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C - 2 : Coral Mysteries

Just before we enter the channel to Sibenik, the former Venetian town where the Ca Sagredo family came from, we cross the island of Zlarin which claims one of the oldest businesses in Dalmatia: making jewelry from local red corals.

The pittoresque little harbour of Zlarin

Local historians in Zlarin date the beginning of their jewelry business back to the 13th century when they had clients all over Europe. The claim is probably true given the rarity of jewelry in the Middle Ages. Gem stones were found by accident and the only supply of pearls came from the Persian Gulf where Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Bahrain had a thriving pearl diving business.

Local coral workshop in Zlarin

Apparently, there are still a few local shops in Zlarin that sell nicely polished coral jewelry - most of them with an atelier attached where you can watch how the jewelry is made. Once a year there is a big festival on the islnd when the locals celebrate the coral harvest and bring their findings by boat into the small Zlarin harbour. Of course it takes place in summer when many visitors are around. But we know time shifting from France where Fêtes des Vignerons are now held in August - a month before the grape harvest. Someone has to foot the bill for these festivities and tourists are always a good source of cash.

Zlarin Coral - wonder why it is planted on to a sand beach - not a coral's habitat

The corals are beautiful indeed and who wants to spoil a party? Where I started to wonder whether the story was accurate was when given details. Apparently, the stock of corals within easy reach was depleted a while ago and divers have now to go to a depth of 100 to 200 meters to find new supply. These details awoke the curiosity of a passionate scuba diver with more than 300 dives under his belt (yes, me!):

  1. Corals do not grow below 20 meters depth because they need natural light - below 20m depth the sea is blue only - the rest of daylight does not make it further down

  2. to dive below 100m one needs sophisticated equipment with a special mix of breathing gas - pressurised air is too dangerous

  3. the sea around Zlarin is less than 100m deep - during the previous ice age you could actually walk from Zlarin to Venice or Ancona

Local woman from Zlarin assembling a neckless - but why is she working in her Sunday dress

Oh well. Sometimes too much investigation kills the fun. What we know for sure is that the industry florished until the mid 19th century when cheaper corals close to Sicily were found. Several attempts to resurrect the industry in the 20th century failed but with tourists visiting Dalmatia it got a second wind. Maybe with a little help from suppliers in other parts of the world. The corals are real - maybe they just preferred to grow up in a warmer place than Zlarin (🙄 did I just say that?

Spoiler Alert: It is all fake - the island has just one shop and it was closed

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