Istrian stone is water resistant and hard as marble. It is a metamorphosed limestone transformed by heat, pressure and time into a durable material. Vast quantities of Istrian stone were exported to build Venice. The toughness of Istrian stone helped Venice survive recurring flooding. An influential European architectural history titled The Stones of Venice by John Ruskin (1819-1900) literally refers to Istrian Stone. Pula’s famous arena is an example of Roman architecture built from Istrian stone. When the ampitheater was completed 81 AD the Romans may not have envisioned Pula arena as a music venue even though gladiators provided ‘entertainment’ there.
Happily for music fans today Pula is known for hosting popular performers. Musicians Oliver Dragojevic and Stjepan Hauser performed in Pula’s arena together and as soloists. Dragojevic is such a beloved, iconic singer-songwriter that he is known in Croatia by his first name. In July 2020 a tribute film biography was played on HRT and a concert held in the Pula arena to mark two years since his death in 2018. The first performances of Stjepan Hauser’s concert series Alone Together took place in Pula, his hometown. Pula Arena is one of Croatia’s many UNESCO designated World Heritage sites.
Until 1808 Dubrovnik was known as Ragusa. As Ragusa, the city’s main street separated the port from a forested area or dubrava. Dubrovnik’s promenade, called Stradun Street, was first paved with Istrian stone in the 13c, destroyed by an earthquake in the 15c and rebuilt.
The name Stadun is derived from the Italian word ‘placa,’ meaning street. Stradun Street runs through the historic Old Town which figured prominently in the television series Game of Thrones (GOT). GOT reached global audiences and contributed to a surge of mass tourism which has taken a toll on Dubrovnik and its harbor.
Visitors able to travel this year may be interested in Dubrovnik’s Lazaretto due to its relevance to the COVID19 public health crisis. Dubrovnik’s Lazaretto was a quarantine area for travelers exposed to contagious diseases. It was first located in a port warehouse. Ideas for it’s construction date to the black death in Europe in the 13c. Dubrovnik’s Lazaretto was built in 1647 and is now being restored with EU support.
Dubrovnik’s fortress walls are engineered with mortar. But Croatia is known for another type of stone construction where no mortar is used. Evidence of the traditional craft of dry stone walling can be seen througout Croatia and Europe. Dry stone walling is an ecologically sustainable, efficient building practice—and an art form that blends harmoniously into the landscape. Croatian dry stone walls are callled gromača or suhozid. Gromače are used to divide land for agricultural reasons, especially for sheep rearing. Current efforts to preserve Croatia’s cultural heritage provide opportunities for young people to learn about dry stone wall building.
Kažun or kažuni are round one room huts used by sheperds and as tool sheds constructed using dry stone wall technique.
Maria Kasić Ivanić was my maternal great-grandmother. She lived in this stone and mortar cottage in the village of Poljane until her death in 1966. Poljane is tiny village overlooking Kvarner Bay. My great-grandmother smoked meats for herself and her neighbors inside the house causing the interior walls to blacken. The house was sold to her niece who built a new home on the site.
On the island of Brač a triangluar-shaped, pebble beach called Zlatni Rat (Golden Horn) attracts locals and tourists. Brač is also known for a school of stone masonry, Klesarska Škola in Puščiča.
Located in Bol, Brač the Blaca Hermitage was founded in a cave by two monks in the 16c. Father Niko Miličević Jr. was the last Glagolitic monk living at Blaca Hermitage. He died in 1963. Father Miličević was an astronomer, spiritual leader and steward of Blaca Hermitage’s famous observatory.
Photos Attributed, Marie Scatena and Public Domain