A few informations about archeology and history of Vir

The island of Vir currently belongs to a group of the north Dalmatian islands which wasn’t the case thru the major part of its history, i.e. due to the lower level of the sea Vir was connected to the mainland through the present Shallows of Privlaka, and thus it represented the most western point of the mainland in North Dalmatia. That very information accounts for the fact that Vir, throughout the history, repeatedly represented an important strategic point wherefrom entire water traffic to Zadar and Nin, across Virsko more i.e. the channel of Nova Povljana, was being controlled.

Prehistoric period

Thanks to the archeology lover from the nearby Privlaka, Darinko Mustać, we know that the oldest human settlements on the island can be dated as early as Lower Paleolithic and Mesolithic (35 000 – 6000 B.C) which is confirmed by lithic material found there. On the basis of the statistically low number of findings it is assumed that there was no permanent settlements on Vir in that period, there were only occasional shelters belonging to prehistoric hunters. This is supported by the fact that all the findings from that period are grouped in the open, in the immediate vicinity of the water flows of the time, that joined the river Zrmanja (due to the much lower sea level the Zrmanja flew between Vir and Pag at the time). So far, Paleolithic and Mesolithic findings have been registered on the following locations: Spužine, Brižine, in the area from Gradina to Duboka draga.

The beginning of the Neolithic (6 000 – 2 500 B.C) marked a considerable change in the our ancestors’ way of life, the main characteristic of which is, now, gradual abandonment of hunters way of life and adopting life in permanent settlements; land cultivation and beginning of live stock breeding being primary branches of economy. The beginning of the use of ceramic vessels is also a characteristic of Neolithic. The fragments of ceramic vessels represent the most frequent archeological findings on Neolithic, as well as on later sites. There are no registered finding s on the island itself, however the closest settlement belonging to that period is situated on the opposite side of the ford (in Privlaka), on the site of Kuline. Nearby the shore, a smaller quantity of ceramic material has been gathered. The material is attributed to Danilo cultural group (named after Danilo settlement near Šibenik, where the remains of the culture have been discovered first), dated to Middle Neolithic.

The interruption in development of Neolithic cultures on our, as well as on wider European area is caused by migrations of Indo-European tribes from the north of Europe towards the south. The main branch of economy for the new inhabitants was live stock breeding, which, combined with restless period, results in moving the settlements from the fertile fields to the fortified hills – hill-forts. Expansion of the Indo-European tribes is followed by expansion of using metal in making tools and weapons, at first of copper than of bronze.

So far, there are no registered archeological findings from the Copper Age (2 500 – 2 000 B.C) on the island of Vir, whereas the first known permanent settlement on the site of Križice is dated to Bronze Age (2 000 – 900 B.C.). The settlement is situated on the mild slope from the Gračić hill towards cape of Kozjak. Hardly visible remains of earth walls can be noted on the terrain. These walls protected quadrangular settlement. Unfortunately, without further archeological excavations that could determine the character and duration of the settlement, we can only state that it belongs to Bronze Age. Changes in the way of living are accompanied by changes in the way of burying the deceased. In Copper Age and Bronze Age cultures there is a custom of burying the deceased under earth or stone mounds. Such mounds are registered on both sides of the ford . On the Vir side, two earth mounds have been registered on the location of Virić. In one of the earth mounds in the ford there was a finding, in archeological literature known as the golden finding from Privlaka.

Towards the end of the Bronze Age, on the historic stage of the area between the rivers Krka and Raša, appear the people of Liburni, the first historically known maritime force on the Adriatic Sea. Liburni founded two more important cities in the vicinity of Vir: Nin (Aenona) and Zadar (Iader). From that time on, the history of Vir is closely related to historical development of Nin, and somewhat less to development of Zadar.

The Liburni settlement on the island was founded in Smratina bay in Lozice. The archeological excavations haven’t been conducted on this site either so we can’t state more concrete information related to the size and type of the settlement.

Beside the settlement in Smratine, there are two more hill-forts in Vir related to the Liburni stay on the island. Due to the absence of findings we can say that those two weren’t permanently inhabited. They belong to the type of hill-forts with specific, primarily, defensive purpose. Hill-fort on St. George (Bandira) circled the very peak of the hill in circle, probably double walls. The remains of the walls are best noticeable on the east and south-east slope. The purpose of the hill-fort was primarily navigation control across the Vir Sea as well as transfer of warning signals from the Kvarner area to the area of Zadar, Ravni Kotari and Bukovica and vice versa, confirmed by excellent visual communication with hill-forts St. Vid on Pag, St. Michael on Ugljan and Lergo’s hill-fort in Slivnica.

The remains of the second hill-fort are on the location of Gradina. It is situated on the sea shore. For defensive purposes, the fort is fenced off by well preserved earth wall in the shape of the horse shoe. Its remains on the east side, nearby the sea, are visible up to 3 m. The main purpose of the fort was navigation control across the channel between Pag and Vir in direction of Nin and towards Velebit Channel. For the surveillance purposes the hill-fort visually communicates with hill-forts Zaglav nearby Košljun and Gradac nearby Gorica on the island of Pag. Beside the stated purpose, both hill-forts also served as refugium, i.e. well guarded area to which people and stock withdrew during the war.

As well as Bronze Age people, Liburni are also buried on flat graves with no visible signs or under noticeable stone mounds, the existence of which is registered on the site of Križice (six mounds) and on the top of Sinjak Hill (one mound).


During the 2nd century B.C. a new military force appeared on the east coast of the Adriatic Sea – Rome. By the end of the 1st century B.C. the entire Liburni area was under the Roman rule. Since the sources do not mention Liburni in the battles of Rome with Illyrian tribes it is considered that they accepted the Roman Rule voluntarily which is proved by fact that the communities of Liburni obtained Roman civil rights at an early age. Thus in 16 B.C. Aenona (Nin), under which rule was also the area of Vir, obtains the status of Roman municipium.

In such circumstances the Liburni settlement in Smratine gradually became Romanized and continues its existence during the Roman rule of our area which is proved by frequent findings of Roman ceramic fragments on the surface. As well as with Liburni settlement we can’t state any precise information on the very nature of the settlement without archeological exploration.

During the Roman rule, the salt production increases on the wider area of Nin. It leads to the formation of the salt pans in the area of the present ford. The remains of the wall and foundations of the accompanying outhouses are still visible on the Privlaka side of the ford, as well as on the island of Školjić which was, at the time, a part of the land across which there was a road (Via Communis) connecting the municipal center Aenona to the settlement in Smratine. The stated road will be uses during the low tide up to 1904 when the ford was taken apart (the sea level from the 1st century up to now raised for approximately 2m). The remains of the road are now visible on both sides of the ford.

Middle Ages

Hun invasion of Europe marks, for the major part of the continent, the period of incessant instabilities caused by migration of German and Slavic tribes, as well as frequent raids of Huns, Avars and Bulgarians. Such situation continues up to 800. and the final breakdown of the Avaric state defeated by the Francs headed by Charlemagne. In that period, during 7th century the Adriatic coast is inhabited by Croats. Croats gradually stabilized and reinforced their authority in the center of their power, are confined by the rivers Zrmanja and Cetina, as well as on the nearby areas. In new power arrangement established during the 8th and 9th century, Nin becomes a center of secular and religious power.

Although Vir is geographically situated in the immediate vicinity of Nin, it is not mentioned in scanty early Medieval sources up to donation of king Petar Krešimir IV issued in Nin in the year 1069, and even then it was mentioned incidentally as a starting point for determining the location of island of Maun donated to Benedictine Monastery of St. Krševan in Zadar by the king.

What happens to the settlement in Smratine in the period from the 5th to the 12th century, whether it still lives or not, we cannot determine without exploration. What is still visible in the space are the remains of the St. Martin’s church located on the south verge of the settlement. The church, as well as all other churches on Vir has a classical shape, i.e. it is of elongated and square shape with semicircular apse an the back, with west (entrance) – east orientation. Since this shape of the church appears throughout a long period of time, and due to the lack of the written sources, it is not possible to date the precise occurrence of the church. According to owner of the land around the church during the cultivation of the land they came across human bones which points to the existence of the graveyard on that location.

There are very few information about life on the island deriving from late Medieval written sources; here are they chronologically:

In 1242 Vir is mentioned in king Bela IV donation, by which the town of Pag is given royal liberties in return for their help in the battle against the Mongols which took place in front of Vir? ; "in front of" probably implies the area of Ford (ford).

In September of 1313, Venetian army headed by condottiere Almacie de Limolis disembarks on Vir. After regrouping they attacked Zadar, and Zadar soon surrendered. Venetian government is accepted by Nin and thus by Vir. According to Lucijan Marčić (Antropogeografska ispitivanja po severno – dalmatinskim ostrvima (Rab, Pag i Vir), naselje i poreklo stanovništva, Srpski etnografski glasnik, knj. 23, Beograd 1926, pp 251 – 352), Venice erects a smaller fort where military crew was situated. Unfortunately, the author doesn’t state the historical source of that information. Hungarian-Croatian king Luis could not accept the new situation. Therefore, in 1358 by Treaty of Zadar Venice was forced to return all Dalmatian towns and islands under the aegis of Croatia. Such situation continued up to 1409 when Ladislaus of Naples sold all his rights on Dalmatia to Venice. From that point up to 1797 and the fall of the Republic of Venice the town of Nin, and thus Vir also was under its government.

In Late Middle Ages several small churches were being constructed on the island. They were, first of all family pious endowments. Those are:

St. George on Bandira

The church is situated on the south-west slope of the hill, near the remains of Liburni hill-fort walls. Archeological excavations in 2006 determined that the church had longitudinal shape with semicircular apse on the south-east. By the south-west side of the church two graves were found. The graves were covered in massive stone blocks made in one peace. On the basis of gathered data we could say it is family votive church, around which a family graveyard was formed. Taking in consideration the layout of the church and grave findings the origin of the church can be dated in the very end of the 13th or the 14th century.

St. Nicolas on Jadro

During the construction of the water supply and sewage system in 2009 we came across the remains of a church that were explored. However, due to the temporary impossibility of presentation they are preventively protected and covered in asphalt. This church is also of longitudinal shape with semicircular apse in the east. In the 17th century, the members of the Crnica family whose yard was in the immediate vicinity of the church renewed the church and, beside to St. Nicolas, it was also dedicated to Assumption of the Virgin Mary. During the renovation the floor was covered in bricks, which was a very rare case in Dalmatia.

St. George in the village

A part of the present parish church built in 1845 is placed above the foundations and walls of the older church, probably of the same name. That is confirmed by walled in windows on the square apse of the present church. The older church was also of longitudinal shape, oriented south (door) – north. It is not possible to determine the apse shape of the earlier church.

St. John the Baptist in Praulje

Up to 1845 and the construction of the new church, St. George’s, St. John’s church was the parish church situated on the point equally distant from all three settlements on the island. It has the same shape as the above mentioned churches. However, its dimensions are somewhat bigger, and its orientation is S/SW (door) – N/NE. Immediately upon its construction in the 14th century, a graveyard is formed around it. The church was renewed in the period from 1996 to 1998 by Directorate for Cultural Heritage Protection in Zadar.

Period from 16th to 17th century

At the end of the 15th, or more precisely from 1493 and severe defeat of the Croatian army of nobles under the leadership of governor Derenčin, Dalmatia also began to feel the danger of Turkish invasions that would reach their peak in the 16th and 17th century. In this new situation Vir again becomes strategically important point, since during the Turkish raids, the endangered inhabitants and cattle retreated there. In historical sources there is no reference of the Turks penetrating the island of Vir, not even during the short occupation of Nin from 1570 to 1573. During the Cretan War (1645 – 1669), in 1646 the town of Nin was almost entirely depopulated and destroyed by Venice. That fact, as well as the long-lasting Cretan war will lead to the great emigration of the inhabitants from North Dalmatia, and thus from Vir as well.

The Venice government decided to build a new fortification on the island of Vir. It was due to ever harder maintenance of Nin fortifications and its very defense. During the construction, in addition to the symbol of Venice, winged lion, built into the north tower of the fortification, the south tower, above the entrance door, was built in three family coat of arms, among which the arms of the Molin family, the member of which, Francisco, in 1623, was provveditore generale of Dalmatia. That is the reason it is believed the construction of the fortification began in the same year. Two towers connected by strong wall are preserved today. In the wall there are loop-holes facing the land, whereas the area towards the sea is unprotected, which makes no sense. Therefore, it is assumed that the tower had triangular section, and it spread over the entire area of cape of Kozjak. Due to erosion and human factor those parts of the fortification have completely vanished.

Not long after its construction, on October 16th, 1634, the Doge of Venice gives the island to the Crnica family for exceptional merits for the Republic, with obligation of yearly payment in the amount of 200 ducats. Few years later, Vuk Crnica buys off the island and becomes its sole owner.

After Morean War (1684 – 1699) that ended by Treaty of Karlovac and by calming down the situation on the borders between Venice and Turkey, there starts another wave of inhabiting North Dalmatia, and thus Vir as well. At the end of the 17th and during the first half of the 18th century Vir is inhabited by people whose surnames still exist on Vir.

In 1880 or few years earlier the island of Vir is bought off by Paško Bakmaz, and already in 1881 it was owned by his daughter Augusta Obradović. In the period from 1903 to 1914 the inhabitants of Vir buy off the island from Augusta Obradović and divide it into 89 parts.

Almost contemporary with the buying of the island, another crucial thing for Vir took place- in the period between 1904 and 1912 the Ford was being dug; thus Vir definitely became an island.