The first things that pop into your mind when imagining your vacation in Omiš are probably the sun, sea and beautiful beaches. However, the municipal district of Omiš also includes the territory of Poljica – a group of villages situated along the foot of the Mosor mountain, boasting quite a rich and interesting history.
Situated away from the sea, on the other side of the Dinara mountain, Central and Upper Poljica are a rural area that offers escape from the hustle and bustle of the crowded town streets and beaches. But although an oasis of peace today, the history of the villages of Poljica was anything but peaceful.
From the 13th century onwards, the territory of today’s Poljica was organized as the so-called Republic of Poljica (the name first used in 1774 by Alberto Fortis, a famous Italian travel writer and explorer, in his book Viaggio in Dalmazia), which has remained a unique phenomenon in Europe due to its - for the time - unusually democratic system of government. The medieval Republic of Poljica was, in fact, governed by the people, who elected their leader – the great Prince of Poljica – through a public voting process held each year on St. George’s Day in Gata, at the foot of the Gradac hill.
The basic legal act governing the functioning of the Republic of Poljica was the famous Poljica Statute, a collection of customary law originally written in the early days of the principality, with the oldest preserved edition dating back to the 15th century . This invaluable piece of both Croatian and European legal history regulated in detail all aspects of economic and social life in the Republic of Poljica.
Furthermore, the document is also a testament of how much ahead of their time the inhabitants of Poljica were, living, as they did, in one of the few truly democratic societies of the period. The Republic of Poljica was such a well-organised social system that some scientists today believe it was precisely the visit to this small community that inspired the writing of Thomas More’s indicatively titled masterpiece – “Utopia”.
The Republic of Poljica was finally abolished in 1807, following Napoleon’s conquest of Dalmatia. However, numerous monuments have survived to the present day and bear witness of its seven hundred year long history, including more than a hundred churches and chapels on an area of some 250 square kilometres, many traditional stone buildings, the famous Statute of Poljica and two elements of intangible cultural heritage inscribed on the UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity – the silent circle dance of “Gluvo Kolo” and “Ojkanje” two-part singing. Another important piece of intangible cultural heritage of Croatia – and an essential part of the local cuisine – is definitely “soparnik”, a delicious traditional dish from Poljica.
The most popular tourist attractions on the territory of Poljica are:
- Early Christian Church in Podgrađe (5th century)
- Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church and cemetery in Tugare (18th century)
- 13th Roman Villa Rustica (5th century)
- St. Cyprian Church and Historical Museum of Poljica – the remnants of the Early Christian church bear testimony of the rich life of Poljica ever since ancient times, and the Historical Museum of Poljica boasts a valuable historical collection from which you can learn a thing or two about the culture and everyday life of the old inhabitants of Poljica.
- Pavić Bridge (“Pavića most”), Podgrađe – one of the oldest bridges over the Cetina River was built in year 1900, but despite the toll of time and the damage done to it by explosives during World War II remains in use until today. After extensive reconstruction works in 2012 it was finally renewed and reinforced and is today even passable by car.
- Church of St. George, Gradac, Gata - built high up on the hill of Gradac (at 353 meters above sea level), the Church of St. George stands as a silent witness of time and as a window onto one of the most amazing views of Omiš and the Cetina River canyon.
The legend of Mila Gojsalić
Although a true oasis of peace today, throughout the history the villages of Poljica were a venue of many battles. Most of them were fought against the Ottomans, and many of these battles have been recorded in historical documents. The military feats and legends of Poljica have also served as an inspiration to numerous Croatian writers and artists. One of them is the legend of Mila Gojsalić, a young girl who – according to some sources – lived in the 16th century and whose courageous act saved Poljica from a certain demise. As the legend has it, the invading Ottoman army, being far stronger in number, was on the verge of victory over the people of Poljica when the beautiful young girl from Kostanje (a village of Poljica) named Mila Gojsalić went into the tent of the Ottoman conqueror Ahmed –Pasha and sacrificed her most valuable possession for the freedom of her people – her own life. She seduced the Pasha and, after he fell asleep, sneaked into the Ottoman army’s gunpowder storage and set the stockpile on fire, burning both herself and the Pasha to death.
Encouraged by Mila’s bravery, the people of Poljica launched a counterattack and once and for all drove the Ottomans out of their Republic. In memory of her heroic act a statue of this young heroine, rightfully referred to as Jeanne D’Arc of Poljica, today proudly stands at a vantage point near the village of Gata. The impressive statue is a work by the world-famous Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović.