Heritage of the Blaca Hermitage
It has been ages since I promised my children I would take them to Blaca Hermitage, as I have been telling them all about the magnificent feat done by people who founded it back in the period of Ottoman invasions. The imposing structure was gradually built within a cave so seamlessly that it looks as if it had been formed by nature itself. Although nowadays it is difficult to set some free time aside, it is important not to quit trying. Thus, after two months of planning and postponing due to unfavourable weather, we finally embarked on our little adventure.
The day was gorgeous, the crowds have not yet set in, and we were able to utterly enjoy ourselves.
There were a lot of regular passengers on the ferry, as well as those who were there for the first time. Peeking, smiling, taking photos and skipping excitedly from one end of the ferry to the other, my kids joined the other passengers, soaking in everything around them with their curious children’s eyes.
The ferries to Supetar are rather spacious and comfortable, but in my opinion they lack the feeling of a proper ship. All these modern ferries look more or less like sailing boxes to me, instead of elegant vessels. I can still remember the first time I sailed to Brač on the steadfast old Ero, and returned from the island on the then miraculous Vladimir Nazor ferry. Oh, I must be getting old myself, because I’m starting to sound like a retiree sitting on a bench, feeding pigeons and complaining how nothing is right nowadays. The modern-day ferries are great!
When the box-like vessel sailed into the port of Supetar, everyone started milling about, eyebrows were getting raised, dock lines were getting thrown, and the locals congregated on the berth. Everyone disembarked in an orderly fashion, renting cars, scooters, bicycles and quads. Kids wanted to get their ice creams, taxi drivers with their shiny cars watched who would take the bait.
We waited for the crowd to subside a bit, before heading slowly towards the top of the island. It was a scenic ride, as on the one side we enjoyed the island’s picturesque landscapes and every now and then we took a peek across the sea towards the mainland, enjoying the view of the Mosor and Biokovo mountains. Seen that Brač is the highest island in the Adriatic Sea, the ascent was neither short nor mild. Once we arrived to the top, the vegetation changed and we found ourselves surrounded by rare but majestic Dalmatian black pine trees.
What is unusual with this trees is that they grow different shapes of treetops, depending on the condition of the soil they grow on and the altitude. Some have mushroom-shaped treetop, like this one.
The path to the hermitage is well-marked, and once you reach the end of the road, you must continue on foot. Along the way you might be intercepted by unusual and somewhat cheeky “customs officers”, our former means of transport and friends in need.
The walking trail is easy to spot and well-marked, offering various attractions to a curious observer along the half an hour-long walk to the monastery.
Even though it didn’t feel that way, we arrived rather quickly to the mouth of the Blaca valley, currently overgrown in vegetation. It is from that point that the valley starts to unfold, until you reach a large ridge behind which the vale starts to expand and the monastery itself can be seen on the left-hand side, towering over the path.
We greeted the hosts, brothers Luka and Zoran whom we interrupted right in the middle of their “marenda” (brunch), and joined them with our own groceries, already a bit starved. The two of them have been here for years, working under difficult conditions without any electricity or running water, but they say, “We wouldn’t change it for the world, because no money can pay for this serenity”. Working diligently for many years, they have continued the tradition of their father who had worked there as a custodian all his life. Their love for the place is clearly felt in the way they guide their guests through the museum, which they do like real academics.
A lot can be said about the hermitage itself, but we shall abide by the rules and customs and omit any photos of the interior in the hope that this blog might inspire you to visit the hermitage yourselves and contribute to its preservation.
We shall, however, mention that the construction works on the monastery began in the late 16th century with the blessing of the island’s rector (knez) and that, apart from the small church, it consisted of houses in which the monks lived and outbuildings. It is very important to mention that it was built by Glagolitic monks who had escaped Ottoman invasion from the ancient Village Principality in the hinterland of Split.
Here, life went on according to strict but modest and humane rules for almost four centuries. The water tank was of the utmost importance, as it defined the number of monks who were able to make it through the dry summer months. All monastic goods were shared, which is confirmed by a preserved copy of the Hermitage Regulations that the monks themselves printed on their own printing press.
The interior fascinates with the authenticity of space reserved for monastic and scientific life and practicality of architecture, as well as with numerous details ranging from simple old-fashioned washing stands to rare printed editions from all over the world, but certainly the most impressive are the old school premises built by Nikola Milićević and the library featuring an astronomic observatory which was run by his nephew bearing the same name.
Thanks to his contributions, the International Astronomical Union decided to name two asteroids which were discovered from the Višnjan Observatory in Istria Milićević and Brač, to commemorate the astronomer and his small observatory. To preserve the memory of an era when the astronomer kept his records and when there were hundreds of clocks ticking on the walls of the monastery and showing time in various worldwide observatories, today the place stores numerous clocks, instruments and a telescope with the largest 178 mm polished lens in the southeast Europe, which was the heart of the Blaca Observatory.
Numerous features point to the fact that the Blaca Hermitage architectural complex was a central point in the space, the core of a holistic, remote eco system. During its heyday, the monastery produced up to 600 barrels of wine, and large quantities of olive oil and honey (even though that may seem rather un-monastic). It should also be mentioned that the monks used to have their own merchant fleet, co-owned with a captain from the town of Bol. One of their ships even defeated an English corvette named “Voltage” when it happened to be in the port of Split during an English attack.
Captivated by the stories from the rich history of this place, I walked across the valley to the ridge on the opposite side and started climbing it, looking for the best position from which to take a photo. As I was climbing, I realized how hidden this hermitage used to be; built with natural materials, blending in with the cave, difficult to discern both from the land and the sea, and easy to defend.
Although remote and difficult to access, it abounded in fields and pastures for sheep and goats and represented the ideal spot in which to settle after having fled from the invaders.
After another half an hour’s walk back to the car, we descended back to civilization, to the small town of Bol on the southern side of the island, where we contemplated the experiences of the day before going back to Split. A magical day shared with the family.