Updated: Jan 7
The late spring sun scorched us well after the rain. We feel a whiff of summer as Ina Kolega, director of the Tourist Board of the Municipality of Kali and myself climb through the olive groves and the Way of the Cross to the lookout point from which a beautiful view spreads over the town of Kali, on the island of Ugljan. Near Zadar, Ugljan is known as the island of olives, but Kali is known for its fishing, written in the genes of Kali people.
Not only is the hilly area around the place, but Kali itself is built on a hill. The passing through the winding streets introduces us to the Dalmatian island antiquity, with the traditional stone architecture that heightens over the bell tower of the parish church of St. Lawrence from the 18th century and the sacral heritage is upgraded by the late Gothic church of St. Pelegrinus from the XIV. century. The day of the patron saint of St. Lawrence is celebrated on August 10, which is marked by a solemn Mass and meals in the family circle. Long and narrow alleys criss-cross the town, with a thin strip of sea blue at their ends, and between the houses, there are gardens where tomatoes, potatoes and herbs are lovingly planted. And while the cats are watching the passers-by carefully, introducing who knows what kind of cat order to Kali, the houses smell of pots and fish that entice guests to think about the many secrets of home cooking.
The old town is called Siget and is located near the local church and Braski dvuor. The significance of the Braski dvuor site has been preserved in the local tradition (the locals gathered there on various occasions, especially on Sundays and other holidays). The Brotherhood House and the first school were also built there. We visit these monuments of past memory with Ina Kolega, who expertly explains to us every stone construction and the house of fishermen and captains.
A lot of tourists will come here, who spend their happy moments of rest in old houses turned into high-end apartments but compared to other places on the island of Ugljan, Kali does not have too many tourists. This is a place that exudes work, fishing and agriculture. However, this is where the island's tourism started, and Kali indebted the entire coast with some of its events. Namely, in 1968, journalists were the main ones in the planned development of Kali's fishing nights, the biggest tourist event of the place.
At that time, the whole town was covered with fishing nets and tools, the Zadar Channel passed the parade of fishing boats that at that time were the largest fishing fleet in Yugoslavia, and all this was faithfully recorded by the excellent photographer Ante Brkan in his Kali's motifs. Fishermen's nights are a prototype of all fishing festivals on the Adriatic, which is certainly a commendable reminder, but they are more than that: "guests are introduced to how old fishermen and their families lived, how the net is patched, knots are tied, Kali's fish stew is prepared or how the fish is salted", writes in her work the director of the Fisheries Local Action Group Plodovi mora (Seafood) Nina Mrkonja.
Read more: Kaljani - the best fishermen in the world
Around Siget, the coastal road connects Mul with the port of Batalaža, where fishing boats are anchored. It is Tuesday and many are on the line because for an unknown reason fisherman have a custom according to which they do not go to the sea on Tuesdays and Fridays. It is also an indicator of the way of life in Kali, where everything is subject to the moon's changes and going out to sea. A beautiful promenade along the waterfront attracts guests to several cafes, and the announcement of new restaurants will contribute to the tourist potential of Kali. All this, and much more, can be seen from the terrace of Apartment Franov, where our night was covered by the Tourist Board of the Municipality of Kali. With a glass of local wine, Zlatomir Franov tells us about the place and tourism, the themes come as if on a factory tape until everyone starts talking about their own at the same time, but that is the beauty of a Mediterranean man.
Once the smallest place on the island, marked by the cruelty of life on sparse land, it has thus become known as a place of great fishermen. Today, Kali is the largest town in Ugljan in terms of population. But don’t think that Kali is just a fishing village. The settlement is first mentioned in a document from 1283. People from Kali had about 500,000 vines in the vineyards of Ravn Kotari, from which they received about 100 wagons of wine a year. This was the case until World War II, after which the land gradually fell into disrepair. Almost the entire uninhabited area of Kali municipality is covered with centuries-old olive groves numbering about 180,000 trees. Over eighty per cent of the island of Ugljan is planted with olives, which is a fascinating monoculture that required a lot of manpower. Today, 1/3 of that is cultivated, and we climbed through the olive groves to enjoy the beautiful panorama of the place, the romantic island of Ošljak, and in the palm of our hand stand Zadar, Bibinje and Sukošan, above which rises the mighty stone crown of Velebit. In years of plenty, the olive crop yields up to 10 wagons of oil, and they are processed in Kali's oil mill, one of the largest on the Zadar islands.
In addition to agriculture, people from Kali since the 19th century began to engage in fishing more intensively. There are no rich fishing waters near the settlement itself, so Kali's fishermen fished, especially bluefish, in the Middle Channel and on the open sea of the northern Adriatic. They specialize in tuna fishing, primarily the so-called tuna nets, and from the second half of the 20th century with modern circular nets for sardines' fishing. They expanded and improved their methods throughout the Adriatic, and then the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, and especially in the Pacific (in the waters of Panama, Australia and New Zealand, America, but also in Micronesia). Today, there are three large companies and cooperatives in Kali. One is the Fishermen's Cooperative Omega 3, which since 2008 has gathered 24 cooperative members and their 32 boats and which is mostly engaged in catching bluefish, sardines, anchovies, mackerel and horse mackerel. In the neighbouring bay of Lamjana, the company Cromaris has its fish farms, which delights with its whitefish products, especially sea bass, sea bream and meagre. There is also Tuna Kali, which was opened in 1996 by Australians originating from Kali, and which is indispensable in systematic tuna fishing.
As Nina Mrkonja writes, “fishing here dominates history, the current economy, traditional festivities, gastronomic offer and everyday life, from the normal working week to the big holidays, and my narrators are convinced that it will remain so until we catch the last fish from the sea.". As the Kualians themselves say, "no day passes through Kali without talking about fish," which shows how much fishing is woven into all the threads of life.
As a reminder of this tradition, Ivan Longin created a great souvenir, hand-knitted fenders and boat ramps, which is included under the brand Croatian Island Product. These knitted souvenirs are accompanied by a long historical story because OPG Longin follows the centuries-old tradition of Kali fishermen through bows for boats (brk) and knitted balls for mooring a boat (pandula). The art of knotting, especially tying ropes into stylishly designed, solid shapes, is a maritime traditional heritage, and bows have decorative and useful value.
Read more: Intrada – Tavern of Kali Flavours
The peculiarities of Kali have no end. Perhaps the most noticeable is the Kuali speech. This is a lively, indigenous, and archaic Čakavian speech held in Kali with phonological peculiarities of diphthongs. Thus, in Kali, instead of 'more' (the sea), they say 'muore', instead of 'nož' (the knife) 'nuož', instead of 'blago' (mild) 'bluago' etc. It is extraordinary that this speech has been preserved in the everyday life of Kali, it is spoken by both old and young, and it has also been preserved in Čakavian poetry and prose written by Milena Rakvin Mišlov, Zoran Perin Džo, Joja Ricov and other Kaljani and Kaljke. These faithful letters also speak of a great feeling for Kali, and many are also written in the island magazine Kualjski Lumin. While talking in the Tourist Board area, we eat a baked product from a nearby bakery. Namely, Kaljani are also known for their traditional Kali bread!
Fishing, olive growing, baking, butchery, all these are crafts that came from a cooperative that was particularly strong in Kali, among the strongest in Dalmatia. They had a vineyard in the vicinity of Zadar, ran bakeries, educated craftsmen. Most of the other businesses that survive in Kali today come from that cooperative. Kali is also one of the largest oil mills on the Zadar islands, so even the people of Zadar came to Kali to press olives into oil.
It is better not to call someone by name on the streets because a lot of people could turn around. Namely, there are many of the same names and surnames, and Kaljani recognizes each other by nicknames. Therefore, it is especially Kali’s telephone directory which, in addition to numbers, names and surnames, must also have nicknames, to know who is called upon.
Kali Tourist Board
Sv. Lovre 2, 23272 Kali
Tel./Fax. ++ 385 23 282-406