Isla Silba

Isla Silba
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Ljubomir Jurić, 1910.

Silba is an island 29 nautical miles north-west from Zadar. The old name of this island is Selbo, the Croatian name is Silba and the Italian Selve.

Silba Island Silba is mentioned in history in the 9th century. In the year 827 it belonged to the county of Zadar, and in the year 1073, the last year of the rule of king Petar Krešimir, probably upon request by his sister Cika, the head of the monastery St. Marija in Zadar, the county of Zadar gave to this monastery. (Some say that it happened in 1027, not in 1073.) The island was later ruled by Venice, which sold it in 1639 for 12.350 ducats to captain Frano Soppe. It is not known how and where the island became the property of the famous Venetian family Morosini.

The family Morosini held Silba as its property until the first quarter of the 19th century. Because of the distance, it was difficult for Morosini to manage the island and receive the rent in goods, so they agreed with the inhabitants of Silba in 1770 to receive 2000 Venetian liras annually. Every family paid in accordance to the land it owned. Silbans called this rent the quarter, because it corresponded to a quarter of the goods produced on the land, which was equal to what other landlords received elsewhere.

In the year 1838 the family Morosini sold the island for 28.500 Austrian liras to Marko Ragusin from Veli Lošinj, who returned rich from America.

As the Silbans were paying their rent in money to their former lord, they hoped to do the same with the new one, but this one - because he was living in Lošinj, close to Silba - opposed it and demanded a quarter of goods produces on the land.

So it came to a dispute that lasted 13 years before Ragusin finally decided to sell the island to Silbans, who acquired it paying in proportion to the land they owned, 5.025 bavarian talirs.

On the 19th of March 1852 the news came to Silba, saying that the island was bought from its former owner by a contract made with Ragusin in Zadar at the office of Valerio de Ponte, so Silbans decided to worship St. Josip in the memory of this event.

Nothing is known exactly of the founding of the village. It is said, and is probably true, that the first inhabitants settled in the north-west of the today's village, around the church of St. Ivan, the oldest church on Silba.

This story is trustworthy and it is based on the fact that the oldest houses in the village were built there. One can still today see the remains of these buildings.

This is also supported by the story saying that on the place of, today ruined, monastery of Small brothers of St. Frane once existed the monastery of St. Antun with the church of St. Marija, disappeared in 1412.

Thanks to the archbishop Bolli, the new monastery was built on this location. Brothers Mate and Šime Paulina from Silba helped build the monastery, and the church was blessed by the archbishop Karaman in the year 1750.

In the beginning of the 19th century the monastery was closed and sold to the family Paulina, which gave it over to the county in the year 1878, under condition to repair it in one year, and so it was.

On the southern side of the village there is a sumptuous tower with a bell and a nice spacious church of St. Marija with 7 altars, built 60 years ago.

Silba has six bigger or smaller churches, built centuries ago, except the county church, and all are in a pretty good shape. There are 6 painting of Rudolf and one of Ticijan in them.

Close to the county church there is a big county water tank, built in the memory of 50th year of the rule of His Majesty the Caesar and King Franjo Josip I. To the south of the village, 10 minutes of walk from the county church, there is a church of St. Marko with a big cemetery, on which, particularly recently, numerous nice graves have been built. On the path from the county church to the church of St. Marko there are 7 nice chapels.

The church of St. Marko has been expanded in 1638 by Antun Ventura from Silba, as witnesses the script on its entrance:


It is said that Antun Ventura was surprised on its way back from Venice by a terrible storm on the sea near Silba, not far from the bay under the today's church of St. Marko (Silbans call the bay Pocukmarak, ="Under saint Marko"), where he lost in the sea valuable goods, transported on his ship manzera. He promised to build a church of St. Marko, if he only manages to recover what he lost in the sea.

The sea calmed down and he ordered the nets to be pulled in the sea and recovered his lost goods, so he built the church. It is said that the church was built on the remains of the Byzantine chapel, therefore it is still today called on Silba the Greek chapel. The picture of the Christ, on a wooden cross, still in good shape, is said to have belonged to this chapel.

As it was already said, the oldest inhabitants of Silba have lived around the church of St. Ivan. The story tells that - once upon a time when Croats were moving down to the Adriatic sea - three families settled down on Silba: Ćuplija (today Čupičić), Magan (disappeared in the 17th century) and Mirvan.

The inhabitants that live in the center of today's village, close to the coast and harbor known as Žalić, moved to Silba afterwards, probably in the 16th century. It is said that they came from the cities Senj and Jablanac, possibly in the time of Uskoks.

On the north-east of the village there is a bay named "Zaniski", earlier called "Bay of thieves", certainly so because people that escaped from Podgorje looking for a shelter on the islands farther on the south came to this bay, and the villagers, considering them thieves from whom they suffered, gave the bay this name.

Inhabitants of Silba have, due to easy accessibility to the island from any side, suffered all the time from the pirates.

To protect themselves from pirates, Silbans have built strong towers called Castles. Three are known for. One of the towers is mentioned in the booklet "History of Silba" written by captain Bartuo Supičić (died in 1862), the one whose ruins can be found close to the village municipality. It was built by Juraj Vinturić in the year 1598. It has four walls, and high in every wall two windows. A few feet above the ground it had an entrance gate, in front of which stood a stone stairway which was connected to the gate by a bridge. On the south-western side of the interior of the tower there was a water fountain. The castle was destroyed by the same Silbans in the second half of the 19th century because it became dangerous. Likewise, from other two castles nothing but ruins remain.

The further evidence that Silbans had to be protecting themselves from the pirates are the guard towers in the harbors where it was possible to disembark. One of the towers is still visible in the harbor "Papratnica", second in the harbor "mul", third in the harbor Sv. Ante (a safe harbor with a lighthouse was built here), and remains of others can still be seen near the chapel of the county church and near the church of St. Ivan.

Although the villagers suffered a lot from the pirates, the magnificent location of the island helped them a lot because the seamanship has developed (today unfortunately disappeared). Families are mentioned, that in the passed centuries had big ships, ships that sailed from the Adriatic Sea to the Black sea and the Mediterranean, all under command of Silban captains. The family Brnetić was known in main commercial harbors of the Mediterranean.

Silba In the 17th century Silbans sailed in sailboats called Marsilians, in the 18th century with sailboats called manzeras (from the word manzo = ox) and kastreras, used to transport oxen and sheep from the east coast of the Adriatic Sea to Venice.

Manzeras, of which there were 38, were big ships with 3 sails, able to transport 3500 stars (1 star = about 63 kg.); kastreras, smaller and with 2 sails, of 1000 stars each, and there were more than 60 of them. In the beginning of the last century the French destroyed this fleet.

In shipbuilding Silba was in front of Lošinj; Silba had big ships, able and brave sailors and excellent captains. The sea was the field where Silbans made their wealth, so at that time the whole village lived very well. That is confirmed by an old saying: "Silba shines in gold, that's where paradise is".

Even if almost all men were sailing to make a living, they loved their countryside with all their harts, and in their old days they used to come back to Silba following the saying:

Is he a sailor, is he a trader
With sweat and hard work
Somewhere in the world he made money
For himself and his family:
Where better can he
His wealth enjoy?
He has to come to his fatherland,
Come to his home.

Still today Silbans follow this saying. Hundreds of retired people of different professions can be found here.

When the vapor took over and sailboats started to disappear more and more, Silban shipbuilding and seamanship ruined. Young people emigrated all over the world. They went to far countries, many in America, particularly in Argentina.

Today's youth chooses the state service - there are many: lighthouse keepers, court officials, gendarmes... Silba gave many good priests (from which one bishop) and teachers, and many good sailors. Silbans, as sailors, are very experienced and communicative. On holy days everyone is - without exception - dressed like in a city, mostly in black suit.

Young people are clean, gentle and very joyful: they love the dance. They dance in the house, and they have their own dance, called "the Silban dance".

Inhabitants of Silba are mostly very religious and moderate people. Men and women alike are very attentive on cleanness. All their houses are built of stone and painted in white. They are provided with rooms and toilets and most of them have water tanks. And the entire village is an example of tidiness.

It's a pleasant walk: in the village, around the village, to the harbor and "St. Marko"... All the paths in the village are wide and clean. In the summer there is no dust, and in the winter there is no mud. When you walk around you'd say you're not on an island but in some city.

In older times a "village king" was elected and crowned on Silba. An election was held in the village council on the 26th of December. King's rule lasted only 12 days, until the 6th of January. In this period he would, holding a crown on his head and surrounded by 12 members of the council, govern the village. His duties were: to name the village governor and the guards, and to approve the village budget. He would also judge in all the disputes that occured in the past year. The election of the "king" ceased in the beginning of the 19th century. The crown is today kept in the church treasury.

There are 1200 inhabitants on Silba. They are all of Croatian nationality and by religion Catholics. Today's speech is also rich with old Croatian words and phrases.

Silba is the county center, with settlements: Silba, Olib, Premuda, Ist, Zapuntel, Brgulje, Molat and Škarda.

Besides the City hall, on Silba there is a school, library "God and homeland", arms and tax offices, harbor master, offices of ship companies, fish processing factory, tobacco producers, a good restaurant, a dozen of shops...

In the center of the village there is a 30 m high Tower, from which there is a nice view all over the village.

Comfortable houses can be found in Silba, with an acceptable rent, since their owners are working all over the world. There is also plenty of good water. Silba has a daily ship connection to Zadar.

There are really nice beaches on Silba, with sandy bottom. The most beautiful beach is "Šotorišće", just southern of the village.

Silban cheese and wool are very famous, and so was the Silban wine, and they were sent all over our Kingdom. There are good figs on Silba, as good as the Greek ones. From the year 1908 tobacco is also cultivated; there are about 80 producers.

The health situation on Silba is very good. There are no more than 2% of deaths per year.

There are plenty of old men on Silba, feeling quite well with their 80 or more years.
And what would it be, were they not killed by the sea and the hard sailor's life?

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