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.
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.
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.
Where in the World?
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!
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Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.