Imagine you live in a beautiful boulevard, nice weather and with view to the sea. But you have two VIP neighbours always surrounded by paparazzi and making harder for you to reach your home. Real version? This beautiful boulevard is the Dalmatian coast, your neighbours are Split ad Trogir surrounded by tourists and your humble house is Kaštela.
Kaštela is a city located along eighteen kilometres of the Dalmatian cost, in Croatia. It is composed by seven fortified settlements, each one with a rich historical centre.
And you might think that such settlements on the seafront would be for defence, permission to navigate or taxes related with trade, or just the idea of outsiders coming from the sea to the land, right?
But no! Quite the opposite! The slopes of the mountain Kozjak were the shelter of the population. However, at the end of the 15thcentury, when the Turkish invaded this region, the locals had to run from the mountains, towards the sea. To protect the population and provide them with an escape, some noblemen from Trogir and Split built such fortifications. In this way, they could also ensure the agricultural production. Is it a win-win situation? Only a deeper study could tell, but the result of such episodes was 17 towers and 12 fortified settlements by the 17thcentury. History was not very friendly to all of them, but they left a clear evidence of their existence: the name of the city: Kaštela – meaning “castles”.
This could be a very complete city with such rich history, ancient traditions without forgetting its great weather and black risotto. However, it is facing a depopulation problem and the proximity of the two UNESCO neighbour cities doesn’t help in bringing more life into Kaštela.
So, it was essential to valorise the city and what better way to get new ideas but to organize an international workshop?! The organisation team composed by Culture Hub Croatia, European Heritage Volunteers and the City of Kaštela, invited a group of nine young people to do some brainstorming. I was fortunate to be part of this amazing group, together with other volunteers with different backgrounds, coming from Croatia, England, Germany, Italy, Spain, Colombia and Syria.
With the title “Revitalisation of the two towers of Kaštela”, the main goal was to analyse and imagine new purposes for two historical buildings, while thinking on solutions that could improve the accessibility and cultural offer of the city.
But, how could we understand the needs of the local population, without speaking Croatian? How could we comprehend the identity of two different places in just ten days?
Due to a very well though methodology, we were able to make an historical analysis through studies of documents and to understand the broader and narrow context for both towers. We even learnt a few words in Croatian, while interviewing local residents! And to make this approach even more complete, we had the help of several teachers with immersive knowledge on the field, two technical leaders providing us professional advices and field trips, which allowed us to have a deeper knowledge of this region. We also shared good examples of uses of places from our own country, which greatly contributed to open our minds.
Did I mention that we had no restriction of ideas? Well, let’s see the results, step by step, I mean, tower by tower.
Glavica Tower, “Top” for the locals
Kaštel Sućurac was formed in 1392 and it was one of the only two settlements governed by an archbishop.
Located in the centre of Kaštel Sućurac, the Glavica Tower is part of the fortification of the old town, settled on a natural stone reef. The tower smoothly blends with the surrounding houses, except in one detail: the presence of a canon, in one of the walls. This also called Canon Tower leads to the victory against the Turks in 1572. After being restored and with a lot of history in between, it was our office during the summer of 2017.
It could be expected that a renovated building among different buildings with different states of conservation and a canon in one of the walls would stand out. But here, it is so naturally blended that our main priority was to find ways to make it more visible and connected with the surroundings. The specific location in between houses raises the question of whether it is a private or a public space. So, one of the ideas was to create a garden, as being an invitation card for people to explore. It could even work as an extension of the museum of the town of Kaštela, located on the other side of the fortification.
This desire to connect physically the tower also comes with a more emotional purpose: to create a community learning centre called “Top Centar”. Inside, the building has two floors, with two respective rooms, one bathroom and one small kitchen. Here, some educational activities could take place, from pottery classes and language courses. Or even short-term professional courses such as advisory services for restoration of private historic buildings. It could also be used for conferences or more workshops like ours. Insider’s tip? It has a beautiful workview. Althought it can make it harder to concentrate. This tower could also host small encounters for sharing knowledge and traditions, between elderly and young people, locals and visitors.
Lodi Tower “Nehaj” for the locals
While the previous tower was built, destroyed and renewed, the Lodi Tower remains unfinished since 1548. It inherited the name Lodi from the noble family from Trogir who built it. But it is more known as Nehaj, due to the Uskok refugees from the Nehaj Fortress. If the tower was already isolated by its location as it is surrounded by water, the fact that the settlement of Kaštela Štafilić was created after lead the tower to an outsider position.
The history has not been kind with Lodi, which has been neglected over time. Recently, it was used as a disco bar and a restaurant. Nowadays, the inside is used for sport activities. The outside is linked with the fishing area, due to the small harbour next to it.
The tower does not have the right conditions for any sport activity. Also, its state of conservation is also being jeopardized. But the local population uses it! So, the priority was the restoration of the tower and respective adaptation towards a positive use.
And what brings more positive energy than cultural heritage? So, we present Lodi Tower, the “Culture Cube”! Cube stands for its shape. It is a large space with a square shape. There are two rooms on the ground floor. The top floor was never finished but the terrace hosts a beautiful view. The idea for the outside is to use everything of the surroundings, from the sea to the sky. How? From the sea, could take place a boat cinema or a festival of lights. On the terrace, could be installed a telescope together with deck chairs to enjoy the unlimited view. There could also be an urban garden with aromatic plants. These could later be used for events, such as cooking workshops or thematic markets.
On the other hand, the cultural side of its new name is linked with a keyword: fishing. If the small port works as a shelter for the fishing boats, this cultural centre could be a second home for the fishermen. While we were there, they showed us old photographs and fishing objects which could be turned into a permanent exhibition. Having a place to share their stories would help to raise a sense of ownership of the tower. Whether it is to play cards, to learn how to make fishing nets or to attend a small theatre – the two rooms inside should be ready for multiple purposes. An annual program involving the community would also be complementary to this cultural centre.
And if each tower and respective settlement has its unique character, the set of seven makes Kaštela a city full of potential. In order to enhance such status, the group suggested two main recommendations:
The first idea was to improve the physical connection between each Kaštela and the surrounding cities, such as Čiovo, Trogir and Split. Car is mostly used, but train and even boat could become an alternative transportation.
As a group of international people, we were already adding Croatia to our travelling list. Could we also add Kaštela to our passport? Maybe not to the official one, but what if there was a passport just to explore this region? So, we created a game, to highlight the unique factors that distinguish Kaštela. This would link vertically – sea with mountain; and horizontally – each Kaštela.
For this, would be necessary to create hiking routs and checkpoints. In the mountain part, there would be panoramic viewpoints, thematically and physically linked with the historical centre of the respective Kaštela. Each Kaštela would have a check point, preferably located next to local monument. For example in Kaštel Štafilić the check point could be in the Lodi Tower. Both locals – especially families – and tourists could play and learn more about this region. They just need to follow Martin, the mascot, and stamp their own passports.