If a traveller visits Ston, his attention will surely be attracted by a long wall — the Great Wall of the Mediterranean, bunches of shells in Maloston bay. When he travels toward Piljesac peninsula, he will definitely see salt fields and won’t even have an idea how close he is to the oldest “solana” — a salt-producing enterprise — in Europe. It is no less than four thousand years old!
The age of the Ston solana is not debatable. It has been verified by numerous scientific authoriries, Russian and and foreign historians. The academician Igor Fiskovia wrote: “The solana is located between a fertile valley of the Ston field and the deep Ston bay, and it has been working for a very long time. Archaeological finds have shown that there was habitation here even in the Neolithic period, and there are conjectures that the production of salt started here in the period of classical Antiquity.
The Ston solana withstood and outlasted the Greek rule, the Illyrian state, the Romans, and being part of the medieval Zachlumia (the old name of Herzegovina). It was around during the time of the Venetian republic, and between 1333 and 1808 it was part of the Republic of Dubrovnik.
It was occupied by Austria, France, and Austria one again. The came the Yugoslavia of the king Alexander Karadjordjevic, and later, it found peace in the independent state of Croatia, in the private property of the touristic and restaurant entrepreneur Svetan Pejic.
Years passed, but the value of salt from the Ston solana never diminished.
Salt in the Charter of the Republic of Dubrovnik
Salt played a major part not only in cooking, but also in export. It was exported in great amounts to those areas that baed their economies on breeding cattle. Several articles of the 1272 Charter of the Republic of Dubrovnik show how important salt — a gift of the sea and the sky, the result of human labour — was.
In Chapter XLVII of Book 8 of the Charter it is said: “For the purpose of care of state salt, so that the profits of its sales could be better used for the development of the Republic of Dubrovnik, we decree that all salt in any amounts will be entered into the state book, both at the delivery and the acceptance thereof. The warehouse keys are to be kept in a chest of the local key-keeper. Every time, when salt is accepted or delivered, two customs officers are to take the keys from the local key-keeper and both of them are to be present at the weighing of salt until the delivery or acceptance thereof has been completed.”
The article VIII of the Book Two of the Charter speaks of an oath for those who purchase salt for the Republic of Dubrovnik. “I swear on the holy Gospel that I will be fully and without any evil intentions commеttend to my work concerning salt shipping for the ends of the Republic of Dubrovnik, and I will devoutly make sure than none shall break the rules of the Charter concerned with salt. If I discover a breacher, I shall report this to the lord prince as soon as possible.”
Sixty-one years passed from the adoption of the Charter o 1333, when, by decree of the Serbian king Dusan II of January 23 and the Bosnian ban Stepan II Kotrumanic of January 15 of the same year the Republic of Dubrovnik became the owner of Ston and the Ston solana.
Salt is a strategic resource
It is known that the Republic of Dubrovnik solved all its problems through well thought-out diplomatic negotiations, and failed to do so only in the case of Venice. Venice constantly attacked and stole salt. This is why, in 1333, having mad an agreement with the bann of Bosnia Stepan Kotrumanic, the Republic buys Neum, Bistrina bay and part of Peljesac peninsula, which belonged to Bosnia at that time, and pays for all of these with gold. Fortress walls linking Mali and Veliki Ston were built. A hundred years later the authorities make a diplomatic decision — they return Neum to Bosnia without any kind of payment despite the fact that once it had been paid for with pure gold. In this way, a “tampon zone” was made, which prevented Venetians from fighting their way on the land in the direction of Ston and Dubrovnik. Troops were deployed on the walls of Mali Ston for the defense of Malostonski bay, and on the walls of Ston for the defense of Ston and Pelesc themselves. At that point, “salt wars” stop.
The people of Dubrovnik, aware of the importance of the territory they acquired, built massive fortress walls near it. Their length was 5.5 km (for comparison, the length of the walls of Dubrovnik is only 1940 m). They proclaimed Ston the economic centre of salt production, and from Mali Ston salt was ransported to different parts of the world. Thanks to this, Ston became the second town of the Republic of Dubrovnik and the main source of salt, which played a major role in the life of the state for centuries. For example, in 1611, in the Ston solana, there were produced 96642 modii of salt (one modus being equal to 62.5 kg), which amounts to 6040 tonnes of salt.
The people of Dubrovnik believed that the solana can produce even more salt, so they invited different foreign masters to expand the mining complex and to mine more salt.
The working season in the solana lasted from April to October, and the production worked from the beginning of May to the end of September. The date of the beginning of work was decided by the Minor Council (the Parliament of the Republic of Dubrovnik), and later this was done by the Senate. Back then, there already existed a monopoly on salt, and since they wished to harvest every crystal of the valuable resource, the authorities of Dubrovnik declared full mobilization — all people of the Ston region were obliged to work in the solana. For their work, the people received payment in salt or gold. The work was done according to a schedule set by the authoritie, and anyone shirking from this duty got in a lot of trouble. Beasts of burden — donkeys and horses — were also mobilized. They were used to transport salt from the salt fields to the warehouses, where it was loaded onto vessels. If it was necessary, and more often than not it was even prisoners participated in salt harvesting.
The solana has the area of 500000 sq.km., and 430000 sq.km. out of this number are pools with sea water. There are 58 pools in total, and they are dividd into 5 groups. During the tide, the sea water moves into the pools of the first group, and the salinity of the water amounts to 3.5%. The water is let to flow from one pool to another until its salinity is 2.4%. This process lasts for 1.5-2 months, depending on the weather conditions. After that, the water moves into crystallization pools. In them, salt crystallizes and in 10-1 days, salt harvesting begins. One pool is processed every day. Between 30 and 100 tonnes of salt are harvested from each of the pools, and the work is done manually. After salt has been harvested from all of the pools, the process is repeated.
It should be mentioned that the authorities of the Republic of Dubrovnik gave salt to the poor for free.
The degree of importance of salt to the Republic is seen in the existence of the Salt Department (officium salis), which consisted of four noblemen: one scribe, two officials, and one protomaster, a man who was responsible for everything connected with the production of salt.
The famous people of Dubrovnik and the Ston solana
The salt pools take up the area of 430,000 sq.m. During the imes of the Republic of Dubrovnik, 12 pools were used for crystallisation, and now only 9 are used. The crystllisation pools are called by the people of Dubrovnik after the names of saints: St Vlaho, St Frano, St Nikola, St Balthasar, St Iosip, St Ivan, St Maria, St Lazarus, St Clementine and St Peter and Paul. Just one of the salt-pools bears no name of a saint, but is called “Mundo”, which means “the world, the universe, the cosmos” in Spanish.
Young specialists were sent to Ston as to the second most important town for them to hone their mastery of management to later operate in Dubrovnik. Their primary concern was the production of salt.
The famous poet, merchant and diplomat Jakov Bunic (1469-1534), who was elected Prince of the Republik of Dubrovnik, was also Prince of Ston. The author of the first Croatian publically announced epic “The Abduction of Cerberus” (Rome, 1490-1500) also controlled salt production.
In 1495, Ilija Grizelj (1463-1520), Croatia’s most famous humanist, a favourite or Rome, a student of Pomponius Laetus, a commentator of Plaut’s works and a writer of Latin poetry livd in Ston having the position of a manager and, apart from other duties, he also controlled the production of salt.
The world-famous mathematician and physicist Marin Getaldic (1568-1626), who also had the rank of captain, livd in Ston and also dealt with salt.
But it was not only noblemen who served in Ston and were responsible for the production of salt; there was one commoner there, as well. He was a famous comedy dramatist, and his name was Marin Drzic (1508-1567). Between 1553 and 1556 was connected with the Ston solana.
Ecologically clean salt is the way of the future
The Republic of Dubrovnik lapsed into memory, and in 1808 the power over Dubrovnik and Ston came to the French. Napoleon was not much interested in salt. The reason for that was the cheap Maltese salt supplied by the English.
But the French became history as well, and in 1813 the Austrians came. At first, they were planning to invest in the expansion of the solana, but this was not meant to happen even though salt from Ston was in use at the Austrian court. They produced, on average, from 200 to 400 train cars of salt in the times of the Austrian-Hungarian monarchy.
During the times of the Republic of Dubrovnik, when sea water was directed into the pools, a certain ritual took place. A procession from the church of St Vlah came to the solana and blessed the entire complex, and a mass was served in the church of the Holy Virgin of Luzin. The Prince, the workers of the solana and the citizens of Ston took part in the mass and in the procession. The same took place on the 15th of August on the Day of Birth of the Holy Virgin. The main festival took place on the 24th of August on the Day of St Bartul, who is considered the protector of miners. The church of St Bartul and the Bartholomia fortress are at the top of mount Podzvizd towering over the northern part of Ston. Chronicles say that all the citizens of Ston and the neighbouring areas roasted oxen and sheep, danced and sang all night long.
In the Yugoslavia Kingdom, in 1925, one of the pools for salt crystallisation was outfitted with asphalt floor. This was all that the state did for the Ston solana.
Features of the salt: the only salt that is not bitter and does not require any additives to prevent coalescence — it is always loose.
The average volume of salt production in the recent years is 1500 tonnes. In the year is a rainy one, the salt is not harvested at all. The largest harvest of salt was in 1611 — 6011 tonnes; then, salt was paid for in gold. The Adriatic sea is the northernmost sea where salt is harvested in a natural way — through vaporisation.
What future awaits the Ston solana? In the last 20 years, the average production of salt here is about 1500 tonnes. The consumption of salt in Croatia is from 100 to 120,000 tonnes, and in means that the country will annually import from 90 to 100,000 tonnes of salt. It is believed that the future of the oldest solana in Europe is rather grim. Its director and owner Svetan Sveto Peic says: “The future of the Ston solana lies in the production of ecologically clean salt. For that, we need to face the pools with granite tiles. It is expensive, but it is worth it. It is necessary to save a unique solana, where work has not stopped for 4000 years. Not one country around can boast with anything of the sort.”
Anyone who believes that good will and substantial financial support of relevant ministries will make it possible to use these territories to make salt of such quality that all Europe will envy will agree with these words. Only in this manner can we save the unique Ston solana, which is becoming a more coveted destination of numerous tourists withe every new day. The solana attracts many people, especially young ones, who are anxious to have an opportunity to participate in the process of salt harvesting.
On this page used photos from www.pticica.com, www.justdubrovnik.com, dubrovacki.hr, www.zadarskilist.hr, photodox.com, holidayplannercroatia.com, www.antenazadar.hr