The stones of history
Favorite thing: Seeing our first bunje on Brac , and being told they were the houses of the Illyrians, we became intrigued with the lost tribes who built them. The name rang bells - echoes of Shakespeare studied at school - wasn't Orsino the Duke of Ilyria? The bunjes we saw didn't look like ducal palaces.
Wikipaedia to the rescue - the Illyrians were the ancient tribes who inhabited the Western Balkans in Classical times. Here on Brac, they lived in the interior of the island, building both huge defensive hill forts and the dry-stone walled house, typically round with a stepped stone roof, quite large inside., that are known as bunje.
The expansion of the Roman Empire into their lands saw them subject to Rome and then gradually disappear as the Empire fell and the Croats pushed into the region. The main evidence of their being there at all are the tumbled stones of their houses. Not that all the bunje to be seen are two thousand years old - the style of building has continued to this day for use as animal shelters and farm stores - but there are more than a few that date right back to those ancient times.
Bunjes are not be confused with the extraordinarily precise mounds of stone that lie in rows all over some of the island's hillsides. These are the result of the backbreaking labour of clearing the stones from land that was to be used for agriculture, labour that began with the first settlers. Looking at the island now, it's hard to envisage the days when more than 12000 hectares of vineyards and a half a million olive trees were cultivated on terraced slopes created by clearing the land of the stones that covered it. Phylloxera destroyed the vineyards in the 19th century, forcing vast numbers of people off the land. Mass emigration followed and today the island's population is half what it was in the middle of the 19th century. The long mounds of stone are a silent testimony to the past.
Favorite thing: I think everyone who comes to Bol takes a photo of this house. With its three-gabled facade, faded pink walls and green shutters, it stands out quite distinctly . Facing west, it looks particularly lovely as the setting sun washes its old pink walls with gold. Like most of the old houses here, it has been in the same family ever since it was built. It's the house's pink stuccoed facade that makes it stand out, most of the island's old houses are unpainted, the fine white stone they are built from aging to a soft creamy-grey, both walls and the thinner stone squares that are used for the roof.
They've been quarrying this stone on Brac since Roman times. The Emperor Diocletian's palace across the channel at Split was built from it and it was used in the construction of St Mark's in Venice and Berlin's Reichstag (though, despite common myth, not for Washington's White House - that stone rightly came from Maryland and Virginia).
Today, the quarries are among the major employers on the island. Stone's expensive and the time entailed in building a stone house means that concrete blocks,render and terracotta tiles are the most common materials in most new houses and apartments nowadays though tightening regulations mean that the stone must used for the restoration of the island's stock of old houses.
Wine and olives ...
Favorite thing: Two staples of the Mediterranean world, wine and olives have always played the most important role in Brac's economy.
The island has been famed for its olive oil since ancient times - local legend has it that the first olives were planted here by a soldier returning from the Trojan wars. Whatever - there's no doubt olives have been grown here for millenia. During the 19th century Brac, with over half a million olive trees, produced more olive oil than the rest of Dalmatia combined. The mass emigration of the 20th century - the result of phylloxera destroying the vineyards and steam taking over from sail (ship building was another important local industry and the island's fleet employed large numbers as crew) saw the acreage under cultivation of vines and olives fall away dramatically and production is a fraction of the amount produced then. A small Museum of Olive Oil in an old oil pressing works in Mirca tells the story.
Reduced as the production of oil may be, the olive trees of Brac still produce a very fine product. If a bottle of oil is too heavy in your baggage, try to find room for a cake or two of the beautiful soap they make from the oil - scented with island herbs, it will turn your shower into a walk through the Adriatic macchia (bosque/bush)
They've been making wine here forever too. The island's hillsides create a microclimate ideal for winegrowing, and hard, physical labour cleared the stony slopes into terraces to take advantage of this. As the olives, the area under vine has shrunk to a fraction of what it once was. As well as the commercial growers however, everyone with a few vines produces wine for their own consumption. If you're looking to buy a local wine you'll find it's a gutsy red made from an indigeous variety of Zinfandel known as Plavac Mali.
A Croatian saying is that fish must swim three times - in the sea, in oil and in wine. Remember that as you drizzle some oil on your octopus salad and fill your glass again.
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- Wine Tasting
- Road Trip
Favorite thing: As patterns of settlement on Brac saw people move from the safety of the interior plateau, where living was hard and harsh, to the gentler environment of the island's many sheltered bays in the 15th century, new styles of church building began to appear. The small and simple style of the high villages were left behind and the more elegant influence of the Renaissance began to be seen. As the population grew over the next couple of hundred years or so, the churches needed to expand and, in keeping with the latest architectural style, Baroque motifs came on the scene. Larger and lighter interiors were created by enlarging the main body of the church, more elaborate facades were created and the most distinctive feature of all was added - the bell towers that today are the identifying feature of each small town and village.
Some are elegantly simple, pyramid-spired, quite Venetian in their inspiration, others are more typically Baroque - with ogee curves, cushioned crowns and little onions. No two are exactly alike - and I love them all.
Brac history - part 3
Favorite thing: The population of the island drastically decreased in the beginning of the 20th century due to heavy emigration, mostly to Latin America, especially Argentina and Chile, and to New Zealand and Australia. The emigration continued during the whole century, only later generations preferring to move to European countries, especially Germany.
In 1941 Italian forces occupied the island. In the mountainous regions of the island, native rebels fought a quite effective guerilla war, but the occupiers answered harshly with arrests and executions. After the Italian capitulation in 1943, German troops occupied the island in June 1944, but in July they were defeated and the island was freed. As part of Croatia it became part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, until Croatia gained its independence in 1991. The Croatian War of Independence was barely fought on the island (there was a brief bombing of Milna), but the aftermath of the war, especially the loss in tourism, was disastrous for the island. Only now is the island regenerating from the decade-long drainage of its most important revenue.
Brac history - part 2
Favorite thing: In the 12th century, as Croatian influence faded (Croatia became part of Hungary) Braè was able to gain and keep independence for almost two centuries. From 1268 to 1357 the island recognized the supremacy of the Republic of Venice, and after that they bowed to Hungary again. In the summer of 1390, together with the whole region, they accepted the rule of the Bosnian King Stefan Tvrtko I Kotromaniæ, who died the next year. Soon after his death, Hungary claimed the island again. In this whole period, they kept their basic autonomy and old structures -- the island was never rich or strategically interesting enough to justify serious intervention. Local nobility administered and ruled Braè and the seat of the council was Nerežišæa in the island's center. The leader was selected from the noble families. Only in 1420 did the Venetian Republic reclaim the island, finally sending someone to lead the island.
Venice ruled for more than four centuries, until 1797. The official language was Latin. During this time, the Bosnian realm fell to the Ottoman Empire and many refugees settled on the islands, especially on Braè. Many towns were founded in that time and the population began moving from the interior of the island to its coast: to Bol, Milna, Postira, Povlja, Puèišæa, Splitska, Sumartin, Supetar i Sutivan.
During the Napoleonic Wars, the power of Venice was terminated and Braè was administrated by France for a short time. In 1807, Petar I Njegoš of Montenegro managed to seize Braè and Korèula with the help of the Russian navy. In the Congress of Vienna in 1814 the island was given to the Austrian Empire. Braè was incorporated into the Austrian crownland of Dalmatia from 1815 and became a part of Transleithania of the Monarchy of Austria-Hungary from 1867. After the fall of Austria-Hungary 1918, Braè became part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.
Brac history - part 1
Favorite thing: Archeological findings date the existence of human communities on the island back to the palaeolithic (in the Kopaèina cave between Supetar and Donji Humac). In the Bronze Age and Iron Age, Illyrian tribes populated the inner parts of the island. Numerous villages existed at that time (but none of them survived).
In the 4th century BC Greek colonization spread over many Adriatic islands and along the shore, but none of them on Braè. Nevertheless, Greeks visited the island and also traded with the Illyric tribes; Greek artefacts were found in the bay of Vièja near Ložišæa. Braè lay on the crossroads of several trade routes from Salona (today Solin) to Issa (today Vis) and the Po River.
In the year 9, the Romans finally conquered Dalmatia after long fights against the native tribes. Salona became the capital of the new province and, probably because of its proximity to Salona, no bigger villages or towns were founded on the island. Signs of Roman habitation can be found all over the islands, but they usually remain single Roman villas, cisterns, and especially early quarries between Škrip and Splitska. Splitska also became the most important harbour to carry stone to Salona and the whole of Dalmatia. Diocletian's Palace, which later became the seed of closeby Split, was built in this period with the stone that was cut here.
After the destruction of Salona by Avar and Slavic tribes, Braè first became a refuge for many a denizen of the shore. Tradition has it that Škrip was founded by refugee Salonans, but the town is actually much older than that. Nominally, the island was then part of the Byzantine Empire. As soon as the Serbs refuged to Pagania and their descendents formed a principality there in the first half of the 7th century, the island was seized and Braè became part of this Narenta. In 872 the Arab Saracens raided the Narentine island. In 1050, together with the rest of Pagania, it became part of the Croatian realm.
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