It is difficult to decide which view is more impressive, as you find yourself on Stene, the cliffs of Telašćica. Is it the one from above, as you watch the sea directly beneath you from the altitude of 161 meters? Or is it, perhaps, the view from the sea towards the cliff peak? Steadfast stone guardians, these cliffs of Telašćica, have created one of the safest Adriatic harbors, and a place with a truly special view. Yachtsmen know the value of that harbor. If you observe the cliffs from a vessel, approaching from the sea... do turn your engine off. It is quite possible that a bottlenose dolphin will emerge from the sea, that last marine mammal of the Adriatic. The rare animal is threatened by noise pollution created by boat engines. Bottlenose dolphins are frequent visitors to the surrounding waters of the Park.
According to estimates, approximately 220 bottlenose dolphins live in the Adriatic. Other dolphin and whale species rarely visit the local waters.
To many visitors, Telašćica is, beyond dispute, the most beautiful Adriatic bay. The Nature Park was named after it, and it includes local waters with 13 small islands. The bay itself is located on the southeastern part of the island of Dugi otok. It is immersed approximately 8 kilometers into the land, and in its southern, widest part, it is approximately 1.6 kilometers wide. The bay itself is very indented, and it includes 25 coves and capes, and five small islands.
The name Telašćica probably stems from the Latin word “Tilagus”, denoting the appearance of a bay with three lakes. Telašćica consists of three parts mutually separated by narrow passages. These are Tripuljak, Farfarikulac and Telašćica. The coves are, in fact, karst depressions that got submerged and settled below the sea level around ten thousand years ago, during the melting period.
For many, the most impressive location on the external side of the Telašćica Bay are vertical cliffs, the most prominent cliffs on the Adriatic. These are the well-known Stene of the island of Dugi otok. At the locality of Grpašćak, they reach the height of 161 meters, with the maximum sea depth of up to 85 meters. This is where the nesting and initial flights of peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) take place, but Eleonora’s falcon (Falco eleonore) can also be seen flying over Telašćica. Due to the presence of high number of birds belonging to these two protected species, Telašćica became part of the Important Bird Area (IBA) program.
Corals live on rocks below the sea, including a rather rare occurrence these days: the red coral. The yellow flower of the Dubrovnik knapweed makes its “drawings” on rocks, joined by scattered specimens of tree spurge.
The Mediterranean vegetation is abundant here, with over 500 plant species. The submarine world of Telašćica is marked by sandy bottom, with scattered stone oases and Posidonia oceanica seagrass meadows.
Lake Mir is located in a narrow band of land between the bay and the open sea. During high tide, it is easy to see the sources of the incoming sea. The lake is approximately 900 meters long and 300 meters wide, and its maximum depth is 86 meters. The salinity of water in the lake is higher than in the surrounding sea, due to considerable evaporation and closed nature of the lake.
The sea level in the Lake Mir is always roughly equal, because the permeability of cracks connecting the lake with the sea is relatively low. However, when the strong south winds begin blowing, the sea begins to overflow into Lake Mir in the southeastern part of the lake.
In the summertime, the lake is warmer than the sea. In the wintertime, the lake is colder, due to the fact that it is shallow. Due to these extreme conditions, biodiversity in the lake is significantly lower, almost negligible compared to other areas of the Park.
The cove of Mir does have its rather peculiar inhabitants, however. These are Dalmatian or Littoral-Dinaric donkeys, an original and autochthonous Croatian breed. Nowadays protected, donkey has always been a close companion of the Dalmatian man. However, technology eventually interrupted this joint voyage of man and donkey through life. Serving as pack animal in the past, and extraordinarily skillful in the karst terrain, donkey is more of a joy for tourists these days – which is why the locals who no longer needed donkeys for work simply brought their animals to Telašćica.
And so the Nature Park became a refuge of sorts for abandoned donkeys on the island of Dugi otok. No longer forced to carry cargo, donkeys live in pens in this place, making the visitors happy simply by being there.
There is also an unusual small island that makes every visitor curious. Situated in the direction of the Kornati Islands, this particular small island is in fact a small stone plate some sixty meters in diameter, and only three meters high. It looks like a plate, so seafarers referred to it by using the word “tagliero” from the Venetian dialect, eventually resulting in the diminutive Taljurić as the island’s name. In rough weather, this small island is completely immersed in sea foam.
The island of Dugi otok is still an area of research and discovery. Ten years ago, at the bottom of a half-cave on the small island of Garmenjak Veli, on the open-sea side of Dugi otok, in a narrow gap at 24 meters below sea level, a carnivorous sponge species Asbestopluma hypogea (Bakran-Petricioli and Petricioli) was found, feeding itself on shrimp. This is the second finding of the type in the world, and a valuable reminder of the need to conserve this habitat rich in fish species.
The fishermen are a constituent part of living with the sea in this place. The first documents specifically mentioning fishermen from Telašćica date back to the 10th century.
Watching the waves of Telašćica, it is possible, even easy, to imagine the way things looked in the past. The fishermen pulling drift nets with their hands cracked from hard work... Just think of all the turmoil caused by the fish caught in the nets – chub and Atlantic mackerel, striped red mullet, common two-banded seabream... quite an abundance of natural food for dinner tables of Dalmatian families.
And in the coves where the boats are anchored, you can still see the remains of little dry stone wall piers – made by those who knew that the sea is a God-given field that doesn’t have to be sown, but only reasonably reaped.
Systematic clearing and burning of forests, coupled with grazing and fuel wood exploitation, have resulted in the deterioration of holm oak forests into macchia and garrigue stages (as. Cisto – ericetum arboreae).
The flora of the Park abounds with endemic plants. They include Centaurea ragusina ssp. lungensis, a subspecies of the Dubrovnik knapweed growing only on the island of Dugi otok and the Kornati archipelago. It is a strictly protected species; luckily, due to the inaccessibility of rocks on which it grows, it is not endangered by human activities. Tree spurge (Euphorbia dendroides) is yet another species that can be found growing on cliffs, and the area of Telašćica is its northernmost finding site.
Ten strictly protected orchid species are also an important value of the flora of the Park.
Certain invasive allochthonous plants have been noticed in recent times, with seven invasive plant taxa recorded in the area of the Park. While it is true that not a single recorded invasive taxon covers significant or major surfaces, and the density of invasive taxa is not high, the current distribution of these taxa on relatively frequented roads and locations means that due attention should be paid to this phenomenon, including the monitoring of population levels.
Out of the total of seven recorded data deficient (DD) taxa, we should point out the species Melica transsilvanica Schur and Parapholis filiformis (Roth) C.E.Hubb, given the fact that, based on the existing data, they seem to be very rare at the country level.
The characteristic island vegetation and karst terrain result in scarce fauna in the terrestrial part of the area. Based on the data available so far, there are around 490 animal species living in the Park. Many of them are endangered, and subject to protection as protected species of the Croatian fauna pursuant to the Nature Protection Act.
Invertebrates are the most numerous animal group, with 339 species.
Based on the Red Book of Threatened Butterflies of Croatia, there are four protected butterfly species present in the Park: Lulworth skipper (Thymelicus acteon), green-underside blue (Glaucopsyche alexis), Old World swallowtail (Papilio machaon) and large white (Pieris brassicae).
The recent research on terrestrial malacofauna has resulted in 37 recorded terrestrial snail species. Worth pointing out is the stenoendemic species Delima edmibrani and species Agathylla lamellosa, the latter having its northernmost finding site in the area of the Park. Both species can be found in rocky cliff habitats, where they are threatened by potential visitors (walking, leaning onto cliffs, and the consequent destruction of snails).
Amphibians depend on water, and given the fact that the area of Telašćica is relatively dry, there are only two species well adapted to dry conditions living in the Park: the European tree frog (Hyla arborea) and the European green toad (Bufo viridis). The European tree frog can be found in large numbers in ponds that are mostly seasonal in nature, which is why this species, strongly dependant on water, had to partly adapt in its way of life. Additional research is needed on the lifecycle of this species in such extreme conditions. Particular attention should also be dedicated to the conservation of ponds as a special type of habitat.
Reptile fauna is more numerous, and consists of thirteen species: three turtle species, four lizard species and six snake species. The Mediterranean house gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus) can frequently be seen around houses. It is a highly nocturnal animal. However, the most frequent species of this group are the Dalmatian and the Italian wall lizard (Podarcis melisellensis and Podarcis sicula).
When it comes to snakes, only six species have been found on the entire island of Dugi otok: the European ratsnake (Elaphe situla), the European cat snake (Telescopus falax), the Balkan whip snake (Coluber gemonensis), the Montpellier snake (Malpolon monspessulanus) and the grass snake (Natrix natrix). Not a single of these species is poisonous for man. It is assumed that the four-lined snake (Elaphe quadrolineata) also lives in the Park, given the fact that it was spotted on the northern side of the island of Dugi otok on several occasions. The biologically most interesting reptile discovery on the island of Dugi otok is the European blind snake (Typhlops vermicularis). It is an extraordinarily rare subterranean species, recorded only once in the territory of Croatia, in 1977 near the settlement of Sali.
Birds are the most prominent group of terrestrial vertebrate species, with 115 species recorded so far. Various habitats in the area provide good conditions for their nesting and occasional stay. Vertical and steep sea rocks are an ideal place for colonies of all the three species of swifts living in Croatia.
When it comes to bird fauna, birds of prey are particularly interesting. There are fifteen of them recorded in the Park in total, at least five of which are nesting in the area. The cliffs on the external side of the island are the nesting area of peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), a threatened and increasingly rare species. In addition to that species, one also comes across Eleonora’s falcon (Falco eleonorae), recorded as a wandering bird in the area, and usually nesting on southern open sea islands, as well as the lanner falcon (Falco biarmicus) and merlin (Falco columbarius). The following birds of prey are nesting in the area: common kestrel (Falco tinnunculus), short-toed snake eagle (Circaetus gallicus), the Eurasian sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) and common buzzard (Buteo buteo).
The European shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) nests on arched low flat areas and niches of cliff crowns facing the open sea, located within the Park. Eagle owl (Bubo bubo), an increasingly threatened European owl species, can also be encountered in the rocky landscape.
Nine bat species have been recorded in the area of Telašćica, including some critically endangered and sensitive species. The biggest colony discovered in the Park area so far is located in the cave of Golubinka with a sea entrance below the cliffs, with around 2,000 Geoffroy's bats (Myotis emarginatus) and around 1,000 greater horseshoe bats (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum).
Mouflon is the most important allochthonous species in the Park, artificially introduced for the purposes of establishing hunting grounds in the area in the 1970s. Mouflons are now naturally present on pastures of the entire island of Dugi otok.
The most interesting alga species of the area is the red limestone alga Goniolithon byssoides, widespread in the eastern Mediterranean. It is very rare in the Adriatic, this being the northwestern border of its usual range. The biggest finding site of this species in the Park is under the southeastern rocks of the island of Dugi otok facing the open sea and around the neighboring islets exposed to storms.
Dense meadows of invasive tropical red alga Womersleyella setacea have been discovered in the localities of Grpašćak, Mir and Mala Prisika. When it comes to other alga species in the Park, the following species can be encountered along the coast: peacock’s tail (Padina pavonica), forkweed (Dictyota dichotoma), marine red alga Laurentia obtusa, and alga species Cystoseira sp. and Acetabularia acetabulum. Seagrass species include little Neptune grass (Cymodocea nodosa) and dwarf eelgrass (Zostera noltii).
In the bay of Telašćica itself, particularly relevant are meadows of three strictly protected seagrass species: Posidonia oceanica and little Neptune grass (Cymodocea nodosa), with dwarf eelgrass (Zostera nolti) being slightly less prominent. Research on the submarine area resulted in the identification of areas covered by Posidonia oceanica meadows, located in the photophilic zone from the depth of approximately five meters to between 20 and 25 meters. Posidonia oceanica, known simply as “seagrass” among the locals, is an endemic species of the Mediterranean, the meadows of which are highly endangered due to various impacts ranging from climate change and invasive species to various human activities such as anchoring.
The interesting nature of the area is clearly visible in the fact that the Park includes many attractive diving locations, capturing the interest of visitors with their diversity of plant and animal species, as well as the abundance of their colors. The undersea world includes many marine caves, some of which have impressive entrances below the sea level.
When it comes to marine mammals in the Park, bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) is the only discovered species. In wintertime, one can frequently observe bottlenose dolphin flocks under the cliffs, and some dolphins occasionally even enter the bay of Telašćica itself. The Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus) once used to live in the area too; unfortunately, the species is no longer present in the Park.
Out of the three turtle species living in the Adriatic, only one species has been recorded in the Park – the loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta).
Research on corals in areas below the cliffs, conducted in the localities of Grpašćak, the coves of Mir and Mala Prisika, has resulted in the discovery of dense colonies of yellow gorgonian (Eunicella cavolini) and violescent sea-whip (Paramuricea clavata).
The protected red coral (Corallium rubrum) can be found in the cracks of cliffs, as an increasingly rare taxon due to its slow growth and excessive exploitation.
Cushion coral (Cladocora caespitosa) grows in groups in the bay of Telašćica itself. It is the only coral capable of creating coral reefs in the Adriatic. This coral creates turf-like associations growing up to 50 centimeters in height, and it is an endemic species of the Mediterranean.
The most frequent fish species in the bay are saddled seabreams, even though many other species can also be found in large numbers. The most frequent species are: painted comber (Serranus scriba), salema (Sarpa salpa), common two-banded seabream (Diplodus vulgaris), damselfish (Chromis chromis) and the Mediterranean rainbow wrasse (Coris julis). Algae and seagrass meadows are also important aquatic phenomena in the area, and the seahorse (Hippocampus sp.) is one species worth mentioning in particular. It is protected by the Nature Protection Act, and must not be taken out of the sea.
Several protected bivalve species can be found in the submarine world of the Park: the noble pen shell (Pinna nobilis), giant tun (Tonna galea), date mussel (Lithophaga lithophaga), etc.
The European eel (Anguilla anguilla) has been noticed in the saltwater lake of Mir. It predominantly lives on the bottom, under the rocks, in the mud and cracks. Given the fact that the lake is connected with the sea only by small cracks, it is assumed that eels enter the lake through them in the larval stage. Their life cycle in the lake is still unknown.
One of the most interesting inhabitants of the submarine world of Telašćica is an endemic and very rare carnivorous sponge species Asbestopluma hypogea, usually living in deep sea, and found in a cave on the island of Garmenjak Veli at the depth of 24 meters. This sponge species is connected with deep sea habitats, and its discovery at such a modest sea depth is only the second finding of that kind in the world. The explanation of this phenomenon lies in the fact that sea-submerged karst can have ecological characteristics that strongly resemble the conditions prevailing in deep sea habitats, such as the shortage of food and light coupled with low temperature, which suits this particular sponge species.
Hill forts represented the basic form of settlements in the Bronze and Iron Ages, with the first permanent settlements appearing during the Bronze Age. Omišenjak hill fort (50 meters) is the oldest such site. It was not built on a substantial plateau, and it did not have defensive walls; it is the only site with a stone grave mound on its top. In the immediate vicinity, below the hill of Rutnjak in Dugopolje, four graves dating back to approximately 1,800-1,000 B.C. have been discovered. They represent a typical burial site of the Liburnians – with the deceased laid in a contracted position within four stone slabs and a stone cover on top. Items accompanying the burial site have the same characteristics as in the entire Liburnian area during that period. In this phase and culture of the area, characteristic items included bow fibulae, spiral spectacle pendants and bracelets. Iron-Age hill forts in the area of the Nature Park – dry stone wall fortifications – are spread around the bay of Telašćica in the southeastern part of the island of Dugi otok: Omiš (51 m), Omišenjak (50 m), Veli Brčastac (220 m), Koženjak, the settlement of Vrtlaci on flat terrain and the so-called Kućice or Little Houses in Sali. Around ten rectangular dry stone hovels have been found in one settlement along the edge of Dugo polje, below the hill of Rutnjak, west of Sali, on the position of Vrtlaci. They did not have hill fort characteristics, and it is assumed that they represent a typical example of such constructions. They consist of dry stone walls, built from crushed raw limestone. Their rooms are linked, and fragments of Iron-Age and modern-era ceramics found on the site point to subsequent use of these hovels. According to the current state of research, we can conclude that there were four communities of Liburnians on the island of Dugi otok, with each community covering around ten kilometers of the length of the island. Many graveyard tumuli have been found as well on the hills of Gominjak, Čuh polje and Omišenjak. These tumuli were separated from hill forts by between 120 meters and four kilometers, which represents a usual spatial layout in northern Dalmatia. An Illyrian grave was found in the northwestern part of the field of Čuh, with a skeleton and two spiral bracelets, a decorative needle and a fragment of earthenware. Based on the analysis of the items, the site is estimated to date from the period between 8th and 6th century B.C., corresponding to the Liburnian culture phase in the wider territory of Zadar. At the beginning of the Roman rule, most hill forts were abandoned, and new forts were built in the lowlands and along the coast, with the population assimilating into the new political structures of the Roman Empire.
In Mala Proversa, there is a villa rustica complex. The narrow passage of Mala Proversa was not passable for vessels in the Roman period, since it had only one meter of sea depth. That is where the Romans erected a complex of buildings that probably exceeded 90 meters in length. The villa was built in the 1st century, which constitutes the best period of Roman architecture in Dalmatia, as estimated based on a finding of a coin bearing the image of the Roman Emperor Trajan. It is assumed that the Romans built a channel deepening the original passage back in the time when Dugi otok, Katina and Kornat were one single island, in order to attract fish with the stronger resulting sea currents. It is also assumed that a vivarium was built close to the channel, as an enclosed space in the sea for keeping live fish. The villa was researched in the 1950s, and its remains are conserved and restored. The findings are kept in the Archaeological Museum in Zadar.
Almost all churches from the period of early Christianity were adapted in the pre-Romanesque style, what can best be seen in changes to the stone furniture in the churches. Many buildings on the islands eventually stopped being used, because the previous Roman settlements were no longer inhabited, and new settlements were built on other locations. That is also true for three churches in the area of the Nature Park, some preserved in their entirety, and some in the form of remains, or foundations that were later used for more recent constructions.
The Church of St. Luke – Ruins of a small church that the locals refer to as Crkvina is located on a small hill of Sukavac on the far southeastern part of Dugi otok, in the middle of a peninsula closing the bay of Telašćica from the northern side near the settlement of Sali. It is assumed that the church dates back to the early Christian period between the 4th and the 7th century. Only traces of walls can be seen today. The church was probably dedicated to St. Luke, which is reflected in the name of the hill. It consists of a longitudinal rectangular nave 5 x 3.70 meters in dimensions, with a semicircular apse 2.50 meters wide and 1.70 meters deep. It is difficult to determine the time of construction precisely, on the basis of architectural characteristics alone; however, the church undoubtedly stems from a very early Christian period. The name of the medieval settlement is still preserved in the name of the field Čuh. There are reasons to believe that Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos named the entire island Pizyh in his work De Administrando Imperio precisely based on this site.
The Church of St. Victor – This small church is located on the hill of Citorij, above the locality of Stivanje polje. According to the most recent findings, the church stems from the 5th century, and it is the oldest church in the area of Telašćica. The layout is simple, with a semicircular apse. Narthex was built subsequently. It stands on a mild southern slope of a plateau, at 92 meters above sea level, with a view of the open sea. The church is assumed to date back to the early Christian period, i.e. the second half of the 5th or the beginning of the 6th century, due to an old floor layer discovered in the nave of the church and artifacts found in it (ceramic fragments, bronze cross, glass fragments), as well as layout characteristics. The church was renovated towards the end of the 10th century. Back then, it was equipped with new stone furniture, the fragments of which have been found in the course of various research efforts in recent times. Ceramic fragments from the Early Bronze Age have also been discovered on the site, pointing to the existence of a Bronze Age tumulus on the site before the church was built.
The Church of St. John – Remains of the church are located on the southwestern edge of Stivanje polje, on a site called Gruh. The church was first mentioned as cella Sancti Iohannis in 1064 or 1065. On the basis of discovered architectural remains and stone art, it is assumed that the church originates from the pre-Romanesque period. However, there are also arguments for dating the church to the early Christian era. One of the reasons is the appearance – it is a single-nave construction with semi-circular, pronounced apse and narthex. In addition, there is the transenna adorned with perforations in the shape of fish scales. Another important argument is the ancient sarcophagus found in the nave of the church, coupled with the continuity of sacral space in which the church was built. Namely, a damaged altar with an inscription of Hercules or Hermes was found in one of the perimeter walls around the church. On the basis of these facts, it is beyond dispute that the Church of St. John in Telašćica stems from the early Christian period. Over many centuries of its existence, it went through a number of changes, with a fundamental restoration in pre-Romanesque period, when the interior was divided into three traves, with new stone furniture. The Church of St. John is inscribed in the Register of Cultural Goods of the Republic of Croatia under the ID number Z-2380.
The Church of St. Anthony the Abbot (later dedicated to St. Anthony of Padua) – The first mention of the church dates back to 1579. It was in use until 1844, when the notorious outlaw called Kutleša thoroughly plundered it. Following that, it was temporarily abandoned and left without the roof. The inhabitants of Sali raised a new church on the remains of the old one in 1913, and dedicated it to St. Anthony of Padua. Holy Mass is held in the church every year on the occasion of the feast day of the saint, on 13 June. In addition to the Holy Mass, a procession with the statue of St. Anthony is held as well, moving from the church to a pond in Njarica and back.
Fort of Grpašćak
The fortification of Grpašćak is located on the highest cliff in the Nature Park of the same name, at approximately 150 meters above sea level. It was built during Austro-Hungarian times, in the first half of the 20th century (in 1911), and it served as a military lookout point of the Austro-Hungarian Navy. Given the nature of the facility, it was equipped only with light weaponry. Contact with other lookout points and strategic outposts was ensured in two ways: by telephone and Morse code, using light signaling.