Updated: Feb 19, 2019
The summer morning in Brinje reminds on the glory of the pastimes. The centre of the town is lightly filling with cars and passers-by, although today's four thousand residents throughout the municipality are just a modest reminder of the former 16,000 residents. How can we not remember the old times when Brinje is located beneath Sokolac, the old fortresses of the Frankopan family. We went to the fortress led by the director of the Brinje Tourist Board Danijela Dasović Vranić. Passing the trail from the centre of Brinje to the hilltop, where there are remains of the fortress, we notice a number of fruit trees whose fruits Lika people transform into beautiful jams and appealing brandy - rakija.
The sheep are waiting us around the fort. They gaze the grass around Sokolac, just as centuries ago their ancestors did, who mostly finished on a baking spit or were kept to produce excellent milk used to produce homemade Lika cheese. Through the centuries-old stone doors, they are curiously looking at us and then flee to the grassy slopes overlooking the other hills where an Illyrian Iapodi tribe once lived. The summer heat disappears as soon as we enter the fort, where there is a permanent exhibition entitled "Noble City of Sokolac", which offers visitors information about Sokolac and the role of the Krk noblemen Frankopan in Croatian history.
Sokolac, a magnificent building on the hilltop above Brinje, was built at the beginning of the 15th century by the Frankopan family, under whose walls developed the settlement of Brinje. At that time, Sokolac was the centre of political, economic and cultural life, the hub of exceptional historical figures, such as the King of Sigismund of Luxembourg and Danish King Erich VII. Because of the invasion of the Turkish army, the Frankopans gave up the possession to the king who places the military crew in it as the first defence line from the Turks. Although Brinje was attacked several times, it was never won. After the successful defence and the abolition of the Military Border (Vojna Krajina), the fortification has slowly collapsed, and to this day only that remains is the preserved entrance tower and the two-storey chapel of St. Trinity, one of the most beautiful late-gothic sacral monuments in Croatia.
In the chapel, the central space occupies an octagonal ship on which one side continues the shrine of the chapel, and on the other hand, the same size, the space dedicated to Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows. In the 17th century chapel was erected on the new manique altars in which the Gothic statues of Madonna with the child Jesus and Pieta were assembled from the beginning of the 15th century. On the Gothic vaults in the crypt and on the floor, in stone, coats of Frankopan and Gorjanski families are embossed. The beautiful interior of the chapel revives every year for the feast of St. Trinity, as well as for weddings that can be booked in the parish office.
From the fortress there is a beautiful view of the entire Brinje, especially the church of the Assumption of Blessed Virgin Mary. In the middle of summer, in August, a large number of Lika people gather in Brinje for the festival of Assumption of the Virgin Mary. It is customary to glorify Our Lady in Brinje in the morning and then to take a pilgrim path to Velebit, in Krasno, where one of the largest Croatian Marian shrines is located. The church is surrounded by a nice square with a monument to the reverend Marko Mesić, the liberator of Lika from the Turks. In this oldest part of Brinje stands the bridge from 1800 that crosses the small brook Gata. There is also a monument to the Brinje Miners. During the 19th and 20th centuries they earned their livelihoods in the construction of roads and tunnels around the world. There were specially known as good miners, people who drilled holes in the stone with the heavy tools, thereby allowing mines to be deposited and rock to be crushed.
Next to the bridge over Gata is the Čarobnjakov šešir shop, where Jasna Jelić is waiting for us. We looked inside to see what was hiding in it and discovered a series of souvenirs from Brinje and Lika. In particular, we were impressed by the model of Sokolac as it was in the past and by the local hero of Marko Mesić, as well as glass bottle for brandy. They can be found in every household, commonly on the table as a welcome to every guest. The most famous rakija in Lika is, of course, plum brandy (šljivovica), so plum motives prevail. Here are also various other beautiful souvenirs that will remind you of the undoubtedly rich experience in Brinje.
Namely, Brinje has a long history and tradition. We saw a fraction of this in the Brinje Municipal Peoples' Heritage Collection. This ethno-museum shows how one lived not so long in the Lika household. Under the expert guidance of Ms. Jadranka Vučetić we visit several rooms where items are collected by locals. The carefully decorated kitchen could remind us of the childhood and the pots of our grandmothers, and the detail on the wall reveals to us the somewhat forgotten industrial heritage of Brinje. Although the whole Lika is a wooden area, many places have had various other industries besides saw mills. In Brinje was the Likos manufactory producing the razor blades, which really became a domestic brand, but unfortunately it was closed in the eighties. You can also find the shaving accessories with a razor blade made in Likos. Today, this name survives in the local musical band.
Members of many homeland clubs and expats have sent items from the late 19th century to the seventies of the 20th century to Brinje. As soon as one comes inside, one notices the traditional folk costume, with a well-known Lika cap, which our Vedran put instantly on his head because his family also originates from the Lika region. Hemp, sheep and sheep wool prevailed in clothes that was weaved on the loom, exposed in the collection. In addition, there were table cloths, towels, plant covers and various ornaments. Men made wood and metal items, especially those that could be sold. Apart from these things, the collection also keeps various interior, furniture, chests, furnaces, pistols and sewing machines.
Mrs. Vučetić is also a member of KUD Brinje, which cares for preserving the heritage of this region through song, dance and customs. Their twenty-two members are well-known throughout Croatia by their dances and songs, of which the local song "Brinje moje" is highlighted. Ojkan, along with other forms of Dinaric singing, is the oldest type of singing in Croatia, the rest of the ancient Balkan singing adopted and preserved by Croats and is found in the UNESCO list of endangered non-material world heritage.
There is no doubt that every household will welcome their guests with šljivovica, just as we were welcomed at Dasović House. The parents of the Tourist Board director privately received us only for us to pay homage to their own šljivovica, made for home use. In addition to the rich orchard, the family cares for few sheep. In Brinje once every house had several cows and countless sheep. Cows have unfortunately disappeared today from pasturelands, but sheep can still be seen although in a much smaller number.
Brinje also offers a number of attractions and activities in its surroundings. You can peek at Siničić Cave, located on the 18.5km long Brinje ring hiking trail, passing through the ridge of Mount Škamnica, the most beloved mountain of Brinje inhabitants. You can also rent a bike through the state-of-the-art Next Bike bikes, and drive across the entire municipality on two wheels. In this way you can get to know the historical churches of Jezerane and Križpolje, as well as the beautiful meadows of Stajnica, Lipice, Glibodol, Križ Kamenica, Vodoteč, Letinac, Prokike and other settlements.
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