Cape Savudrija Lighthouse
IALA Heritage Lighthouse of the Year 2023 Nominee
Location: CROATIA - Istria County. Umag.
Lighthouse Operator: PLOVPUT LLC
Source: (photos as submitted to accompany nomination form by PLOVPUT LLC 2023)
Lighthouse Description and History
(Text extracted from nomination form submitted by PLOVPUT LLC 2023)
Completed and commissioned on the night of 17/18 April 1818, it is the oldest operational lighthouse in the Adriatic.
The lighthouse is operated by the state-owned company Plovput. Although automated, the lighthouse is still staffed with lighthouse keepers that secure and maintain the site. The current keeper as of 2021 is Mario Milin Ungar, continuing a family line of service that goes back five generations.
At a height of 36 m above the sea level, the light has a range of 30 nautical miles and entails three flashes of white light every fifteen seconds (light character: W Fl (3) 15s (0,5+3,2;0,5+3,3;0,5+7)s ).
Reason For Nomination
(Text extracted from nomination form submitted by PLOVPUT LLC 2023)
Intrinsic Heritage Interest of the Lighthouse
The Savudrija lighthouse is the first modern lighthouse on the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea that has remained continuously operational to this day.
It was designed by the famous Trieste architect and conservator Pietro Nobile (Campestro 1776 – Vienna 1854), who was a member of the circle of classicist Trieste architects.
This representative lighthouse served as a template (prototype) for other lighthouses that were built later in the 19th century.
Its commissioning on April 17, 1818, marks the beginning of organized lighthouse services in the then Austrian, and later Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Its construction began in March 1817, funded by issuing shares through the Trieste Chamber of Commerce, which had actively promoted the lighthouse as a means to assist with navigation to the Port of Trieste, the main port of the Empire at the time. It was also sponsored by Francis I of Austria who, according to some sources, was present when the lighthouse was first put into operation.
The Savudrija lighthouse is based on the idea of a Doric column emerging from a square base, with attached living quarters for two lighthouse keepers, a kitchen, a warehouse, a cistern, and a complex plant for distilling gas from coal.
Local stone that was quarried on the nearby coast and processed in the field was used to build the 19-metre tower, which supported a double gallery and a grey lantern. The buildings, namely a two-storey principal keeper’s house and other single-storey buildings, were a later addition, completed in 1821. The height of the tower was subsequently increased by 10 m to its current height of 29 m in the late 19th century. It is interesting to note that construction started even before the private plots were purchased. This issue was resolved later, but remains a testimony of the haste related to the implementation of this idea. However, construction was stopped due to technical reasons, namely because the complex iron cage (gabbia) of the dome with ventilation openings had to be delivered from Styria (Maria Zell). The solution of the roof covering that was preserved in excellent condition, with specific mechanically processed massive stone slabs arranged like fish scales, is particularly interesting.
It was the first gas-lighted lighthouse in Europe, which used gas obtained from the distillation of coal for lighting. In the beginning, the lighthouse used distilled gas obtained from coal from the Raša Coal Mines to produce its light. The gas flowed to the lighthouse ports through pipes that were carried through the still-preserved channel stretching along the lighthouse tower. This process was exceptionally technologically innovative both in the Habsburg Monarchy and the world, considering that a similar public city lighting system was introduced in Vienna in 1818, and in London in 1813. Considering the application of this system for the operation of the lighthouse, and according to the data from available scientific sources and literature, it appears that Savudrija was a pioneer in this area, but this fact has since been completely forgotten. In fact, according to existing literature, the first lighthouse of this type was commissioned in 1865, when John Richardson Wigham designed a gas illumination system for the Baily lighthouse near Dublin. However, the gas lamp in the Savudrija lighthouse was commissioned as many as 47 years earlier.
However, since gas distillation facilities were still in their infancy at the time and had numerous technological weaknesses – for instance, the lamps were prone to soot due to the lack of a sophisticated gas filtering and by-product separation system – and, despite the fact that this form of illumination was somewhat cheaper than oil-based systems, it was replaced by the older and simpler type of illumination, Argand’s olive oil illumination system, namely in 1823.
It should be noted that the structure of the lighthouse also has elements of fortification architecture.
The lighthouse has been preserved, and the auxiliary building for the lighthouse keeper, the apartments in the lighthouse keeper’s building, the yard, the surroundings, and the roof were renovated a few years ago.
Public Access and Education
Back in 1974, the Regional Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments in Rijeka was at the time one of the first institutions in Croatia to record the Savudrija lighthouse as a cultural monument and enter it as such in the public (land) register.
A group exhibition of Croatian lighthouses was organized in 2004 with the goal of pointing out the problem pertaining to the preservation of lighthouses and their restoration in accordance with the highest standards of protection of the cultural-historical heritage and the environment. The photos in the exhibition show that Croatian lighthouses are part of the national architectural and cultural-historical heritage, essential for the maritime tradition and identity of the Republic of Croatia. The exhibition had over 40 installations all over the world.
In 2007, the lighthouse at Savudrija was depicted in a set of commemorative stamps by the Croatian postal service Hrvatska pošta.
In 2018, the exhibition “More than light and salt – 200 years of Croatian lighthouses” was organized in collaboration with Plovput LLC, the Croatian Maritime Museum Split, and the Umag City Museum, namely to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the oldest Croatian lighthouse, Cape Savudrija, and the beginning of lighthouse services in the Adriatic. The exhibition consists of 2 parts, first of which is dedicated to the Savudrija lighthouse and lighthouse services, and the second presenting the accompanying photo exhibition “Croatian lighthouses”.
On that occasion, the book bearing the same name, namely “More than light and salt – 200 years of Croatian lighthouses” was published, and in 2020 the catalogue “IN LIGHT AND SHADOW – way of life at the Savudrija lighthouse” was also published.
Since 2018, the exhibition has had 8 installations in Croatia – the last one in September 2022 in Italy.