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Metkovic Croatian town on Neretva river ornithological paradise in Europe
By Darko Žubrinić | Published  05/2/2015 | Tourism , Environment , Education , Culture And Arts | Unrated
The most interesting ornithological region in Europe

The church of Sv. Ilija (St. Elias) in Metković.

Summary. The town of Metković is best known for Fr. Ante Gabrić, SJ, Sundarban saint in Bengal in India, who was born in this town. It is also known for its exceptionally rich nature, due to its position on the delta of the Neretva river at the Adriatic sea. Especialy interesting is its Ornitological Museum. In the vicinity of the town there is a valuable archeological site of Narona from Roman times. During the last two decades the city has revived its tradition of races of old traditional boats.

Monument to Fr. Ante Gabrić, SJ, a close collaborator of Mother Theresa in India, probably the most famous person born in Metković.
A fantastic view to the Neretva valley.

Propovjed o. Ante Gabrića održana 1976. u Solinu:

A side-altar (cyborium) in the church of Sv. Ilija in Metković, decorated with Croatian Coats of Arms in 1940.

The town of Metković
Metković is the main central settlement (population 15.000) of the lower Neretva area. It was mentioned for the first time as a small agricultural and cattle-raising town in a court document from 1422. After the fall of Bosnia and then also Herzegowina under Turkish rule in 1482 the last fortification in Neretva also fell in 1490. Stormy historical turmoil, wars against the Turks and the peace in Smederevo in 1718 fixed the border between worlds in the vicinity of Metković.

The valley was opened to the world during the short French authority with the construction of the first road routes, which influenced the development of the economy. Metković flourished in the period of the Austrian authority from 1814 to 1818 and it developed into a typical little merchant town. The Port office was founded, and it was the first state institution in this town, the first cadastral maps were made, the regulation of the river for navigation was planned, as well as land reclamations of swamps. In 1845 Metković got its first Public school, in 1849 post office. In the middle of the nineteenth century the relationship between Austria and Turkey (on Bosnian borders) was changed, strict duties and quarantine measures, which had prevented a stronger development of commerce, were abolished. Since then Metković has grown from an agricultural to a commercial and traffic center with developed trades and catering. That led to the appearance of bourgeois society. Societies which spread enlightenment were founded, such as Croatian Neretva reading-rooms, and the Singing and Drama society, which has been active ever since, were part of it. The Metković port became one of the most important ports in Dalmatia after the railway-track had been built.It was the first port that had a railway.

At the same time when the railway-track was built, the regulation of the river was also made, so the port was moved to its present-day location, in the immediate vicinity of the city center. In 1873 the first Branch office of the insurance bank 'Slovenija' from Ljubljana was founded. The emperor F. Joseph visited Metković in 1875 as he was traveling round Dalmatia, and he promised to have an iron bridge built over the river so that Metković would become the center of the county. He also promised to issue the licence to plant tobacco. Ship agencies were opened and some of them were: Manoš, Lloyd, Rismondo brothers..., they established ship lines to Trieste, Split, Metković. That vivid traffic connection was the reason why the Austria hotel was built in 1890, which was one of the first hotels to be built in Dalmatia.

The First World War interrupted the economical growth, commercial traffic was reduced and all social activities died out. Between the two world wars the port traffic came to life and the idea about the need to build a bigger and deeper port appeared, so in 1937 Ploče started to be built. Metković was getting bigger and bigger, houses were built also on the right side of the river, where after the World War Two the industrial part of the town developed round the railway junction.

St. Ilija's church is the most dominant feature of the town, and it is situated on the southern slope of the Predolac hill. It was built between 1867 and 1874, and is a stone building with three naves in the type of a basilica in Romanesque and neogothic style. There is a lovely view from it of the whole Neretva valley. There are marble altars in the interior of the church, the work of the Bilinić workshop from Split.


When there is no free seat during the mass, one can sit under the side-altar.

The altar was consecrated in 1940 by the Split archbishop Kvirin Klement Bonefačić, born in Baška on the island of Krk.

A street in the town of Metković.

A stone tablet from 1846 errected in honor of deserving city judge Andjelo Vidovich.

Delta of Neretva river

In Natural History Museum in Metković. Must see!

Mrs. Ivana Baće is a superb guide.

The Ornithological Collection Metković

The history of the research

The first news about the wealth in Neretva was reported to us by the Roman writer Katon. Centuries later, only incidentally, numerous travelers mentioned the abundance of fish and birds, but also like the Italian doctor G. Pujati in 1747 they described the difficulties of living in this area, due to malaria which he called 'de morbo naroniano'. The interest of European biologists for this to them exotic part of the world arose with the Austrian rule. After E. F. Germaro, F. Neumayer and K.v. Feldegg also came to this area.  According to the preparation from Feldegg's collection curly pelican (Dalmatian pelican, Pelecanus crispus) was for the first time scientifically described and until then it had been an unknown species. The eggs that were taken by J.A. Finger are still kept in the Natural history museum in Vienna, and they are the only proof that that species used to nest in Neretva, because that was the first bird which moved away after the first river regulations and land improvements. The first list containing 212 bird kinds was published the Italian physician F. Laza in 1842. Lots of European and domestic natural-historians visited Neretva up to the First World War and they wrote about its fauna. Some of the domestic natural historians were Kuzmić, Kolombatović and fra A. Brandis. The whole living world of Neretva was studied so that the unique bird residence wouldn't be destroyed with big changes due to the river regulation. Unfortunately stormy historical events frustrated the plans. The interest for Neretva was revived after the Second World War, when the young ornithology-lover D. Rucner came. The friendships that he made in Neretva induced the foundation of the Ornithological collection for which he did most of the prepared birds. His long-lasting fertile work was documented in a series of articles in the 'Larus' magazine and in the full edition of 'On the life of birds in Neretva valley', where he described their residence in details, their number and diversity and his views about the environment protection.

Ornithological collection

The biggest Croatian delta is today mostly improved and dried out. The changes in the ecological system of the swamp influenced considerately the diversity and number of bird species. The tradition of hunting, which has been an essential feature of seasonal living (and it meant survival for many families in the past), influenced the decrease of the importance of the delta as a migratory route of birds. That is why the collection that was made in the period from 1948-1966 is a special document of nature.  In Neretva 310 bird kinds have been so far noted. Of that total 218 birds are in the collection, and the collection has more than 340 stuffed birds. In the relatively small area of the Ornithological collection the birds are grouped according to their residence and they give an insight into the once abundant life in the swamps, swampy groves, coppices, reeds, rocky ground and improved and cultivated areas. The importance of Neretva becomes clear after the multitude of ringed birds can be spotted in winter or during the spring and autumn migration: great white egret (Egretta alba), eagle (Aqula heliaca), pintail (Anas acuta), widgeon (Anas penelope), tern (Sterna sandvicensis), swallow (Hirundo rustica), sand-martin (Riparia riparia), reed bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus). Herons can also be seen in the Collection of the birds and they stopped being nesting birds after 1963: little egret (Egretta garzetta), purple heron (Ardea purpurea), squacco heron (Ardeola ralloides) and rook (Nycticorax nycticorax). There are also two especially endangered European species, bittern (Botarus stallaris) and ferruginous duck (Aythia nyroco), and bald coot (Fulica atra), the traditional hunting game in Neretva. Two migratory stork species- stork (Ciconia ciconia) and black stork (C. nigra) are also interesting. Both species are endangered in Europe and their number has slowly increased due to the strict protection. The same goes for crane (Grus grus) who flies over the Neretva delta already at the end of February. So far more than 110 kinds of migratory birds are known that  rest in Neretva in order to  endure the exhausting migrations, especially numerous are different kinds of ducks, herons, terns, harriers, stints, trills and sandpipers and of singing birds various flycatchers. The bird that is endangered in Europe stone curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus) rarely makes a stop here, as well as golden crow (Coracias garrulus) that is rare in the swampy woods of Croatia. The rocks and cliffs are the residence of a big number of petrophile kinds such as raven (Corvus corax), Alpine chough (Pyrrhocorax graculus). The biggest predatory bird of this area had its residence in the rocks – the dark eagle (Aquila chrysaetos). Only some sixty pairs nest today in Croatia. Among the preparations is one of the most endangered falcons in Europe- lanner (Falco biarmicus). The biggest European eagle owl (Bubo bubo) dwells today in the rocky area with thick macchia. At the mouth of the river Neretva griffon vultures (Gups falvus) were spotted, and they flew over this area in search of carrions. The closest nesting area of these birds is on the cliffs of the nearby Herzegowina. In the remaining of the swampy groves and poplar and ash coppices nest many birds, among which the green woodpecker (Picus viridis) and great spotted woodpecker and lesser spotted woodpecker (Picoides maior, P.minor) have their last stronghold in the Adriatic. Titmoses (Panurus biarmicus) also nest in the reeds and it is one of their last European dwellings.

There are some rare examples in the Collection, birds that don't live here, preparations of accidental guests from the far north: lesser white-fronted goose (Anser erythropus),   shelduck (Tadorna tadorna), northern eider (Somateria mollisima), and yellow billed swan (Cygnus sygnus). From the east came to Neretva also pink pelican (Pelecanus oncrotalus). From the western Mediterranean wandered purple gallinule (Porphyrio porphyrio).


An old photo of a typical old Neretva lađa, which was multipurpose boat:
from weddings to transportation of goods.

Vessel Marathon (Maraton ladja) is an amateur, sporting competition of ladje (vessels native to the Lower Neretva River
which flows through the Republic of Croatia). It is held annually on the second Saturday in August,
on a course 22.5 km long, under the patronage of the President of the Republic of Croatia.
(Many thanks to Harambaša.)

Old popular boats

There is an old saying of people who live by the sea that one doesn't have to live, but has to sail, and it is definitely true of Neretva. A multitude of river backwaters, ponds, channels led to the creation of two specific kinds of boats. The smaller boat is called 'trupa', the origin of the  word comes from the first human boats- monoxils, made by hollowing a tree trunk. The bigger boat called –'lađa' preserved that name, namely keel- the main beam is called  hull (trup), although none really mentions 'lađa'. The boat bearing the same features was described in a couple of historical sources. It was also probably used by the famous Neretva pirates. Both 'lađa' and 'trupa' were built exclusively of wooden parts. They have their sides, ribs, seats and rows. They can be sailed by the sail or sailing blanket that is attached to the mast. Neretva trupa is a small boat, with a flat bottom, fairly light (30-50 kg) so it can be easily carried by two men. If necessary the owner himself can transport it from one channel to another, so the saying 'A bit of me in it, a bit of it in me' describes how irreplaceable it was and still is in these natural conditions. It can be used for fishing, catching of frogs, leeches, for bird hunting, for the transportation of crops and people. One person can sit comfortably in it, two people can be driven but then they have to take care that they don't lean forward; it is driven while sitting, kneeling or the expert can do it by standing. The bigger boat- 'lađa' was used for the transportation of animals, fruits from the fields, wood, furniture (dowry) when getting married, for celebrations and funerals. 35 people can sit in it comfortably, or really big cargo can be transported. Both boats were used the whole year round. Their durability depended on their owners and the quality of the wooden construction- fir-timber, larch and mulberry-tree.

5th Maraton Lada, 2002, Croatian Sports

All 'lađas' were launched solemnly into the sea, after they had been finished, a feast was organized and they were christened with a bottle of prosecco. Because of the high cost of their construction 'lađas' were carefully taken care of and some of them lasted for a hundred years. They were used upstream, rowed, against the water, sailed down the wind
or 'trupas' were pushed by a pole. There is a special custom that is connected with them- pulling upstream. Namely, the citizens of lower Neretva had their land that they cultivated under Gabela above Metković. When the season of working in the field started there was no other way to bring vessels there but by ropes, because they were heavily loaded. They would tie a rope to the mast and a group of people, mostly women, would pull the boats by walking along the river bank. The rope was some ten centimeters thick and fifty meters long and was carried over the shoulders. They would stand in a row, so that the highest of them was at the end of the row, so that the rope could be thrown above the high objects along the river bank. If two boats that were carried in this way met, then the one with a higher mast went further from the bank where the river stream was stronger so that between them and their boat the other smaller boat could pass under their rope. Since those boats were very stable vessels, accidents happened only rarely. Those that did happen are still remembered; like the one when the boat full of beach stones from Strug in Herzegowina turned over in front of the Metković port. After the roads had been built through the valley these boats lost their function and were slowly forgotten. They were abandoned to the mercy of time, stranded on the river banks, and they have remained a silent memory of some past times of hard life.

 Lađa is today again present in the Neretva. In the village of Vid, not far from Metković, on the top of a little hill that dominates over the swampy valley and the source of drinking water, there is a magnificent statue made by sculpture Stjepan Skoko. The name of the statue is Domagoj's boat and it represents Croatian prince Domagoj, three archers and one spearman. It is the symbol of the persistent fight for water and curious historical winds.

It is this integrity with history, the silent presence of stranded boats on the Neretva banks that influenced the Neretva people during the recent war to take to the rows bravely. Their strength and endurance, as well as the skill of the builders to revive old measures and secrets of construction (stable and fast), is shown to the great joy of all the people of Neretva and their guests  on the marathon of boats, that is held in August from Metković to Ploče in the length of 23 km. In the first years only the citizens of Neretva settlements competed but the fighting pirate spirit of all the Neretva descendants from all over the world has been awoken and they send their teams from far Australia, Moliseo in Italy, the Czech Republic and Slowakia. The Marathon will save the boats from oblivion and return them to the every day living of  Neretva.


Maraton lađa starts in Metković

A short documentary about a traditional wooden boat of Neretva river valley, the so-called lađa,
and the race "Marathon lađa" which aims to save the lađa from oblivion.

A special gratitude goes to Mrs. Vesna Vidović, prof., City Library of Metković, for her hospitality and kindness.
In 2013 Darko Žubrinić had a privilege to deliver a public lecture in the libary, dealing with Croatian Glagolitic Script.

Formated for CROWN by Darko Žubrinić
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