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Cave of Campari in Tramuntana (Cres), 
cross section

Lubenice, once a Roman city

the Roman bridge of Beli, still intact

Osor on the island Cres, top right the channel 
and the island Losinj

Osor, historical facade, modern sculpture
Mali Losinj, capitol of the Cres-Losinj archipelago
Veli Losinj, once the most important city
on the island.

Archeological findings in de caves 'Campari' and 'Jami na sredi' on the island of Cres, and 'Vela jama' on Losinj have proven that in prehistoric times, with a sealevel many feet below the present one, these islands were in fact no islands at all, but part of the Istria peninsula. The proof consisted out of well preserved skeletons of long extinct bears and other mammals.
The oldest traces of human inhabitants were found in the area around Punta Kriza and date back roughly 12000 years. The most logical explanation is the -especially then- steep and hostile rocky eastern coastline of the island Cres, that only near the southern part gradually changes into a more approachable landscape of wooded hills and valleys. Presently, most caves are freely accessible through well marked hiking trails, allowing tourists to get an impression of the very distant past.

The first known inhabitants of the archipel were the indo-german Illirians, who came from Central Europe around 1200 b.C. to settle in the area. One tribe, the Dalmatians, went to southern coastal regions, while the Liburnians, much feared seagoing pirates, who used light and fast rowing boats that stayed in use for many centuries to come, settled in the northern area. Primitive strongholds stemming from this period can still be found in several places on the island; ceramics and metal objects are exhibited in the archeological museum in Osor.

Wether the ancient Greek, who approached from the south around 400 b.C. and founded cities like Korcula, Hvar and Trogir, have extended their journey to Cres/Losinj has never been determined. They certainly knew the archipel and used the names 'Absyrtides' for Cres/Losinj and Absoros for the city of Osor, both derived from Absyrtos, the name of the King's son in the Argonaut saga. First to acknowledge the military importance of the islands were the Romans, who in the 3rd century b.C. started a bloody and long lasting offensive against the Illirians, until in the year 9 under the emperor Augustus complete capitulation was achieved and the islands were added to the Roman empire as part of the province of Dalmatia. Osor, possessing a channel that was elementary to the shipping trade with the Dalmatian coast, became the most important city and was allowed a considerable amount of self government. Traces from Roman times are abundant on the island Cres, like roads, bridges, remnants of Roman villa's and ancient settlements like Caput Insulae (Beli), Hibernicia (Lubenice) and Crepsa (Cres).

The collapse of the Roman empire in the 4th century put the archipelago at the brink of tumultuous times. First subjected to the reign of Theodore the Great of the East-Gothian empire until 535, then part of Byzanthium, that in the beginning of the 7th century came heavily under siege from the Awares and slavic Croats who approached from the south. Unable to withstand the unabating attacks, the Byzanthians concentrated on keeping the former Roman Cities, among which Osor. They did not bother about the surrounding countryside, until another pirate tribe, the Sarazenes destroyed Osor in 842.
An era without effective governmental presence began, where the Croats became subject to the reign of Charles the Great without being aware of that. Under the successors of Charlemagne, the empire deteriorated and lost control, allowing the Croat King Tomislav in the early 10th century to found the first independent Croat state. But only a few years later the doge Orsoleo II of Venice put an end to the independence: a document dating from the year 1018, when his warships had surrounded Osor, states that the city of Osor had to pay an annual tribute of 40 marden skins. 50 years later, the Croat king Kresimir stood up to Venice and declared independence again, but finally the emperors of Hungary and Austria would govern the islands from 1102 until 1918. Churches and other architectural remnants of this era can be found everywhere on Cres. Losinj has a much shorter history: the oldest document mentioning 'Velo selo' en 'Malo selo' (large village and small village) dates from 1398 and stipulates the amount of taxes that should be annually paid to the city of Osor. These villages, once founded by 12 Croat families from the mainland, are now Mali and Veli Losinj, from which the 'small village' has risen to the status of Capitol of the archipelago...

The city of Cres, which in Venetian times developed into the most significant settlement, slowly had to give way to Mali Losinj with it's well sheltered giant natural harbour, that grew to be the centre of shipping. In 1854 the maritime school was founded, which is still an important educational institute for the merchant service. At the crest of her fame around 1870 Mali Losinj possessed a merchant fleet of 150 large sailing vessels (up to 1500 brt.), that sailed the world seas. At the end of that century however, they lost their leading position in favour of shipyards along the coast, where larger and larger steamships were built, putting an end to the sailing era. Approximately simultaneously a long lasting epidemic of Phylloxera (green fly) set in, causing heavy crop damage to the almost exclusively agricultural island of Cres. These two factors together led to a massive emigration that was to continue for many decades until after the second world war.

At the end of the first world war in 1918, the kingdom Yugoslavia was founded, with the exclusion of the islands Cres, Losinj, the Istria peninsula and the city of Rijeka. These parts, where a substantial tourist industry had developed, were alloted to Italy and remained under Italian government until the end of the second world war. The 'Italianization' left many traces that can still be observed in harbour structures, architecture and even in many family names.
The Paris 1947 peace treaty finally combined all areas into the federal republic of Yugoslavia, that was led since May 1945 by Marshall Tito. In the following period of political stability tourism rapidly became the number one industry in the region and brought prosperity. Large hotels were built on the Cikat peninsula near Mali Losinj, water works were set up from the inexhaustable Vrana Lake to the capital, a tarmac road from the ferry landing in Porozina, an extensive electricity grid, and at the end of the 80's there was even a modest telephone system in operation.

Of course the improvements in infrastructure were primarily limited to the larger settlements, the smaller ones following in order of importance or sometimes political connections. It took until the end of 1970 to get electricity in Punta Kriza and asphalt on the only connecting road to Osor had to wait until July 1974. Until then, the only way to reach the village was by boat, on foot or by horse over an unpaved path that was used by the postman. In 1994 telephone became available, whereas the replacement of the provisional, badly leaking water supply by a subsurface system with fire hydrants and outlets to individual houses had to wait until 2001.
The Balkan war in the early 90's went completely without bloodshed in the archipelago because the population differed considerably from that on the mainland. They were and are Croats of mainly Italian ancestry with a small Serbian minority, that was either fully integrated or fled noiselessly at the first news of an independent state. The economic damage was however devastating, as tourism suddenly collapsed and left many people unemployed or without income. German, Austrian and Italian tourists were the first to reluctantly return, but it took until the beginning of our century for the hotels and holiday resorts to reach the number of bookings of prewar times.

Sources:

Otocki ljetopis (eilandkronieken) 1975.
Apsyrtides, Branko Fucic, 1990
JoegoslaviŽ, drs. G. de Rijk, 1980
Cres-Losinj und umliegende Eilande, Leticija Suljic, 1973