"And on the Brijuni Islands Venus is born from the sea foam! In the bay of Verige (on the eastern coast of Veliki Brijun), she is petrified in cannelured (grooved) stone columns with Corinthian capitals, one of the temple remains of a first century residential villa", writes Istrian writer and poet Daniel Načinović.
We were enjoying a sailing trip around this scenic part of the world - the archipelago of islands off northern Croatia known as Brijuni. Our yacht was berthed in the port at Veliki Brijun where we had had a really stimulating morning of gathering information about these alluring islands. If you would like to know more about the Brijuni National Park and what can be discovered and, more specifically for mariners, what one needs to do when berthing a yacht or boat in the port, read the article about the first leg of our Brijuni sightseeing journey - 'Čamčarnica - The Boat House'.
Now after an easy, relaxed 10 minute walk from the main port on Veliki Brijun we had arrived at the next item on our sightseeing list, the bay of Verige.
In Roman times the Brijuni islands were called Insulae Pullariae. With the arrival of the Romans in the archipelago, the land, forests, fields and pastures became the property of the Roman colonists, large landowners and slaveholders. A flourishing economy was born. On Veliki Brijun a series of countryside residential/commercial structures were built in which one could not only relax, but also live off of produce from the estate.
On Brijun the Romans built more villas, and we came across what must have been the largest and most lavish Roman villa complex, which stands out prominently in the bay of Verige. Construction had begun in the 1st century BC, and the highest peak was reached in the 1st century AD. Individual sections were used until the 6th century. Harmonising with the landscape, the Roman complex consisted of a series of open and closed paths used for varying purposes connecting into one piece stretching one kilometre along the shoreline of the bay. This country villa with three terraces on the south side of the bay must have been a sight to behold in its day as it was richly decorated with mosaics, frescoes, stucco and precious marble. It was a luxurious mansion of a residential/commercial character with two peristyles. It is assumed that the owner of the villa was probably Gaius Laecanius Bassus, who also owned a workshop producing amphoras in Fažana. When he died during the reign of Emperor Vespasian without a successor, according to Roman law, this villa became the property of the Roman emperor.
The Roman ville rustice on Brijun illustrate that the Romans knew and chose the most beautiful locations and certainly enjoyed indulging in earthly pleasures. Verige is a most visually appealing bay with its ancient ruins fringed by a pebbled beach and shallow turquoise sea. As we sat quietly and immersed ourselves in the beauty of our surrounds, I could just imagine the residents of Verige walking from the arena to the baths, and along the coast to the temples.
The shoreline was built with large stone blocks. Today it is about a metre below sea level. There are even ruins located in the bottom of the bay, which have been preserved to this day. They were temples of the sea god Neptune, the Capitoline Triad and the goddess of love and beauty, Venus.
Although the sparkling sea looked most inviting on this hot day, no swimming is permitted in the bay. However, if you wish to explore the temples of the gods embedded in their underwater domain, you could arrange a permit from the park's main reception. A professional diver will then guide you as you snorkel along an educational underwater trail. That should be pretty cool. Who knows which of the gods you might encounter there - perhaps the ethereal Venus herself!
Ships accessing the port from the sea were restricted by a long chain - the 'Verige' - that linked from one shore to the opposite shore. And that's how the bay later got its name: Verige or Val Catena. Even today, the Brijuni attract many sailors on the lookout for pristine beauty, peace and quiet, immersed in a rich culture. Verige Bay is considered to have been one of the largest, safest and richest ancient ports on the Croatian part of the Adriatic.
The dieta, palestra (arena area), spa, pond and farm section were located on the north side of the bay. Owners of Brijuni farms produced olive oil. Production and sale of quality olive oil, alongside the production of various ceramic products, was a generous source of income that most probably enabled the residents to own grand, luxury villas, such as this one in Verige Bay.
For the many years of archaeological excavations and research during the Austro-Hungarian era, Verige is indebted to Anton Gnirs, historian, archaeologist and conservationist born in the Czech Republic. Before coming to Brijuni he worked as a teacher at the German School in Pula, and from 1901 was the conservator of the Central Commission for the Protection of the districts Pula, Pazin and Rovinj and as curator of the state archaeological collection in Pula. There he discovered the remains of the magnificent country villa that was probably the center of Brijuni's estate owner in Roman times. He also found numerous amphoras belonging to the owner of the villa, which were produced in his workshop in Fažana. The ceramic and brick factory was located in the old town of Fažana. It is possible to trace Amphoras from the workshop as they were stamped. These relics from the past were found at more than 50 locations in Slovenia, Austria, Switzerland, Hungary, around the present-day northern Italy, and even very close to Rome.
The Roman villa in Verige Bay forms part of the Routes of Roman Emperors, which has received a certificate from the Council of Europe and the European Institute of Cultural Routes. The route length of 3.500 kilometres extends through Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania and promotes archaeological tourism. It includes 20 archaeological sites that were important during the period of Imperial Rome and were connected to the lives of 17 Roman emperors.
So there you have it! Stone traces of memories nestle in this peaceful bay reminding us of glorious lives and days gone by.
But wait! That's not all this archipelago offers. It's worth hoisting your sail and following the winds to Brijuni. Check out one of our cruising itineraries (7 days Cruising Itinerary - Pula to Pula) and see where you can find the most beautiful spots to anchor. Amongst other amazing spots, Brijuni offers a Dinosaur Park (yes, there are mementos left behind here from prehistoric times) and a Safari Park with exotic animals.
Author: Diana Karmela
Photos: "NuNu Productions" (Public Institution Brijuni National Park)