Holiday in Croatia - The History of Orebic

Orebic is one of the oldest water front settlement on the Peljesac, 500 years and perhaps even older.  Originally Dubrovnik was known as Ragusa and the Ragusan Republic controlled most of what is modern day Dalmatia from 1300 to the 1800s. They built fortifications at Ston to protect access to the base of the peninsula and also to guard their burgeoning salt production business. The Republic had close historical connections with Spain and it is said that Spain recruited sea captains from Dalmatia to help them with the envisaged invasion of England, the Spanish Armada of 1588, because of their excellent seamanship.

The earliest settlements built in the Orebic area were at Stankovici and Ruskovici, both around a kilometre from the sea, that nowadays form the outskirts of the modern town of Orebic. It is thought that these settlements were built away from the sea to escape the marauding pirates of the day and to be close to their crops.

Somewhere around 1500 two new village settlements were built by the sea, "Prdinovo" and "Geta". When you see "ovo" in a place name it means that the place is named after the main family that lived there, so in this example the family name is "Prdin". The village of Geta is located a few hundred yards north by today’s restaurant Jadran. They built the settlements around the design of the narrow alleys for the reasons of climate and security. Firstly the narrow alleys would never face the approaching NE cold wind called the ‘bura’ to ensure the householders never faced the bitter continental wind in the winter. The second reason was that fortified gates could be fixed across the narrow alleys, to fend off any attacks from the pirates based in Omis, just south of Split. To ensure that they were never victims of a surprise attack each village would also construct a lookout tower within their walls. That tower still exists in Prdinovo. These two original seaside developments set the trend for more people settling closer to the sea to make it easier to earn a living from fishing.

The next development in Orebic town planning came from the rich merchants who made their living legally from the sea (as opposed to the pirates); they moved here in numbers to base themselves in Orebic where they built themselves large sea captains’ houses. As you walk along the promenade from our house you will see these grand houses all the way along to where the present harbour is based. When you walk towards the harbour you will see the Adriatic hotel, which could easily be mistaken for an ex- sea captains’ house, but it was in fact built as St Stephen’s Church. Since then it has been a school and a shop but is now a very nice hotel. Further along you will see another great boutique hotel, the 'Mimbelli', whose restaurant and beautiful rear garden are thoroughly recommended. This house was a sea captain’s house and it is thought that the owner originally came from Elba Italy.

The most important arrival was from the north of present day Croatia (from a place called Senj) and the family called Orebic. It seems that they owned and developed so much land in the area that eventually the whole settlement took on their family name around 1586.

On the other side of the Peljesac Channel, the parallel story on Korcula was not of the Ragusan Empire but of the Venetian Empire. The proximity of these two powerful maritime nations created conflict but also competition, resulting in very high levels of seamanship and shipbuilding in the region.

In 1667 an enormous earthquake hit Ragusa (Dubrovnik) which destroyed most of its Renaissance art and architecture, today only the Sponza Palace and the Rector's Palace survive from the earlier period. The nobility of the day lost everything and this disaster certainly contributed to the expansion of the Orebic area as people relocated.

Further along the peninsula from Orebic the development continued the Dominican monastery is built around 1671 and around the same time in Viganj the church Our Lady of Rosaria is built. The church of the Holy Trinity in Kuciste was built in 1752 and the village also features the sea captains house of the Lazarovic family dating from around the end of the 18th century.

In the 19th century Mimbelli are the strongest Peljesac shipping family. Through nearly 40 years they traded and transported grain from Russia to Livorno, Marseille, Barcelona and even to Ireland and England. One of the many sea captains houses has the date of 1791 on their gate so you can imagine how the development along the sea front is slowly developing over the first 200 years.

In the late 17th century and early 18th century the ship industry was booming and nearly every male in the area was associated with the business. A slow decline started due to increasing maritime competition and by 1907 the Peljesac had lost its last sailing ship following a very successful 200 year period. This economic crisis led to many local people emigrating to countries like Australia, America and New Zealand.

The industry that would replace shipping is of course tourism and that slow process began in 1894. That was the year that Orebic had its first hotel and its first tourists as the grand tour made its way to the Balkans. The Grand Tour was the traditional trip of Europe undertaken by mainly upper-class European young men of means. Imbued with the spirit of the Grand Tour, in 1881, the Victorian travel writer and architect T G Jackson would stare from the Western side of the Adriatic and observe 'the mysterious side of the Adriatic'. His book "Dalmatia, the Quarnero and Istria" had an important impact on the UK, where the architectural splendours of Korcula and the surrounding region were visually and verbally revealed to a British audience for the first time.  According to David Laven, a historian at Nottingham University; "Jackson tried to do for Dalmatia what Ruskin did for Venice and his legacy is important for British understanding of the region." This year of 2014 marks the 120th anniversary of Orebic tourism and I hope you also enjoy your grand tour.

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