Garden and cultural features

Built in the period from 1494 to 1502, the garden of the summer villa of the Gučetić-Gozze family is the only preserved Dubrovnik garden whose development has evolved over the past five centuries. From a simple early-Renaissance composition in the late Renaissance and Baroque stages a distinct mono-axis conception was developed and it has remained a recognizable feature to this day. This indicates a departure from the usual ground plan of a Dubrovnik Renaissance garden in the form of an irregular network. With its mono-axis composition, Trsteno stands out as a typological difference of the Renaissance Dubrovnik garden architecture.

The garden in Trsteno was the only one in the Dubrovnik area where running water could be used freely for the garden. In 1736 the largest baroque fountain in Dubrovnik was erected with a pool, a large cave (grotto) and statues from ancient mythology (Neptune and nymphs), placed in front of the cave. The fountain was supplied with water from a stream via an aqueduct with 14 arches.

In terms of stylistically recognizable garden and cultural features, we recognize five stages - Renaissance (15th and 16th century), Baroque (17th and 18th century), Romantic-Historicist (19th century), Late Romantic (early 20th century) and late Modern (second half of the 20th century).

Though mono-axis composition is common in Italian Renaissance gardens, the Dubrovnik gardens are an exception. This architectural composition axis includes the villa and the pavilion (belvedere/ gloriette), and the aqueduct with the fountain and the cave.

During the late Renaissance, in the second half of the 16th century, the garden was extended inside the laurel grove and became one of the places of intellectual life in Dubrovnik.

The Baroque period in Dubrovnik began after the great earthquake of 1667 and lasted until the end of the 18th century. The longitudinal axis is now emphasized and becomes the main theme of the baroque composition of the garden and the estate. The garden is widened by rectangular walking paths with boxwood (Buxus sempervirens L.) edges and bosquets within the field, and in 1736 a baroque fountain with sculptures in front of the cave was erected.

The garden was restored in the Romantic-historicist spirit in the second half of the 19th century, which primarily led to the planting of new domestic, but also imported (foreign) plant species – exotic plants and cultivars. Since then, the garden began to increasingly resemble a dendrological collection.

In 1905, in the western part of the estate, a new garden began to be arranged on the locality known as Drvarica on the basis of the old olive grove to the one part, and of natural macchia and garrigue vegetation to the other. Exotic and autochthonous flora were planted.

The layout follows historicist and late-Romantic models with numerous stone elements – terraces, belvederes, and stone staircases – sloping to the sea rocks. This part of the Arboretum was destroyed by fire on two occasions – in 1992 and in 2000.

After having been proclaimed an Arboretum in 1948, one part of the area and the facilities were opened to the public, whilst the other part was used for research work and regular maintenance. The first restoration was conducted in 1965, and the second in the 1980s, when four decorative parterre gardens (formal gardens) were rearranged.

Historic olive groves

On the land estate in Trsteno, olives have been planted since the 16th century, but as few individual trees. Gučetić family bought olive oil for eating and as fuel for light. The first record found so far about the oil obtained, and the serfs who grew olives in Trsteno, dates from 1717. During the 18th century, olive groves were intensively expanded and olives became the dominant crop. The extent to which olive groves were enlarged at that time is shown by a record from 1735, when Gučetić planted 1,200 young olive trees in Trsteno in May.

During the first half of the 19th century, Gučetić’s estate reached its maximum capacity and continued to be cultivated by the largest recorded number of serfs to be deployed on that land. The lands were planted mostly with olives and vines. In Trsteno, 1,500 olive trees were grown privately and 5,900 olive trees were grown in the fields given to the serfs for cultivation. At that time, olives and vines were the basic crops in Dubrovnik and proved to be the only crop productive enough for export. The increase in olive growing on the property was accompanied by the need for increased processing and additional outbuildings were being built. In addition to the old mill with one stone mill and one oak press, another with two mills and two presses are being arranged, and a new olive warehouse is being built opposite them. Already, during and after the First World War, remote olive groves began to be in s a state of neglect, in which natural vegetation rapidly dominated.

After the Second World War, when the rest of Gučetić’s land estate was declared an Arboretum, protected by law and handed over to the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts, the existing olive groves continue to be cultivated and used.

Restoration of historic olive groves

In the great summer fire of 2000, when two thirds of the entire area of the Arboretum burned down, a small area of the old olive grove was preserved. In 2002, this surviving part became the core of the restoration of the historic olive grove. In the preserved part, 7 old olive varieties were catalogued, out of the 15 recorded for the Dubrovnik littoral. Old trees were restored by pruning and fertilizing, and burned by thinning shoots and growing young trees. In parallel with the grafting and cultivation of seedlings, the remaining old varieties of the Dubrovnik littoral were introduced.

Since 2005 the renovated olive grove ( 15,370 m2) brings fruit and characteristically high quality oil. About 200 olive trees are grown in this area, which includes 15 varieties: Oblica, Mezanica, Bjelica, Uljarica, Mrčakinja, Dužica, Jeruzalemka, Kosmača, Zuzorka, Grozdača, Velika Lastovka, Piculja, Murgulja, Žabarka and Želuldarica.

The natural regeneration of vegetation on the burned areas of the Arboretum, which before the fire were mostly under the forest of Aleppo pine and cypress, support surprisingly large numbers of restored olives. This clearly demonstrates that the entire area, except the narrower coastal belt, was terraced and cultivated as an olive grove, which was undoubtedly mixed with a culture of carob, almonds and figs.

In the areas of olive groves that could not be restored by planned restoration, the restoration of burned trees took place naturally without cultivation and to this day they are overgrown with a dense set of high vegetation that will soon outgrow them and they will die out. Such a dense assembly poses a threat and is inadmissible by fire-fighting standards.

Established interventions of fire-fighting averages would destroy the entirety of the historic olive grove and the only acceptable solution is to find the possibility of restoring the olive grove and restoring its original function. This would provide a safe, cleansed and cultivated space as an external shield to historic gardens, both of multiple importance and purpose.

The approximate area of the new olive groves would be about 42,287 m2. Along with the planting of olive trees, the original dry stone walls would also be restored.

The goal of the restoration of the historic olive grove with the creation of a collection of indigenous varieties has a threefold purpose: preservation of cultural and ethnological heritage, preservation of the gene pool, ie indigenous, agricultural biodiversity and, finally, the inclusion of the facility within the local tourist industry.