Brač, Croatia: Hunting for Hercules in a Roman Quarry

The ancient Roman quarry of Rasohe is not far from the town of Splitska, pictured here. It's on the Croatian island of Brac.

For nearly 2,000 years, limestone has been extracted from quarries on the Croatian island of Brač. In the 3rd century, laborers used this dazzling white stone to build the palace of Emperor Diocletian in the city of Split.

During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, Brač limestone was used to construct the Saint James Cathedral in Šibenik, as well as the Cathedral of Saint Lawrence in Trogir.

In more recent times, Brač limestone has been incorporated into Budapest’s and Vienna’s parliament buildings — even part of the White House.

Not far from Brač’s northern coast, you can visit an ancient Roman quarry used to supply the limestone for Diocletian’s Palace. Inside this old quarry called Rasohe, there’s also a carved relief of Hercules.

Hercules, a Greek and Roman Hero and Cult Figure

During Roman times, mighty Hercules was a cult figure who was revered by administrators, soldiers, and laborers. On Brač, archaeologists have uncovered several Hercules-related finds — everything from an altar dedicated to Hercules to other reliefs depicting him. It’s possible then, that the Rasohe quarry relief of Hercules was carved by a slave in order to transmit psychological strength to fellow slaves as they toiled away in the quarry, day after day.

Rasohe’s Hercules figure has been exposed to the elements for the past 1,700 years, so it’s rather weathered and it can be a bit challenging to make out. However, with a careful eye, you can track down this Roman relic from Croatia’s past — something we did during our week-long stay on Brač.

Finding Hercules

Our quest to find Hercules did not begin well. Starting out from the wrong bus stop on the outskirts of the village of Splitska, Shawn and I didn’t see any signs for Rasohe’s quarry. Uncertain where to go, we walked up a road lined with olive trees with twisted trunks. Along the way, we spotted some shaggy sheep, as well as plastic bins filled with plump, purple and green olives. A cloudless sky and a cobalt-blue Adriatic Sea framed this timeless Mediterranean scene.

By chance, we stumbled upon the ruined walls of the 6th-century Sveti Jadro Church. At this point, we thought about saving the quarry for another day. But, we then encountered a mother and son harvesting olives in one of the groves. We greeted them using our scant Croatian, and then asked for directions.

After a lighthearted but passionate disagreement about which way to send us, the two locals suggested that we return to our starting point on the main road. We did so. Eventually, a brown sign with rimski kamenolom (Roman stone quarry) written on it directed us to a marked trail. This path snaked through an untamed forest and ultimately lead us to the quarry — and Hercules.

Our timing proved lucky, because if we’d arrived much later, Hercules would’ve been obscured by shadows. Though the Hercules relief has been exposed to the elements for the last 17 centuries, we could still make out his muscular physique. We could even see traces of the club and the animal skin placed on his shoulder.

As we admired the relief, feeling a bit like archaeologists who’d just discovered long-hidden treasure, a couple entered the quiet quarry. The pair looked from one corner of the quarry to another, appearing perplexed. Their confused expressions quickly turned into smiles when the young woman spotted Hercules and pointed him out to her partner.

Though half of Rasohe’s walls were no longer illuminated by sunlight, Shawn and I could still make out what the area would’ve looked like before its stone was extracted. Some of the steep walls had indentations left from when the stone was cut away. The marks made it feel as though laborers had left enduring, cryptic messages among them.

As Shawn and I sat on the quarry’s rugged rocks and feasted on our picnic lunch, I imagined the cruel working conditions that the Roman slaves would’ve had to endure.

I also tried to visualize how the slaves would’ve even transported the stone to what is now the city of Split: first to Brač’s shores, then onto a boat, and ultimately to the construction site of the retirement palace for Emperor Diocletian.

Despite the brutal treatment of the palace’s builders nearly 2,000 years ago, I found comfort in knowing that Diocletian’s Palace is now enjoyed by ordinary citizens.

A small road leads towards a village along the coast of the Croatian island of Brač.
On the wrong road, but delighted by this scenery! Across the Adriatic Sea is the Croatian mainland.
Looking at the city of Split from the neighboring island of Brač. A city skyline, mountains, and sea are visible.
Split, Croatia’s second-largest city, seems a world away when you’re out on Brač!
We unexpectedly happened upon these ruins as we searched for the path to the quarry.
Shawn checks out the 1,500-year-old ruins of the Sveti Jadro Church.
A sign showing the direction to the Sv. Jadro Church ruins on the Croatian island of Brac. It says "Sv. Jadro VI st."
A sign for the 6th-century Sveti Jadro Church.
Sheep graze near olive trees on the Croatian island of Brac.
We were still lost at this point, but enjoying the flora — and the fauna — such as these shaggy sheep.
A trio of olives bathed in sunlight.
Olive trees. Brač is renowned for its high-quality olive oil.
Baskets of Brač olives.
Finally, we’re hot on the trail of Hercules, as this sign to the Rasohe Quarry confirms.
A sign bearing a silhouetted version of the Hercules relief shows how to get to the ancient Rasohe Quarry. The quarry is famous for its relief of Hercules, as well as being the quarry from which limestone was sourced for Diocletian’s Palace, located in the mainland city of Split.
The ancient Roman quarry of Rasohe (on the Croatian island of Brac) has rock walls, trees and shrubs, and a weathered relief of Hercules.
Once we were inside the former quarry, we imagined it filled with hundreds of Roman slaves.
A weathered relief depicting Hercules inside a former quarry on the Croatian island of Brac.
The weathered Hercules relief, in the center of the rock.
A man looks at the weathered relief depicting Hercules, in an ancient Roman quarry on the Croatian island of Brac.
Hercules and Shawn come face-to-face.
The old quarry’s “floor” is comprised of limestone shards. Having spent a few months living in Diocletian’s Palace, Shawn and I enjoyed seeing where the palace’s limestone was sourced nearly two millennia ago.
Left: The likeness of Hercules. Right: Ancient chisel marks in another section of the quarry.
Close-up of Hercules relief. You can vaguely make out his head, shoulders, arm and a club.
A close-up of Hercules’ head and shoulders, as well as the club placed over his shoulders.
Informational sign in English and Croatian about the Hercules carving on the Croatian island of Brac.

Here is the English text:

"Hercules (Heracles) was a character from Roman mythology, the equivalent of Heracles from Greek mythology whose characteristics were taken also by the Romans. He is the most famous Greek hero, son of Zeus and Alcmene, who gained divine strength from suckling milk from Zeus' wife Hera. He became famous as the strongest Greek hero after completing all 12 difficult tasks set by the gods after which he was asked to join them and live on Mount Olympus as a true god. The principal admirers of Hercules cult in Roman times were the Roman administration personnel and soldiers and this relief proves their presence in these areas."
Informational sign in English and Croatian about the importance of stone on the Croatian island of Brac. Here is the English text:

"Since ancient times stone has been extracted from the island of Brač's quarries which has been used for the construction of some of the world's most remarkable buildings - the lobby of the UN building in New York, part of the White House in Washington, parliament buildings in Vienna and Budapest, Šibenik's cathedral as well as the most famous facility in the vicinity, the afore mentioned, Diocletian's Palace in Split. The tradition of stone extraction, its elaboration and stone constructions are the most important part of Brac's identity. In the village of Pučišća is the only sculpting school in this part of Europe, founded back in 1909. The school still cherishes the
"Roman way of stone elaboration"- using hand forged fools. We certainly recommend visiting it!"
The Rasohe Quarry on Brac island, partly in shadow.
The quarry, partly in shadow.
Croatia's rocky terrain on the island of Brac.
Off on a new adventure as we leave the quarry via a different path.
A 2-lane road on the island of Brac, which is surrounded by evergreen and deciduous trees.
Back to civilization.
Looking across Brač toward the mountains of Croatia's mainland.
Looking across Brač toward the mountains of Croatia’s mainland.

Where in the World?

Planning Pointers:

How to get to the Rasohe Quarry and the Hercules relief:

The Rasohe Quarry is located just south of the village of Splitska, on the Croatian island of Brač. To get to Rasohe, look for a brown sign that says rimski kamenolom (Roman stone quarry). We walked to the quarry from a bus stop on Splitska’s outskirts. However, there are also directional markers on Splitska’s boardwalk (riva). I’ve pinned the quarry’s location on my Brač map above. The quarry is on the north side of the island; it’s marked with a red pin.

Getting to Brač by ferry or catamaran:

We’ve visited the island of Brač a few times — for day-trips and for longer visits. You can get to Brač by ferry or catamaran. The journey from the mainland city of Split to Brač takes about one hour. The catamaran goes to the town of Bol, but the ferry travels to Supetar. Both vessel types are operated by Jadrolinija, which lists the fares and timetables on its website.

Accommodation on the island of Brač:

We stayed at the Apartments Milena (affiliate link), in the lovely town of Bol. It takes a while to walk from the apartment to Zlatni Rat, Croatia’s most famous beach. However, grocery stores, cafés, and restaurants, are considerably closer. Bol’s main bus stop, as well as the catamaran point, are about 15 minutes away on foot. Aside from the good location, we also enjoyed interacting with friendly Milena, the apartment owner. She even brought us homemade cookies and allowed us to have a late check-out. We didn’t speak a common language, so we used Google Translate to converse. Milena and her family also kindly offered for us to use their outdoor oven, which would be great for cooking a traditional peka. Next time!

Looking for more Croatia trip-planning inspiration?

See my Croatia guide.

Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

Published by Tricia A. Mitchell

Tricia A. Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. Born in Europe but raised in the United States, she has lived in Valletta, Malta; Heidelberg, Germany; and Split, Croatia. An avid globetrotter who has visited more than 65 countries, she has a penchant for off-season travel. Tricia has learned that travel’s greatest gift is not sightseeing, rather it is the interactions with people. Some of her most memorable experiences have been sharing a bottle of champagne with distant French cousins in Lorraine, learning how to milk goats in a sleepy Bulgarian village, and ringing in the Vietnamese New Year with a Hanoi family. She welcomes any opportunity to practice French and German, and she loves delving into a place’s history and artisanal food scene. A former education administrator and training specialist, Tricia has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in international relations. She and her husband, Shawn, married in the ruins of a snowy German castle. They’ve been known to escape winter by basing themselves in coastal Croatia or Southeast Asia. Her writing has appeared in Fodor’s Travel, Frommer’s, and International Living.

15 thoughts on “Brač, Croatia: Hunting for Hercules in a Roman Quarry

  1. What a great find, made all the more special as you had to search for it. Getting lost usually ends up with you finding another marvel. We had a similar experience looking for a Roman aqueduct near Tarragona, Spain. Once we did find it, it was extra special. A great post.

    1. Hi Darlene, “getting lost usually ends up with you finding another marvel.” I like that.

      Also, thanks for introducing me to the handsome aqueduct near Tarragona. I’ve added the Pont del Diable to our must-see-in-Spain list. It looks like a superb spot for a picnic, or perhaps a walk with Dot. It reminds me of France’s Pont du Gard, which we were lucky to visit a few autumns ago.

      I find ancient Roman architecture — especially the more obscure sites — fascinating. We’ve been lucky to explore some of them in Croatia and France, but it looks like we have much more to see in Spain. While the colosseums represent a darker side of ancient Roman history, I’m inspired by the projects like the aqueducts, which provided benefits to everyone.

      Hope you’re doing well and enjoying the weekend.

  2. Getting lost often allows us to explore places we were not thinking of visiting, or didn’t know existed. In my early years of traveling solo I got lost easily — this happened in Bangkok, Manila and Kandy in Sri Lanka. That weathered relief of Hercules is marvelous! I wonder how many more decades or centuries it will last before the elements completely erase it (unless something is done or installed to slow the process).

    1. Bama, we wondered the same about Hercules’ preservation. Some similar reliefs of Hercules are protected inside a museum on this island, but it would be great if officials could install a tarp or panel above this one. Viewing relics inside museums is rewarding, but seeing an object in situ can greatly heighten the experience.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment Bama, and here’s to more getting-lost moments in the future. :)

    1. Jessica, glad that this inspired you to visit Brač someday. The island’s fabulous beach (called Zlatni Rat) seems to capture the attention of most visitors, but there’s much more to see and do on Brač.

  3. Tricia, I so very much enjoyed this post about Brac. On the many vacation trips my parents took us, I remember that we went to Brac, but I was a young child, so I don’t have much memory if it anymore. But I do remember that my parents , my two older brothers and me, drove down there in an old VW Buggy, back than called ” Kaefer”, driving from Munich, Germany. We stayed at a Croation’ s family house, which was close to the beach.
    Such splendid images, thank you Tricia for sharing.

    1. Hi Cornelia, reading your delightful comment, I have this fun image of a vintage VW Beetle / Kaefer motoring along one of Brač’s coastal roads, a glimpse of the sparkling Adriatic and perhaps a pebbly beach or two in the rear-view mirror. Do you remember what color your family car was? Shawn and I often talk about how fun it would be to get a vintage car and have it retrofitted with an electric engine.

      And since you visited Brač so many times, I guess it’s possible that you even hiked past Hercules as a child. :)

      Do you remember going to Zlatni Rat Beach as a child?

      1. Hi Tricai, thank you for responding to my comment. I do remember Hercules from other visits in Italy as a child, as a very strong man, as how is and was portrait. Well the color of our Kaefer, was a bright blue, remembering that the motor was in the back, because my father would always check something to be okay on such a long trip. Hm , remembering what beach we went , goes beyond my memory by now. But I do remember all the great food this woman of he household we stayed , made for us, it was a lot of fresh caught fried fish caught by her husband she served,were just so delicious,than not any more for me by , since I am vegetarian for so many years. But also a lot of meat. I remember the beautiful clear water of the ocean and finding shells all over the pebbled beach. Is it still the same by now? Many greeting to you Tricia and Shawn.

      2. That sounds idyllic, Cornelia. I think I’d want a blue VW Bug too. :)

        As for whether or not it’s still the same, I can say that the sea is distinctly clear and blue here. (Once, I remember reading that a few astronauts declared Croatia’s coastline to be one of the bluest spots on earth.)

        Shawn and I walked down to a pebbly beach a few weeks ago, and were relieved not to see any trash. That’s not to say that litter doesn’t exist, but overall, it feels pretty clean. We’re currently on the Croatian mainland (not far from Split).

        Also, we’re still encountering lots of home-cooked food. Every time we come to Croatia, kind locals bring us goodies. Recently, they’ve surprised us with olive oil pressed from their trees, homemade fritters called fritule, candied orange peel called arancini, even fresh fish.

        Based on your anecdotes, it sounds like offering warm hospitality was — and still is — an important part of the culture here. How lucky we are to experience that!

      3. Thank you dear Tricia, for your lovely response. That is really amazing , that there are still some clean beaches to find. Makes me happy! It seems like Croatia has become a little bit of home for you both….OMG, olive oil fresh pressed from trees, I can’t fathom how delicious that must be, compared to store bought one. I do remember the sea as most beautiful blue and clear. Wish you a continued wonderful time in Croatia.

    1. Hi Carol,

      It’s great to hear from you! Before this visit, I also didn’t know the extent to which Hercules was revered. It also makes me wonder how many more Roman relics have yet to be discovered on this island.

      Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

  4. What a gorgeous day you had for your adventure! It’s easy to see how you could be in the quarry and totally miss the relief of Hercules. I re-read some of your previous posts about Croatia and also highlights about Hercules!
    Some friends in Oaxaca are going to Croatia in May so I forwarded your blog to them.
    Thanks for a fascinating post!

    1. Greetings, Marilyn!

      With pleasant weather like this (even in spring/autumn), you can see why we like coming to Croatia during the off-season.

      Thanks also, for sharing my posts with your friends who will be traveling to Croatia in a few months. Do you know which part of Croatia they’ll be visiting?

      Hope you’re well and having many cultural adventures in Oaxaca… of course you are. :)

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