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Ugljan - the Olive Island

Updated: Feb 19, 2019

Ugljan is known as the Olive Island. It seems its very name suggests so. In the ancient times, the island was known as Olio – meaning oil (who would guess that?!) and in time it changed in Ulian/Uljan (ulje is also the word for oil in Croatian). By some unusual logic of old Croats, the letter „g“ is added and now we can enjoy the Mediterranean beauty of island of Ugljan, which is full of olive groves and small fields. A very green island, Ugljan is also known as the Zadar's garden. It is situated right across the town of Zadar and has many ferry lines to the place of Preko (literally, the name means „across“). Since the ancient times, this island was a getaway for the nobility and the rich. Still today, between the fields and hills, one remembers the names of medieval Zadar's noble families of Califfi, De Ponte, Bartolazzi, Benja. These names echo through the olive groves, where the tradition of olive oil making is old as the civilisation itself.

One should only go to Muline, a hamlet on the very northern top of the island, and see the replica of the oil mill for processing the famous Liburnian olive oil. The replica is made according to the remains of the ancient oil mill from the first century, the evidence of two millennia of olive-growing and production of olive oil on the island. In Muline, they used the method of storing the olives in the sea until it was time to process them. This protected the olives from rotting and decay, but it also represented a new method of oil production. The young olive oil had a more pleasant taste and it was known in the Roman Empire as the Oleum Liburnicum, as the Roman writer Apicius in the 4th century wrote. Muline was the biggest known ancient Roman operation of olive oil production in Croatia. It had five installed presses with an estimated seasonal production of 85 thousand litre od olive oil. Around 3,240 amphoras (each with a capacity of 26 litres) were used for transport of this oil across the empire. The place was continually inhabited afterwards, as evidenced by the ruins of the Church of St. John from the V. century.

The fortress of St. Mihovil (Michael) dominates the island and offers unforgettable views of the vast Zadar archipelago. In the past it was strategically important watch-tower for Zadar's defence from the sea attacks. Within the fortress, in its early days, dwelt also the Benedictine monks. The monks had their fields on the island and on the nearby island of Iž and thus contributed to the continuity of the Mediterranean agriculture on Ugljan. Another interesting idea for walking or cycling round the island is to visit numerous small churches and chapels, including the medieval sights such as the aforementioned Church of St. John, then Church of St. Cosma and Damian, Church of St. Hippolytus, Church of St. Peter, etc.

Today, the Benedictine presence on the island is only history, but there are two important Franciscan monasteries. The St. Jerome's Monastery in the place of Ugljan is known for spiritual exercises of the Franciscan sisters. It is stunningly beautiful monastery situated on the Mostir sand beach and built in 1430. There is a gothic church inside the complex and centuries old halls. The monastery is surrounded by the pine woods and one can only feel close to God on this place of natural beauty. Another Franciscan monastery is of St. Paul's the Hermit. This is also a very special and beautiful place situated on the islet of Galevac, only 85 metres away from Preko. In midst of pine woods is a monastery and church from the 15th century, but the locals use the beaches on the islet for summer leisure. The most stunning thing here is the fundus of the library, pictures and items in the monastery's museum. You don't swim to the island, you row. In other words, you just phone or yell to the other side and there comes a man rowing a typical Dalmatian boat.

Ugljan is not famous only for its olive oil. Fishery has been a traditional job on the island for generations. The old fishing localities are Kukljica, Kali, Preko, Ugljan, Lukoran, Poljana and Sutomišćica, but Kali is most famous for its fishermen who fish tuna all over the world. In the vicinity of Kali there are no good fishing places, so they started to sail to the open sea. Kali fishermen specialised for tuna fishing, using first tunara, special fishers' nets, and then more modern equipment. Their methods became known all across the Adriatic, Mediterranean, and especially in the Pacific. Most of the catch went for the Zadar's famous fish factory Adrija, but today Kali fishing industry is oriented to the Japanese market. To commemorate the history of such a tradition, every year the place gathers for the Kali fishermen nights (Kualjske ribarske noći). Even today you can wonder the various boats in two small ports in Kali.

As many men from the island went to work as seamen, women were the cornerstone of the island's development. They cared for the olives and children, and used to give services to the rich and noble families in Zadar. Many of them washed the clothes and decorations for the Zadar's inhabitants. Laundrywomen (Pralja, Lavandijere) sailed from Preko to Zadar, collected laundry, came back to Preko, and washed it in special pots (kabao, maštil) with homemade soap and ash. Then, they rowed back to Zadar and returned the clean and ironed clothes to their owners. A great tragedy struck the island on November 2, 1891, when hard southern wind struck the boat and sixteen laundrywomen lost their lives. Their names and monument dedicated to this hard work can be seen in the centre of Preko. The oldest was 75, the youngest 14, and two women were pregnant. This tragedy is still vividly present in the minds of islanders.

The gentle hands of these women also cherished the old culinary traditions on Ugljan. Often simple meals were sign of the islands' poverty. Grannies used to cook in the old kitchens and made stews and sauces using potatoes, onions, tomatoes, other vegetables from the garden, and olive oil. Very few could eat meat. The meals were cooked in a special pot (lopiž) on fire; adults were eating from the table, but numerous kids used to sit on home's steps. Food was constantly kept under lock, as most children were hungrier than fed. There were no particular sweets except beautiful apples and tangerines that we saw all around the island. But on festive days, people used to enjoy fig cake, homemade fritters (frite) and sweet biscuits.

This olive oil island, known also for rosemary, bay leaves, capers, fennel, sage, basil, is ideal place to feel the Mediterranean nature and indulge into healthy diet. Its cultivated olive groves, nice little bays and beautiful beaches, feeling of history and villa rusticcas, and interesting culinary tradition is very easily reachable from Zadar, using ferries throughout the day.

Our trip to Ugljan and accommodation was kindly provided by the Tourist Board of Ugljan

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