RAB: A HAPPY TOWN AND ISLAND
Vesna Kusin, Croatia Weekly - On-line, Zagreb, July 3, 1998.

The island of Rab is famous for its numerous sand beaches and luxuriant vegetation, which provides a most pleasant protection from the bright sun. It is famous for having the first nudist beach on the Adriatic, opened in 1934.

The island of Rab in the Kvarner region is one of the first tourist oasis on the northern portion of the Adriatic. With its gentle vegetation and mild climate, and particularly its disjointed and sunny coast and dark blue sea, enchanting natural beauty as well as ancient culture, the island has been offering much to its guests for a long time. The municipal council passed a decision in 1889 to proclaim Rab a tourist and health resort. Tourism began to develop at the turn of the century, and it saw its first prosperity between the two World Wars.

Many tourists visit Rab because of its rich and numerous woods. The hill Kamenjak on the eastern side of the island protects it from the north-eastern wind that comes from the Velebit mountains. On this side, the island's vegetation grows luxuriantly without any natural obstacles. Thus, there are various kinds of vegetation on the south-western side: pine and holm oak groves, grass meadows, cultivated fields, vineyards and olive groves. One of the most beautiful areas of holm oak groves and the greenest part of the island is the area of Kalifront and Suha Punta. The north-eastern part of the island, turned to the coast and the nearby Velebit, is a karst area with moon-like landscapes.

The centre of the island is the town of Rab, built on a small peninsula forming a natural port in the middle of the south-western coast. Its Roman name was Arba, mentioned by Ptolemy and Pliny the Elder. It probably originates from the Illyrian word arb, meaning 'dark, green, wooded,' which suits Rab perfectly.

Seen from the air, the prolonged peninsula, along which the town of Rab is situated, seems like the bow of an old sailing ship, with the church bell towers representing masts. The most important church monuments are situated along the peninsula, where they, with the bell towers and the remains of the town walls, make one of the most beautiful architectural complexes on the Adriatic. This is why English architect T. G. Jackson said in 1887, "An unusual old medieval town, looks like a monument and not reality... in my opinion, there is not a more charming one among all the littoral towns." Three bell towers are Romanesque, so that this is an area with the most Romanesque bell towers on such a small area in Croatia. The oldest is the one by the Church of St. Andrew, built in 1181. Two other bell towers date back to the same century: the one near the remains of the Monastery of St. John, and the other by the Church of the Assumption of Mary, a former cathedral. This Romanesque cathedral, rebuilt in later periods, was consecrated by Pope Alexander III. The youngest bell tower is situated by the church of St. Justina, which dates back to the seventeenth century.

Although the urban organisation of the town is based on the Roman model, Rab received most of its construction heritage during the Romanesque period, so that this style dominates in its historical image. Besides the aforementioned monuments, there are many churches and chapels in the town, from the early Christian to the Renaissance styles. In this stone town, the medieval walls which were built on the Roman ones, there are many Gothic and Renaissance palaces bearing the coats of arms of patrician families who built them over the course of the centuries. The ducal and bishop's palaces stand nearby. Among rare Roman findings, a special place belongs to the small reddish-brown amphora that Rome gave to Rab in the second or third century. It bears the inscription: Felix Arba, meaning "happy Rab." Rome gave this epithet only to those places that were indebted to it or to those whose glory and prosperity it wanted to point out. Regardless of the reasons, Rab was truly a happy town. It was happy during the entire medieval period, when it got rich by breeding silkworms. Namely, silk was produced on Rab at a time when this was still unknown in the West.

Rab is not only famous for its silk and monuments. The prominent archbishop, church writer and physicist Markantun Dominis was born here in 1650. Some famous people, although not born here, liked to come to Rab, such as the English King Edward VIII, who came here with his wife Wallace in 1936. Enchanted by the beauty of the town and the surrounding area, he swam naked in Kandarola Bay. This did not astonish Rab's citizens, since the first nudist beach was opened on Rab two years prior to the king's arrival. Nevertheless, the moment when Edward VIII stepped into the sea without his swimming trunks was accepted as the official beginning of nudism on the island. Thus Rab became a forerunner of nudist beaches on the Adriatic. The nudist beach is situated in Kandarola Bay even today. On the sheltered side of Kamenjak, the whole western area of the island of Rab has been transformed into a swimming haven in which there is plenty of room for all bathers. There are always numerous bathers on beaches such as Banjol, Kampor, Barbat, Supetarska Draga, and other picturesque places of the wooded island. They mostly enjoy Rajska Plaza (or 'Heavenly Beach') in Lopar, one of many sand beaches on this part of the island.

The island of Rab receives guests in six hotels and two tourist settlements: Suha Punta and San Marino. Accommodations can also be found in two auto-camps: III Padova and San Marino, as well as in private accommodations with 15,000 beds. Sailors are not forgotten either: they have marinas in Rab and Supetarska Draga at their disposal. The latter, situated in a bay extending a mile and a half along the northern side of the island, is one of the safest anchorages in the northern Adriatic due to its sheltered position. If you are not travelling to Rab by your own boat or by a boat departing from Rijeka, but by car, you can reach the island easily by a short and regular ferry line (a 15 minute ride) that departs from Jablanac. It is also possible to arrive from the island of Krk by a ferry departing from Baska to Lopar. If you come to Rab, you may find your own happiness on this happy island.


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