Friday 1 July 2016


Here we go Vexillology Friday. Left is the flag of the Republic of Croatia. If you need to clear your throat and be pedantic try calling it Republika Hrvatska like the Croats. Their flag is complex because it's designed by a committee and everyone needed parity of esteem: the five little epaulets shields represent the constituent regions with stars, crescents, crowned leopards, golden goats and a pine marten. This fussiness makes it really difficult for patriotic children to draw the thing in school without making it all look ridiculous. More TMI! detail on what these icons mean.
Split is a major tourist centre on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia but it has only been called that for the last hundred years.  Before that it was mostly called Spalato following Italian usage and before that Spalatum [Latin] and before that Σπάλαθος.  Which was what the Greeks called Calicotome spinosa or spiny broom, a common shrub in the area. 200 km SE along the Croatian coast is Dubrovnik which is named for another plant Dubrava meaning oak grove in Croatian.  Before that the town was famous as Ragusa a great trading settlement from which we derive the word argosy - a massive merchant vessel laden with silks and myrrh:
The sun was rising o'er the sea, 
And long the level shadows lay, 
As if they, too, the beams would be 
Of some great, airy argosy, 
Framed and launched in a single day.
And still she slept an azure-lidded sleep,
 In blanched linen, smooth, and lavender'd,
 While he forth from the closet brought a heap
 Of candied apple, quince, and plum, and gourd;
 With jellies soother than the creamy curd,
 And lucent syrops, tinct with cinnamon;
 Manna and dates, in argosy transferr'd
 From Fez; and spiced dainties, every one,
From silken Samarcand to cedar'd Lebanon.
Now here's the weird thing. To drive along the fractured coast from Split to Dubrovnik, you need to leave the country North of Neum, enter Bosnia & Herzogovina, and reenter Croatia 25 km further South. The country is split <Split!> by B&H's toe in the Adriatic - indicated on the map [L] with the dirty great red arrow.  Split is off in the West wing just off the map on the Left. You might think this corridor was created to give Bosnia access to the sea now that the former Yugoslavia is disunited into a clatter of independent nations who affect to be unable to understand each other's language or have a different religion or fought against each other in a previous war or all three.  But the origin of Neum predates Yugoslavia by more than 200 years. In its hey-day, Ragusa rivalled Venice as an entrepôt but suffered a catastrophic earthquake in 1667 which, literally and metaphorically, shook the Republic of Ragusa to its foundations. A generation later in 1699, Ragusa sold the Neum coastline to the Ottoman Empire as a cunning plan to interpose a still powerful neighbour between itself and the remorselessly encroaching Venetians. B&H's borders were thus settled until and beyond the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire in the Balkan Wars which acted as a dress rehearsal for WWI.  Don't forget that war to end all wars [not!] was kicked off in Sarajevo the capital of B&H.
You might, with advantage, check out Paul "Barby" Barbato's Geography Now channel on Youtube: Croatia and [parity of esteem required] Bosnia and Herzogovina. The flag [L] is not the flag of B&H but it might have been if  they'd given the contract over to a graphic designer rather than a judge or a committee. Barbato is great at deconstructing the flags and is working through all the countries of the world alphabetically: good stuff so far.  Last up was D for Denmark.

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