In a drop of wine, the universe sparkles.
-Miroslav Krleža, celebrated Croatian writer
Split, curious Split.
Croatia's second largest city on the Dalmatian Coast is not to be confused with cute half bottles of wine, although the association isn't entirely inappropriate considering how important wine is to the region. Split's name actually dates back to Greek and Roman times, an era nearly two thousand years ago in which the area's wine production was established on Dalmatia's rocky, sunny slopes. Wine has always been a part of Split's profile, and the city's abandoned Dalmacijavino wine factory stands as proof of the struggles and successes that come with the wine making business.
Positioned prominently at the entrance to the port of Split, notable Croatian and Yugoslavian architect Stanko Fabris* designed and built the modernist Dalmacijavino facility in 1959. The location couldn't have been more perfect for a wine factory: company ships, laden with grapes from nearby islands like Vis and Hvar, arrived at Split's ferry port ready to be processed into bottles of wine and distributed across Yugoslavia. According to mreza.tv, Dalmacijavina was once one of the largest companies in the region, producing more than 40 million liters of beverages annually. The company seemed like a good place to work, boasting its own newsletter and traditional Dalmatian a cappella group (klapa), and I can only imagine how fun their holiday parties were.
The hundreds of locals employed by the beverage company were loyal to the co-operative, staying at Dalmacijavina for decades and investing in the company's growth. With the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1990, the wine company faced declining production and sales as well as growing competition, so its bankruptcy in 2012 wasn't completely unexpected. By then, though, the company had laid off most of its employees and a few hundred remained to oversee what little production continued in the adjacent building. Since being abandoned in 2012, the building has faced a slew of issues, from protests by devastated former employees to a major fire in 2016 on the ground floor, likely caused by squatters burning tires for warmth.
Two years ago, Croatia's "king of sugar" Marinka Zadre purchased the Dalmacijavina company -- in addition to land, wineries, and vineyards across the region -- at a public auction for 70 million kuna, or about $10 million (the original price was 270 million kuna). According to vecernji.hr, the facility in Split was taken by the state because it is a naval asset, one of the conditions when the company privatized in 2016. Following the sale, beverage production moved outside of Split although the company continues to harvest select grapes from Hvar.
It will be interesting to see what the state does, or doesn't do, with the Dalmacijavino building as it's prime real estate. Considering the Hotel Marjan sitting in limbo directly across the port and other crumbling government-controlled assets across Croatia, I predict the wine factory will remain in its bottled-up, dilapidated condition for a while.
*Interestingly enough, Fabris is the architect behind the one modernist -- and highly controversial -- building in Marshal Tito Square in Zagreb, Željpoh, which was renovated in 2013 and now looks especially incongruous.
Outside the Dalmacijavino building
If arriving in Split by ferry, it's impossible to miss the abandoned wine factory. When I arrived at the facility, I noticed a sturdy blue metal fence around the perimeter of the building, but having watched some guys taking pictures on the roof and a few elderly people disappear through a dark opening, I felt that ducking through the gap in the fence and into the building in plain view was okay. (Apparently, a section of the building along the water is still used for production.) Behind the Dalmacijavino building is a lovely little hillside park with a modernist lighthouse, Svijetionik Pomorac, built in 1958 that is worth a closer look.
Inside the factory
When I visited Dalmacijavino, it had been raining in Split for a few days and everything inside was exceptionally soggy and dirty. And with little ambient light and a badly charred interior, my tour of the wine factory was a bit creepy. The 67,000 square meter warehouse and production area is in horrible shape and I wouldn't be surprised if it's been empty since 2008, but there were still signs of life from the company's wine making heydays under thick layers of slushy black mold.