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Shortly after the acquisition of the mills on
the Ljuta, the Dubrovnik Republic regulated
their work on the basis of ‘fair competition’. Like
the mills located in the suburb of Dubrovnik,
next to the city walls, the watermills of Konavle
were also state owned, and during the Republic
they were leased out in biddings. In fact, the
lease-holders were usually businessmen who
hired millers for the job or even sub-leased the
facilities, while the contracts they made—as
documented in the book—contained all essential
elements of partnership, terms regulating the
share of profit and losses, warrant terms and
penalty agreement. Among the lease-holders
there were members of the Ragusan nobility, but
also local inhabitants of Ljuta. In the finances
of the Dubrovnik Republic, the complexity of
which we still know little about, the rents collected
from the mills were among the relatively stable
incomes, like, for example, the rents from
communal houses, though not particularly high.
It was not until the nineteenth century, when
the Austrian rule regulated the property relations,
that the state transferred the mills to private
ownership. Some of the mills operated until the
middle of the twentieth century. Their general
neglect may be accounted by the lack of economic
justification for their operation, but the final
blow came with the ‘economic policy’ of the
socialistic regime, which in these traditional
technologies saw ’backward’ forms incompatible
with the industrialisation that was relentlessly
promised. Thanks to the agility and foresight of
the then office for the protection of cultural
monuments, the watermills were entered into
the state register of the protected heritage in
1969, but remained virtually unprotected: the
forces of nature further contributed to their
decay—canals blocked with gravel, buildings
collapsed and overgrown with vegetation.
Devastation has also been at work over the years,
a widespread practice of helping oneself to the
carved stones—a ‘traditional’ local habit of stone
gathering—has dramatically changed the condition
of some mills into sad ruins. This could have been
their end. Fortunately, a spark of enthusiasm
initiated the salvation and preservation of the
‘remaining remains’, and the Society of Friends
of Dubrovnik Antiquities helped not only restart
the blades of the waterwheels, but the wheel of
their fate as well. The book of Niko Kapetanić
ought to be credited for providing the mills on the
Ljuta with their ‘collective biography’, an exhaustive
and interesting account of their centuries-old
history.
Nella Lonza
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