When it comes to preserving the environment, it can be concluded that studies and efforts to protect a given landscape can focus either on the territories that were never affected by man, or on preserving the environments in which human labor has been dominant. In Europe, the natural environment has been humanized since the end of the ice age, about ten thousand years ago. Our interest is focused on changes in the landscape that have taken place throughout history. The construction of terraces, as a result of human settlement, is the main reason for the greatest amount of work invested for the introduction of new crops.IMG_1514

It is still difficult to specify in which prehistoric era olives and vines were introduced on the island of Cres. Research conducted in the eastern Mediterranean shows, that grown and /or wild olive trees were present on Crete towards the end of the Neolithic period (4400-3500 BC). During the Bronze Age (2000-1500 BC) olive culture were stabilized in Crete – and in close proximity to  cities in the Peloponnese – especially during the Minoan period. The spread to other nearby regions occurred through a more intense maritime traffic. During the same period Cres had a high reproductive capacity  which could be utilized by the civilization of castellieri (settlements on the top of the hills), near the centers today called Osor, Ustrine, Orlez, Filožići and Cres. The extent to which the growing culture of olive trees has been widespread on the island is currently difficult to estimate. Studies by J. Cus Rukonic on the islands of Cres and Losinj anyway confirmed, that this capacity was available and prove the existence of olive trees in the Neolithic period, albeit not in the form of “a standardized agriculture.” IMG_6958

The pollen studies done on the island of Mljet (ital. Melada) in southern Dalmatia in the 1960s further confirms the hypothesis that most of the existing cultures are linked to human settlements. On Mljet, the pollen samples taken partly from the salt lake Malo Jezero and from freshwater lake Blatina Polje, demonstrated the absence of human activity during the Neolithic period and the Bronze Age. Olive trees and vines occur, however during the Greco-Roman period, 400 BC. On the whole it can be said that the olive tree occurred in the vegetation on Cres from ancient times, although there have not so far been undertaken scientific observations. The trees were probably a normal part of Mediterranean flora and were linked to the territory as a result of human settlement. The close relationship between humans and crops usually leads to a greater understanding of the quality of the vegetation.  This in turn leads to a natural selection of trees which favor the most useful specimens. The fact that for thousands of years there has been such a relationship on the island, albeit not in the form of deliberate and planned use, is in any case a fundamental prerequisite for future development of a more standardized cultivation

Landscape architecture on Cres and its dating

In principle, one can say that the whole set of stone structures (terraces, fences, walls, etc.), which today forms part of the landscape, could be the key to understand the chronology of the development of the landscape. For similar landscapes on Crete however, the researchers Oliver Rackham & Jennifer Moody affirm that “we do not have the key”. With reference to the landscape of Cres, we can assume that, in some parts of the island some stone structures can be dated back to Neolithic times, others to the Bronze Age, still others to the Greco-Roman period. Most of them were erected in the vicinity of residential areas, which could not have existed without a close economic activity (agriculture, livestock). But most of the stone structures were erected during the 400 years of Venetian rule and during the 130 years of Austrian rule. DSC01742

Despite the difficulties to determine the age of the artefacts, some research methods could enable us to obtain a more precise dating, e.g. on samples of plants and roots in long-abandoned places. The method with carbon-14 can be used in order to determine the age of stone artefacts that are presumed to be older than the plant itself. Through surveys of settlements dated back to ancient times, we can get important information if we link the archaeological and osteological findings to the finding-place.


Castelliere S.Bartelemy (photo@gianfrancopugi8)

A particular factor can help us to explain the artefacts in stone on Cres, namely  the answer to the question whether these constructions are linked to a very distant time. “Castellieri” are the oldest settlements on the island dating back to the late Neolithic period (6000-4000 BV). The observations of these ruins made so far (by Carlo Marchesetti, Jasminka Cus Rukonic, Vladimir Mirosavljevic, Nikola Stražičić), and still visible today, prove that fences and walls are in some ways similar to those found in other places on the island. The walls (in two rows – one inside and one outside of boulders with crushed stone in the middle as filling) were discovered by archaeologists in the 1930es in the castelliere of Pukonjina. They could constitute a first version of the walls that were built around the olive groves. However, in performance, diversity, and use they are very different from the structures that currently surround the olive trees and vines.

The “castellieri” must be regarded as permanent settlements. A previous dominant theory claimed that these sites were built for defense and as temporary dwellings. However recent studies in areas along the French Mediterranean coast show that the facilities were built at high altitudes for environmental reasons and were stable in nature. They were considered far healthier than the coastal settlements attacked by insects because of unhealthy surroundings and swamps. Only during the Roman period there is a considerable shift of settlements on the coast as a result of the Romans’ knowledge of the regulation of rivers and drainage of unhealthy coastal areas.


Path on stone wall to Dragosetici

The resorts Lubenice (ital. Lubenizze), Dragošetići (ital. Dragoseti), Predoscice (ital. La Sella), Filožići (ital. Filosici) and Pernata have in some way the structure of their habitat similar to “castellieri”. In the vicinity of the above mentioned places on Cres you can find flat areas of smaller sizes, but sufficient for the cultivation of cereals, vines and vegetables. Protections and “masiere” give the impression of having been built more for grazing than for farming. In this context, it is not entirely wrong to suggest that the landscape change on Cres has started from the heights of the island, where “castellieri” were placed, and then gradually continued down the slopes.

With such an approach to the change of the island’s landscape, one can further conclude that the two main economic activities, herding of livestock and agriculture, were contemporaneous, but with the time passing, one prevails over the other and vice versa. Such indications regarding complementary activities, as a matter of fact, were already present in Greece in 400 BC.

The relationship between plantations and terraces in modern times

For the island’s later historical periods, there is no explicit documentation or specific information about the terraces. We must refer to the introduction and growth of various economic activities and cultures, and use them as indicators of how and when the stone structures were built.  In the first Constitution of the town of Cres, dated to the year 1300, some walls for pasturage culture are mentioned . They served to provide shade for the sheep. Nothing is said about terraces for farming.

Petrisso de Petris, at 4th of February 1504, states that he will “redure desmesteghi” (” graft”) a few wild olive trees in Stanzia St. Biagio. A few years later (1508) this successful initiative  has lead to the extension of the lease with an addition of twenty seedlings. In 1550 a Fondaco (oil magazine) was founded  to cope with the severe shortage of oil. These reports suggest that the “olive culture around the town of Cres had not yet the extension it got later” (C. Hugues in Cavallini, “Letter to farmers in Cherso”). In the first decades of the seventeenth century Venice decided that the oil production should increase, and extended the cultivation to the regions of Istria and Dalmatia. It was partly for their own profit and partly for the compensation ofthe lack of oil,  which made the importe from Puglia necessary. After a careful review of Fondacos books we supposed to find a comprehensive and detailed picture of annual production, but on the contrary only sporadic sales and purchases of limited amounts of oil during the period of 21 years (1616-1637) were noted.

In the survey done by the Franciscan monk Josip Vlahovic, the first notification given in the monastery archives is from 1496, and records a parcel of land with olive trees, fruit trees and vines. After some time, both the ownership and the expansion of the cultivated area have gradually changed, with extended olive groves. In the late seventeenth century and early eighteenth century it changed into a systematic cultivation. The observations referred to the above apply only to land owned by the monastery in the 1600s (the year 1652, 1653, 1682, 1683) under which “vennero scavate fosse” (“pits were dug “) and planted olive trees. IMG_8105The cited work describes in detail olive mills owned by the monastery: its production, the size of the workforce and workers’ compensation. We also learned that the number of oil mills in Cres in 1668 amounted to three, and in 1698 to seven. The data collected by Vlahović suggest that in early 1608 there were only two oil mills in Cres: the monastery and the Benedictine nunnery. However this does not exclude the possibility that other methods of oil production were used in “antico modo semplice” (“old easy way”). From the same source we know that the increase of cultivated land with olive trees slowly evolved during the last decades of the eighteenth century, i.e. during the Venetian period. The reason for the slowness was (according to the author) due to the ongoing conflict on grazing, and the decisions that local authority made, because they feared for the health of residents unless the supply of meat was secured.

When the abbot Alberto Fortis landed on the island in 1770 (A. Fortis, Saggio sopra Osservazioni d’Isola di Cherso-Osero 1771) he enjoyed the “most beautiful spectacle” in Cherso Bay – the “garden” – as he called it. “The variety of greenery in olive trees, vines and orchards in general, which at a distance form a field of different shades of color, is an enjoyable spectacle beyond all expectation.”Panorama s brda-4 1946 (35kn) In addition to the panoramic image the abbot expresses admiration for the farmers’ hard work. He describes the varied cultures that occupied the terraces – although the oil production was dominant – at that time estimated 1932 to 2257 hectoliters per year.

A significant increase in oil production took place after the year 1797 and with the distribution of land to “dig” in the area of Ponta Grassa. It corresponds today to the area extending from the green lighthouse at the entrance of Cres and up to the inlet of Nedomisje. The most important development took place in the nineteenth century, with harvests more or less rich in olives. In 1853, the total production was 2000 barrels, and in 1868 there were 24 oil mills being active from November to June.

Until now  we have  mainly dealt with the production of oil, which at certain times and for various reasons was economically advantageous. The production depended on climate, soil, amount of work required and of Venetian interests. We must, however, consider that the viticulture and winemaking for centuries have been an important economic resource. We have no data concerning the expansion of the area planted with vines and wine produced during the centuries. We know, however, by reports of the City Council Books that citizens often complained about the low price of the wine that remained unchanged for two centuries. In addition repeatedly decisions were made by the council to give permission through auction for the collection of taxes for the wine . During a later period vineyards spread out across the mountain slopes above the city center, later to be replaced by chrysanthemum cultivation for the production of natural insecticide (pyrethrum).

“Letter to the farmers in Cres” (“Lettera agli Agricoltori di Cherso”, 1900) by Cavallini is a clear request not to persist with further cultivation of the vine and neglect of olive trees. In the end they will have neither the one nor the other, but end up in misery. The reason why farmers in Cres for a period of twenty or thirty years in the late nineteenth century, had been actively engaged in viticulture, was due to phylloxera, which had destroyed the vineyards of Western Europe but had not spread to regions of Istria and Dalmatia. Due to the consequent lack of wine the product could be sold at good market prices. The explicit request of Cavallini and professor Carlo Hugues was not to plant new American vines that required deeper soil and therefore more clearance, money and manpower. “But if you now instead begin to prune olive trees, things may soon change for the better.” And the professor adds, “and you will appreciate the legacy you received from your ancestors.” IMG_8355

What so far has been said, shows that the transformation of the landscape has undergone alternate phases in terms of type of cultivation. The need to work the soil was not connected to a single crop, but could vary throughout the centuries depending on the market’s request. In the end, olive groves prevail. We estimate that it was gradual and cannot be linked to a specific event or a specific date. We are still of the opinion that a part of this transformation took place before the sixteenth century, although the cultivation may have been of a different kind then, for example, viticulture.