Kastel Gomilica – Faded gem of the past

Kastela are not often part of my visits. Once a beautiful part of the coast (if not the most beautiful), now is simply a mess of modern construction, 50 years of socialist industrial “planning” and 25 years of not doing anything… or at least anything good. So, even the 7 lovely historic towns definitely deserve attention, it is just a narrow strip by the sea that is worth visiting. And for all the good reasons! History and architecture: typical Dalmatian coastal villages, wine: Bedalov cellar is right by the water and we offer a very unique “behind the closed doors” foodie experience in Sućurac at our friend’s beautifully restored place. So when a friend of mine, Mr. Ivan Šuta, director of Kaštela museums invited me for a short tour, I was more than happy to come along.

Kastilac fortress of Kastel Gomilica

Kastilac fortress of Kastel Gomilica

All of Kastela got their names after castles that were built in each 7 of them and most of them are still standing. Today, Kastela are making up one large, 40 000 inhabitants big town but it was not like that in the past and each of them was a separate little town with its own history.

Arguably, Kastel Gomilica is the prettiest one. It was built in the first half of the 16th century by Benedictine nuns from Split who built it for protection of their servants from the Turks that were pillaging in the region. This patch of land was donated to them all the way back in 1078 by King Zvonimir of Croatia and there is still an ancient church nearby standing as a silent witness. They also erected Catholic Monastery on a small island, that became today’s Kaštilac.

Kastilac from the inside

Kastilac from the inside

Kastilac today is in a very poor shape. The local authorities have bought one ruined building right next to the entrance and they are starting the renovation of the main tower as well as a nunnery at the opposite end of a short street. Kaštilac is fairly quiet and very few people still live there. And cats…

Lazy Tuesday morning in Kastel Gomilica

Lazy Tuesday morning in Kastel Gomilica

But some folks are quite creative with elaborate seashell design :)

Seashells all over!

Seashells all over!

The Kastilac will have a very interesting appearance on the Game of Thrones in season 5 acting as a distant and mysterious Braavos! That will bring more visitors for sure and, hopefully, some funds for full restoration of this beautiful heritage site.

Getting ready for the summer

Getting ready for the summer

Next door, the boats are getting painted for the season… Just a picture perfect Dalmatian scene!
Then we ventured into the town itself. Mr. Šuta warned of several Roman monuments that, over the centuries, became parts of the the local house walls and facades.

One of the walls is even holding Aesculapius head! This gem of late antiquity is now in a fairly risky spot next to cables and wires and there are discussions of its removal.

Aesculapius and a Roman monument at one of the houses.

Aesculapius and a Roman monument at one of the houses.

So, Kastel Gomilica holds many secrets but it is still a mess. This is not a place you enjoy just as a typical tourist destination although it can be such a lovely seaside town attracting flocks of people just for an easy stroll or some nice sightseeing.

Old doors

Old doors

For now, the doors will remain closed and we can only hope that a better times are coming.

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Black bura

There is a saying that there are three strong bura wind storms in March (or 7 light ones…) and if we are to judge by this first one, on March 5th 2015, we will hardly make it… Last year we had almost no bura days and everyone was blaming global warming. This year, we are getting slammed as I write. The forecast was for strongest bura in decades – up to 240 Km/h (cc 150 Mph, 130 knots). To give you an idea how bad that is:
To be classified as a hurricane, a tropical cyclone must have maximum sustained winds of at least 74 mph (33 m/s; 64 kn; 119 km/h) (Category 1). The highest classification in the scale, Category 5, is reserved for storms with winds exceeding 156 mph (70 m/s; 136 kn; 251 km/h).
Here is a great article on bura and how it is formed: http://www.weatheronline.co.uk/reports/wind/The-Bora.htm It is also called bora in English but we, in Croatia, always use the term bura.

Approaching Ražanac harbor

Approaching Ražanac harbor

As the forecast was serious, I decided to go to one of the most picturesque places one can shoot great photos of the storm. The village of Ražanac, at the very coast of Velebit channel, is the place. And it always gets a proper slamming as the wind is formed up in the clouds over Velebit’s peks – just few miles across the channel.
This is what Ražanac beach and small harbor look in the summer:

Ražanac in the summer

Summer in Ražanac

And this is what it looked like yesterday…

Bura in Ražanac

Bura in Ražanac

The drive to Ražanac was scenic as always. Once I entered the village, not only the strong winds were slamming the car in the narrow streets, but there was sea water everywhere: in the air, on the streets, on the houses… The little harbor looked as if the hell broke loose…

Several locals were guarding their boats in fear that the chains and ropes will give in to the massive waves.

The news channel on the radio was telling that all the bridges were closed down for winds and that there were several turned over cars and trucks and people getting injured. Since I was close to Pag bridge, I decided to go there and just take few photos. If possible.

On the way there, the Ljubljana peninsula and it’s ruins of ancient Ljubljana town looked very impressive…

Peninsula ljubljana

Peninsula Ljubljana

Sea spray all over...

Sea spray all over…

The gusts were getting stronger and stronger and I was feeling my 2 ton car shaking like a toy… The idea of getting to Pag bridge did not look that cool any more…

Broken branches all over

Broken branches all over

Less than a mile away from the bridge, it became very clear that it is much better (and safer) to simply turn back. The big branches on the road made that decision definite. It was not worth getting in trouble for a photo of Pag bridge and I pulled in the first car wash to get all the salt off my car…
A windstorm to remember!

Winter walks – Vir Island

Vir Island is not known for its nature and history. It is usually regarded as the place of the ugliest development on the Adriatic coast but I would say there are many more places that can compete for that title these days… Narrow streets, ugly buildings of all colors and shapes make Vir just a terrible example how NOT to build.
And once, it was a lovely island north of Zadar. Then came the idea of building a nuclear power plant on an island by the Yugoslav authorities back in 1980s. Someone came up with a counter-idea that the locals should sell their land cheap so many people build their summer homes on the island and make a pressure on the authorities not to build the nuclear power plant on the island.
If you ask me, nuclear power plant would look much, much better than the island looks right now and would be probably much better for people’s health than the waste their guests produce in the season…

Kastelina fortress in Vir

Kastelina fortress in Vir

And the crowds and the mess are the reasons why I usually visit Vir only in the winter time. We always first visit the ruins of Kastelina fortress that was recently restored and preserved. It is an impressive fortress built in 1620s by the Venetian governor of Dalmatia who was always ruling from Zadar. This the coats of arms of those governors’ families: Molina and Pisanio. Below theirs is the coat of arms of the famous Zadar noble family of Grisogono.

Coats of arms

Coats of arms

Kastelina is a bit strange in design. It is basically just a walled structure with two towers on a small rocky point. Not sure what the original purpose was as it looks just like a possible shelter from land only attack…

“Inside” the fortress

Venetian lion on north tower

Venetian lion on north tower

Next to Kastelina fortress is one very interesting beach. It is not a regular rocky or sandy beach. It is geologically very different from any of the beaches we saw before in this region. It is a mix of clay and sand stone creating some surreal shapes but the beach itself is made of colorful pebbles while there is sand in the sea.

Kozjak Beach

Kozjak Beach

At Kozjak beach

At Kozjak beach

More strange shapes

More strange shapes

Colorful pebbles

Colorful pebbles

Abstract textures

Abstract textures

Then we moved away from the town and went to see the beaches on the north side of the island: Biskupljača and Duboka Draga. While the island is pretty much ruined with aggressive construction, there is definitely a charming side to it and I see how it was probably a very beautiful destination before 1980s. Now, the devastation continues as we saw the asphalt road destroying the coast on the northern sides right to the sea. For no particular reason. It could have stayed a simple dirt road and the beaches could have stayed untouched.

Same pattern is now applied to the beach of Biskupljača where the local authorities are trying to make a parking space.

Biskupljača beach

Biskupljača beach

All these beaches are open to Velebit mountain so bura wind is not light here. The beaches are sandy  and great places for families with small children no matter if you are getting there by car or by a boat.

Duboka draga

Duboka draga

In general, Vir – always different but still always a pleasure. For winter walks and hikes, that is :)

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