Mljet National Park is sits in the Adriatic Sea, well away from the coast of Croatia. Mljet boasts beautiful landscapes, a long history, and fascinating archaeological and architectural remains. Mljet may be reached by ferry from Dubrovnik, or buy charter boats from other Croatian coastal towns.
Mljet is a long, slender island, measuring only 3 km across but 37 km long. Mljet National Park covers the northwestern portion of the island. The remainder of the island is inhabited by Croatian peoples, most of which are involved in agriculture or tourism. Mljet was declared a national park in 1960, recognizing and preserving the beauty of this remarkable landscape.
Mljet National Park was recognized for a number of unique or interesting qualities. The island is particularly beautiful with cliffs, reefs, and numerous smaller islands. Nearby hills hide the history of the island in the numerous remnants and ruins of times past. The outer coastline of the island is quite steep and dotted with collapsed caves, or garmas. The inner coastline is less inclined, but still rough from constant exposure to strong northeasterly winds, called bura.
Mljet is also home to salt lakes. While the lakes themselves date back 10,000 years, they were originally freshwater lakes. The well known lakes of Mljet consist of the Great Lake and the Small Lake. The Great Lake is approximately six times larger than the Small Lake, covering an area of 145 hectares while the smaller is only 24 hectares. The lakes have been the subject of a great deal of study and interest.
Mljet is considered a karst landscape, and has the peculiarities that go with this geological phenomenon. There are many caves, half-caves and pits in the island, as well as appearing and disappearing water sources. Mljet is also known for the occasional appearance of “blatine,” brackish lakes which appear and disappear rather randomly. Natives catch eel in these lakes and birds around them.
Mljet is home to a wide array of flora and fauna. Some species are endemic to the region, and particularly to the rocky coasts of Mljet, including Dubrovacka Zecina, known for its beauty. Five types of forests remain on the island, including the remains of a Mediterranean primeval forest. The Holm oaks of the primeval forests have been largely replaced by densely spaced maquis trees, alpine pine forests, and karst formations. The dense forests of Mljet, particularly around the lakes, are a lovely picture of unspoiled nature. High cliffs, sand dunes on the coasts, and reefs are other notes of geological interest on the island.
Mljet is not only interesting for its geography and beauty, but also and perhaps especially for its history. Mljet’s history dates back thousands of years to the Illyrian culture, as is evidenced by the presence of simple Illlyrian stone graves on the island. The Roman settlement at Polace has left the ruins of several buildings, including a palace and basilica.
The center of the island’s culture and history remains the Benedictine monastery first founded in the middle of the 12th century on a little island in the middle of the Great Lake. The island of St. Mary is home to the monastery and a 12th century church. The monks of St. Mary’s had feudal control over the island of Mljet until the 19th century. In 1345, the inhabitants and monks agreed that in lieu of providing labor, the people of the island would simply pay an annual fee to the monastery.
The island of Mljet and its national park is interesting for historical and geographical reasons, but it is also simply beautiful, and worth a visit if you are in the area for that reason alone. The rich landscapes, unspoiled beauty, and quiet atmosphere of the island make it a lovely spot on any trip to the region. Mljet reflects the rare situation in which humans and nature have peacefully coexisted for millennia.