Exhibition Wooden shipbuilding in Korčula-Croatia

Start date: 07/23/2022
End date: 04/28/2023

The exhibition shows a cross-section of Korčula’s wooden shipbuilding through history and is divided into several areas: the history of shipbuilding from the 13th century, shipyards, sailing ships, shipbuilders, motor ships, tools, and documents. All texts are also translated into English.

On Mediterranean Day, the Cultural Center of Korčula will bring students to see the exhibition and introduce them to the history of wooden shipbuilding in Korčula.

Exhibition Wooden Shipbuilding in Korčula will be open til the end of June 2023.

Shipbuilding in Korčula is very old and certainly older than the written documents about it. As an Illyrian pirate stronghold and a Greek colony of Antiquity Korčula was an important center. Although it cannot be proved, it is believed that the boats known under the names of liburna and kerkur(a) were invented by the Korčula boatbuilders. The Statute of the City and the Island of Korčula from 1214. is considered to be the earliest document about shipbuilding in Korčula 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 tradition.

In 1418 the building of a boat of the carac type was mentioned. In 1420 Korčula came under the authority of Venice when it already had developed its shipbuilding. Venice granted considerable political autonomy to the city but it imposed economic limitations, primarily to hinder the competition of the Korčula shipyards to the Venetian arsenal.

The Korčula 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“. Thje Venetian authorities in the course of time showed more understanding for the shipbuilding industry of Korčula thus 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 1623 the Korčula shipbuilders founded their association under the name of the Bank of St. Joseph which was organized like a guild. Nobody could get a job in the Korčula shipyards unless he was a member of the association. The social elements of the association consisted in the aid to tme members in need either by supporting the member or in offering help for the wedding of a doughter, 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 Korčula.
Various authors of the period describe the significance of the shipbuilding industry in Korčula. In his travel notes published in 1688, the Englishman Spon mentions the importance of Korčula for Venice as in its shipyards Venetian ships were constructed and repaired. The author of the well-known work „Isolario“, Coronelli, in a chapter on Korčula said that Korčula possessed large and rich woods offering the material for shipbuilding in which lots of its population was involved.

Korčula shipbuilders have done a lot of work for their Dubrovnik customers, particularly until a shipyard was started at Gruž, as since then The Republic of Dubrovnik tends to protect it from the competition by Korčula. Indeed in 1569, the Government of the republic banned the ordering of ships outside their own shipyards (Gruž and Lopud).

The development of shipbuilding in Korčula in the following centuries, especially in the 18th and 19th centuries, can best be seen in 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 Korčula owing to the dramatic political events in Europe. In the period between 1787 and 1797, while Korčula was under Venetian rule, a very small number of shipbuilders left Korčula (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 Korčula reached its peak in the 19th century between 1849 and 1859 when 9.752 ships of different size were constructed in comparison with the 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 Korčula until the seventies of that century.

In the second half of the 19th century, Korčula shipyards produced over twenty sailing ships between 30 and 550 tons which was a considerable success. The largest sailing ship constructed in Korčula was a „bark“ called „Fratelli Fabris“ of 550 tons, 44 meters long by 9 meters wide and 6 meters high.
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 Korčula and the country. A number of master shipbuilders from Korčula started their own shipyards out of Korčula.
The family of shipbuilders Foretić opened one in Rijeka, Brčić, Paunović, Vilović, Fabris, Depolo, Ivančević, Foretić, Falkone in Instambul, Sardi, Sessa, Verzotti, Drušković in Bujukdere, Smrkinić, Dobrošić, Fabris in Alexandria, Depolo, Geričić, Foretić, Saletić, Verzotti, Vilović, POmenić at Ismir, Depolo, Kapor, Bernardi, in Odessa, Kapor in Marseilles, Vilović, Pesante at Galati, Kapor in Malta, 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 in Sulina.

Besides the mentioned places abroad, Korčula shipbuilders 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 Orebić, Prančić and Milušić at Bijela, Filippi in Betina, Sambrailo in Vela Luka, Filippi at Prožura, the island of Mljet, Dužević and Filippi at Hodilje near Ston.

The shipbuilding industry in Korčula and its workmen gave a significant contribution during World War II, operating the first partisan shipyard, starting in Korčula, later withdrawing to Vela Luka, Hvar, Lastovo, Vis, and even to Bari, Italy, repairing the boats of the partisan and allied navy. After the liberation of the area in 1944, the Korčula shipyard was reconstructed, and in 1949 it moved to a new location called Dominče where it produced 120 torpedo boats for the navy at the time of the Informbiro pressure when the country was threatened by Soviet aggression.

Here’s a quick snapshot of what the International Mediterranean Day logo can and can’t be used for.