Makarska Riviera history

Makarska Heritage

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The Story of Makarska


The town of Makarska is situated in a natural harbour at the foot of the steep Biokovo mountain range. It is the administrative, commercial and cultural centre of the entire region that spans the area from the village of Brela to the village of Baćina and bears the name “Makarska Riviera”. The entire area is bound by a shared history. Archaeological finds prove that humans have inhabited the greater Makarska area since the Neolithic era, and antique elements can be found in various parts of the town. The national character of the region developed in the 7th century with the arrival of Croats, while later periods were characterised by the rule of conquering forces, notably the Ottomans, the Venetian Republic and the Habsburg dynasty. The tumultuous history has left traces on the appearance of the town and its entire cultural heritage.
The turbulent period of Ottoman rule is reflected in the remnants of towers and various words and phrases still used by the locals. During the more peaceful Venetian period, the town built its Baroque-style centre, the main square, and the most beautiful churches and palaces. The Austrians, on the other hand, greatly influenced the local monetary system, literature, fashion and general way of life, steering Makarska towards the West-European cultural sphere. The short-lived French rule left its mark on the town in the form of monuments, ethnographic and music heritage, and especially the road system, whose construction had a great impact on the life of the entire region.

Before arriving in Makarska, Napoleon’s general Tempet spent some time on the island of Korčula. As he loved folk songs and dances, he taught the people of Makarska how to dance the “pritilica”, a folk dance he learned on Korčula. The townspeople embraced it right away and it is now considered an old dance from Makarska. It was also called “tempet”, which was later adopted by the folk ensemble that performs the original dance and song, as their name.


The town’s favourable position influenced the events that took place in it throughout history. It is the reason why even today visitors and tourists can tour various other tourist, religious and cultural destinations in the vicinity in a short amount of time, both by land and sea. This includes Split, Dubrovnik, Međugorje, the picturesque Dalmatian hinterland, the beautiful islands of Hvar and Brač, as well as other places in the Makarska Riviera that have plenty of natural and historical attractions. One of the benefits of Makarska’s position is that Biokovo mountain can be explored by hiking and bike trails. Its highest peak, the 1,762-metre-high Sv. Jure, can be reached by car, and offers incredible views of the Dalmatian islands and open sea. Makarska is situated in a cove formed by the Sv. Petar and Osejava peninsulas.


The most interesting sights that tell stories about the history of the town are just a short and pleasant walk away.
The Sv. Petar peninsula shows visible traces of a prehistoric structure, as well as Late Antique and Venetian architecture. The Church of St. Peter has been restored to its 15th-century form, which was built on the foundations of a 6th-century church.
On the opposite side of the Makarska harbour lies the Franciscan monastery of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Its construction began in 1502, and over the centuries, it was expanded with a new church, cloister and bell tower. The monastery holds valuable artworks, documents and church furniture. There is a traditional tombstone (stećak in Croatian) in front of the old church dating back to the 14th or 15th century, which depicts young people dancing.
The well-known Malacological Museum, which occupies the basement of the monastery, holds seashells from all over the world, including the Adriatic. It has over 3,000 seashells, some giant, some less than a centimetre long.

One of the seashells, which can usually reach an impressive size and can be found all over the world, grows only a few centimetres long in the Adriatic. Its Latin name is Haliotis lamellosa, but it is more commonly known as “St Peter’s ear” in Croatia (uho svetog Petra) because of its shape that resembles a human ear. This is the ormer clam, which is said to bring good luck to those who carry it with them. It is perforated near its folded edge and has a pearly shine on the inside. Makarska – a town situated in a cove that resembles a seashell, with a peninsula named after St. Peter, just like the seashell used as a lucky charm, welcomes its visitors and wishes them a comfortable and pleasant stay, hoping to see them again someday.

The main square is the heart of any city and town. Makarska’s main square is dedicated to the famous Croatian poet Andrija Kačić Miošić, whose statue, made by sculptor Ivan Rendić, dominates the square.

The poet’s statue was erected in 1890 as part of a movement to promote national consciousness, when the Croatian people launched various initiatives to celebrate historical events and people who contributed to Croatia’s culture and past. The costs were covered by contributions from people across the country. On the day of the reveal, people were pouring into Makarska to witness the important event. One culturally significant piece of the monument was a mosaic in the shape of a traditional woven carpet that depicted the coats of arms of all the lands that Kačić mentioned in his book of history called “Pismarica”. The collection of coats of arms posed problems for the central government in Vienna, which saw it as an expression of the desire to unite the Croatian lands, and consequently banned it. The monument was therefore erected incomplete, which angered the artist, who decided not to attend the reveal. Fortunately, the mosaic was preserved and returned to its rightful place in 1922.

The construction of the Parish Church of St. Mark with its bell tower began under the direction of Bishop Bjanković from Makarska in 1700. It has a treasury full of different objects, including votive jewellery made from silver, dating from the 18th and 19th centuries.

Pious Christian people showed their deep and honest devotion in many different ways, including material sacrifice, which entails gifting various votive objects. Votive offerings served as tokens of gratitude for help from God or a form of request for protection from the heavens during difficult times. Silver votive plates kept in churches across Croatia, including Makarska, were made to order by goldsmiths, and their decorations reveal the specific type of help being sought. They were mainly pleas for recovery from illness, so they oftentimes depicted different body parts or organs afflicted – a tooth, a leg, an arm, the chest, heart, etc. In addition to praying for their family’s health, believers would often pray for the well-being of the livestock that sustained them, so many of the silver plates depict donkeys, horses, goats, etc…

In 1775, a public fountain was built to the south-east of the Church of St. Mark. It was designed by Ioseppo Bisazzio, and is still used for refreshment on hot summer days. One of its specificities is a coat of arms carved on the right-hand side, which has been used as an official symbol of Makarska to this day.
The period of Venetian rule left another trace behind – a stone pillar that carries the flag, called markovac or štandarac. It is decorated with the image of a Venetian lion with an open book in its paw, which means that the monument was built during a time of peace.
There are various elements of Baroque architecture strewn around Kačić Square, especially along the Kalalarga or “wide street”, including doorways, balconies, ornate coats of arms made of stone, and windows. The original layout of the main square and surrounding streets has been preserved to this day.
The north side of the square is occupied by the old school, which was built during Bishop Blašković. It now houses the Town Gallery, Town Library, publishing offices of the town newspaper Makarsko primorje, Music School, and offices of the Radio Makarska rivijera radio station.
The gallery is named after a famous painter from Makarska, Antun Gojak, whose paintings and drawings were donated and now form a central part of the gallery’s holdings.
On the nearby smaller square, Lištun, a family by the name of Ivanišević constructed their Baroque palace. Its outer appearance speaks to the tastes and wealth of the local nobility, and it represents the most beautiful piece of civic architecture in town.
If you continue walking towards the large town beach, you will pass by another palace, the Tonoli House. It was built by a Venetian physician by the name of Tonoli in late 18th century as a place where he and his family could relax away from the hustle and bustle of the centre of town. It is now home to the Makarska Town Museum and office of the Makarska Tourist Board.
The Makarska Town Museum has archaeological, numismatic, cultural and historical, ethnological and documentary collections, as well as an extensive library and archives, which cover the entire history of the town..
The Church of St. Philip Neri also dates to the late Baroque period. It was built right by the sea as part of a monastery of the Oratory of Saint Philip Neri. The tomb of Bishop Stjepan Blašković is located next to the main altar. The monastic order was dissolved in early 19th century, during the French rule.
The monument to Napoleon or Marmont at the western entrance of the town is a remnant of the short-lived French rule..
The Marian shrine of Vepric is located only a kilometre away, right next to the Adriatic Highway. It was founded by Bishop Juraj Carić in 1909, and one of its most distinct features is the altar placed in a naturally occurring cave, which makes it an open-air church, visited by many pilgrims each year. The entire shrine is enclosed in a beautiful park that includes the Chapel of St. Anthony, the Chapel of Our Lady, and a memorial to the fallen in World War I.
Makarska has many modern monuments as well, celebrating various notable people and groups. This includes monuments to the first Croatian president, Franjo Tuđman, “Father of the Homeland” Ante Starčević, don Mihovil Pavlinović, a priest and leader of the Croatian National Revival, a memorial to the fallen in World War II, a memorial to those who fought in the Croatian Homeland War, a monument to the actors’ troupe “Histrion”, and even two monuments dedicated to tourists.
The town’s surrounding villages also have a whole host of historical, natural and cultural attractions.
The village of Veliko Brdo is known for the Bubnjevača cave and its fragments of impresso ceramics from the Neolithic Era, which are the earliest traces of human life in the area. There is also the Church of St. Michael and the Church of St. Jerome, which have kept altar paintings, church furniture and various other objects dating from the 17th–19th centuries..
The village of Makar is a well-known archaeological site from the prehistoric era, which has tumuli and fragments of pottery mostly from the Bronze Age. The Church of St. John is notable for its plaque inscribed with the date of construction in Croatian, dating from 1612. The inscription ends with verses that represent the earliest piece of literature written in Croatian in the area of Makarska.
The area of Kotišina is known for numerous cultural and historical monuments, as well as the Botanical Gardens. The Church of St. Andrew was built on top of an ancient fort. Ruins of the Church of St. Martin showcase Romanesque-style features, surrounded by a medieval cemetery with tombstones from the 14th or 15th century. The birth home of Petar Perica, a priest from Makarska who was shot in World War II, was turned into a memorial collection. Veliki kaštel and Mali kaštel are remnants of forts from the 17th century, located at the foot of Biokovo. The Kotišina Botanical Gardens on Biokovo mountain were founded by friar Jure Radić in 1984. The gardens contain over 300 plant species from the wider Biokovo area.


Due to its natural attractions, Biokovo became a nature park in 1981. In addition to the mountain itself, it also covers parts of Veliko Brdo, Makar and Kotišina. Biokovo Nature Park is a unique area encompassing various karst phenomena – rock formations (sinkholes, solution pans, caves, pits, etc.), prehistoric tumuli, subterranean rivers, and many endemic plants (such as the silvery dwarf harebell, Edraianthus pumilio) and rare animal species (mouflon, chamois, golden eagle, etc.).
At a time when cattle farming was one of the main sources of income for the local population, the cattle would be led to pasture to the colder Biokovo plains in the summer months. Because the people would stay on Biokovo mountain for several months at a time, they would build special stone edifices – stanovi for human occupation and torovi for the livestock. Fertile sinkholes called doci were used for cultivating various grains and plants, and the crop (intrada) was transported on donkeys to their homes on the coast. The remnants of the stone structures on the slopes of Biokovo are a special kind of monuments that speak to an older, simpler way of life.

Makarska Littoral

The entire area of the Makarska Riviera is interconnected in the administrative, historical and cultural sense. It is bounded by two naturally occurring gems – the Vruja cove to the west and the Baćina Lakes to the east. Villages are situated along the coast and its beautiful sandy beaches. Before the great earthquake of 1962, locals lived in old settlements at the foot of Biokovo mountain. Many of them have survived and serve as examples of a traditional folk architecture typical of Dalmatia (solari, volti, komini, fumari, etc.). A distinct characteristic of the entire area is a large number of churches and chapels, built predominantly in the 17th and 18th centuries. There are also many examples of traditional tombstones of the stećak type and gravestones dating from the 14th–16th centuries, which are decorated with plant and figurative motifs. Notable examples include the Church of St. Michael in the village of Igrane and the Church of St. John in the village of Podaca, dating back to the 11th century, which have preserved their medieval elements.

Various remnants of antique architecture and pottery can be found all along the Makarska Riviera, while the bottom of the sea is filled with ancient shipwrecks, destroyed by the raging seas and Dalmatian bora winds. Archaeological finds consist mainly of amphorae, which often get caught in fishermen’s nets. The Jakiruša cove around the village of Brela is a rich archaeological site with antique and Hellenistic dishware. The most beautiful and by far the famous piece of art from antiquity is an epigram carved into the rock face at a beach in the village of Živogošće. It was commissioned by a Roman nobleman named Licinius in the late 5th century. The verses are an ode to water as a source of life, and celebrate the marital happiness of Licinius and his wife, Pelagia.
A little further from the rock with the epigram is the Franciscan monastery of the Holy Cross with a bell tower. It is decorated in a simplified Baroque style typical of Dalmatia in the 18th century.
The Franciscan monastery of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is located in the village of Zaostrog, right next to the sea. It was built in the 15th and 16th centuries, and it is widely known for its extensive library, archives, ethnological collection, as well as a rich collection of sculptures and paintings.
Visitors to the area have several museums and collections to choose from. The archaeological collection in Baška Voda consists of objects found at an important site called Gradina, where life developed from prehistoric times to the arrival of Croats in the region. The Museum at Gradac has several collections on display that are related to the history of the northern part of the Makarska Riviera, including a collection of objects that belonged to sea captains and musical instruments, archaeological and ethnographic collections. Extensive ethnographic collections speak to the life that went on in the region a hundred or so years ago, and they can be seen in the villages of Tučepi and Podgora. There is also a whole host of private collections that enrich the living and working spaces of people who celebrate their heritage and traditions.


Tradition is also reflected in a range of dishes specific to the Makarska Riviera. Olive-growing, wine-making and fishing were the basic means of survival and part of everyday life of the Croatian people since ancient times. The environment and a favourable climate enabled them to produce high-quality olive oil, wines, Prošek wines, grape brandy (lozovača) and brandy made with aromatic herbs (travarica). The Croatian coastal areas have always been known for growing carob, figs, pomegranates, lemons, oranges, mandarin oranges, sour cherries, various vegetables, medicinal plants and herbs. A wealth of natural resources, together with historical influences from various parts of the world, led to the development of a unique type of Mediterranean cuisine on the Makarska Riviera. Grilled fish, meat “under the bell” (ispod peke), salted European pilchards, prosciutto, dried figs, the stewed beef dish pašticada with gnocchi, and home-made makaruni pasta are some of the most well-known specialities of the area. There is also a delicious dessert that everyone should try, the Makarana cake, named after the town where it was created.

MAKARANA CAKE – recipe by Croatian gastronomy expert and author Veljko Barbieri
Ingredients for the dough: 400 g of flour, 200 g of butter, 3 eggs, grated lemon zest, a touch of Maraschino liqueur, 2 table spoons of sugar
Ingredients for the cream: 1 kg of almonds, 1 kg of crystal sugar, 1 vanilla sugar, 15 eggs, grated lemon zest, grated orange zest, 2–3 small glasses of Maraschino liqueur
Make a soft dough using the ingredients above. Roll it out into a circle big enough to cover the bottom and sides of the cake mould. Cover the mould with grease and flour, spread the dough on the bottom and along the sides, and slowly fill with the cream. Cut off the extra dough that is sticking out of the mould, and roll it out into thin strips that should be laid out into a lattice across the top of the cake. Bake in a preheated oven at 175 to 200°C for 45 minutes. Cream: roast and grind 1 kg of peeled almonds. Mix the sugar, vanilla sugar and eggs using a mixer, slowly adding the almonds, grated lemon zest and orange zest, and Maraschino liqueur.

In order for Makarska to retain its way of life, tradition must be preserved, but in combination with modern achievements in every segment of living. This usually falls to the a capella choirs called klapa, singing and acting groups, sports clubs (football, handball, rugby, rowing, water polo, sailing, etc.) and associations (hiking, fishing, diving, astronomy, folklore, photography, ship modellers, etc.), and the Society for the Preservation of Cultural and Natural Heritage (Društvo za očuvanje kulturne i prirodne baštine).
Various associations also organise sports and entertainment events and contests, such as masquerades, Kalalarga Nights (Noći Kalalarge), klapa singing festivals, Fishermen’s Nights (Ribarske večeri), and a unique – now traditional – football match between the “Fat” (Debeli) and “Thin” (Mršavi) teams. To preserve the collective memory of life as it once was, there are various competitions in traditional games and sports, such as praćkanje or slinging, a stone-throwing game called plokanje, the street race guranje kola od barila in makeshift wagons, and briškula and trešeta card games.
All of these public festivities can be traced back to celebrations of patron saints from a long time ago. These events, called derneci or fijere, were places where people would trade goods, have fun and fall in love. Large fairs were a great opportunity to buy and sell products, get to know each other, and relax and recover from hard labour.
People would come to the fairs by land and sea from far away in order to visit religious pilgrimage sites, which have survived to this day – St. Anthony in Tučepi (13th June), St. Vicenzo in Podgora (the first Sunday after the Assumption of Mary holiday), the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Vepric (7th September), St. Stephen in Brela (3th August) and St. Michael in Gradac (29th September). A widely known fair was held in Makarska every year on 10th August, celebrating St Lawrence. As a more contemporary version of the fair, Makarska now holds a summer carnival at the beginning of August, where people flock to from all over Croatia and other parts of the world. Makarska’s patron saint is St. Clement, celebrated on 23th November. Veliko Brdo, a small village in the vicinity of the town, celebrates its patron saint, St. Jerome, on 30th September. In addition to the Eucharistic celebration, the day is also spent enjoying public festivities, and locals treat their guests with the pašticada stew and homemade makaruni pasta.

HOMEMADE PAŠTICADA STEW – recipe by Sanja Bašković
Take a cut of beef round and marinate it in vinegar for 24 hours. Then fill it with bacon, garlic, carrots and cloves. Fry red onions on some lard until they become yellow. Then add the following ingredients: beef stock, red wine, cloves, salt, pepper, Vegeta seasoning mix, tomato paste, prunes, butter, grated cheese, and the stuffed beef round. Cook over a low fire for five to six hours. Purée the sauce, and cut the meat into steaks. Serve with homemade makaruni pasta.

Klapa choirs and folklore ensembles are keepers of musical and dance heritage, as well as traditional folk costumes, which are a well-known symbol of the area.

Makarska is the only place in the Makarska Riviera to have reached town status as early as the 18th century. This enabled the locals to adopt clothing styles typical of the fashions in larger urban centres, which was influenced by foreign dignitaries and their wives, fashion journals, high-end stores and transport connections. However, it was a slow process and not many people could partake. Most of the people on the coastline wore folk costumes until well into the 20th century. Men would travel to foreign countries in search of profits, and adopt new fashions, while women’s attire resisted change for a much longer time. Both men’s and women’s folk costumes are characterised by many layers and an ornate style. The clothes were layered for practical reasons, as individual pieces could be removed or added, depending on the season or occasion. Diverse pieces of expensive jewellery, especially women’s, are one of the most important aspects of folk costumes from the Makarska Riviera. The costumes were richly adorned and ornate because they served as an investment and insurance for the future at a time of hunger and poverty. The people learned from past experiences, as they often had to flee war, destruction and natural disasters, leaving their homes and possessions behind. Therefore, it was a common-sense decision to invest in jewellery, which was small and easy to hide, carry around and sold if need be.


This story of Makarska is just a short overview of some of the things visitors can see and do in our town. The more valuable moments are those impossible to predict – unexpected events and natural phenomena such as almonds in bloom, magnificent sunsets, the discovery of secluded beaches and mountain plains, new friendships and romances...

One klapa song says it best: Makarska je pravi raj / lipa je ka Jadran plavi / kad u zoru sunca sjaj / iznad Biokova se javi. (Makarska is a paradise, / as beautiful as the Adriatic Sea / at the hour of sunrise, / when above Biokovo, the sun appears.)
In line with these beautiful verses, a statue of St. Peter was recently erected on the peninsula that bears his name. St. Peter is holding the key to the heavenly gates, greeting passengers arriving in Makarska port.

Ana Kunac, Makarska Town Museum, 3 June 2009.