divers still plunder the location of the shipwreck in search of small pieces. Some local diving clubs even exhibit some of the finds with authorities doing nothing about it…

Artifacts from different periods
Artifacts from different periods

Biograd City Museum is still housed in a late 18th century building and not providing adequate exhibiting space for such an important find. There are numerous more exhibits found in the region that played very important part in our national history with Biograd being the crowning city of Croatian kings in late 11th century … before it was destroyed by the Venetians in 1125. never again to restore it’s influence and power.
A great place to visit and simply a must for all history lovers traveling to Croatia and coming to this region.

Biograd City Museum
Obala P. Krešimira IV 22
23210 Biograd na Moru
Tel./Fax – 023/383-721

http://www.biogradnamoru.hr/