History of tourism
When one speaks about the beginnings of tourism in Brela, it is essential to mention the name of the bishop of the diocese of Makarska - Nikola Bijanković, who was born in Split in 1645, and died in Makarska in 1730, where he was buried in the St Mark cathedral.
The bishop has built the oratory of the St Philip Neri Order and the church of the Our Lady of Mount Carmel in the "Soline" area in Brela. He was also remembered as the great admirer of the Brela nature.
He often used his spare time to visit Brela to sit and meditate under one of the oldest and the most beautiful pine trees, which grows out of the rock and leans over the sea. The natives have named that unique pine-tree after him the Bijanković pine-tree, and it was situated in front of the present Hotel “Soline". Unfortunately, during the construction works at this hotel, the pine-tree was destroyed by the incredible lack of care of the builders. On 350th anniversary of birth day of the Bishop Bijanković in 1995, the Matica hrvatska - Brela chapter, planted the new pine tree and put up in memory of the Bishop Bijanković. That is the least that the inhabitants of Brela could do for that visionary of their future!
One of the first attempts to introduce tourism in Brela was undertaken by the Anđelo Cvitanović, a friar and a parson of the Baška Voda, who wanted a practical benefit of establishing of the "Society for Advancement and Promotion of prosperity of Dalmatia", which was founded by the Count Aratzki.Brother Anđelo thus writes to the Count Aratzki on 18 March 1897, that "as a Croat, a son of tis country, with admiration considers him a providential reformer regarding prosperity of the beautiful and gentle Dalmatia". Brother Anđelo continuous:"I am sure that the whole Dalmatia is well known to your lordship - still, I dare to present here one Dalmatian curiosity, which beside being romantic in its kind, is also very interesting for summer houses and sanitariums throughout the year. This rare beauty is found in the village of Brela next to Baška Voda, westward from the town of Makarska towards the eastern part of the island of Brač. A dense pine wood (Pinus) can be found near the sea, where one may walk freely in constant shade of the pine trees, the nearby seashore is very lovely and convenient for sunbathing. The climate is mild, as the oranges and lemons grow outdoor, and the wine grapes, fig trees, cherry trees, apple trees and other fruit trees are planted around. There is also a small monastery of ex monks who belonged to the St Philiph’s order..... This all prompted me to show this wonderful locality to the knowledge of Your Lordship, and as an amateur; I cared not for cost to make some photographs with the smallsized camera."Brother Andjelo also sent to Count Aratzki a photo of Baška Voda, where he was a parson.
Thus yet another visionary, aware of the beauty of Brela, has learnt that the beauty may be a base of the comprehensive development of tourism. His name should not be forgotten in Brela and we may only be sorry that on naming the streets, there was not one that got its name after brother Anđelo Cvitanović.At the beginning of the last century, all up to the end of the WWI, some wealthy families from Zadar, Split and Trieste came for short stays in Brela. The most remembered of them was the rich De Franceschi family from Trieste.The first decade after the WWI did not bring anything on the scale of development of tourism in Brela.
It was as late as the 1930 when an interesting event happened. Driving along the Adriatic Coast with her suite, The Queen Marija Karađorđević, a Romanian princess by origin, stopped when she saw the woods and the seashore of Brela, and delighted, she sat by the road for a long time looking at that unique landscape. Right after that, she wanted to build a palace in Brela.
Arrival of seaplanes with various professionals became frequent, water, climate and soil composition were analysed, and the meetings concerning purchase of land followed. However, nothing happened because of politics, which could not allow building of such object at the Croatian territory, so the palace was finally built in Miločer, at the Montenegro coast. That was a happy outcome for the future development of Brela!
The beginnings of the organised tourism coincide with the opening of the first pension called "Soline", which was equipped in the unsettled house of the brothers Filip and Mirko Filipović in 1932 by the Czech woman Maša Chmelikova from Prague. Her example was soon followed by the natives, who opened several family pensions in the existing houses which were situated near the sea and by building new houses destined for such needs. Filip-Pile Filipović whose house was situated next to the pension of Ms Chmelikova started the business too, occasionally dr. K. Filipović and Ljubo Žamić who built new houses, as well as Stanko Bekavac with his wife Joška, a Czech woman who was employed at the pension "Soline". One could get a full- board in those places, as there was no other dining option. Only several years before the WWII, the brothers Ivan and Jozo Beroš from Baška Voda have built the ground building and opened the first buffet-restaurant. Today, on that site you may find the restaurant "Palma".
There was no access road in Brela, nor the dock. There was no electricity, running water, nor sewerage. If the guest came by bus from the present-day motorway, he had to go down the hill for about km by the very steep road. If he/she came by the boat, he/she had to disembark in Baška Voda, and a boatman would take him/her to Brela by rowing. The guests had gas lamps in their rooms, and in the dining room, or outdoors, there was a fisherman’s lamp was used, then famous PETROMAX.
Still, the progress was visible. The water was accumulated in the built tanks during the autumn and the winter, then it was pumped by the manual pumps to the tank inside the house ceiling, where it was brought to the sink in the room by the free fall. There were two English toilets at each floor, at that was the achieved standard."Running water in the room" – that was a very successful advertisement at that time. The price of the full board was the then 50 dinars per person. The guests were predominantly the Czechs, the Slovaks and the Austrians, as well as the wealthy domestic people. It was a start of the organised tourism. The Tourist Association was established, which dealt with the records on arrival of tourists and charged the sojourn tax. The shrubs were cut and a promenade was built from the small fisherman’s doc to the Dugi Rat Cape and the benches for rest were put. In the then town centre, where nowadays the Restaurant "Palma" is situated, there was a candelabra with the fisherman’s lamp which was lit up every night and gave the tourists at least some kind of lighting. There was also an official, whose work consisted in lighting up and shutting down the fisherman’s lamp and care about order at the bathing area.
In provide the then tourist frequency, let us say that there were 808 overnights in 1934!
We must mention a stimulation from the then government in favour of the advancement of tourism. As the Czechs and the Slovaks were the most frequent tourists, the so-called "tourist crone" was introduced and it was accepted at the more favourable rate of exchange to anyone who might prove that he/she was a tourist. A significant contribution to the future development of tourism was done by the Czech family Machaček from Daruvar by building a hotel with the 35-40 rooms capacity, which was later demolished and on its site the present Hotel "Soline" was built.
The next hotel was built by the domestic people. The brothers Mate and Petar Ribičić, with the approximately the same capacity. It is the present Hotel "Brela".After that, the interest for Brela is suddenly growing, the wealthy people are buying the building land and building the summer houses. Those villas were beautiful, and for that age, luxurious. We should mention the villas of the building entrepreneurs Šojata and the civil engineer Batušić, the pharmacist Grlić, the Russian emigrant Tarhov, the stock exchange worker Smičiklas (the present restaurant "Rajski vrt"), the ambassador Grisogon, professor Sokolović, the Machaček families ("Marženka"), the writer Vilović and the modest house of the well-known university professor Apsen. Mr Rier from Prague also built a small house, whom the older inhabitants of Brela remember as the first man who swam across the channel from Brela to Brač, and he was disabled since the WWI, with an amputated leg. Of course, he was followed by a boat. The beginning of the WWII stopped every further development of tourism in Brela.
After the war, everything was shabby, and there was still no road, electricity, running water, nor sewerage. However, gradually, the tourists started coming. With the peaceful time, the tourism arose from the ash as a phoenix. In the first several years, it was mostly domestic people who were coming. It is interesting that they brought food with them, as they could not get it there due to rationalisation. They were cooking on their own, and sometimes they even paid their stay with goods.By nationalisation of the private buildings, the favourite practice of the Communist regimes, above all the hotels Machaček and Ribičić, and several villas, The Tourist Organisation Brela was founded.
At the beginning of the 1960s, the foreign tourists started coming, above all the Germans and the Austrians. The great infrastructure projects were realised: the electricity was introduced, the road and the dock were built, and the problems with water were gradually solved. The waterworks was built firstly for the Hotel "Soline" (ex Machaček) by regulation of spring in Soline, and then the springs in Baška Voda were also regulated, and then finally, the regional waterworks of the Makarska Coast from the river of Cetina was finished, when the problem with sewerage was solved too. At that time, the tourism was present throughout the Brela coast, with new tourist centres: Podrače, Stomarica, Podcrkavlje and Jakiruša, where many beautiful and comfortable private pensions restaurants and buffets, as well as the hotel "Pelegrin" were built. At that time the history of development of tourism in Brela ends, and the present and, probably, even better future remain!
At the end, it must be pointed out that, with the natural resources, the people are still the most important factor of development. The people of Brela are said to have three attributes: that they are very hard-working people, that they are perfectionist in everything they do, and that they easily accept novelties which do good to them.It is a real miracle how those people, still recently bound to the land, today became the model tourism and catering industry professionals, as if they were involved in that industry for generations. The houses are neat, with a lot sense for beauty and grace, the admission of guests and attitude towards them is excellent, which the awarded medals and plaques prove to the guests coming to Brela to the same houses for more than twenty years. Many of them come here to celebrate their birthdays, and we also had a golden wedding celebrated in our church of Our Lady of the Mt. Carmel. It is sure that with such hard-working people, Brela should not doubt its future in tourism!
Dr. Ozren Zamić