Maraton ladja is an amateur, sporting competition which involves the racing of ladje (vessels native to the Lower Neretva River which flows through the Republic of Croatia). It is held annually on the second Saturday in August, on a course 22.5 km long, under the direct patronage of the President of the Republic of Croatia.
Ladje have served for centuries as water vehicles which transported people, animals and farming produce. It was used for weddings, funerals etc. Because of its narrow size, it was able to enter every one of the rivers that flowed into the Neretva as well as the Neretva River itself. It can be said that the ladje to the Neretva represents the same significance as the gondola does to Venice.
Ladje were used by the old Neretva pirates of yesteryear, who terrorised these parts in the 10th century. With the modernization of life, ladje have almost become technologically redundant, and as a result became a relic. In many cases they could be found ruined and ‘shipwrecked’, half submerged in various parts of the many tributaries.
So as to preserve the significance and history of the ladje, in 1998 the very first race involving these relics from the past was organized from Metkovic to Ploce. At the start of the inaugural race, there were a total of 18 local crews. It so captured the imagination of the locals that with each year a new record number of entries is received. As for the old half-ruined ladje lying peacefully in the rivers, they were awaken from their slumber and repaired to live another day in the following year’s race.
Since the old ladje were all of different dimensions, and so that all competitors would race in vessels of the same size, in 2004 new custom-made ladje were built, which would be used specifically for the Maraton ladje.
Each rowing crew consists of 10 rowers, a drummer and a cox, or oarsmen. There can be a minimum of 12 and a maximum of 18 persons in each squad. Anyone who is willing may form part of the crew: men, women, children.
The competing ladja must be wooden, comprise a traditional shape and must meet the official competition rules as far as actual dimensions are concerned. That is, the length must be between 7 and 8.2 meters, the width between 2.45 and 2.8 meters, the depth is 70cm, with 23 spokes or wooden rods. The actual oars themselves must also be made of wood.
A week prior to the actual Maraton, the time trials for starting positions are held in Opuzen (individually over 100 metrers). Depending on the finish in the time trials, will determine starting positions at the Maraton. The start of the race is in Metkovic under the main bridge. The course runs along the Neretva to the harbour in Ploce, a total of 22,500 meters. Approximately at the halfway mark, in the town of Opuzen, an interchange of up to six crew members is permitted (although it is not compulsory to change). Then it’s further down river we go through the small village of Komin, through the narrow Black River and onto the final destination in Ploce.
The winners normally achieve their goal in about 2 hours and 15 minutes, following continuous, non-stop rowing. On average, close to 50,000 spectators line the entire route of the course each year. Spectators follow the race in cars on either side of the river, by train (which also hugs the river route) and/or on board the many boats and other water vessels that accompany the ladje
Up until now, two overseas crews have participated in the Maraton. in 2000 and 2001 crews consisting of Croatian emigrants from Australia participated as did a crew involving the Croatian minority from northern Italy in 2002 and 2004.
The most exciting aspect of the race each year is the start. With more than 300 competitiors in 30 odd ladje in two rows, combined with the rhythmic beating of the drums by each team’s drummer, makes for a colorful and noisy spectacle.
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