The history of Skrad
"Not far from Skrad, before you reach a curve in the road, you'll see widly romantic surroundings. They resemble a gorge in the mountains of Salzburg. In our dear country there is many a magnificent sight that could be compared with foreign ones."Antun Nemčić in his travelogue "Putositnice"/"Travel triﬂes"So wrote about Skrad Antun Nemčić, a writer of the Croatian National Revival period, when he traveled along the Louisiana road through Gorski Kotar in 1843. This is also the first account of nature in this part of Croatia reportedin a Croatian travelogue. Everyone travelling through this part of the country to the seaside will experience Gorski kotar as one of its most beautiful parts.. Everywhere you go, you're surrounded by picturesque mountains and romantic hilly spots. Skrad is just such a place in the heart of Gorski kotar.
The municipality of Skrad is one of the smaller ones in Gorski kotar; it is spread over 53.85 km²and has 900 inhabitants. It encompasses 32 settlements and villages, but 7 of them are uninhabited today. Skrad is the central municipal town. It is located along the Louisiana road – an old, recently modernized road – and the railway, two paths linking the Croatian hinterland with Rijeka via Gorski Kotar. With important natural advantages, and favorable traffic situation has also significant and stimulating influence on the development of Skrad in the past. The first clear and reliable piece of information on the existence of Skrad dates from the year 1694. Recent studies, however, show that the toponym for the present Skrad area was used as early as 1641, but at that time, in all likelihood, the settlement itself hadn't existed yet. It is known that on 12 June 1694, eight peasants received land from the manor, which was seated in Brod na Kupi, and established a settlement. In the 17th century, when Turkish invasions in this area stopped, life began to return into the destroyed villages. The Zrinski noble family, who in 1577 took over the Frankopan Brod na Kupi manor by means of kinship, they started to populate their deserted properties around that area with new serfs. Those who returned here brought along the Kajkavian dialect, which supplanted the Čakavian one, spoken here before the Turkish raids. The Kajkavian dialect, the so called goranska kajkavština, is spoken even today by the inhabitants of this region. The Zrinski family efforts to renew the Brod na Kupi estate are to thank for the renovation of Skrad in the 17th century. Initially, Skrad evolved slowly. It is known that as early as 1805 Skrad had 13 houses, 14 families and 114 residents, all of whom in serfdom of the Brod estate. Significantly faster development of Skrad began when the Louisiana road was built that went through town, connecting Karlovac with Rijeka. The construction of the road was a consequence of the increasing traffic and trade that took place between the Croatian inland and the coast of Kvarner. The construction started in 1803, from Rijeka to Karlovac. By 1809, the road was laid down all the way up to Netretić near Karlovac. The construction work was interrupted by the war in which Europe, including the Austrian Empire, was drawn by the French emperor Napoleon I. The French army occupied a part of Croatia up to the right bank of the Sava River and so for a short period Skrad was part of the French Empire as one of the Illyrian provinces. During this period the Karlovac leg of the road is completed by the French because of its military importance. The Louisiana was named after Napoleon's wife Marie Louise. The French left in 1813, but the name remained to this day. More recently, it has been extensively reconstructed and asphalted. So modernized, it was committed to traffic in 1954. For the development of Skrad no other event in history was as significant as the completion of the Louisiana road. The new road helped live traffic along. It is estimated that up to 1000 carts went along it daily. Local population got involved in the transportation business, and in Skrad a travelers' lodge was opened, and barns and storage for livestock and vehicles were built. According to one legend, it happened in 1820, but it is more likely to have happened 1841. This massive building, built in the Baroque style, which housed an inn with the possibility of overnight stay, still stands today and is under the protection of the Conservation Institute in Rijeka as one of the valuable historical buildings in Gorski Kotar. Gradually, inns and hostels opened in Skrad in some households. The people of Skrad learned early on how to do business with strangers and grew accustomed to hosting travelers. A new, important impetus for progress of Skrad occurred in 1873 when the railroad was completed, which also passed through Skrad, linking the Croatian hinterland with the Kvarner coast and the port of Rijeka. Skrad then found itself at two roads that, each in their own way, marked the life and development of the town and the surrounding villages during the 19th and 20th century. In the second half of the 19th century, the number of inhabitants in Skrad increased so the need to institutionally educate the town youth arose. The primary school was opened in 1876 and in the neighboring village of Divjake in 1886.
Today, the Skrad primary school, along with its branch in Kupjak, is a modern educational institution, well equipped with teaching equipment and with a full school library, and located in the new, highly furnished school building which was built in 1976. In addition to the school there is a kindergarden. The overall progress in Skrad during the 20th century was the decisive factor in the transferring of church life from Divjak. St. Izidor's church in Divjak was built in 1754 or the year before, and a local parish was founded in 1807. It included all the settlements in the area that is the modern-day municipality of Skrad. The rectory was built in Divjake in 1845. The oldest church in Skrad is the church of St. Anthony, mentioned for the first time in 1733. It was later demolished and on its foundations a new one was built in 1864. It was thoroughly restored in 1996, and the rectory was completed and officially opened on January 19, 1975, when the parish seat was transferred here since, in the meantime, and a substantial portion of the population left the villages around the former parish seat in Divjake. The period until the start of World War II is thought of as the golden age of development in Skrad, in particular as a renowned tourist destination in the former state. At the beginning of the 20th century tourists came here because of the very favorable climate in the appealing mountain conditions. That is why in Skrad the Association for Foreign Traffic was founded as early as 1914, the forerunner of the Tourism Association, which dealt with preparing Skrad to accept guests who came to town, both in the summer and in winter, to vacation, recover and recuperate. In this period the Zeleni vir hydroelectric power plant was built (1921) so Skrad became the first town in Gorski Kotar to have electricity. The first hotel in Gorski Kotar was also built in Skrad (the "Zeleni Vir" hotel in 1919). A little later, in 1933, the "Verin bor" villa was built, a guesthouse whose owner furbished and managed it at the same high-quality level of tourist facilities of Switzerland at the time. Buildings were erected in the area of Šiler (children's convalescence resort, as well as a sanatorium for the recuperations of submarine officers of the Kraljevina Jugoslavija Navy, opened in 1938), and Youth and Children's Red Cross Colony, and Skrad has become a famous tourist spot in which people flocked to vacation, recover and receive treatment for respiratory illnesses from all over the former Jugoslavija. In the winter time Skrad was a ski destination where ski lovers came to ski recreationaly or compete. It should, in fact, be said that the people of Skrad built a ski jump as early as 1935 (for jumps up to 30 m) on the northern slopes of Skradski summit (designed by the Norwegian T.T. Hansen), in the years when skiing just begun to spread, especially ski jumps on specially mounted hills. Due to favorable climate conditions and the beautiful landscape, in 1936 Skrad was declared a "high-altitude air spa", rehabilitation center and health resort for people with respiratory ailments.
Along with transit tourism, the most important industry in Skrad and its surroundings after World War II was the exploitation of forest resources. Forestry was established here very early on, in the years when the Brod na Kupi estate was taken over by the noble family of Thurn und Taxis. In the forestry sector, the local population were employed as forest workers, waggoners, who drove their cattle-drawn carts (until they were pushed out by trucks), workers in the timber industry and sawmills. An important economic sector that employed the locals was electric power. Some got jobs in the railway. In the employment of the local workforce, especially women, an important role was played by the facilities in the Šiler area, where at first a resort was opened for military personnel who were also tuberculosis patients, and afterwards a nice children's rehabilitation center for children of military personnel. Today these valuable facilities are utterly neglected. Significant changes affected Skrad in the years since Croatian independence. In 1993, the municipality of Skrad was established. Before that, there was only a local office. Economic flows in the municipality suffered substantial changes or even decline, especially when in 2003 a new, modern highway was inaugurated that circumvented Skrad. Transit car traffic in Skrad disappeared so the town, especially when it came to tourism, experienced a halt: the most important restaurants were closed down. Life in general slowed down or stopped completely and now attempts are being made to revive the health and recreation tourism, connected to the revitalization of the buildings on Šiler, and to return to Skrad importance as it once held as a tourist destination. The Tourist Association of Skrad is especially active in that regard. The Business Incubator (PINS Ltd.), established in 1995, strives to improve the economy in the municipality of Skrad and in Gorski Kotar. It is based in Skrad and its incentives and support contributed to the fact that now there are in the area more than fifty entrepreneurs of diverse professions. In the cultural life of the town and in sports valuable results are being achieved. The center of cultural life is the completely renovated Cultural Centre, furnished with modern equipment and opened in 2004. It organizes art exhibitions, concerts and other occasional cultural events. Since 1996, the City Choir has been in existance, continuously and very successfully, also acting as the central component of the Cultural and Arts Association "Zeleni vir". Sports activities in Skrad have also resumed: there's a football club, active archery and and bowling clubs, as well as the "Skradski vrh" Mountaineering Club. The fire department in the municipality of Skrad has a rich tradition, too (the Skrad firefighters have been operating since 1932), and it is well organized and equipped. All this shows that the municipality of Skrad is advancing and achieving success economically and culturally, even in these new, partly changed conditions, despite the initial lagging, and it's path towards general development and well-being is wide open.
Vladimir Mance, MSc