We are talking about Baljenac (or Bavljenac), a small island located off the Dalmatian coast, in southern Croatia and part of the Šibenik archipelago.
Baljenac is one of the 1,244 islands of Croatia but it stands out for its particularity. If we observe it from the air, it will remind us of a giant fingerprint. Why? The island has up to 23 kilometers of walls that occupy its land in a very particular way, hence it is known as the island of stone walls.
The story goes that during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, in the process of Ottoman conquest, Baljenac served as a refuge for Christians, who with great dedication and patience (piling and fitting the stones on top of each other, in a construction without mortar), erected a network of walls that had no other purpose than to serve as a shield or protection against Ottoman incursions. The final drawing of the network of walls would be finished in the 19th century but, in this case, due to a less belligerent motif: agriculture.
Thus, the objective of the farmers of the nearby island of Kaprije was to protect the crops from the wind and limit the land of the olive groves and vineyards, as the main activities of the Croatian islands are viticulture, olive cultivation, fishing and tourism. As a curiosity, Kaprije, the neighboring island, has a population of just 150 inhabitants and it is prohibited cars.
The inhabitants of Kaprije decided to finish the walls, stone by stone, just like their predecessors, without the help of cement or mortar, and thus preserve and separate the crops. Until they reached the 23 kilometers of walled area.
Hence, the island seems eerily similar to a giant footprint seen from above. The low walls throughout the island give the appearance of small ridges of fingerprints. Even the oval shape of Baljenac adds to the comparison of a finger. It has an area of 0.14 square km and a coastline length of 1,431 meters. L as stone walls seem woven into an area that is completely uninhabited (like many other islands in Croatia, as Jakljan, Žut or Sveti Klement.
The unique giant footprint could – very soon – be included in the list of UNESCO’s Cultural Heritage, as the Croatian government has been working with UNESCO to include the island in its list of World Heritage sites.
“That’s lace pattern stone Baljenac drew the attention of the guardians of cultural heritage. The Conservation Department in Šibenik, on a proposal from the University of Zadar, prepare an application for protected status of Baljenac cultural heritage” explains conservationist Mark Sinobad.
Baljenac is not the only area in the world that has these spectacular walls. Both Ireland and Scotland also have these same low-elevation walls historically used to mark the boundaries of farmland. However, these countries are considerably larger than the small Croatian island, hence their particularity.
Last curiosity: the island presents a kilometer and a half of walls per hectare, far surpassing the island of Zut with 200 meters of walls per hectare.