Overview of History

The Illyrians

The island of Mljet has a long and eventful history that goes back as far as the second millennium before Christ, when the Illyrians from the tribe of Ardiaei settled on the island. Material remnants of the Illyrians tell about their way of life, conflicts the they had among themselves, as well as of defensive strategies (construction of gradine). Gradine, as well as Illyrian tombs (gomile) reveal that the Illyrian tribes also populated the area of the National Park Mljet.

Ancient times:

The Greeks

Although no remains of buildings from the period of Ancient Greece have been found, it is not impossible that the Greeks populated the island. The first mentioning of the island of Mljet was in the manuscript The Periplus of Pseudo-Scylax from the 4th century BC stating that the Greek ships used to stop on the island for fresh water on their way to Korkyra Melaina, Issa, Pharos, etc. Shipwrecks, amphoras, and other items from ancient times found in the sea off the coast of Mljet are evidence that there was Greek presence on the island.

The Romans

In the work De rebus Illyricus written in 35 BC, Appian mentioned seizing the Illyrian town of Melitus to stop Illyrian pirate attacks on the Roman fleet that sailed in this area. The island came under the authority of the Romans, who built third largest palace in the Adriatic (only Arena in Pula and Diocletian Palace in Split being larger), as well as the accompanying buildings: basilicas, thermal spas, arsenals, even a shipyard. Numerous remnants from Roman times, dispersed all over the island, indicate that the island was densely populated during the rule of the Romans and reveal that the inhabitants were involved in agriculture and farming.

Medieval Era:

The Benedictines

The Narentines began their raids on the island at the end of the 8th century when they managed to occupy the eastern and central parts. At the end of the 10th century, they had a major conflict with the Romans pushing them from the island completely. The island of Mljet became part of Zachlumia and in 1151, Pope granted the island to the Benedictine Order from the county of Apulia in Italy. The Benedictines built a monastery and the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the islet in the Great Lake as well as established feudal government. Their role in development of literacy on the island was of crucial significance and the library of the Monastery of Saint Mary was one of the richest ones in Benedictine abbeys of Dalmatia.

The Republic of Ragusa

Since feudal fees presented hardship for the local population, rebellions were more and more frequent therefore the Republic of Ragusa intervened. As a result, Statute of the island of Mljet was formed in the 14th century which regulated services and fees owed to the abbey. At the end of the 15th century, a count was installed on the island and a Renaissance palace beneath Babino Polje (Palac) was built for him.

The 19th Century:

Napoleon and Austro-Hungary

In 1806, the French troops occupied the Republic of Ragusa and two years later, the Monastery of Saint Mary was closed. After the fall of Napoleon and to prevent plundering of church property, England took charge, but ceded the monastery to the Austrians after a very short time. The arrival of Austro-Hungary meant great progress for the island in terms of developing infrastructure and improving quality of life. Furthermore, the problem of large numbers of venomous snakes was solved when 12 mongooses were brought from Vienna, completely eliminating this serious danger. During the time of Austro-Hungarian governing, a project of protection of the Mljet lakes, organisms, and forests was established, named Naturschutzpark Meleda.

20th Century:

After the First World War, the island of Mljet was occupied by the Italians, but very soon the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes annexed the island. In the Second World War, the Italians occupied the island for a very short time until their capitulation. I twas followed by a short German occupation, and then the island became part of Yugoslavia, and eventually part of Croatia.

In recent history, more precisely in 1960, a part of the island was proclaimed as national park which also implied status of the protection of natural and cultural heritage, and the monastery complex was converted into a hotel. At the beginning of the Croatian War of Independence in 1990, the hotel was closed down and eight years later, it was returned to the Diocese of Dubrovnik. Currently the entire complex is being renovated and archaeological research has been carried out, especially investigating remnants of the Roman Period.

Stories and Legend of the Island of Mljet:

The Legend of Saint Paul the Apostle, the Castaway of Mljet

According to the legend, Saint Paul the Apostle was on his way from Jerusalem to Rome when the ship carrying him was shipwrecked off the southeastern coast of the island of Mljet, dashed on the rocks Pod Škoji in the vicinity of the village of Saplunara. In his account of the voyage, Saint Paul said that the ship was caught in a violent storm in Adria (the Adriatic). He and his crew were helped by local settlers of the island of Melita. While they were all sitting around the fire to get warm, a venomous snake bit Saint Paul's hand, but he shook the snake off into the fire and survived. During the three months of his stay on Mljet, Saint Paul preached Christianity. The indication of his visit is also the archaeological site Crkva or Crkvina in the vicinity of the village of Korita with the remains of church foundations belonging to the first Church of Saint Paul, built in the honour of the Apostle. Saint Paul is the protector of Mljet Municipality as well, and the parish church in Babino Polje is named after him. Although this legend is often related also to the island of Malta, it is unquestionable that the shipwreck happened exactly on the island of Mljet because Paul the Apostle knew geography well and he described the Adriatic and the island of Mljet with precise details in his travelogue.

The Legend of Odyssey

The legend of the Greek hero Odyssey and the nymph Calypso is also related to the island of Mljet. While returning from his long adventurous wandering on the seas, Odyssey was caught in a storm that sank his ship, and his exhausted body was thrown ashore on the enchanted island Ogygia, owned by the nymph Calypso. She helped him and fell in love with him. Spellbound by her beauty, the hero could not resist her love charms or reject her promise to keep him young forever and immortal if he married her. The result of their romance were twin boys, Nausithous and Nausinous. The legend says that Odyssey lived on the island for seven years, making efforts to resist the charms of the nymph and to return home to his beloved Penelope. Nevertheless, Calypso allowed Odyssey to leave only after Zeus ordered her to let him go, and she continued to live on the island alone to a very old age. Today, numerous visitors visit their love nest, The Odyssey Cave, situated opposite the islet of Ogiran in the southern part of the island. The name of the largest village on the island of Mljet is related to the nymph Calypso. According to the legend, the village was named after "an old woman who ruled the island" and it was the nymph Calypso, therefore the village is called Babino Polje (The Old Woman's Plain).

The Legend of the Queen Teuta

There is a legend dating in the Illyrian times about the Illyrian Queen Teuta who often visited the island of Mljet with her husband Agron from Rhizon, which was the capital of Agron's kingdom in the Bay of Kotor. After her husband died, this "Queen with the Golden Eyes" continued to visit the island frequently and fell in love with the Greek Demetrius of Pharos, an Illyrian commander. Their secret love motivated the Queen to make grand plans how to expand Illyria, nevertheless, while she was enjoying pleasures of the island and her young lover, her powerful Illyria was losing the war against Rome. Eventually, Teuta's kingdom was reduced solely to the area that is today's Dubrovnik and the mouth of the river Drim, while the rest of Illyria came under the rule of Demetrius of Pharos who betrayed Teuta's love and became a Roman vassal.