Dry stone walls – monuments to plain human work and effort

Dry stone walling is a well-known construction technique in building. It is done with natural stone, without binders, i.e. mortar. It is a primordial art of building with stone, based on heritage, ancestral transmission, construction skills without formal education and knowledge. This method of construction is very old and was used in the Mediterranean and other parts of the world. They built livestock fences, retaining walls of a country, animal pens, defensive walls, boundary walls, various fences, gardens, anti-erosion barriers, roads, trims, dwellings, lime-kilns, etc..

It is known in our country as a traditional Croatian construction. In our homeland, wherever there is stone, on the islands and the coastlines and beyond, we have a developed and preserved construction technique for dry stone walls.

“Dry stone wall lace” – Satellite image of the surroundings of Velo Grablje

How dry stone walls came to be

Dry stone walls are always created for some particular need, whether it be a defensive wall, for agriculture, etc. It is believable that the oldest dry stone walls are found in agriculture, because they are associated with food production, especially in hilly areas where forests had to be cleared, to prepare useful land areas.

Retaining walls are built for agricultural purposes, dry stone walls that create land areas for grapevines and other crops. Reclaiming the karst to make it agricultural land was one of the very difficult tasks. This can be seen very well from the attached pictures, how much work, effort and sweat it took to get a small plot of useful land. It was necessary to clear the karst by separating out rocks (kamike) and small stones (savura) and to build retaining walls and make piles of the rocks within the dry stone wall, thus leaving suitable fertile surfaces (laze). The foundations of this construction are on stone, and on the mounds where there is more soil, a trench about 50 cm deep is dug, large and then smaller stones are thrown in and the dry stone wall is built.

All this was done by hand, with a pickaxe (maškin), a hoe (motika) and a container for transferring soil and smaller stones (mašur).

An example of dry stone wall construction

Trims (stone huts)

Trims (stone huts) are also built using the dry stone wall construction, and they serve primarily as shelters from storms in the field, as stables for the protection and guarding of livestock, and in olden times some of them were lived in. They are always round at the base, but the roof can be built in various ways. Building a “Trim” using the dry stone wall technique is not simple and requires specific construction skills.

It is difficult to determine how old the “Trims” are, but we have several of them that are marked and historically interesting examples: “Garški trim on Kluca”, a “Trim on Piske”, a “Trim on Motokit”, a “Trim on Roskarsnica”. They all differ in construction and appearance.

An upper conical, roof part, composed of slabs of stone, rests on a lower cylindrical part. They differ according to whether the conical part of the roof starts from the edge of the cylindrical part (usually with smaller ones) or a little further towards the middle (with larger ones). The diameter is about 2.5 – 4 m, and the height about 3 m. They don’t have windows in our country. Trim’s have no doors to close, so they offer a welcome to anyone who finds themselves in need.

The door faces west or south, is about 80 – 100 cm wide and about 120 cm high. A stone sill, the lintel over the door, is very important because it is the most loaded part of the trim. In order to relieve the load, a second sill is placed above it with a gap, a free space, between them. Above this second sill, further construction of the trim continues.

There is always dry wood and firewood in the trim for quick and safe fire lighting. In the interior there is a niche (rapu) in which there can be found: bottles of oil, vinegar, matches (fulminonti), lata za put vodu (a bucket for collecting water). There is usually a well (gusterna) in the immediate vicinity.

Trim and water cistern at the viewpoint of Sveti Rok. Sample sketch and document from www.topohvar.at. Inspiration for artists (Toni Pavičić Donkić)

Dry stone wall applications

In our country this kind of construction technique is used for cobbled pavements, inkunjadura, because it also has no binder, mortar. This construction technique is also very old and structurally differs from dry stone walling because it is much more demanding. These were used for the construction of roads, courtyards, vaults, stone arches, etc. They are built from partially processed stone. In the past, this is how the vaults of the wells were built.

When building roads, the edge parts are well reinforced, the base is filled with gravel of a coarse aggregate and then a layer of finer aggregate, on top of which stones are placed vertically next to each other, 20-30 cm high, the upper part of which forms a flat surface. This surface is passable and water permeable.

In vaulted constructions, the more distant part is in the shape of an arch and the upper surface is flat. It is made of processed stone so that they fit together vertically on the surface as well as possible, thus making the construction strong and load-bearing.

Roads are built using the same technique, from stone, processed and adapted for specific needs.

That is how Napoleon’s road from Stari Grad – Maslenica to Sv. Rok – Velo Grablje was built in 1806 – 1809, and in 1939 the road from Hvar –  Brusje – Velo Grablje – Selca – Stari Grad. In our country, before the use of tiles, houses and farm buildings were covered with stone slabs. Over time, these coverings were replaced by tiles. You can still see Gozić’s house – a one-story building covered with stone slabs.

All of this can be seen today in the “Open Air Museum”, in an area of one square kilometre, near Velo Grablje on the island of Hvar.

An example of trims and their differences

Protection of drywalls and monuments

How valuable and appreciated is the dry stone wall technique, and the desire to preserve it, are best shown today in the permanent monuments of memory. The crosses on the Kornati islands are a memorial to the 12 firefighters who died in the fire, in the Kornati tragedy of 30 August  2007.

There are 12 crosses, built using the dry stone wall technique, 25 m long and 15 m wide. 400 m3 of stone was used. Along with these crosses, in the same technique the chapel of St. Florian were built.

With the intention of preserving this primitive construction method, there are associations for the protection of dry stone walls in our country. There is the umbrella Association, the “4 grada Dragodid” as well as on the island of Pag – The Association for the preservation of culture and natural heritage of the island of Pag “Dry Stone Wall”.

Photo of one of the last vineyards in Grablje (Petrić family)

Velo Grablje, an ethno-eco village on the island of Hvar, is one of the largest and best preserved examples of dry stone wall construction. The poor land and the painstaking work of our labourers shaped the entire landscape with dry stone walls. Today, the Association “Pjover” – for protection and revitalization, in line with the slogan “Velo Grablje – Home of dry stone walls”, regularly restores and protects in every way the value of our rich tradition. Since the founding of the Pjover Association in 2006, we have been conducting dry stone wall workshops with local craftsmen, restoring demolished dry stone walls and trying to pass on the technique and significance of construction to the younger generations. We are partners of the “4 grada Dragodid” Association, with which we have participated in the protection of dry stone walls as a cultural intangible asset of the Republic of Croatia, and achieved that the art of dry stone wall construction be protected under UNESCO. This is the sixth UNESCO protection for the island of Hvar. The team of the Pjover Association from Velo Grablje won 3rd place at the 4th Croatian Dry stone wall Championship in 2020.

The Croatian Championship in Dry stone wall Construction and the medal won by the Pjover Association for 3rd place, 2020


An example of excellently preserved dry stone wall construction, after the fire in 1997. Once there were vines, then lavender, today olives


Known locally as “Japjenica”, “vapnenica” or “klačina”, lime kilns are constructed to be fired up and burn through to produce the lime which was used for building and painting houses in the old days.

Lime kilns are the ancient way of producing lime, and lime-burning used to be a significant part of Hvar’s economy.

It is a rare example of the traditional construction, which is specific to the old Mediterranean style.

A limekiln on Roskarsnica, 1914


The first aerial photograph of Velo Grablje, 13 March 1944


Lavender planted on terraced fields bordered by dry stone walls



Velo Grablje, photo by Ivo Pervan