Cultural & Natural Assets in Croatia

Photo provided by Vilma Stojkovic. 

Blaca Hermitage, Brač

Blaca Hermitage on Island Brač

The Blaca Hermitage (Croatian: pustinja Blaca) the most well-known and the biggest monastery built by Glagolitic monks from the village of Poljice who settled in the canyon of the dry river bed, two kilometres away from the coast and a deep sea bay, about halfway between the Brač settlements of Bol and Milna.

Ljubitovica cave is considered to be the core of the monastery and it dates back to 1552 when a land donation was made. A Brač count issued then a permission for building of a monastery and a church, so the first buildings of a monastery complex were built in 1570. The Renaissance church with the late Gothic arch and distaff-shaped belfry was built from 1588 to 1614.

Next to the church, the first dwellings were built used for residence of the hermits together with the water containers that actually determined the size of the monastery.

Over time, the Blaca Hermitage turned to a large estate inherited by priests, relatives of the hermitage managers. At the end of the 18th century, the heads of the Blaca Hermitage founded a shipping company. The Blaca Hermitage turned out to be a specific combination of the Middle European civic housing and the traditional rural life-style of Poljica and Brač in general. The same complex of buildings includes salons with libraries and piano, study rooms and musical instruments, but also smoky hearths where meat was dried, heath ovens and storage rooms typical for large village farms in Dalmatia of that time. The additional construction works doubled the size of taverns. The Large Waterfall was a water collector used for harvesting of leachate originating from the nearby hill. This open basin in front of the entrance into the monastery enabled the increase in the number of cattle. A large apiary was also built, with large winter garden for citrus fruits, racks for table grapes as well as sheds all over the estate.

Blaca Hermitage also had a printing works and a remarkable library, and the observatory that is known to have found a new star. The memories of the time when the astronomers recorded their observations, when the hundreds of clocks were ticking showing the time of various observatories all over the world, are preserved today by numerous instruments and a 178 mm telescope with the largest grind lens in the south-eastern Europe that served as a starting point of the Blaca observatory.

The cultural landscape of Blaca monastery with outbuildings, vineyards, olive groves and pastures situated in the natural landscape of the uninhabited, southern side of the island, provides an opportunity for studying and preserving the traditional environmental balance in the area between the cultivated and the wild natural island landscape

Stari Grad Plain Cultural Landscape

Stari Grad Plain on the island of Hvar is an exceptional testimony to the ancient human settlement of the area. The main feature of this cultural landscape is the geometric division of plots set up by Greek colonists from the island of Pharos in the 4th century BC. The system by which the fields were split into 75 rectangular plots according to the Greek 1 to 5 ratio, has remained almost unchanged to present day thanks to the centuries long maintenance of the dry stone wall network, roads, stone shelters (trims) and water harvesting systems.

These fields that have been cultivated for centuries are still used for growing wine and olives. The described values of Stari Grad Plain are the reason why this location was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2008.

Stari Grad Plain, Croatia

Numerous civilizations left their mark by cultivating the landscape of this largest karst field on the Adriatic islands, protected by the surrounding hills and the deep sea bay of Stari Grad. The Illyrian fortifications are one of these marks. We can find them on the raised peaks around the field distributed strategically and offering a view of the field and the surrounding sea area.

The Greek colony Pharos was established in 385 BC on the site of the Illyrian settlement at the sea bay. The colony had its own mint and pottery workshop. As such it was one of the strongest colonies on the eastern Adriatic coast until 219 BC when Pharos was conquered by the Romans who restored it as the prefecture of Pharia that was a part of the ager publicus of Salona. That was a period of economic prosperity when villae rusticae were built. The remains of richly furnished villas with mosaics can be observed even today, and recent research proves new measurements and division of Stari Grad Plain into Roman units of land called centuriae.

The arrival of Slavs discontinued briefly the continuity in the ancient use of the land. However, the Slavs assimilated domicile cultures by the 9th century and managed to recognize important points of the landscape dedicated to the deities Perun, Veles and Mokoš.

In the Middle Ages, Stari Grad Plain was under the protection of the patron saint of the Hvar diocese and was known by the name Campus sancti Stefani. During that period numerous churches were built, as well as new roads on the ancient routes.

The life of the community has always been closely connected with the religion. Therefore, a procession was created in Stari Grad Plain and nearby settlements called Za križen. It celebrates the resurrection of Christ and has been held unchanged on Good Friday until present day.

The traditional knowledge of olive growing, viticulture, bee-keeping, fishery, living in harmony with nature, preservation of forests and watercourses, cleanliness of the sea, value of the fertile soil, dry wall construction and preservation of cultural heritage has been passed on to younger generations in the Towns of Stari Grad and Jelsa as the heirs to this invaluable treasure.

Photo provided by Vilma Stojković.

Tvrdalj, Petar Hektorović's Summerhouse

Tvrdalj, Petar Hektorović’s Summerhouse )1487 – 1572), with a fishpond and dovecote is the most prominent building in Stari Grad. This building only seemingly built for defensive purposes is the result of the lifelong efforts of Petar Hektorović, the Renaissance poet, best known for his work Fishing and Fisherman’s Complaints (Ribanje i ribarsko prigovaranje) the first travelogue in recorded in the Croatian literature.

Tvrdalj was built for forty years and as such it reflects the poet’s Renaissance philosophy as well as the historical circumstances of the island of Hvar in the 16th century. It was designed both as a fortress that could offer shelter to the entire population of Stari Grad and as a copy of the world, but on a smaller scale. It is a microcosm surrounded by walls, but still offering place for all living creatures – fish, birds, plants and people. 

Tvrdalj is a stone book – more than twenty inscriptions can be found there that Hektorović carved in stone. However, he carved his personal life motto in Italian: Fede e realtà o quanto è bella – Faith and reality, oh how beautiful they are.

There is only one inscription in Croatian language. It is situated above the part of the summerhouse intended for travellers and the poor to whom this magnificent building offered rest and refreshment.

Petar Hektorović, the poet, Christian intellectual and builder, built Tvrdalj persistently, almost obsessively throughout his whole life. He started it as a summerhouse, and left it to his descendants as a closed and complete microcosm dedicated to the Creator of everything – Omnium Conditori. The playfulness of the interior of Tvrdalj is the complete opposite to the simplicity of its facade.

The fishpond is surrounded by a porch and there is a small tower above it with stone nests for pigeons and holes for sparrows. There is also a gorgeous park with plants sent to Hektorović by his friends, poets from Dubrovnik. Again, there are inscriptions all around the fishpond and the largest of them is a warning about impermanence of life: Keep in mind that neither wealth, world fame, beauty nor age will save you, for death will get us all in the end. There is an ethnographic collection of the Stari Grad Museum on the western side of the park with the presentation of a typical island cuisine with a hearth. 

Photo provided by Vilma Stojković.

Learn more about Brač and Hvar, Croatia