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Baljenac: the croatian Island in the shape of a fingerprint

3 min read

Ancient city walls, beautiful waterfalls, amphitheaters for gladiator fights, moon-like islands and lagoons…and all can be found in Croatia!
The country has in fact numerous natural and historic treasures known on an international scale, but it’s also worth visiting some of the lesser known attractions, including the islet Baljenac (or Bavljenac), also known as the fingerprint island.

It is a small island in the Adriatic Sea located just off the coast of Croatia on the Šibenik archipelago, the oldest town founded by Croatians on the Adriatic.
It is covered by a series of dry-stone walls, called suhozid in Croatian, that make it look like a giant human fingerprint when seen from above, also thanks to its oval shape and long rows of stones similar to papillary lines.

You’d think it was an ancient labyrinth, if not for the fact that the walls are only about waist high and designed solely to make agriculture easier in an otherwise inhospitable place.
In fact, the rocky terrain and strong winds aren’t exactly ideal for cultivation, so the inhabitants of the nearby island of Kaprije built these stone walls to separate their crops and offer them some protection.
It’s an innovative technique used in other parts of Europe, like England or Ireland, but nowhere else do these walls imitate the pattern of a fingerprint as they do on Baljenac Island.
Baljenac is right next to Šibenik’s Kaprije island, and the inhabitants of Kaprije used the island as sort of an agricultural area. They cleared the harsh vegetation on Baljenac and built the stone walls with their bare hands, all in order to have vineyards and groves where they could plant figs and other fruit.
Their hard work paid off, as the dry stone structures remain intact till this day.

Interestingly, the uninhabited island has a surface of only 0.14 square kilometers but features 23 kilometers of walls created simply by piling rocks on top of each other.
The same type of walls are used on Kaprije and Zut, but Baljenac has by far the highest concentration by surface area.
Most of the stone wall network is believed to have been erected during the 19th century, but both Baljenac and Kaprije served as safe havens for Christians during the Ottoman conquests of the 16th and 17th centuries, so some parts of the wall could be even older.
Ever since aerial photos of Baljenac started spreading on the internet, the popularity of the island has grown considerably as has tourist presence in the area, and the Croatian government has requested that UNESCO include this island in its list of world heritage sites.
Today, in fact, the hand-built dry stone walls are protected and serve as a reminder of the times when people had to use their physical strength and resilient spirit to survive and find ways to cultivate their crops.
It was exactly that hard work that enabled them to survive on the harsh, yet beautiful karst landscape of the Adriatic coast.

Images from web – Google Research

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