Cilipi-Presentation of Culture Historical Heritage through Tourism: War, Destruction and Revitalization
by Marina Desin
1998 Marina Desin. Not to be quoted without permission of the author.

Konavle is the most southern region of Croatia, on the border with Montenegro and Bosnia, surrounded by Adriatic Sea to the southeast and the ridges of mountains to the north east. The region covers an area of 209.15 hecters with about 10 000 inhabitants living in 33 villages.

The population is 98 % Croats - Roman Catholics, with no national minorities.

Konavle has always been a part of Dubrovnik county, among the richest and most developed regions in Croatia with a very solid economic and social basis. The population subsists on agriculture, animal farming, commerce, tourism, maritime activities, and various jobs in Cavtat and Dubrovnik, which contribute to the region's prosperity. In spite of heavy tourist traffic and transition, the traditional way of living has been retained intact.

Cilipi is the biggest village in Konavle with about 1000 inhabitants. The village consists of different hamlets with groups of large family houses spread on the slopes of smaller hills and valleys, well connected with village roads, gardens and divided by stone walls. The centre of the village is dominated with the large and big church of St. Nicholas, which dates back to the 15th century.

The main square is surrounded by the church and rows of the large stone houses that form the entrance and background to the main Sunday morning open air stage - the folk show in Cilipi. Some 30 years ago Konavle became even more accessible due to a new airport and newly constructed Adriatic high road.

Besides of all beauties and charms of urban Dubrovnik and Cavtat, most of the tourists and tour operators wanted to show the well preserved countryside which with its traditional way of life, customs, handicrafts music and dance, beautiful people prepresenting national costume and interesting history.

Young local people still attend their traditional Sunday festive meetings, entertaining themselves playing old types of string and wind instruments. Close to them and because of the music were the groups of young people who were keen to learn the old dances.

Native people realized something was happening that could change their everyday life. Strangers, foreigners and tourists were coming to see, photograph, and record.

Many studies on Konavlian ethnoculture, sociology, music, language, history have already been conducted. Educationists from Konavle and Cilipi used those studies as a foundation. Tourists associations, folk groups and orchestra were organized and their leaders started the the training and rehearsals of youngsters and adults. They were attracted by pocket money to maintain their costumes and constant occasions to travel.

Along with dance and choral groups, came the handicrafts and artifacts with the chance to present and produce a typical souvenir, the well known Konavlian embroidery. Most of the women, still actively embroidering their attire, then developed new products, with new materials, but using traditional motifs. Slowly, a Sunday morning show and fair developed.

There, in the middle of the village, on the sunny square and open stage, away from the main traffic, hosts and guest participants came together to meet and enjoy the program which consisted of:

  • a promenade and market
  • visit to the native museum and textile exhibits
  • Sunday mass in church with occasional processions around the village
  • tasting in a wine cellar
  • one hour program of folk songs and dances, with invitations to participate

    Advertising started through travel agencies - to come to Konavle and Cilipi, where on a sunny square one could find a smiling festive crowd that has come to the fair to watch folklore performances. The local inhabitants were coming for their own pleasure, to meet their friends and to offer many tourists and travelers their handicrafts, souvenirs and agricultural products, to dance, play and sing; they would invite visitors to join in, offer them home made brandy and figs, smoked ham and wine from cool wine cellars. Here you could see and value traditional life and culture in this region.

    The idea to form a museum was the result of the effort and enthusiasm of eminent educationists and tourists volunteers from Cilipi, and willingness of people and families from Konavle who gladly gave various objects from their homes for Konavle museum exhibit.

    At the same time, the museum was the proof of a conscious need to preserve and collect evidence and protect the material wealth of local ethnoculture in time of alienation and loss of culture heritage during the transition to a modern way of life.

    During tourist season, on Sundays, there were about 1500 visitors and about 700 natives, Hosts, participants and performers numbered up to 40 000 a year.

    These cultural activities were intended to show the conditions of Konavlian ethnoculture in transformation, positive aspects of our rich ethnocultural heritage.

    A vast field of research opportunities opened for ethnologists. There were all segments of life, past and present culture to be studied, recorded and represented through documentary exhibits, lectures, publications, explanations and opened discussions on different topics.

    The people that came to the village brought international connections, new fashions, behavior and attitudes sometimes at odds with local values.

    In Konavlian many people were self-conscious of their national or regional identity. They did not take kindly to tourists who took liberties in sight-seeing, wondering, asking, admiring, touching, being insolent, making noise, demanding or intruding in the private space, time, or ritual life of natives. For tourists demanded, and many times thought and were persuaded that they could pay for all they were insisting upon.

    Some visitors undervalued the efforts of local people. Then locals could become insolent and unfriendly, for there are big differences in behavior towards tourists ranging from kindness and co-operation to servility and submission.

    For the domestic folk-show participants, enthusiasm was the most important. Respect of the individuality of performers was highly considered, a strictly professional approach was avoided; most things happened with non-intentional errors and delays but always with humour.

    Cilipi was a contribution to tourism to the preservation of cultural heritage, and to peace and to mutual understanding. And thus started a paper written in 1988 for presentation at the International congress of the Anthropological and Ethnological sciences held in Zagreb in the same year.

    Then the terrible, most unexpected war of destructive aggression in Croatia started in June 1991. The Yugo-Serbian and Montenegrin army invaded Cilipi and the whole area of Konavle crossing the border from Montenegro and Bosnia.

    A couple of weeks before the war, we started evacuating the museum items, church treasury archives - putting them on safe, protected place - always being frightened of an arial bombardment. Due to the strategic importance of the nearby airport - who could have supposed that our closest neighbors, Montenegrins, would conquer territory with armoured tanks - shooting and shelling from the air, sea and mountain!

    The local population from Konavle did not have any defense and so they withdrew in fear before the invaders - who set fire to houses and forests, then plundering, killing and taking the people that remained to prisons. In two weeks, advancing towards Dubrovnik 3000 refugee inhabitants in Cavtat experienced the terror of a military government of occupation. Many people fled. The occupation, destruction and terror lasted from September 1991 till October 1992, when finally, according to the international treaties - the occupying force had to withdraw.

    Konavle is one among many regions in Croatia where this destructive war and territorial aggression proved useless, seemingly aggression for its own sake.

    People from Dubrovnik and Konavle are now back to their ancestral territories, faced with ruins, destroyed heritage, prewar memories, actual state, but back to their native soil they love and where they belonged. What they faced now was that all moveable property and built infrastructure was stolen, such as:

  • the kindergarten, elementary school, museum
  • the cooperative farm, warehouses, shops, restaurants, cafe bars
  • the offices of local administration, tourist and cultural society, library, post office, bus terminal, airport
  • the church, parish house and nunnery
  • the soccer playground, tennis court, and playgrounds

    Cilipi must now create a programme of rehabilitation. Such a rich Nontraditional ethnocultural background of Konavle area has gone through a devastating culturocide in all the fields of life is to start now from the " set condition " and survivals of material and spiritual culture in the common .programme of reculturalisation, revitalisation and recreation.

    Cilipi as a central place of the events of cultural and touristic background with all the previous, . present and caught state and appearance imposes a multi approach to the rehabilitation as well as a network and interlacement of such programmes.

    The cultural potential of Cilipi has been assessed. It comprises real estate - housing, the architecture of high monumental value, the rescued moveable holdings of the regional museum, and the potential of its inhabitants, also interested friends, tourists professionals from all around the world who experienced Cilipi before the war and would like to participate in renewal process.

    The rehabilitation is organized and managed through a recently established office of rehabilitation with professional teams. Implementation is through the intermediary of the museum, cultural and tourists office, and the people of the region.

    The decision was made to restore all buildings, regardless of use or architectural importance.

    Regarding their implementation and use, 2/3 out of 25 totally gutted buildings, only in the historic centre of the village are private family mansions with pertaining structures, while 1/3 was used for the public purposes.

    Since the heartbeat of life was concentrated in the very centre of the village as much of the original fabric as possible is to be saved and reused.

    The volume, the type and schedule of reconstruction demand detailed research and planning to assure authentic reconstruction.

    The salvaged parts of the ethnographic collection from the regional museum will be re-installed within the newly built museum. The collection gives impulse to the continuity of life, opening the possibility of new interpretation and the additional purchase for the collection of similar items from the same geographic provenience, providing an opportunity for renewal.

    The implementation of these Programmes is based on the determination, abilities, and financial circumstances of the population. Seasonal touristic presentations demanding an amateur and professional input such as art and handicraft workshops, textile and stone carving, folk and music performances, are to be part of the general rehabilitation and revival of the former cultural life of Cilipi.

    The war devestation and the situation we were forced to face, is bringing about a new cultural policy, a collective remembrance and consciousness of the belonging to the native soil. Moreover, this tragedy of war destruction in this Mediterranean and European environment cries out for interpretation itself.

    What did Cilipi manage to do in the post war renewal period so far?

    1. the complete village was cleared of debris and trash.
    2. new infrastructure was laid - through underground ditches (electricity, telephone, water, nett. )
    3. planning for the reinforcement of houses has been done - reinforced concrete slabs.
    4. projects for arhitectonic surveys and war damages estimations have been undertaken.
    5. the parish house was reconstructed
    6. the church sacristy was repaired
    7. tourist and cultural organizations reestablished - the folk and music group restarted their regular rehearsals
    8. parts of missing traditional costume have been reconstructed and renewed
    9. museum inventory and catalogue of survivals done, moveable exhibitions prepared.
    10. Pilot project of UNESCO - "Cilipi, rebuilding a traditional architecture" - ready to start
    11. International Foundations approached for investments - such as ARCH, World Monuments Fund etc.

    All this needs a great financial investment - not only for building material, but constant flow of money on a private, communal or welfare basis. All these projects demand a very careful approach, for most of the buildings are declared cultural or historical monuments, which means that the building material, techniques, dimensions must be respected.

    Preconditions for future tourist development are -

    1. existing international airport in repair
    2. roads for local transit
    3. population back to their homes and their productive jobs - agriculture, seafaring, fishing, handicrafts
    4. renewed and reinstalled infrastructure.

    All this must be done while respecting the existing natural and cultural landscape with absolutely no pollution and preserving the cleanest sea and water resources.

    Thus Cilipi could become a national example of a war destroyed area rebuilt within a model of economic and environmental sustainability. This could be a challenge in itself.

    But the biggest precondition is a peace in general. We are all hoping for peace. How can the fate of Cilipi contribute to our better future, to avoid conflicts, to stop existing ones, to lower the tensions in the World?

    This story of Cilipi was intended to raise international awareness of the reality of war and the hope of peace. Let this be our contribution and our starting point for the restoration of ours and the world's heritage treasures. Cilipi gladly and eagerly accepts your invitation to participate, Cilipi awaits and welcomes you as an organizer and participant in our joint mission of building - a sustainable future.


  • Cilipi 1998 post war repairs: Museology class meets in the civic square


    Cilipi 1998 post war repairs: building awaits restoration


    Cilipi 1998 post war repairs: Municipal Hall undergoes reconstruction


    Cilipi 1998 post war repairs: town square, looking towards the museum during reconstruction


    Cilipi 1998 post war repairs: remnants of wine museum building awaiting reconstruction


    Near Cilipi 1998 post war repairs: Franciscan monastery after reconstruction


    Near Cilipi 1998 post war repairs: cloister of Franciscan monastery showing reinforced concrete reconstruction process for earthquake protection