Pag

A barren, rocky island with no trees, little vegetation, no rivers or streams, Pag nonetheless has a stark, ethereal beauty enhanced by a highly original culture. The sharp-flavored cheese and intricate lace from Pag is renowned throughout Croatia, while the 15th-century Pag town reflects Croatia's great builder, Juraj Dalmatinac, who designed the neat, orderly streets.

The 63km karstic island is a strange moonscape defined by two mountain ridges, patches of shrubs and a dozen or so villages and hamlets. There are peaceful coves and bays for swimming around the main towns of Pag and Novalja as well as the smaller settlements of Simuni, Mandre and Strasko on the south-western coast, but the island is never overrun by tourists. Pag town is roughly in the centre of the island on the south-eastern coast of the large Pag Bay (Paski Zaljev), while Novalja is 20km north-west on a small cove. The island is linked to the mainland by Pag Bridge in the south-east.

The island was inhabited by the Illyrians before falling to the Romans in the 1st century BC. The Romans constructed forts and aqueducts. The Slavs settled around Novalja in the 7th century AD and began building churches and basilicas. In the 11th century a new settlement emerged in the south of the island, called Stari Grad, 2km south of today's Pag, near the saltworks that became the foundation of the island's economy. The next centuries were turbulent for the island as it competed fiercely with

Zadar and Rab over the salt trade. Zadar launched brutal attacks on the island in the 13th and 14th centuries but in 1409 it was sold to Venice along with Zadar and the rest of Dalmatia. Pag eventually fell under Austrian rule in 1797, then French and finally Austrian rule until 1918.

Today the primary occupations are agricultural as islanders attempt to wring a living from their unforgiving land. The sandy soil yields a decent domestic white wine, zutica, and the hardy sheep graze on herbs and salty grass, lending their meat and milk a distinctive flavour. Pag sheep cheese (Paski Sir) soaked in olive oil and aged in stone is a prized speciality of Croatian cuisine. The marvellous lace from the island is a slim underpinning for economic viability but it does help bring in tourists.


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