Rovinj’s batàna, with the Rovinj batièl, the Venetian gondola, the Neretva trupa, the Komiža sandula and many other little boats belong to the numerous families of flat-bottomed boats. The origins of such boats can be found in the prehistoric period, in the designs of rafts and dugouts from wooden hulls (monoxylon). A flat-bottomed vessel was perfect for sailing shallow waters – lakes, river estuaries, lagoons and shallow sea coasts. It appears not only on the Adriatic coast, but throughout Europe and around the world. The vessels themselves were subjects of extensive cultural exchanges, so there were many exchanges in design which became universal with ever present specific expressions, ‘with accents’. This was also the way with the development of Rovinj’s batana. In the Middle Ages the existence of the batana was noted in the Italian region of Marche. They, together with the flat-bottomed boats of the Trasimeno and Varano lakes, influenced the design of the batana in the lagoons of Venice. Meant to be used for coastal fishing, the batana spread from the lagoons to the northern Adriatic coast, to Istria and Rovinj, Krk, Rab and Zadar. Although this craft was invented long ago, Rovinj’s batana in the written and painted sources of Rovinj is only mentioned much later, as late as the 19th century.
According to legend, the name batàna is connected to the Italian sound of the verb of battere (to bang, beat or wallop), which resembles the sound of the boat’s flat bottom as it hits the waves. In the Rovinj dialect however, the little boats that are able to go out onto the open sea, are referred to with the saying: “Bòne da bàti màr!” (“Good to enough to beat the sea!”). According to other opinions, the boat’s name comes from the ancient term batto. This was the name given to small rowing boats from the 14th century, the forerunners of today’s little boats. In line with this interpretation, the term was then borrowed from an old Anglo-Saxon word bat, from which later came the English word boat. Until the 1920s, there were a relatively small number of batana boats in Rovinj, because it was used only for certain types of inshore fishing. With the start of the use of paraffin lamps and the expansion of the use of drag-nets or trata for the night fishing of sardines, their numbers increased considerably. The batana’s golden age was enjoyed during the 1960s, with the use of the Tomos outboard motor. This two-stroke 4 hp outboard motor was made in nearby Koper in Slovenia. With this the batana became faster and more flexible and the fishing boat became the favourite craft for fun and recreation. Families in Rovinj who did not own a batana were rare, as were those who did not take their batana out to sea for swimming trips in the summer months. In winter it was also rare that those batanas did not go fishing and so tightening the household budgets. Towards Easter, it was difficult to count the batanas which their owners used for catching squid for the traditional holiday meal. To date the Port Authority in Rovinj has registered 241 batanas.
No two batana boats are the same. Each of them can be identified by the hand of its builder. The construction of the batanas has always been entrusted to ship’s carpenters and caulkers. They would build them in shipyards or on the storage ground floors of their own houses, the size of which would then determine the final size of the boat. For maintenance reasons the batanas would periodically be lifted from the sea. Batana owners also had basic ship carpentry and caulking skills and would regularly maintain their own boats. The tradition of vessel building in Rovinj, especially the batana, has been very actively kept and has been carefully continued in the construction of models. A handful of people from Rovinj are committed to this: Alvise Benussi ‘Canuciàl’, Giandomenico and Michele Quarantotto ‘Mèto’, Giovanni Trani ‘Fasùpe’, Franz Kos, Klaudio Sošić, Rino Budicin ‘Ciudeîn’, Francesco Benussi Scurleîn, Mario Banich and Antonio Battistella. In Rovinj today batanas are built by the youngest batana builder Mladen Takač.
Bitinàda is an original expression of Rovinj’s folk songs. This is special method of performing musical accompaniment with a singer’s (bitinadùr) voice. When a soloist or soloists in a duet intones the song, bitinadùri (singers) begin to imitate the sounds of various musical instruments with their voices, sounding like an orchestra. So as to achieve a harmonious performance, at least three or four of the bitinadùri imitate the bass guitar as a double bass. Then, in groups or alone, they imitate the sounds of the other guitar strings and with a minimum of three voices, they define the chord. The other members of the choir at will then imitate the sounds of complementary instruments such as the mandolin and mandola, which in the local dialect is known as ‘tintìni’. According to tradition, Rovinj’s bitinàda emerged from among the fishermen who spent hours on their boats fishing or repairing their nets. As their hands were not free to hold instruments, they came up with the idea to achieve a superior orchestral performance using just their voices. The nurturing and preservation of the tradition of bitinàda and bitinadùra in Rovinj is continued by the ‘Marco Garbin’ Cultural and Artistic Society of the Italian Community in Rovinj.
Rovinj’s bitinàda as an object of intangible cultural heritage is included on the list of protected cultural goods of the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Croatia (led by the Italian Community Association of the town of Rovinj).
Georges-Henri Rivière, the legendary French museologist, gave an excellent description of the eco-museum back in 1976: “The eco-museum is not like other museums… The eco-museum is a live, interdisciplinary museum that shows people in time and space, in their natural and cultural surroundings, calling upon the entire population of a given community to participate in its own development…" The characteristics of the eco-museum were synthesised by the Croatian museologist Tomislav Šola: to demonstrate the integrity of the identity of a community, the widening and networking of its ‘offspring’ over the territory of the community, then the de-professionalization and de-institutionalisation – the active involvement of members of the community in the functioning of the museum, the creation and implementation of its programmes, the awareness of real time determination – the effects of the present day and the active social engagement in the community.
Peter Davies in his famous book Eco-museums: a Sense of Place concludes: “One characteristic appears as being common to all eco-museums: the pride which they have for the place which they represent. The eco-museum tries to capture the soul of the place – and I think that is what makes them special.”
The declaration of the international workshop ‘Long Network – Eco-museums in Europe’, held in Trento in May 2004 announced: “The eco-museum is a dynamic way in which communities preserve, interpret, and manage their heritage for sustainable development. An eco-museum is based on a community agreement.”
The lugsail of the batana (in the Rovinj dialect known as vìla al tièrso), has a quadrangle shape. The name is attributed to the way it is lifted and fastened to the mast. The older and experienced fishermen of Rovinj say that the point at which the halyard connects the lugsail is determined by measuring the length of the upper third of the cross and that the mast lays on the length of one third of the boat, starting from the stern, and the ratio of 1:3 is the measurement of the length of the windward and leeward edges. It was sewn from a kind of cotton fabric and then painted. The sail surface area and weight of the sail were dependent on the size of the batana. Painting the sails initially served as impregnation so it would last longer, but eventually this became a distinguishing mark, signifying its individuality and the identity of the owner. Each family had its own painted sign which was recognised by its members, as well as others, so the boat and its owners could be recognised from faraway at sea. To date the sails of over 95 of Rovinj’s families have been registered. The painted motifs were mostly geometric, and figurative images, notes, numbers or symbols rarely appeared. The most common colours were yellow, red and green. In around 1930, in the port of Rovinj, there were as many as 52 batanas with painted sails. From the end of the 1960s, the use of sails on batana boats ceased. Since the establishment of the Eco-museum the existence of several old sails has been recorded and four new ones have been made.
In the town of Rovinj there live many families with the same surnames (Benussi, Budicin, Cherin, Curto, Dandolo, Devescovi, Garbin, Giuricin, Malusà, Paliaga, Pellizzer, Preden, Quarantotto, Sbisà, Sponza, Venier, etc.). Once, and much more than today, there was a tradition of giving the names of grandparents to children. They were most frequently traditional names, so several people would respond to the same name. Nicknames were creative props to recognise and distinguish people. To date there are over 2,000 nicknames used in Rovinj. Each of them expressive, funny and sometimes abusive, alluding to the physical and moral characteristics of individuals, their weaknesses, habits, events in their lives, accomplishments, places of birth, professions and so on.
Piero Soffici was born in Rovinj on the 28th of July 1920. He moved to Pula in 1937 and there he began his career in music by organising a series of concerts in the Ciscutti Theatre with a grand orchestra and a number of local singers, including a Rovinj girl named Ines Budicin, who would soon become his wife. In 1947 he went to Genoa where as only he would say “…debuted playing the accordion at all the port bars, with a dish, relying on the generosity of the passers-by”. Later he was hired as a saxophonist in an orchestra with which he spent six months in Germany, in Garmisch, where he played for Americans. Returning to Milan, he worked as an arranger in the Philips recording company. Soon after that he received a call from Rome to work in the Italian RAI company, as the arranger of the orchestra ‘Angelini’ at the Sanremo Festival. He moved to Rome for five years with his family, where he worked for national television. After many years making arrangements for orchestras he decided to try composing. His most successful songs are: ‘Stessa spiaggia stesso mare’, ‘Perdono’, ‘Cento giorni’ and ‘Quando l' amore diventa poesia’. In his later years, he found the greatest inspiration in the town of his birth, where, as he reveals, were born “...my songs dedicated to Rovinj and they are the most sincere and which I love the most”. When did Piero Soffici die, and where is he buried?
Sergio Preden ‘Gato’ was born in Rovinj on the 29th of August 1946. He began singing as a boy in the 1950s. He sang as a professional singer in Switzerland, Italy and Monte Carlo. When he returned to Rovinj in the 1970s, he took part in the MIK Festival (Melodies of Istria and Kvarner) and recorded for Radio Koper. In the 1980s, besides being in various bands as a singer and drummer, he also had the opportunity to perform as a soloist in performances involving Boby Solo and Mino Reitano. In Milan he recorded his first record of classic Italian standards which were produced by RTB. During these years he began his successful collaboration with Piero Soffici with whom he recorded five CDs and four music cassettes. In 2004 he took part as a guest in the recording of the CD ‘Ruvigno par mi’ by Riccardo Bosazzi. He is a permanent participant and member of the Batana Eco-museum and a collaborator in the Spacio Matika musical events.
Along with the batana and bitinada, one more particularity of Rovinj is the spàcio (a type of tavern). It is a place where wine is stored, tasted and sold, but also a place for socialising, dinning and singing. Its etymology could be linked with the Italian words spacciare (the hiding and quick sale of goods not permitted by law) and spaccio (the public sale of illegal goods), perhaps, due to this, at the beginning it was in the taverns of Rovinj, in spite of the prohibition of the sale of wine, that wine was sold and consumed in a hurry and hidden from those who were controlling the sale of this drink and such products. A spàcio is a place located on the ground floors of the townhouses of families of farmers who owned vineyards and olive groves from the wider Rovinj territory. It can be recognised by the branches hanging above the entrance. The massive, unplastered, stone walls of the spàcio ensure the stable microclimate needed for the storing of wine. The central area in every spàcio is taken up by a long table and benches for customers and visitors.
The spàcio was the meeting place for Rovinj’s land workers and fishermen. Fishermen regularly came here after day and night fishing. Along with a quart of wine and fish on the grill, they would share the adventures and comments of important events. Sometimes they would play cards, briškula, trešeta and mòra, and obligatory sing a bitinàda. From the spàcio the sounds of opera arias performed by the most talented fishermen soloists could often be heard. In the past almost every street in Rovinj had a spàcio. Today they have been converted into storerooms, handy workshops and bars and only a very few have retained their original function. One such original has been preserved, Spacio Matika, owned by Roman Matika in Švalba Street, and it is an integral part of the Eco-museum in which musical, culinary and other fun events are organised.
With the fusion of two choral groups which had performed in the period of 1943 to 1945 the ‘Marco Garbin’ Cultural Artistic Society was founded on the 13th of December 1947, which to date, for over 60 years, has not just been the foundation of the artistic and musical activities of Rovinj’s Italian community, but has also been an important pivot in the context of Rovinj’s socio-cultural preservation. Currently under the same name of ‘Marco Garbin’ male and female and mixed choirs work, along with Rovinj’s folklore unit and the group ‘Bitinadùri’ who nurture the origins of Rovinj’s musical heritage. The ‘Marco Garbin’ Cultural Artistic Society has received various awards, among which worth mentioning is the Plaque of Rovinj, awarded on the 16th September 2007 for their 60 excellent years of successful work.
The choir has always had a dominant role in the cultural life of the town. Even today, besides the classical performance of the choir, it nurtures and performs typical Rovinj songs: arie da nuòto, arie da cuntràda, as well as the suggestive bitinàde songs. Their repertoire is based on already existing traditional musical productions, amongst which must be mentioned the famous song by maestro Carlo Fabretto (Vien Fiamita, Vignì sul mar muriede among others), and songs of other prominent composers such as Domenico Garbin, Jerko Gržinčić, Piero Soffici, Dušan Prašelj, Riccardo Bosazzi, Biba Benussi and especially Vlado Benussi. Numerous songs are based on the texts and poems of Eligi Zanini, Giusto Curto, Matteo Benussi and others.
The ‘Marco Garbin’ Cultural Artistic Society has always deservingly represented Rovinj’s Italian Community and Rovinj at all the most important cultural-artistic events in Rovinj, as well as at cultural reviews of the Italian Union and has made numerous appearances and won success abroad, especially in Italy, delightfully entertaining audiences with their original repertoire.
At the musical events at Spacio Matika the ‘Bitinadùri’ group appear, which consists of: Riccardo Sugar (Bugialòn), the group’s mentor; Riccardo Vidotto (Màmo), Riccardo Malusa' (Ceî∫bo), Germano Ettorre (Manceîna), Gianfranco Santin (Gnègno), Sergio Ferrara (Maravìa) (Massimo Ferrara (Maravìa), Claudio Malusà (Malòn), Branko Poropat (Kokica), Davorin Poropat, Antonio Curto (Mulchièra) and Giuseppe Bruni (Bièpi Tuòla).
‘Batana’ are a vocal-instrumental folk group with a unique harmony of voices and mandolin and they evoke the special atmosphere of the Mediterranean. ‘Batana’ have been playing for 20 years and in their long career they have performed over 2,400 times. Beside regular appearances at the Batana Eco-museum, the folk group also performs throughout the Istria region and have made more than 100 performances in parts of Europe for the tourist promotion of the Town of Rovinj, Istria and Croatia. The folk group have recorded three CDs, one of which was recorded live, two audio cassettes and one video cassette. ‘Batana’ have participated in many TV programmes for HTV, TV Koper-Capodostria, Canale 5, BR Rundfunk and the particularly significant shows ’Linea blu’ and ‘Alle falde del Chilimangiaro’ for the Italian RAI channel.
The folk group’s repertoire, which is comprised of 5 members, with the soloist Antonella Rocco Sugar and manager Riccardo Bosazzi, consists of traditional Istro-Venetian, Dalmatian, Istrian, international and Rovinj music. In addition to all the members singing they also play the following instruments: guitar, bass, two mandolins, accordion, trumpet and tambourine, i.e. acoustic instruments which are rarely heard on European stages. In 2003 ‘Batana’ were awarded the Plaque of Rovinj for their special contribution to the preservation and promotion of Rovinj’s musical traditions. The ‘Batana’ folk group regularly perform at Spacio Matika events and the Festival of Mali Škver in front of the House of Batana.
The ancient Istro-Romanian or Istriot dialect is one of the characteristics of Rovinj. It originates from popular Latin speech. In the 13th century Dante mentions it in his famous book De Vulgari Eloquentia. Many people in Rovinj use it in everyday communication. The Rovinj dialect contains over 20,000 words. It is particularly rich in terms relating to the sea, fishing and boats. Some of them are very difficult to translate, such as those which symbolise the parts of the batana boat.
It has a flat bottom which is slightly curved towards the stem and the transom, with a lightly convex end at the bow.
The dimensions of a batana vary between 4 and 8.5 metres. However batanas constructed in the second half of the 20th century are rarely larger than 5 metres.
A batana is entirely made of wood. The frame is most often made of oak, the panelling of fir, pine or spruce, and for riveting only galvanised nails or handmade wrought iron is used.
A batana is navigated with the aid of a sail, oars or an outboard motor. For long journeys it is powered by a lugsail – in the Rovinj dialect vìla al tièrso. For fishing it is powered and manoeuvred with two long oars, whilst a notch in the transom was intended for rowing like a gondola with one oar or, in the Rovinj dialect, vùga in gòndula.