Brioni National Park
GEOLOGICAL-PALAEONTOLOGICAL SITES WORTH SEEING
Brijuni's Cretaceous park
At four sites on Veli Brijun, over 200 footprints belonging to dinosaurs, the frightful reptiles that ruled the Earth during the Mesozoic era, have been discovered. The Brijuni dinosaurs can be traced back to the Cretaceous period (145 to 65 million years ago), so it can be rightfully said that the island has a "Cretaceous park". So far, dinosaur footprints have been discovered at the following sites: Cape Pogledalo, Ploče, Kamik/Plješivac and Trstike/Debela Glava.
Although the first traces of dinosaurs on Brijuni were recorded as far back as 1925, detailed and intensive research has been conducted only recently. In the 1990s, palaeontological research was carried out with the aim of studying the way these animals walked. Traces of footprints, especially series of footprints and trails, reveal invaluable information about the size of dinosaurs, whether they were two-legged or four-legged, whether they roamed around quickly or slowly, or in herds or alone.
After landing on the jetty and leaving the boat in Brijuni harbour, you can see traces of dinosaurs! In a limestone block brought from one of Brijuni's quarries, a three-toed dinosaur footprint can clearly be seen. It is likely that it belonged to a huge meat-eating dinosaur of the theropod group.
Footprints of some sixty large two-legged meat-eating dinosaurs have been found at Cape Pogledalo on the Vrbanj/Barban peninsula.
From the size of the prints, they belonged to theropods, large and fierce meat-eaters that left their footprints while walking upright in the shallow water of what used to be the Tethys Sea. They were 7 meters long and very much like Allosaurus. These prints are 115 million years old.
At Cape Ploče on Zelenikovac peninsula, there are about sixty footprints of small two-legged meat-eating dinosaurs which were 3-4 meters long. These prints most probably belonged to very fierce and fast meat-eating dinosaurs from the Coelurosaria group.
Zelenikovac peninsula provides a true geological-palaeontological treasure trove from the early Cretaceous period, forming a very interesting educational trail. Apart from dinosaur footprints, there are also layers of fossilized shells of the nerinea gastropod, a series of ripple marks of various sizes and bone breccia.
Highly-spired gastropod shells usually measured 3-4 cm in height and 10-13 mm in diameter. Some of these have been completely preserved, others only in cross-section view. They belong to the Albian epoch of the early Cretaceous period. They appeared some 100 million years ago.
These are a sediment structure resulting from the activities of waves and tides during the early Cretaceous period some 100 million years ago. Such lithified phenomena of sea bottom sediments point to how shallow the waters were.
This appeared as a result of tectonics in early Cretaceous (Albian epoch) limestone formations during the Quaternary period. This was some 100 thousand years ago (early Pleistocene epoch). Within the breccia fragments, parts of mammal bones can be seen, which is why this type of breccia has been named bone breccia.
Archaeological sites worth seeing
Gradina hill fort
A fortified Bronze Age settlement on the hill with its preserved walls, entrance and necropolis stands on the hill of the same name, north of Verige Bay.
The strategically well protected elevated location was fortified with three concentric circles of walls adapted to the configuration of the hill. The central plateau covered an area of 80 x 90 metres, while the diameter of the largest wall was about 300 metres. The walls were built of large dry-stone blocks, while the area between the inner and outer wall facade was filled with rubble.
The entrances were particularly important and assumed the form of a labyrinth. The western Gnirs entrance is over three meters wide at its beginning, but not wider than one meter at its end so as to make the penetration of the enemy slower and more difficult. Many pebbles were found on the fortification walls. These served for defence and could be thrown or used as ammunition for slingshots.
Among the few bronze finds, typical of this period, we must mention the tip of a spear broken in a clash near the Gnirs entrance and a dagger found as a grave offering.
The hill-fort population buried their dead under a stone tumulus in graves with stone slabs. Such graves with the skeletons buried in a bent position have been found on the surrounding hilltops of Ciprovac, Antunovac and Rankun. In the mid Bronze Age (14 centuries BC), which is when the necropolis at Gradina has been dated to, there were cemeteries along the settlement fortifications. Besides individual burials in stone graves, there were also family graves.
Roman villa in Verige Bay
On the western coast of Brijuni, along Verige Bay, there is a magnificent rural Roman villa. Its construction began in the 1st century BC, and it achieved its greatest splendour in the 1st century AD. Certain parts of the villa were used until the 6th century. It consisted of several buildings for various purposes situated at carefully chosen sites in different parts of the bay.
On the southern side of the bay, there stood a sumptuous summer residence with two peristyles, which also had an economic function. Temples dedicated to the sea god Neptune, situated at the end of the bay, the Capotolium triad and the deity of love and beauty Venus, were also part of this complex. The summer house, palestra, baths, fishpond and business area were situated on the northern side of the bay. By means of an interesting system of promenades, stretching one kilometre along the sea, all the buildings were connected into a unique whole, in ideal harmony with the landscape.
On the sea side, this complex was bordered by a shore built of large stone blocks, which today are about 1 metre below the sea. Access to the harbour was controlled by a chain, (verige in Croatian), which connected the opposite shores, and after which the bay was named.
Besides this villa, decorated with mosaics, frescoes, stucco and precious marble, there were a number of other Roman villas on Brijuni, most of which had an economic function. These include the particularly interesting villa on Kolci hill.
In terms of its strata, this is the richest site on Brijuni. It stretches over an area of more than 1 hectare. There have been finds from the periods of the Roman Republic and Empire, Late Antiquity, Eastern Goths, Byzantium, Carolingians and Venice, which testifies to the length of continuous settlement.
The first villa in Dobrika Bay was built in the 2nd-1st centuries BC. It was destroyed in the civil war at the beginning of the 1st century BC.
During Augustus' rule, a new rural villa was erected partly on the site of this first villa (51 x 59 metres). It had a central courtyard and equipment for producing olive oil and wine, as well as cellars, and modestly arranged housing units.
Life within the villa went on until the end of the 4th century, when due to social changes the villa grew into a closely-built settlement with houses, olive and grape processing plants, storage rooms, workshops, forges, ovens, and all the elements necessary for an independent community. The settlement gradually grew and strong walls were erected for its protection. Apart from the main, north-eastern entrance, there were four other gates that were connected to the settlement. Smaller squares were also formed. St. Mary's Basilica, erected nearby, served the religious needs of the numerous population of the castrum.
Frankish rule at the end of the 8th century introduced a new feudal property. The walls of the Carolingian villa were articulated by lesenes. Oil was produced in the rooms by the sea.
The last evidence of life in the castrum dates back to the Venetian period.
St. Mary's Church
This is an aisled church with a square ground plan whose lateral walls have been preserved almost to their original height. The size of the church (11 x 24 metres) indicates that there was a large population in the nearby castrum who erected this edifice in the 5th and 6th centuries.
The altar area is two steps higher and is divided from the church nave by a partly preserved triumphal arch. The altar basis is preserved in situ. The atrium of the basilica holds a small collection of stone monuments, exhibiting, among other church finds, transennae and stone window grids.
The front part of the basilica and around it was the site of an early Christian cemetery, which was 300 metres long and stretched as far as the south-eastern corner of the castrum.
The beginning of the 9th century saw the renovation of numerous churches, among them St. Mary's. It was refurbished with new stone furnishing bearing the distinctive interlaced pattern. The large pagan population must have caused the missionary activities carried out by the Benedictines from their many monasteries. If not earlier, this is when the Benedictine monastery was founded, which stretched to the north and south of the church.
In the 13th century, the basilica belonged to the Templars, but when their order was abolished in 1312, life in the monastery faded away.
A smaller aisleless church dedicated to St. Peter was built near this church. Its floor was decorated with a tricolored mosaic.
Sites worth visiting
This is the best preserved among Kupelwieser's three belvederes on Brijuni. Owing to their construction, they were even displayed at exhibitions. They were made around 1895 at the ironworks in Vitkovice, where Paul Kupelwieser worked before coming to Brijuni.
Once a major tourist attraction, today it is overgrown with trees. The second preserved belvedere stands on Saluga Hill, above Brijuni's main beach.
These are unique examples of architectural engineering.
Kupelwieser's resting place, 1917
The mausoleum of the Kupelwieser family. Although it was conceived as the final resting place of the island's owner and his wife, only the mother and son are buried here.
Maria Kupelwieser (1850-1915), who faithfully followed her husband in realising his vision of the Brijuni islands, lies here next to her younger son Karl, who after his father's death (1919) tried to continue his work. Unfortunately, after a series of unsuccessful investments, due to a financial and then emotional crisis he shot himself.
Paul Kupelwieser died in Vienna and was also buried there. The only words on his tombstone below his name is the name of his beloved island.
By clearing the old quarries of stone that had accumulated over many years as a result of stone carvers' activities (ever since classical times), Alojz Čufar, forester and architect of all the promenades on Brijuni, created small hills. This is how promenades appeared which are pleasant and attractive all year round. Protected from the summer heat and sheltered from the cold winter winds, they became popular places for guests of the health resort.
In 1905, a memorial tablet was erected in honour of Dr. Robert Koch, the great scientist who eliminated malaria from the islands. It bears the following inscription: "DEM GROSSEN FORSCHER - DEM BEFREIER DER INSEL - VON DER MALARIA - DR ROBERT KOCH annis 1900-1901" (The great scientist - who freed the island - from malaria - Dr. Robert Koch - 1900-1901). The marble relief is the work of the Austrian sculptor J. Engelhart.
To express their gratitude for his major contribution to the development of Brijuni, in 1909 the Kupelwieser family erected a bronze tablet in honour of Alojz Čufar, their diligent collaborator and long-time director of Brijuni. The tablet is the work of the secessionist artist J. Engelhart, and bears the following inscription:
"DANKBARER ERINNERUNG AN GUTSDIREKTOR ALOIS ZUFFAR DEN TREVESTEN MITARBEITER AN DER ENTWICKLUNG BRIONIS AD 1894-1907 DIE FAMILIE KUPELWIESER" (In grateful memory of the property director and loyal collaborator who contributed to the development of Brijuni 1894-1907 - the Kupelwieser family).