Has man finally succeeded in his intention to create space for quite a special vacation dedicated to leisure? Most certainly – yes!
After all, who else legitimizes a space, if not the guests? And the guests visiting Brijuni included dukes and duchesses, princes and princesses, statesmen, actors and actresses, scientists, Nobel prize winners, doctors, sportspersons... And so it goes on until the present day! Since the early days, Brijuni have been recognized as a destination providing the comfort of rest in the immediacy of natural beauty.
Not long after World War II, in 1949, the Brijuni Islands became a residence of the then President of the former Yugoslavia, Josip Broz Tito. The aftermath of the war was quickly overcome with the removal of the war ruins. The hotels were renovated, as well as the parks. Villas were built on the western coast of the Veli Brijun island: the so-called White Villa of 1953, and Brijunka Villa built four years later. A bungalow villa was built on the small island of Vanga as well, and orchards, vineyards and wine cellars found their place in the archipelago too.
The space itself, quite different back then, had been inhabited back in prehistoric times. The Romans conquered it afterwards, and, so fascinated by the area, brought olives and vines to it, but also slavery.
The Romans spent their leisure days here too, as witnessed by the remains of many buildings. In the cove of Verige, for example, we come across the remains of a splendid Roman villa on three terraces, with temples, a promenade, thermae and fishpond... It is no wonder, come to think of it, that this villa became an Emperor’s residence in the times of the Emperor Vespasian.
Historical periods resulted in many changes when it comes to the inhabitants and the character of the area, which was always used in one way or another. Salt and stone were extracted from the antiquity to the days of the Venetian rule, and the islands became almost completely abandoned in the second half of the 18th century. People would visit the island only occasionally, in order to fell trees.
A century later, the Austrians built fortifications for defense of Pula, given the strategic importance that the port had for them.
There is a name that constitutes a direct link between Brijuni and the rebirth of its tourist character and its care-free leisure life. The year is 1893. The key protagonist of that revival: the Austrian industrialist Paul Kupelwieser, manager of a steel mill in Moravia. He decided to engage in tourism with a firm idea in mind. And so he bought the islands. What followed next was the clearing of macchia, the planting of trees, and construction works.
The first guests came for vacation as early as 1896. However, a predicament came to them, disastrous for any form of leisure: mosquitoes. And their bites transmitted malaria too.
The pests could have destroyed Paul Kupelwieser’s idea of tourist paradise completely. Luckily, however, the situation was resolved by Robert Koch, the bacteriologist who arrived at Kupelwieser’s invitation. Today, one can see a stone monument dedicated to this renowned bacteriologist. With Koch’s arrival, a new wave of works came on the agenda: ponds and pools of water were filled in, so as to destroy mosquito broods, and the sick were treated with quinine. The action was very successful. Nobody else got ill, and the leisurely future could flourish yet again.
Hotels continued being built, and, in 1913, the Veliki Brijun island had more than 300 rooms. Several years earlier, water, postal service and phone came to the island... Paths and promenades leading to the sea continued being prepared, together with parks and a bathing place with dressing cabins. A closed pool with heated seawater was opened as well, and also a casino, sports courses, a horse stable – anything to provide joy and pleasure to guests.
Luxury for other senses was not neglected either. Wine came from the best home vineyards, olive oil from the olive groves of Brijuni; even dairy products and fine cheeses had their source on island pastures. It was a true tourist paradise, abundant and full of joy. In the period from 1910 to 1914, the Brijuni Islands even had a newspaper of their own, Brioni Insel-Zeitung, dedicated to the medical, cultural, recreational and tourist offer of the island and various island events. The season lasted all year round.
Briefly put, coming to Brijuni was an indisputable confirmation of one’s social status.
Undoubtedly, the Brijuni Islands have several faces.
The island stone preserves footprints of dinosaurs and reptiles from the Mesozoic era, and these phenomena make the locality interesting even from a paleontological point of view. Collections kept by the museums of Brijuni provide insight into archeological, cultural and historical curiosities, and copies of frescoes and documents written in the Glagolitic script have also been preserved.
The flora and fauna are highly specific, precisely due to that permanent desire of man to put as much order in nature as possible.
The bulk of the flora is Mediterranean in character. Macchia is still predominant, but communities of holm oak and bay laurel are also prominent. In fact, no other locality along the Adriatic has such sizeable communities of these species. Grasslands and park surfaces also abound. Almost six hundred autochthonous and around eighty allochthonous species have been recorded on the Brijuni Islands.
The fauna is an additional ornament to the Brijuni vegetation. Fallow deer, axis deer, mouflon, peafowl and rabbits freely roam through the park, and they are a constituent part of the highly recognizable and attractive identity of Brijuni. We are talking about hundreds of animals – over 700 fallow deer and over 200 mouflon, for example. On the island of Veliki Brijun, there is the Safari Park, established in 1987, where one can see zebras, Lanka the she-elephant, zebu, ostriches, llamas... Autochthonous inhabitants of the Ethno Park are there as well: the Istrian cattle, goat, Istrian pramenka sheep, and Istrian donkey.
The island of Veliki Brijun prides itself with landscape parks and grasslands. The clearing of the macchia undertaken back in Kupelwieser times spared numerous large trees and olives too. The oldest olive is approximately 1,600 years old, and the oldest holm oak is even older. Crowns of trees are perfect for resting in the shade of twenty-meter high trees. What a resting place for deer and mouflon!
The promenades are long and very attractive, tree alleys impressive in their grace, and open landscape park architecture leaves one breathless.
Indifferent to the wanderings of connoisseurs and curious visitors, the flip side of Brijuni – that special kind of energy one can feel in the place – is serene, tranquil and undisturbed. A world-renowned golf course of 1922 is still there, together with sports courses for futsal, tennis and volleyball, as well as electric golf carts and bicycles that one can use to explore even the most hidden locations.
Confronted with such splendor, one could be excused for forgetting that as much as eighty percent or so of the National Park surface pertains to the sea. The marine fauna is very rich, with numerous species represented. The visitors are particularly pleased when her majesty the sea turtle treats them with her presence, or when they see the dance of bottlenose dolphins at sea. The sea around Brijuni includes significant fish spawning grounds, and a habitat for all organisms typical of the northern part of the Adriatic. This sea park is thus a habitat of the noble pen shell (Pinna nobilis), strictly protected and endemic Mediterranean species, as well as date mussels (Lithophaga Lithophaga). Other endemic species are present too: brown alga Fucus virsoides and tunicate Polycitor adriaticus. The submarine world is a true empire of sponges, bivalves, sea urchins, crustaceans and fish. In the past, the submarine world of Brijuni was known for a number of species recorded in the Adriatic for the first time, and some new species have also been described for the purposes of science, such as the soft coral Alcyonium brionense.
Every historical period left its mark on the Brijuni Islands – ranging from the highly preserved paleontological footprints of the dinosaur to the present day. However, ever since Kupelwieser’s efforts brought additional nobility to the Brijuni Islands, their dominant atmosphere and the riches they preserve provide opportunity for the most opulent rest in close contact with the characteristic flora and fauna, coexisting in harmony and balance with cultural and natural heritage.
Forest and the macchia
Holm oak forests with bay laurel are particularly prominent in the eastern part of Veliki Brijun (hills of Kosir, Javornik, Saluga and Kaštel). Nowhere on the Croatian coast can one come across so many integral spaces with mixed stands of holm oak and bay laurel, which is one of the important and interesting aspects of the Brijuni archipelago.
Macchia can be found on all the islands. The most beautiful macchia, up to eight meters high and thick to the point of opacity, is still preserved on the peninsula of Peneda (on the island of Veliki Brijun). On the islands of Vanga and Mali Brijun, one comes across the best-preserved macchia in this part of the Mediterranean.
Landscape parks and grasslands
This component of the Brijuni landscape pertains almost exclusively to the island of Veliki Brijun, with approximately 40 percent of its surface covered by landscape parks and grasslands. The culture of landscape cultivation in the Brijuni archipelago dates back to the beginning of the previous century. Two persons, Paul Kupelwieser and Alois Zuffar, deserve particular praise for the landscape we witness today, for they created the first stylistically organized Mediterranean garden in Europe of their time. They incorporated autochthonous plants into the landscape, but also exotic plants, which have been present on Brijuni for almost one century. Several holm oak trees from that period are superb individual examples of the species, with the diameter of their crowns reaching up to 20 meters, and they mark and provide identity to individual hills and vistas. Wild game has impacted considerably on the unique visual character of these trees – up to the height of two meters, there are simply no branches (given the fact that shoots and leaves are eaten by wild game). As a result, crowns have the appearance of an umbrella, as if carefully molded by a gardener.
Mediterranean Garden of Brijuni
The Mediterranean Garden of Brijuni is a true garden attraction within the National Park, covering the surface of 17,000 square meters. The main aim of establishing the Brijuni Mediterranean Garden was to enrich the destination and to create a representative garden that fits into other natural, cultural and historical attractions of the National Park. Nowadays, the Mediterranean Garden includes around 170 species of various autochthonous and exotic plants on specially designed surfaces, which are marked by QR code tags providing additional information about individual species.
Old olive tree
Old olive tree is a sub-species of the semi-wild variety of buža (which is an autochthonous Istrian variety). In the 1960s, carbon analysis was performed by applying carbon-14 radioactive isotope, in order to determine the age of the olive. According to the analysis, the olive tree is approximately 1600 years old.
This specific and unique area provides opportunity for visitors to meet many animal species within a single, brief walk: fallow deer, squirrel, rabbit, or any of the many birds belonging to the rich ornithofauna of Brijuni, such as the sandwich tern, red-throated loon, western marsh harrier, or grey heron. In addition, exotic species are also present in the archipelago, a testimony to the interesting history of Brijuni. As early as 1910, a zoo was opened on the island of Veliki Brijun, also envisaged as an acclimatization station for wild animals from the tropical climate zone on their voyage to European zoos.
In the northern part of the island of Veliki Brijun, in a large enclosed area, a Safari Park was set up in 1978, with exotic herbivores as tenants, most of them gifts to the then-president Josip Broz Tito. When it comes to exotic species and the current inhabitants of the Park, one can see zebras, llamas, zebus, as well as Lanka the she-elephant from India, pygmy goats and Shetland ponies. Ethno Park houses domestic animals, such as the boškarin cattle of Istria, Istrian donkey, sheep and goats, as well as other autochthonous species. In the part of the complex referred to as Pheasant Farm, pheasants are no longer bred, but you can see the turkeys of Zagorje, guineafowl, common chaffinch, scarlet macaw, and there is also a winter residence of Koki the cockatoo, who spends wintertime in heated space here.
The fauna of the islands of Brijuni is subject to intensive research. The archipelago is a favorite destination of scientists, who can engage in high-quality research on a number of animal groups in the area.
Wild game (fallow deer, axis deer, mouflon) was introduced to Brijuni towards the beginning of the twentieth century, and today it adorns the forests, parks and hills of Brijuni, constituting a significant part of archipelago’s identity and providing a special experience to visitors. Peafowl contribute to the special atmosphere of peace and harmony in the parks of Brijuni, enchanting the visitors as they spread their tail feathers.
Due to the diverse plant world, many insects have found their home here. Butterflies are a major attraction, with other groups present in large numbers too, such as beetles, cicadas, dragonflies and mosquitoes. The latter were quite an issue in this area towards the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, when malaria was still present on the islands. It was Robert Koch, a renowned bacteriologist, who saved the population from malaria and the infectious mosquitoes. Today, it is bats who take care of maintaining the balance when it comes to mosquitoes. According to research, as many as 14 bat species live in the area of the Park.
Herpetofauna on Veliki Brijun and individual smaller islands includes bullfrog, European pond turtle and the green whip snake. There are no poisonous snakes in the territory of the Park.
The autochthonous bird world is rather well represented, thanks to individual smaller islands providing ideal conditions for the nesting of seagulls, terns and European shags. The islands of Brijuni represent one of the most important nesting sites of the European shag species in the northern Adriatic.
Saline (Soline) are an enclosed wet habitat with three swampy areas 12 hectares in size, in effect representing a protected ornithological park. Brijuni are a very important seasonal residence of northern bird populations, and this particular locality has made it possible for rare and protected species to remain in the area for longer. The arrival of great egret, black stork and Eurasian bittern proves the significance of this locality for such rare and endangered species as well, finding not only peace here, but also sufficient quantity of food.
A pond that stood here as a remainder of wetlands was turned into a lake with flamingos in Kupelwieser times. During the reign of President Tito, the place was enclosed, and turtles, goldfish and mosquitofish were introduced. The latter species, being so efficient in consuming larvae of mosquitoes and other insects, is frequently introduced into various wet habitats throughout the world with the aim of preventing malaria.
Deeper and darker habitats are inhabited by precoraligenic and coraligenic communities. They are founded upon green and red algae, with a number of sponges, polychaetes, tunicates, moss animals and other organisms. These communities are best developed in crevices and rare caves. When it comes to coral groups, sunset cup coral and cushion coral are two of the most frequent types of stony corals.
The biggest depth of 50 meters has been measured south of the cape of Peneda. On a sea floor such as this one, frequent residents include sea urchins, brittle stars and sea stars. When it comes to protected species in Park waters, one frequently comes across bivalves, such as the noble pen shell (Pinna nobilis) and date mussel (Litophaga litophaga), as well as sponges, such as the branching sponge (Axinella cannabina) and golf ball sponge (Tethya aurantium). In the submarine world of Brijuni, there are also several endemic Adriatic species: the best known are brown alga Fucus virsoides and tunicate Polycitor adriaticus.
The submarine world of Brijuni is home to Posidonia oceanica meadows, commonly referred to as “seagrass”. Posidonia is an endemic species in the Mediterranean, and its meadows are considered to be the most significant community in the coastal area. In addition to representing a habitat to many sea organisms, these meadows are also important in terms of the production of oxygen – which is why people frequently refer to them as lungs of the sea.
In addition to Posidonia, the waters of Brijuni include three other seagrass species inhabiting the Adriatic: common eelgrass (Zostera marina), dwarf eelgrass (Zostera noltii) and the most frequent species, little Neptune grass (Cymodocea nodosa).
The waters of Brijuni are important fish spawning grounds, with the cove of Javorika as an important spawning area.
When it comes to protected marine vertebrates in the waters of Brijuni, one can frequently see sea turtles (with loggerhead sea turtle as the most frequent species) and dolphins (with bottlenose dolphin as the most frequent species).
In more recent times, buildings of the archipelago served as venues for historical meetings of world leaders, but also renowned personalities from the world of art. The historical heritage of Brijuni confirms the status of the archipelago as a unique rest and leisure destination in the Mediterranean.
The oldest semi-pit dwelling settlement was built towards the end of the Late Stone Age next to the sea. In the Bronze Age, inhabitants started building settlements on hills, including hill forts with multiple walls built in the dry stone wall technique. With the arrival of the Romans, a range of housing and farm facilities for the production of oil and wine were built on the island (villae rusticae). A magnificent Roman villa from the 1st century A.D. in the cove of Verige stands out as the most beautiful villa of the period built on the eastern coast of the Adriatic. Built on three terraces, it consisted of a range of buildings (residential and farm facilities, including temples, palestra, thermae, fish pond, and a port with piers), linked by a unique system of open promenades and hallways into a comprehensive complex that extended along the cove.
During the Byzantine period, life was concentrated on the western coast of the island. The locality of Kastrum stands out in particular, with its many layers of history and fifteen hundred years of recorded human activity. In the period of late antiquity, a compact settlement surrounded by strong walls was formed on the grounds of villas from the Roman Republic and Empire. In addition to the remains from the Roman and Byzantine period, remains from the times of the Goths, Franks and Venetians have also been found. The Basilica of St. Mary was built for the needs of Kastrum inhabitants in the 6th century.
The island witnessed a revival with the involvement of the Austrian industrialist Paul Kupelwieser towards the end of the 19th century, when the transformation of Brijuni began. A range of buildings were built next to the main port of Brijuni, including a hotel complex with many attractions and a number of features in carefully chosen locations (boat house, sightseeing points, workers’ “citadel” next to the cove of Ribnjak). Thanks to Kupelwieser’s vision, the wetland island turned into an oasis of natural beauty and tranquility, and an elite tourist destination and treatment center, attracting many reputable persons of the day.
Since the mid 19th century, the Austro-Hungarian presence was increasingly felt, including the construction of a number of fortifications. With the construction of an Austro-Hungarian naval harbor in Pula, the islands of Brijuni played an extraordinarily important strategic role in the defense of the city from the sea. Construction of a range of fortifications started, and these fortifications were continuously refurbished, equipped and reconstructed all the way to the beginning of World War I (Fort Tegetthoff and battery Giacone on Veliki Brijun, Fort Brioni Minor, battery Kadulja, Glavina, St. Nicholas on the island of Mali Brijun). On top of interesting architecture, equipment in excellent condition adds particular value to the site, including as many as five cannons by Škoda.
Following the centuries of Venetian exploitation of stone, walking trails in the quarries of Brijuni were restored and horticulturally structured towards the end of the 19th century. Collected waste stone was turned into small hills, thus protecting the walking trails against summer heat and cold winter winds, making the walks pleasant in any season. Particular care was dedicated to the refurbishment of the area around the central port, and, in 1909, plaques by Josef Engelhart were placed there in the memory of two people important for the development of Brijuni. Alojz Čufar, island forester and manager who prepared and implemented the horticultural design of the island, thus got a plaque on the eastern end of a large Venetian quarry, and Robert Koch, who freed the island from malaria, got a plaque on its western edge.
Three exhibitions are placed in a building that used to house a steam bath, erected towards the beginning of the 20th century.
Prepared following the opening of the National Park for visitors in 1984, the photo exhibition Josip Broz Tito on Brijuni presents the life and work of the President of Yugoslavia on the islands, since his first arrival in 1947 until the last day of his stay in 1979.
The Natural History Collection is also connected with the period of Tito’s stay on Brijuni. Around two hundred mounted animals, previous tenants of the island zoo that had come to the Park as gifts to the President of Yugoslavia from various parts of the world, are displayed in dioramas with painted background and plants showing their natural habitat.
Exhibition entitled Memories of an Old Austrian, prepared on the occasion of the one hundredth anniversary of Paul Kupelwieser’s arrival to Brijuni, presents the admirable endeavor of transforming what used to be a malaria-struck island into an elite tourist destination.
Sculptures in the Park, wonderfully fitting into the natural environment of the island, reflect various historical periods and styles of the previous century.
Towards the beginning of the 20th century, sculptures by Caspar Clemens Zumbusch entitled Work and Caritas were put on display. They represent an allegory of the extraordinary effort by Paul Kupelwieser, proving that hard work, coupled with selfless love and care, can result in exceptional deeds – even transforming a swamp of an island into a paradise on earth.
The bronze statue Bathing Woman by the Slovenian artist Boris Kalin from 1954 greets the visitors to the island, placed suggestively on a rock in the main port of Brijuni. The sculpture Woman with Bellows by the Croatian sculptor Frano Kršinić stems from the same period.
As a permanent reminder of the work of Josip Broz Tito and his contribution to the idea of world peace, sculptor Dušan Džamonja gave the sculpture entitled Dove of Peace to the National Park in 1983. Made of welded chains, the work symbolizes the idea of peace and freedom.
Monument to Sony, a life-size sculpture hand-made out of polystirol by the Italian author Fabiole Faidiga, is placed on a hill near the port. Given to the National Park in 2012, as a memory of Sony the elephant who came to Brijuni as a gift of Indira Gandhi, the Prime Minister of India, the monument conveys a message of forgiveness and striving towards the future.
Out of four localities on the biggest island of Brijuni, footprints on the capes of Ploče and Vrbanj are accessible to visitors.
Sixty footprints of small bipedal carnivores have been found on the cape of Ploče. According to estimates, these animals were three to four meters long, pointing to a conclusion that they were carnivores most likely very similar to those from the family of Coelurosauria – highly aggressive and mobile attackers. The footprints are approximately 100 million years old.
Large bipedal carnivores with the estimated length of 7.5 to 8 meters have left 61 footprints on the cape of Vrbanj/Barban. It is assumed that they were very similar to the family of Allosauridae, with the age of footprints estimated at 130 million to 125 million years. A scientific-artistic sculpture of a predatory carnivorous theropod dinosaur has been placed on the cape of Vrbanj, a result of joint work of a range of experts in various areas, aimed at showing the visitors the size and type of species that left its traces here.
Individual footprints can be seen immediately upon disembarking from a vessel on the main pier of the Veli Brijun port. In a limestone block placed there, one can nicely see a three-fingered print of what was most likely a large carnivore from the theropod group.
However, jealous devil destroyed His work by cutting a bag in which an angel carried the remains of stones not yet used. Thousands of stones and rocks ended up scattered all over Istrian land so full of contrasts: gentle and harsh, fertile and barren, sunny and cloudy. Saddened, the angels picked up the remains of the Paradise left among the scattered rocks, and protected them by sea waves. And so the islands of Brijuni were made.