RENAISSANCE GARDEN VOL 2

[RENAISSANCE GARDEN VOL 2]

A resting place of abundance. The peace of silence nearby the River and its calming water.

 

 

In the immediate vicinity of Dubrovnik, near Komolac, the river Ombla enters into the Adriatic sea in the 5 km long bay of Rijeka dubrovačka. It is considered that its watercourse is 30 m long, making it the shortest river in the world. At the same time, its underground flow makes it one of the world’s longest subterranean rivers. Thanks to the specific natural phenomenon of mixture of salty and fresh waters, this is a protected natural area. The city was supplied with drinking water from the source found in this area already in the 15th century, when Onofrio della Cava designed the first Dubrovnik aqueduct, among first ones in Europe.

 

 

The Dubrovnik River has always attracted travelers with its beauties and endowed its inhabitants with abundance of lively water and fertile soil, and a climate that ensured good yields of vegetables, fruits and vines. This part of the ancient Astarea of ​​Dubrovnik – the oldest part of the extraterrestrial territory, is not only a natural phenomenon, but has a special beauty and a special atmosphere. In the Middle Ages, vineyards were planted on the sunny slopes of the bay and the hamlets were founded, due to the Benedictines who, at the invitation of the nobleman Savin, the Rector of Dubrovnik, in the 12th century erected a monastery near the source and encouraged the local population to plant a variety of agricultures.

In the former muddy field of Komolac, no houses could stand. They were built only when the river escaped from the source and the water was drained and piped to the City. The field of Komolac was divided in plots , and in length and breadth it was dappled with streams that flowed from the surrounding springs of Orlovac, Bota, Vrelo and Račevica.

 

 

The two villages along the banks of the river, Rožat and Komolac, are reflected as one face in two mirrors. Rožat is located in the sun, and Komolac has its own Tenturia, a small green paradise.

It is a dormant place full of depth, the greenery of the gardens, the freshness that flows from the spring, reaching the walking trails of stone buildings strung along the river banks.

 

 

On the west side, the Rožat village set itself on the shore, standing upright under the Glavica hill, with its fishing houses full of light and life. The most beautiful place in Rožat was chosen for the Church of Our Lady of the Great. It is all surrounded by pine trees as a halo, and with a view to the  river Ombla from above.

From Tenturia, which once housed fabric dyes manufactures, the path leads to the river source. A rounded white limestone rock named Bjelotina stands above it, red in crevices, bare and gloomy. To its right, the Golubov kamen (Dove’s stone) remains, and to the left the hill descends, turning into an old-fashioned tired massif. It is hollow on the inside, filled only with the sound of the barrel springs. Here is the fairy cave, closed with passages of a former river that spilled water from rich springs, sealed and enclosed by scalloped hardened limestone. The foundations of Roman palaces are nowhere to be seen, but the name for this massif-Palatin remained, when, according to tradition, the  Romans built stone paths from the Epidaurus to the Dubrovnik River region. Later on, Dubrovnik people raised their summer villas alongside the source and the banks of the Ombla river.

The magical environment of the Dubrovnik river Ombla, which once provided an image of open nature, gave the old people of Dubrovnik a place of freedom and pleasance.

 

 

There were around 30 summer villas of Dubrovnik aristocracy around the source and along the bay of river Ombla. They lined up in a row, assembling gardens, competing in beauty and harmony. A place of countryside and agriculture. Hardworking hands built the stone boundaries where grapes and olives grew. The reflection of the villa was visible in the river and ponds that provided refreshment from summer heats, but were also fish hatcheries. In difficult times of earthquakes and epidemics, the summer villas provided asylum to the population of the city enclosed within the walls.

The need for the escape from a noisy and overcrowded city was present in every aspect of everyday life. Dubrovnik aristocrats, preoccupied with state affairs, dreamed of a vacation where leisure by the water and exciting experiences in the greenery of the Dubrovnik hinterland awaited them. Those who, for whatever reason, stayed in the city for the summer considered it a kind of punishment.

 

Inscriptions on the walls of summer villas are a witness to this:

“Stay back envy, litigation, ambition and worries! These caves, parks and rocks stand under the protection of harmony and relaxation. Whoever believes to lead a content life in the city is mistaken. Let them come here, and this place will bestow real pleasures upon them.“

 

 

Nowhere in such a small space has so many magnificent architectural achievements of country architecture been created. These summer residencies built on the water were called on old maps palazzi di delizie. They were decorated with spacious terraces that stretched to the river.

A special experience was complemented by a boat ride because the river was the only pleasant way to reach them. Those few who would decide to come ashore, went by land along the route of the Renaissance aqueduct built in 1439.

 

 

 

People lived in the countryside and experienced the world in a different way. By carefully following the ripening cycle and overseeing the harvest in the vineyards where malvasia was transported successfully from Greece, eating fruits from their estates and enjoying the fresh clear water of numerous surrounding springs, they devoted their time to reading, music, dancing and learning foreign languages. The noble ladies enjoyed freedom, as opposed to the strictly controlled life they were forced into in the city. It was so pleasant for the gentlemen to compose epigrams in the shade of the gardens, walk along river banks, drink white coffee in the morning and welcome guests in the afternoon.

During that time, hardworking fishermen lived far away from their comfort, scouring upstream and downstream, casting nets, believing in ghosts and witches, and remaining largely illiterate. Therefore, oral tradition was kept in the memory of the inhabitants.

 

 

Fishermen say that once upon a time, the river grass was formed on the the day when two young people from neighboring villages sank to the bottom of the river. The girl was green-eyed;  in the evening her eyes would darken like the glow of an old-fashioned ring, when in the summer she would bath like a river mermaid and swim from side to side to green and fresh shores. When she turned sixteen, she fell in love with a young fisherman who lived on Tenturia. He was strong and had curly golden hair that resembled the thick waves that cover the river in winter from the strong north wind called bura. Two young people met along the river, they would swim as easily as dolphins and meet on its wide furrow in the middle, that connected the invisible line with Rožat and the shady Tenturia. Sitting in the shade of the tamaris tree, they talked about how one day their wedding party with ornamented boats would meet in this very middle, where, according to old custom, she would approach him with her bride’s wreath and let her boat wander where the waves would carry it. If her boat returns to the same shore, it will be a bad sign because it will mean that the God of the River is angry. The river must not be divided, because neither side must be left without true love. Therefore, if the barge moves further and does not stop even where Rijeka has already merged with the sea, it will mean that their love has found its right place and has crossed the river like a bridge.

One chilly night, the girl had a strange dream. Her boat appeared floating towards the other side, but there was no one inside. On the other bank, she saw her fiancé, under a tamaris, lying in the embrace of a river fairy. The dream was so real that she could feel the clear drops of water on her hands. She decided to swim there over the cold night water.

Her sweetheart also felt someone’s cold and wet palms on his cheek that night. He thought he was calling his beloved to the other shore, so without thinking, he jumped into water as well. He felt his body tingle in the grip of the cold and every swing of his hand hurt, but he had to swim towards happiness and surrender to the embrace of his beloved.

 

 

Under the storm, the river halved into two parts. He swam still with all his strenght to cross the border, to overcome the coldness and to see the light of the face that brings warmth, like a new summer. He then called out her name so loudly that a pile of rocks from the surrounding hill fell, but the echo returned his voice to the other side. The river opened with its whirlpools and withdrew two youngsters , who at that moment were joined in the embrace. They sank right in the middle, in the depths among the river grasses, and their bodies intertwined in the light. They were happy in that flood that shone like the sunrise. Everything became common.

 

 

For days, fishermen searched for these two young people, and as they never found them, the memory slowly faded…

 

 

Only the river Ombla remembered. It bloomed one morning and stretched long and lavishly. It was like a bride’s wreath, with silken grass filaments hanging behind white open petals. In summer it sways like the hair of a fairy on the river waves that comb and spread her threads. It shimmers in the moonlight with a silvery glow, and in the daytime the crumpled drags along the bottom of the boat, like a hundred winding hairs of a sleepy girl. The palms and magnolias grew into centuries-old trees, and the supporting stones of the small river Blato island were blown up by water currents among the shash and reeds.

“I like to sit in front of the river water and feel where its slow eternal flow puts me to sleep. And when I don’t look, I see the yellow color of the swamp cane. In front of Kaboga’s villa in Tenturia, the bowed tamarisis are harmoniously reflected, the boats swinging, light and unreal at first dusk. In the evening, Ombla river falls asleep, its turquoise color darkens into the blue of the sky, flooded with the lights of  the fisherman’s boat like a lantern with a cobweb of flies, and their glow is followed by shoals of fish and the shadow of the fisherma with bent backs and outstretched arms, staring into the depth.“

 

Photo: Katarina Karakaš Spiroski, Dubravko Lenert, RIM

Text: Ivana Jelača

 

References:

Gović, Tereza, A walk through the old Dubrovnik gardens, Dubrovnik, 1989.

___________, Dubrovnik landscapes, Dubrovnik, 1995.

___________, Stories and legends of the Dubrovnik River, Dubrovnik, 1990.

 

Grujić, Nada,Vrijeme ladanja, Dubrovnik, 2003.

Stojan, Slavica, Ombla, villas and villeins, Zagreb-Dubrovnik, 2018.

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