Tuesday, 8 February 2022

‘Superstitious and Debauched’: Impressions of Croatia in Travel Journals of Yore (III)

February 8th, 2022 - In the third and final part of our series, our travellers explore the Kvarner area, discovering bura wind, scampi, and wellness

 

In our last feature on travel journals documenting trips to the Adriatic, we left off in southern Dalmatia. And now, where our travellers would depart for Montenegro, we’ll circle back to the Northern Adriatic instead. This time, we’re tagging along with A. Fortis (1770s) and G. Marcotti (1890s) - see Part I and Part II for more info and some impressions of Istria and Dalmatia.

Why go back? A good few places were left out of both previous pieces for the sake of brevity, so we’re making this a trilogy to see what our protagonists thought about the Kvarner gulf. It’s a detour alright, but in the words of Fortis who expressed a similar sentiment in one of his letters:

It is a massive geographical leap to move from the island of Brač straight to the island of Rab which is one hundred and twenty miles away. But what can I tell you?

Exactly. But before we get to Rab and other Kvarner islands, let's make a stop in Senj. It’s a coastal town best known for the magnificent Nehaj fortress, a historic stronghold of Uskoks who kept invaders at bay. Fortis says:

A very famous city in the history of the Venetian Republic which had to formally wage a war against it and, being unable to conquer it for a long time, suffered heavy losses in its possessions in Istria and Dalmatia; it was a subject of interest for a Venetian traveller. I wanted to meet the descendants of those fierce Uskoks who were admired for their courage and hated for their cruelty.

I wish I could learn their history as penned by one of them, but Uskoks fought heroically and dealt in ransom and loot collection, and did not write historical accounts.

You don’t say.

5008330431_006e413f07_h.jpgNehaj fortress / János Korom / Flickr

With Senj ruled by Austria at the time, the Uskoks truly were a source of headache for Venice; they defended the city, but also plundered Venetian galleys along with most other commercial ships in the area. Their conquests had a blessing of the local clergy, monasteries received a tithe from the bounty, and so the 16th-century Senj essentially thrived on piracy and looting. It's not a surprise then that its population might've seemed a bit, uh, laid-back to an outsider:

The people of Senj are superstitious and debauched at the same time. The women of this city are said to be prone to love affairs; they are easy-going and in this regard do not bear a resemblance to Croatian women.

Uh-oh. Shall we proceed with caution? Luckily, instead of lamenting loose morals, Fortis turns this into social commentary:

And so romantic adventures are frequent, and sometimes followed by unpleasant consequences. The bishop and the monastery heads who make up the court that deals with these matters issued a decree a few years ago, stipulating that if an unmarried woman were to give birth to a child, she could not sue her lover in court for marriage or possessions. This cruel ordinance led to an even greater decline of morals, and every year, many unfortunate girls are sacrificed to disgrace for which there is no cure; it is heartless and outrageous barbarism.

A progressive stance for the 1770s.

To finish, a few of his thoughts on the infamous Senj bura:

The wind coming from the barren mountains blows so fiercely in that narrow gap, there are times in winter when one cannot leave the house without peril, and it is even worse outside the city. Even when they do not walk across the square where no sensible person would appear at such times, but through the narrow winding alleys, it often happens that children and frail folk are lifted from the ground and slammed against the wall by the wind. When an urgent need compels someone to go to the docks where ships are anchored, despite crawling on their hands and knees they sometimes roll away like a straw because of the force of the wind.

Senj bura hasn’t lost any of its force to this day, and Fortis was wise not to take it lightly.

***

Now, to Rab. Those who read the first part of this series might recall his unabashed trashing of the poor populace of Pag island, and it would appear that Fortis really held a grudge against island folk in general:

The island of Rab would have everything needed to support its small population, if only its agriculture was in the hands of less stupid and lazy people.

He continues:

Nevertheless, [the island] produces firewood, shipped off to Venice on the backs of numerous donkeys each year, as well as grain, oil, excellent wine, brandy, and since the ancient times - silk, the silkworms feeding on black mulberry leaves. Exported are also leather, wool, sheep, pigs and horses of good breed.

I don’t know, they don’t sound that lazy to me. There’s more:

The sea is beginning to be of use, with salt pans maintained on the island that give an abundance of good fine salt. In addition, in spite of fishing being carried out here in a very poor and sloppy manner, the catch of tuna, mackerel and sardines is an important item in the trade of the people of Rab who (as the rest of Dalmatia) prefer to sell their goods to foreigners rather than Venetians. Despite all these natural products, the island is far from being rich or achieving adequate progress, as uncultivated land and idle peasants are too commonly seen.

_ELV9812.jpgRab town by Romulic and Stojcic

And an anecdote:

In the past, there was a bishop of Rab named Ottavio Spaderi; it occurred to him not to allow on the feast of St. Christopher for his relics to be displayed for public veneration, seeing as he doubted their authenticity. The folk rebelled, wanting to throw him into the sea from the top of the hill on which the cathedral stands, and the riots did not subside even after the moment had passed. The government had to send a warship to save the prelate from peril, and the pope considered it his duty to grant him a more submissive congregation in Italy.

Feisty. Fortis is lucky he wasn’t thrown from a cliff as well.

***

Later on, Marcotti writes about what you can find on Lošinj island:

A hunters’ association, a branch of the tourist club, a company for afforestation and landscaping. (...) There is no shortage of foreigners: Mali Lošinj has the Vindobona hotel, three special trattorias, five boarding houses. There are two other guesthouses and a resort for convalescent children in Veli Lošinj.

IMG_7491-min.jpgOsor town on Cres island by Romulic and Stojcic

Visiting Cres island, he notes:

Generally speaking, sheep herding is difficult on islands of Kvarner due to bura; large juniper trees, grown and naturally shaped into canopies by the frequent pressure of the wind, provide shelter to roaming flocks.

***

On to Rijeka, the biggest town in the Kvarner gulf, visited by both our travellers. Fortis first:

Croatian is the native language. Refined folk of both sexes speak good Italian, imitating the Tuscan manner of speaking; surely they should be praised much more than us who butcher our beautiful language but mock everyone else who endeavours to speak it unless they are born in Tuscany.

The people of Rijeka are mild-mannered, and their company jovial, though marked by moderation.

Marcotti also spends some time in Rijeka and doesn’t let us down. Two of the most important things in any destination: where to eat and how to get around!

Numerous trattorias as well as those operating as part of hotels; breweries of the leading Austrian factories. Scampi are delicious, especially served in risotto. [There are] car services, omnibuses, public valets.

…that last one being a somewhat loose translation, referring to a particular profession: a person stationed in a public place ready to help you with any given need or errand. Think a concierge, a tourist guide, a messenger, a personal shopper, a delivery service, all rolled into one. Looking for directions to a certain place or perhaps need a hand with those shopping bags? The public valet’s got your back.

_DS40203.jpgRijeka by Romulic and Stojcic

He goes on:

The look of the city is really nice, its architecture Italian in character, though it offers little of note when it comes to art.

Ah well, you win some, you lose some. At least there are good scampi.

And for a final thought, a line used time and time again, a variation of which is probably currently displayed somewhere on the pages of the local tourist board:

The panoramic view of Rijeka and the Kvarner gulf as seen from Trsat is truly magnificent.

*** 

Opatija has grown into a fully fledged tourist destination by this point (late 1890s), and a health resort at that. Marcotti reports:

There’s a good number of nonagenarians in perfect health living on this riviera.

Its most sheltered and most pleasant place, Opatija, is advertised by the Südbahn company (Southern Austrian railways) as a health resort for the winter and sea-bathing in the summer. It has developed formidably and can barely accommodate the large clientele that flocks to it, particularly those from Austria-Hungary and Germany.

The entire facility cost the Südbahn no less than 3 million florins. There are milk, honey and egg treatments, massage, gymnastics, and walks for health.

14387972365_9a56c0643e_k-min.jpgOpatija by Ronnie Macdonald / Flickr

Some interesting insight into the early days of wellness, followed by a short recap showing just how quickly Opatija gained a reputation as a place to be:

Starting from 1885 (when Archduke Rudolf and his wife Stéfanie stayed here for the first time) visiting and staying in Opatija has become a pastime of high regard, very fashionable in court circles and among aristocrats and diplomats. This is from the 15th of October to the 15th of May: in the other five months, the bourgeois society visits for sea bathing. Empress of Austria, many archdukes and archduchesses, the royals of Serbia and Romania were some of Opatija’s guests.

***

With tourism becoming an industry, this seems like a good place to end this feature. Admittedly, when it comes to travel journals that paint a picture of the Croatian coast in earlier times, we’ve barely scratched the surface in our three-part series. Countless travellers have chronicled their Adriatic adventures, and providing you have time and the resolve to peruse old texts, it’s a fascinating body of work to study. We kept the scope small not to turn this into a dissertation, but hope you’ve enjoyed our travellers’ reviews anyway. Just keep in mind these are opinions of individuals from centuries past, and not neccessarily an actual representation of what Croatia is like - lazy folk, loose morals and local superstitions included.

 

Sources for Part III:

Giuseppe Marcotti, L’Adriatico Orientale, da Venezia a Corfu (1899)

Alberto Fortis, Viaggio a Dalmazia, 1774 (Croatian edition: Put po Dalmaciji, Globus, Zagreb, 1984)

 

Saturday, 5 February 2022

‘Besides, the Food Is Very Good’: Impressions of Croatia in Travel Journals of Yore (II)

February 5, 2022 - In the second part of the feature exploring impressions of Croatia found in old travel journals, we're retracing the steps of several foreign visitors in Dalmatia. 

If you haven't read the first part, please head here to meet our protagonists, fearless adventurers and diligent reviewers, and see what they thought of Istria. We’re picking up where we left off, with all of our esteemed travellers heading further south.

First up, Zadar, the main Venetian base on the Croatian coast back in the day and thus an obligatory stop on every tour of the Adriatic. Very well defined in this succinct statement by archaeologist Jacob Spon who travelled in Dalmatia in 1675:

It’s the capital and one of the best places that the Republic owns in Dalmatia.

He also liked the cathedral and excellent paintings of Titian and Palma displayed in the churches of Zadar, but I’ll spare you the rest of the paragraph as it’s not more than a list of artworks.

Dalmatia_Zadar_Katedrala_sv_Stosije_6.jpgZadar cathedral by Romulic

A few thoughts on Zadar by Noé Bianchi who visited in the 1770s, in his trademark enumeration style:

The city has six gates, a great Arsenal, and many ships and boats. It is a beautiful port, and a place to live in abundance; its territory spans over thirty miles on the mainland, with many castles, islands, and more than four hundred reefs. There are large pastures with plenty of livestock, and an abundance of all sorts of fish; they dress pompously, are very devoted to arms, but above all to humanist studies; they have many schoolmasters, and a lot of merchants.

Let’s hope it was the people of Zadar who dressed pompously and not the fish. Thankfully, we have a new character in our story: countess de La Morinière de La Rochecantin who offers her view of the locals, having visited Zadar in 1907:

The men are not handsome at all; their eyes are hard, their facial features sharp. The women, on the other hand, have a beautiful smile and something seductive under those colourful scarves with which they cover their heads.

Sorry, men of Zadar.

Dalmatia_Zadar0003-min.jpgZadar by Romulic

***

On we go to Trogir, where the countess notes the following:

The inhabitants are largely similar to those of the Illyrian islands, but this lot is more gentle. They live here in a small Provence. Tamarisk trees and pines, through which a soft wind whistles as if in song, line the narrow paths that run along the shore.

This morning, the water glistens with opal reflections, the air is gentle and warm, but it’s enough for the sky to get veiled in clouds for a feeling of melancholy to take hold of us. In these countries where the sun is king, it alone gives life to beings and things: aromatic plants, trees with pale foliage; the flora of such ardent regions only comes alive and reveals all its splendour and perfumes in the light and under the scorch of the sparkling star.

DRAZ5098.jpgTrogir by Mario Romulic

Spon on the other hand has a less poetic approach and seems to be excited about Trogir mostly due to it being the birthplace of Ivan Lučić Lucius, a Croatian historian of international renown.

Lucius is known as the father of Croatian historiography owing to his work 'On the Kingdom of Dalmatia and Croatia', in which he gives a comprehensive account of Dalmatia’s history from the Roman times to the end of the 15th century. Seemingly enough to merit admiration from monsieur Spon who, as we’ve learned, wasn’t easily impressed:

This monsieur Lucius is a nobleman from this country whom I had the honour to meet in Rome, where he is now residing. His homeland is indebted to him for having pulled it from the shadows of antiquity with the historic account he made.

_L6O5038.jpgTrogir by Mario Romulic 

Immediately upon arrival, Spon and his party are struck by one of the worst troubles that can happen on a trip: no place to stay!

We had arrived in Trogir at dinner time and were looking for lodging, when we were told that we had to make our own arrangements for dinner, and that it wasn’t customary in that land to deal in hospitality [accommodation].

Naturally, as they were starving at that point, they weren’t exactly happy to hear this, but they got lucky shortly thereafter and found a place in town that sold wine. They were soon ushered into a nearby building that turned out to be none other than Lucius’s palace. This one:

lucic.jpg

We were surprised to see this house, which is quite beautiful and has a view of the sea, empty and as if deserted, and we were even more surprised when we were told it was the house of this monsieur Lucius whom I just talked about. It has been more than twenty five years since he left it, all because of the incivility of a General of Dalmatia who, having arrived in Trogir, let [Lucius] know he wanted to lodge in his house. The nobleman was getting ready to receive him, and left for himself only a mediocre apartment. But the general immediately sent his people to take all the furniture outside. This impudence annoyed [Lucius] so much, he left the country immediately and never wanted to return.

Loving the gossip. Any thoughts on the sights, though?

The cathedral isn’t ugly. There are some statues in the church, made by a fairly good hand.

Today, the historic centre of Trogir, including the cathedral of St Lawrence, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Dalmatia_Trogir0032-min.jpgTrogir by Mario Romulic

We have another appearance by Alberto Fortis who shares a warning: don’t get scammed on your travels! After two pages of musings on marble and its various properties, he says:

As I searched in vain around Trogir to find the famed marble, someone showed up who wanted to abuse my lack of guile by presenting me with a piece of Carrara marble as if it were taken from the nearby hill of St Elijah, where you can find old quarries whose marble isn’t rough at all, but is still far from the refined marble of Carrara.

No one's taking Fortis for a fool!

A traveller must always keep their guard up, as I have, before they draw conclusions based on other people’s claims. I.e., they should go directly to the site in question or at least threaten to do so in spite of all difficulties; that is how you uncover lies.

A marble-related crisis isn’t a situation a lot of us are likely to find ourselves in these days, but fine advice nonetheless.

DRAZ5185-min.jpgThe portal of Trogir cathedral by Mario Romulic

He adds a few favourable impressions of Čiovo island:

The island’s climate is truly very pleasant, the air perfect, oil, grapes and fruit excellent, the sea rich in fish, the port spacious and shielded. And its surface isn’t so small that a nobleman couldn’t comfortably walk or ride around it.

Good to know.

***

Before we go on to Split, a note on the hinterland by Marcotti, an Italian writer visiting in the late 1890s:

Those who want to be more in control of their time while travelling in the Dalmatian hinterland will prefer to travel by horse, but will have to get accustomed to a common lack of comfort in regards to accommodation and food: pecorino cheese, stale bread; plum brandy to drink. Corn polenta, ham, roasted lamb, smoked mutton and wine are items of luxury.

***

I believe we’re all familiar enough with the splendour of the Diocletian’s palace in Split to skip the lengthy elegies about its magnificence. Instead, let’s see a few impressions of the town in general, starting with Marcotti:

The market is especially crowded on Monday and Thursday mornings. It is interesting to see how peasants and people from the outskirts of town are dressed: bright colours (blue, red and black), large pieces of jewellery, filigree, gold and silver buttons, chains, medals. Compared with the Morlach women, the women of Kaštela stand out with their elegance.

The countess gets philosophical:

A rosy and curly child, with a serious expression of a grown man, leads us through narrow streets in the ruins of the palace. There is something moving about this loyalty that leads men to live where their ancestors lived, be it within the crumbling walls of an ancient palace or next to a dormant crater that will sooner or later sow devastation and death around it.

MaxPixel.net-Building-Croatia-Europe-Split-Dioakletianpalast-505518.jpg
And Spon was surprisingly won over by Split, having spent ten days not doing much other than sampling the local cuisine:

The time we spent in Split did not last us long, because we discovered something new every day and besides, the food was very good. The only downside was accommodation which was not very convenient, as we found but four bare walls.

Partridge only costs five sols there, and hare doesn’t cost much more. There is meat at the butcher’s for one sol a pound, and turtles the size of two fists for four or five sols. But more often than not we preferred to abstain from meat and eat those little trouts from Salona, of which Emperor Diocletian was so fond, that for fear of running out of them he had an express conduit made which brought them to his palace.

3S8C4077-min.jpgSplit by Mario Romulic

All of our brave travellers then went to see Klis. Marcotti offers some practical information:

From Split via Klis (2 hours) to Sinj (5 hours), superb road, but the postal service only operates twice a week. A permit from the commander’s office in Split is needed to visit the Klis fortress; it is not granted to ladies.

Rude.

It would take long to recall the whole of its glorious military history, he says about the fortress, then recalls it anyway. A history lesson later, he goes on to say:

The road, the gates, the barracks, they’re all modern; but the walls, the towers, the ramparts, all retain the picturesque charm of ancient military gear: the mosque was transformed into a warehouse. And there’s a beautiful view to boot. In the village, nestled on terraces below the fort, are several taverns.

Klis_Fortress_at_sunset.jpgKliss fortress

Countess Rochecantin:

The citadel of Klis, truly an eagle's nest which proudly dominates the valley. The rock it’s built on is surrounded by peaks which would seem inaccessible, if it wasn’t for little pockets of greenery bearing witness to the patient conquest of man over this rugged nature.

And then there’s Spon, bless his heart:

There’s a lack of water and it gets terribly cold in winter. I imagine it’s a harsh penance for a Venetian nobleman to serve here as an officer for two years. 2/10

1080px-HR-Festung-Klis-07.jpgKliss fortress

Marcotti offers a few pointers for towns and islands in the area:

At the mouth of the river Cetina, between Mount Biokovo and the sea is Omiš, a formidable ancient pirate nest. Ruins of the Mirabela and one other castle: excellent wines, pink muscat, even some dessert sparkling wines.

The man truly tells us what we want to know the most. 

Šolta isn’t big: its chief town Grohote only has 1200 inhabitants. It’s been renowned for its honey since ancient times; the bees only suckle on rosemary.

Brač is the most important Dalmatian island, in terms of size, population and wealth. They produce vugava, an excellent prošek wine. (...) In the village Pučišće are quarries where stone was sourced for Diocletian’s grand construction in Split.

_D3A5295-min.jpgHvar town by Mario Romulic 

Hvar: shielded from bura wind by the island’s hills, and from sirocco wind by Pakleni islands, it enjoys a well-deserved reputation as a very favourable climate. Cypress, agave, carob and palm trees thrive there magnificently.

A particular thought stands out in this paragraph. At the time of his visit in the late 19th century, organised tourism was already in development in Croatia, notably in two destinations both mentioned here.  Marcotti says:

If direct lines by sea between Italy and Dalmatia were properly established, Hvar town would be a highly recommendable winter destination for the Adriatic regions of the Kingdom, incomparably preferable to Opatija.

According to Spon, Hvar town was an inviting place even two hundred years earlier:

The people of the island, who are three or four thousand in number, have all withdrawn to the town of the same name so they can watch foreigners occasionally dock in their port. So they could receive them with more dignity, they have made there a beautiful pier of marble and stone blocks which lines the semi-circular port.

There is very good bread and very good wine, and plenty of sardines to whet the appetite, with which they also supply Italy and Greece.

Croatia_Islands_Vis_Komiza_0001-min_1.jpgKomiža on Vis island by Mario Romulic

Vis: The island’s vegetation has a distinct southern character, with almond trees, figs, and palm trees. Some excellent wines are the opollo, the Margherita, the prosecco, the gripola, as well as vinegar and brandy. Sardines are abundant in Komiža; anchovies, mackerel, sea bream and snapper are found in all the waters around the island. The suckling lambs are delicious owing to the aromatic pastures of rosemary.

Spon also visited Vis island, but wasn't impressed with the sights:

I won't talk about the fortress, it's just a crow's nest that could be knocked down with ease from the nearby rocks. In the whole garrison there is but one simple soldier who performs the roles of Captain, Sargent and Porter, much like that of Plautus.

He goes to Korčula next, where he learns about jackals:

As this island is covered in woods, it is a haven for several wild beasts. Among them is a certain animal which I am told is built like a dog, but has the cry of a cat or a peacock. If one lights a fire at night near these woods, one can hear a great number of them shrieking and chanting their rabid song, such that those who have never heard them before mistake them for people yelling. It is also said that they dig up the dead to feed on them, and they are good for naught else, but to make some horrid furs out of them.

 

Next up: Dubrovnik, plus a few places we missed on our way south!

 

Sources for part II:

Jacob Spon, Voyage de l'Italie, de Dalmatie, de Grece, et du Levant, Fait és années 1675. & 1676., Tome I (Antoine Cellier le fils, Lyon, 1678)         

Noé Bianchi, Viaggio da Venezia al S. sepolcro, et al monte Sinai (Remondini, Bassano, 1770) 

Giuseppe Marcotti, L’Adriatico Orientale, da Venezia a Corfu (1899)

Alberto Fortis, Viaggio a Dalmazia, 1774 (Croatian edition: Put po Dalmaciji, Globus, Zagreb, 1984)                                  

Comtesse de La Morinière de La Rochecantin, Croisière en Adriatique et en Méditerranée (1907)

 

Quotes translated from Croatian, Italian and French by the author of the article.

Friday, 4 February 2022

‘The Cathedral Isn’t Ugly’: Impressions of Croatia in Travel Journals of Yore (I)

February 4, 2022 - Long before the dawn of tourism, pilgrims, artists, scholars and adventurers of all kinds made their way down the Croatian coast. Many foreign travellers recorded their impressions along the way, leaving behind a treasure trove of travel journals for us modern folk to peruse and enjoy just how much some of the writings resemble online reviews of the present day. Exploring the predecessors of Trip Advisor, starting with a few thoughts on Istria 

Most of us can’t help but love travel content. In the present age, especially since a certain issue made it quite difficult to travel, we explore the world through Facebook posts, Instagram stories and travel blogs.

It’s only a modern take on a very old phenomenon: travel journals, a fairly popular form of literature in which travellers recorded their impressions of all the places they visited.

The Croatian coast played a major role in travel literature from the 15th century onwards. The powerful status of Venice and its location on the Adriatic made it a focal point of every itinerary; travellers either embarked from Venice or passed through it on their way southeast. As Venice ruled the Croatian coast until the end of the 18th century, its major cities such as Zadar or Trogir were essentially must-visit destinations for every person that travelled by sea.

Some were pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land, some were artists capturing breathtaking landscapes and grand classical monuments. Most travel journals include detailed descriptions of the places visited, their geographic position and historical background, architectural landmarks of special importance…

…and food, and wine, and women. It’s Croatia, after all, and while it doesn’t come as a surprise, it’s delightful to read about someone fawning over olive oil or the beauty of Dalmatian women centuries ago.

Back in college, I studied quite a few such journals for a paper on architecture, and I recall having a laugh every time a 17th century 'tourist' opted to ignore the landmarks and mused where to buy wine instead. Detrimental to my paper, but quite fun to read - and having a different outlet now, perhaps it’s time to bring those moments to light as well. After all, travellers in history weren't that different to us today: they took in the sights, sampled the local cuisine and took interest in locals and their customs. And of course, followed it all with colourful commentary. 

*** 

We’re starting our trip in Istria, retracing the steps of French archaeologist Jacob Spon, who stopped in Rovinj on his way from Italy to Greece in 1675:

Rovinj is a small town (...) where the land is rich in vines and olive trees. The wine is good, and I believe that to be the reason why you see so many lame people around, because strong wine is the father and the fosterer of gout and sciatica. The women wear hoop skirts in Spanish fashion which make them look appalling. 

Says this man:

jacob-spon-docteur-en-medicin-01-Ja.jpg

Looks thorougly unimpressed - alright.

On to Pula, where Spon maintains the same level of snark:

At present it has seven or eight hundred inhabitants at most, and if it weren’t for the remnants of its ancient grandeur, no one would believe this used to be a Republic, as I learned from an inscription carved into the base of a statue of emperor Severus, where it’s referred to as Respublica Polensis.

To be fair, I can see where Spon is coming from, as Pula wasn’t exactly a lively town in the 17th century. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the city gradually sank into ruin, ravaged by one attacking force after another, as well as several deadly diseases that decimated the population. It was only in the 19th century when Austria took hold of Pula that the city finally began to thrive after centuries of neglect.

Istra_Pula015_1.jpgPula by Romulic and Stojcic

But I’m getting ahead of myself; first, another visitor in the 1770s, a friar named Noé Bianchi who made a stop in Pula on his pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Much friendlier than Spon, he records a short yet favourable impression of the Istrian city:

It was a very noble and royal city in the past; in it resided an Emperor of Rome who had a beautiful castle built, which is now ruined but a piece of it is still visible, and some beautiful tombs still remain, sculpted in very good marble. Here we stayed for four days waiting for calm seas and good wind, then we left for our voyage and arrived in Zadar.

Slightly reminiscent of a third grader recounting his summer adventures for a back-to-school assignment. I’m a bit unclear on whether Bianchi simply referred to the amphitheatre in Pula as a castle/fort, or if he failed to notice the gigantic edifice at all in the four days he spent in town. Perhaps the latter, as we don’t see the arena in this little tableau he made:

noe.pola.JPG

 

Giuseppe Marcotti didn't make the same faux pas upon his visit to Pula in the late 19th century. A prolific Italian writer and journalist, Marcotti gives an account of the Croatian coast in his work ‘The Eastern Adriatic: From Venice to Corfu’ that is so incredibly detailed, it reads more as a modern travel guide. It’s complete with train schedules and prices, lists of hotels and, most importantly, restaurant recommendations.

At the time of his visit, Pula was thriving under Austro-Hungarian rule as their main naval base. Marcotti notes the city is teeming with armed forces, but points to something else as Pula’s most captivating feature:

…despite the imposing ensemble of armoured towers, forts, batteries, embankments, barracks, gunpowder magazines, warehouses, factories, artillery and ammunition depots, and bays full of warships; in spite of the arsenal, all the armament and military equipment, the monuments to Roman grandeur in Pula are so remarkable, it’s them that attract the traveller’s attention above all else.

Poetic - love it.

Marcotti provides a comprehensive account of every nook and cranny from Umag to Dubrovnik, including some towns and villages not often visited in his time.

Novigrad, for example, apparently wasn’t as pretty of a sight as it is today:

Poverty and decadence are the essence of this place: carved stone and Roman tombstones were used to build small rustic houses; medieval fortifications were adapted into petty dwellings. (...) These days, the quiet port only serves as refuge from bad weather, and people only work at the stone quarries.

5D3B3289-min.jpgNovigrad by Romulic and Stojcic 

Let’s see what he thinks about a couple of other places in Istria - see if you can spot a common denominator in some of his impressions:

Rovinj - The labyrinth of alleys leading to the cathedral, snaking between humble houses bristled with colossal, bizarre chimneys like those in Venice, is abuzz with an energetic, fiery population which always gave the best among excellent Istrian sailors. The women appear to be a refined group of brunettes in the Venetian type; they speak, look, dress and walk as they do in Venice, typically wrapped in black scarves: their dialect is not without some Neapolitan inflection.

Vodnjan - The women inspire admiration, their distinctive beauty being that of the Latin type, with elegant limbs, well-shod and well-dressed and well-coiffed in their special attire, in many ways similar to the famous Arlesiennes of Provence - and also deserving of attention are the wedding customs, religious processions, dances and other popular festivities.

What about the men, Marcotti? We'll never know. 

vodnjan-min.PNGVodnjan by N. Demark 

Marcotti also warns you’ll have some trouble with logistics if you have your heart set on island hopping:

If you wish to visit the islands as well as the most interesting places on the mainland, you should keep it in mind that, despite the numerous steam liners of the Lloyd and the Hungarian-Croatian Society, the services are not so scheduled that you could avoid wasting a week. For this reason, and to make your stay more comfortable, it is more practical to go to Rijeka with a direct steamer from Pula (or by rail from Trieste), and then take various trips from Rijeka to visit places on the coast of Istria, Kvarner, Croatia and the islands that are discussed in this guide.

** 

And finally, Pag, an island known for many things: its cheese, lamb, salt, lace, and the otherworldly landscape that is said to resemble the surface of the Moon. Although Pag isn’t part of Istria and Kvarner, we'll cheat a bit as it's a good point between the Northern Adriatic and Dalmatia to end this piece with.

A lengthy description of Pag comes from Alberto Fortis, an 18th-century Venetian monk, writer and cartographer who travelled in Dalmatia and recorded his impressions in a series of letters to his esteemed acquaintances, published in the 1770s as a work titled 'A Journey to Dalmatia' (Viaggio in Dalmazia).

5D3A2463.jpgPag by Romulic and Stojcic

Fortis was a meticulous observer and his writing detailed and extensive; as such, his letters are a phenomenal source for anyone interested in the history of Dalmatia. He gives a comprehensive account of Pag’s history, demographics, climate, economy, culture and so forth; the bulk of it is level-headed and mostly neutral, but towards the end, Fortis brings down the hammer, leaving only scorched Earth in his wake:

People’s conduct on Pag is quite uncivilised, and superstition reigns among them. (...) I haven’t found a single medallion, inscription, manuscript, nor a single sensible man in this entire town; they’re all interested in salt harvesting and whoever doesn’t talk about salt is given little regard.

They say the island’s been abandoned on several occasions, and truly, one should sooner be amazed it’s inhabited in the first place, as the lucrative salt factories are the sole thing that could inspire people to live in such a joyless place.

Ouch.

He goes on, this time in more detail:

Owing to difficulties that arise on the journey to Pag town and inadequate accommodation that foreigners come across, this place is very poorly visited. Thus its inhabitants are brutish and rude, as if they lived at the farthest possible distance from the sea and didn’t trade with decent folk. Noblemen who are under the impression they carry themselves differently than the common folk are truly laughable characters, with their attire and habits and insulting boasting. The clergy’s ignorance is unbelievable; a priest of the highest rank, believed to be a learned man, didn’t know the Latin name for Pag.

Fortis continues to fire on all cylinders, next turning his attention to folk beliefs in a criticism heavily underlined with contempt for the local clergy. Keeping in mind he was a clergyman himself, this was very 18th-century-enlightenment of him:

The majority of Pag’s population makes a living from sea salt harvesting and is paid well by the Government, which is why dry summers are of great importance to the town’s inhabitants, so much so that the uneducated folk believe the rain to be a pestilence brought upon their land by some sorcery. In line with this belief, they choose a friar to drive away the evil spirits and turn the rain away from the island. If, in spite of the poor friar’s efforts, the summer turns out to be rainy, he loses his reputation and his living; but if two or three summers in succession just so happen to be dry, the friar earns considerable respect and benefit.

Croatia_Islands_Pag_0018-min.jpgPag by Romulic and Stojcic 

In Novalja, where they deal in something different to salt harvesting, they employ equally ridiculous means to summon rain as their neighbours do in trying to keep the weather dry. There’s no end to superstitious beliefs among those poor uncivilised island folk, beliefs that are mostly encouraged and supported by friars for their own gain, and sometimes for a more nefarious purpose, but since not much good can be accomplished by bringing up folk nonsense or the wickedness of the clergy, I will leave them in peace such as they are.

1/10, would not recommend? This would be a tough act to follow, so we’ll leave it at that, much like Fortis left the Pag folk in peace… after shredding them to bits.

Next up: Dalmatia! We’re heading to Zadar, Trogir, Split and a few southern islands to see what the travellers of yore thought about some of the most popular tourist destinations in Croatia in the present day.

 

Sources for Part I: 

Jacob Spon, Voyage de l'Italie, de Dalmatie, de Grece, et du Levant, Fait és années 1675. & 1676., Tome I (Antoine Cellier le fils, Lyon, 1678)
Noé Bianchi, Viaggio da Venezia al S. sepolcro, et al monte Sinai (Remondini, Bassano, 1770)
Giuseppe Marcotti, L’Adriatico Orientale, da Venezia a Corfu (1899)
Alberto Fortis, Put po Dalmaciji (Globus, Zagreb, 1984) 

Quotes translated from Croatian, Italian and French by the author of the article.

 

Saturday, 29 January 2022

Adriatic Splendor: Visiting the Croatian Coast in 1955 (VIDEO)

January 29, 2022 - A travelogue filmed in 1955 takes us on a trip down the Croatian coast, featuring some of the most popular destinations on the Adriatic

We love coming across old footage of the Adriatic coast, but it’s a rare treat to see a video filmed in the 1950s - and a travelogue at that! Titled ‘Adriatic Splendor’, the 1955 video features some of the most popular tourist destinations in ex-Yugoslavia, with the bulk of the footage filmed on the Croatian Adriatic.

As introduced on the PeriscopeFilm channel: ‘This black and white 1955 travelogue documents seaside towns along the Adriatic Coast in the aftermath of World War II, showing natural landmarks, historic architecture, European tourists, and local peoples of diverse ethnic backgrounds from Croatia and former Yugoslavia’.

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Opatija

The Croatian Adriatic first makes an appearance at the 1:55 mark, when the video takes us to the Northern Adriatic town of Opatija. Described as one of the largest holiday resorts populated by bathers from all parts of the world, the town is also praised for its ‘several fine beaches’ and hotels with picturesque grounds - a succinct description of Opatija if there ever was one.

The footage also shows a group of campers who pitched their tents in the shade on one of the aforementioned fine beaches, and it’s quite interesting to see the early days of camping tourism in Croatia on film.

From there we head to Istria, rolling into the harbour town of Pula with a few snapshots of the Mediterranean as it once was, quite literally: a couple riding on a cart pulled by a mule, kids playing on cobblestone streets, fishermen laying out fishing nets on the waterfront. And a nod to the ancient Roman heritage in Pula, namely the fantastically preserved amphitheatre Arena and the Temple of Augustus in the city centre.

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Fishermen in Pula

Making a short stop on Rab island, where we see a jam-packed ferry about to dock. A splendid view of sailboats cruising along the coast, then a stroll through an open market where fresh local produce is sold, allowing visitors to ‘prepare their own food should they so wish’. Experiencing the Adriatic, the authentic way!

And finally, a long summer drive through Dalmatia where we’re treated to spectacular vistas: a string of idyllic island landscapes, the Šibenik cathedral, breathtaking waterfalls of Krka National Park, the historic centre of Trogir, and the solemn Klis fortress, perched high on a hill northeast of Split.

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The crew captured endearing moments throughout their trip: a wedding party on their way to the church, elderly gentlemen clad in traditional garb and engaging in ćakule, local kids thoroughly inspecting the daily catch. And perhaps the most fascinating part of the footage, a report from the Sinj Alka, with a huge crowd of spectators showing just how popular this traditional event has always been.

Though black and white, the dreamy seaside views featured in the video make us long for summer and carefree road trips down the Croatian coast. Interestingly enough, almost 70 years later, most things shown in the footage can still be experienced on the Adriatic. The landscape might be somewhat different, with hotels and holiday homes aplenty, but the essence remains unchanged: the Sinj Alka still draws a crowd, Krka waterfalls are still one of the most spectacular places to take a dip, and those charming cobblestone streets you’ll find all over the coast aren’t going anywhere. 

Watch the full video:

Apart from the Croatian coast, the footage also features the Slovenian lake Bled and Mostar town in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

 

 

Wednesday, 19 January 2022

A Croatian First: Šolta-Brač Underwater Tunnel Planned, Valued at EUR 50 million

January 19, 2022 - It has taken seven years for the Šolta-Brač underwater tunnel project to get a more concrete status in the Split-Dalmatia County Spatial Plan. 

The status change took place in the third amendment, adopted in December last year. As a result, the essential provision on considering the possibility of underwater connections between the two central Dalmatian islands was replaced by classifying the project in the network of state roads to be built, Slobodna Dalmacija writes.

According to the plan, on the Šolta side, the entrance to the tunnel would be in the Livka area, and on the Brač side at the Milna point. Connecting roads would, of course, lead to the entrance. It will be the first underwater tunnel in Croatia and cost around 50 million euros.

"The initiative for change came from us," emphasizes Nikola Cecić Karuzić, Mayor of Šolta, stating the reasons for which they were guided.

"The interest of Šolta is that by connecting with a large island, it would get the shortest access to the Brač Airport and thus connect with the whole world. In summer, we would have ferry lines all day, now during the season, we have six, and in winter, four, while Brač has at least twice as many.

There are also several high schools on Brač, so our children, who are still studying there primarily for occupations in the hospitality industry, could travel to classes every day by organized transport. But, of course, this would also affect the development of agriculture.

On Šolta, the inhabitants are mainly engaged in sheep farming as a hobby, and at the moment, there are 23,000 sheep on the neighboring shoal. They keep them for agriculture, they fence the olive groves, and the sheep sprout thorns," the leader of Šolta tirelessly enumerates and explains:

"It would also have a positive impact on tourism. If there are up to 100,000 tourists on Brač in the summer, imagine what percentage would come to us, the flow of people and goods, how many activities could take place. These are all advantages of connecting with an island that is more developed than us."

Cecić Karuzić also notes that talks on this project have already been held in the competent ministries and announced the imminent start of obtaining documentation.

The financial side would be solved almost entirely with European Union funds, counting on a share from the treasury in Brussels of 85 or even 90 percent.

"We are interested in helping in preparing documentation and even financially as much as we can," says the Mayor of Šolta.

Šolta and Milna are, therefore, in agreement, but although the initiative to build the infrastructure facility is local, connecting the two islands is a state road, which means that the project will be under the jurisdiction of Hrvatske Ceste.

Until then, according to Zoran Botić, an expert advisor at the County Institute for Spatial Planning, inclusion in the Spatial Plan means that a corridor has been reserved so that the tunnel can be built. In any case, construction will be complex, demanding, and not cheap.

The Šolta-Brač underwater tunnel would be about 900 meters long, with 750 meters undersea since the entrances to the tunnel start on land.

"The width would be up to 18 meters with separate pedestrian and service corridors, and the internal height for vehicles at least five meters. It would be built of prefabricated pipes of individual lengths of 50 to 100 meters that would be laid in a planum made at the bottom. Part of it would be buried because the depth of the sea above the tunnel should be from 12 to 15 meters so that even the largest ships can sail unhindered."

The limitation of the longitudinal slope of tunnels should also be mentioned, for which the existing regulations should be corrected, i.e., harmonized with the world regulations for underwater tunnels. The higher longitudinal slope of the tunnel was once strictly limited due to the exhaust gases of vehicles, and today in this area, significant progress has been made in the construction of modern cars.

Indeed, tunnel ventilation remains a significant and unavoidable expense. The construction material must be high-strength concrete, waterproof, and resistant to the influence of salt. Croatian builders already have experience in the construction of large bridges and maritime structures.

Modern insulating materials in the form of various concrete admixtures and insulating coatings also enable significant savings," Botić said. 

In assessing the value of the investment, he started by noting that the construction of an underwater tunnel is twice as expensive as that on land or by building a bridge:

"Based on the cost of building such projects in the world, this would cost between 40 and 50 million euros."

As for the deadlines for implementation, Botić says no less than two years for obtaining the documentation:

"This deadline is realistic, especially for projects that have not been done so far, but also given the demanding environmental impact study, while the construction itself will take two and a half to three years."

For more, check out our dedicated lifestyle section.

Wednesday, 11 August 2021

Croatian Beach vs Pool Dilemma: Arguments For Both Sides Overview

August 11, 2021 - Looking at the broad offer of swimming options on Adriatic, you may find yourself in the middle of a Croatian beach vs pool dilemma. TCN reporter Ivor Kruljac found pros for both sides.

With exciting history, heritage, and interesting experiences to be had, coastal Croatia and the Croatian islands known how to sell what they've got. The clear, refreshing, and clean sea has been the most valuable arsenal in Croatia's tourist offer from the very start.

In that spirit, it may seem unusual to see many hotels with glorious sea views and short walks to beaches that have pools, both indoors and outdoors. Sure, the indoor pools are great if you have the misfortunate of some bad weather when you're dying for a swim, but do outdoor pools really make sense next to the lovely Adriatic?

Well, both sides of this argument have valid points. Here is a shortlist of the cases when one dominates over the other in this epic Croatian beach vs pool debate.

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Looking for safe fun? Then the pool wins

With Croats enjoying the reputation of being ready to help and watching over others, and even with some of the beaches having lifeguards, pools are definitely the safer option if swimming isn't your strong side. The majority of pools have a shallow and deeper end, and while the sea can suddenly become deeper than you what you've bargained for, the transition is much easier in the pool.

If you do get cramp or get in some sort of trouble, even if other swimmers don't respond, you can be sure that hotel staff will pull you out just in time. The rules of conduct (which you have to oblige to) ensure your safety and that of the other guests. The limits of a pool can make it easier for you to watch over your kids while they have safe aquatic fun. In addition, sea urchins or painful rocks on which you can hit yourself while entering the Adriatic, as well as small pebbles that can be annoying on the soles of your feet, aren't an issue in a controlled pool environment. sea_vic_1.jpg

Looking for space? Then a Croatian beach will win

If you feel claustrophobic in the small and typically confined limits of the pool, then a Croatian beach is the best place to go for a longer swim. With experienced swimmers being able to swim from one side of the pool over the other, the sea provides a better challenge in terms of routes and directions you can take. Additionally, pools can be quite crowded, and if you want to take a refreshing dip as some ''zen'' time for yourself, then chilling in the Adriatic can be done at a more considerable distance from others that came to enjoy the day.

pool_vic_2.jpg 

Do you fancy a space reserved just for you? Head to the pool

We all know that moment of frustration when a beach is crowded like hell, and you just can't find a place to leave your towel for the life of you. As pools are limited to the guests of the hotel, you can rest assured that when you arrive poolside, you'll manage to be able to find a place to soak up the sun and get a nice tan after you're done with swimming as the hotel calculates the maximum number of people that they can accommodate at any one time (at least the good hotels do).

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 Broadening your circle of friendship? Then a Croatian beach wins

With the Croatian hotel scene being more and more frequently branded to attract certain clientele, those who are interested in meeting new people on holiday, can expect that other guests in the hotel are similar to them in terms of interest and lifestyle. That's great, but keep in mind that other guests may just be interested in chilling, eating, and sleeping in the hotel, and not really socialising. On the other hand, the world of the Croatian beach is much more dynamic and with long history of interesting real and fictional stories (in books and movies) about awesome friendships and passionate relationships which started with an exchanged glance at the beach; the beach is the place to meet new people.

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Want to be content with the water? The pool wins

When it comes to the Croatian beach offer, there are many types to choose from. Some beaches don't only offer unhindered access to the beautiful Adriatic as their lure but also much more, such as flotation devices to waterslides, sunbeds, and more. That said, certain pools also have more content than another. But, as a guest of the hotel, you can use everything that has been included in the price of your stay, while beaches (in the majority of cases at least) charge extra for these additional features. croatian-beach-683035_1280.jpg

pixabay

Do you want to experience nature at its finest? Then the beach wins

With pools being man-made, they lack the joy of coming across unexpected discoveries which is what the sea offers. From pebbles to seaweed or sand underneath you to fish and other marine life sharing the swim with you, your experience in the Adriatic isn't just an opportunity to relax and freshen up but also to connect closely with nature. When a wave comes, those who are more in the market for excitement will surely have their blood pumping that bit harders as they are carried by the waves. You can also lie on the beach and enjoy the zen the sound of calm waves brings free of charge.

pool_vic_4.jpg

If proximity is what you're after, then the pool wins

When you're searching for a hotel, you probably want the one which is as close as possible to a beautiful Croatian beach. However, if you're a bit of out shape (with no desire to really improve that), and you learn that the promised three-minute walk to the beach lasts up to seven minutes or more at your pace and you just don't feel like walking that much as the heat is draining the life out of you, then the pools are right there inside the hotel complex. The only way to dive in for some aquatic refreshment faster is to take a shower in the hotel room, but really, where is the fun in that?

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Viva la anarchia! – The beach wins

As mentioned above, pools are safer, not just because of their size and safe terrain, but also because of the rules they have. That said, if you've arrived at your destination listening to the greatest Sex Pistols hits and that little anarchist in you ready to get wild, head over to the beach to learn a whole new meaning of freedom. Swim where you want, jump from wherever you want (at your own risk, of course), and as long as you don't pollute the sea, pose a threat to other people or endanger the native marine life, where your sense of creativity ends is your only limit. Swim any time you want. You don't have to take a shower before diving in, and as many Croats will whisper to you in a clandestine manner when nobody is listening: you're free to pee in the sea if you need to.

The Croatian coast has you covered - the choice is yours

These are some of the arguments to help you decide would you prefer to be by the pool or next to a Croatian beach. Since the Croatian coast can offer both salty and freshwater options for your enjoyable holiday, it's best to try out both.

Learn more about beaches in Croatia on our TC page.

For more about the Croatian Adriatic Sea, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Friday, 23 July 2021

Croatia to Toughen COVID Restrictions Along Adriatic Coast as of Monday

ZAGREB, 23 July 2021 - Croatia is introducing tougher COVID-19 restrictions in five coastal counties as of Monday, the head of the national coronavirus response team, Interior Minister Davor Božinović, announced at a press conference on Friday. 

Any gatherings in one place of more than 50 people without a COVID vaccination certificate will be banned, while the maximum number of people with COVID certificates in one place will be 1,000, Božinović said.

"The entire Croatian Adriatic is currently dancing between the orange and red zones on the EDCD map. These measures are aimed at preventing the introduction of restrictions for travellers returning from Croatia, and this is also their wish," he said, adding that the new measures would be in place until 15 August.

Special restrictions have been introduced for wedding celebrations. If they involve up to 15 persons, they do not need to have a COVID certificate, while for those with more than 15 persons all participants will be required to have such certificates.

Fairs and other outdoor business events can be held only with the approval of local and regional coronavirus response teams. Organisers are required to seek permission for such events no later than seven days before the gathering or event takes place.

The national coronavirus response team has also changed the criteria for entering Croatia, extending the validity of COVID vaccination and recovery certificates. Under the new rules, people can enter the country if their certificates showing that they have been fully vaccinated or have recovered from the disease are not older than 270 days. Previously, such certificates should not have been older than 210 days.

Travellers from Category 1 countries must have a negative PCR test not older than 48 hours and must self-isolate on entering the country, while visitors from Category 2 countries must show a negative PCR test not older than 72 hours or a negative antigen test not older than 48 hours, regardless of the vaccination or recovery status. The Category 2 countries include the United Kingdom, the Russian Federation and Cyprus.

Learn more about travelling to Croatia during the COVID-19 pandemic on our TC page.

Wednesday, 14 July 2021

Croatia Increases Sea-Fish Catch and Production

ZAGREB, 14 July, 2021 - Croatia increased the catch and production of sea fish and other marine organisms by 9% in 2020 compared with the previous year, while the value of fisheries rose by 10.4%, according to provisional data from the Croatian Bureau of Statistics.

The increase in the value of fisheries was due to the 11.6% rise in the value of sea fisheries, which in turn was driven by the 10.3% increase in sales.

A total of 66,535 tonnes of pelagic fish were sold last year, which is 7,054 tonnes more than in 2019, while the value of pelagic fish sold rose by 13.7% to HRK 518.2 million.

Also sold were 18,321 tonnes of other fish, their value reaching HRK 774.8 million, up by 13.5% compared with 2019.

The number of fishermen engaged in maritime fishing in 2020 fell by 0.4% to 6,582, and the number of fishing vessels decreased by 0.8% to 7,555.

The provisional data also show that the total production of freshwater fish in 2020 declined by 14.7% to 2,644 tonnes.

(€1 = HRK 7.48)

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Tuesday, 1 June 2021

Journalist Clickbait Victim: The Curious Case of Mystery Fish on Korčula

June 2, 2021 -  When TC editor Iva Tatić caught the fish nobody could identify, TCN reporter Ivor Kruljac jumped to action in the hope he will find a marine life scoop. But after the dramatic realization that Atlantic lizardfish is nothing spectacular, he became a journalist clickbait victim. Meet the mystery fish on Korčula. 

It was early evening between 7 pm-8 pm on the eastern Korčula coastline on May 28. After a long week of handling the Total Croatia site, TC editor Iva Tatić decided to chill and went fishing. Instead of managing the multilingual site that brings you the best tips on how to travel and enjoy Croatia, she must've been happy with the idea she can enjoy in Croatia herself, as she was preparing two hooks – one with a squid and the other with the piece of bread. Marine life must be very humble cause instead of a squid (absolutely delicious, either fried or grilled and stuffed with swiss chard), the bread was the taken bait for the careless fish soul underneath the Adriatic surface.

Iva took the opportunity and caught its prey, but pretty soon, happiness for the catch was additionally spiced with curiosity.

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the source of curiosity and happiness © Iva Tatić

„What the hell is this?“ Iva asked the local Korčula fishermen showing them her catch.

And „no idea“ was the consensus by other marine life hunters.

„Locals call it the spider“, said a local fisherman known as Pero to Iva. „It looks like Spiderman“.

Iva didn't feel that Spiderman is an accurate comparison, and as no one really knew the answer, the whole thing went online.

After Iva shared the photos of its catch on Facebook, the online jury narrowed the mystery to two possible suspects: Saurida and Atlantic lizardfish.

Still being new and wanting to gain recognition in the newsroom, I took on myself to investigate what exactly is this Aquaman-Spiderman-love-child. Perhaps it's something invasive, a threat to the lovely Adriatic, and a fantastic journalist story.

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The case, the challenge, the scoop © Iva Tatić

Word on the expert street

A little bit of browsing through the pages of Rovinj Sea Research Centre (CIM), and a few calls, led me to the CIM Senior scientific associate, dr. Andrej Jaklin.

„It looks like Atlantic lizardfish, I saw that fish in person on Pelješac 15 years ago“, said Dr. Jaklin on the phone while looking at the images of the catch I sent him.

Jaklin's memory also seems fit with Pelješac being close to Korčula Island. Still, he said he can't really tell me too much about the fish and recommended it to me to contact dr. Marcelo Kovačić from the Natural History Museum Rijeka. However, dr. Kovačić, a curator for vertebrates, was on vacation, so the call was picked up by Milvana Arko-Pijevac, curator for marine invertebrates.

„I think this could be an Atlantic lizardfish, the head looks like it should, but I'm specialized for invertebrates, mollusks and shellfish“, said Silvana Arko-Pijevac.

So until that point, two experts for marine bio life are certain this is an Atlantic lizardfish (Synodus saurus). Fish, from Atlantic, I thought. Are we talking about an invasive species that manage to come to the northern dead-end of the Mediterranean all the way from the Atlantic? If so, is it hazardous to the domestic sea life of the Adriatic?

Despite recognizing the fish, neither Jaklin nor Arko-Pijevac couldn't say more details, but it's worth noting that the scientific community can once again serve as a role model to everyone who thinks they are experts on everything (both in Croatia but a trend we see spawn worldwide). Instead, my interlocutors accepted and pointed out the limits of their knowledge and suggested me someone who knows more.

Clickbait: It's not just for journalists anymore!

It took me a while to reach Dr. Jakov Dulčić from the Laboratory of Ichthyology and Coastal Fishery at the Institute of Oceanography and Fisheries in Split. First, he was not in the office, and later, he was at a meeting. But, with Arko-Pijevac's claim that Dulčić is the best ichthyologist in all of Croatia, it was worth the wait.

Finally, my mobile phone impulses from Zagreb caught dr. Dulčić in Split, and I excitedly asked him for help. To identify and say a bit more about the mysterious fish fishermen in Korčula failed to recognize, but is suspected to be the Atlantic lizardfish.

„I have to see the photos to say for certain“, said Dulčić.

„I already sent them to your e-mail before this call. Can you please refresh your E-mail?“, I asked with hearable excitement in my voice and suspense in my gut.

The suspense only grew as Dulčić was opening the e-mail.

„Found it!“, he said and I almost screamed out of excitement,

„Yes, indeed, that is the Atlantic lizardfish“, confirmed Dulčić with a relaxed voice while I was ready to ask tons of questions about this weird and possibly invasive species.

„But that is neither exciting nor anything special to catch in the Adriatic“, continued Dulčić with the same chilled tone.

I listened to that sentence with a blank expression fortunately, nobody has seen it except the walls in my apartment.

„You might think it's unusual in Croatian waters because of its name, but it's the normal fish that lives in Adriatic“, added Dulčić.

I couldn't help but think what a sour poetic justice. Being a journalist, a member of the profession in which some of my colleagues try to catch views by clickbait, to be hooked (pun intended) on a clickbait in scientific terminology.

„They can be found across the Adriatic sea, everywhere in Croatia. Their population used to be smaller in the previous years, but it recently got larger. It seems they have certain cycles, but it's nothing spectacular“, he concluded.

„But how come none of the fishermen recognized it?“, I asked puzzled.

„Interestingly enough, it is often caught, but it can rarely be seen on the fish market, and that's a place thanks to which you can usually recognize fish“, explained Dulčić.

However, informing and educating fishers and the general public about marine life in the Adriatic is something dr Dulčić and the Oceanographic Institute are very dedicated to.

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Presenting you the Atlantic lizardfish © Iva Tatić

This is evident by the LEKFishResCRO project.

„This project will address the need to improve knowledge on the trends in Adriatic fisheries with novel methods as well as to acknowledge recent changes in fish biodiversity in a complex Adriatic ecosystem. The central objective of the project will be to evaluate the potential use of the LEK in developing the knowledge base for fisheries management and conservation. The strategy employed for this evaluation will be a two-way discussion between fisherman and other stakeholders from one side and fisheries biologists from another side around the subject of what sorts of indicators of ecosystem health would make sense in light of both the LEK of the fishers and the research-based knowledge (RBK) of the fisheries biologists“, says LEKFishResCRO website, and with loads of materials, you can check yourself.

„We collaborate well with fishermen, we work on their education, and with their tips and images they sent from the field we quickly gather research data“, explained Dulčić.

The invasive species are legitimately a threat to Adriatic, and it comes from the Red Sea through Eastern Mediterranean, but these examples are excellent topics for some other articles.

In the meantime, the mystery fish is identified as a mainstream species in the Adriatic. Somewhat newsworthy (maybe?), but this time my ship returned without a scoop from the stormy cruise in the sea of information.

I sent a message to Iva explaining what she caught (which she already found out on her own, she is a good journalist after all), and I only confirmed that she can unfreeze it and eat it safely. Additionally, I found this recipe at least.

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Korčula and Adriatic Sea, Pixabay

Enjoy the Adriatic, but respect marine life

In an attempt to conclude this investigative piece (let's pretend it is one, please) on a socially responsible and eco-friendly note, I asked dr Dulčić if there are any type of fish tourists and locals shouldn't fish because it's on the verge of extinction and if caught it should be returned to the sea immediately. „Such fish is living in areas and conditions where you can't catch it with hooks or nets. But Do not dive out noble pen shells (Pinna nobilis), or disturb mammals such as dolphins. And be careful around sharks and jellyfish“, concluded dr. Dulčić.

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Tuesday, 18 May 2021

Rovinj Sea Research Centre Celebrating 130 Years of Work

May 18, 2021 - The Rovinj Sea Research Centre turns 130 in 2021. It is the place in Croatia for oceanographic research and all things science related to the preservation of the sea and maritime life.

Established back in 1891 as Berlin's Aquarium Zoological Station, the research Institute is known today as the Rovinj Sea Research Centre (CIM), and last week it celebrated 130 years of work. An affiliate of the Ruđer Bošković Science Institute (IRB), that institute recently reported that CIM currently has 54 employees working in four laboratories, and the centre is heavily involved in numerous impressive scientific projects.

''This includes five projects of the Croatian Science Foundation (HrZZ), worth 5,855 635 HRK, three projects financed within the INTERREG cross border programme (worth 1,326 000 euros), three projects with European structural and investment funds (7,189 531 HRK), and two projects financed within the EU programme for research and innovations, OBZOR 2020, valued at 179,360 euros,“ says the IRB official website.

The section of the IRB page dedicated to CIM adds that the centre offers a multidisciplinary take on the research of the sea, offering both basic and applicable oceanographic research. This includes six areas of interest: processes and dynamics in the food chain, examining the dynamics of water masses, ecology (species and the interrelations of species in both clean and in polluted waters), sea organism research (ecological, physiological, and genetic features of organisms, and a pollution effects study), the monitoring of pollution and sea quality, and finally, the monitoring of eutrophication (a process in which the environment becomes enriched with nutrients which can trigger the development of algae and cause an imbalance in the ecosystem).

Set in the beautiful town of Rovinj on the Istrian peninsula because of the clear waters of the Adriatic sea, CIM is on a mission to preserve marine life and its biodiversity.

CIM truly has a rich tradition, having conducted international systematic research and monitoring of the marine ecosystem of the Northern Adriatic for over 30 years. ''This approach became a model for the regional organisation of the European systematic monitoring of the coastal sea,'' says IRB.

IRB adds that in this long tradition, the Croatian science programme of monitoring the Northern Adriatic played a huge role. Having begun fifty years ago, it developed into the Jadran Project, making Croatia one of the first countries in all of Europe to have developed a systematic approach to the monitoring of the sea.

''Additional confirmation of the tradition and scientific quality of CIM can also be seen in the recent joining of CIM to JERICO – the Joint European Research Infrastructure network for Coastal Observatory, making CIM a partner of some of the most famous European Institutes“, concluded the IRB's explanation.

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