One of the stories relevant for the history of Biokovo Nature Park has to do with what the efforts of one single man can achieve. A theologian, priest and natural scientist, Friar Jure Radić, worked tirelessly on making sure that the Biokovo Mountain obtains protected status, by officially becoming a Nature Park. That wish came true in 1981. The words of Friar Jure Radić are carved in stone in the Biokovo Botanical Garden Kotišina, above the village of the same name: “Oculis mente corde per visibilia ad invisibilia.” Their meaning: “By the eyes, the spirit and the heart, from visible to invisible.” That is Radić’s testimony to those who remain on Biokovo, with Biokovo, and to all those who come to discover it. The mountain is always a place where the primordial in a human being is happy to be small.
The botanical garden above the village of Kotišina is partly located within the Park. Friar Jure Radić founded it in order to scientifically examine, but also to popularize the plant world of Biokovo. It is not a classical botanical garden; rather, it is an enclosed part of nature, aiming to preserve the natural form of vegetation. On a relatively small surface, highly diverse habitats can be found here: rocks, talus cones, steep stone walls, arable plots, as well as the Proslap canyon with the cascade of the same name. The cascade is dry most of the year, brought to life only during heavy rains. Approximately 300 wild plant taxa have been discovered, ranging from the typically Mediterranean to mountain species; in some areas, exotic plants were planted, as well as agricultural and medicinal plants.
In the immediate vicinity of the entry point, right next to the cliff, stands a stony reminder of turbulent times: the walls of Kaštel, a major fortification from the 16th and 17th century.
In Koština, there is the canyon Proslap – dry most of the year, and filled with water during heavy rains.
Biokovo belongs to the Dinaric mountain chain, ranging from the Ćićarija Mountain in Istria to the border with Montenegro. In relief terms, Biokovo consists of three major parts: the southern, littoral side; the peaks; the continental slope with specific relief characteristics.
The peak area of Biokovo is characterized by dolines and sinkholes. In individual, more spacious dolines, one sometimes comes across a range of smaller ones. The bottom parts of some dolines are also a beginning of pits of amazing depth, given the fact that they are located over 1,000 meters above sea level. Some pits are several hundred meters deep! In the central part of Biokovo, dolines appear in the form of thickly packed groups dominating the terrain. In terms of appearance, they resemble Moon craters – at least that is what many would conclude looking at the photographs of this part of Biokovo without knowing where they were taken. The southern, littoral side of the mountain is an area of barren rocks and cliffs several hundred meters high. Bare stone cliffs on one side, and green flysch zones along the sea on the other – that is the majestic stony-green contrast that can be seen and experienced only on Biokovo.
Some pits are hiding eternal ice and snow, the so-called ice pits.
This ice from the natural freezers of Biokovo used to be harvested by the locals for the needs of hotels along the Makarska Riviera back in the times when there were no refrigerators. At night, using donkeys and mules, peasants would extract the ice from ice pits. It was by no means safe work. One first had to wrap ice blocks in beech leaves and cloth made of goat’s hair, then load them on donkeys, and bring them to town. However, that is what the locals did, earning a living by selling ice to hotels, and that enabled guests to drink beverages cooled by ice brought down from unsuspected heights.
The northern, continental side of the Biokovo massif is quite different from the peaks and the littoral side of the mountain. In that part of the mountain, slopes reach the valleys more gently, and that side is greener and more forested.
Biokovo is a stone boundary between two climates – the Mediterranean and the continental one.
It is their mild interaction, but sometimes tough duels too, that create the special climate of Biokovo. Air mass from the sea penetrates along the mountain’s littoral side, across the ridges and mountain peaks. The peaks of the mountain on the northern side prevent the penetration of cold air mass from the continent, but also the Mediterranean air mass from reaching the hinterland.
Air masses from the mountain and the sea already know what will be the place of their final encounter and conflict: the Biokovo Mountain, without doubt.
One consequence of this conflict are frequent weather changes that bring rain and snow in the autumn period, and major snowfall in the winter period, with snow remaining on the mountain in springtime as well. Inclination, altitude, the position of mountain slopes, but also the geological character of soil and vegetation cover, all impact upon the climate. The forest on the mountain is a regulating factor of precipitation, wind and temperature. All these factors contribute to the diversity of the climate of Biokovo.
The snow mountain of Biokovo reaches its highest peak at Sveti Jure. It is the end-point of the Biokovo road, and a culmination of beauty awarding those who reach that point, either by a mountain trail or vehicle. The panorama from 1,762 meters above sea level allows one to see the sea, the islands, the Dalmatian Hinterland, mountains of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and even neighboring Italy.
There is also the Church of Saint George at the sightseeing point, and an ancient sacral site existed on that spot as early as the 12th century. A testimony to this presence is the stone plate that was placed above the altar of the old, demolished small church, first mentioned in 1640.
For centuries, Biokovo was feeding its population, and the locals perceived it almost as a holy mountain in return. People found fertile karst valleys and karrens, which they brought to life and used for survival. They would come to the mountain in order to plant potatoes and cereal crops, to hunt and extract ice, but most of all to attend to livestock. Towards the beginning of the 20th century, there were over 600 shepherds, male and female, staying on Biokovo. Due to the extraordinarily favorable climatic position of the mountain, the local shepherds would take their herds to high mountain pastures during the dry season of the year, and seasonal shepherd settlements soon developed there, characterized by their overall modesty and extraordinary harmony with the landscape. Taking care of livestock was work done by women back in those days, so there were twice as many female shepherds than male ones; in the meantime, men would work on land in the valleys of Biokovo. Their clothes were modest too, mostly including protection for legs made of cloth, peasant footwear, and a coat made of homemade cloth. They mostly ate cabbage, polenta and potatoes, sometimes also meat and milk. After a hard day’s work, the shepherds would get together and sit around a fire, playing instruments, dancing, enjoying various social games, and telling tales about the fairies and werewolves.
Overall, the flora of Biokovo in a wider sense of the word, ranging from the river of Cetina to the river of Neretva, and from the locality of Kozice to the locality of Zagvozd, includes over 1,500 taxa. Endemism is what makes the flora of Biokovo so special. The best-known endemic plant species are the Biokovo bellflower, Centaurea gloriosa and Moltkea petraea, the latter being endemic in a wider Dinaric area.
The fauna of Biokovo is distinctive and diverse, but also insufficiently researched. In numerous caves and pits of Biokovo, fascinating subterranean fauna abounds. So far, over 199 cave species have been recorded, including 60 species endemic to Biokovo.
With a little bit of visitor’s luck, one might also come across wild horses. They got used to visitors, and do not run away from people. Seeing a herd of wild horses is truly an archetype image of freedom.
Since there are no surface watercourses on Biokovo – only rare karst sources and groundwater instead – specific water habitats include pools of water, solution pans and wells, filled with water most of the year thanks to an impermeable layer of clay, and also serving as watering places for domestic animals.
Such water habitats also constitute home for some protected amphibian species, with seven of them recorded in the territory of the Biokovo Nature Park so far.
In the territory of the Nature Park, 21 reptile species have been recorded so far: one turtle species, ten lizard species, and ten snake species.
The most numerous group of species on Biokovo are vertebrates. Among almost one hundred bird species, some rare and endangered species also live on the mountain, such as the strictly protected species short-toed snake-eagle, golden eagle, or Eurasian kestrel.
There are 42 mammal species on Biokovo, with all bat species strictly protected. Out of ten carnivore species, jackal and bear appear only occasionally, and wolf is present permanently. The latter is included on the list of near threatened species. The Biokovo population of chamois, on the other hand, is considered to be the most stable and the biggest chamois population in Croatia.
Geology of an area must be treated in a comprehensive manner. Towards the end of the Cretaceous period, approximately 65 million years ago, the African plate and the Eurasian plate began colliding. The narrowing of the ocean space resulted in strong tectonic disorder, with horizontal layers wrinkling, breaking and rising above the sea, creating the mountain chains of the Alps and the Dinarides, with Biokovo as constituent part of the latter. The ancient ocean disappeared, and the Mediterranean remained. Coming to Biokovo is also an opportunity to examine the very long history of the area. However, even without any knowledge of that kind, the mountain’s gift to visitors will be an abundance of experiences and impressions, imprinting permanent images of beauty into their memory. The treasure of the mountain stays with the visitor.
The plant cover of the mountain of Biokovo might be described as degraded in almost the entirety of its surface. The total flora of Biokovo in the wider sense of the word (referring to the area from the river of Cetina to the river of Neretva, and from the locality of Kozica to Zagvozd) includes over 1,400 taxa. The abundance of the plant world in such a relatively small area is conditioned by the biogeographical position, geomorphological characteristics, ecological peculiarities and human involvement, as well as the metamorphoses from the geological history.
When it comes to the vegetation of littoral slopes of the Biokovo Nature Park, it is worth pointing out certain endemic plant communities, according to Trinajstić (1987, 2000): for example, the community As. Campanulo – Moltkietum petraeae H-ić. 1963, taking up a lot of space on the Biokovo Mountain, primarily in the littoral part, but also the continental one, expanding even further into the neighboring areas. The key species in this endemic community occurring in cracks of rocks, which is quite abundant, permanently present and characteristic for the community, is rock moltkie – Moltkea petraea (Tratt.) Griseb. It is joined by the species Portenschlagiella ramosissima (Port.) Tutin. According to Horvatić (1963), one characteristic species of this community is Campanula portenschlagiana Schult. (Portenschlagian's bellflower).
Dwarf bellflower and crawling bellflower are two endemic species specifically present on Biokovo, which is why they deserve particular mention here. Edraianthus pumilio (Schult.) A. DC., dwarf bellflower, is a Biokovo plant from the family of Campanulaceae, and a relic and stenoendemic species. It was first described by Portenschlag-Ledermeyer (1820), on the basis of findings from Biokovo. The species grows on cliffs of mountain peaks (Sv. Ilija, Šibenik, Raždol, Sv. Jure, Troglav, Lađana, Ravna Vlaška), and it is endemic to Biokovo.
The area of the Park is marked by diverse forms of vegetation, similar in terms of characteristics to the vegetation of a wider littoral area of Croatia and the eastern part of the Adriatic. Warm and dry climate, typical for Mediterranean areas, impacts upon the entirety of vegetation. The dominant plants on Biokovo are those adapted to steep rocks and cliffs and barren karst terrain. Forests have developed on deeper and better-developed soil in higher wet habitats. When it comes to the peak zone of Biokovo, there is a pronounced belt of dominant mountain pastures, with a considerable share of rocky surfaces; the remains of the forests in this area can only be found in sinkholes. As we move on into the mountain, we come across beech forests with a modest presence of fir. The belt of white hornbeam and black hornbeam thicket comes to the fore as we move lower towards the villages on the continental base of the mountain, with more pronounced anthropogenic influences. Unlike the limestone mountain massif, the littoral belt is marked by flysch (marl, sandstone and limestone) and deposits, while the contact zone with the mountain is marked by numerous talus cones. With the exception of talus cones, what we have before our eyes is a cultivated landscape in which natural communities have mostly disappeared, replaced by agricultural varieties, most frequently olive groves and vineyards, together with man-made forests of Aleppo pine (and black pine as well, on several locations in higher zones).
Given the fact that there are no surface waters on the mountain of Biokovo, with only rare karst water sources and groundwater instead, specific water habitats in the area are pools of water, solution pans and wells, full of water most of the year due to an impermeable layer of clay. They also serve as watering places for livestock.
Some protected amphibian species appear in such water habitats as well, with seven such species recorded in the area of the Biokovo Nature Park so far: fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra L.), smooth newt (Tritirus vulgaris L.), yellow-bellied toad (Bombina variegata Bonaparte), common toad (Bufo bufo L.), green toad (Bufo viridis Laurenti), marsh frog (Rana ridibunda Plallas.), and tree frog (Hyla arborea L.).
In the area of the Biokovo Nature Park, measuring 19,550 hectares in surface, 21 reptile species have been recorded so far, including one turtle species, ten lizard species, and ten snake species. One snake species living in the area of Biokovo is leopard snake, Zamenis situla (Linnaeus, 1758). It is not poisonous, and is considered to be one of the most beautiful European snakes, frequently subject to illegal animal trade. It is listed as probably endangered, data deficient (DD) species in the Red Book of Amphibians and Reptiles. Hermann’s tortoise, Testudo hermanni (Gmelin, 1789), is listed in Annex II to the Directive on the Conservation of Natural Habitats and of Wild Fauna and Flora. It can frequently be encountered as a pet animal in gardens, despite its protected and near threatened (NT) status, as defined by the Red Book of Amphibians and Reptiles.
Horned viper, Vipera ammodytes (Linnaeus, 1758), is a venomous snake species. As a matter of fact, horned viper is the most poisonous snake of Europe. Contrary to folk tales, it does not jump at its prey; it can suddenly extend ahead by only one third of its length at the most. Live horned vipers are equipped with poison immediately upon birth. The snake can be recognized by a small “horn” on its head and a zigzag pattern on the back. When feeling threatened, the snake is dangerous for humans. Its poison, more aggressive than the poison of any other European venomous snake species, can even be fatal for human beings.
Birds are the most numerous vertebrate species on Biokovo. Among almost 100 bird species on the mountain, one encounters some rare and endangered species as well, such as the short-toed snake-eagle (Circaëtus gallicus, Gmelin), golden eagle (Aquila chrysaëtos, L.), common kestrel (Falco tinunculus, L.), all of them strictly protected according to the Act on the Ratification of the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (Berne Convention). Until 1966, a colony of griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus, Hablizl) existed in the area; however, the species is rarely seen these days. The most frequent mountain bird is alpine chough (yellow-billed chough) (Pyrrhocorax graculus L.), coming to Biokovo in flocks, nesting in deep stone crevices and pits, feeding on clearings and arable surfaces. This species is also strictly protected according to the Act on the Ratification of the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (Berne Convention).
There are 42 species of mammals on Biokovo. During prior research, seven bat species were recorded in the area of Biokovo. All Biokovo bat species are strictly protected according to the Act on the Ratification of the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (Berne Convention), and also according to the Ordinance on the Protection of Certain Mammal Species; in addition, they are also part of the list of endangered species according to the Red Book of Mammals of the Republic of Croatia. Out of four species in the family of Muridae, one species particularly worth mentioning is the less known, probably endangered Balkan snow vole (Dinaromys bogdanovi), a Tertiary relic species and an endemic species in the Balkans. There are ten carnivores in the area of Biokovo, with the golden jackal (Canis aureus) and bear (Ursus arctos) appearing only occasionally. Wolf (Canis lupus) is present permanently, and it is listed as a near threatened (NT) species in the Red Book of Mammals of Croatia. The key dangers for the species include illegal hunting, caused by the fact that people perceive wolf as a harmful animal; road kills due to the roads cutting the migratory routes of the species; shortage of natural prey; and poisoning. Chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra), subspecies balcanica, was introduced to Biokovo from the areas of Čvrsnica and Prenj in the period from 1964 to 1968. The Biokovo population of chamois is considered to be the most stable and the biggest chamois population in Croatia, with around 400 animals. Prior to the war, chamois numbers reached as high as 1,000; the key reasons behind the decrease in numbers include illegal hunting and the impact of wolves.
The rocks that Biokovo consists of developed by sedimentation in what used to be the Adriatic Carbonate Platform. Its remains represent the karst area of Croatia, from Karlovac to the regions of Gorski kotar and Lika, and all the way to Istria, the region of Primorje and Dalmatia; a considerable part of the Platform ended up submerged below the Adriatic Sea. Only a smaller part of what used to be an abundant plant and animal world of the Carbonate Platform left its trail in the rocks, predominantly organisms building hard mineral skeletons, such as snails, bivalves and corals today. The age of sediments can be determined on the basis of preserved remains of fossils, organisms from times past. For example, in the rocks that Biokovo is made of, in addition to a considerable number of bivalves from the group of rudists in some localities, cross-sections of various genera can also be found, including algae and very small unicellular organisms – Foraminifera – that can be seen only with the help of a magnifying lens or a microscope. These findings point to a conclusion that these sediments grew over a longer geological period of time, from the Middle Jurassic approximately 175 million years ago until the Middle Eocene approximately 40 million years ago.
With the slow sedimentation of limestone material (carbonate sludge, skeletons of various organisms, fragments of older rocks, etc.), over a long geological period in a shallow sea, a substantial succession of layers around 3,000 meters thick came about, with loose sludge and sands gradually turning into firm limestone rocks through complex processes.
Jurassic and Cretaceous limestone prevails in the structure of Biokovo; slopes of the base of the mountain on the littoral side are made of Tertiary flysch sediments. Limestone layer on top of the littoral flysch resulted from the process of the rise of Biokovo in the Middle Eocene 40 million years ago. While flysch sediments, impermeable to water, enabled the growth of denser vegetation, limestone areas in which surface water quickly disappears into the underground obtained the appearance of barren karst.
All typical karst phenomena are present on Biokovo: karrens, solution pans, pits, caves, ice-filled cracks and dolines, dominating the surface relief, and morphologically turning Biokovo into a unique mountain among other karst mountains of Croatia.
In the central part of the mountain of Biokovo, sinkholes appear in the form of thickly packed groups dominating the terrain, reminding of moonscape in their appearance – thus forming the so-called polygonal karst.
Numerous caves appearing along the lines of tectonic contact are significant as paleontological and archaeological finding sites. The reason why we are still able to examine such sites and localities in the territory of the Park, such as the locality of Dubci and caves Baba, Drinova II and Jujnovića špilja – even today, one million years after their creation – is connected with the chemical content of limestone, which reacts to water saturated with carbon dioxide, creating a dripstone-like layer that serves as a “conserving” substance. The most frequent and the most significant sediment in many caves obtained the form of calcite dripstones. Curtains and cascades are very frequent ornaments of caves. The cave Krjava 2 is the biggest cave of the mountain of Biokovo discovered so far. Cave Baba is the finding site of fossils of cave bear (Ursus spelaeus Blum.), brown bear (Ursus arctos L.) and wolf (Canis lupus L.), as well as skeleton remains of chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra L.), Alpine ibex (Capra ibex L.) and other animals, dating back to Upper Pleistocene.
Pits are vertical indentations in the terrain with steep sides, frequently small in diameter, and with major depth. The Biokovo pit of Mokre noge is currently the fourth pit in Croatia in terms of depth. It was discovered in 2011, by the speleologists from the speleological club SAK Ekstrem from Makarska. The pit has been explored to the depth of 831 meters. Around two hundred speleological sites have been explored in the area of the Biokovo Nature Park so far, and further research continues. Taking into account the structure and morphology of the mountain, it is assumed that Biokovo might contain up to 1,000 speleological localities.
Friar Jure Radić was born in Baška Voda near Makarska on December 28, 1920. A world-renowned expert in malacology, botany and ecology, he founded the Malacological Museum, the Mountain and Sea Institute, and the Biokovo Botanical Garden Kotišina in Makarska. He also initiated various scientific symposia, and the preparation of a scientific publication entitled Acta Biokovica, dedicated to the nature of Biokovo.
He passed away suddenly on July 25, 1990 in Split. He is buried in the city cemetery in Makarska.
The garden was established by Friar Jure Radić (1920-1990), a Franciscan scientist, with the aim of scientific research and observation, protection and conservation of the plant world of the mountain of Biokovo, with the aim of popularizing it and obtaining better knowledge about it. Kotišina is not a botanical garden in the usual sense of the word, i.e. a place where each plant is introduced based on certain strict rules. Instead, the Garden is envisaged as an “enclosed part of nature”, in which natural forms of vegetation would be retained together with the autochthonous flora. On a relatively small surface of 16.5 hectares, one can encounter very diverse habitats: rocks, talus cones, steep stone walls, arable plots, as well as the Proslap canyon with the cascade bearing the same name. The cascade is dry most of the year, brought to life only during heavy rains.
Around 300 autochthonous plant taxa grow in the Garden, ranging from typically Mediterranean to mountain plants. In some areas, exotic, agricultural and medicinal plants have been planted as well. There are several walking trails passing through the Garden, marked by educational tables, and certain plant taxa are marked by tags with the names of the plant family and taxon.
At the main entrance to the Garden, words in the memory of Friar Jure Radić have been written in stone. In the immediate vicinity of the entrance, right next to a cliff, one can see the walls of Kaštel, a major fortification from the 16th and 17th century, impressive in its appearance. The Marin Kovačević Memorial House in the village of Kotišina serves as the information and presentation center of Biokovo Nature Park. It is open to visitors in the summer months, and can be visited based on prior arrangement in the remainder of the year as well.
In the past, some locals would cut out ice blocks from these pits and transport them on donkeys to restaurants on the coast that needed fresh ice. These ice pits still exist on the mountain, but no one extracts ice out of them anymore.
Biokovo has fed the people of the region for centuries, and it is perceived almost as a holy mountain. People found fertile karst valleys and karrens, which they brought to life and used for survival. People would spend a lot of time on the mountain, in order to plant potatoes and cereal crops, to hunt and extract ice, but most of all in order to attend to livestock. Towards the beginning of the 20th century, there were over 600 shepherds, male and female, staying on Biokovo. Due to the extraordinarily favorable climatic position of the mountain, the local shepherds would take their herds to high mountain pastures during the dry season of the year, and seasonal shepherd settlements soon developed there. Farmers from the area of Primorje had most of the shepherd’s huts, in particular those from the settlements of Podgora and Tučepi. On the northern side of Biokovo, only three villages had shepherd’s huts – Župa, Krstatice and Zagvozd. The biggest and the most interesting secondary settlement once used for seasonal livestock breeding is Podglogovik, with a well-preserved spatial organization. Today abandoned, this settlement once included huts for housing, farming facilities, ponds, wells, cisterns, threshing floors and fertile karst valleys. In general, such settlements were modest in appearance, and remarkably well integrated into the environment. Taking care of livestock was work predominantly done by women back in those days, which is why there were twice as many female shepherds than male ones; in the meantime, men would work on land in the valleys of Biokovo. Their clothes was modest, mostly including protection for legs made of cloth, peasant footwear, and a coat made of homemade cloth. They mostly ate cabbage, polenta and potatoes, occasionally also meat and milk. After a hard day’s work, the shepherds would get together and sit around a fire, playing instruments, dancing, enjoying various social games, and telling tales about the fairies and werewolves.
Unfortunately, it was destroyed when a TV transmitter tower was built on the peak in 1965. A new church was then raised a bit further to the east, in 1968. In addition to that church, Biokovo has many other churches and chapels, such as the relatively recent Church of St. Elijas, built in the 19th century in the area of Staza; the Church of St. Nicholas, built in the 14th or 15th century on the hill of Pirovac, in the area of Gornja Brela; the Church of St. Rocco, located on the peak bearing the same name above the village of Župa, reminiscent of the torn-down Church of St. George in its shape; Chapel of St. Elijah on the peak bearing the same name; Chapel of St. Caius on the locality of Nevistina stina, first mentioned back in 1786; Chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the mountain pass of Dubci, built before 1870; Chapel of St. Nicholas on the locality of Staza, from the 19th century, and many others.
According to the legend, the girl came from “down below”, what must have meant the region of the Dalmatian Hinterland, and she was supposed to marry into the region of Primorje. Her mother was against that love, and she was particularly against her daughter marrying someone whom the family had not approved. In addition, the young man was from Primorje, which meant that he was poor. Whatever the case may be, the mother gave her daughter the following farewell: “The moment you see the sea, may you turn into stone!”
Despite these horrific words, the wedding procession moved on, with the groom at its head, and the bride on a horse, not even aware of how much force did the mother’s curse carry. And when the merry procession came to the top of the hill above the settlement of Brela, the curse came true. A testimony to that can still be seen in the rocks shaped in the form of a horse with the bride and groom, traditional bread and waterskins.
If you look carefully, you can even see the bride’s veil that the wind blew off her head at that very moment, and the entire procession that accompanied the couple. Dense pine forest hides the sad testimony today.