10th December 2017
Vodice in Croatia - a Surprise Package
Strung along a large bay studded with small marinas and fringed with pretty beaches at first sight Vodice is just a popular seaside resort in the Dalmatia region of Croatia. But I was delighted to discover there are hidden depths to this pretty town. I was based at the cosy Hotel Miramare at one extreme of the bay. Next door to my hotel was the imposing new wing of the Hotel Olympia, Olympia Sky. This nine-storey modern building looks out of place in a traditional seaside resort. Built to resemble a ship it sparked a lot of local controversy when it was opened in the spring of 2017.
Curious to explore the new hotel I headed for its bar on the top floor where I found a large terrace from which I could enjoy a panorama of coast and countryside around Vodice. The main feature of this town is its beaches two of which have been awarded the Blue Flag for preservations of the environment. One flag flies above the ACI Marina in front of the town and the other on the Blue Beach. I was fascinated by a structure of linked bridges stretching out to sea from the beach immediately below my strategic position. These form a walkway, a sunbathing platform and give access to the water avoiding pebbles and rocks.
Behind the town, perched on top of Okit Hill is the unusual Church of Our Lady of Carmel There has been a church on this site since the first one was built during the seventeenth century probably built on the foundations of an older chapel. An old pilgrims’ way led up to this church. At the beginning of the twentieth century this path was embellished with fourteen small chapels each designating a station on the Way of the Cross. The original church was destroyed during the Second World War. Its replacement was destroyed during the Homeland War when Croatia fought to establish its independence from Yugoslavia. The church that stands there now is the work of an architect from Zadar, Nikola Bašić.
Walking around the bay I discovered an unusual monument erected as a memorial to those who suffered under the Yugoslav Communist regime. It was placed on the sea front of Vodice on the European Day of Remembrance of Victims of Communist Yugoslavia in August 2015. It was placed there as a reminder that Marshal Tito was one of the top ten mass murderers of the twentieth century. It was placed there to symbolise Croatia’s condemnation and rejection of all totalitarian and authoritarian regimes of the past. It is the work of the Croatian sculptor Kazimir Hraste.
A short distance from this monument, on the main square, Franje Tudmana, is a tribute to the freshwater springs that gave the town its name (little springs) and brought it mixed fortunes. There are two replica wells in the square, one made of white stone and one made from glass. These wells are connected to each other using a system that is over one thousand years old. After the original wells were destroyed they were replaced by these copies. Further around the bay, past the market and small shopping mall I found another memorial, so large it is impossible to miss. This is the Spomenik Database monument to the fallen partisan soldiers of the Second World War from Vodice. Placed there in 1965 it is the work of Marijan Burger and dominates the small spomenik complex on the main promenade along the sea front. The general interpretation is that it depicts a blossoming flower symbolising the birth of a new era. This complex also features a small amphitheatre (popular with skateboarders) decorated with plaques bearing the names of those who perished in both the Second World War and the Homeland War of Independence.
Beyond this complex is the Tourist Information Office and the ferry port. There are regular ferries every day to the islands of Prvic and Zlarin terminating in Šibenik. After the port the promenade curves round a small peninsula into another wide bay, the Blue Beach. Stretching for four kilometres this beach incorporates rocky crags with shallow pools, concrete plateaus and a few sandy areas. Fringed by a pine forest for non-sunbathers it offers the alternative of a lovely walk in the shade punctuated by occasional cafés.
Back in the town I found a narrow alleyway leading into the old town of Vodice. Once a fortified town that fought fiercely against would-be invaders there is no sign of the old city walls that were dismantled to provide building materials for new residences. One vestige of former fortifications is the Čorić Tower a fortified tower built in 1533. During the seventeenth century this tower belonged to a noble family from Šibenik, the Fondra family, who used it as a home. Today the tower is abandoned and closed but its courtyard is used as an open-air cinema theatre in the summer.
My ramblings through the old town, a maze of small residences, led me to the main square dominated by the Church of Saint Cross. There are two churches dedicated to Saint Cross in this town. The original, the small church of Saint Cross, a simple Gothic church, was built at the beginning of the fifteenth century and served as the parish church. It is situated on the small wooded peninsula between the two bays of Vodice. Today it is used for events and exhibitions during the summer months. The ‘new’ parish church of Saint Cross with a belfry was built during the eighteenth century in Dalmatian Baroque style on the foundations of an old chapel. The bell tower is the work of Vicko Macanović from Dubrovnik whereas the church is the work of Ivan Skok and features a lovely rosette, side walls with oval Baroque windows and some beautiful frescoes around the altar.
As I emerged from the old town I discovered a small art gallery and souvenir shop housed in what resembled an old chapel. The paintings were evocative local scenes but my favourites were the handmade dolls in traditional costumes. Next to the shop was a traditional Croatian tavern or Konoba. Konobas serve local cuisine prepared with fresh ingredients often cooked on open fires – a tasty alternative to more conventional restaurants.
Back on the sea front I discovered the Aquarium and Maritime Tradition Museum. It was a very long name for appeared to be a very small museum and I decided to investigate. On the ground floor I discovered some amazing fish collages. It was such intricate, stunning work I asked the curator about their creator. She told me a local man uses fashion magazines to create these original works of art. As they did not have any copies for sale I had to be content with a photograph. The ground floor is also home to the aquarium a small area occupied by small tanks displaying fish and other creatures of the sea.
Displayed on the first floor are some rare antiquities, the remains of a Roman ship over two thousand years old. Until the Middle Ages and the development of the compass this coastline was the main trading route. There is also an exhibition of old fisherman’s tools, an old sponge diver’s suit and some amazing model ships. I recognised the old Swedish war ship, Vasa and Nelson’s flagship Victory. Intrigued as to why these particular ships were featured in a small Croatian museum I discovered they were the handiwork of a local model ship maker in Split.
Above the town in a small park I found a poignant memorial to some firefighters who lost their lives during a fire on the nearby island of Kornat in 2007. A total of twelve firemen lost their lives, six on the island and another six died later in hospital. It is still not clear exactly what happened during what should have been a routine intervention to control a wild fire. Instead it developed into the biggest tragedy in the history of Croatian firefighting as well as the biggest peacetime tragedy in Croatia.
I visited Vodice in the autumn when it was cool enough for long walks by the sea. By then the continual music in the bars and discos had quietened down and vivid sunsets blazed across the sky above the sea. For me it was the perfect time to visit this interesting little town but maybe too late for sun and fun seekers.