Dalmatia, a storytelling destination – The pirates of Omis once ruled most of the Adriatic Sea, instilling fear into all of the fleets of the time

This post is also available in: Croatian

Koja je razlika između gusara i pirata? Gdje se u Dalmaciji nalazi gusarska kula? Samo su neka od What is the difference between a pirate and what is known in Omis as a gusar? Where is the pirate tower in Dalmatia located? These are just some of the interesting questions to which the answers can be found in Omis. Licensed tourist guide Senka Vlahović is an interpreter of heritage in the Dalmatia Storytelling project and will be your companion through this cultural tour.

The Omis pirates once ruled the central part of the Adriatic Sea in one significant part of its history. Every fleet that sailed the sea back in those times greatly feared their attacks, and the Omis pirates especially ‘’loved’’ Venetian ships, which often ended up being in their way when heading off to their various trading destinations.

Omis – A cultural and historical centre

Whichever way you approach the old town of this city, from the direction of Split or Makarska, from the sea or the canyon of the river Cetina, I believe that, whether for the first time or after many previous arrivals, you will look in amazement and fascination at the rugged hills that tower over it. On one of these hills, the Omiš Dinara, high above the roofs of the houses, the tower of a former fortress stands out, which, unlike many fortifications on the Croatian coast, tells a slightly different story than you might expect.

The pirate fortress

There is a pirate fortress in Omis, and today, its tower dominates the view of the old part of town – Mirabela, or as it is also sometimes called, Peovici. Omis is surrounded by rugged and imposing hills, located at the entrance to the canyon and along the narrow coastal belt, with a small peninsula in front and a defensive canal that runs along the site of today’s Adriatic Highway. It had and still has all of the predispositions of an impenetrable city. Therefore, it is not surprising that the people of Omis once dominated this part of the Adriatic Sea, and they did so for two hundred long years.

Mirabela was built at the beginning of the thirteenth century at a time when the Kačići princes ruled in Omiš. The tower offers a beautiful view of the nearby Brač Channel, the island of Brač and the river Cetina, and it served for military and defense purposes as an observatory and as a lighthouse.

Pirates, and the Omis gusari

Since mankind began walking the Earth, I would add sailing along waterways to that, in addition to various other forms of transportation, there have been wars, kidnappings and looting. The Croatian language knows two versions of the people who might engage in this sort of activity, pirates and what are locally referred to as ‘gusari’. The pirates attacked and plundered solely for their own benefit, while the ‘gusari’ also acted under the protection of the state under which they were, mainly to raise additional revenue for it, but also to destroy rival ships. At that time, the people of Omis were also called pirates and ‘gusari’, depending on which side recorded the events of the time and then interpreted the history. Likewise, it is important to emphasise that at that time no one could resist the looting and hijacking of other people’s ships when given the opportunity to do so, so this activity was an integral part of medieval life at sea.

Princes – pirates

During the 12th and 13th centuries, Omis was a powerful naval power under the leadership of the Kačić princes. These exceptional sailors and warriors were brilliant shipbuilders, and they were also excellent merchants. Records show that with their famous rowing boats, the arrows of Omis, they knew how to sail to the shores of southern Italy, more precisely to Apulia. Although they sailed along a thin line between piracy and being Omis ‘gusari’, the Kačići princes and Omiš localsi primarily protected their area both on land and at sea. The Mirabela/Peovica military and defense tower, along with the remains of the castle, have been entered in the Register of Cultural Heritage of the Republic of Croatia as protected cultural heritage.

The pirate battle

Local pirates are brought back to life in the staged “Pirate Battle” which takes place every summer on the 18th of August near Omis, bringing the story of the Kačić princes, who ruled this heroic town on the Cetina back in the 12th and 13th centuries, and their 24-year-long successful fight against the Venetian invaders, into the modern day.

The challenge is to come face to face with the costumed descendants of the former Omis pirates, once the most feared warriors of the Mediterranean. It is an unseen attraction to enter their game, cross swords with them, and to escape from their captivity.

Anyone who would like to personally visit the place from which the Omis pirates once surveyed their surroundings with a watchful eye can find out more information by clicking the following link:…/Tvr%C4…/tabid/251/Default.aspx

Story and photos by: Senka Vlahovic, licensed tourist guide and heritage interpreter in the Dalmatia Storytelling project

This post is also available in: Croatian