Although the small Istrian city of Draguć is known as a place where numerous films have been made in which it played the part of middle ages cities, our walk through it uncovered that it is much more than that.
It is a city monument with masterpieces from Renaissance masters of frescoes, exceptionally preserved architectural heritage, located in an excellent, protected position, today, unfortunately, with more cats than human inhabitants.
Each time of the year brings a different scenography to Draguć. We found it in the golden yellow, red and remaining green colours of fall-harvested vineyards. The odd inhabitant was picking the olives on the slopes under the well-fortified city.
The city is located on a natural fortification – an excellently positioned ridge of a mountain that looks west and is mostly in Istria. It is well protected from cold easterly winds, primarily the bora, which is the reason why at 400 metres above sea level and 30 kilometres from the sea it still enjoys the benefits of the Mediterranean climate.
This provided the inhabitants that settled here in the time of the Illyrians numerous benefits: natural protection from possible attackers and the ability to cultivate Mediterranean crops, primarily olives and wine grapes. The look to the northwest, west and south are open, which is why the view from Draguć spans for tens of miles away.
A jewel for art lovers
Draguć frescoes are an exceptional example of provincial Renaissance painting with earth colours on plaster and can be found in the churches of St. Eliseus and St. Rocco. Art historian Mladen Lučić, an expert on Draguć, explains that “the Glagolitic graffiti carved into them confirms that the Croatian population in the area is autochthonous.”
Graffiti was a manner of communicating messages between the monks at the time who were among the rare inhabitants that were literate. The frescoes in the church of St. Rocco was painted in the first half of the 16th century by master Antun from Padova, today’s Kaščerga, a place not far from Pazin.
The House of Istrian Frescoes, opened last year, is dedicated to that middle-age and renaissance style of painting. It is interesting that Istrian frescoes, by order of church council from the 16th century, were painted over with a layer of white paint, which is why most were discovered after the Second World War.
Besides the two mentioned churches, the small city also has two more – the Madonna of the Rosary and the parish church of the Holy Cross located on the main square. A main, rock tiled street leads to the city square. It has Mediterranean Hackberry trees and a stone table – a symbol of the city government.
A 12th-century fountain can also be found along with a renaissance tower from the 15th century. Today it is a viewpoint from where the view spans south-east, where Grimaldi can be seen on the neighbouring hill and lake Butoniga in the valley. The city tavern can also be found, a place where all gather who find themselves in Draguć.
The city was first mentioned in 1102 in a grant from Istrian Margrave Ulrich to the Aquileia patriarchs.
As a part of the future Pazin principality, it belonged to the Gorica counts, after which it fell under the rule of the Hapsburgs. It was attacked by the Turks and Venetians, who took it in 1523. Besides church graffiti, Glagolitic script was also used in the Draguć Glagolitic Breviary from 1407, which was in use in the church of the Holy Cross and today is kept in the Croatian Academy of Arts and Sciences archive in Zagreb.
Olive groves – masters of their owners
It is unthinkable to go to Draguć and not visit one of its olive groves. Although you have to go down a steep path to get to them, because cars can’t get there due to the steep angle, the view is worth every effort.
The olive grove of Zdenka and Ivana Blažević is a true master of its owners. In order to get oil from it, a lot of effort and work is needed, incomparable to work on flatland olive groves. The trees in the grove are as old a 2000 years, and the oil they give has won numerous recognitions for quality.
- This is what keeps me going because from a financial point of view you can’t make a living from these trees - says Ivan Blažević, whose wife Zdenka assists in the harvest. But for most of the year Zdenka works in Denmark, so he mainly works in the olive grove alone.
Sometimes he is helped by his son, sometimes by neighbours, but the old olive grove is vain and needs full attention. His olives are placed on an angle of 45 degrees, which is why every activity in the grove is a proper adventure. The oil produced is sold to the last litre and many are prepared to travel hundreds of kilometres to pick it up personally.
- Olive cultivation in Draguć can only survive if someone younger is interested in it. But the youth don’t want this, they find life in the city interesting and no one wants the heavy work in the olive grove - says Zdenka Blažević.
Emil Daus, the head of Cerovlje municipality, which Draguć falls under, sees the future of Draguć in a combination of tourism and agriculture with ecological products of high quality.
- Communal-infrastructure projects have been completed, there is room for a waterworks and sewage network and conditions for life are much better than they were before. Big cities are close by and people are starting to understand more and more that life in places such as Draguć or nearby has great advantages.
Centres of excellence that we will open in Grimaldi and Draguć will surely contribute to this - says Daus. It is up to the youth to decide: the municipal leader and the few remaining locals are convinced that those who choose Draguć will not make a mistake.
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