Almayer Art & Heritage Hotel, Zadar

Traditional ships brought to the new life

The centuries-old Dalmatian maritime heritage is preserved for future generations

On the night between the 25th and 26th of August 1986, a terrible storm coming from the west sank three boats in the island’s Biševo Porat bay. The last Komiža gajeta falkuša "Cicibela" was among them. As the purse seine boat Edi used her winch to lift the wreck of the "Cicibela" from the sea to her deck, tears flowed down to old Captain and the co-owner of the sunken boat - Aleksa Torre. It was a truly funeral scene.

Brodolom zadnje gajete falkuse Cicibela BisevoThe shipwreck of the last gajeta falkuša “Cicibela” in the bay of Porat on Biševo (photo: portal

“A boat died, and her death symbolically completed the fishing tradition that lasted on these offshore islands from antiquity all the way to the middle of the twentieth century.” - this is how the event was once described by witness Joško Božanić, a well-known Croatian linguist and writer.

A tradition of a thousand years

For hundreds, if not thousands of years, without any visible changes, determined only by the laws of the capricious sea, sky and disobedient winds, lasted the uninterrupted tradition of Dalmatian sailors and fishermen lives. As travelling through the hinterland of Dalmatia was always dangerous and the roads were bad - the sea was connecting while the hill was separating - just like in an old folk saying.

Footage from the feature film "Life flows on" (A život jde dál, directed by: Václav Kubásek, Carl Junghans, F.W. Kraemer) shot in Komiža in 1933. (Video: Dejan Urošević)

The centre of the community’s universe of life were ships and the experience of the sea. They were most often of the gajeta type and related to them only slightly larger leut, or smaller guc and kaić. Ships were not just ships, they were more than that. They were the most important members of households with overseas possessions.

Unloading cargo from the boatZadar 1886. - Unloading cargo from the boat (photo: Stare razglednice i fotografije Zadra/Facebook)

Meeting the sum of all the requirements of this complicated geographical, proprietary, social and navigational structure of the Adriatic, the construction of ships had to represent several ships in one. They were used for fishing on remote fishing grounds, for trade, transport of livestock and goods, and as a connection to other islands, cities and coasts. They formed the basis of the collective memory of a small world on the most indented coast of the Mediterranean that is almost 6000 kilometres long.

A century of change

The fin de siècle and the turbulent twentieth century brought great changes to this corner of the Mediterranean as well. The relentless logic of industrialization and new technologies have changed both ships and people and their way of life. The former forests of masts on the Adriatic ports have been cleared by chimneys. Instead of white sails, pillars of smoke heralded the arrival of ships.

new technologies have changed both ships and peopleNew technologies have changed both ships and people and their way of life (photo: Stare razglednice i fotografije Zadra/Facebook)

The construction logic of ships and boats lines was changed by the introduction of motor propulsion. Consequently, it changed people too. The previous experience of sailing using exclusively wind energy and human muscles, alongside complete dependence on the forces of nature, created a centuries-old harmony of lines and shapes of ships, built entire social communities, and filled their languages with the experience of the sea.

Gajeta Falkusa design and constructionRead more the whole story of the construction of the gajeta falkuša on this beautiful website:

All this was gradually, but yet so fast, replaced by the unencumbered logic of increasing dimensions, speed, capacity and economy. After wood, came the steel, and then sterility, simplicity and efficiency of fibreglass took over the ship docks. Traditional ships, if they failed to undergo a conversion, quickly relinquished their places in ports and harbours, moving to sheets of books and specialized publications.

End as a new beginning

The shipwreck of the last Komiža gajeta falkuša from the beginning of the text fortunately created the energy for a new beginning. Thanks to prof. Joško Božanić and prof.dr. Velimir Salamon - the greatest Croatian expert on traditional ships, the Ars Halieutica Cultural Institution was launched. The institution began to systematically explore all aspects important to halieutical cultural-anthropological interpretation that included language, vocabulary, oral literature, history of fishing, toponymy and anthroponymy, shipbuilding, the art of navigation, traditional weather forecasting, the art of fishing, and gastronomy.

New life of gajeta falkuša (video: Alternatura - travel agency)

The crown of the work of this institution is the rebuilt of gajeta falkuša "Comeza-Lisboa" to be able to participate in the World Exhibition 1998 in Lisbon, as well as the restoration of the "Rota Palagruzona" - the oldest regatta in the Mediterranean, and probably Europe. This fishing regatta with a route from Komiža on Vis to Palagruža was held continuously from 12 June 1593 to the year 1936. In Komiža nowadays, there are 4 gajeta falkuša: "Comeza-Lisboa", "Mikula", "Palagruža" and "Molo" - the latter being a small falkuša that the children of Komiža use to acquire basic traditional fishing skills and knowledge.

Renaissance in the Zadar-Šibenik archipelago

The gajeta falkuša revitalization project has launched a wave of similar projects. At the other end of the Adriatic, almost at the same time, another linguist and university professor Vladimir Skračić, together with Željko Jerat - a mechanical engineer, on the islands of Murter and Kornati founded the "Latinsko idro" association and organized a regatta of the same name. Subsequently, they’ve managed to revive the maritime tradition of sailing with a traditional Latin sail throughout the Adriatic archipelago.

Regatta "Latinsko idro" (video: Žan Goran Šantar)

It is almost immeasurable what this Association has done in those twenty years for the traditional ship; it awakened the islands of Šibenik, the Zadar and Kvarner regions, and the southern coasts, and created a real movement of resistance to oblivion and plasticity. At the first regatta "Latinsko idro", which took place in 1998, only seven gajetas took part. Twenty-two years later, more than eighty of them appeared at the start of the regatta.

Latinsko idro MurterRegatta "Latinsko idro" (photo: Betina Museum of Wooden Shipbuilding)

In addition to the number of participants, the number of different regattas has increased. From May to October, from Istria and Kvarner, all the way to the south of Dalmatia, there is a rich program of regattas of traditional boats. It is in the Zadar and Šibenik area that the largest number of competitions and special events take place.

From the regatta "Đir po konalu" in Ugrinić on island of Pašman, "Lantina" in Jezera on the island of Murter, "Latinski idrun na Kureja" in Zlarin, "Regata za dušu i tilo" / "Regatta for soul and body" in Betina, "Burtiža" in Šepurine on the island of Prvić, through traditional regattas in women's rowing ''U susret Gospi od Anđela'' / "Meeting Our Lady of the Angels" in Krapanj and “Dlan i Veslo” / "Palm and Paddle" in Betina, we arrive onto the crown of the regatta season at the "Dani Latinskog idro" / "Days of Latin sail" in Murter, which consists of a rich series of events throughout September, as well as several different regattas that attract the largest number of participants.

Women's rowing regattaWomen's rowing regatta (photo: Betina Museum of Wooden Shipbuilding)

A modern temple to the Adriatic wooden shipbuilding

The crown of the systematic work of all these associations, as well as a large number of professionals and enthusiasts, on the restoration of this tangible and intangible maritime heritage, is certainly the opening of the "Museum of Betina wooden shipbuilding". The museum was founded in 2015 to be a presentation institution that encourages local people to develop an awareness of the value of shipbuilding and cultural heritage, represents local traditions, acts as an educational centre, organizes workshops to interest new generations in wooden shipbuilding, enriches the tourist offer of the island Murter and becomes an information centre on local cultural heritage.

Museum of Betina Wooden Shipbuilding (video: Betina Museum of Wooden Shipbuilding)

Museum won many international awards: the EU Cultural Heritage Award - Europa Nostra 2019, the European Museum of the Year Award - Siletto 2018, and in 2017 was a finalist at the annual European Museum Academy Award in the Luigi Micheletti Award category.

The Almayer Art & Heritage Hotel breathes together with all these initiatives and aspirations to preserve tradition and heritage. As a place inspired by the Mediterranean legacy and the sea, it is a natural starting point to explore these sea stories of this part of the Adriatic - tales that are as old as the sea itself.


On a mad night,
we’ll kindle the fires on the inside,
my coves will wonder,
the way a fervour awakens one.

The heart must blaze once
for all the life, through all the days,
sometimes after sorrow 
the wind has to carry our ships...

Verses from  "Bokeljska noć" / "Boka night" song  
by Hrvoje Hegedušić