Suhozid or Stone Walls in Croatia
The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones. — Confucius.
As we left Marina Kremik near the town of Primošten in Croatia last July I watched the beauty of the landscape go by and marveled at all the little stone fences on the hillsides that surrounded this particular marina. It wasn’t like stone fences are that unusual here in Croatia, but this group of fences was a little smaller and more concentrated than normally seen. The fences appeared to hold two or three very green bushes in each small stone pen.
The dry stone fences are everywhere in the Croatia landscape, but they standout more on the hillsides of the islands and look different when viewed from the sea as they make geometric patterns of the land. We sail a lot here in the Adriatic, so we have seen our share of them.
Made by Hand
These stone walls are called “suhozid” or “gromače” in Croatian and what makes them particularly amazing is that they are handmade without any mortar to hold the stones together. The stones are placed one by one in a tedious and time consuming technique and fit together perfectly like puzzle pieces thus doing away with the need for mortar. They are stacked together like a big jigsaw puzzle or a mysterious ancient Tetris game.
It’s worth noting that when you till the land to plant in Croatia, it is filled with so many stones that you need to find a purpose for them because there are often too many to haul away. You certainly don’t need to truck in the stones to build these fences as they are extremely plentiful, so it makes sense why there are so many of these fences throughout Croatia. They were built out of agricultural necessity and this remarkable technique is thousands of years old.
Farmers painstakingly picked rocks out of the soil to clear space to grow olive trees and grapevines,” says Matej Duspara of Real Croatia.
On the Kornati islands the fences or “dry walls” are long and straight and mark off huge portions of land on the barren lunar looking landscape, remnants of days when pastures filled the islands. They cut huge swathes through the terrain and give some of the islands a bizarre stone checkerboard appearance. On the island of Pag they mark ownership and separate land as well as keep the sheep which make the famous Pag cheese penned in.
But these these tiny stone pens on the island surrounding Marina Kremik give a whole new meaning to labor intensive. The stone fences separate just two or three bushes from each other. After reading more the about the marina and its surroundings I learned these glowing green bushes are just very lush grapevines for a local winery called Bucavac. Looking at the work that went into them, these must be the most protected grapevines in the world.
The stone fences at this winery are so labor intensive that at a United Nations convention in New York many years ago a picture of these same vineyards was present with the inscription “hard work.” The particular grape grown at this winery is known as Babić, and it is famous for its delicious dark red wine. We tasted it while we were in Šibenik, and then went to buy more to bring back to Pula, but they were out of stock. The hard work protecting these grapevines seems to have paid off.
On the islands of Zverinac and Ljevnraka we noticed fences that were smaller than the Kornati ones, but larger than the ones at the Bucavac vineyard. These fences surrounded the olives groves and fruit orchards to protect the trees from wind and the elements. They are all over the region of Istria as well.
When we walked through the woods after mooring at a small cove in Mali Lošinj recently, again we found much of the 30 minute path to get to the restaurant we were visiting was filled with these stone walls.
I try to think of the men who created the fences and at what period in history they did it. It’s mind blowing to consider all of the work entailed, and the fences just sit there alone in the woods. Most of the time no one even sees that they are there. Unless you are hiking or sailing on the islands, you don’t realize the extent and multitude of these stone walls. Hours upon hours of labor intensive work forgotten in the hillside with some of the fences not even serving a useful purpose anymore.
And you thought nobody noticed all the work you do.