Where did you go on vacation last summer?
24 Nov 06
Opatija, Croatia. This is a small description from a web site: In any case, “old” in the terminology of Opatija designates the pre-tourist time, in other words, the Opatija before 1880 and the cycle of facelift operations directed by the Southern Railways Company (Südbahngesellschaft). As the old-timer reasoning of the local fishermen, mariners and weavers melted away, so in likewise manner did their hovels dissolve in favor of the new tourist logic – either through surrender to the general director Friedrich Schüler, or through transformation into catering barracks under the same owners. To acclimatize with the “old-time” Opatija means to plunge into a street layout a good deal different from the one we now see. If we wanted to go for a walk along the pre-tourist main street today, we would encounter an array of surprises. The northernmost part of the “proto-Marshal Tito Street” ran the same course as it does now: from Škrbici to the Marketplace time has made its impact on the people and buildings, but not on the street. However, going further on we must step into the drab subordinate quarter of the Workers (Radnicka) road, winding from he Marketplace (Mrkat) up into the hill, passing between Baric and Rijeka Bank and then downhill to the Fishermen’s Square (Ribarski trg / Piazza vecchia) behind today’s photographer shop Luigi. This was the locality where fish, fruits and vegetables were sold long before the building of the Marketplace of our own time. Cramped in between villas Dalibor (abode of the writing-office of the “St. Cyril & Methodius Society for Istria” and apartment of writer Viktor Car Emin) and Ertl (later called after its owner, Rosenberger) on one side and Je`ice on the other, the main street swings out uphill to the square called Stendardo, called after the flag that used to hang here on holidays. Here, at the intersection with today’s St, Florijan Street, only a couple of decades ago, the dwellers from the slopes of Mount Ucka sold firewood and coal from the backs of their burdened donkeys. On the downhill sequel of St. Florijan Street that follows, the old main street would have led us further on the Hotel Palma: at this point we are back on Marshal Tito Street, the main street of today’s Opatija. But just below café Paris we must turn off the road again, into the narrow Tesla Street. Here we come face to face with the ungainly megalomaniacal building of villa Rudovits (alias Schanzer), the St. Kuzma chapel, Zora and the remnants of the remains of Opatija’s once famous cinematograph. Here in front of Zora a flight of stairs comes out on to the former main road (compressed between house numbers 118 and 120 of M. Tito Street) and the flight continues on from the other side of today’s main street down into the cleft between villa Devan and hotela Atlantik: this was the junction of St. Jacob’s Church and old Opatija’s street network. However, following the logic of the old main road, we will continue onward to the Stairs of Theodore Billroth and Edith Stern (going that way today we cross Dobrila Street and Nova Cesta Street), all the way to Vrutki Street. Opatija’s second artery, a merger of two streets that are still active to this very day – E. Kumicic Street and Vrutki Street, used to be the longest continuous stretch of road, intersected not longer ago than in our century with the building of the New Road (Nova Cesta) in 1908. The shortcut that linked divergent routes (E. Kumicic-Vrutki and the lower street – “proto-M. Tito”) after the bifurcation near the marketplace, was today’s St. Florijan Street (ex M. Gorki). The houses of old Opatija were not exclusively grouped around these thoroughfares, but also went after the ancient logic of running away from the coast that is exposed to numerous perils. Such a prominently large group of houses was Jelenkino or Jelenkina Vas (Jelenka’s Village), in those times an independent settlement located around the northern part of today’s B. Žele Street and running on to the Road to Bregi Street and E. Bošnjak Street. About 25% of Opatija’s houses were concentrated here on a proportionally small area – a location furthest away from the St. Jacob’s Church, but there is no doubt that Matija Dujmic’s inn at number 88 gave the “settlement” a mark of distinction. But of course, in spite of all the interventions that tourism imposed on the town’s appearance, some of the facades of the older era have withstood time, their narrower sides often facing the sea, according to safety measures that were meant to protect them from the eyes of pirates. Although many of the houses, recorded on the only pre-tourist cadastral register (1820.), have disappeared, such as for example, the houses on the site of today’s fountain in the Slatina district, or the house of Pasquale Jacic in front of the main entrance to Hotel Imperial, or the hovel of Jurkovic Suc on the site of the concrete bathing beach in front of villa Amalia, many have held their ground, surviving frequent reconstructions and expansions. One such house is at the address of M. Tito Street 78 (Maxi-bar), then there is a whole nucleus around Vrutki 23-27 (perhaps Opatija’s oldest residential nucleus, where the first colonists of the Giusti family dwelled, in the vicinity of the Vrutki stream along the edge of land owned by the church), or the house at the address of Tesla Street 4. The house at Vrutki 15, beside the house of the Šikic family overlooking the Marketplace parking lot, has preserved a “shod” (an arched entrance) that is very rare in Opatija, and at St. Florijan Street 12, where poet Zoran Kompanjet was born and where poetess Maria Trinajstic lives, behind the thick walls of the house and under the low roof-beam there still stands the old “napa” (fireplace hood) right above the old kitchen stove. To take a stroll through that “old” Opatija of Vrutki, Jelenkina Vas, Strojbaric, Križišca and St. Florijan, means to get a whiff of dinners being cooked, to overhear family quarrels and to take a peek into the everyday life of the descendants of the folks who could not build Opatija, but whose hands have forever nurtured her and kept her alive, like they would some rare plant in their own garden.