4 grada Dragodid – Preserving Dry-Stone Masonry Techniques of the Eastern Adriatic

Grga Frangeš

Ethnologist

4 Grada Dragodid

Krajiška 30, 10 000 Zagreb

www.dragodid.org

Komiža, Croatia
European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage / Europa Nostra Award 2011 - Education, training and awareness-raising

DRAGODID.ORG - Preserving Drystone Masonry Techniques of Eastern Adriatic

 




"Drystone: constructed of stone without the use of mortar as an adhesive"
            Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Drystone - rough stone masonry without mortar, is an intangible heritage of the Mediterranean with roots that go all the way into the Neolithic times.

In the karstic coastal area of Croatia, it''s islands and hinterlands, dry-stone construction was the dominant technique for construction of land fences, agricultural buildings and modest human habitats until the mid 20th century. As any visitor can attest simply by looking at our landscapes full of stone fences and terraces, this form of building left an indelible mark on this scenery and became it''s main cultural element.

Not so long ago, this simple and democratic masonry skill was the prerequisite of very survival on this rugged terrain - not a single farmer or shepherd could do his work without the skill to build fences and terrace walls that prevented the sheep and soil from running away. It could be said that practically every able-bodied inhabitant of these regions knew how to build drystone.

This widespread knowledge started to fade around the middle of the XX. century with the advance mass produced industrial building materials - brick and concrete. At first these were used cautiously to supplement traditional building techniques, but soon, as they became cheaper and more easily available, the pace quickened. Today, because of the unmanaged pressures of tourism and commercial development, the very cultural landscape itself is under threat from the excesses of concrete construction.  The knowledge of the dry-stone masonry techniques and skills is rapidly lost with the passing of the last generation of folk masons that actively practiced this art. Only when the preservation of this skill came to the very brink, it's value began to be noticed again.

4 GRADA DRAGODID association was formed out of a personal experiment with manual labour and DIY construction experienced by a group of students 11 years ago. It's name comes from "Dragodid" - a small hamlet on Croatian island of Vis where it al started. Left to abandonment and ruin, it''s rudimentary stone architecture was a monument to the old way of life on Adriatic that depended entirely on local materials and subsistence. It's last occasional inhabitant, late Andrija Suić invited a group of young city folk, who were on the island to participate in the architectural convention, to help him renovate the village and learn something useful along the way. A very impromptu international workshop was made. The experiment turned out to be very fulfilling - experience of erecting something substantial as a building with your own hands, without machinery or artificial materials was exhilarating!

Trough this experience we came to understand that this endangered knowledge is of vital role in preservation and continuation of eastern Adriatic cultural landscape. Beside being necessary in maintaining our existing heritage it is needed for construction of new objects that will fit into our cultural and natural landscape. The dry-stone masonry techniques as intangible heritage are of immense practical importance for future generations: these skills produce practical and usable buildings from local materials and means, with no external costs and without the necessity for machinery. The building process is inclusive, social, didactic and fun. The resulting constructions are recyclable and if needed, easily degradable. The workshops were a hit with the audience of young heritage professionals and enthusiasts and for the last 10 years we have organised drystone reconstruction and training in many locales on Croatian coast and built up some organisational momentum trough this work.

After formally registering an association in 2007, we began to pursue wider and more public aim of reviving drystone as a popular building and landscaping technique. Dry-stone workshops remain our core activity and the means of gathering  and directly transferring skills and knowledge which we aim to preserve. Under mentorship of an experienced local stone masons, our participants, heritage professionals, students and activists, work together on construction and reconstruction of dry-stone buildings and landscape features. In between practical tasks the workshops also serve as a place of theoretical debate and exchange among the assembled enthusiasts and professionals. The whole workshop process is carefully documented to be used as a base for creation of  content for our publications.

As means of disseminating collected information we have registered a domain www.dragodid.org with the aim of turning it into a central information repository for Drystone phenomena on the Croatian internet. In there, the information collected trough our practical workshops and research of the literature and historical sources is compiled into content for different audiences. On the most practical and widely accessible level we have published and are preparing a series of printed DIY manuals and on-line tutorials. Aimed at the experts and advanced enthusiasts is section of our website with collected downloadable academic work about the drystone phenomena. Website also has a well maintained news stream which provides information on the new dry-stone related initiatives, events, discoveries and other information.

These activities attracted substantial media attention to the subject of dry-stone heritage, especially after we received the Europa Nostra heritage award in 2011. But we were not alone in kindling a new found appreciation of this skill and its material monuments as a national heritage - the time was simply ripe for it. A host of local citizen associations actively works on preservation of both the drystone skills in their community and their drystone heritage sites.  Many of them are a true grassroots reaction to an accelerating disappearance of cherished scenery and a way of life. We work with them as partners and learn from them as true carriers of drystone heritage. Trough this work our strategic ambition remains to re-establish drystone techniques as an efficient, aesthetic, humane and sustainable alternative to concrete in construction of simple buildings and objects in the Mediterranean.