Mills on the River Ljuta – part 1

Prehistoric inhabitants of our regions were engaged in agriculture since the Neolithic and Bronze Ages, cultivating grains such as wheat, barley, and other cereal. They didn’t know how to grind the grains, and would, instead, crush them by using a sort of a pestle, which was designed to be held in the hand. This technique was later improved with the use of two flat stones, obtaining flour by rubbing the upper one against the lower one, which was larger and immobile.

If we turn back to a closer history, having established their rule over the region, the authorities from the Dubrovnik Republic started to develop extensive agricultural activities in Konavle in the course of the 15th century. In particular the growing of grain. Additional quantities of flour and rusk biscuit had to be ensured for the needs of the crews of merchant sailboats and, with the growing populations on the other side, an increase in cereal production was needed. All this required the construction of new mills. At the time when Konavle came under Dubrovnik’s rule in 1419/1426, there were 15 water mills in the region, 6 of them on the River Ljuta. During the end of the Dubrovnik rule, at the beginning of the 19th century, the total number of mill houses grew to 12, of which 9 mills housed 1 mill each and 3 of them housed 2 mills, thus the number increased to a total of 15 mills. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Konavle region was considered the main granary of the Dubrovnik Republic.

The authorities in Dubrovnik considered the mills as being strategic facilities and, for the entire duration of the Dubrovnik Republic, mills were exclusively state-owned. The local authorities, therefore, regulated, under special provisions, not only the construction and the maintenance of the mills but also the lease of the mills to the citizens (subordinates) of Dubrovnik. Detailed rules were laid down for citizens to lease or subdivide mills, including the terms of the lease, and the amount and method of rental payment. Proper payment of financial obligations was ensured by a greater number of tenants and guarantors, mortgages on their entire property as well as draconian penalties. The miller could not do the milling without issuing a receipt of payment to everyone, with the exception of nuns and priests, who were exempt from paying taxes. An interesting provision regarding the mills was made by a Rector of Župa. The provision states that a miller and his wife are obliged to grind the grains of any poor inhabitant at his turn, without charging more than a groat and a half for one “quarter” (about 12-15kg) in the period running from St Vitus Day (15 June) until the first half of the harvest, and just 1 groat from the first half of the harvest to St Vitus Day. If they did not do so, they could be sentenced to 8 days in jail and fined the amount of 6 ducats, which were to be used to repair municipal roads in Župa.

Until the 16th Century, mills, as well as houses, were made of wood, but the government of Dubrovnik encouraged the construction of houses using the dry stone technique. It is, therefore, assumed that houses and mills started to be replaced with stonework in the 16th century. Considering that the area around the mill was limited, it only allowed the accommodation of a small number of animals used for carrying of grain or olives for grinding. In order to avoid crowds and queuing at the mills, the millers would use a specially crafted horn for calling and informing the inhabitants of nearby villages to come on their turn to deliver the grain for grinding.

The mills of the River Ljuta, with regard to their location, are divided into Upper and Lower Mills. At the beginning of the Dubrovnik rule of Konavle, around 1472, there were most probably only 2 mills in the area of the Upper Mills, one near the source, and the other one somewhat to the south and east of Radoslav Pavlović’s Palace. At the beginning of the 18th Century, a second mill was built and was named Taraš’s mill. Its remains are presently known as the Old Mill. One of the most famous stories about this mill relates to a terrible murder, when the miller of the Taraš’s mill killed his fellow-townsman, Vuk Milić, from Miočići. After that unfortunate event, Taraš left the Old mill and built a new one besides the western wall of the existing fulling mill. After the construction of the new system, the water reached a sufficient drop for the construction somewhat south of 2 new mills: the Dobrašin mill, still existing, and the Margetić mill that was abandoned in the first half of the 19th century, giving way to a restaurant called Konavoski dvori, built in 1969.

Two other mills are significant for this area – the Upper and the Lower Arbanas mills. The Lower Mill is still partly owned by the Arbanas family, while the Upper mill was flooded by the River Ljuta in 1856 and has never been rebuilt. As mentioned before, the Dubrovnik authorities encouraged the construction of mills, so Ivan Kapetanić, from Lovorno, and Niko Živanović, from Ljuta, obtained a 30-year long land lease in order to build mills on it. The eastern mill belonged to the Kapetanić family, and the western to the Živanović family. The Kapetanić family later sold its mill to the Birimiša family, who is still its majority co-owner.

The Lower mills are located to the south, downstream along the river. At the beginning of the rule of the Dubrovnik Republic, there were 3 mills in that area in addition to 4 more mills on the eastern riverbank. Lower mills are Živanović and Cucalov mills, and slightly northward, there is the Upper Živanović mill. The mill on the eastern side of the river was abandoned before 1837. Later, a fulling mill was built near its remains.

During the brief period of French rule of the region (1808-1814), a modern road on the site of the old Communal one, the so-called Napoleon Road was constructed. While in 1809 a new bridge was built over the River Ljuta. The Austrian authorities privatized the mills, while during the second Yugoslavia prices for grinding became unfavorable. The industrialization and the construction of two hydroelectric power plants at the end of the 1950s further jeopardized the work of the mills. One after another, the mills stopped working. In 1972, 4 of them were still functioning, while today only 2 are still in operation and can be visited.

Since 1969, all the mills on the River Ljuta have been protected as cultural monuments, and in 1975 the whole area was entered into the Register of Specially Protected Nature Facilities. The Society of Friends of the Dubrovnik Antiquities, inspired by an initiative for the program of renovation of the old mills, was involved in the work. Seven mills were renovated in the period from 2005 to 2011, and the works included the reconstruction of the walls and roofs of the mills. Today we can proudly say that the historical significance of the whole complex has been achieved and that the renovated mills on Ljuta constitute a historic oasis of immense beauty.

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