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BLATO CITY

korcula

Blato is a small inland town and a municipal center with over 4,000 inhabitants, located in the western central part of Korcula Island and along the main road that connects Vela Luka on the west and Lumbarda on the east side of the island. It is 7 km away from Vela Luka and 33 km from Korcula Town and although the main island road has a bypass route around Blato to minimize traffic jams and other inconveniences for both tourists and the local people, a drive trough the town is an experience worth taking. One of many reasons for that becomes clear at the moment you enter the town trough one of its 2 main entrances: welcoming its visitors, red carpet in Blato is actually a “green tunnel” named “Zlinje” and made out of 117 linden trees. This 1 km long alley, planted in 1911 along the town’s main road, is the second longest linden tree avenue in Europe, right after the famous “Unter den Linden” in Berlin. It is also the only street with a name, since all the streets in Blato are like in New York – marked with numbers instead of names.

Situated on the eastern part of a large fertile valley and positioned between 7 little hills, the town itself very much resembles to an amphitheatre with its layout spread over the slopes of those hills and the town center right in the middle. The valley is divided into several fields, but the most important one is named “Blatsko Poje” (translated: Field of Blato) and it was once a large lake during autumn and winter months, drying out during spring and summer and leaving fertile grounds for sowing wheat. Both abundance of water and large fertile lands are not a common thing to see in Dalmatian region, so the Field of Blato can only be compared with the famous Valley of Neretva. The field is also where Blato got its name since in the Old Slavic language the word “blato” was used for any large body of water or the area around it (the same way how Balaton Lake in Hungary was named) and in today’s Croatian language word “blato” means – mud.

Furthermore, this fertile valley is a reason why these lands were inhabited even since prehistoric times, as it is evident from numerous archaeological findings and remains of ancient buildings. On the north side of the Field of Blato there is a little hill named “Kopila” and on its top, Illyrian “gradina” (fortification on the hills) was discovered – with a spacious suburb underneath it, this particular “gradina” is one of the most significant of its kind on the island. Next to the eastern edge of the field, while constructing bypass road around Blato, remains of a Roman “villa rustica” (countryside villa) were discovered and a medieval Church of Our Lady of the Field that was partially built on its foundations. At the beginning of the 20th century, during the largest economic growth of Blato, the lake that used to cover the field on regular basis was finally dried out for good. With depths reaching 5-6 meters in some parts, the lake was a great spot for catching eels, but unfortunately a source of malaria as well so in the year 1911 people drained the water with the help of constructed canals and redirected it into the sea by a special tunnel leading to the Bristva cove on the northern coast. This 2 km long tunnel was quite an accomplishment itself since it was dug from both ends at the same time, without any modern digging or navigation (like today’s GPS or laser guidance) equipment, but still got perfectly connected in the middle.

During its long history, Blato and area around it were always quite populated. With the abundance of fertile lands that could sustain strong agriculture and therefore the rest of economy as well, it was on the forefront not only within the island or Dalmatian region, but in the 1930s it was the largest village in the country, having over 8,000 inhabitants. The change started in 1923, when a serious and fatal disease attacked the vineyards, causing them to perish and collapsing the winemaking industry. This greatly contributed to the economic crisis that was already happening within the newly formed country of Yugoslavia and Croatia as its constituting entity. Blato faced a mass exodus in 1924 and 1925, when thousands of its residents abandoned their homes and left in a search of a better life – whole families immigrated to South America, Autralia, New Zeland and the population never fully recovered. Almost a hundred years later, according to the 2011 census, the municipality of Blato has a population of little over 3,500.

Except for very long and successful tradition in agriculture and especially in winemaking (for example, Corinthian “oinochoa” or a wine jug from the 7th century B.C. was discovered on the hill of Kopila), Blato also preserved many of its other old customs, traditions, historical buildings and cultural heritage. Due to the strong and stable economy of Blato in the Middle Ages (when winegrowing was the most reliable foundation for almost any economy), the medieval community on the island was arranged differently than in the other parts of Dalmatian region. While the aristocracy was reluctant to leave the safety of their walled cities and avoided living in rural areas, on Korcula Island it was quite the opposite: most of the nobility was living in rural Blato, since the economy of the whole island was all about agriculture and livestock, with region of Blato as its center. Here they even formed their own special body – “Ordo dei Nobili” or “Corpo dei Nobili”, also known as “Nobili Ruralis” or plainly – rural nobility. Most of their fortified residential buildings with towers or “kastel” (usually a little pieces of art themselves) are located in Blato and out of initial 19 of these objects, even 15 of them are still preserved.

These aristocrats used to gather to hold their council meetings in the lodge that was first mentioned somewhere in the 15th century and it is situated on a square in front of the parish Church of All Saints. The lodge was also used for the assemblies of commoners and fraternities, as well for court trials and commerce. In the year 1700 the old lodge was rebuilt with a design that was more similar to the one in Korcula Town and in that version the lodge still exists in Blato, being one of the favorite symbols of the town in tourist photos. The parish Church of All Saints that is next to the lodge is also an important historical building, built in the 14th century, although some sources date it all the way back to the 10th century. It was reconstructed in its present form in 1672, at the same time when the bell-tower next to the church was built. The outer facade and statues decorating it are typical for the island’s architecture of those times, but the main marble altar is the work of the Baroque artist Peter Paul Bertapelli and decorating the altar are significant paintings of All Saints and Madonna with Child, painted on the wooden panel by the Italian master Girolamo da Santacroce and brought in Blato in the year 1540. Another interesting item is a wooden statue of the Virgin Mary, which was once a figurehead used to serve as a decoration of a ship’s bow and according to a legend, it was found in a near by cove. Today the statue is decorated with numerous pieces of jewelry that has been donated by believers throughout the centuries. Considering their age, diversity, quantity and value, this one of the richest collection of its type in the Dalmatian region. We must not forget to mention Saint Vincenca, the patron saint of Blato and a Roman martyr, whose relics were brought to Blato with the allowance of the Pope Pio VI in 1795. The relics are being preserved in a fascinating marble sarcophagus, decorated with marble statues of angles and kept in the large chapel in the parish church. On the 28th of April (also the Day of the municipality of Blato) the relics of St. Vincenca are carried in a rather mystical and interesting procession called “Po Gorah” that departs from the parish chuch on the night of Maundy Thursday. The people always follow the same path around the churches in Blato and surrounding area, while only the moon and candles’ light illuminate the 13 km long walk. There are ten little medieval churches built between the 7th and 14th century, valuable cultural monuments, situated throughout the municipality, on top of little hills or in the narrow stone streets, in the midst of olive groves and along bicycle/hiking trails. For example, already mentioned Church of Our Lady in the Field is located in the Field of Blato, while the Church of St. Michael was erected on a strategic position, typical for churches dedicated to this saint. Also, the Church of Sts. Cosmas and Damian is the only example of pre-Romanesque architecture on the whole island. And to conclude this little overview of the religious aspects of Blato’s heritage, we will say few words about Blessed Marija Petkovic of the Crucified Jesus, the founder of the Franciscan Order of the Daughters of Mercy in Blato, which is currently active in 12 countries over three continents helping the orphans, the poor and the sick. She was born in Blato in 1892, died in Rome in 1966 and beatified in Dubrovnik in 2003 by the pope John Paul II. Her remains were brought in Blato in 1988 and they are being kept within the Convent of the Daughters of Mercy near the parish church, where there is a shrine and a picturesque museum dedicated to her life and visited by pilgrims all over Croatia and the world.

Besides churches and chapels, shrines and processions, Blato’s heritage extends in many other directions and has numerous examples worth mentioning, so in the next lines we will try to cover the most important ones.

What seems to be a little treasury of the past times is surely the Ethno house Barilo, a privately owned house with the most interesting exhibition. Their ethnographic collection offers a unique and unforgettable experience of the island’s past, presenting the life of our ancestors through all the available details and items that were carefully collected for many years – there is everything from agricultural tools to formal clothing, kitchenware, furniture, books, artwork, etc., but also home made products prepared by the hosts after the old and traditional recipes. It is indeed a house and not a museum and their owners tried to keep it as much authentic as possible so it has all the living quarters like a real home would of have, with all the items meaningfully arranged around different rooms.

Today there are also 15 different cultural societies and associations in Blato, preserving many old traditions and customs. With the most prominent being the Knights’ association “Kumpanjija” and their sword dance that carries the same name. The main annual performance of Kumpanjija regularly takes place on the 28th of April (the Day of St. Vincenca and the Day of municipality of Blato), but the Kumpanjija is also a part of the Blato Summer Festival, when it includes a re-enactment of the Battle of Giča against the Turk invaders in 1571 so the tourists can enjoy their interesting and attractive show while visiting the island.

Blato Summer Festival (from 16th of July until 15th of August) is the traditional program with rich and diverse cultural and entertainment events, focusing on preservation of the cultural heritage of this region. The regular parts of the program are dedicated to classical music with the performances by the different soloists and other renowned artists. Drama program offers the performances by guest ensembles and the repertoire usually consists of comedies, but there are also puppet theatre performances for children. During the festival you can visit exhibitions of the local and foreign artists or maybe the pop and rock concerts by popular Croatian artists that are held on the square in front of the parish church. The festival tries to teach its visitors about the Blato’s folklore heritage through performances of ancient dances in the traditional costumes, but in the summer Blato also organizes the Festival of “klape” of the Dubrovnik-Neretva County, Mediterranean Movie Nights and Summer Carnival.

The tradition of a capella singing groups, called “klape” and characteristic for Dalmatian region, is particularly alive in Blato and there are five groups are currently active – the male “klapa Kumpanji”, the female “klapa Kanela” and the girls “klape”: “Perlice”, “Koraja” and “Kolajna”. Each August this small town is a host of the Festival of “klape” of the Dubrovnik-Neretva County, while every May it organizes the Evening of the New Compositions as a part of the prominent Festival of Dalmatian Klape that is held in the town of Omiš.

You may also want to visit Blato at the time of the carnival and if you do, be sure not to miss “munde” – the carnival dance parties. The carnival is the period between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday or the beginning of Lent. In this the time of the year, many traditional dances and parades are organized in Blato and also in other villages and towns on the island, but Blato preserved another carnival tradition – carnival dance parties called “munde”. It is assumed that the word “munde” comes from an Italian word that meant “to reserve” and that is exactly what is happening on these carnival dances – male dancers are supposed to reserve a dance and invite their female partners to dance with them so only dancers that reserved a dance can participate. “Munde” are a chance to dance to the slightly different rhythms, but also to meet new people and enjoy the traditional dishes and specialties such as limpets, smoke-dried fish and different desserts. Every year, at the end of July, you may also enjoy attractive Summer Carnival in Blato, a rather special experience for both tourists and locals – the parade takes place in the evening, with a lot of dance and presenting acts, followed by the selection of the most interesting and attractive masks.

Except for its great historical and cultural repertoire, Blato also has everything you will need for a comfortable vacation – supermarkets, traditional market for excellent local fish, fruits and vegetables, pharmacy, small hospital, tourist office, post office, banks and ATMs, and many different specialized stores. You will also find restaurants with fantastic local specialties, cafes and few night bars, but also worth mentioning is a great pizza place that offer delicious pizza and other food within an exceptionally decorated traditional interior and a lovely open-air terrace, hidden among the old stone houses.

For sports activities there several sports terrains, a gym and a beautiful park with a playground for children and lots of refreshing shade during hot summer months that can be useful if you like to jog, for example. There are also well-managed and marked bicycle (over 140 km) and hiking (over 40 km) trails, as well as diving centers with professional instructors in the villages of Grscica and Prizba (Priscapac area) that organize diving schools and diving expeditions to sites around islands of Korcula and Lastovo.

Although it is positioned in the island’s inland, Blato also has its coastal dimension – with 40 km of a beautiful coast on both the northern and southern side of Korcula, where comfortable accommodation can be found in its many bays and coastal villages like Prizba, Grscica, Karbuni, Prigradica, etc.

For a conclusion we can only say – do not miss out Blato! Its charm and heritage will surely please you and entertain you!

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