Development of Omiš tourism trough the history
Omiš is not a typical Dalmatian city.
Stone gates through which the clear karst river discharges into the sea, invincible fortresses withstanding the time for hundreds of years, an impressive canyon leading to the peaceful islands of love and happiness...
This is how the Omiš writer Ivan Katušić summarized - simply and clearly - the geographic-geological-historical environment this city lies in. It is just the absence of typical features that placed Omiš on pages of many early travelogues and graphics, and later in tourist guides and itineraries.
If we have to find a starting point for relatively new terms of "tourism" and "tourist" in the turbulent history of Omiš, then we should not forget to mention Alberto Fortis and his travelogue "Travelling throughout Dalmatia". Fortis enjoyed delicious fishes from the river Cetina delta and superb moscato wine. The hospitality of Omiš inhabitants found its place in his records as well. Back in 1772 Fortis also visited other Dalmatian villages, but left a record just about Omiš confirming undoubtedly that two most important tourism criteria were met – a kind host and a satisfied guest.
With his writings, Fortis urged the others to experience the beauty of rugged cliffs, frightening canyons and thunderous roar of the Gubavica waterfall. Numerous natural diversities and beauties attracted the idle European aristocracy, intoxicated with romanticism, to visit the unknown and exotic Dalmatia. Moreover, due to its “atypicality” the city of Omiš became a “must stop” to some of them.
Thus, in 1838, on his botanical journey through Dalmatia, the king Friedrich August II of Saxony visited Omiš and experienced a truly royal welcome organized by its inhabitants. Back in 1844, when the villa Angiolina was built in Opatija – the event that represents the initial year of the Croatian tourism, the famous British explorer and scientist Sir John Gardner Wilkinson paid a visit to Omiš while on his travel through the forgotten Dalmatian paths. In his famous travelogue "Dalmatia and Montenegro" (1848) he paid a significant attention to Omiš and Poljica.
Undoubtedly inspired by Wilkinson’s records, Emily Anne Beaufort, Viscountess of Strangford visited Omiš in 1863. Later on, she entered her memories from the journey into the book "Eastern Adriatic coast in 1863 with a visit to Montenegro". In her records, Omiš took a significant position. Beautifully hosted by the city fathers, the Viscountess did not hesitate to call Omiš "the most beautiful of all the small towns" she has had visited. That it was indeed the case, is proven through the Omiš lithograph whose template she drew herself! It was published in her book as the only Dalmatia lithograph –and one of four in total!
Later on, many other famous travel writers, scientists and crowned heads visited Omiš. However, for mass visits and tourism development in today's sense of word, Omiš had to wait for the development of modern miracles resulting from the Industrial Revolution. The development of the steam engine contributed to the railway network construction and establishing of regular ship lines. Thanks to these circumstances, a trend to travel was appearing among wider circles of citizens. While Dalmatia was waiting for train connections with the world for nearly a century, steamship lines were developed quickly. As a result, Omiš found itself soon on the route of civil passenger and postal ship lines.
The introduction of traffic connections with other Dalmatian centers caused a need to open the first hotels. The oldest hotel in Omiš was Balkan, situated on today’s Poljica Square. Soon after that, the hotel Dinara, providing the same comfort level as the hotels in major cities, was opened in Vangrad. Quick steamship lines made Omiš a favorite destination for gentlemen from Split, who gladly used to visit– already in the first days of spring - the river Cetina canyon seeking refreshment.
At that point, Omiš was in infancy stage of modern tourism, although the tourist visits were at that time still modest, while the tourist offer was directed more to the officials engaged in the construction of the hydroelectric power plant in Gubavica than to the guests looking for entertainment. However, this did not keep the visionaries from establishing the society aimed for city embellishment named “Vojan” back in 1913, a kind of forerunner of today’s tourist boards. Almost perfect position in the middle of Adriatic, close to all the mid-Dalmatian islands and Split as the very center, makes Omiš a tourist destination with the highest potential. Pristine and already glorified natural diversity imposes itself as the main asset. The benefits of climate with mild winters and warm summers open up the possibility of year-round tourism for visitors coming from the cold inland European countries.
After the end of the World War I, Omiš found itself at a turning point and in the next couple of years, the city had been transforming from a picturesque sleepy place into a true tourist destination for domestic and foreign guests. That it was indeed so, indicates the need for first tourist guide written, illustrated and published by the Omiš writer Jakov Tomasović in 1929.
In the upcoming years, a series of hotels and boarding houses was built in Omiš and the surrounding area. Some of them, such as the hotels "Bellevue" and "Adria, were at the European level. On the peninsula of Punta, a bathing area with dressing cabins standing on wooden poles above the water had been constructed. Within just a few kilometers from the center of the city, the tourists could enjoy swimming in salt or fresh water and sunbathing on sandy or pebble beaches. We almost envy former visitors who could enjoy, besides the pristine beauties of the river Cetina, also the peace and tranquility of the numerous Rogoznica beaches. The pleasant Omiš early evenings were reserved for walking down the Fošal and enjoying the sunset on the terrace of one of the mentioned hotels.
There were several orchestras in the city that entertained the tourists by performing popular songs on the terraces of the said hotels and restaurants. The visitors seeking a true Mediterranean atmosphere used to treat themselves in “konobe” (taverns) with a glass of Omiš moscato wine and dried figs. In addition, they enjoyed the sounds of at that time completely spontaneous and intimate “klapa” (folk ensemble) songs.
In spite of the highway Split-Omiš-Makarska and several bus companies and taxi drivers in Omiš, the steamship still remained not only the most attractive but also the most reliable type of transport. The construction of Lika railway line in 1925 and introduction of short haul-flight Split-Prague made Omiš to mecca for tourists from the Central Europe - first of all from Czechoslovakia and then from Germany. People sang that time the ringing melody of Max Schwarzmanoff’s song "Let's go to Omiš, that beautiful city, when you stay there, you are happy”. The existence of a song and of musical notation in German indicate undoubtedly whose ears it was supposed to catch.
In addition to the re-publishing of Tomasović’s guide in 1932, the tourist association "Slavinj" – in cooperation with private caterers - published several brochures in German and Czech. Since these publications were stylish and well equipped, the daily press also reported about them! Then the World War II interrupted this idyllic and rapid growth of the tourist offer.
At the end of the war, there were only two hotels in Omiš. However, the trend of tourism growth was continued, so in the upcoming decades, a few modern and spacious hotels with all the accompanying facilities had been built in the city and its surroundings. The construction of Adriatic highway in the 60’s stimulated the rapid growth of the building of private family boarding houses along the coast and thereby increasing of the number of beds.
Large melioration works at the mouth of the Cetina river created a suitable area for opening a large motor camp. On the territory of the municipality of Omiš, several workers’ resorts had been constructed. Besides the domestic tourists from the territory of the former Yugoslavia, the most numerous foreign tourists are still those from Germany and Czechoslovakia. The growth of tourist capacities was followed by the growth of entertainment and cultural offer. In 1967, the Festival of Dalmatian Klape (folk ensembles) was established, which has been going on for three weeks. During the Festival, the foreign tourists have the opportunity to experience see the beauty of the original Dalmatian folk songs. The river Cetina canyon was used again in its full capacity, and the ancient mills and summer residence of the noble family Radman was turned into an excursion site. Apart from that, new stylish resorts had been built, such as, for example, the “fisherman’s village” in the Vrulja bay, which blends perfectly inserted into the surroundings. The tourists of that period used to spend their days on numerous sandy and pebble beaches and sultry summer evenings by dancing on the terraces of the Omiš hotels such as „Brzet", "Plaža" or "Ruskamen".
Unfortunately, the history was repeated in its harshest form. Such an established series of tourism successes was interrupted by the Homeland War in 1991. Although the Omiš Riviera was not directly impacted by the war, the main capacities were occupied by displaced persons from the occupied regions of Croatia and by refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina. In those, for Croatia very difficult moments, a fair number of visitors from the European countries like Germany, Austria and Czech Republic ignored the imminent threat and continued visiting Croatia during the summer months. In such a difficult war situation, this was a big moral support of the tourists towards their hosts....
After the end of the Homeland War and mass return of tourists, Omiš continued to follow its tourist path. We are expecting more and more success and affirmation of tourism, because Omiš is not a typical Dalmatian city…
Author: Čedomir Vojnović