The area of South Velebit has been inhabited since prehistoric times. It is believed that, during the last ice age, the area was probably inhabited by small groups of Paleolithic hunters/collectors, like elsewhere in the Mediterranean. The sea level must have been 120 meters lower than today at the time, and Velebit Channel was a wide valley with a river flowing through it. The highest parts of Velebit were covered with glaciers. When the sea level began to rise in the late ice age, people moved to higher, hilly areas. The earliest records of humans in Velebit – Mesolithic flint tools found in Vaganačka Cave under Veliko Rujno- date back to this era.
For thousands of years, shepherds used Vaganacka Cave to shelter their herds. They left behind a four meters
thick accumulation of soil and fragments of characteristically shaped pottery vessels
Approximately eight thousand years ago, the first cattle breeders and farmers arrived in the area, bringing wheat, domestic goats and sheep, as well as the knowledge of their breeding. The hunting/collection activities soon lost its importance, and a shepherd life began on Velebit. Plenty of material evidence, such as bones of domestic animals, tools and equipment used by prehistoric shepherds and decorated clay tableware, was found in the caves that served as shelter for people and cattle.
Over the last two thousand years before Christ, during the Bronze Age, the first fortifications and stone wall buildings were erected. They could serve as shelter to the population from the surrounding villages in case of danger, and some of them may have been permanent settlements where the local rulers had their seats. In addition, they oversaw important cattle and trade routes leading to Velebit and further to Lika via Paklenica or Rujno. Some of them served to oversee navigation. They are now destroyed, but ring-shaped mounds up to several meters in height can still be seen in some places. In immediate vicinity of the fortifications, you can find casket heaps – deposits of large round stone under which former rulers were buried in casket made of stone tablets. Most of them have been dug out and the graves have been robbed, but they can still be spotted here and there, like in the area of the village of Ljubotić above Tribanj-Kruščica.
A prehistoric burial cairn
Over the last two thousand years before Christ, the east coast of the Adriatic was gradually conquered by the Roman legions. After the Roman Province of Dalmatia was founded in the early 1st century A.D., permanent Roman reign was established. Starigrad (Roman name: Argyruntum) was established at the time, and it soon developed into an important trading center. In the fourth century A.D., Emperor Tiberius had it fortified with walls and towers. The town cemetery was situated by the road that led southwest of the town. Plenty of archeological findings were collected from approximately 400 explored graves – jewelry, glassware and metalware, weapons and tools. The most interesting finding is certainly the ancient glass collection – as many as 146 vessels of different forms (bowls, glasses, bottled) – kept in the Zadar Museum of Archeology.
Peninsular location of Starigrad Paklenica at the start of the 20th century
(ABRAMIĆ - COLANGO 1909).
The numbered locations are parts of the city from the antiquity period that were excavated in 1908 and some parts of the present-day city
1 Necropolis from the antiquity period, 2 and 7 Roman walls, 3 Roman road, 4 and 5 Chapel and Church of Saint George, 6 Excavation location that contained epigraphical remains.
Life in Argyruntum came to a standstill in the early 4th century A.D. The era of peace was interrupted by attacks of barbaric nations that eventually led to the decline of the Roman state. In an attempt to bring the Adriatic coast back to Empire, East Roman Emperor Justinian built a system of fortifications to secure navigation and protect the local population. The ruins of forts and towers above Modrič and near Sveta Trojica not far from Tribanj are parts of this defensive system that briefly postponed the final decline of the ancient world in the Adriatic.
Ancient glass from Argyruntum
The arrival of Croats in this area began in the early Middle Age. The earliest preserved traces of their presence are the chapels of St. George (S. Juraj) in Rovanjska and the chapel of St. Peter (Sv. Petar) in Starigrad, built in the 9th or 10th century A.D.
Chapel of St. Peter (Sv. Petar) in Starigrad
Two forts - Večka kula (on a cape just east of Starigrad) and Paklarić (on top of a long-abandoned prehistoric hillfort, overlooking the entrance to Velika Paklenica gorge) – were probably erected in the late Middle Age (14th-16th century).
Depiction of the ruins of Večka Tower during the Turkish wars (by Martin Stier, mid-17th century)
This era was followed by two centuries of war with the Turks. The population fled and the area at the foot of Velebit was completely abandoned. As the Turkish power began to fade, in 1671 the Venetian authorities began to populate the area of Starigrad with Bunjevacs, a Croatian population from the neighboring areas that were still under Turkish occupation. In 1700, the Turks finally retreated, and the area at the foot of South Velebit was annexed to Venetian Dalmatia.
The pastures and treatable land of Velebit, contained in karstic sinkholes, provided for the local population. Having adapted to the geographic and climatic environment, the residents mostly engaged in nomad stock herding, which is confirmed by mountain shepherd residences. The fact that many people stayed in mountain residences in summertime is reflected in the ruins of numerous sacral buildings: churches, chapels, altars, holy hills and measures (mirila).The features of the area are also reflected in the traditional architectural style – namely, the cube roofs, concrete barrel-shaped roofs that have remained preserved on houses, economic facilities and mills along the stream of Velika Paklenica.
The cube roof
The National Park contains ten villages that are now mostly abandoned: Parići, Ramići, Kneževići, Katići, Škiljići, Jasenar, Rimenić, Jurline, Marasovići and Njive. A particularly interesting feature is the houses built into semi-faults at Sklopina.
Mirila (Measures) are sepulchral landmarks alongside the paths and trails of Velebit. They were created between the 17th and the 20th century, and are associated with a sepulchral custom of the local population who had to carry their dead to the cemetery because the church and the cemetery were far away. They consist of a headstone and a footstone, with a paving between them. The length of the deceased was measured and marked with two stone tablets, so the measure was made after the deceased was buried. They were worshipped and visited more than the grave, where “only the body lies, without the soul that remained at the measure”.