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Excavations in Ancient Salona 2020 – the report from terrain

 

by Robert Bralić | Oct 18, 2020

*Photo courtesy of Archaeological Museum of Split, Faculty of humanities and social sciences – University of Zagreb, Elina Whitwham-Biroth

This year is very unusual in every way, so even this standard package adapted to the clients with a special interest in travel had to be somewhat unique in all its aspects. Despite the great interest and excellent booking, we still had to recommend our clients not to come. Namely, most clients belonged to the high-risk group and came from the American continent, so we thought it might be wiser to wait a year, or as long as it takes to make the trip complete and without any worries.

On the other hand, the only clients who did not belong to the risk group were from the European continent, so at the last minute, we decided to run this trip in a slightly different form.

In addition, these clients were our veteran participants – Elina and Dominic, young people who live and work diligently in Scotland, patiently awaiting their now traditional post-season trip to Dalmatia. With the help of the Tourist Board and the Hotel President’s management, both located in Solin, fortunately for Elina and Dominic, we confirmed the trip in its original timeframe in late September/early October.

With only a few passengers on the plane, our young couple reported the flight to Split and passing through the terminal as a bit surreal. The usual places that were normally boiling with travellers at this time of year were almost empty. For Elina and Dominic though it was a great privilege because they do not like crowds and a big hassle. The particular benefit of the 2020 programme was the 5-star Hotel President with its high standard of comfort and its quiet location by the river Jadro, in the centre of a relatively small, but in archaeological terms – most important Croatian city – Solin.

 

Solin – a small, historical town situated beneath Klis fortress seen in the distance, at the mouth of the Jadro river*

 

5* Hotel President*

As for the archaeological terrain, after earlier campaigns which were held within the Episcopal Center of the Ancient Salona, ​​the Archaeological Museum in Split together with associates from the Faculty of humanities and social sciences – University of Zagreb, formed a team that had to shift their focus to protective research of one of the most complex micro-localities in the country – Gradina.

Although originally ancient, the Gradina site is actually one of the most valuable medieval sites in this area, due to the multi-layered re-utilization of various buildings that took place in the span of roughly more than one millennium.

Inside the Gradina – site before the excavation*

 

The team at work*

A great enigma for archaeologists and historians, Gradina is locally and historically known as a Turkish fortress from the 16th century, which can be confirmed in many written historical traces. Still, the church found inside the Gradina which dates back to earlier stages has been controversial among the profession for a century because it does not fit into any historical story, making this research even more intriguing.

The church inside Gradina site – the complexity with its layers can be seen on this image*

Indeed, for Elina and Dominic, it was very convenient that Gradina was located just 2-3 minutes walk from the hotel, right behind the town centre where one could enjoy morning coffee by the river.

 

The team at work – Elina (in white) with colleagues in action

 

The team at work – near the end of the excavation, Dominic wanted to get his hands dirty as well (so we`ve been told)*

It rained for a few days during this two-week program. Still, the team made fair use of it by processing the findings or visiting the oldest museum institution in this part of Europe – the Archaeological Museum in Split, where is located most of the movable monumental heritage from Salona.

 

Dr sc Dino Demicheli – assistant professor at the University of Zagreb -Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences and head of research in Gradina, as an excellent epigraphist was an ideal guide during this visit due to numerous inscriptions in Latin, which date from the 2nd century BC, until the 6th or 7th century AD. The picture also shows his students that have had a chance to participate in the excavation as a part of their university field school*

 

Tusculum site – a visit led by a great storyline teller – archaeologist Nino Švonja*

During their time outside of archaeological research, our guests visited some surrounding places or would stay to relax in the hotel pool, enjoying a book.

The view from the Španjola fortress above the town of Hvar – Elina and Dominik finally got to visit Hvar 

 

Hvar town street – Dominic climbing to the fortress

 

Another reminder of the pandemic – empty streets of Hvar, one of the most popular tourist hotspot in Croatia*

 

Peristyle Square inside Diocletian`s Palace in Split – no crowds in sight as well*

 

The site within the Episcopal Centre – Elina and Dominic visited the site from the past excavations. Hopefully, we can again contribute with our participants in 2021.

 

Although the whole team worked diligently on terrain, sometimes in the heat challenging conditions, the research lasted longer than planned due to the site’s complexity and constant revelation of some unknown layers from the earlier stages. We are very much looking forward to the first publications of scientific papers.

The team at work – Somewhat unusual helper – later this crow tried to steal some valuable findings*

 

The team at work*

 

The team at work*

At the end of their program, our guests had the same conclusion as in previous years, about “how quickly these two weeks passed”, thus confirming the interest and liveliness of this seemingly stationary program.

The team – farewell photo*

We cannot emphasize enough how much we are looking forward to the normalization of the situation in international travel, as well as all future archaeological research conducted in Salona. Having the opportunity to connect different people in their common interests and leaving a positive mark to the community, while leaving a a green trace behind us is a great privilege for us and all our participants. In the end, we are all witnessing the birth of new energies that connect people in a more profound and everlasting way.

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