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Bullfighting in Dalmatian Hinterland

 

 

by Robert Bralić | August 7, 2020

 

If you asked me what the most exciting Sunday excursion would be, if let’s say I lived in Finland, I would fire like from a cannon – Wife carrying event! The strange custom that is locally called “Eukonkanto” in Finnish started back in the 1990s as a sport that turned into a real, full-blooded world championship event.

 

Here in Dalmatia, we have the “Bikijada” – a local happening that might very easily at first glance be an equivalent in event weirdness.

 

Since this Sunday the morning weather was very inviting, and since for years now I didn`t have the opportunity to witness it with a camera in my hand, I decided now is the time. And so, earlier in the morning I hit the most picturesque road to Dalmatian Zagora.

 

The road goes up the Kozjak mountain from the centre of Kaštela bay.

Of course, stopping along the way to savour amazing views was mandatory, on top in particular.

Southwesterly view over central Dalmatian archipelago. The settlement of Kaštela beneath, Čiovo island to the right, Brač & Hvar islands in the distance.

 

Northwesterly view with Trogir and the Split airport beneath, while in the distance one can barely spot a very distanced island.

 

Grabbed my other camera for a closer view…

 

Caught the plane at take-off.

 

I also got the distanced Svetac (Saint Andrew) island and smaller Brusnik to the right.

 

 

Soon I arrived at the top, so I got out of the car to see the contrasting view on both sides of the mountain.

 

 

477-meter high pass over Kozjak mountain is called Malačka and features a large parking area on both sides of the road.

 

The view over hinterland towards Southeast, featuring a local cycling enthusiast enjoying his day of freedom.

 

Look on the other side with the signage and the city of Split blurred further in the distance.

 

Last glimpse over coastline villages. This is Kaštel Lukšić old centre with Vitturi castle to the left of the church belfry.

 

Some family-owned vineyards…

 

…and olive groves. The Kaštela field was very known for its fertility ever since ancient times.

 

The only continent railroad connection to Split winds between Kozjak and the field of Kaštela, before it commences to climb the mountain.

 

This is a memorial to Croatian soldiers from the area of Kaštela who laid their lives in the recent Croatian war for independence.

 

 

Coming back to the Bullfighting, the event was initially started in the 1990s in the hamlet of Škopljanci, one of the first hamlets situated just over Kozjak mountain, by the local road with very scarce traffic.

 

 

Dalmatian hinterland – the end of land looking at this direction is very far – at the Sea of Japan, believe it or not. On the other side, Bullfighting event is near.

 

From Radošić, we needed to continue to the Škopljanci hamlet.

 

Hinterland marketing. Along with the directions to the hamlet, it says “Bull commerce”.

 

Nice branding example along the way.

 

 

After a brief drive from Radošić, we arrived at Škopljanci hamlet. Everything seemed very well organised as staff with recognizable shirts were distributed all over central locations; Signage was adequately placed, parking was very spacious; everything gave an impression of exceptional neatness.

 

 

Although the organisation seemed perfect at the start, we were made clear that our entrance was our own responsibility.

 

 

However, although locals call it the “Bikijada”, which translated means a Bull-fest, some refer it as corrida, or locally Korida, it actually is a bull-fighting event.

 

 

I was stamped. Felt a bit like a bull, with the exception of burning letters on my skin with a hot poker.

 

On entrance – a very warm welcome with some treats, and a COVID-19 precaution contact list.

 

 

Local people have been everything but indifferent towards Bikijada. To some it represents a great thrill, maybe even something exotic, while some consider it a rural development; to some is an incident, a genuine catastrophe – an animal exploiting event, while some view it as a chance for good business.

 

I think we might see a bit of everything as we continue.

 

There have been some groups of people and even associations rebelling very energetically against this event, but they had no success in stopping it. Their claim was based on animal abuse perspective, so it will be interesting to see whether they had a point. If you find it interesting, you can read about the appeal on this link.

Exotic fair-like offer. Is this animal abuse?

 

Nice, versatile toy offer for children.

 

A camera crew was following everything from their helicopter.

 

Some guests in front of the barrel-shaped bar thought I was a local journalist photographer.

 

Homemade flower fritters

 

Bar waitress

 

Of course – a bull ornament

 

 

Even I felt the familiar Dalmatian rural smells long before the entrance, but once I entered, the experience got other dimensions as well. Don`t be surprised, there is no cereal for breakfast here.

 

 

Traditional Dalmatian hinterland trade-mark food being prepared. – lamb and pork on the spit. I am sure I`ll be writing on these in a separate blog.

 

Final pre-cutting preparations

 

Fire hypnotized me for a while. However, it looks like I wasn`t the only one.

 

 

I took a walk around, checking out how the festivity infrastructure and content fits the context. I wanted to see where the “spectacula” was held, check out the bulls and so forth.

 

 

The arena had a naturally sloped “stands” for spectators on one side, largely covered by the shade of a big tree. Very nice.

 

Bulls were tied further above the arena. Seemed very eager to enter the fight.

 

The programme announcer getting ready

 

 

Before the fighting started, hunger knocked on my belly door as well, so I paid a visit to my favourite seller who I frequently meet on her stand.

Her “fritule” fried dough was great. Not greasy at all, very soft, tender and tasty.

 

 

Soon enough, the fighting was announced, and one by one, the first two bulls were taken to the arena by their proud and slightly nervous owners.

 

 

The first bull descending to the arena.

 

Pulled in for final preparations.

 

Waiting in anticipation.

 

Before each fight, the tips of the bull’s horns were blunt so that they couldn`t injure each other severely.

 

Finally, the fighting started. You could feel the thrill in the air. Can`t imagine how the bulls felt.

 

Some fights were very energetic and enduring.

 

While others were a bit dull for the majority because of bulls who liked to smell the flowers. Judging by some comments and loughs, some spectators seemed to enjoy them very much.

 

In some cases, the fight lasted a millisecond. All it took was a mean look at the opponent who fled like there is no tomorrow.

 

Happy owner. His bull has won!

 

Sometimes it was unclear whether the fight is over, or who won, so a lot of shoulders were raised by the owners, while the bulls complained.

 

On other occasions everything went smoothly. Some bulls were not far from being literate as they almost seemed to be signing a surrender agreement.

Though the announcer was very good at announcing tone skills, my impression is that it might have been a bit too much when it came to the sponsors (which were anyway visible on posters everywhere in, out and around). In addition, there was a bit too much emphasis on labelling this event as “ancient” and “traditional”, mentioning of honour and generations. Anyway, a small remark from my side as this event doesn`t need such reach for unreality. Bullfighting I saw was very benevolent, based on the bulls ’natural instinct for dominance over territory. None of the bulls was encouraged to fight, poked or molested in any way. Moreover, every owner treated his/her bull as a true treasure, and I am not overreacting by using that word because, in Dalmatian hinterland, local people refer to all domestic animals with a word treasure (Croatian: blago). 

 

Before the main event, there was also an arm-wrestling tournament held, which is a mandatory part of the event.

Ready….set…..

 

Go!!! Josip Poleš (on the right), a multiple Croatian champion in the super heavyweight category was once again the undisputed champion of Bikijada.

 

 

After the arm wrestling tournament and final fights, I started to find my way back home, full of positive impressions. Except for social distancing, everything seemed perfectly organised. This is, after all, a village-like event of huge importance, very rustic in some ways, very subtle in another – especially towards animals; well, the ones that weren’t eaten to say at least.

 

Until my next post, stay well…

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