Vela Spila

Vela Spila

The most remarkable topographic feature of the entire western part of the island, including the environs of Vela Cave, is the bay of Vela Luka. Geomorphologically, this bay is a continuation of a 25 km long fault line, which begins near the center of the island and stretches westwards through a series of relatively small karstic depressions.

The largest and most important among them is the large, fertile depression of Blatsko polje, which used to contain a periodic lake extending over an area of some 1.24 km² before it was finally drained in 1912. There are no major barriers between Blatsko polje and the low-lying, hilly surroundings of the modern town of Vela Luka and its spacious bay, which shelters several small islands and a number of inlets which can serve as safe harbors. The innermost arm of the bay, Kale cove, is completely sheltered from surf and winds from any direction.

Most of the wider hilly surroundings are covered by Aleppo pines. This widely distributed tree species intensively colonizes areas which used to be vineyards, and which today contain only occasional olive trees. Autochthonous perennial forest consisting of Mediterranean oak, strawberry tree, and other elements of degenerated Mediterranean plant community known as maquis can be found only in inaccessible locations.

Of all the cultivated plants, only olive trees still thrive on the terraced anthropogenic soils around Vela cave, making the sunny slopes of Pinski Rat famous for their tidy olive groves and excellent olive oil. Most of those terraced fields, however, support only a few neglected fig and carob trees, and are gradually being colonized by Aleppo pine

Ample supply of water in permeable karstic soil is a key precondition for survival. Most karstic depressions harbor layers of clay in their central parts. These layers create natural reservoirs or water holes which retain limited quantities of rainfall, and which used to be regarded as prime herding resources. We point out that a fairly abundant freshwater spring is located some two hundred meters below the cave entrance, at the end of Kali cove. Additional abundant springs are to be found in a nearby area called “Vrulje”. In the past, those springs used to be even more copious.

Location of Vela Cave is not convenient for vessels sailing along the coast, because the deeply indented bay of Vela Luka requires over 10 miles of unnecessary navigation. As opposed to that, its location represents a logical and easiest point of departure for trans-Adriatic journeys. While average width of Adriatic is some 80 to 100 miles, only about 70 miles separate Vela Luka from Gargano. It is important that this line follows the “island bridge” from Korcula to Sušac and Palagruža, with Tremiti islands lying farther to the south.

The Eastern Adriatic Current flows westwards along the coast. One of its branches changes direction at the latitude of Korcula, creating a vortex or a countercurrent in the area between Korcula and Gargano. This makes the passage easier and faster to accomplished navigators.

The view from the plateau in front of the cave entrance embraces almost the entire bay of Vela Luka, the western end of Blato depression, and the open sea from Vis, Saint Andrew, and Biševo, almost to Sušac and Lastovo. In good weather, from neighboring heights one can see Mount Gargano in Apulia and the Palagruža archipelago and, in the opposite direction, southern parts of Hvar and Pelješac, as well as the summits of Biokovo and other mountains farther inland.

Vela Cave opens in the southern slope of Pinski Rat hill, overlooking the Kale cove, the innermost and best-protected arm of the large branching bay. It is located in the northern of the two anticlines which delimit the Blato depression and its extension, the 9.2 km long bay of Vela Luka (Mirosevic 1994: 87.).

The easiest approach to the cave is provided today by a modern paved road, which climbs from Kale cove and reaches the entrance from the north. The entrance opens at 130 m above the sea level and faces southwest. A small, 20 x 20 m plateau hides it from view, so that it is visible only from immediate vicinity. The cave consists of a single, spacious hall of oval shape, some 30 m wide and 50 m long (including the area by the entrance). The ceiling is shaped as a fairly regular spherical dome, which was 17 m high before the beginning of the excavation. The entrance, shaped as a bent arch, is 10 m wide and 4 m high, while the difference in ground level between the entrance and the end of the cave is 5 m. Two openings, Velo and Malo zdrilo (“Big and Small Maw”, 11 x 9 m and 5 x 4 m, respectively) pierce the ceiling. Due to locations of the entrance and the ceiling openings, all parts of the cave are adequately lit for normal work and residence. The floor area of the cave was about 1100 m² before the beginning of exploration. Excavation showed that it widens sideways, which means that its area and its height have increased since that time.

The first person to describe Vela Cave in modern literature was Nikola Ostoic, a local historian, museum commissioner and collector of antiquities. He visited the cave in 1835, and notified the public of its natural beauty. History of its scientific research is relatively brief. In July 1949, Marinko Gjivoje visited the site. Boris Ilakovac and Vinko Foretic joined him in July 1951. The three of them together carried out the first test excavations. Most likely prompted by pottery finds collected in 1949 by a younger colleague, Grga Novak also decided to test excavate Vela Cave in order to confirm its links with sites on the island of Hvar. Novak carried out his explorations in September 1951, two months after the three aforementioned young experts. He published preliminary results of his excavations in the Annals of Yugoslav Academy (Arheoloska istrazivanja na otocima Korcula i Hvar u 1951. i 1952., Ljetopis JAZU, 59, Zagreb 1954).

Quantity and importance of the finds led to systematic exploration of Vela Cave by the Institute of Archaeology of the Yugoslav Academy of Science, headed by Grga Novak. Fieldwork has been proceeding almost annually since 1974. It was directed at first by Grga Novak, and since 1978 by Božidar Cecuk. Franko Oreb is a permanent member of the excavation crew from the very beginning, while Dinko Radic joined it in 1986.

In the course of 29 years of fieldwork, excavation techniques were constantly refined and updated. Work originally began with the help of several manual workers who excavated in arbitrary layers 10-20 cm thick. At that time, size of the excavation trench may have been over 40 m². With gradual application of up-to-date methodology, more care has been given to field documentation. Sizes of trenches were reduced, students replaced manual workers, and substantial efforts were made to collect as many samples as possible for a variety of analyses, including statistical data analysis, etc. About 200 m² of the site area were opened in the course of 29 years. Average excavated depth is 4 m. Deeper layers were explored in small areas only. Cave bottom has not been reached at any point. Source: