Tuesday 24 July 2012

Delaphodia: A brief history

You've had more than enough random ramblings, it's time for the history bit so pay attention.

The Lopud you see now is a faded relict of an incredible past. Some of the 16th century houses on the promenade are roofless and abandoned and those which stand are stunning reminders of what it was like in previous centuries.

There is evidence for ancient civilisation here; for instance in the Greek name 'Delaphodia'. Where the Greeks were, the Romans surely follow. However it was in the 9th Century that the Croats really made their mark, building four Romanesque churches, the remains of which still stand and are still in use, eg the roofless St John's with the incomparable views.

At this time the island 'Isola di Mezzo' became part of the Commune of Dubrovnik. This wealthy, proud republic rivalled Venice in its sea trade connections. By the 1400s the island's ship building and trade ventures ensured a steady supply of cultural exchange.

Intellectual endeavours were continued by the monastic inhabitants who set up schools in the 1480s. Their curriculum emphasised navigation which would have been invaluable to the seaward bound students. So impressive was the island's fleet of 80 merchant ships, that writers described the city here as having 14000 inhabitants. In actuality there was probably about 2000; these poets are prone to exaggeration, you know.

From the 17th century the island began its economic decline, which meant people left to seek their fortunes elsewhere. Conquest by Napoleon in 1808 brought the monasteries to a close and by the time of the Austro-Hungarian rule the diminished population of 300 were mostly farmers and fisherman.

The industrial revolution brought new trade and weaving was introduced along side the traditional occupations. Over 50 new looms also meant jobs for women. The island which is now covered in lush greenery was then highly cultivated with vineyards, olive farms and mills, grazing for the sheep which provided milk for the cheese industry and wool for the weaving.

From 1927-1990 tourism was an inevitable industry and brought new channels of prosperity. The population had new investment and stability was enjoyed. Despite the hotels being state property post WW2, all was, at least on the surface, thriving. From 1991-1995 however war interrupted this prosperity and it is only now with foreign investment that things are recovering. The hotel I am in was built in the 70s but has been recently refurbished by an Italian at great expense.

As the rep said this morning, it is important that the people here look to the future and try to leave the recent past behind. This place feels unexplored and I have to wonder what archeological remains are up in the hills. I also wonder what the local wine was like 80 years ago.

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