Baljenac (also known as Bavljenac)…a tiny island in the Adriatic Sea, just off the coast of Croatia, seems to be showing up all over the internet these days. When you first see it, you will be…rather shocked by its appearance, because well, it really looks like a giant fingerprint. My first thought was, “Is that natural, or man-made?” Well, of course, the structures are man-made, but their original intent was not to create a giant fingerprint. These dry-stone walls that make up the web that covers the island, have been there for centuries, and their purpose is very different than how they make the island look from the air.

The island is located in the Sibenik archipelago on the Dalmatian coast. The island is quite small…just .75 square miles, and it is completely covered by the web of dry-stone walls. The island’s oval shape along with the web of walls makes it look amazingly like a fingerprint. The long lines of low walls, combined with the oval shape bring about the amazing resemblance. Apparently, these dry-stone walls are not that uncommon in west European nations such as Ireland, England and Scotland, much of Croatia’s countryside. The dry-stone walls hug many of these island nations. Originally, they were used for centuries, to mark boundaries between adjacent agricultural lands. That might make sense, but the walls on Fingerprint Island don’t seem to allow for a very big garden, much less be a separation of agricultural lands. Aside from defining agricultural boundaries, the walls also keep out strong winds known as “Bura” that would make cultivation impossible in exposed locations along the coastline. The walls, however strange and however strange they make the landscape look, served a great purpose, especially since they withstood the test of time.

The walls are unusual because they were built without mortar to hold the stones together. Instead, builders carefully select stones and stack them snug together like puzzle pieces. That seems like a recipe for the collapse of the walls, and yet they have stood in place for centuries. They did have large amounts of rock to work with, because much of Croatia’ coastline is characterized by karst topography…meaning it’s rocky. If you’re going to grow much on rocky terrain, you have to remove the rocks. So, the farmers painstakingly picked rocks out of the soil by hand and then used the same stones to construct walls around geometric plots. The work, planned to create boundaries, created grids in some cases…and the grids stretched for miles. That seems odd in itself, but in the case of Baljenac (Fingerprint Island), an island just .31 miles long, the walls stretch for 14.29 miles. Because of the length of time the grid has been there, the Croatian government has been pushing the UNESCO to include the island and its dry-stone walls in their World Heritage Sites list.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Check these out!