How the Dalmatian Coast got its name - yes, it has to do with the dog

Jul 14, 2017 11:56:58 AM

Cycling and sailing Croatia

In the Croatian village Veli Losinj, there is a church estimated to have been built in 1510. It is called "Gospa Od Andjela" Croatian for "Our Lady of Angels;” a statue of a woman holding a child looks down on you as you enter. Inside, among the polished pews and many Biblical depictions, is an altar painting titled "Madonna with Jesus and Angels." 

Featured in the painting are Dalmatians.

While Veli Losinj is not part of Dalmatia, one of Croatia's four historical regions, it is very close by. The painting in question is dated from between the years 1600 and 1630, as is an early fresco of a Dalmatian which can be found in Zaostrog, a city in Dalmatia. These are the earliest known depictions of the dog, and that is one reason the World Canine Organization recognizes Dalmatia as its place of origin.

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What does Dalmatia mean?

When the Romans took over the region in 10 AD, they named it after some of its inhabitants, the Dalmatae. Prior to the conquest, the Dalmatae were part of the Illyrian Kingdom, and the name Dalmatia had been used in an unofficial capacity for over a hundred years. “Dalmatae” likely derives from the Illyrian word “delme,” meaning sheep. Some speculate that the name given to the people meant shepherds.

When do the dogs come in?

Two church chroniclers in a Croatian diocese presented us with the first written mention of the dog. Bishop Petar Bakic and Andreas Keczkemety, writing in 1719 and 1737, respectively, refer to the dog in Latin as “Canis Dalmaticus.” Welsh naturalist Thomas Pennant, writing in 1771, is believed to be the first to refer to the dog as Dalmatian.  

The dogs served many purposes for the Dalmatae, including guarding borders during conflicts. They were also used as guard dogs and companions.

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The Dalmatae today

The extent to which today’s inhabitants of Dalmatia are descendants of the ancient tribe is a complex matter. The region continues to be called Dalmatia as a historical distinction, not an official one.

What is certain is that a windy history of over two thousand years has lent rich cultural and architectural beauty to three hundred miles of beautiful coastline. In fact, Thrillist called it “the most beautiful strip of coast in Europe.”

If three hundred miles of coastline isn’t enough, the islands certainly are. Nearby Lastovo Archipelago, for example, is a nature park made up of 46 islands that have less than a thousand inhabitants between them. Speaking of a thousand, that’s about the number of islands along the entire coast. 

One might even say the Dalmatian Coast is spotted with islands.
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Ivan Beitsayad

Written by Ivan Beitsayad

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