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How the lakes of Imotski came to be - or why you should be nice to strangers

Updated: May 15, 2020

Red Lake near Imotski is the deepest karst sinkhole in Europe
The Abyss of the Red Lake near Imotski - the deepest karst sinkhole in Europe

Every kid in Imotski knows the tale of Gavan and his horrible wife Gavanuša. They were the most terrifying people in all of the land. They were incredibly rich, and even more arrogant. They were afraid of no god, and despised others. They lived in a huge mansion on top of a hill near the town, and had a lot of children, each one worse than the other.

The family kept to themselves, and were very careful about who was worthy of their company. Those who proved as wealthy and as decadent as they were, would be invited to these notoriously lavish parties they held at the mansion.

One night, right around midnight, when one of those parties was at its height, there was a knock on the door. The lady of the house, Gavanuša, opened the door. In front of her, stood a stranger. A beggar, non the less, with seven children behind his back.

She was immediately appalled by the looks of the man, who only had an old rag for a robe on him, and was barefoot, with a stick in his hand. "What do you want?" - Gavanuša asked. "Your're interrupting my party, my guests are waiting!" "Nothing but a bit of bread, my lady." - said the beggar, pointing at the children behind his back - "I've been walking around with my children, for a very long time. It's the middle of the night, we have no place to go, and the storm it's on its way. But the bread is not even for me - it's for my children."

Having been pregnant herself, lady Gavanuša took pity on the children. She went into the house and got a small chunk of bread for them to share. "Here - eat this!" - she said looking down to them, and then turned to shut the doors into their faces. The beggar and the children started to thank her, saying: "Thank you very much, dear lady Gavanuša! Our Lord and Saviour will bless you and your entire family for generations and generations to come!" Lady Gavanuša turned to them once more and said: "Ha! Your Lord will bless me?! I don't need his blessings, as long as my Lord Gavan stands next to me!" The beggar could take no more of this blasphemy. He threw the robe he had on, beautiful white wings grew out of his back, as he and his children turned into angels. The Angel then took the stick he had, and put it straight into the ground. The skies opened up, lightning and thunder came upon them, heavenly bells started ringing and rain pouring from every which way. The ground then started to shake and crumble under their feet, opening up a huge hole straight below. An enormous hole opened up, and water started to come in, filling it up and forming what we today know as the Red lake. The house, the guests, everyone started gliding into the abyss. Gavan and Gavanuša picked up their children, started running west, and wherever they laid their foot on the ground - another lake cracked open, taking another victim.

From arrogance and dirty souls, came something pure and divine - the lakes of Imotski.

Now, it is a gruesome story, but we find similar legends everywhere in Croatia. Some include lakes, some waterfalls, and some even include entire sunken cities that disappeared into a spectacular bay at the shores of the Adriatic sea - like the tale of sunken city of Pelegrin near Brela in Makarska Riviera.

Of course, the lakes in Imotski are nowadays a tourists' gem.
Seagulls at Blue Lake in Imotski
The Blue Lake - for lake size reference, those are seagulls down there!

The town of Imotski, or at least its very core, is a typical Mediterranean town, with classical architecture dating back to mostly Venetian and Austrian times, so we're talking 18th and 19th century. However, this doesn't mean that the town was formed then. It was inhabited even in the prehistoric times, and there are evidences of this in the caves and hills surrounding today's town.

Imotski was always an important strategic spot: whoever ruled Imotski, ruled a great chunk of Dalmatian interior and a good part of what is today our neighboring country of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The first European force who realized this was the Roman Empire, and at their time, Imotski had the name of Imota or Emotha. Another great force that came after the Roman Empire ceased to exist, was the Ottoman Empire. They ruled the area from late 15th century to 1717, when they were finally banished form the area. After them, came the Venetian Republic, then the French, then the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, then three different versions of Yugoslavia, until finally there was an independent country of Croatia, which is today part of the European Union. All throughout the ages, Imotski kept its originality, and took what it could from other nations, incorporating it into its everyday life. The local dialect is the most wonderful combination of Croatian, Italian, German and Turkish words, and the people still drink their black (turkish) coffee every morning.

Panoramic view over the city Imotski and valleys towards Biokovo mountain
Panoramic view over the city

The town is known for the Blue and Red lakes, and Prološko blato system of lakes is also being more and more recognized as a pure gem in the eyes of tourists.

If you're staying in Makarska Riviera, and wish to explore more, you should know that Imotski is only around 40 minutes away. You only need to take the tunnel of St Elijah through Biokovo mountain, and within minutes, your view will change. From blue sea and pine trees to hills and valleys surrounded by lakes and vineyards.

If you don't feel like driving there yourself, you can always get a taxi, or book an organized tour from Makarska. Make sure you also download the Makarska Riviera free mobile guide, available for IOS and Android, to help you navigate around the Riviera.

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