On Sunday, July 2nd, we opened the exhibition “Maritime Heritage of Preko” in Preko on the island of Ugljan. The exhibition was created in collaboration with the Tourist Board of Preko, the Municipality of Preko, and the Public Open University “Dom na žalu”.
The exhibition provides insight into the historical, geographical, and social circumstances that made Preko a starting point for numerous generations of labourers who would daily depart for their overseas estates. The Preko estate was extensive, and proportionally, so was the fleet in the Preko harbour. Gajetas, leuti, and kaići were indispensable means of transportation. The Preko residents would use boats daily to reach their fields. They would only use them for fishing incidentally, with the catch being used for their own sustenance.
Due to its exceptionally favorable geographical position and close connections with Zadar, the town of Preko has held great significance for the North Dalmatian coastal area throughout history. The very name of the settlement – Preko (Oltre) – indicates its proximity to Zadar as the nearest port on the island of Ugljan, testifying to the interconnection of its development with the vicinity of Zadar and the Zadar region, ultimately leading to the formation of Preko as the main island transportation and administrative center. The Municipality of Preko is the largest administrative unit on the island of Ugljan and encompasses five settlements.
The coastal view of the town was, particularly in earlier times, dominated by a more refined, urban architecture and beautiful houses built as country estates by Zadar families until the end of the 19th century.
The historical development of Preko was characterized by agriculture and fishing, as in the majority of island communities in the past. The inhabitants of Preko were primarily engaged in farming and livestock breeding, with fishing mainly for their own needs. The economic upturn of Preko began with the purchase of church estates in the 19th century when the Preko overseas estate extended from Privlaka to Sukošan on the neighboring mainland, as well as on the islands of Rava, Sestrunj, and Rivanj, the village of Vlašići on the island of Pag, and the village of Neviđane on the island of Pašman.
The people of Preko were not shipbuilders, but as islanders, they relied on boats in their daily lives. Historical records of the Ugljan fleet speak of the role of boats in the lives of islanders during that time – boats were mainly used for transportation to their estates and for fishing (in Kali). The boats were commissioned from shipyards in northern and central Dalmatia, mostly in Betina. The most common types of boats on Ugljan were gajetas, but there were also braceras, leuti, and kaići. The gajeta used by the people of Preko was wide and stable, traditionally propelled by four oars and a Latin sail. Some also sailed with a square sail called treva. The boats were used for transportation to Zadar, surrounding settlements, and islands where they cultivated the land and worked for landowners. In order to arrive on time at their estates, the people of Preko would rise very early, even during the night, to start working on the land. Towards the end of the 19th century, island boatmen began conducting small coastal navigation with their boats.
The exhibition also tells the story of Cicibela, formerly known as Danica, the most famous gajeta of Preko, which is now part of the open-air museum of the Betina Museum of Wooden Shipbuilding.
An especially important part of Preko’s history closely related to the boat is that of the Preko lavandiere. Lavandiere were the washerwomen of Preko who, from ancient times until the beginning of the 20th century and the opening of the first steam laundry in Zadar, hand-washed laundry for the urban gentry. At the beginning of the week, they would go to Zadar to collect the laundry, transport it back to Preko by boat, wash and iron it, and then transport it back to the city at the end of the week. A large number of women from Preko worked in this profession, which is a particularly important part of Preko’s cultural identity. Unfortunately, this traditional activity of the Preko women was marked by tragedy when sixteen lavandiere lost their lives in a maritime accident during a storm at the end of the 19th century.
In honor of the women of Preko and the lavandiere, local sculptor Anselmo Dorkin erected the monument “Naša mati” (Our Mother) in 2020 in the center of the town at Vrulja.