Brioni National Park (Croatia)
The Brioni archipelago, set in the northern Adriatic Sea very close to Pula, was the place where president Tito had a residence for more than thirty years, and was proclaimed a national park at the end of 1983. The island of Vanga, with his house Bela Vila, have become a memorial area.
From Bandung in Indonesia, where the idea of founding the non-aligned movement started, the torch passed to Brioni. It was there on 19 July 1956 that Tito, Nehru and Nasser met. Five years later, at the First Non-aligned Conference in Belgrade, the famous Brioni Declaration became reality.
On Brioni, president Tito was visited by over 240 statesmen and government and party delegations.
During the year, Brioni is now visited by large numbers of tourists on excursions, and foreign and Yugoslav guests stay in its hotels and villas. Important international meetings are also held here.
The Brioni archipelago which extends almost parallel to the coast of the biggest Yugoslav peninsula – Istria – consists of 14 islands of different sizes. The Fažana Channel separates the islands from the peninsula, and the average distance from the coast is nowhere greater than three kilometres. The islands cover a total area of 736 hectares and are divided into three groups: five islands are grouped near Veliki (Large) Brion, another five near Mali (Small) Brion, and two lie in the Fažana Channel.
The relatively high level of humidity and other favourable climatic conditions have made possible the luxuriant growth of over 680 types of vegetation, including holm oak, laurel, ash, strawberry-tree, pine, cypress, cedar, palm, bamboo, eucalyptus and many other plants, all comprising a dense forest of the Mediterranean and sub-tropical type. Deer, moufflons, rabbits, as well as pheasants and many other kinds of birds live in complete freedom on the islands. The wild animal life is supplemented by a large zoo and safari park which contain the animals presented to president Tito as gift, along with the young they have borne there. The waters round the islands are rich in fish and shellfish, various marine algae and other examples of marine flora and fauna.
The largest island, Veliki Brion, covers 579 hectares, is five kilometres long and between a half and three kilometres wide. Well-known for its natural beauty, the island, with the Neptune and Karmen Hotels and the harbour where Tito’s yachts Podgorka and Brionka are anchored, is at the same time the centre of the archipelago. Veliki Brion also contains first-class buildings (some for memorial purposes), a museum, the zoo and safari park and sport facilities, all of which are linked by 274 kilometres of roads and paths.
The earliest traces of human presence on the Brioni islands date from the late neolithic period. The cave settlement on Gromače Point originates from this times. The remains show how the settlement was organized while excavated items clearly show that the earliest inhabitants of the islands hunted, fished, raised livestock and grew grain, made pottery, weapons and stone tools. Some items of copper have also been found, which points to trade with the Middle East.
The first well-known inhabitants of the islands were the Illyrians. They built their settlements onhills and, to defend them from enemy attack, built massive stone walls round them. Thus protected and surrounded by the sea, the Histri, members of the Illyrian tribe, became good seamen and often attacked Roman merchant ships. After several raids the Romans finally subjugated the Histri, in 177 BC. Under Roman rule, Istria (which was named after the Histri) was improved and trade grew apace. Even today on Brioni, one can find the remains of wonderful public buildings and private houses which date from this period. The Roman cultivated olives and wine grapes, carved stone, built ships, extracted salt from the sea, and also produced wool and woollen clothing. Veliki Brion has a well-constructed water supply network which works on the principle of equal water levels. The best-known Roman building dates from the 1st century AD and consists of a luxurious summer palace constructed on three levels in Verige Bay. The unknown builder, using his knowledge of Roman and Greek architecture, constructed a series of different buildings round the bay over a distance of a kilometre; their functional and aesthetic value, mosaics, wall pictures and stone figures, clearly tell us that the palace met the most refined standards of the Roman aristocracy.
After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476, these regions were conquered by the Ostrogoths and, in 539, the Brioni became part of the Byzantine Empire. From this period date the castrum and the churches of St. Mary and St. Peter which are still in a state of good preservation. The castrum also gives a picture of the lives of the Francs, at the time the feudalsystem was introduced as well as of the settling and way of life of the Slavs on the Brioni.
Together with Pula, the Brioni came under the rule of the Venetian Republic in 1331 and were controlled by wealthy patrician Venetian families.
After the collapse of the Venetian Republic, the islands fell under the rule of Austria and then later, for several years, were a part of Napoleon’s Illyrian provinces. Marshal Marmont, governor of these provinces, worked out a plan for revitalizing the islands in 1807, and orders for this were issued personally to him by Napoleon. By decision of the Vienna Congress, held in 1815, the islands were again returned to Austria which, in the process of transforming Pula into its main naval base, made the islands (which occupy a very important strategic position) a constituent part of Pula’s defence system.
A wealthy Austrian industrialist, Paul Kupelweiser bought the islands in 1893. There was an epidemic of malaria on the archipelago, so the new owner brought in the famous bacteriologist Dr Ribert Koch who succeeded in clearing the islands of this serious disease in 1900-1901. Kupelweiser then started large-sscale land reclamation works, thus creating conditions for the development of tourism and the construction of luxury hotels, villas and accompanying recreational facilities. A real tourist boom followed, and the Brioni soon became famed as an international tourist centre: the cream of European aristocracy began to gather there.
At the end of the First World War, the Brioni, together with Istria and some other parts of Yugoslavia were granted to Italy by the Treaty of Rapallo in 1920. The islands remained the private property of the Kupelweiser family right up to 1936, when Italy annexed them to her Ministry of Finance. The Brioni again shone in their full glamour as an exclusive international resort. On the eve of the Second World War, Italy moved its naval officers’ school from Sicily to Brioni. When Italy capitulated in 1943, the islands were taken over by German occupation forces. On 20 April 1945, just before the end of the war, the Allies bombed Brioni, destroying natural beauties and all those created by human hand. Units of the Yugoslav National Liberation Army liberated the islands shortly afterwards. Together with Istria and other areas, the Brioni became part of Yugoslavia.
President Tito made his first visit to the Brioni in 1947. There he found demolished buildings, and deserted forest areas, almost devoid of any kind of wildlife. The islands became the residence of the Yugoslav in 1949. The old buildings were renovated and new ones bullt; new types of vegetations were planted and animals brought in. Research into the history of the Brioni also started. Archaeological and ethnographic museums and art galleries were opened in the old buildings. The islands thus became one of Tito’s favourite haunts, as well as the centre of many events which have entered modern Yugoslav and world history.
Tito ’’discovered’’ Vanga during a fishing trip. The little island, with an area of about five hectares, was completely overgrown with weeds and impassable. First a fishing hut was built and then a bungalow in which Tito stayed during his visits to Brioni. There is also the ’’Fishing Lounge’’ which was the scene of the historic meeting between Tito, Nehru and Nasser in 1956.
author: Miša Špiljević