Dalmatians - Orientation

Identification. Dalmatia is a region within the Republic of Croatia, formerly part of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia. Although its population is predominantly Croatian, Dalmatia is included on the basis of its strong historical ties to other parts of Europe by way of the Mediterranean Sea. The term "Dalmatian" is derived from the name of the Illyrian tribe Delmatea, which inhabited the region in the first century B.C.

Location. Dalmatia lies on the rugged eastern coast of the Adriatic and is the southwesternmost region of Croatia. It Stretches about 400 kilometers from the Bay of Kvarner to the Bay of Boka Kotorska in Montenegro, is up to 70 kilometers wide, and includes an archipelago of about 600 islands along the coast. Geographically the area can be divided into the Islands, the coastal belt, and the hinterland. The entire area of Dalmatia covers 12,043 square kilometers. On its eastern-most borders, running from north to south, are the irregular mountains of the Dinaric range, whose highest peak is Dinara (1,913 meters). Dalmatia is known for its karst topography, composed mainly of limestone, which easily erodes and dissolves in rainwater. Flowing along underground cracks, the water continues to widen and deepen these crevices until they become underground caves. When such a cave becomes large enough and the roof extends close to the surface, it then collapses, producing a depression or a sinkhole called a dolina. Larger depressions are called polje. These depressions often contain alluvial soil and usually constitute the only cultivable land in this region. The landscape can be pictured as vast areas of glistening and eroded limestone punctuated by many patches of green oasis. The Dalmatian climate is Mediterranean. The summers are very dry with scorching temperatures; however, in winter there is ample rainfall.

Demography. In 1981 the population of Dalmatia was estimated at 888,926 (78.3 percent Croatians, 11.5 percent Serbians, 6.2 percent ethnically unspecified Yugoslavs, and 4 percent others). The population density averages 64 persons per square kilometer. Differences in the population density between the islands, the coast, and the hinterland are remarkable. For example, the population density of the island of Lastovo is 18 persons per square kilometer, whereas the coastal urban center of Split has a population density of 275 persons per square kilometer. The uneven population density is related to areas of low fertility and high out-migration. Rough and unfertile terrain makes it hard to eke out a living, and this hardship is further accentuated by underdevelopment of industry. These factors force many people to look for wage labor elsewhere.

Linguistic Affiliation. Dalmatians speak regional dialects of the Croatian language (Ikavica, Jekavica, Čakavica). On some islands and parts of the coast mixtures of Croatian and Italian are found (e.g., Talijanština, or Croatian-Italian Creole) , attesting to the long influence of Venetian rule.

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