Korčula in History

History of Shipbuilding on Korčula II

By 5 June 2018

The second part ofo the history of shipbuilding in Korčula.

Numerous authors have described the significance of the shipbuilding industry in Korčula. Vincenzo Coronelli, famous cartographer and author of the 17th century wrote in his book "Isolario dell' Atlante Veneto" in a chapter about Korčula about the forests, which were large and very dense, and provided lots of material for shipbuilding, and how a large portion of the population was involved in that.

In the eighteenth century, shipbuilding in Korčula slowed down significantly (as can be proven by the fact that not a single ship was built in Korčula in the period between 1778 and 1815), mostly because of the problems in relationships with the Dubrovnik Republic, which was becoming less and less powerful and needed fewer ships, but also many shipbuilders left Korčula in that period, and there wasn't enough capacity to build large numbers of large ships. In 19th century the luck for the shipbuilding in Korčula is turning again, and their success in that period is not owed to the beginning of the period of steamboats, as Korčulan shipbuilders were still building sailboats until late in the 19th century. The largest sailboat built in Korčula was a bark, called "Fratelli Fabris", built in 1875, could carry 550 tons, it was 44 meters long, it was owned by the Fabris brothers (thus the name) from Vrnik, an islet off Korčula, and it was used to transport the stone taken from Vrnik and Korčula. It sailed for ten years, before it sank off the shores of Netherlands, and entire crew went missing. At some point during the 19th century, Korčula was the third largest shipbuilding location in Austro-Hungarian empire, however, the rise of the steamboats tampered that success by the beginning of the 20th century.

Numerous shipbuilders from Korčula moved away from the island, to start their own shipyards in other places, both in the Adriatic and much further. So, it's possible to recognize Korčulan last names as owners of shipyards in Rijeka, Istanbul, Alexandria, Ismir, Odessa, Marseille, Yalta, New York, New Orleans, Buenos Aires etc.

On Korčula, World War I and the emigration wave further reduced the number of shipbuilders on the island, and those who kept building ships on Korčula turned their attention mostly to smaller boats. During World War II first partisan shipyard was operating on Korčula, after having built many ships to the Italian navy (many of those were sabotaged and useless!), and in 1949 it was moved to the location in Dominče, where it's still located today. Ever since that period the shipyard had its ups and downs, as it was extremely successful in certain periods, and then facing complete failure during some. Today, it's called Leda and it's owned by Dutch owners, but it's not clear what the future holds for the shipyard, as it is located in a very interesting location for future tourist projects.

There are two more shipyards still working on the island, 'Greben' at Vela Luka and 'Radež' at Blato. Greben is mostly oriented towards smaller plastic boats and overhauls various types of ships and works for the Croatian Navy. Radež produces mostly cargo ship equipment.