Traditional construction in the dinaric mountains summer pasture settlements

Dominant segment cultural and historic heritage of the Dinaric mountains are numerous impressive seasonal summer pasture settlements, characterised by original architecture and traditional way of life. Their specific architecture, idyllically incorporated in the wild mountain ambience, mutual work of nature and man, represents an inseparable part of the cultural landscape of the Dinarides. It is defined by various expressions such as traditional architecture, rural construction, people’s construction.

Because of the need to graze cattle in the summer months, many temporary settlements have been formed in the Dinaric Mountains since ancient times, and have been mentioned under the term katuni since the XII century. Depending on the area where they are located, they are also called apartments, hamlets or mountains. The mountain areas that are known for their abundance are those of the central and north-eastern Dinaric belt, such as: the northern Velebit, Biokovo, Dinara in Croatia; Bjelašnica, Čvrsnica, Prenj, Zelengora in Bosnia and Herzegovina; Durmitor, Sinjajevina, Komovi and Kuče mountains in Montenegro; Montenegrin and Albanian Prokletije…

Looking for good conditions for summer pasturing (mountain pasturing) in the mountainous areas of the Dinarides, herders chose suitable places with rich pastures above the forests, on mountain slopes, along the edges of vales and valleys, in leeward areas, not far from watercourses or lakes where livestock could be watered. In waterless regions, snow pits, in which snow was retained throughout the year, are used to water the herds.

Permanent home settlements were usually left with livestock and necessary furniture so as to go to the summer pasture settlements in May and early June, and the return from there was at the end of August, mid-September.

Summer pastures were often formed as compact settlements, in which several supporting buildings were grouped together. Livestock habitats located on private land, where facilities are built on separate properties, are scattered.

The traditional architecture of the numerous summer pasture settlements of the Dinaric Mountains is characterised by original construction, whose structure is comprised of shepherd’s huts with all auxiliary facilities and constructions. Depending on the type and the area in which they were built, the huts for the residence and stay of katunars (seasonal pasture herders) had different names (savardak, dubirog, basar, stan, glada, dban, bačija). Like all other summer pasture settlement facilities, what they have in common is that they are made of materials from the surrounding, and have simple, modest construction.

Several types of huts differ according to the construction method. In the mountains rich in forest, they were built of wood, and in rugged areas, huts and other buildings were built of stone. There were summer pasture facilities with both types of construction, or in a combination of wood and stone.

One of the oldest and simplest forms of shepherd’s hut in wooded areas, characteristic for the Montenegro mountains, was the savardak or dubirog, with a circular base and a conic shape roof. It was built by leaning poles (rods) on the circular dry-stacked supporting wall, on which an opening for the door was left. Then the poles are gathered at the upper end and tied with wicker. Beech leaves, fern or rye straw were stacked on top. In some regions, instead of straw, savardak, i.e. dubirog was covered with sod and was called busar. In the past, wicker huts or basket huts were also made, circular or rectangular hut shapes, woven with wicker (shrub) around upright posts, the roofs of which were covered with branches.

Huts, the most common livestock facilities in the Dinaric mountains with a lot of forest, were built entirely of wooden logs, with a rectangular base and steep gable roofs. There were some with a three-pitched roof construction on, less often four-pitched ones. These log cabins were often erected in groups, with doors facing one another. Logs are made from split, hewn or sawed wood. On the edges, the logs are cut and fitted by crossing.

The roofs were covered with planks (shingles), usually with rye straw, or fir or spruce bark. There are no windows on the huts. The door was the only opening and was always placed on the narrow side of the hut, with the eaves over the entrance. During the day, it was kept open, or gates were placed, which were closed to prevent cattle from entering.

In the interior of the hut, instead of the floor, there was always trodden earth and, in the center, there was a hearth, next to which people lived and slept. In the past, the beds were primitive, made of wicker or boards, on which a woolen cover or straw mat was spread.

In many summer pasture settlements, there were huts, temporary shelters made of wood, which had to be rebuilt every summer, or were built only for one season, where the herdsmen never returned, looking for better places to graze their cattle.

In addition to the main hut for shepherds and milkmaids, dairy houses were built in the summer pasture settlements, wooden huts built in the same way, only of smaller dimensions. The dairy huts, where milkmaids worked, served for milk processing, cheese and butter production, and collection and production of savoury clotted cream. They are always located near the hut and pens.

In the summer pasture facilities made of wood, in addition to the hut for living and dairy hut, there was also a house (kućer, katafa, torarica, plužina) for the shepherd’s stay, intended for guarding the cattle in the pens at night. It is a small mobile hut, with a gable roof, covered with shingles, boards or straw. It is usually made on a sled, for easier pulling. The hut was placed near the pens in an elevated place, for better overview of the area. Plužina had the same function, it was built like a house, only it had a single-pitched roof. There were also examples of plužinas woven from wicker.

Near the hut, there are pens for sheep and goats, made of tall wooden lattice – ljese (parmaci – roughly hewn boards or battens for a fence) and wicker fence, up to 2 m high, so that the wild game could not jump over easily and unnoticed. Passage through the fence, the door to the pen is close to the dairy hut, so that milking would be closer to the milkmaid. Next to the huts, there are calf or lamb pens.

In high limestone areas of the Dinarides, where there are no forests, shepherd’s huts are built of stone, elongated, with rectangular bases and a wooden roof structure on one or two pitches, covered with boards or rye straw (Velebit, Komovi, Prokletije). The walls were built in dry-stack, from crushed or pressed limestone, with filling from finer stones, without binding mortar.

There are examples of huts in which the longitudinal side of the wall rests against the natural rock, while the others are built of masonry. The outer corners of the hut and the entrances are often of finer stone work. On the inner walls, one can see niches (panjege) for leaving things. In stone built summer pasture facilities, there are frequent examples of huts around which the yard and sheep pens are surrounded by a dry-stacked fence.

The specific traditional construction of numerous active Dinaric summer pasture settlements, idyllically integrated into the wild mountain environment, is less and less resistant to time and the modern way of life of their owners.

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