Otok Brac Favorite Tips by TheWanderingCamel Top 5 Page for this destination
Otok Brac Favorites: 7 reviews and 19 photos
Bunjes near Skrip
Favorite thing: Seeing our first bunje on Brac , and being told they were the houses of the Illyrians, we became intrigued with the lost tribes who built them. The name rang bells - echoes of Shakespeare studied at school - wasn't Orsino the Duke of Ilyria? The bunjes we saw didn't look like ducal palaces.
Wikipaedia to the rescue - the Illyrians were the ancient tribes who inhabited the Western Balkans in Classical times. Here on Brac, they lived in the interior of the island, building both huge defensive hill forts and the dry-stone walled house, typically round with a stepped stone roof, quite large inside., that are known as bunje.
The expansion of the Roman Empire into their lands saw them subject to Rome and then gradually disappear as the Empire fell and the Croats pushed into the region. The main evidence of their being there at all are the tumbled stones of their houses. Not that all the bunje to be seen are two thousand years old - the style of building has continued to this day for use as animal shelters and farm stores - but there are more than a few that date right back to those ancient times.
Bunjes are not be confused with the extraordinarily precise mounds of stone that lie in rows all over some of the island's hillsides. These are the result of the backbreaking labour of clearing the stones from land that was to be used for agriculture, labour that began with the first settlers. Looking at the island now, it's hard to envisage the days when more than 12000 hectares of vineyards and a half a million olive trees were cultivated on terraced slopes created by clearing the land of the stones that covered it. Phylloxera destroyed the vineyards in the 19th century, forcing vast numbers of people off the land. Mass emigration followed and today the island's population is half what it was in the middle of the 19th century. The long mounds of stone are a silent testimony to the past.
Favorite thing: I think everyone who comes to Bol takes a photo of this house. With its three-gabled facade, faded pink walls and green shutters, it stands out quite distinctly . Facing west, it looks particularly lovely as the setting sun washes its old pink walls with gold. Like most of the old houses here, it has been in the same family ever since it was built. It's the house's pink stuccoed facade that makes it stand out, most of the island's old houses are unpainted, the fine white stone they are built from aging to a soft creamy-grey, both walls and the thinner stone squares that are used for the roof.
They've been quarrying this stone on Brac since Roman times. The Emperor Diocletian's palace across the channel at Split was built from it and it was used in the construction of St Mark's in Venice and Berlin's Reichstag (though, despite common myth, not for Washington's White House - that stone rightly came from Maryland and Virginia).
Today, the quarries are among the major employers on the island. Stone's expensive and the time entailed in building a stone house means that concrete blocks,render and terracotta tiles are the most common materials in most new houses and apartments nowadays though tightening regulations mean that the stone must used for the restoration of the island's stock of old houses.
Favorite thing: Two staples of the Mediterranean world, wine and olives have always played the most important role in Brac's economy.
The island has been famed for its olive oil since ancient times - local legend has it that the first olives were planted here by a soldier returning from the Trojan wars. Whatever - there's no doubt olives have been grown here for millenia. During the 19th century Brac, with over half a million olive trees, produced more olive oil than the rest of Dalmatia combined. The mass emigration of the 20th century - the result of phylloxera destroying the vineyards and steam taking over from sail (ship building was another important local industry and the island's fleet employed large numbers as crew) saw the acreage under cultivation of vines and olives fall away dramatically and production is a fraction of the amount produced then. A small Museum of Olive Oil in an old oil pressing works in Mirca tells the story.
Reduced as the production of oil may be, the olive trees of Brac still produce a very fine product. If a bottle of oil is too heavy in your baggage, try to find room for a cake or two of the beautiful soap they make from the oil - scented with island herbs, it will turn your shower into a walk through the Adriatic macchia (bosque/bush)
They've been making wine here forever too. The island's hillsides create a microclimate ideal for winegrowing, and hard, physical labour cleared the stony slopes into terraces to take advantage of this. As the olives, the area under vine has shrunk to a fraction of what it once was. As well as the commercial growers however, everyone with a few vines produces wine for their own consumption. If you're looking to buy a local wine you'll find it's a gutsy red made from an indigeous variety of Zinfandel known as Plavac Mali.
A Croatian saying is that fish must swim three times - in the sea, in oil and in wine. Remember that as you drizzle some oil on your octopus salad and fill your glass again.
Favorite thing: As patterns of settlement on Brac saw people move from the safety of the interior plateau, where living was hard and harsh, to the gentler environment of the island's many sheltered bays in the 15th century, new styles of church building began to appear. The small and simple style of the high villages were left behind and the more elegant influence of the Renaissance began to be seen. As the population grew over the next couple of hundred years or so, the churches needed to expand and, in keeping with the latest architectural style, Baroque motifs came on the scene. Larger and lighter interiors were created by enlarging the main body of the church, more elaborate facades were created and the most distinctive feature of all was added - the bell towers that today are the identifying feature of each small town and village.
Some are elegantly simple, pyramid-spired, quite Venetian in their inspiration, others are more typically Baroque - with ogee curves, cushioned crowns and little onions. No two are exactly alike - and I love them all.
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