About Biokovo

Biokovo – it is a mountain with roots in the sea, and forehead in the clouds. Every step to the highest peak, Sveti Jure at 1,762 meters above sea level, is immensely rewarded by the panorama of the sea and the islands, the Dalmatian hinterland, mountains of Bosnia and Herzegovina and neighboring Italy. On the stone of Biokovo, 87 churches and chapels have been erected. In addition to its proud heights, the mountain also has surprising depths. Over 400 pits and caves have been discovered. Some of them are eternally filled with snow and ice, resisting even the hottest sunshine. People used to inhabit the area of Biokovo even prior to the invention of the alphabet. The mountain is an old home, which largely preserved its ancient face.

The peak area of Biokovo is characterized by dolines and sinkholes. In individual, more spacious dolines, one sometimes comes across a range of smaller ones. The bottom parts of some dolines are also a beginning of pits of amazing depth, given the fact that they are located over 1,000 meters above sea level. Some pits are several hundred meters deep! In the central part of Biokovo, dolines appear in the form of thickly packed groups dominating the terrain. In terms of appearance, they resemble Moon craters – at least that is what many would conclude looking at the photographs of this part of Biokovo without knowing where they were taken. The southern, littoral side of the mountain is an area of barren rocks and cliffs several hundred meters high. Bare stone cliffs on one side, and green flysch zones along the sea on the other – that is the majestic stony-green contrast that can be seen and experienced only on Biokovo.

Some pits are hiding eternal ice and snow, the so-called ice pits.  This ice from the natural freezers of Biokovo used to be harvested by the locals for the needs of hotels along the Makarska Riviera back in the times when there were no refrigerators. At night, using donkeys and mules, peasants would extract the ice from ice pits. It was by no means safe work. One first had to wrap ice blocks in beech leaves and cloth made of goat’s hair, then load them on donkeys, and bring them to town. However, that is what the locals did, earning a living by selling ice to hotels, and that enabled guests to drink beverages cooled by ice brought down from unsuspected heights. 

The northern, continental side of the Biokovo massif is quite different from the peaks and the littoral side of the mountain. In that part of the mountain, slopes reach the valleys more gently, and that side is greener and more forested.

Biokovo is a stone boundary between two climates – the Mediterranean and the continental one.
It is their mild interaction, but sometimes tough duels too, that create the special climate of Biokovo. Air mass from the sea penetrates along the mountain’s littoral side, across the ridges and mountain peaks. The peaks of the mountain on the northern side prevent the penetration of cold air mass from the continent, but also the Mediterranean air mass from reaching the hinterland.

Air masses from the mountain and the sea already know what will be the place of their final encounter and conflict: the Biokovo Mountain, without doubt. The snow mountain of Biokovo reaches its highest peak at Sveti Jure. It is the end-point of the Biokovo road, and a culmination of beauty awarding those who reach that point, either by a mountain trail or vehicle. The panorama from 1,762 meters above sea level allows one to see the sea, the islands, the Dalmatian Hinterland, mountains of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and even neighboring Italy. There is also the Church of Saint George at the sightseeing point, and an ancient sacral site existed on that spot as early as the 12th century. A testimony to this presence is the stone plate that was placed above the altar of the old, demolished small church, first mentioned in 1640.

For centuries, Biokovo was feeding its population, and the locals perceived it almost as a holy mountain in return. People found fertile karst valleys and karrens, which they brought to life and used for survival. They would come to the mountain in order to plant potatoes and cereal crops, to hunt and extract ice, but most of all to attend to livestock. Towards the beginning of the 20th century, there were over 600 shepherds, male and female, staying on Biokovo. Due to the extraordinarily favorable climatic position of the mountain, the local shepherds would take their herds to high mountain pastures during the dry season of the year, and seasonal shepherd settlements soon developed there, characterized by their overall modesty and extraordinary harmony with the landscape. Taking care of livestock was work done by women back in those days, so there were twice as many female shepherds than male ones; in the meantime, men would work on land in the valleys of Biokovo. Their clothes were modest too, mostly including protection for legs made of cloth, peasant footwear, and a coat made of homemade cloth. They mostly ate cabbage, polenta and potatoes, sometimes also meat and milk. After a hard day’s work, the shepherds would get together and sit around a fire, playing instruments, dancing, enjoying various social games, and telling tales about the fairies and werewolves.

Overall, the flora of Biokovo in a wider sense of the word, ranging from the river of Cetina to the river of Neretva, and from the locality of Kozice to the locality of Zagvozd, includes over 1,500 taxa. Endemism is what makes the flora of Biokovo so special. The best-known endemic plant species are the Biokovo bellflower, Centaurea gloriosa and Moltkea petraea, the latter being endemic in a wider Dinaric area. The fauna of Biokovo is distinctive and diverse, but also insufficiently researched. In numerous caves and pits of Biokovo, fascinating subterranean fauna abounds. So far, over 199 cave species have been recorded, including 60 species endemic to Biokovo.

With a little bit of visitor’s luck, one might also come across wild horses. They got used to visitors, and do not run away from people. Seeing a herd of wild horses is truly an archetype image of freedom.

In the territory of the Nature Park, 21 reptile species have been recorded so far: one turtle species, ten lizard species, and ten snake species.

Among almost one hundred bird species, some rare and endangered species also live on the mountain, such as the strictly protected species short-toed snake-eagle, golden eagle, or Eurasian kestrel.

There are 42 mammal species on Biokovo, with all bat species strictly protected. Out of ten carnivore species, jackal and bear appear only occasionally, and wolf is present permanently. The latter is included on the list of near threatened species. The Biokovo population of chamois, on the other hand, is considered to be the most stable and the biggest chamois population in Croatia.