Zlarin’s rich history dates back to the Stone Age, testified by two stone axes typical of the period.
People of the Stone Age, living on the edges of the fields in simple shelters, worked the land and domesticated animals.
At the beginning of the Bronze Age, in the third millennia BC, their way of life was shattered by Nomads, Illyrians. They erected gračine – hillforts located at the top of the hills, used as means to control the cattle, but also as watchtowers in case of attacks from the sea.
Due to limitations of the fields and pastures the island had low population density in the period of Classical antiquity. Only with the dissemination of the olive tree and grapevine in the age of Romans, as well as with fishing and advancements in salt production, did the population start to grow.
The largest amount of archeological findings is comprised of graves from the period of Classical antiquity, i.e. graves with fragments of amphorae that most often carried the manufacturer’s seal. Consequently, it is possible to decide on the approximate age of a certain finding. A headstone from the Roman era, incorporated into the wall of the Drago castle, has also been found.
As a result of a shipwreck off the east coast of Zlarin, in Platac bay, abundant remnants of the merchant ship (cargo ship) from the first century AD have been discovered.
The end of Late Antiquity period is in these areas marked by the arrival of Pannonian Avars in Dalmatia at the beginning of the 7th century. What ensued were references to Croats.
The first mention of the name Zlarin is a reference of Zlarin as a constituent part of Šibenik, in Croatian-Hungarian king Bele IV’s document “Privilegije“ from 1245.
There are numerous theories regarding the origin of the name; from the Pheonician origin (Zarim –archipelago), to Golden Island (Insula auri) by Juraj Šižgorić, and finally to the theory of there being Narentine pirates on the island who, for the purposes of easier navigation in uncharted waters, named places using familiar names of their homeland. Other sources also confirm that this beautiful island and its bay were an ideal harbor to the pirates of the time as a starting point for robbing the coast. Following the traces of the name the field Zlarin on the river Neretva was discovered, with village Klepci above it (today the name refers to the highest hill point on the island) near Velež mountains (an island bay).
First notarial records date to 1386 and include the first mention of last names of some Zlarin and Šibenik inhabitants – vineyard owners.
In the same year there are also records of Zlarin’s Church of St. Marija, built by the pleb Juraj (secular priest), owner of the estate, on the foundations of the Late Antiquity edifice.
Due to the overall situation and the first Ottoman invasions to Šibenik area, Zlarin got populated by a larger number of inhabitants.
The first settlements were made in Kotor area (next to corral, first farmers’ settlements) and in Borovice, traditionally further away from the coast for the purposes of easier protection and working the land.
At the beginning of the 15th century, village (villa) Zlarin had 20 houses and over 70 inhabitants, and soon there was a need for a new, larger church; so, in 1448 Our Lady of Rašelj Church was built.
Running away from Turks, in the 15th and 16th ct., the inhabitants of surrounding and neighboring areas temporarily populated the islands; however, some of them stayed, thus increasing the number of inhabitants.
In the 17th and 18th ct. the economy was constantly developing, mainly relying on viticulture, olive growing, fishing, maritime transport and harvesting corals, today Zlarin’s brand.
Viticulture became the island’s main industry, especially in the 19th ct. when a huge demand for wine in the European market fostered the grubbing up of land on and in the island’s surrounding areas, the areas of Srima, Zablaće, but also on smaller islands, Sestrice and Obonjan. Our elders grew and processed sour cherries, almonds, chamomile and their specialty was the cultivation of pyrethrum, a plant similar to oxeye daisy, used as a natural insecticide.
At the beginning of the 19th ct. Zlarin became municipal center, got a telegraph station, post office, primary school, and the operational quay was built in Zlarin harbor, suitable for docking of sailboats, large steamboats, but also battleships of the then Austro-Hungarian fleet. With the development of port infrastructure at the end of the 19th ct., after Šibenik’s, Zlarin’s port became the most significant one in the district in regards to its maritime traffic.
Zlarin’s trademark – coral diving – also became more prominent in this period. Coral harvesters started their dive from the archipelago Žirje, all the way to Greek and Egyptian waters. Families Beban i Makale have a permit to dive corals in the whole Adriatic Sea.
The place itself was changing its appearance. Beautiful single-story and two-story fishermen and shipowners houses were being erected, especially in the shore around the port.
The old Our Lady of Rašelj Church was in 1714 completely rebuilt in the baroque style. The old parish church was demolished and a new parish Church of Mary’s Ascension was built in the period from 1735 to 1740.
The central market of the Mediterranean style was made in front of today’s Leroja, and the island’s life was revolving around the port and coast. The place was taking form of an island small town.
In the eastern part of the Zlarin field, in the inland of the island, a small village Borovica was becoming more prominent, and its poor, hard-working inhabitants long kept their customs, traditional costumes, legends and songs alive due to their position.
Later spread of pathogen of grapevine wood, phylloxera and grape downy mildew, the collapse of traditional sailboats followed by the arrival of foreign steamboats and cheap foreign olive oil were all causes of mass emigration of islanders to the North and South America.
Emigration in the next period of the 20th ct. marked the island’s life. Men, leaving behind their mothers and young wives together with their children, were immigrating mostly to overseas countries in pursuit of a better life.
Their feelings are best described by a saying of women left behind: “Go to the devil Columbus, who discovered America“. Their everyday struggle with no help and protection of their sons, brothers, fathers and husbands…agricultural work, fishing, taking care of the family is equally fascinating as the stories of their men from the other side of the ocean. Every house has a couple of stories about the adventures and lives of those brave people…from a captain in the south Atlantic, a worker in New York, a fisherman in California.. to those who achieved their American dream.
Despite their hard life in a foreign land, the emigrants tried, as much as they could, to help their homeland.
In the 1920s, there were a series of initiatives of the Zlarin people to improve the life on the island, to rebuild the coral harvesting industry, an initiative for the electrification of the island, better fresh water supply, space planning, better mainland connection and tourism development.
Emigrants encouraged their children and relatives to get education; therefore, Zlarin was becoming distinguished for its highly educated population in that time.
Second World War directed many lives on Zlarin. Emigrants still helped after the war, and thanks to the local people many economic activities started taking place through cooperatives; nevertheless, modern age is gradually taking people away from all islands, Zlarin included.
Still, the island is not forgotten.…the water system is built…the key to island’s life and development; eventually tourism started developing, coral harvesting is being rebuilt… The locals are trying to improve the life on the island, make it pleasant for guests, but also to preserve old customs, traditions, as well as the original, archaic look of the place. That is probably the greatest value and beauty of Zlarin…priceless to those who, for this reason, always return to it.
Every island, by its definition, implies some form of maritime affairs, a link connecting it with the mainland.
The ship represents connection, sustenance, progress and a link to the rest of the world, and as such, it is vital to the lives of islanders.
One must sail, and bays of Zlarin witnessed Illyrian and Greek ships, Roman galleys, pirate and Venetian sailboats and powerful steamboats. They all came and went, but the islanders and their descendants provided numerous stories about little men and their pursuit of a better life.
Numerous trabaccolos and braceres sailed up and down the Adriatic Sea. There are records, at the end of the 19th ct., of 13 peligs, 23 braceres, 80 small fishing boats and leuts in Zlarin, all indicative of Zlarin having the largest amount of coastal vessels in Zadar-Šibenik area.
Once a year, on St. Nicholas day – 6 December, everybody would gather in Zlarin’s home port. On that night, there were fireworks – created by burning old olive bags and cassocks – at the old cemetery and the surrounding area east of the church.
A memorable story of our seafaring is that of a motorsailer boat “Nirvana,” one of the most beautiful ones on our coast. Built in Korčula at the beginning of the 20th ct. for regatta in Venice, it was turned into a boat for wine transport, owned by Vukov from Zlarin, to finally become a tourist boat for near-coastal voyages in the Adriatic Sea. The beautiful sailboat had been through a lot…a role in the movie Coral Princess.. and tourism.. and war, it was also a school boat for Yugoslav Navy and finally, ended its journey at a shipyard in Montenegro.
Nirvana has a lasting impact on our island’s cultural heritage.
The golden age of sailboats was replaced by steamboats. Numerous sailors, fishermen and coral divers left to seek their fortune in other seas and continents. There was a great demand and appreciation for such skillful sailors in Argentina, Chile…
Many small ships, mainly used for vacationing at the seaside, girdle the port of Zlarin today. However, wonderful examples of old gajetas and leuts are preserved, all of which you can encounter walking along the shores and its waterfronts.
Today, our islands’ maritime affairs are limited to fishing or transport of tourists who can enjoy the suspended moments of past times on old ships that, thanks to their owners’ love and care, turn a trip into a real adventure.
Zlarin has a long tourism tradition, almost a century old. The Association for the Beautification and Commerce for Foreigners was founded in 1922, and in 1936 the Tourist Committee was founded at Zlarin district. In the same year the first tourist brochure was published with the goal of inviting the citizens of Zagreb to visit their closest sea shore in Dalmatia where they can arrive at 9 a.m. if they leave Zagreb at 11 p.m. the day before. The accommodation was also provided by “Jadran” hotel “Villa Vukov-Colić” inn and “Šumica” (Small Forest) boarding house consisting of two villas: “Makale” Villa and “Acalin” Villa, and a restaurant in the small forest.
The most popular yacht of that time, Nirvana – whose home port was Zlarin – cruised along the Adriatic. Statistical Yearbook of Maritime Economy 1931 states that the ship was designated as an excursion boat in the Adriatic (pm 40 horsepower, speed 7). Excursions lasted up to 19 days and would take one throughout Dalmatia. Every return to port Zlarin was an exceptional event. The Captain Toni Vukov and the crew would do themselves and the ship up, and the helmsman Milio Vukov would take Nirvana, full-sail and jibs, and perform a virtuous docking maneuver in the port. The rumor has it that sometimes they would wait, anchored below Zlarin, for the favorable wind so that they could dock into ZLarin bay big style, much to the delight of the locals.
To many, Zlarin remains their favorite tourist destination, both during the tourist season and throughout the year. All generations love it and carry it in their hearts wherever they go and, consequentially, many people have decided to move to Zlarin so as to avoid the bustle of city life.
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