Traces of Old Slavic mythology
The toponymy of Podstrana and Žrnovnica has preserved unique, extremely valuable traces of Old Slavic beliefs, which were brought to this area by the first Croats. These toponyms are the oldest testaments to Croatian presents (7th and 8th century) on the territory of the Republic of Croatia and, together with several other similar localities located along the Adriatic coast and in the hinterland, provide insight into the ancient culture and idiosyncratic worldview of the Croatian people before Christianisation.
Together with the neighbouring Žrnovnica, the toponymy of Podstrana has preserved an unusually rich network of authentic traces of the sacral Old Slavic interpretation of the landscape. Perun, Snake Rock and Our Lady of Sita are the key toponyms of Old Slavic mythology, which was brought to Podstrana by the newly-settled Croats in the 7th century, but whose roots can be traced back to ancient Indo-European times.
This network of ancient Croatian toponyms is a living witness to the authentic culture and worldview that the Croats espoused all the way up to their Christianisation, and marks the first chapter in the history of Croatia. The remains and traces of these ancient cults and shrines connect Podstrana not only with other localities of the same content on the territory of Croatia – for example, the Istrian Perun on Učka Mountain, but also with a number of similar localities located throughout Europe and Asia that have been profoundly influenced by the language of the Old Slavs, their toponymy and interpretations. The authenticity of these localities is one of the strongest assets of Podstrana’s cultural and tourism offer.
Perun is the name of the most powerful Old Slavic god to whom hilltops were dedicated in Old Slavic interpretations of the landscape. In Podstrana, Perun is the name of the northwest part of the coastal side of Mosor and its peaks above the mouth of the river Žrnovnica and Strožanac: Perunsko (441 m), Veliki Perun (443 m) and Perunić (448 m). Perun’s shrine was, according to all evidence, located on the westernmost of them, Perunsko, as part of the prehistoric fort ˝Duga gomila˝
Perun was envisioned as a mighty god of thunder that dispensed justice and maintained order in the world from his high throne in a city on a hill (or on a dry branch atop the bough of a tree).
After the Christianisation of the Slavs, churches dedicated to those saints with features that corresponded the most to that of Perun were erected on his former shrines, in accordance with the religious tradition of the day. This was, primarily, St Elijah, followed by St Michael and St Vitus. Among the Christianised Slavs,St George, a popular saint that is the patron of many Christian communities, replaced Perun’s son Jarovit (Jarilo), the young god of spring with whom numerous beliefs and customs were connected. However, in some places churches dedicated to St George were erected on Perun’s cult sites, as is the case in Podstrana, thus representing a continuation of sorts of the worship of both deities.
The first known mention of the toponym Snake Rock can be found, in its Slavic form Smicamic, in a document from Split dating back to 1178 as the name of a place on Perun Hill by the Žrnovnica River, from which its old Croatian form Zmij kamik was derived.
In this serpentine rock, the mythical worldview of the Old Slavs saw the god Veles, Perun’s adversary, in an attempt to seize his throne on the mountaintop, thus provoking the climax of the Old Slavic mythical drama. As legend has it, the world is ruled by order, justice and benevolence as long as the sky god Perun and the underworld god Perun are located on opposing poles of the sacred dichotomy of up/down. When this relationship is disturbed and the world falls into chaos, the fight between the gods begins, and the thunder god Perun begins to strike Veles, an angry beast in the form of a dragon or snake, with thunder and lightning until he retreats back to the underworld where he belongs and order is restored to the world once again. Perun killed the Veles of Podstrana and threw him into the nearby willow (˝rakita˝) and mud (˝blato˝), which are the names that these places bear today.
The Snake Rock of Podstrana shares the fate of many of Veles’s shrines throughout Slavdom, which became associated with evil (satanic) attributes. Thus it was devastated and left to oblivion, until it finally gained protection as a cultural and historical monument from the earliest period of the presence of Croats in this region.
Our Lady Of Sita
Our Lady of Sita is yet another toponym that cannot be understood without reference to the Old Slavic mythological context.
˝Sita˝ or ˝šašika˝ is the Croatian name for a plant from the Juncus genus, from whose stalks various woven household objects, such as baskets and sieves, were crafted, and which grew in abundance in the once-marshy area at the foot of Perun Hill, near the estuary of the Žrnovnica River. Marshy soil, swamps and their specific vegetation are features that are, in Old Slavic Religion, ascribed to the goddess Mokoš (the Old Slavic word ˝Mokošь˝ is derived from the verb ˝močiti˝, which means ˝wet˝). In Old Slavic religion, Mokoš was worshipped as the Divine Mother, ˝the mother of wet soil˝, and was imagined as an indefatigable weaver that resided at those locations where the stalks of the plants used for weaving were left to soak.
As a toponym derived from ancient Croatian mythological toponymy, the syntagm ˝Our Lady of Sita˝ preserves a part of the secretive network of relationships of this mythical world. The church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary was, therefore, built on the cult site of the most important female mythical figure of pre-Christian Croats, at the foot of Perun Hill, thus preserving not only the continuity of the sacredness of this locality, but also the continuity of its name.