Korcula in 19th
Shipbuilding in Korcula is very old and certainly older than the written
documents about it. As an Illyrian pirate stronghold and a Greek colony of the Antiquity
Korcula was an important centre.Since it was inhabited by the Neretva pirates, it is
reasonable to presume that boats were constructed there as most of the activity of the
town was carried out on the sea. Although it cannot be proved, it is believed that the
boats known under the names of liburna and kerkur(a) were invented by the Korcula
boatbuilders. The Statute of the City and Island of Korcula from 1214 is considered to be
the earliest document about shipbuilding in Korcula where the craft was mentioned
indirectly in the ordinances concerning wood-cutting and the production of tar for the
needs of shipbuilding. In the 14th century in the local documents there were mentions of
"kalafats" (masters who filled the fissures between boards) and
"marangoni" (craftsmen in wood) witnessing the existence of shipbuilding
In 1418 the building of a boat of the caraca type was mentioned in a court
document in which a certain Vukić, in the service of the nobleman Radetinov, accused a
"kalafat" Bogić for attacking him on the spot where the caraca was being built.
In 1420 Korcula came under the authority of Venice when it already had developed its
shipbuilding.Venice granted a considerable political autonomy to the city but it imposed
economic limitations, primarily to hinder the competition of the Korcula shipyards to the
The Korcula shipbuilders petitioned the Venetian authorities and they were allowed to
construct boats up to 500 "stari" but only for Christian customers. At the
beginning of the 16th century this limit was raised to 2,000 "stari". The
Venetian authorities in the course of time showed more understanding for the shipbuilding
industry of Korcula thus that they had their own boats built and repaired there in spite
of their big arsenal in Venice, and in 1623 all restrictions were lifted. In a report by
the Venetian Giustiniano to the Venetian administration about the economic situation in
Korcula he emphasized its stone masons and shipbuilders for the quality of their work.
East Shipyard in the
town of Korcula
Venetian syndics Cristofor Valier and Frane Errizzo
report to their Government about the damage done to the woods of Korcula which was
damaging for the shipbuilding industry. Otherwise according to the earliest documents and
the Statute of Korcula, local authorities had paid attention to their woods in the form of
precise ordinances, and considerable fines were imposed for their violation.In 1746 an
open conflict occurred between the shipbuilders and the peasants about which the
shipbuilders made a report to the Venetian Doge.
In 1623 the Korcula shipbuilders founded their association under the name of the Bank of
St. Joseph which was organized like a guild. Its regulations were confirmed by the
Governor General of Dalmatia and Albania, Frano Mo1in, on 26 June 1623. The association
had humane and social goals and very strict rules of behavior for their members. Nobody
could get a job in the Korcula shipyards unless he was a member of the association.
Apprentices had to learn the craft for five years before becoming the members of the
association. The membership fee was paid according to the social status of the member so
that masters paid a different fees from journeymen etc.The social elements of the
association consisted in the aid to the members in need either by supporting the member or
in offering help for the wedding of a daughter, or in case of death etc. The founding of
the association was a significant step forward, as from that year on all limitations in
the construction of the boats were lifted and in 1776 the Venetian authorities moved their
shipyard from Hvar to Korcula.
|Korcula at end of 19th
Various authors of the period describe the significance
of the shipbuilding industry in Korcula.In his travel notes published in 1688, the
Englishman Spon mentions the importance of Korcula for Venice as in its shipyards Venetian
boats were constructed and repaired. Dr.Ante Caramaneo, a priest from Vis, in his writings
mentioned that the production of tar for boats was sizeable in Korcula and that the town
boasted excellent craftsmen.The author of the well-known work 'Isolario',Coronelli, in a
chapter on Korcula said that Korcula possessed large and rich woods offering the material
for shipbuilding in which 1ots of its population was involved.
The local historian Paulini wrote the following about the Korcula shipbuilding: "The
diligence of the population was to be seen in their many crafts and it was particularly
outstanding in its famous shipyard, so that I consider it after the Venetian to be the
most significant in the whole of the Adriatic with regard to the quantity of its
production and the ability of its craftsmen.
A permanent production of boats of al1 kinds is going on, both commercial vessels medium
and large, and sometimes those for military purposes. In the last three years I have seen
that they have built here seven very nice ships, the smallest could carry 24 guns, and the
largest up to 40 large ones. And although Venice is well supplied with ships like those ,
still the old ones are often repaired here and new ones are constructed for her armada,
and wonderful felucas are built for the pleasure of her patricians."The Korcula
shipbuilders have done a lot of work for their Dubrovnik customers, particularly until a
shipyard was started at Gruz, as since then The Republic of Dubrovnik tends to protect it
from the competition by Korcula. Indeed in 1569 the Government of the Republic banned the
ordering of ships outside their own shipyards (Gruz and Lopud).
The development of shipbuilding in Korcula in the f ol1owing centuries, especially in the
18th and 19th centuries, can best be seen from the "Memoir" of the Bank of St.
Joseph published in 1868. Going through that document we shall find the following.
Between 1778 and 1815 not a single ship was built in Korcula owing to the dramatic
political events in Europe. In the period between 1787 and 1797, while Korcula was under
the Venetian rule, very small number of shipbuilders left Korcula (they were exempted from
military service), but after the fall of Venice that number increased to reach its peak
between 1859 and 1867 when out of the labor force of 505, 404 shipyard workers were
absent, with only 100 remaining in the shipyard. The shipbuilding in Korcula reached its
peak in the 19th century between 1849 and 1859 when 9,752 ships of different size were
constructed in comparison with years 1859 and 1867 with only 2,400 ships built. Although
the first ship driven by an engine appeared in 1807 this significant change had not
affected the shipbuilding industry in Korcula unti1 the seventies of that century. In the
second half of the I9th century the Korcula shipyards produced over twenty sailing ships
between 30 and 550 tons which was a considerable success. The largest sailing ship
constructed in Korcula was a "bark" called "The Brothers Fabris" of
550 tons, 44 meters long by 9 meters and 6 meters high. It had a crew of ten. It was owned
by the brothers Fabris from Vrnik, a small island near Korcula. The boat had sailed for
ten years until it was shipwrecked near Vlasningen in the Netherlands when both the boat
sank and the crew were unaccounted for.
Owing to the frequent oscillations in the demand for
ships on the market as well as the cutting short of the privileges for the shipyard
workmen of being free of the national service, the number of workmen especially younger
ones has diminished, and owing to the lack of job security many of them left Korcula and
the country. A number of master shipbuilders from Korcula started their own shipyards out
of Korcula. The family of shipbuilders Foretić opened one in Rijeka, Brčić, Paunović,
Vilović, Fabris, Depolo, Ivančević, Foretić, Falkone, in Istambul, Sardi, Sessa,
Verzotti, Drušković, in Bujukdere, Smrkinić, Dobrišić, Fabris, in Alexandria, Depolo,
Geričić, Foret i C Salečić, Verzotti , Vilović, · Pomenić at Ismir, De polo, Kapor,
Bernardi in Odessa, Kapor in Marseilie, Vi loviC, Pesante at Galati, Kapor in Yalta,
Fabris at Kercha, Krtica, Smrkinić in New York, Bongvardo, Kapor in New Orleans,
Vidović, Ivančević at Mobile, Ivančević, in Buenos Aires, Sessa, Kalogjera,
Kovačević, Paunović at Sulina.
Besides the mentioned places abroad, the Korcula boatbuilders founded shipyards along the
Adriatic Coast. Thus in Kotor the shipbuilder Gjurgjević was operating his craft, Depolo
in Split, Depolo in Stari Grad, Vilović in Orebic, Prančić and Mišulić at Bijela,
Filippi in Betina, Sambrailo in Vela Luka, Filippi at Profura, Island of Mljet, Dužević
and Filippi at Hodilja near Ston. Many craftsmen from Korcula obtained a very high
reputation and some of them became inspectors of the classification institution 'Veritas'
among them Antun Foretić inspector for Korcula, Nickel Deploy for Split, Giovanni
Smrkinić for Alexandria, Grgur Geričić for Galac, Antun Zmaić for Odessa, Marco
Geričić for Izmir and Nikola Paunović for Istambul.
Some shipbuilders from Korcula were highly decorated in the 19th and the 20th centuries.
Thus Anton Bonguardo, shipbuilder and constructor, received the silver cross in 1864;
Jakov Smrkinić, a shipbuilder, was awarded the golden cross with the crown in 1868; Antun
Vilović, constructor and shipbuilder, received the golden cross with the crown in 1875;
Lovro Depolo was decorated on the occasion of the exhibit ion by the Croatian-Slavonian
Economic Society in 1891. Lovro Depolo and Marin Sessa (son of Andrew) were awarded
decorations at the exhibitions in Paris in 1900. Vicko Sessa-Orajt was awarded a honorary
diploma and a golden necklace at the exhibition in Split in 1925, and at the same
exhibition Stjepo Bernardi was awarded a silver medal. Mihovil Depolo obtained a diamond
needle and a diploma from the Emperor Franz Joseph in 1908, the gold medal at the Adriatic
Exhibition in Vienna, a silver medal at the exhibition in Split and the gold medal at the
Exhibition in Paris in 1912. In 1947 decorations were awarded to the following shipyard
master workmen for their dedications and achieved results: Antun Toni Brnetić; Ivo
Cvitković, Spiro Depolo, Vicko Foretić Kolenda, Rudi Gatti, Darko Jeričević, Mate
Kalogjera, Stipe Kalogjera, Frano Kačić, Ivo Kaštelan, Ivo Lozica, Ivo Dine Tasovac,
Vjekoslav Sladović, Drago Sambrailo, Ivo Stražičić, Božo Strikić, Nikola Sambrailo,
Andro Vilović, Bartul Vertzotti, Ante Sale, i Herman Zuvela.
Building a wooden
The shipbuilding industry in Korcula and its workmen
gave a significant contribution during the World War operating the first partisan
shipyard, starting in Korcula, later withdrawing to Vela Luke, Hvar, Lastovo, Vis, and
even to Sari, Italy, repairing the boats of the partisan and allied navy. After the
liberation of the area in 1944 the Korcula shipyard was reconstructed, and in 1949 it
moved to a new location called Domince where it produced 120 torpedo-boats for the navy at
the time of the Informbiro pressure when the country was threatened with Soviet
aggression. After a fire in 1957 the shipyard became a civilian enterprise and reached its
peak production constructing metal ships up to 5,000 tons, overhauling large freighter and
passenger ships. However in 1964 it was faced with a major crisis. The shipyard is still
in operation and represents an important economic asset for the city and the island of
Two more shipyards are in operation on the island, 'Greben' at Vela Luke and 'Radez' at
Blato. `Greben` constructs plastic boats and overhauls various types of ships, produces
units for the Croatian military navy and parts of boats equipment. Radez produces
equipment for the access to the cargo on ships and on the land under the license by
McGregor and other ships equipment.
Boat-building in wood just lingers on. Officially, there is only a single craftsman in
Korcula building wooden boats, master Marin Sale at Zrnovska Banja.
One can conclude with certainty, after looking at the history of the craft of
shipbuilding, that it has been of greatest importance, first for the city and later for
the whole island of Korcula.