Lower Neretva area

The Neretva is the most important river of the Adriatic area. The delta of the river Neretva (the names such as Neretva slough, lower Poneretavlje, Lower Neretva area, Neretva can also be found) is actually the area along the lower flow of the Neretva, from Gabela (Bosnia and Herzegowina) to the mouth of the river into the sea, and it is a part of Dubrovnik-Neretva district. In the area of 425 square kilometers of the delta there live today 35 000 inhabitants, 15 000 of which live in Metković, round 7000 in Ploče and 3000 in Opuzen.

In the surrounding that has special natural characteristics, among the stones, the swamp and water, live the people of Neretva. That area was called differently in the course of stormy historical turmoil, but the name of the river was never absent- lower Neretva, Poneretavlje, The delta of the Neretva, Krajina or simply Neretva. The name Delta denotes today exactly that area, since it was only the Neretva that has a delta before the mouth into the Adriatic. Floating along 23 km it creates the Dalmatian part of the delta that starts 2,5 km south-west from the little place called Gabela (BH). The valley of the river Neretva is the youngest area of lower Neretva area, 'formed' only 10 000 years ago, surrounded by older Karst elevations and coastal area.

The first traces of life in Neretva

The lower float of the river Neretva abounds in monumental legacy, which is the witness of the thousand centuries old human existence. This oasis inside the Karst frame, rich in water and fertile soil, with the abundance of animal and vegetal life, has been ever since the prehistorically times the natural route through the Dinara massif into the inland area. Numerous prehistorically fortifications- hill-forts of the Illyrian tribe of Ardia, as well as grave tumulus, mark the mountain tops and passes. Very early, in the fourth century before Christ, a small Illyrian settlement above the river Naro (Neretva) came in touch with Greek merchants. Naro was indirectly mentioned as Pseudo-Skilak and Teopomp, and Aristotle’s pupil Teofrast leaves a note about the most fragrant iris of the Mediterranean - Iris illyrica - which was used for the derivation of fragrance, as wine preservative, and the root was used as a very strong poison. With the arrival of the Romans to this coast the settlement by the river Naro- Narona got the typical appearance of a Roman town with all its characteristics. The archaeological remains have only partly been explored and available to the public, because the Neretva has deposited a thick layer of mud above the remains on the foot of the hill. Only in the last few years have the remains of the city wall been exposed and along them there is a specially beautiful and preserved tower called Eresh tower. That tower was adorned with dozens of stone fragments of Latin inscriptions, parts of sacrificial altars, sarcophagi, architectonic elements and sculptures. In the present day square of the village of Vid, which occupied only a small part of the Roman forum, Augusteum was discovered- the temple built probably round the 10th year BC. The sculptures that were found in the course of the excavations are today in the Archaeological museum in Split. They were set into the temple in different periods: that of Augustus, Claudius, Vespasian, the last in Sever's period. They are distinguished by the excellence of the craftsmanship and their perseverance, and represent one of the rarely preserved complete templar sanctuaries. The only locality which has been fully explored in Vid is the little church of St. Vid. The present day church is situated above the remains of an old Christian Basilica from the fifth century. That basilica had an apse, narthex and annexes from the southern and northern side. In one of the northern rooms the baptismal font was found, buried in the ground, plastered with hydraulic plaster in the fresco imitation of marble.

The arrival of the Croatians

The beginning of the migration meant also the fall of Narona as an urban settlement. The town experienced the doom similar to other towns on this side of the Adriatic. Its name was lost from the stage of the history, although the population continued to live close to its ruins. The new-settled Croatians mingled with the remaining Roman population and founded the Neretva principality in the area between the rivers Neretva and Cetina, and islands of Hvar, Brač, Korčula and Mljet. The first news about them was brought by the Byzantine emperor K. Porfirogenet in his work About governing a state. He called the area Pagania, and he described the inhabitants as brave and dangerous pirates who were a threat to the coastal navigation along the eastern Adriatic coast. In Venetian complaints to the Pope about them there is one name that is often mentioned- that of prince Domagoj. In the eleventh century the principality became a part of the Croatian kingdom with which it was to divide the same fate of the coming centuries. In that period numerous fortifications were built for the protection of merchant routes through the valley: Posrednica, Brštanik, Koš, Vratar. The new merchant center of the valley was Drijeva. How important it was speaks the fact, that Dubrovnik colony Osobljani was founded there, and over 200 merchants dwelled in it. The most important merchandise was salt, which was exported to the Bosnian Kingdom. But Drijeva was also the place where slaves were traded- mostly Bosnian Bogomiles, who the people of Dubrovnik were selling in the Mediterranean ports until it was forbidden by the Senat in 1444.

Between Venice, Dubrovnik and the Turks

The defense of Neretva endured until 1490 when the last fortification Koš fell. The population withdrew before the onslaught of the Turks from Neretva to the islands- as it was decided by the Dubrovnik Senate, and some crossed the Adriatic and founded new settlements in middle Italy They are called today Molise Croatians. The consequence of the long-lasting Turkish period was almost the complete destruction of the medieval monumental heritage. Old churches that are mentioned in some sources were demolished or later replaced by new larger buildings. Only some fortifications survived and a few necropolis of standing tomb-stones (stećak), of which specially valuable is the one in Slivno. From the Turkish period the fortification Smrdan grad - Klek and the monumental multi-storey Tower of Norin remained. Built on the mouth of the river Norin into the Neretva at the beginning of the sixteenth century, it was used as the defender of the Turkish property from Venitian ships. Up to the eighteenth century it was used for military purposes and then it was turned into a windmill. The repeated Venetian rule over this valley brought also a new fortification - Fort Opus - Opuzen in 1715, as the military, civil and administrative seat.

Opening to the world

The French rule (1805-1814) considerably improved the traffic connection of the Neretva area. The Napoleon road was built and it connected Zadar via Knin, Sinj, Vrgorac and Metković with Dubrovnik. That road crossed the Neretva close to the Norin tower and since the French didn't build any bridges, a raft connected the coasts. After becoming again the part of the Habsburg Monarchy the new age started, which also brought its own marks, river regulation, land improvement, roads and the railway.

Natural sights

The delta is an area full of controversies and unique differences. Under the influence of man the natural look of the central part of the valley has been changed, although lake nooks have been spared. With regulations and meliorations salty lakes were formed close to the mouth of the river- Modrič, Glogovačko Lake, Vlaška, Draguč, Timenica... once abounding in fish and birds, but the peasants of Neretva definitely got the most fertile part of the soil that is intensively cultivated. There is also Desansko Lake, the Vlaška Lakes, Parila and Kuti. In the eastern part of the Neretva plain close to the village of Badžula there is Kuti Lake. The whole area was named after it. Although melioration processes have also started in its vicinity, the bigger part will be preserved as an ornithological refuge, an important place for the rest and winter quarters of birds on their spring and autumn migrations. Kuti Lake experiences already today its prosperity in tourism, as a specific area where stone and water join together, and it offers the opportunities of photo tourism and in the recent time also attractive bird watching. Desansko Lake and Modro oko have been inserted in the Croatian map of landscapes under protection because they are a typical landscape of this valley with special aesthetic values. By far the most important part on the edge of the valley are the Baćina Lakes. To the north-west of the mouth of the Neretva, in the immediate vicinity of the Adriatic road, in the sunken Karst basin, there are six lakes with a few islets and small inlets. Five sunken sink-holes are connected with water surface. One of them is isolated and Lake Vrvnik is situated it. The seventh, Šipak Lake dried out so that today from the west to the east there are: Crniševo, Vrvnik, Očuša, Sladinac, Podgora and Plitko Lake (photo on the right). When the water level is 1,5 m from the sea level their surface is 1,38 km2. The bottoms of the lakes are under the sea level and their surface is above the zero point. Although they are close to the sea, they are filled with fresh water. In the past they were filled and emptied underground, and during rainy season they used to make lots of damage to the surrounding farmers. That is the reason why from 1911-1912 a tunnel was built, and in that way the drainage of superfluous water made possible. Due to insufficient protection the affluence and the number of fish and bird kinds has been considerately reduced, and only the beautiful landscape has remained as an inducement to a renewed revitalization of the area.

Centuries-old taming of the valley

Land improvements were introduced here rather early. In the past it used to be done manually and was called 'jendečenje' (tur. Hendek - ditch). Peasants made channels vertically to the flow of the river. They were 2-6 meters wide and 1,5-2 m deep. Those channels were built on both sides of the plot, whose level would in that way with the mud dug up from them be elevated for app. 0,80 cm above the tide level. Usually groups of 30 men worked in autumn and early spring, and they were rarely paid for their work, but the host would do the same thing to the people who had helped him. The channels had to be rebuilt every couple of years, because the Neretva is a fertile river and up to the erection of the hydro-power plant in its upper flow used to heap up its mouth. That hard work is today performed by machines. But it was that hard work, which was the base of well- being, that created a saying about Neretva, which has determined it for years. Neretva cursed by God, swampy, malarial, the one that gives with difficulties and dearly charges its fruits, where people early leave, worn out by digging ditches. The famous travel writer A. Fortis, who was traveling round Dalmatia in the eighteenth century, described the hard life of Neretva farm hands, but also rich wheat crops, the abundance of wild game, fish and birds. Neretva is also Croatian Venice, because the people of Neretva use their boats when they transport their animals to pastures, and their crops home....

Future

This area, which is a part of Dubrovnik-Neretva district, is today mostly covered with plantations of southern fruits, because of its specific climate. The annual temperature average is about 16 degrees (mild winters, warm dry summers). That is the reason why it is also called Little California. Centuries of hard work spent taming the surrounding give to the present day generations the option to use it for agricultural purposes and also to leave a part of Neretva in its natural shape as a unique monument of the past generations. The park of nature Neretva, the founding of which is expected to take place soon, will give another inducement to a better development of a specific form of tourism. In Neretvan towns of Metković, Opuzen and Ploče the awareness of the importance of the preserved original cultural heritage has grown. The stress has been given to culinary fish, bird and frog specialties, and to old customs connected with boats. There are a few events in the annual calendar that should be singled out- the carnival, Dalmatian folk festival in May, and Rowing marathon race in the length of 23 km from Metković to Ploče in the traditional boats.

 

                Copyright© GKS & Tourist board of Metkovic 2001.

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