by Tina Kovačiček
First, three things you need to know about Opuzen. One is that people are amazing here, second, almost all the mandarines and watermelons come from the beautiful valley of Neretva river, and lastly, in the last couple of years, this area has become one of the most exciting in Croatia.
Opuzen is a town in the Dubrovnik-Neretva County, located 12 kilometers upstream from the mouth of the river Neretva in southern Dalmatia. Together with Metković, and Ploče it makes up a nice trio of towns at the Neretva river.
Opuzen got its name from its fortress, Fort Opus which was built by the Republic of Venice in 1684. Ruins of the fortress that remain are called Recycle and are part of the old town wall. The center of the old part of Opuzen is a classic Roman Forum. In the Middle Ages, Opuzen was known as Posrednica. The Republic of Ragusa in the 14th century had major trading markets (mainly trading in salt) in Opuzen which got burnt down in 1472.
The first Community School was opened in 1798 and was the only school in the Neretva region until 1845. Now that we quickly ran through just a few historical facts, we move onto the present. Opuzen today is a proper small town with lots of to tell you about and if you come here during the summer months, you might get really surprised by the burst of colors in almost every street.
The reason for that is Art festival Zen Opuzen which has taken place every year since starting in 2015. Artists from around the world are invited every year to showcase their talent and bring life to grey façades or abandoned factories and houses. There are no limits in terms of artistic expressions and various forms of visual arts, graphics, sculptures, street performances, and land art are used to transform unpleasant public space into a place of visual pleasure.
Responsible enthusiasts for these interesting art project are a group of amazing young people gathered under the non-profit organization Santo Valerio. “The main trigger for the launch of the festival was the fact that in 2013 and 2014 a huge number of our friends left Opuzen and went to live and work in Ireland, Germany, England in search of a better tomorrow. The social elan was gone, everyone was waiting for something to happen, we practically had the feeling that there were only a couple of us left, and that if we don’t bring creative and interesting people to Opuzen on our own, it would only be worse,” organisers explain how they started the festival which brings artists from around the world to this small southern town, together with talents from Croatia.
Some of the names who, so far, have left an artistic trace in Opuzen include; Anthony Brooks (USA), Kosmik (Germany), Willann Wln (France), Chifumi Krohom (Cambodia), Mabel Vicentef (Argentina), Fernando Leon (Netherland), Marije Maria (Netherland), Mane Mei (Croatia), Jure Jurinović (Croatia), Koraljko Greben (Croatia), Ojo Magico (Croatia), Ivan Blažetić Šumski (Croatia), Jana Danilović (Serbia) and many more in previous years.
Each year the art festival Zen Opzuen is growing, and this year photos and videos of an artist from Osijek, Nikola Faller, went all over the world after many international media were amazed by his sand drawings at the Neretva river.
“In the first year, seven artists participated in the festival, this year we welcomed about 40 of them in Opzuen. First, we have been inviting them, but now artists are the first to contact us. In addition to the street art part, in recent years we have been organizing a land art program for painting at a sandy beach at the mouth of the Neretva rakes, and for this reason, Nikola Faller from Slama Association comes to us from Osijek every year. Also, we pay a lot of attention to the program for children and young people; we organize workshops and street performances and music nights. We are also trying to enrich this music program, which extends into the nightly part of the fun.”, they share with us their excitement with the progress of the festival since for now, it is still volunteer-based.
And the most important thing is the reaction of the local people, which thankfully they didn’t have a problem with. On the contrary, people are very happy and helpful with the organization itself: “Residents of Opuzen received the festival very well. They always help with food, drinks, and public support, offer the facades of their houses, invite artists for lunch if they paint nearby, bring refreshments – beer, cold watermelon …The goal was to create a little symbiosis between our guests and the locals for mutual pleasure. We succeeded in that. That’s the part that sets us apart from other festivals.”
Preparations are already underway for next year’s edition and there will be many surprises once again.
If you are thinking about visiting Opuzen, apart from the festival, you can also:
– Visit Narona Archeological Museum which is built on the remains of the ancient Roman city called Narona, which was located in the Neretva valley in present-day Croatia; near the city of Dubrovnik. Narona Archeological Museum is the first Croatian in situ Museum, meaning built on the very location. Narona was the major Roman stronghold which became a colony in the 2nd century BC, and settlement was occupied until the start of the 7th century and stopped functioning as a settlement soon after the arrival of Croatian tribes in the region.
In 1995 a Roman temple building was discovered, which had been dedicated by the governor Dolabella and contained statues of the emperors Claudius and Vespasian, as well as two of Augustus and his wife Livia. The statues had been vandalized in the 4th century: they were lying on the floor and their heads had been broken off. The heads of Vespasian and one of the Livias had been acquired in the surrounding area, the former by Arthur Evans in 1878: these heads were reunited with their bodies, and the shrine’s statues are now touring major European museums.
– Try kiteboarding because this is the best location for it in Croatia. A project of kiteboarding school and community at Neretva started in 2011. and since then many of the traveleres from around the world come there and hang out while learning something new. Easy and fun. https://neretvakiteboarding.com/
– Try out local organic mandarine juice GUUC. Since recently you can even find it in supermarket chains around Croatia.
– Visit Konoba Pod Maslinom which offers amazing local food and wine.
– For a perfect place to sleep and for your first-morning coffee with a view towards the river head to Motel Delta.