Waterfall in Rastoke
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Rastoke [rastoke] is the historic center of the Croatian municipality of Slunj. This old part of Slunj is known for its well-preserved mills and the picturesque little waterfalls along the Slunjčica river, which flows into the river Korana at this place. The Korana river originates at Plitvice Lakes National Park.
At Rastoke, similar natural phenomena are occurring as at the Plitvice Lakes. This location is therefore often being referred to as "the Small Lakes of Plitvice". Both locations are interconnected by the Korana river. Rastoke is a place of autochthonous ecologic and ethnographic significance due to its symbiosis of natural and civilizational features.
The town of Slunj emerged around Rastoke and the branching of the Slunjčica and Korana rivers. The watermills erected at this place largely contributed to the economic development of Slunj as the center of the region of Kordun.
Origin of the place name
Rastoke as a place name has different meanings. The term generally refers to the branching of rivers. At Rastoke, the Slunjčica river (also called Slušnica by local people) splits into several river branches flowing across cascades and small waterfalls into the Korana river.
Rastoke also refers to a certain kind of limestone called rastopina or rastok in the Croatian language. This stone, called travertine or tufa (Croatian sedra), is a product of permanent natural activities created by natural dissolution and sedimentation of calcium carbonate. The flowing water dissolves limestone into calcium carbonate. These particles in turn sediment along the cascades where the water is being stirred up. The quantity of carbon dioxide in the water plays a major role in this process of sedimentation. This effect slowly but permanently creates new rock along the river's cascades.
The first written document, in which the town of Slunj is mentioned, was written by the famous chronicler Baron Johann Weikhard von Valvasor who describes the fortified town of Slunj, a bridge and a mill in 1689. The first depiction of the mills of Slunj dates back to 1789 when a copper engraving of the mills has been added to a travel report by Belsazar Hacquet, a writer of travel literature and author of the Oryctographia Carniolica (1789). He also describes the waterfalls of the Slunjčica river as "the most beautiful he had ever seen."
Rastoke as individual place name was first mentioned in 1860 in a travel report by Adolfo Veber Tkalčević, a priest, philologist and writer. He describes the "amazingly beautiful, greenish Slunjčica river that has created many beauties along its quite short flow." Tkalčević also mentioned the ignorance of many local citizens that did not seem to share the same enthusiasm for nature and rarely visited them. He also described one of the waterfalls resembling a flower bouquet and another one as huge Croatian example of the Roman Trevi Fountain. Stjepan Širola described Rastoke as follows: "The surroundings of Slunj are downright romantic […]. They are crowned by the magnificent waterfalls of the Slunjčica river by which even not outspoken nature lovers will be captivated. Indeed, Slunj with its romantic surroundings and the silver waterfalls of the Slunjčica represent a true nature gem astonishing even to foreigners."
History of Slunj
The waterfalls of the Slunjčica, together with the Plitvice Lakes, have not been well known for a long time due to their rather isolated position. In medieval times, the region around Slunj was known as no man's land (Latin terra nullius), an uncertain border region between Europe and the Ottoman Empire. Slunj later became an important stronghold of the Military Frontier. The fortification of Slovin built by the noble Frankopan family was an esteemed secure refuge, around which the town of Slunj evolved. The fortress was destroyed in 1578 but rebuilt after that. A period of increasing resettlement and economic prosperity commenced only after the Treaty of Sistova in 1791.
Slunj flourished during the short period of French reign from 1809 until 1813 when municipal streets, warehouses and mills have been constructed and as new vineyards and mulberry trees have been planted. During this time, Croatian became the official language of the province. The house of the former governor general of the French Illyrian Provinces marshal Auguste Marmont in Slunj still exists.
During the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century Rastoke has been known as the center of social life in this region. With the invention of electric mills and massive emigration after the First and the Second World War, the economic significance of the mills of Rastoke dramatically declined. In 1963, the Austrian writer Heimito von Doderer completed his novel "The Waterfalls of Slunj" (German "Die Wasserfälle von Slunj") which is set in the 19th century. During the 20th century scientific research as regards the natural phenomena has been conducted in the area of Slunj and Rastoke. In 1969, Rastoke has finally been put under national monument protection.
The Slunjčica river and its natural phenomena
In the region of Lika, within the massif of the Mala Kapela mountain range and just beneath the Veliki Javornik top, lies the source of the Jesenica river. After only six kilometers this river disappears under the surface of the earth at Lička Jasenica and continues on a subterranean track for about 20 kilometers, as many other rivers in this karst region of Croatia. The river reemerges 6,5 kilometers south of Slunj as river Slunjčica.
At the passing of the Slunjčica into the Korana river, nature has created a 500 meters wide and 200 meters long travertine barrier. This impressive layer of lime is a deposit of huge concentrations of calcium in the water, which accumulates when passing through subterranean channels and which sediments at Rastoke. Rastoke and the travertine barrier itself used to be separated into the "Upper" and the "Lower Rastoke" (Croatian "Gornje i donje Rastoke"). The lower part of Rastoke consists of 23 waterfalls, which fall about 10 to 20 meters deep into the Korana. The barrier as a whole consists of various small waterfalls, rapids and basins. The most famous waterfalls are Buk (English waterfall), Hrvoje and Vilina kosa (English fairy hair).
Apart from mushrooms and moss that flourish well in this climate of high air moisture the following larger plants can be found: Burr, poplars, aspen, willow trees, lime trees and alders. Already in 1865, the Croatian writer Đuro Deželić mentions crabs and trouts of high quality. Once even badgers could be found here. Today, the porous underground of the barrier is again being inhabited by otters.
Due to its relatively short flow on the surface the water temperature of the Slunjčica is always lower than the water temperature of the nearby Korana river. The temperature varies from 6.5 to 7 °C during winter and the maximum of 16 °C during summer. In summer, the maximum temperature of the Korana river is about 28 °C. In case of high air temperature variations with regard to the water temperature of the Slunjčica, parts of Rastoke are covered by fog. This occurs quite frequently. The trees in the vicinity of the water are therefore frequently covered by dew.
The mills of Rastoke
Notwithstanding the astonishing natural beauties of this area, Rastoke is particularly interesting for its civilizational and traditional features. Here, one can observe a symbiosis between the fantastic creations of nature and human technological achievements dating back several centuries, the mills of Rastoke. Innovative at a certain time in history, for the first time primitive machines had not been driven by the strength of humans or animals, but by water power.
All along the travertine barrier, houses and mills have been built in the unique style of this region, a combination of the architectural styles of the Dinaric and the Posavina region. The ground parts of the houses are made out of travertine, while the higher parts consist of wood. The roofs are made by shingle or tiles. Due to high concentrations of calcium that regularly sediment at the openings between the cellar stones the ground parts have been covered by a layer of sinter. Thus, water cannot not run into the houses even at high water levels.
At its peak, Rastoke counted up to 22 mills. The first mill dates back to the 17th century. It can be assumed though that mills have been constructed even earlier, while most houses for living have been constructed only at the end of the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th century. Some of them are still in use. They were all called by the names of the families that carried out this profession. Among others, the following families were well known in this business: Jareb, Vučeta, Žalac, Petrović, Holjevac, Močan, Kovačević, Rožin, Štefanac and Skukan. Many waterfalls carry the names of the mill owners.
The mills of Rastoke were driven by horizontally aligned paddle wheels. By utilizing a simple mechanism, water could be directed on to these paddle wheels whenever necessary. They in turn powered the rotating millstone. In order to accumulate enough power, a downward water fall of about three to five meters with an inclination of the wooden slope of at least 35 degrees was necessary.
Every mill had two or three, some even more millstones. Most millstones were used for grinding so called "black corn". This term then comprised the following sorts: maize, rye, barley, millet and oat. The best stones have been used for grinding so called "white corn" or wheat. The milling fees were about eight to ten percent of the delivered amount of corn.
Often there have been attempts of cheating and concealing real amounts of corn. The millers had the difficult task of detecting such treacherous behavior. Nevertheless, the relationship between the miller and his customers was generally regarded as sacred. The milling profession lasted for a lifetime and was passed on to the sons for centuries. The abandonment of this profession only happened in cases of severe disputes and used to be regarded as a great shame.
Except for grinding, water power has also been used for the pounding or finalizing of woolen cloths. These cloths have once been regarded as most important clothing materials. In former times, at Rastoke a traditional form of washing machine has been used for washing clothes. The people of Rastoke used the same technological principle of today's washing machines: The clothes were washed in a rotating barrel with holes that was geared by the water flow.
Traditions and cuisine
Apart from milling, the people of Rastoke have also been known for their weaving of flax and hemp. The plants were grown by local people, soaked into the water of the Korana and then used for weaving. This was one of the main occupations of women, particularly during the cold winter months. The traditional costume of Slunj and Rastoke consists of these materials.
The traditional customs of the region of Kordun are firmly linked to Rastoke. For centuries, the relationship between the millers and the rest of the population, the grinding technique, the treatment of herbal textiles and wool, the customs, the language, the costumes and much more had its impact on the living conditions of the citizens of Slunj and its surroundings.
The bread from Rastoke was well known all over this part of Croatia (Croatian rastočki domaći kruh). It was famous for being brittle, sweet and particularly tasty. The women of Rastoke frequently passed on the recipe and hints for baking this bread to guests. However, the bread that was made in other places never reached the desired quality as if it was made in Rastoke. The secret of this bread was that it was made out of freshly grinded corn, a combination of wheat, maize, barley, rye and millet. This exclusive mixture was kneaded by using the water of the Slunjčica and housemade yeast for swelling. The flour had to be grinded traditionally, by millstones driven by water power, not by electric power.
Rastoke are also famous for its trouts from the cold Slunjčica river. Originally, Lisac and Šušnjar, two autochthonous grapevine sorts were grown in this region too. These sorts, however, have been eradicated by phylloxera.
Rastoke could be regarded as a living organism that vibrates according to the pulse of time. However, in Rastoke the unstable balance between nature and man has become visible too. During the night from 6 to 7 March 1914 a huge slide of the travertine barrier occurred due to the undercutting by the Korana river. This forever changed the outlook of the two most beautiful waterfalls Hrvoje and Vilina kosa (English fairy hair). Even today huge remnants of travertine hinder the flow of the Korana river.
In 1962, Rastoke has been put under protection by the Croatian Institute for Conservation. In 1969, it was put under national monument protection due to its constructional, historic and ethnographic heritage (Registar nepokretnih spomenika kulture pri Regionalnom zavodu za zaštitu spomenika kulture u Zagrebu). Anyhow, the overall architectural composition of this part of town has already been changed by the construction of the road bridge across the Korana river in 1955.
During the War in Croatia from 1991 to 1995, many century-old houses have been partly destroyed. Particularly the attempted blast of the giant road bridge across the Korana by Serbian paramilitary troops before fleeing town in August 1995 caused substantial damage on the roofs of the traditional houses. Many of them burnt down. The unprofessionally conducted detonation, however, caused only very limited harm to the road bridge. It could be reopened for traffic only several months later. Far greater and irreversible damage, however, has been caused to the great waterfall Buk. Local Serb militias, who regarded Slunj as their home region, severely damaged the waterfall by throwing explosives on it during the time of occupation. Part of the natural heritage has thus been irreversibly destroyed. After the end of war, the houses in this historic part of Slunj have been reconstructed so that hardly any damage can be seen today.
The development of Rastoke as tourist attraction serves as a pilot project for the economic development of the town of Slunj and the surrounding region of Kordun. As a place of autochthonous ecologic and ethnographic significance, Rastoke has the potential of becoming an inland tourist center characterized by its traditional architecture, gastronomic pleasures and specific local cultural customs. Due to its favorable geographic location, Rastoke is again becoming an important tourist inter station on the way to or from the Adriatic Sea. Accommodations in traditional houses directly at the waterfalls exist.
The region offers many activities for recreation, such as swimming, canoeing, rafting, fishing, hunting, mountain biking, hiking, riding, or even the visiting of caves (e.g. the subterranean limestone Caves of Barać at nearby Rakovica). Each April, Rastoke is place of a rafting event called RastRaft. Usually in June, an art colony festival takes place, the likovna kolonija. In August, the Festival of the town of Slunj takes places (Croatian Dani grada Slunja), which includes various festivities and sports events. In the vicinity of Rastoke at the Korana river there is a public bathing area. Rastoke also offers adequate facilities for congress tourism or seminars. Additionally to these cultural and sports events there are many religious events that are still being lively practiced by local people. Restaurants in Rastoke offer autochthonous trouts caught right from the Slunjčica as well as other local cuisine such as roast pork (Croatian odojak) or lamb (Croatian janjetina). Though Rastoke is distanced from Plitvice Lakes National Park by only 33 km, those two attractions have not yet been functionally linked.
Water falling into the Korana river
Large waterfall, partly destroyed by Serb paramilitaries during the War in Croatia
Paddle wheels being driven by the water flow
||This article includes a list of references, related reading or external links, but its sources remain unclear because it lacks inline citations. (March 2014)|
- Meridijani magazine. Ozimec, Roman. „Kamo teku Rastoke“. Edition 9/2002, no. 67, p. 6.
- Žalac, Toma. "Rastoke. Na slapovima Slunjčice." Regionalni zavod za zaštitu spomenika kulture, 1990 (Croatian)
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