As we were invited to a kite festival in Opuzen, Croatia, and pretty much the only thing about it we knew was that it is a cool, artist-friendly place in Dalmatia, on the bank of the river Neretva. And it’s true: Opuzen is a cool, artist-friendly town on the bank of Neretva, at the cusp of the river delta, some 10 km from the Adriatic sea. We knew very little about the surroundings of the town, and in the end it was the delta of Neretva that really captivated us.
Dalmatia is fantastic – the blue Adriatic sea, its coves and bays and islands; the white, scorched, stony hills and mountains; most of the landscape covered in rather pathetic (but fragrant!) shrubbery … Dalmatia is blue and white with an occasional speck of green: there is precious little water making the whole area a magnificent desert, with hundreds of thousands of tourists flocking there every summer to enjoy the sun and the sea.
So we really didn’t expect this lush green mirage of the river delta of Neretva.
Neretva comes flowing down through the canyons from the high plateaus of Bosnia, carrying huge amount of water (and sometimes blood) towards the Adriatic sea. It reaches the flat terrain at Čapljina, slows down and fans into a huge delta starting at Metković – a 190 square kilometers of an amazing lush green maze of orchards and fields and canals that stretch all the way to the blue Adriatic sea between Ploče and Blace. It’s otherworldly – the contrast between this heavenly place and the searing white stony Dalmatian landscape can not be more immense.
We really enjoyed our drive from Opuzen to the beach, passing those fields and orchards, but only as we lifted the camera on a kite during the Zen Opuzen festival, we could see the true scale of this wonder.
The whole area was a swamp less than 70 years ago; the Austro-Hungarians tamed the Neretva, locking the main river into an artificial channel, and starting to dig canals to drain the swamp. The area was malarial, and the bold enterprise went on slowly and ever more sporadically, interrupted by both world wars. Only after the WWII the work of transforming a huge swamp into a giant breadbasket – a fruitbasket! – started in earnest, and it’s still not completely finished: the remaining swamps and lakes of the delta are now a Ramsar site, an important wetlands ecosystem and a safe space for hundreds of endangered species of birds, fish, mammals, reptiles, insects, and plants.
But where the human hand transformed the landscape, the delta of Neretva is pretty darn close to a paradise. Thousands of tangerine and nectarine trees adorn the land, field after field of plump watermelons and cantaloupes, of fantastic tomatoes and zucchini and cucumbers, and of those ancient symbols of fertility and prosperity: pomegranate trees.
Neretva delta is an emerald set in the searing white ring of Dalmatia, and Neretva itself is a true Fons Vitae, and eternal spring of youth.
The delta has a rich history too, the fertile if swampy plain was inhabited a looong time ago. Mycaenan artefacts were found around here, Greek colonists came from the Dalmatian islands in search of a place to live and trade, and fierce warriors – the Delmatae, the Daorsi, and other Illyiran tribes – fought with the Roman Empire till their demise. Narona – today’s Vid near Metković – was an important regional centre, the largest Roman town between Salona (Split) and Epidaurum (Cavtat), and an exquisite statue of the Roman empress Livia adorns the main square in Opuzen. The Republic of Venice built forts in the area – Fort Opus is the precursor of Opuzen – the Austria-Hungary tackled the swamp and the untamed river, and there was blood in the river both in the World War II (the famous Battle of Neretva / Case White), and the Wars in Croatia and Bosnia in 1991 – 1995.
Yet the waters of Neretva that bring all this abundance are slowly but surely diminishing. The hydroelectric plants upstream hold up the fertile mud that used to be deposited in the delta, and ever lower amounts of snow and other precipitation over the mountains of Bosnia due to climate changes mean the sea is creeping upstream.
While this makes a cool phenomenon – Neretva is fresh for the first 20-30 cm of depth, and salty below, and you can catch eels and bass and bream in the river – it endangers the agriculture by making the salt content of the soil rise, and might in the end destroy it.
But for the time being, the wondrous delta of Neretva is a place to behold, to come and immerse oneself in the green, to overwhelm the tastebuds with fresh produce few places in the world can offer – to simply and truly enjoy life.
All kite aerial photos shot by master Viktor with a Canon A810 camera on The Spark rokkaku kite.