7 Legends from the Croatian Adriatic That Will Completely Intrigue You
The first European vampire “lived” in Istria
Get ready for a story that freezes blood in your veins! The small Istrian village of Kringa, located near Pazin, is known for a 17th-century legend about štrigun (a local word for vampire) Jure Grando, who terrorized the locals for years. According to the legend, Grando died in 1656, but soon after the burial, he began to appear to the locals, and reportedly often appeared to his widow. The story also says that he wandered the village streets knocking on people’s doors, and on whichever door he knocked, evil fate would befell someone from that house.
It took years for the villagers to pluck up the courage and do something – and finally in 1672 they decided to dig up Jure’s grave. It turns out that a preserved body was still lying in the grave and its ruddy face even reflected a smile! The locals then tried to pierce the ghost with a pointed hawthorn stake, but without any success because the stake was constantly bouncing off the body. In the end, they solved the matter by beheading the creepy creature, which finally put an end to many years of terror in Kringa. The legend was later written down by the Slovenian general Johann Weichard Valvasor, and that is considered to be the first recorded mention of vampires in Europe, two centuries before Bram Stoker wrote the famous novel about Dracula.
How the fairies built the Pula Arena
The impressive Pula Arena is one of the most famous historical buildings in Croatia, but very little is known about the background of its creation. Historians believe that the construction of the amphitheatre began in the 1st century during the reign of the Roman emperor Augustus, and was completed during the reign of the Flavian dynasty. It is still unknown exactly why the Romans built the arena in Pula and with what intention. However, an old legend says that our overseas neighbours are not responsible for its creation, but fairies, no less!
According to one local story, they lived in Istria in ancient times, and one night they decided to start a big construction project in Pula. As they always hid from people during the day, the fairies were hurriedly building the Arena at night, bringing stones from the Učka Mountain. However, they failed to complete the construction before sunrise and the first rooster’s crow, so the large circular building was eventually left without a roof, and stones were scattered throughout Istria as proof of the fairies’ unfinished work. A slightly more “realistic” story says that the arena was built by Emperor Vespasian as a pledge of his love for the local belle Antonia Cenida.
Impressed by the Roman (or fairy) legacy they found in Pula, the Old Slavic peoples called the Arena Divić-grad because in the old language the word divić means miracle. Anyone who has seen the Pula amphitheatre in person knows that it is more than an appropriate name!
The archbishop who expelled the snakes from Privlaka
A short but interesting legend comes from Privlaka in Zadar County. According to it, a Zadar archbishop once passed through Privlaka, riding a horse, not noticing that poisonous snakes were hiding on the ground. An insidious venomous snake bit the archbishop’s horse, which jerked abruptly and threw the rider out of the saddle. Angered by the fall and injury, the archbishop cursed all the venomous snakes in Privlaka, and they disappeared forever from this area. Indeed, there are no venomous snakes in Privlaka today, and scientists explain this by the specific natural characteristics of this area. Interestingly, a very similar legend is associated with the famous bishop Gregory of Nin who allegedly also cast a curse on the snakes after falling off a horse.
A sad story about the town of Bogočin and the dragon that kidnapped the belle
One of the most famous legends of the Šibenik area is the one about Bogočin or Vilin grad (Fairy Town), although, interestingly, fairies do not appear at all in this story. In ancient times, a wealthy prince Bogoje lived in this area and had a son named Bogdan. The story says that the father prepared a lavish wedding for his only child and his chosen one Miljeva, and in the town of Bogočin he built a mansion for the newlyweds. However, what began as a joyous event turned into a great tragedy.
Namely, while the merry wedding procession was moving towards Bogočin, a winged dragon descended from the sky, abducted the beautiful Miljeva and dragged her into the depths of the nearby lake Brljan. In an attempt to save his chosen one, young Bogdan jumped into the lake, but he never emerged. Overwhelmed with grief, his father Bogoje destroyed the walls of Bogočin (which the people also called Fairy Town), and built the Aranđelovac Monastery by the Krka River, where monks prayed for the souls of the unfortunate lovers. It is okay to admit that you cried a little bit after reading this.
How the beauty of Croatian islands brought unrest among the Greek gods
We all know that Croatian islands are beautiful, but you may not know that their beauty estranged the Greek gods. In ancient times, the gods argued over which island was the most beautiful: Mljet, Korčula or Lastovo. The debate went on and on, and then Zeus (or Poseidon, depending on the version of the legend) decided to put an end to everything and send his envoy to make a final verdict on the spot. The envoy emerged from the sea right between the islands of Lastovo, Korčula and Mljet and accepted his assessment task.
However, no matter how much he thought, weighed, and judged, he too was not able to decide which of the three islands should carry the flattering title. The envoy’s indecision ultimately angered the Greek gods so much that they decided to punish him by turning him to stone on the spot! More precisely, they created a new island out of him, the islet of Glavat which stands there to this day, right between the islands of Mljet, Korčula and Lastovo. And still today, no one can say for sure which of the three islands is the most beautiful one.
Odysseus’s seven unfaithful years on Mljet Island
Another old legend is associated with the Croatian Adriatic whose main role is played by the celebrated ancient Greek hero Odysseus. 3,000 years ago, Odysseus experienced a great storm on one of his legendary voyages, which destroyed his ship near the island of Mljet. The famous shipwreck ended up on a beautiful Adriatic island then ruled by the nymph Calypso.
Although he longed for his wife Penelope, Odysseus could not resist the charms of the enchanting nymph that detained him as her lover for seven years, promising him immortality if he married her. Perhaps this would have happened in the end, had it not been for the intervention of the supreme god Zeus who ordered the nymph to set Odysseus free. The Greek hero built a raft and headed for his native Ithaca, and Calypso never got over his departure and died devastated by grief.
Thanks to this legend, the picturesque cave on the south side of the island was named Odysseus Cave, and today it is also known for the fact that it was inhabited by the Mediterranean monk seal.
The curse of the island of Lokrum
We will end this small selection of legends with a similar tone with which we started – another eerie story, but this time from the far south of the Adriatic. The island of Lokrum near Dubrovnik enchanted many of us with its heavenly beauty, but people have long believed that it is haunted!
The story begins in the 11th century when a large fire broke out in Dubrovnik. The terrified inhabitants prayed to St. Benedict, promising him that they would build a monastery in his honour if he protected the city from fire. After the fire ceased, the citizens fulfilled their promise and built a Benedictine monastery and a church on the neighbouring island of Lokrum where the Benedictines settled. However, legend has it that the Benedictines were later expelled from Lokrum Island by the French army who intended to build a defensive fortress there. Of course, the monks did not accept that so easily.
The night before their departure, they put hoods on their heads, lit candles, turned them upside down and marched around the island three times in a procession, casting a curse on all future owners of Lokrum Island who would use it for their own pleasure and enjoyment. The curse can supposedly be lifted only if all the hardened wax that leaked from the monks’ candles is collected, which is, we can safely say, a completely impossible mission. Of course, the story of the curse is attributed to popular superstition, but it is interesting that even today many Dubrovnik residents will tell you that one should visit the island of Lokrum only during the day and that it is not safe to spend the night there because of dark forces. Sweet dreams! 😉