publication presents the most important results of two decades of
exploration of Vela Cave, an archaeological site located near the
western end of the island of Korcula, on the outskirts of the town
of Vela Luka.
Korcula With an area of 276 km²,
is the sixth largest Adriatic island. It is 47 km long, while its
width varies from 5.3 km wide between Ripna and Teklina inlets to
7.8 km between Ratak peninsula and Prigradica anchorage. Its coastline
is 182 km long. A narrow channel, an important shipping lane only
1.5 km on the average and almost 20 km long, separates Korcula from
Peljesac peninsula. Korculas terrain is markedly mountainous,
with its central limestone range maintaining altitudes between 300
and 550 m. The islands western part is less rugged, especially
in wider vicinity of Vela Luka, where average altitudes range from
100 to 250 m.
The most remarkable topographic feature of the entire western part
of the island, including the environs of Vela Cave, is the bay of
Vela Luka. Geomorphologically, this bay is a continuation of a 25
km long fault line, which begins near the center of the island and
stretches westwards through a series of relatively small karstic
depressions. The largest and most important among them is the large,
fertile depression of Blatsko polje, which used to contain a periodic
lake extending over an area of some 1.24 km² before it was
finally drained in 1912 (Radic 1999/2000). There are no major barriers
between Blatsko polje and the low-lying, hilly surroundings of the
modern town of Vela Luka and its spacious bay, which shelters several
small islands and a number of inlets which can serve as safe harbors.
The innermost arm of the bay, Kale cove, is completely sheltered
from surf and winds from any direction.
Most of the wider hilly surroundings are covered by Aleppo pines.
This widely distributed tree species intensively colonizes areas
which used to be vineyards, and which today contain only occasional
olive trees. Autochthonous perennial forest consisting of Mediterranean
oak, strawberry tree, and other elements of degenerated Mediterranean
plant community known as maquis can be found only in inaccessible
Of all the cultivated plants, only olive trees still thrive on the
terraced anthropogenic soils around Vela cave, making the sunny
slopes of Pinski Rat famous for their tidy olive groves and excellent
olive oil. Most of those terraced fields, however, support only
a few neglected fig and carob trees, and are gradually being colonized
by Aleppo pine
Ample supply of water in permeable karstic soil is a key precondition
for survival. Most karstic depressions harbor layers of clay in
their central parts. These layers create natural reservoirs or water
holes which retain limited quantities of rainfall, and which used
to be regarded as prime herding resources. We point out that a fairly
abundant freshwater spring is located some two hundred meters below
the cave entrance, at the end of Kali cove. Additional abundant
springs are to be found in a nearby area called Vrulje.
In the past, those springs used to be even more copious.
Location of Vela Cave is not convenient for vessels sailing along
the coast, because the deeply indented bay of Vela Luka requires
over 10 miles of unnecessary navigation. As opposed to that, its
location represents a logical and easiest point of departure for
trans-Adriatic journeys. While average width of Adriatic is some
80 to 100 miles, only about 70 miles separate Vela Luka from Gargano.
It is important that this line follows the island bridge
from Korcula to Suac and Palagrua, with Tremiti islands
lying farther to the south.
The Eastern Adriatic Current flows westwards along the coast. One
of its branches changes direction at the latitude of Korcula, creating
a vortex or a countercurrent in the area between Korcula and Gargano.
This makes the passage easier and faster to accomplished navigators.
The view from the plateau in front of the cave entrance embraces
almost the entire bay of Vela Luka, the western end of Blato depression,
and the open sea from Vis, Saint Andrew, and Bievo, almost
to Suac and Lastovo. In good weather, from neighboring heights
one can see Mount Gargano in Apulia and the Palagrua archipelago
and, in the opposite direction, southern parts of Hvar and Peljeac,
as well as the summits of Biokovo and other mountains farther inland.
Vela Cave opens in the southern slope of Pinski Rat hill, overlooking
the Kale cove, the innermost and best-protected arm of the large
branching bay. It is located in the northern of the two anticlines
which delimit the Blato depression and its extension, the 9.2 km
long bay of Vela Luka (Mirosevic 1994: 87.).
easiest approach to the cave is provided today by a modern paved
road, which climbs from Kale cove and reaches the entrance from
the north. The entrance opens at 130 m above the sea level and faces
southwest. A small, 20 x 20 m plateau hides it from view, so that
it is visible only from immediate vicinity. The cave consists of
a single, spacious hall of oval shape, some 30 m wide and 50 m long
(including the area by the entrance). The ceiling is shaped as a
fairly regular spherical dome, which was 17 m high before the beginning
of the excavation. The entrance, shaped as a bent arch, is 10 m
wide and 4 m high, while the difference in ground level between
the entrance and the end of the cave is 5 m. Two openings, Velo
and Malo zdrilo (Big and Small Maw, 11 x 9 m and 5 x 4 m, respectively)
pierce the ceiling. Due to locations of the entrance and the ceiling
openings, all parts of the cave are adequately lit for normal work
and residence. The floor area of the cave was about 1100 m² before
the beginning of exploration. Excavation showed that it widens sideways,
which means that its area and its height have increased since that
The first person to describe Vela Cave in modern literature was
Nikola Ostoic, a local historian, museum commissioner and collector
of antiquities. He visited the cave in 1835, and notified the public
of its natural beauty. History of its scientific research is relatively
brief. In July 1949, Marinko Gjivoje visited the site. Boris Ilakovac
and Vinko Foretic joined him in July 1951. The three of them together
carried out the first test excavations. Most likely prompted by
pottery finds collected in 1949 by a younger colleague, Grga Novak
also decided to test excavate Vela Cave in order to confirm its
links with sites on the island of Hvar. Novak carried out his explorations
in September 1951, two months after the three aforementioned young
experts. He published preliminary results of his excavations in
the Annals of Yugoslav Academy (Arheoloska istrazivanja na otocima
Korcula i Hvar u 1951. i 1952., Ljetopis JAZU, 59, Zagreb 1954).
Quantity and importance of the finds led to systematic exploration
of Vela Cave by the Institute of Archaeology of the Yugoslav Academy
of Science, headed by Grga Novak. Fieldwork has been proceeding
almost annually since 1974. It was directed at first by Grga Novak,
and since 1978 by Boidar Cecuk. Franko Oreb is a permanent member
of the excavation crew from the very beginning, while Dinko Radic
joined it in 1986.
In the course of 29 years of fieldwork, excavation techniques were
constantly refined and updated. Work originally began with the help
of several manual workers who excavated in arbitrary layers 10-20
cm thick. At that time, size of the excavation trench may have been
over 40 m². With gradual application of up-to-date methodology,
more care has been given to field documentation. Sizes of trenches
were reduced, students replaced manual workers, and substantial
efforts were made to collect as many samples as possible for a variety
of analyses, including statistical data analysis, etc. About 200
m² of the site area were opened in the course of 29 years. Average
excavated depth is 4 m. Deeper layers were explored in small areas
only. Cave bottom has not been reached at any point.
from the cave
web stranica: design-ERS (c) Centar za kulturu
Vela Luka 2002