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Beyond the AdriaticDALMATIA


Beyond the Adriatic

Article published in Motociclismo magazine in 2003.

Gastronomic itinerary to discover the southernmost part of the Dalmatian coast, embellished by the pearls of Split and Dubrovnik, but which, going inland as far as Bosnia, still shows the evident signs of the war that has upset this corner of the Balkans for 5 very long years.

Read the story published in the magazine.

The thing that strikes me most when arriving in the port of Split, which was also confirmed in the following days is the surprising, crystalline clarity of the waters of this part of the Adriatic. I think back to our battered, dejected, frustrated by pollution coasts, about 100 kilometers away, and it is even more amazing.

At the small marinas that follow one another heading south, buildings built without any order disturb the view and will remain a constant until Makarska, when the itinerary will take us inside, towards Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The road begins to rise panoramically, offering very suggestive glimpses of the coast below. If you suffer from vertigo, carefully measure the attention to the panorama that opens further down. Even the asphalt, which until now has not been very exciting, improves significantly up to Vigorak, from where, after a few kilometers, we cross the border. The first Bosnian stop will be Medugorje, a small village about 30 kilometers from Mostar, of little importance until June 24, 1981, when a prodigious event known as the Marian miracle of Medugorje took place.

On this date, which coincidentally coincides with a feast, that of St. John the Baptist, the Madonna with baby Jesus in her arms, appeared to some local youths. The apparition would repeat itself on a regular basis from that day forward. The central authorities of the time, of strictly Marxist faith, thought of arresting the Franciscan Father Jozo Zovko, guilty of having spoken and believed the boys.

But it was immediately clear that it would be counterproductive to oppose the manifestations of faith, also because the place had now become the destination of a consistent flow of pilgrims and therefore of considerable income for a region marked by poverty. The business was underway and today it is more flourishing than ever: hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, with mass celebrated in 15 different languages, including Arabic and Vietnamese.

Way to Mostar. The city owes its fame to the Stari Most (most, in Croatian Serbo means bridge), which crosses the Narenta (Naretva), a fantastic engineering work designed by the Turkish architect Hayrudin, built between 1557 and 1566, and of which Ivo Andric, Nobel Prize for Literature in 1961.

"Of all that man, driven by his vital instinct, builds and erects, nothing is more precious and vital than bridges. They belong to everyone and are the same for everyone, always sensibly constructed at the point where most human needs meet, more lasting than all other constructions, they indicate the place where man has encountered an obstacle and has not stopped. , overcame it and bypassed it as best it could, according to its conceptions, its taste and the surrounding conditions "

And to think that the officer responsible for killing him during the war declared that all the bridges in the world were not worth a little finger of just one of his soldiers.

Unmistakable in its forms, impossible to forget once admired live or simply in photos as it happened to me: tall, white, with sleek and elegant lines, it seemed to have been carved from a single block of marble. It had a width of 4.5m, a height of 20 and a length of 27 with 2 mighty bastion towers that stood for defensive purposes.

A symbol!

Unesco is slowly rebuilding the bridge, recovering it piece by piece from the river bed.

The war first against the Serbs, then against the Croats has left its mark.

The wounds inflicted by the conflict, moving away from the coast are slow to heal.

Some buildings still bear evident traces left by the bullets, others are completely destroyed.

A ghost town, born in the real, living city that tries to forget!

To return to the coast we decide to head east again to get to Dubrovnik from the south.

Following the 20 and after passing through the Gruyere houses of Trebinje (where some holes are as big as tennis balls !!), having met a group of local motorcyclists, we arrive at the coast south of Dubrovnik, which allows us to witness the sunset from a position of visual domination over the city, probably one of the same points from which on 6 December 1991, the Serbian and Montenegrin army, exploiting the element of surprise, began the bombing and siege of this jewel of humanity, according to a precise plan with which he intended to fold the city and then annex it to the territories of Yugoslavia.

Between 1991 and 1992 the city was hit by more than 2000 bombs.

In June 92, at the end of the bombings, a careful examination revealed that 68% of the buildings in the historic center had been hit, breaking 2 out of 3 roofs. A total of 314 bombs had hit the facades of the buildings, the pavement of the streets and the buildings, while the imposing walls had been hit 111 times. Almost all the buildings of historical interest had been completely gutted by fires or severely damaged. Estimated damage: about 10 million dollars !!

But here we are not in Bosnia or in some remote corner near the Plitvice park and the strong desire for rebirth, accompanied by huge international aid, allowed the miracle towards complete reconstruction even before the end of the conflict. The spectacle is incredible, the only thing to remind us of recent events is the different color of the roofs, a brighter red and some secondary buildings still to be restored, a trifle, which allows the visitor to fully enjoy the tour of the walls, 1940m, up to 25 meters high, up to 6m thick or to stroll through the Placa, also known as Stradun, with its tables and cafes and visit its monuments and works of art.

The jewel of the Adriatic has returned to shine.

Also noteworthy is Cavtat, Old Ragusa, 18km south of Ragusa. Here too the hills have been suffocated by hotel blocks, but once you enter the small historic center, walking through its steep stone alleys, peace and tranquility reign supreme.

And now? We just have to go up north.

The road is in excellent condition and the proximity to the islands transforms the bays into small fjords. Obligatory detour to the Peljesac peninsula, Peljesac, at least up to the nearby, very close Ston and Mali Ston, joined by the remains of the ancient walls, about 5 kilometers long.

The bay is the undisputed paradise of seafood farming, clearly visible even from the road, which still remains excellent for views and road conditions up to Markaska. From here, the return to Split will take place along the initial part of the itinerary.

Split, often mistakenly considered as a point of arrival or departure for ferries, ignored or simply visited superficially, but whose layered remains, belonging to different civilizations, testify to the strategic importance of the place.

Despite its 200,000 inhabitants and the size of an extra large city by Croatian standards, it preserves in its oldest central part, "Stari Grad", the Roman plant from the time of Diocletian, whose namesake palace is one of the most extraordinary ancient complexes never surviving and in which the ancient structures (dating back to the III-IV century AD) coexist harmoniously with the buildings that have risen next to it in the following centuries.

Do not forget a visit to the Archaeological Museum, the oldest and one of the most important in the country, especially as regards the remains of the Roman age.

But Split deserves more attention: just 5 kilometers away, in an anonymous industrial suburb, it is possible to visit the major excavations in the whole of Croatia and probably in the former Yugoslavia, the ruins of ancient Solona. The city, probably founded by the Illyrians, was conquered by the Romans in 78 BC. and reached its maximum splendor under the Emperor Diocletian.

The importance of the site is demonstrated by the large public works found, starting from the Amphitheater, with a capacity of about 20,000 seats, but which is currently dominated by a couple of houses that overlook the stands and which certainly detract from the structure !!

Continuing inland, just 6 kilometers away, high on a rocky spur, the fortress of Klis stands out, from which you can enjoy a wonderful view of the Split Riviera and the opposite islands. Closing day: Monday.

The itinerary can be considered concluded, but if you have some time left, consider that just 20 kilometers from the boarding point, northbound, on a small island between the mainland and the island of Bua, there is Trogir, also registered in the Unesco World Heritage Register. The cathedral is wonderful, currently undergoing restoration, and the many buildings in Romanesque and Renaissance style, enclosed within the fifteenth-century walls, are very interesting. It can be easily visited on a short trip and is well worth the effort.

The small size allowed and favored the preservation of the historic center more or less in the guise it assumed under Venice.

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