In every society, story-telling is an integral part of the culture. Not only are the stories we tell to each a form of entertainment, but an important way to pass on cultural and moral values. Our collective memories form a sense of belonging to a family, friendship, a neighbourhood and to the wider community.
The Island of Korcula is no different. Passed down through generations, there are many stories and legends that live on in the memories of Korcula islanders. Here’s a collection of some of them.
I say “Marco”. You say “Polo”
So we’ll start with the most well known legend. The famous traveller, Marko Polo, was born on Korcula Island. The island certainly tales this story well. On every corner you look you will see something dedicated to the explorer. There are Marko Polo shops, cafes, restaurants and ice cream stalls. You can visit the Marko Polo house, which although is unlikely to be the exact building he lived in, is built on the same spot. You can also visit the Marko Polo museum which tells his life through wax work models.
Some people will say the Marko Polo legend has been shaped to fulfil the needs of tourism, a simple invention. Other people will be able to real off undisputable facts that he was born on the island. For example, there are traces of his name (there are many DePolos on the Island), and the entry of his birth place was Venice or Curzola (the old name for Korcula). For sure this story will be continually embellished throughout Korcula Town.
One Last Battle for Marko
On 7 September 1298 off the shores of Lumbarda a sea battle commenced, the Battle of Curzola. As the Venetians prepared their defence of the island, the Genoese arrived in their ships to attack. Our famous Marko Polo together with the other soldiers fought bravely to defend Korcula. Alas, as the sun set, Marko was captured and returned to the island in chains. Definitely he claims “Even if the body is in chains, one’s mind is free. Korčula, the pearl of the world will live forever!” Or so the legend says!
This important naval battle is well documented; the dispute is if Marko Polo was present at the battle, then captured, before being held captive in the old prison walls of Korcula Old Town. For many years Korcula put on an impressive recreation of the battle, both sides dressed in full costume. The honour of course was the person chosen to play Marko Polo! Sadly due to some “rights” disputes, the story of the battle is no longer dramatised.
Old Jakov, a Gift and an Important Virtue
Have you ever been told Patience is a Virtue? Obviously no-one mentioned this to Old Jakov. Now, there are a few similar stories surrounding him. He was a farmer and went one day, as usual, to his fields. Some people say that whilst he was resting he was visited by fairies who gave him a bag filled with something. Others say he built shade for a beautiful maiden resting in the sun who then rewarded him by giving him a bag filled with something. Either way, he was told not to open the bag until he returned home.
Can you guess what he did? He opened the bag before he reached home to reveal a pile of dust, not the treasures he had been gifted. Upon returning to his wife, who shock the bag empty, just a couple of gold coins rolled out. Had he waited as he was told, he would have been rich; the bag was full of gold.
This is a brand new story to me. I find it especially interesting as we love spending time at the nature park of Kocje and have always found it mystical.
Legend goes that the Argonauts during their pilgrimage for the Golden Fleece were thrown off course by a stormy sea and ended up close to Kocje. They went in search of drinking water and saw in the distance dancing lights around a formation of rocks. Understandably intrigued by this they moved closer and saw that the lights were actually fairies. The travellers asked the fairies if they had water, but the fairies did not. Suddenly one fairy then stroked her wand against one of the rocks and magically a spring appeared. The fairies and spring are still said to be in Kocje, if you look hard for them.
Look out for the Mermaids at Istruga & Brna
Many men have fallen for the charms and beauty of mermaids. Many mermaids have yearned to be human and to walk the earth. It is said that mermaids live at the bottom of Brna Bay and can be found sunbathing off Istruga. The great Odysseus, during his travels around the islands of Croatia, stopped here for a few days and enjoyed the company of the mermaids.
Not all the love affairs with the mermaids ended so happily though. A local young man fell deeply in love with a mermaid, who against her family protests chose to give up her mermaid life to live on the land. Upon hearing this, her father who had bequeathed her to a Greek king, threatened to turn them both into stone. To protect her true love, the mermaid dived back into the sea, never to see her young man again.
Turkish Pirates & the Kumpanija Sword Dance
There are three very impressive and different sword dances performed on Korcula Island – the Moreska, the Kumpanija and the Mostra. The knightly dances commemorate the island’s defence against various attacks and are symbolic for each village and town they are performed in.
In 1571 a battle took place close to Blato between the local people and Turkish pirates. The heroic islanders formed Kumpanija, an army, and were victorious. Every year a great re-enactment of the Battle of Gica and a performance of the Kumpanija sword dance are staged in Blato.
The Turks also caused problems in the Bay of Brna. The port which was originally built to ship wine from Smokvica saw an invasion of Turkish pirates in 1715. The parish priest, Don Marko Bono from Zrnovo, along with 23 residents of Smokvica were captured to be sold as slaves. Indeed, he was sold for 100 sequins and later brought back by his relatives for the inflated rate of 141 sequins! The residents of Smokvica also perform the Kumpanija to demonstrate their power against the Turkish invader
Another Love Story and Cake
This story dates back to the Napoleonic times. A little history precedes the story. The French army invaded Korcula Island to defeat Napoleon and his throng, who had conquered the whole of Dalmatia. During this time a young French soldier (who was also a keen baker) and a young Blato girl fell in love, but their love was short as he had to leave. On his departure he left her a sweet bread and told his love “n’oublie pas” (do not forget). Not understanding French, the girl in her upset state had thought she heard “lumblija” and referenced this as the cake.
Today the lumblija cake is traditionally prepared and symbolises lost love or the people we have loved and lost. At the start of November, a Lumblija Festival takes place in Blato and the best cake is awarded a prize. The cakes are then shared with loved ones and in memory of people who are no longer with us.
Vela Spila & the Great Flood
The cave in Vela Luka is an important pre-historical archaeological site, but it’s also the stage for our final story. Times were very hard for the cave-people as the weathers changed and hunting become a struggle. The chief hunter went out one day to provide food for his community and happened upon a doe. The doe was actually the animal body for a nymph who lived in the area. Despite the nymph’s protestations not to kill the doe (and ultimately her), he did so anyway. The nymph was a child of God and in his fury He unleashed a flood which engulfed the whole area. This in turn carved a great bay in the land which formed Vela Luka.
No doubt by my writing of these stories, I have added my own embellishment and layer, but that I think, is the beauty of a good tale!
What’s your favourite story or legend?
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