Zaostrog - the most important historical monument of the Gradac Riviera with its Franciscan monastery...
Zaostrog is first mentioned in written documents in 1494, but the granite hand grindstone from early Stone Age found on the Viter hill above Zaostrog bears a testimony of old civilizations. Many monuments from classical antiquity in Zaostrog region tell a story from the Roman era, like the relief of a dancer and a fife player wearing a lyric traditional costume, or a relief of the god Mitra and two gravestones.
When the Croats came, old settlement is given the name Ostrog, and Byzantine emperor Constantine mentions it in the year 950, as one of the four fortified cities in Pagania – Neretva’s principality. Four cities were Mokrun, Berulija, Ostrog and Labinbetza. Medieval fortress of Ostrog was built high on Špašnik hill, and later in history, more to the north, a new settlement will rise under the hill – Zaostrog. In 15th century, lords of Zaostrog were members of Croatian nobility - brothers Valtković- Jurjević who owned the fortified city on Viter as well. Remains of the old fort with a stone groundsill and a relief of a hand tell a story about that period. In 17th century began the settlement of population by the sea shore, until finally in 1962, all of the upper settlement residents completely moved to the sea shore.
Old settlement of Zaostrog is distinguished by three churches: old gothic church of St. Barbara with a graveyard, little church of St. Roko from the 17th century, and a newer church of St. Barbara built in 1872. There are also three chapels: one of St. Anthony built in 1893, Our Lady’s chapel built in 1911 in Kučine, and chapel of St. Ilija in Prosiko built in 1894.
Most important monument of this area is the Franciscan monastery of Saint Mary. Legend has it that the monastery was found in the 14th century by the monks of the St. Augustus hermits order. They left it after Bosnia fell in 1463. In the year 1468 it is settled again by the Franciscans from the province of Bosna Srebrena, and they are still active there to this day. In 1640, general visitator from Rome declares it as the most beautiful of all the monasteries in the province. Stone inscription above the main entrance to the monastery’s church is written in Croatian language and in indigenous script dated to 1589. At the time, monastery was a well known shrine which was enlisted on the list of Our Lady’s shrines from all over the world, and had a significant educating role. Everything was organized there: schools for priests, primary school, a humanism school, gymnasium, and a philosophical seminary. Monastery has a rich library with 20 000 books and an archive fund. Monastery has a permanent exhibition of works made by one of the most famous living Croatian painters, Mladen Veža. Among many famous people in Croatian culture that lived in Zaostrog, are friar Andrija Kačić Miošić, who also died there, and friar Ivan Despot. Botanical garden of the monastery is adorned with more than 250 plant species.