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The Recent Past of Velebit

Recent past of Velebit begins at the beginning of the 18th century

Recent past of Velebit and its surroundings

At the beginning of the 18th century, the immediate Turkish threat was removed. The liberation of the regions of Lika and Dalmatia from Ottoman domination gave a new impetus for integration of the Velebit area into the new socio-economic environment. The Velebit area largely fell within the boundaries of the newly created Military Frontier, until its dissolution at the end of the 19th century. This created the preconditions for renewed settlement of the foothill areas, resulting in greater activity in the peak regions.

Seeking to develop its trade, the Habsburg Empire was looking for access to the Adriatic and a tighter integration of its regional constituents. This was a period (end of the 18th century and notably during the 19th century) of intensified road construction, with transport connections across the Velebit passes linking the coastal slopes of Velebit with their immediate and farther interior (e.g. the roads Senj – Karlovac, Stinica – Kosinj and Krasno, Stinica – Pazarišta, Karlobag – Gospić – …), and longitudinal connections between foothill towns and villages. All this had a vital impact on the life of people inhabiting the slopes of Velebit. It is owing to good road communications with the inland that some of the towns began to develop more intensively (Senj, Karlobag), while others never regained the intensity of life they had during the prehistoric, Roman or the mediaeval periods (Sveti Juraj, Stinica – Jablanac).

Nevertheless, during this period the inhabitants of the foothill areas of Velebit continued their millennium-old tradition of life in the mountain, building and maintaining their mountain dwellings, mowing the hey meadows, grazing the cattle, farming every available piece of land, exchanging among each other what they had with what they needed. They migrated from one place to another as the environment would let them. If there were podi (plateaus lying at about 800-900 meters above sea level) above their winter settlements, they were able to migrate earlier and stay longer. On some of the plateaus it was even possible to set up permanent settlement. As the snow in the mountain melted down, so were they able to gradually move to higher regions. They would first migrate to lower altitudes, and after the snow melted would slowly move upwards, thus providing the cattle with more varied and richer grazing for longer periods.

In autumn, with the first frost and snow, they would start preparations for descending from the mountain to their coastal homes (which were mostly not lying directly on the coast, but along paths leading to the mountain, close to water sources or the little farming land they had available). From the mountain they brought the food supplies accumulated over the late spring, summer and autumn (hey, garden and field produce, honey etc.). Preparations for the return to the mountain would start already in late winter.

Migration back to the mountain would start as soon as the snow began to melt with people taking with them any produce yielded by their modest gardens, and carrying manure in cloth bags. This migration was accompanied by special ceremonies which were believed to help avert diseases in people and livestock, and prevent barren yields, long periods of snow etc. People’s survival on the mountain depended on such good start of the migration. Today, seen from the perspective of urban comforts and technological advances, this way of life may seem harsh and difficult. However, for the inhabitants of Velebit it was the only way to survive, and for this they were well equipped with strength, knowledge and endurance. They found almost everything they needed in and below the mountain, and whatever extra produce they had they exchanged for items they didn’t have. This is why Velebit must be seen as a unique space that connects people.

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