Penpalling & Letters

Thursday, 3 March 2011

At the shores of the Neretva

Hello from Hrvatska! This is how the natives of this land call it in their language. We are located today in southeastern Europe, at the crossroads of the Pannonian Plain, the Balkans, and the Adriatic Sea. Hrvatska is a young country although its origins date back to the early VII century; the area where Hrvatska is today has been inhabited since the Prehistoric period. Some of its symbols are the "karst", "Plitvice Lakes National Park" or its insular territory, which consists of over one thousand enchanting islands!

Hello Maria and welcome to Penpalling & Letters! It is a pleasure you are participating in Travelling around the World sharing Cultural Heritage, Folklore and Background! What could you tell us about yourself, Maria?

Hello everybody! As you already know my name is Maria and I come from Croatia. I started penpalling in 1997 when our teacher gave us addresses to write to people from abroad. I don't remember very well what we were learning that day or how many of us joined but I know I was really happy about it! Then I got my first FB (Friendship Book) and I met nice penpals through those, too. Due to family problems I lost contact with these first penpals of mine but I met new ones later on. I was also reading teen magazines and they were full of penpal and swapper ads. That is how I met my best penfriend Tanja and we have been friends for fourteen years now! I also like postcards and I like getting them from my pals as well as sending them back. I love stamps, too. I have been collecting them for a while now and my first album is almost full. I also love stickers. I use them to decorate letters and I like colourful ones, glitter pens and stationery but it is so hard to find those in my town... Recently, I also started a blog: "Fallen Angel".

Maria, are you looking for penpals at the moment?

Penpals are always welcome but I am only interested in females. Age is not important and I don't care if they write long or short letters as long as they don't mind that I usually type my letters. I do that because my handwriting is awful and I like my letters to be nice and understandable. I decorate letters by adding stickers or I draw something. Mutual interests are fine but that is not the most important, either. We are all different after all but what I like the most is that my future penpals are nice, caring and understanding!

Would you like to disclose now what are you going to present under the title "At the shores of the Neretva"?

Yes, of course! I would like to say that it is a pleasure to be here today sharing a story about my part of the world: a small place called "Metković".

- Where is your hometown, Metković, located? How is the area surrounding it?

My town is situated in the southeast of Croatia, in the valley of the River Neretva which flows through the town and separates it in two. Metković is not far away from the Adriatic Sea and very close to the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina (in fact, Mostar, the fifth largest city in Bosnia, is only 35Km far away from Metković). Lots of fields and mountains surround my hometown.

Location of Metković within Croatia
Aerial view of Metković at present with the River Neretva flowing through the city

- Can you describe Metković?

It is a small town with a population slightly over 15,000 nowadays. I live on the Predolac Hill, in the old part of the town, and I can see everything from my balcony: the river, the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, the whole right side of the town, the fields around the city, the mountains surrounding it... If I go a little bit up on the hill, I even can see the whole city of Metković. It is really beautiful when you climb up and see the landscape and the whole Neretva Valley.

Metković in the 1900s. View of the Predolac Hill

- Do you remember when was Metković born as a city? Maybe you would like to share with us some facts about its history.

The city of Metković was first mentioned in 1422, in a file kept in the Dubrovnik archives: "in flumaria Narrenti subtus Metchovich" which means "On the River Neretva, Metković". It was born as a small agricultural and cattle-raising town. When Greeks began to colonize the islands on the Adriatic coast, they found a strategic position to establish the "emporium" (port) in Vid (it is an ancient settlement which was called Narona in the past), near Metković. Also, two centuries were filled with frequent clashes between the Ottomans and the Venetians. In the Second World War Metković was repeatedly bombed and also in the period 1991-1992, during the War between Serbia and Croatia.

Metković at present.
View of the southern slope of the Predolac Hill
with Saint Ilija's Church on top

- Are there some remarkable landmarks or features worth to be mentioned?

"Saint Ilija's Church" is the most important feature of the town and it is situated on the southern slope of the Predolac Hill. It was built between 1867 and 1874, and is a stone building with three naves in the type of a basilica in Romanesque and Neogothic style. There is a lovely view from it of the whole Neretva Valley and the city.

"Kula Norinska" or "Norin Tower".
Built in the XVI century by the Turks

"Kula Norinska" or "Norin Tower" in Krvavac II is close to the Metković-Opuzen road and was built by the Turks in the beginning of the XVI century. The tower was initially built where the River Norin met the River Neretva. The purpose was to keep the Venetians away from the valley and to have a stronghold where the Turkish possessions in the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina could be defended from. The Turks did not quite succeed. Already in 1685 they had to give in to a Venetian siege and leave the tower. However, with the towers strategic importance, the Turks wanted it back and they got it several times. During the next centuries, the Venetians and the Turks succeeded one another in being masters in the tower. This rivalry came to an end when Austrian troops kicked them out. Under Austrian rule the river altered its course and the tower lost its strategic importance and was abandoned.

View of the Neretva flowing through
Metković in the 1900s. Mountains surrounding the city
at the background

- Which landscape can we found around the city and along the River Neretva?

There are fields and meadows in the near vicinity, as well as mountains which surround the whole Neretva Valley. The coastline is not far away from Metković: only about 20Km far from the city.

- How far is your hometown from the capital, Zagreb? And from the main Croatian tourism centres?

From Metković to Zagreb there is a distance of about 500Km, which takes around six hours by bus or car through the motorway. It takes about two-three hours longer if you go by "normal" roads. Split is around 140Km (around two hours by car) and Dubrovnik is around 80Km (around one hour by car) far away. There are islands and tourism centres along the whole coast of Croatia (from north to south), but the closer ones are Pelješac Peninsula (about 20Km by ferry), Hvar Island (about 60Km) and Brač Island (about 90Km). Perhaps it sounds far at first but you can get from Metković to any island in southern Croatia within two hours.

The same view as above at present times

- Which climate can we find in Metković?

The Mediterranean climate predominates in Croatia. However, sometimes, during winter and early spring frosts may appear as a part of the flow of cold air due to the opening of the continent. It can be really dangerous for crops as plants and vegetation start sprouting in early spring, already.

- What makes the city famous and well-known?

Picking mandarins in the field from October on as part of the tourism (agriculture has traditionally been the main activity in the Neretva Valley), great food (fish, eel and frog stew Neretva-style, Dalmatian prosciutto, fried frogs, grilled eel, seafood salad, boiled coot with sauerkraut, seashells...), the boat marathon and photo safari.

- What do people do for a living? Which are the typical jobs/works in the area?

The most typical jobs in Metković are those which take place in the office, at schools, shops... but also a lot of people work on their land, grow fruits and vegetables, especially mandarins. Almost everybody has a small piece of land with mandarin trees on, including me!

Ornithological Museum. Collection of bird species

- Which interesting features stand out in Metković at the moment?

There is the Ornithological Museum which has an important "Bird Collection". It contains more than 340 exhibits, among which are specimens of 218 bird species and 310 species recorded on the Neretva area so far. There is also the Narona Archaeological Museum in Vid (small place only a few minutes far away from Metković). Fifteen years ago they did an archaeological research in that town and found some remains of a Roman temple, the "Augusteum", and seventeen marble statues in natural height.

- If anyone who is reading this article is interested in visiting Croatia and maybe has the chance to go to Metković during her/his stay, what would you enhance about your homecity and the Neretva area so they think: "I should visit this charming place when going to Croatia next time!"?

There is always something to see and do when you come to visit Metković. Anyone who is visiting should have a walk around the city, especially through the old part of the city, its narrow streets and typical houses without forgetting Saint Ilija's Church; also along the shores of the Neretva. You can go for a hike to the Predolac Hill and see the beautiful panorama of the valley. It is always possible to visit the Ornithological Museum and the Bird Collection.
If tourists come in May, they can enjoy the folklore festivals. In July there is the "Brudetijada" (a gastronomic competition which consists of preparing "brudet") in Opuzen, a town only ten minutes far away from Metković. The Neretva-style fish stew, brudet, is an unique dish also because it is prepared in a somewhat different way in different parts of the Neretva Delta. The main ingredients are freshwater fish, eels and frogs and it is usually quite spicy. It is served with polenta. Many visitors taste the stew at the end of the contest accompanied by music and singing. In August it is possible to see the boat marathon "Maraton Lađa" or go the the beach and enjoy the sea in the not so far away Adriatic coast.

Snow over  the Predolac Hill

- Which sports are practiced in the city? Do you have a well-known team in Metković?

Handball and football are the most popular sports in Metković, but also basketball and tennis. We don’t have a very famous team although several players in the Croatian handball national team are from Metković.

- Do you know about any personality/famous person coming from Metković?

The most famous people are those involved in sports: Igor Štimac and Darijo Srna (Croatian national football team); Patrik Ćavar, Ivan Čupić, Slavko Goluža and Nikša Kaleb (Croatian handball national team). There is also the poet Ivan Slamnig, the actress Vera Zima and the singer, Matija Vuica who were all born in Metković.

- Would you like to share with us any other interesting feature about your homecity, Maria?

One of the largest folklore festivals, "Na Neretvu Misecina Pala", is held in Metković every May. During two weekends the open stage of the town theatre hosts over a hundred folklore groups from Croatia and from abroad, which preserve the tradition of their regions through songs, music and dance.

There is also the annual amateur sporting competition called "Maraton Lađa". It is a 22.5Km marathon from Metković to Ploče where competitors race in old vessels native to the Lower Neretva River called "lađa" or "ladja" ("lađe" or "ladje" in plural). It is held on the second Saturday of August every year. The most exciting moment of the race happens to be on the starting line, with the lađe situated right under the bridge. More than three hundred competitors participate in thirty lađe, which together with the rhythmic beating of the drums by each team's drummer, makes it for a colourful and noisy spectacle. Around 50,000 viewers follow the marathon competition along the shores and banks of the Neretva and also important people in Croatia come to see it, even the president of the country.

Starting line of the Rowing Marathon  "Lađa Marathon" under the bridge in Metković

Lađe have served for centuries as water vehicles which transported people, animals and farming products. Because of its narrow size, lađe are able to enter every tributary that flowed into the Neretva as well as the Neretva itself. It can be said that the lađe to the Neretva represents the same the gondola does to Venice.

To preserve the significance and history of the lađe, in 1998 the very first race involving these relics from the past was organized from Metković to Ploče. At the start of the inaugural race, there were a total of eighteen local crews. Ever since, a new record number of entries is received every year. As for the old lađe lying peacefully in the rivers, they were awaken from their slumber and repaired to live another day in the following year's race. Since the old lađe were all of different dimensions, and so that all competitors would race in vessels of the same size, in 2004 a new custom-made lađe were built, which would be used specifically for the marathon. Each rowing crew consists of ten rowers, a drummer and a cox. There can be a minimum of twelve and a maximum of eighteen people in each squad. Anyone who is willing to participate may be part of the crew. The competing lađe must be wooden, comprise a traditional shape and must meet the official competition rules as far as actual dimensions are concerned. That is, the length must be between 7 and 8.2 meters, the width between 2.45 and 2.8 meters, the depth is 70cm, with 23 spokes or wooden rods. The actual oars must also be made of wood.

Lađa built in 1895

A week prior to the actual marathon, the time trials for starting positions are held in Opuzen (individually over 100 metres). Depending on the trials, starting positions are assigned. The start of the race is in Metković under the main bridge. The course runs along the Neretva to the harbour in Ploče. Approximately, at the halfway mark, in the town of Opuzen, an interchange of up to six crew members is permitted (although it is not compulsory to change). Then, further down the river, we go through the small village of Komin, until the final destination in the harbour of the coastal town of Ploče. The winners normally achieve their goal in about two hours and fifteen minutes, following continuous, non-stop rowing. Spectators follow the race in cars on either side of the river, by train (the railway is parallel to the river route) or on board the many boats and vessels that accompany the lađe.

Maria also wanted to share with us some videos about the city of Metković, "Marathon Lađa" and the "Photo Safari", which you can see below:

If you are interested in learning and read more about the city of Metković, Marathon Lađa or the Neretva Delta area check the following links as well:

Marathon Lađa
The Neretva Delta

Thanks for presenting this interesting article about Metković in Penpalling & Letters, Maria! It was fantastic to learn so much from this part of Croatia! I am very much looking forward to hear from you again and share another interesting article with all of us. Hopefully your intervention here will attract more participants willing to take part!

If you would like to read more articles from all over the world don't forget to check: Travelling around the World sharing Cultural Heritage, Folklore and Background.

I am always looking for people who would like to take part into Travelling around the World Section. If you would like to write about any feature or characteristic of your homeland don't hesitate to contact me at: penpallingandletters[at]gmail[dot]com and we will work on it!

No comments:

Post a Comment