While we were visiting the Chapel of Our Lady on the Rocks (Crkvica svete Marije na škriljinah, S. Maria delle Lastre) located in Beram, Istria, a group of people wandered up to the church and tried to convince the woman that since they were a group, they should pay less. The entry fee is 20kuna ($2.85) per person. I found this incredibly disrespectful. Spaces such as these are essential pieces of culture and history to the respective country. They too need funding to maintain them. The roof needs to be maintained as well as the grounds kept clean.
The first few days we were in Istria I found it incredibly frustrating that everywhere I read discussed the amazing frescoes and churches and that they should not be missed, and yet they felt so inaccessible. The tourism board has a map geared towards “culture” that has about 20 sites with frescoes listed, and the first handful we sought out, if we found the church, we could not locate the key keeper or get inside.
During our fresco workshop with local artist Hari Vidović we were discussing the difficulty in finding them. Me, always a solution finder, started rattling ideas off such as a card you purchase at the tourist office for 3 or 7-day access that has the addresses of the key keepers and detailed location maps etc. Daryl suggested each of the churches having a lockbox with the key that a few different people in a town would have the code. Even the tourism board having ‘certified’ guides with keys would be a great solution as it also proved very difficult for me to find a private guide. Options are as limitless as the sky.
My feelings changed after visiting Beram and seeing this group try to haggle the price. The key keeper explained to me that her family has lived in Beram for centuries. She feels it her duty to protect these frescoes. They are the heritage of her family and their neighbors. She also feels it is important to share them with people that desire to see them enough to seek her out. She doesn’t want anyone just wandering in and leaning on the walls. She doesn’t want unattended people thinking they are pulling a fast one and taking a few quick no-one will know photos with flash.
I agree. These spaces are delicate. These spaces need to remain difficult to access. They should not be a checklist item of the casual traveler, guidebook in hand, just wanting to see them because someone said they should. I told her to keep them difficult for people to see. Keep them protected.
Instead, they need to be viewed by guests of Istria that want to know about them. Guests of Istria that want to talk to local people and want to learn about the frescoes from the very people that have been entrusted with guarding them for centuries.
People with a real passion for seeing them will find her, and the frescoes.