I just realized that I had this post about Morine Necropolis in the Highlands of Herzegovina drafted in August 2020 and completely forgot to post it.
The whole drive was delightfully scenic. Some parts of that ride are narrow dirt roads with no cellphone coverage and I worried that our car would break down and we would be stranded far away from civilization.
But we were never really far and while everything looked deserted there were plenty of people just popping up such as people collecting wood or weekenders barbecuing.
Medieval Tombstones Morine, 14th Century
I must admit, I had no idea that Morine was on our route. We literally stumbled upon the necropolis and it was a magnificent sight to appear in the distance as we were driving.
The district of Morine is located about 20 km from Nevesinje, next to the road to Ulog.
Morine necropolis is home to some 50 stećak (medieval tombstones) that are scattered all over Bosnia)
The word stećak itself is derived from the South Slavic verb stajati (eng. stand and it literally means the “tall, standing thing”.)These monolithic standing stones have come to be known as tombstones in the 20th century, although that was most probably not their original purpose.
This location was where the rock for the tombstones came from and some of the tombstones in the area are believed to be either scraps or leftovers or were left ready for pickup by craftsmen for further crafting.
The Legend of Morine, 18th Century
This location is also called Svatovsko groblje (The Wedding Cemetery) among the locals. (although it is not related to the 14th century Morine necropolis)
A wedding party was taking a beautiful girl called Hajka to get married. As it happens, her father promised her to a wealthy bey from Mostar, but she was in love (and loved by) another bey from Nevesinje. It was in the middle of the summer but the weather suddenly turned. The entire wedding party of about 50 people, including the bride, froze to death. Apparently, the Morine highlands are known for their fertility but also for volatile weather.
Another legend says that the girl’s mother poisoned the entire wedding party except for her daughter and one servant who led her horse.
A local song goes with that ending. Everyone but the bride froze to death. A horse managed to take the nearly frozen bride straight to the man she loved.
Whichever it is, the tombstones are as fascinating as the entire area. I felt like I was in Wuthering Heights (yes, still one of my favorite books!) or…dare I say it… New Zealand.
With less sheep. Much less.
According to the data from the Austro-Hungarian period, there were about 97,000 cattle kept in these highlands in 1907 and now, there are barely 3000. The shepherds live with their cattle in the highlands during the summer, but they move back down to their homes in villages close to Nevesinje during the extremely cold winters.
A More Recent Story of Morine Necropolis
When I posted this on my Facebook my friend wrote the following story about the area that gave me goosebumps:
“My dad had to cross this area to escape from Gacko when the war started. The group he was with was being pursued by armed militia and was starved and sleep-deprived. All of them told of vivid dreams and hallucinations while they were here. Years later we would hear stories associated with it. The name gives me goosebumps.
Many of them had the same or very similar dreams and experiences and didn’t know until one of them broke the silence and spoke about it months after they safely arrived in Konjic.
They all individually feared being ridiculed or deemed cowardly and said nothing. Later they would hear from people familiar with the area that they were not surprised and that locals never allowed nightfall to catch them in Morine for this reason.
I do remember one story that those on guard duty told us. As soon as the night fell, they said everything appeared to move, including the trees, from their roots. They were completely awake. There were those who slept in shifts and were awoken by crying children (there weren’t any small kids in the group) and later recounted very similar dreams…”
I mean, who wouldn’t like a story like this.
My rational husband said, of course, such bare and isolated highlands always have such stories. You can just imagine how the wind would sound like a howling child and things seem to appear or move out of the darkness.
I love a good story and I wonder, how come then, there aren’t houses or infrastructure there even now? It’s fertile grounds. Ha?
If you find this fascinating, you may like my post about an alternative history of Daorson in Bosnia and Herzegovina.