Luki, Guardian of Hvar's Treasures: Poljica

Published in About Animals

There's nothing Luki likes better than exploring the lesser known areas of Hvar Island. The eastern region is largely overlooked and (mercifully) underdeveloped, so it is perfect territory for Luki and his friends. The area is known as 'Plame', which is now generally accepted as extending from Jelsa to Bogomolje, although in historical records it went past Sućuraj to St. George's Chapel on the eastern tip of Hvar.

Luki in the shade of a stone roundhouse. Luki in the shade of a stone roundhouse. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Poljica is the first settlement east of Jelsa, lying inland 14 km east of Jelsa, 22 km from Stari Grad, 39 km from Hvar Town, 5 km west of Zastražišće, and 37 km west of Sućuraj. It is situated 2 km from the sea, at 157 m above sea level.

The view down to Mala Stiniva. Photo: Ivica Drinković

There are two beautiful secluded beaches nearby on the north coast, Mala Stiniva and Zečja. Zečja Bay boasts a special feature: legend has it that when St. George fought the dragon on the Biokovo peak on the mainland which is named after him, he leapt with his horse over the sea to Zećja on Hvar, with the result that the horse's hoof prints were engraved in the Zečja rockface.

Poljica's Church, the pride of the village. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Poljica itself is now almost a ghost village, with just 59 residents as at the last census in 2011. There was a school in Poljica, which opened on November 3rd 1905, although it was closed between 1911 and 1913. Named the Stjepan Božiković elementary school, it was located at first in rented private houses until the purpose-built school building was opened on September 1st 1936. After its final closure in 1972, the building was largely abandoned. Mains electricity arrived in Poljica in 1962, but connexion to the mains water supply is taking longer. The Water Board project is underway as at 2021, due for completion by 2023. There used to be a village shop for essential supplies, but since it closed, the villagers have relied on ordering their daily bread for delivery the following day from Zastražišće. For basic shopping the villagers have to go to Zastražišće, while more major shopping expeditions involve going to Jelsa or Stari Grad.

Luki leads the way through the fields. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

The village may seem largely deserted at first sight. Yet the village and the area around it retain a life of their own, which Luki and his friends have been exploring energetically and enthusiastically.

History and the landscape

Luki lives for the present, so he doesn't worry about the past. But historical information is interesting to the humans, who want to know what lies behind the sights they are looking at. It all helps succeeding generations of local people and visitors to understand the present in the context of the past, and so to conjure up a special atmosphere of appreciation for what is around us.

Luki and an old stone cistern. Photo: Ivica Drinković

It is not known exactly when the village of Poljica came into being as a permanent settlement. The area was certainly inhabited and in use from prehistoric times, as shown by the stone burial mounds and various artefacts such as pottery and tiles which have been discovered there. These date right back through the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic and Eneolithic periods, as well as the Bronze and Iron Ages.

Sketch map showing prehistoric archaeological sites near Poljica. The Košnjak hillfort is no. 49. Courtesy of archaeologist Nikša Vujnović

Not far from Poljica, in an area called Košnjak, there is a small prehistoric hillfort on a spur overlooking the Mala Stiniva Bay. It is protected by cliffs on its south and west sides, steep terrain to the north, and a large stone rampart covering the whole east side of the site. The hillfort commands a good view over the bay and the sea beyond towards Makarska on the mainland. Locals say that in times past when something important happened, the women or children of the village used to go up to the mound to call back the menfolk who were down in the Mala Stiniva bay. Nowadays the paths to the hillfort are very overgrown, so the site is inaccessible, at least for the moment. Luki did his best to find a track leading up to it, but even he was thwarted. He is lending his support to a project to clear the path so that walkers and historians can see the hillfort for themselves.

The Košnjak hillfort site, marked with the red circle. Photo: Nikša Vujnović

About ten years ago, aerial photography revealed another hillfort, called Gradac, at the eastern edge of the Poljica plateau, overlooking the western edge of the Vela Stiniva Bay. Tantalizingly, with its almost circular ground plan, it looked more interesting to the archaeologists than the Košnjak hillfort. It proved to be totally inaccessible on the ground, but there is a plan to create a path to it in the future to allow for proper investigation. On the basis of the aerial picture it has been added to the Register of Hvar's Archaeological Sites, which is being prepared for publication.

Gradac hillfort site marked on the Geoportal map. Source: State Geodetic Administration Geoportal.

Roman relics were found on the edge of fields by the tiny settlement of Grahovišće, which is just 600m north of Poljica. Apart from fragments of pottery, tiles and building materials, there were two stone cisterns and a wall. One of the cisterns was incorporated into a barn dating from after the Middle Ages, and the other into a modern building. On the same site there were also several old graves, which could not be dated with accuracy.

Barrow (burial mound) on Maslinje. Photo: Nikša Vujnović

The first known written record of the village of Poljica dates to 1407, in a revision of the local Council Land Registry. At the time much of the land was owned by the local Council, but some had been passed into private hands, including the best agricultural land on the plain. Much of the land was used for pasture and wheat cultivation. Part of the harvest had to be given to the local Council under the old feudal system, under which the people who farmed the land were rigorously controlled and quite ruthlessly exploited. The residents of Poljica and the rest of the Plame region were a long way from the administrative centre of Hvar Island, which was in Hvar Town at the time of the Hvar Statute. For that reason, people from the area were allowed eight days to reach Hvar if they had any business with the authorities, such as legal cases.

Stone roundhouse shelter, known locally as a 'trim'. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

The landscape reflects the lives of the people and their changing needs. Drystone walls mark the edges of the land plots, and clearing the stone from the fields for this use of course freed the soil for cultivation. Much of the drystone walling dates from the 19th century, when viticulture became one of Hvar's most important crops. Conserving water has always been a priority on the island, so cisterns are important structures. Water was especially important to farmers when they had to spray their vines against the devastating disease downy mildew (plasmopara viticola). Many cisterns are still in use, the old stone and concrete versions serving their purpose more elegantly than the large plastic containers which some farmers have put on their land to use for irrigation.

Luki exploring the inside of a 'trim'. Photo: Ivica Drinković

The people

The residents of Poljica were numbered together with Zastražišće until 1673, when a census showed that 83 people were living in Poljica, in 12 households. In 1711 there were only 35 residents. The numbers fluctuated over the years. During the first decades of the 19th century, illness and hunger reduced the numbers by more than half, but in the later years of that century 14 families were recorded as moving into Poljica from other parts of central Hvar, also from the islands of Vis and Brač and from the mainland. Some of these families still form the main part of Poljica's present population. Numbers reached a peak at 314 in 1900, then declined rapidly to the latest figure of 59 permanent residents.

A Poljica olive grove in springtime. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

People left Poljica most often for economic reasons, some to other parts of Hvar Island, others to try their luck abroad. Agriculture is still the main occupation of the remaining villagers and those who still live on Hvar. They cultivate mainly olives and grapes, but also lavender and vegetables. In recent years tourism has become an important source of income for some families, especially those who own properties in the seaside coves.

A Poljica lavender field. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

As in many of Hvar's little settlements, a lot of the villagers retain a fierce loyalty to Poljica, no matter where they are. There are Facebook pages dedicated to Poljica, such as Poljica na Hvaru / Pojica na Foru. Plans are underway to revitalize the village in new ways. In 2021 a project has been launched by the Jelsa Municipal Tourist Board in conjunction with the Croatian Astronomical Association to transform the old school building into an Observatory, as a centre for stargazing, education and astrotourism.

Two elements in the village's identity command deep emotions: the church with its religious festivals, and the football team.

The Football Club - Hrvatski nogometni klub 'Vatra'

NK 'Vatra', meaning 'Fire', was founded on April 30th 1937, and reached the final of the Hvar Football League Championship in 1960. There was a football pitch beside the church in Poljica, and the club was active until the end of the 1960s. NK 'Vatra' merged with NK 'Sloga', Zastražišće's football club, at the beginning of the 1970s, and the combined team won the Hvar Football League Championship in 1979. After NK 'Sloga' was disbanded, NK 'Vatra' re-formed on September 14th 1997. Having reached the final in 2003 and 2010, NK 'Vatra' at last won the Hvar Championship in 2021.

NK 'Vatra', Hvar Champions, March 2021. Photo: Čedomil Šimić

Although nowadays most members of the football club live away from Poljica, with many as far away as Hvar Town, they are active all year round, not only training, but raising money to fund the team's activities, which cost in the region of 10,000 kunas a year. For 'home' matches the club hires the pitch in Jelsa. Other expenses include team kit, equipment, referees' fees and transport to matches. There is no longer a full-size pitch in Poljica, but the club members established a synthetic five-a-side pitch as a way of encouraging young players and keeping the village tradition alive. Money for the club is raised in various ways, through volunteer actions. For instance, Jelsa Council gives the club a donation in return for club members cleaning up the local beaches at Mala Stiniva and Zečja each year, and they also clear the paths around the village in conjunction with the local hunters. For St. John's Feast day, they organize a five-a-side football tournament which attracts teams from the whole island, and earn money for the club by serving food and drinks during the celebrations. Another annual donation is earned by helping the Svirče Wine Cooperative (PZ Svirče) at harvest time, while at the annual Wine Festival in Jelsa, club members, who include several professional cooks, run a stand selling drinks and local specialities such as wild boar and tripe.

Poljica and the Church

The role of the Church in Poljica's history goes back a long way, and reflects the population's fierce independence of spirit, as well as the vital contributions made by the village families.

The Good Friday Procession heading back to Poljica, April 2nd 2021. Photo: Luka Bunčuga

About the Poljica Parish

While neighbouring Zastražišće became an independent parish in 1605, having been founded as a chaplaincy within the Hvar bishopric in 1571, Poljica remained a dependent of Zastražišće right up to 1924. Mass was not celebrated in Poljica every Sunday, but only a few times a month and on certain feast days, such as Christmas, on Easter Monday and for the Pentecost (Whitsun). The frequency varied over the centuries, despite frequent requests from the people of Poljica that they should have their own parish, independently of Zastražišće. In 1900, when the number of residents in Poljica was at its peak, there was open rebellion. The Zastražišće priest was no longer recognised as having jurisdiction in Poljica, people from Zastražišće were not allowed into the Poljica church, some twelve children were not christened, and one old lady was buried without a priest. In 1901 an assistant priest was appointed to Poljica; in 1914, the priest started keeping parish records in Poljica rather than in Zastražišće; then finally Poljica became an independent parish in 1924.

About the Parish Church

The first written record of the Poljica parish Church of St. John the Baptist dates from 1579, during the Papal Visitation of Agostino Valier. The holy water basin was, rather unusually, outside the entrance, as it was in the 15th century Church of St. Mary Magdalene near Hvar Town. The original church was small, and suffered damage from damp and neglect over the years, although the local people tried to maintain it as best they could.

Commemorating major renovations in 1940. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

The bell tower on the north side of the facade was erected by the villagers in 1926, with two bells cast by the Split firm Cukrov. The larger bell was dedicated to St. John the Baptist, the smaller one to Our Lady of the Rosary. The Poljica bell tower was completed with its four-sided roof in 1966, and until the Zastražišće bell tower was erected in 1980, it was the only example of its kind in the Plame region. Lay brother and bell-ringer Toma Lučić, family nickname 'Mašurić' (1910 - 1993), has been credited with helping to bring the bell tower to completion.

Altar decorations for the Good Friday Procession. Photo: Daniela Lučić

The main altar of marble and stone with a carving of the Lamb of God was probably installed in about 1910, replacing the old wooden altar. It may have been the work of Andrija Bertapelle (1834 - 1917), an altarist from Vrboska who had come to live in Poljica. The wooden statue of St. John the Baptist in the niche above the altar dates to 1939. In the north side of the church is a recess containing a wooden polychrome statue of Our Lady of the Rosary, made by woodcarver Giuseppe Runggaldier, a craftsman from the church of Sant'Udalrico in the Val Gardena, an area in South Tyrol renowned for the exquisite quality of its woodcarving. The statue was dedicated in 1911.

Good Friday in Poljica Church, 2nd April 2021. Photo: Daniela Lučić

On the south side of the aisle, there is a 1938 statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in a niche ordered in Milna in 1956. In that same year the choir was erected. The statue of St. John the Baptist beside the baptismal font probably dates to the 19th century, and previously stood on the single altar in the old church. At the back of the church is a crucifix called the 'Mašurić Cross' standing in a frame created from restored preserved parts of the old wooden altar, which was probably carved by the Jelsan woodcarver Vinko Palaversić at the beginning of the 20th century. The cross was donated by Luka Lučić (1827 - 1890) from Podgora, nicknamed 'Mašurić', who was the first of that family to settle in Poljica. The small sacristy on the south side of the church contains a 16th century chalice in its otherwise modest inventory. There is also a fine Tyrolean statue of the Resurrection which used to be carried in the traditional processions.

The church was completely renovated and enlarged to twice its original size in 1940, again with great help from Toma Lučić 'Mašurić', and since then has been maintained and restored at frequent intervals. Succeeding generations have kept up the tradition of taking pride in the church's appearance.

Poljica's Chapels and Shrines

Several religious shrines around the village bear witness to the villagers' faith. The stone cross near the school building was erected in or before 1900, as a symbol of the villagers' declaration of spiritual independence from Zastražišće. St. Dominic's chapel contains a small statue of the saint, and was erected by Dinko Zenčić, nicknamed 'Donko' in c. 1939. The statue in St. Rocco's shrine disappeared during World War II. St. Anthony's chapel is now in ruins. The Chapel of Our Lady of Fatima was erected in 1963 by Fraternity member Antun Lučić 'Mašurić' in the courtyard of his house.

Visiting St. George's Chapel during the Good Friday Procession. Photo: Luka Bunčuga

Special events

St. John's Feast

The feast day of St. John the Baptist, patron saint of Poljica falls on June 24th. The day before any feast day on Hvar is called 'žežin' in dialect. This is a day when Poljica's residents and villagers who have returned for the occasion gather in front of the parish church for the big traditional bonfire (oganj) which is an age-old island custom on the eve of any significant saint's day. The final of the five-a-side football tournament organized by the 'Vatra' Club also takes place on the 'žežin', following the previous day's preliminary rounds. Celebrations of the feast day start with a concelebrated Mass. Later on there is a 'balota' (bowls or pétanque) tournament. In normal years, feasting, drinking, dancing and music last through to the early hours.

The Good Friday Procession

As elsewhere on Hvar, a people's Procession takes place in Poljica, which is separate from the normal Catholic rituals. The tradition certainly dates back over centuries, but was interrupted after World War II, when there was fear of reprisals from the Communist regime. After the custom was restored, the lack of menfolk in the village has meant that in some years no-one volunteers for the honour of being Cross-Bearer. When this happened in 1981, most unusually, the Cross was carried by a woman. Normally, the church's main Cross is carried. However, if a member of the Lučić 'Mašurić' family is the year's Cross-Bearer, he carries the 'Mašurić' Cross in honour of his ancestor.

The Good Friday Procession. Photo: Luka Bunčuga

The Procession, with the chosen Cross-Bearer as its central figure, sets off from Poljica at 6am on the morning of Good Friday, at the same time as the Zastražišće Procession leaves its parish church. The two Processions follow a circular route clockwise along the main road and narrow tracks, so they do not meet.

Single file down the narrow tracks. Photo: Luka Bunčuga

The Poljica Procession heads down to the sea at the Vela Stiniva Bay, where the Cross is dipped into the water as a symbol of connexion with all the villagers in all parts of the world who are absent from their home roots

Dipping the Cross into the sea. Photo: Luka Bunčuga

After visiting the Vela Stiniva Chapel, refreshments are served to restore the energies. Then the Procession heads up to Zastražišće, visiting the main church and chapels, before heading back along the main road to Poljica, having covered a total distance of something over 12 kilometres. In 2021, no-one had volunteered to carry the Cross, so the victorious football team took it in turns to be Cross-Bearer, in a unique blending of the village's two main influences!

Poljica's Pleasures

Sage growing in the wild, April 2021. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Living in the present, as he does, Luki doesn't worry about the past or the future. The wonderful landscape around Poljica is his playground, giving him freedom to run, enjoy the fresh air, and scout around the various interesting scents left by the unseen wild animals who have passed by.

Wild thyme on a Poljica track, April 2021. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

For humans, there are many delights too: besides savouring the atmosphere from distant and recent past times, there is wild asparagus to collect in the springtime, while enjoying the splendid views and colourful wild flowers (at least those which haven't been sprayed with herbicide), and listening to the birds going about their business.

Looking for wild asparagus, April 2021. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

© Vivian Grisogono MA(Oxon) April 2021.

Sources:

Duboković Nadalini N., 2001, Odabrani radovi. Književni krug, Split. pp. 168, 447, 455, 457, 458.

Gaffney, V., Kirigin, B., Petrić, M., Vujnović, N., Čače, S. 1997. The Adriatic Islands Project. Contact, Commerce and Colonialism 6000 B.C. - AD 600. Volume 1. The Archaeological Heritage of Hvar, Croatia. TEMPUS REPARATUM. BAR International Series 660. pp. 148-150, 167-169, 294.

Kovačić, J. 2000. Župa Poljica na Hvaru. Služba Božja, 40 2, 187-200.

STATUTA COMMUNITATIS LESINAE (PHARAE) - HVARSKI STATUT (HVAR STATUTE): the original dated from 1331, but was lost in the 1571 Turkish invasion. Later versions, notably one from 1632 are now used as the source. Alongside the Latin text, a Croatian translation of this version by Antun Cvitanić was published by the Književni krug, Split, in 1991 - digital version. Latin version starts from p. 241)

Vujnović, N. 1990. Prilozi arheološkoj karti otoka Hvara. Poseban tisak. svezak 83, Vjesnik za arheologiju i historiju dalmatinsku, Split

Vujnović, N., Petrić, M., Kirigin, B., Gaffney, V., Novi prilozi arheološkoj karti otoka Hvara. Work in preparation, awaiting publication as at 2021.

Acknowledgements: the author owes grateful thanks to the following for generously sharing their expertise, local knowledge and photographs: Debora Bunčuga (née Lučić), Luka Bunčuga, Mirko Crnčević, Ivica Drinković, Daniela Lučić, Tonko Lučić, Čedomil Šimić and Nikša Vujnović. And of course to Luki, Tireless Guardian of Hvar's Hidden Treasures and Pathfinder par excellence

 

 

 

 

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