First settlements developed in Vodice hinterland as early as the prehistoric age. Our roots and history are hidden on both sides of the road leading into town.
Today Rakitnica, Mrdakovica, Pišća, Kamena and Okit are names of a fertile estate owned by our hard working farmers, and they used to be residences and villages where people lived. Numerous materials testify to continuous life on these fields since Iron Age. The settlements expanded over time, new inhabitants arrived and new cultures emerged.
An important merchant route passed through this area, from Nadin to Zadar, along which many settlements sprung. This was proven by archeological explorations in Dragisicii and Velika Mrdakovica. Remains of a pre-Roman settlement and a Liburnian necropolis from the 4th century BC were found at Velika Mrdakovica locality. Rich finds of glass tableware – probably the most valuable collection of its kind on the entire territory of the Roman Empire – speak of the fact that this was a significant settlement, which many will identify with Arauzona that Plinius wrote about.
At the foot of the site is a Roman enclosure, a natural trap once used to collect rain, that is, to supply the population with drinking water.
On the fields of Vodice, which are abundant in water and fertile soil, they used to grow olives, vine and marasca cherries. Nowadays, there are just remains of residences that once accommodated people in the fields, and wells and puddles used to water cattle.
In the green of the fields stand big stone drywalls, boundaries between land plots – testifying to firm Dalmatian spirit, will, strength and spite. Bunje, old traditional buildings once used as lodging for shepherds, as shelter from bad weather or tool storage, also survived over time.
Farmers, hard working and pious, raised churches near graveyards, close to where they lived. In 1298, residents of Mrdakovica and Pisca built St. Elijah’s church that was not consecrated until 1493.
The neighboring settlement of Rakitnica was mentioned in 1251 as part of the estate owned by the famous Subic family. However, they did not start to build the church until 1415, but construction was soon suspended due to some disputes over the estate.
St. John’s Parish in Rakitnica was established as late as 1448. Around 1509 on the hill above Rakitnica, they began to build Gradina, which is still well preserved today. To build a limekiln, the residents had to provide labor and pay fifty ducats, and the rest was to be supplied by the noblemen. Namely, back in the 15th century when Turkish conquests began to spread into this area, the Venetian authorities in Sibenik passed a regulation prescribing that observation forts had to be built on all major elevations near settlements to provide shelter for people and defend themselves more efficiently.
There is a record of one Mate Spironic, a “bombardier” from Sibenik, who came to serve in Gradina, and defended the castle and the village for a full year.
When Turks occupied Skradin in 1522, Rakitnica Parish became part of the free Sibenik bishopric.
After war broke out between Venice and Turkey in 1570, Venetian authorities sent army to Gradina. However, Turks took over Rakitnica only a year after that, and most of its resident fled to Vodice. Turks remained in Rakitnica and on Gradina, even the Aga and Dizdar stayed there. Turks had the entire surrounding area on the palm of their hand from Gradina, all the way from Murter to Sibenik, and they began to threaten the coastal settlements more and more, including Vodice. They even tried to conquer the island of Prvicseveral times. Sibenik tried on several occasions to free Rakitnica, but they could not retrieve the building so well fortified.
In 1646, Turks attacked Srima and Vodice. The people of Srima fled to Prvic after exhausting battles, and Turkish forces set up camp in their settlement. Now Vodice was in big trouble – Turkish Rakitnica behind their backs, Turkish Srima east of them. The people of Sepurine took their boats and quietly returned to Vodice during the night, and knelt together with the folks of Vodice before their Minister, fra Petar Mesalinic who held a crucifix in one hand and a sword in the other, called for divine help from Our Lady: “Our Lady, the Queen of Croats, save our village from this war!” At dawn, Turks attacked from Srima and Okit with 4 000 horsemen, led by the notorious Ibrahim Pasha. Fortune or heaven sent a merchant boat owned by Daulo Doto from Zadar sailing into Vodice that very morning to help the exhausted defenders at the last minute. Fire from boat canons on Turkish positions cut their forces in half. Folk poet Andrija Kacic Miosic described this battle and the courage of the people of Vodice in his Book of Poems.
Still, life did not come down to just wars and conquests. People learned to live together in new conditions, so Christians and Muslims were oftentimes friends and married each other. Peace did not come to this region before Karlovac peace was signed and Turkish army was completely defeated near Vienna. Little by little, normal life was restored after the Turkish force weakened. People began to go out to the deserted fields without fear, some moved into their old residences, but most of them stayed in town. Hard working and persistent, the farmers once again became famous for their marasca cherries, olives and sour cherries they took to Zadar to be processed.
The genesis of Vodice is associated with the time they began to build St. Cross’s Church (near the present Hotel Punta) in 1402. A Šibenik archive from that year mentions Vodice for the first time: serfs from Vodice were ordered to put aside part of their earnings for construction of Šibenik cathedral.
There were only a few houses on the seaboard at the time. A fair was held here, where domestic farming and craft products were traded for those arrived on boats. However, Vodice was a phenomenon in one aspect: they exported drinking water until the end of the 19th century. After all, they did develop in this very place because of wells of brackish water. Two of them are preserved on the central town square, in memory of tradition and old customs.
A well was not merely a place where people came to get drinking water and wash their laundry; all social events took place there, new loves were born and marriages agreed, wheel dances were danced and songs were sung, people met and parted there, laughed and cried.
During 15th and 16th centuries, a big defense wall was built around the town, with three towers for protection of townsfolk and control over passengers arriving in the town. Houses leaned against each other, and the streets were so narrow that a wagon could barely pass. Some alleys were so narrow that even two men could not pass each other. It was easier to defend themselves against both winter and enemies that way.
A hostelry (badz-han, or as we call it, bazana) was erected before the town gates. Fair visitors had to leave their horses and weapons here, which particularly pertained to hostile Turks. In 1878, a new building was constructed on foundation of the old bazana, which is now the home of Town Library.
When the Turkish threat diminished, walls and towers were torn down, and quality stone blocks were used to build residential buildings. Unfortunately, today we can only assume where walls stretched and where towers were situated.
The Tower of Coric still stands in the center of the town, built in 1646. The tower was not raised as part of the fortress – it was built by the rich Fondra family from Sbenik as their summer residence.
We can imagine the other towers resembled it. Older people from Vodice remember the Piga Tower that was torn down after World War 2. The second tower was probably on Poljana and the third one on today’s Hrvatskih Boraca Street.
A big pier was also built after 1646. Vodice was gaining economic strength at the time. The town especially began to prosper after Turks had definitely left. More and more houses were built outside town walls. The population began to grow, so the little St. Cross’s church became too small to accommodate its whole congregation. They decided to build a new parish church in the center of the town. Construction began in 1746 and went on until 1749. The famous baroque builder Ivan Skoko was in charge. A bell tower was built next to the church, a work of Vicko Macanovic from Dubrovnik.
In 1891, Vodice became an independent municipality comprising Drazice, Pisca, Okit, Rakitnica, Stajice, Vrbice and Tribunj. The place grew strong as an economic and administrative center.
Today, Vodice is a renowned tourist center, the most famous one in Central Adriatic. And not by chance. This has been the case ever since the people of Vodice decided to pursue this economic activity, which means for the past fifty years.