Croatian Traditional Boats Presented at Maritime Festival in France

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Boris Kragic / Palagruza Facebook

April 8, 2018 – The long-awaited festival of the sea in the French town of Sete saw several teams from Croatia who presented our precious maritime heritage

A couple of weeks ago, we have proudly presented several local associations chosen to represent Croatia at Escale à Sète, the world-famous festival of the sea and maritime heritage hosted by the French port of Sète.

This year, the festival took place from March 27 to April 2, and the Croatian participants were happy to report they’re more than pleased with the outcome. How did the whole story start anyway?

Last year, the Association Palagruza from the southern Dalmatian island of Vis participated in Semaine du Golfe, another renowned maritime festival in the French town of Vannes. It just so happened the director of Escale à Sète, named Wolfgang Idri, saw a workshop organised by the Palagruza crew, dedicated to the traditional gundula boat. To add to the occasion, the Croatian team had invited the mayor of the French town of Rochefort sur Loire to be their official guest, also joining forces with a group of local women to present an array of gastronomic delights to the festival visitors.


They rounded up their Vannes story by lighting a gundula boat on fire so they could use her ashes to bless a new boat that was getting made at the festival – an ancient traditional custom originating from Komiža town on Vis. Naturally, the gathered audience was quite moved by the ceremony, including Mr Idri who invited the Association Palagruza to this year’s festival in Sète.


The association’s president Miro Cvitković met with Idri in Sète last summer to agree on the specifics of their 2018 programme. They visited local associations dedicated to preservation of traditional shipbuilding, organised a one-day workshop to introduce the participants to gundula construction, stopped by a couple of rowing societies… the entire trip having served as inspiration for wonderful activities and workshops carried out in Sète last week.


Idri’s initial idea called for the Croatian delegation to join forces with the Italian and present their customs in the so-called Adriatic village during the festival in Sète. They were supposed to prepare traditional dishes and organise dinners together so they could properly present the cultural and maritime heritage of the two countries in its original form.

The festival director invited the Association Latinsko Idro (lateen sail) from Murter and the Association Palagruza to join the festivities in Sète, along with the Association Cronaves from Split as the official coordinator of the Croatian delegation to France. The invitees in turn proposed to Idri to expand the Croatian team to include more towns and types of boats, including the Komiža falkuša. In the end, neither the Murter crew nor the falkuša made an appearance in Sète last week, but Cronaves heroically put together a merry Croatian team: Palagruza, the Association of Neretva Boatmen and the Association for Preservation of Heritage of Neretva, the University of Zadar, the City of Mali Lošinj and its Tourist Board, and the Eco Museum Mošćenićka Draga.


Ten traditional boats of Croatia sailed the waters of Sete last week: the lađa and trupa of the river Neretva, four gundula boats and one Komiža sandula, a historic naval ship from Zadar named Condura Croatia, one Lošinj pasara boat, and one Kvarner guc from Mošćenićka Draga. A proper fleet, presenting the entire Croatian coast from Istria and Kvarner in the north to Dubrovnik-Neretva County in the south.

And so it started: the crew prepared a dinner for 120 people in collaboration with the Italians, but the number of visitors to the Palagruza stall grew with each passing day, every guest eager to try out the wines of Vis island, homemade rakija and various Adriatic delicacies – including the Neretva brudet and Komiža pie.


Komiža sandula and gundula boats were presented to the audience, followed by a rowing regatta. A youth programme named Baraka Palagruzona saw several interesting workshops: the participants learned how to tie basic knots, made and repaired fishing nets, and attended multiple demonstrations of traditional fishing techniques.

The all-female rowing team from Opuzen staged a riveting presentation of the famous lađa boat, a vessel featured in a traditional amateur rowing marathon held on the Neretva river each year. A true maritime spectacle, playing out in front of a delighted audience.


The Croatian delegation didn’t just present our cultural heritage and traditions, but also doubled as promoters of Croatia as a tourist destination. While they didn’t mind introducing the festival visitors to the wonders of the Adriatic coast, they did state they wished more participating towns had sent their tourism officials to the festival in France.


And regarding the ceremonial burning of the gundula… This time around, the crew from Komiža set a small model of the boat on fire, granting the festival director the honour to scatter the ashes on another gundula in making. Born in Sète, the wooden boat will get built in several stages at other maritime festivals in Croatia and Europe, then donated to the Association Escale à Sète. Mr Idri wowed to return the gundula to Komiža at the end of her life journey, so it can be ceremonially burned at St. Mikula – another historical tradition on Vis island. 


Sources: Morski, Slobodna Dalmacija

Photo credit: Palagruza Facebook page, photos by Boris Kragić


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