Kornati – where stone and sea come to play

Aug 20, 2015

A labyrinth of stone, with eighty nine islands, islets and rocks in the sea – that is the Kornati archipelago. It is the most indented island group in the Mediterranean. Regardless of whether you look at the Kornati Islands from the air, from the sea, or from sightseeing points on the islands, the view is equally impressive – and yet different to the eye every single time. It is more than worth experiencing and examining every perspective. Drywalls on the Kornati Islands are a silent and steadfast witness to hard work on modest soil on stone surrounded by crystal-clear sea. The Kornati Islands are the stone pearls of the Mediterranean.

The magical beauty of the Kornati National Park

The islands and islets of Kornati are scattered like a play of sorts between the stone and the sea.

In good weather, it is a silent play of blue and gray. When the winds start blowing, especially from the north, the archipelago starts speaking in the sound of waves... However, the Kornati Islands are a well-known shelter for sailors whenever the sea shows its rage and strength, too strong to even care about man as temporary guest.

The archipelago includes eighty nine islands, islets and rocks, with the total Park surface of 216.78 square kilometers. Even such dry pieces of data can bring to awareness the amazingly indented nature of the archipelago, creating landscapes nowhere else seen. The view from above is astounding, and the same goes for sightseeing points on the islands. The sea view is no different, as you watch the archipelago while your vessel passes through the sea labyrinth below the cliffs.

There are two groups of islands in the National Park – the Kornat and the Piškera island chains, with the biggest island of Kornat giving its name to the archipelago. The biggest width of the archipelago within the boundaries of the Park is 6 kilometers...

Life on the Kornati Islands has always meant struggle for survival. In that persistence for survival, man has changed the appearance of islands. Barren vegetation on rocky pastures was used to feed the sheep. However, the current barren appearance of the islands, covered only here and there by the occasional green spot of vegetation, isn’t all that old. Thousands of years of use of these areas eventually resulted in a deforested, rocky landscape of the islands.

The islands of Kornati are private property in their entirety, and ninety percent of the owners live on the nearby island of Murter. Towards the end of the 19th century, these Dalmatian farmers bought off the islands from the estate-owners, and enclosed their property by drywalls.

Drywalls are a monument to amazing human hard work, skill and patience. They frequently extend from coast to coast – built in order to prevent sheep from wandering into someone else’s property. There are approximately 260 kilometers of drywalls on the island of Kornat alone, and in the entire territory of the National Park, their total length is impressive 330 kilometers.

Looking at these artifacts from the air is truly astounding, but coming to a drywall in person is at least as rewarding – giving you the opportunity to touch by hand this testimony of traditional construction that was created solely by human hand. One can only feel deep respect for the coexistence of man and these rocks, marked by hard work. The reason why drywalls were built in the past were sheep. The domestic population is involved in sheep breeding today as well, perhaps not as intensively as in the past, but sheep are still freely grazing on the islands, and they are constituent part of a chain preserving biodiversity. The staff at the Park are there to help the domestic population when sheep require transportation from one island to another.

It is by no means a rare occurrence to see drywalls, these monuments to immense hard work, skill and patience of putting one rock upon another, to extend from one coast to the next, so as to ensure that sheep remain in the property belonging to their owner. People would occasionally come to the islands, and then go back home. There are approximately 300 houses on the Kornati Islands.

The islands, islets and reefs

When one refers to the National Park Kornati, one tends to think of the islands. However, the Park also includes a highly valuable maritime zone... The land part of the Park is an extreme form of karst and limestone terrain. That is why all the karst phenomena can be encountered here: ranging from karrens and solution pans to dolines and caves.

The landscapes are perhaps at their most impressive on the part of the archipelago facing the open sea, where cliffs rise high above the sea surface. The highest cliffs are located on the islands of Klobučar (80 meters), Mana (65 meters), Rašip Veliki (64 meters), Obručan (50 meters) and Piškera (45 meters). The submerged part of the cliff sometimes exceeds ninety meters. The visitors are bound to be at least as strongly visually impressed by the open, horizontal layers of some islands, such as those on the island of Malo Šilo, leaving the impression of neatly placed stone steps leading all the way to the top of the island.

There are numerous micro localities on Kornati – a logical consequence of the landscape and the number of islands. The locality Vela ploča or Magazinova škrila is just one such example, located below Metlina, the highest peak of Kornati (237 meters). It is a smooth limestone surface inclined over the sea, suddenly plunging tens of meters deep, into the home of the vivid Kornati sea life. The locality of Magazinova škrila is, in fact, an open and bare limestone surface, the former upper layers of which eventually “slid down” to the base of the structure.

Along the cliffs plunging into the sea, one can find an abundance of corals. The sea is extraordinarily clean and translucent, with light penetrating deep, which creates a specific habitat for fish and various species of astounding corals. The entire maritime zone is very well conserved, and it constitutes a true treasure of biodiversity. Its attractiveness is more than well known, especially among divers, who could tell you many stories about all the colors one can find in depths below the Kornati cliffs.

Above the blue of the sea, there is almost nothing but the barren rock. Even though many have been tempted to describe the area as “lunar landscape”, over 650 plant species have, in fact, been recorded in this area. The vegetation is restoring itself slowly and spontaneously. It is certain that the islands will remain devoid of forest cover that used to adorn them for quite some time. However, that is one of the reasons why the area is so interesting, for it reveals so many wonders usually hidden in the relief, such as layered rocks.

Barren rocks certainly do not imply barren cultural landscape, however. Life in this area used to pulsate the most around the Tarca field on the island of Kornat. As it usually happens, life looks for green pastures... The Tureta or Toreta fortification was erected in the sixth century. For a certain period of time, the island itself was carrying that name... One other Kornati island is worth particular mention – Piškera. Back in 1824, there were 13 houses registered on it, together with warehouses for salt, fish, barrels and various fishing tools. Until the fall of the Venetian Republic, the owners of the settlement and the fishing trade on Kornati were the fishermen from the settlement of Sali on the nearby island of Dugi otok. The Venetian tax collectors were placed quite nearby, in a small citadel on the island of Panitula. Nowadays, there are only five houses on the island of Piškera, but also a small church from the year 1560 (14.8 x 8 meters).

It was built only for fishermen, and it is the only such church on the Adriatic.

The rocks are a pleasant home to rare bird species, mammals are a rarity of sorts, and the only carnivore living on Kornati is the beech marten (Martes foina).

A paradise for boaters

The boaters perceive the Kornati Islands as a genuine treat, providing challenges and a safe shelter at the same time. The sea around the islands is regularly dotted by sails. One must know about the wind and sailing skills, of course, and pay due attention to the weather forecast, because the closeness of the rocks and small distances between the islands, coupled with the winds, can result in unpleasant surprises in those areas that are exposed to open sea, where there is no immediate shelter.

Beauty always invites description, and description can rarely match that beauty. When the power of realistic description fades, there are always legends. According to one legend, for example, God made Kornati out of white rocks that were left over following the creation of the world. He threw them into the sea, took a look, and concluded that there is nothing he should repair.

Most visitors are thrilled by Kornati, primarily due to the views they provide. Curious visitors can read a lot more from the stone. If they decide to chat a little with the locals, they can also hear interesting stories from the islands relatively distant from the shore, in the middle of the sea rich in fish, and frequented by pirates in the past. Kornati are always a safe shelter in rough weather...

The Kornati Islands are attractive in their harshness, and in the barren nature of their rocks. They are a testimony to the tremendous wealth of nature, and major poverty of the Dalmatian population in times past.

The story of Kornati is a quiet story; it is a story made into rock. It is for those who know how to listen, and how to examine the persistence of life in scarcity.

The Kornati National Park is one of 19 national and nature parks included in the project PARCS which is from 2014 carried out by UNDP Croatia in cooperation with the Ministry of Environmental and Nature Protection. Resolving the disparities in the funding, improving human capacities, investment in infrastructure and energy efficiency of buildings in the parks, are the main objectives of the project PARCS that is enabled due to the grant from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) in the amount of HRK 27 million. Preservation and protection of parks as national resources are important in order to provide drinking water, healthy food, clean environment and human health. Investing in their development will also contribute to the development of local communities and the creation of green jobs.