After three years of renovation work, the newly made-over Villa Bunić-Kaboga in Rijeka Dubrovačka opened its door to visitors. Built in the first half of the 16th century, with Gothic-Renaissance style characteristics, then rebuilt and expanded in the 18th and the 19th century according to the taste of the times, this seafront villa complex represents an exquisite example of the Dubrovnik architecture. However, the inappropriate building interventions and usages in the 20th century, the construction of the Adriatic Highway and the coastal filling, and eventually the destruction wrought during the Croatian War of Independence, inflicted permanent damage to the villa. A comprehensive renovation of the villa was initiated and almost completely financed by the last living descendant of the Caboga family, Dr. Ivo Felner, through the Batahovina Foundation. The renovation project was based on comprehensive art-historical research conducted by Dr. Nada Grujić, and grounded on presenting the original layer as well as the 18th-century expansion. The renovated villa is designated to become a workspace for wall painting and mosaics, paper and leather conservators of the Croatian Conservation Institute.
About the villa
Villa Bunić-Kaboga is an imposing monument of the Dubrovnik Gothic-Renaissance style architecture of the 15th and the 16th century, whose typological features grant it a distinctive place among the Dubrovnik summer residences. It belongs to a group of villas constructed “on the water”, thus designing the landscape in a distinct manner. The villas are characterized by a single-storey house and a vertically adjoining wing with a boathouse, dividing the enclosed garden into a front and a rear portion, at times with a side garden as well. The wing ends in a terrace on the first-floor level, along with a chapel in the most prominent examples. The Dubrovnik villa architecture is distinguished by the way in which the interior and the exterior spaces are organized - the ground floor is connected to the garden, while the first floor opens out to the landscape.
Villa Bunić-Kaboga is located on the southern coast of the Rijeka Dubrovačka (Ombla) ria mouth, at a site called Batahovina. The patrician family of Bunić (Bona) had been the owners to the estate at Batahovina as early as the 14th century, and the existing villa was built in the times of Miho son of Junije Bunić. According to the architectural style and the sculptural design, in addition to the research findings, its construction is dated between the year 1520 and 1540.
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From this first phase of construction all portions of the architecture have been preserved, as well as the layout of the rooms which distinguishes the villa as an exquisite example of the Dubrovnik villa architecture. The architectural complex is made up of a single-storey summer residence with a portico in front of the ground floor, that originally opened up to the front garden with seven arches. The portico is topped by a terrace which extends to the perimeter wall of the garden, connecting the house and its loggia to the chapel. It was in this first phase that the basic layout of rooms in the interior was set: the frontal portion of the ground floor had three equal-sized rooms, in addition to what used to be the salon; behind them was a long narrow barrel-vaulted space, resembling a hallway. All other ground-floor rooms were likewise vaulted: from the first phase of construction there is the console-supported vaulting with lunettes (except in the salon/atrium) and the mentioned barrel vault in the hallway behind them. On the first floor, on each side of the large central hall, there are two rooms; the western end of the house opens up with a loggia, a cistern is underneath it. Prior to adding the staircase projection, the hall on the first floor was directly connected to the back garden via door, in addition to the two large windows opening up to it in its rear wall..
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After the 1667 earthquake, the villa came into the possession of the patrician family of Kaboga (Caboga). Beginning with Marin (Marojica) son of Bernard Kaboga, the villa was owned by the members of the same family, among them were the commissioners of the works executed in the 18th and the 19th century.
In the second phase, the exterior of the villa was not altered, apart from the new wing with a boathouse and a terrace that was erected in front of the loggia i.e. the seventh, westernmost arch of the portico. The most notable 18th-century addition was the construction of a new staircase. On the ground floor, the format and the vaulting of the salon were changed for it to become the atrium of the new staircase; a large portion of it was adjoined to the rear façade, thereby breaking previous connections between the hall and the garden. The radical rearrangement in the layout of walls has introduced features of the Baroque and Classicist style. All plaster from the previous construction phase was torn off the walls; among the new wall paintings the highest quality are the illusionistic paintings of the ground-floor atrium and especially those in the staircase. Conceived and executed at the same time these spaces were constructed, the painted architectural elements emphasise the spatial sequences of the three flights of stairs and the four landings. Paintings in the large hall were done in the late 18th century, in light-blue colour with a darker-tone decoration, suggestive of large frames with angular tendrils. Such wall surface ornamentation, in the style of Late Rococo, imitated the panels which would elsewhere, in a more lavish variety, be executed in relief or even gilt decorations. Multiple layers of wall paint were also discovered in the side rooms of the first floor, always with marbleizations in the socle zone, testifying to the continuity of habitation and a certain type of taste.
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In the second half of the 19th century, Villa Bunić-Kaboga and the neighbouring Villa Stay became an estate of a single owner. Their gardens were connected by walkways, on the ground-floor and on the first-floor level.
In the 20th century the villa changed several owners and users, being increasingly poorly kept and subjected to inappropriate construction endeavours. During the construction of the Adriatic tourist road in the 1960ies, the front garden and the boathouse were cut by a third of their length, while the utility building was brought down. The expansion of the road and the coastal filling have severed the villa’s connection to the river Ombla, a connection that gave true meaning as to why the villa was built at this very site.
During the Croatian War of Independence, the villa site was in the immediate vicinity of the occupied territory, thus suffering injuries to the structure of the building and the stone sculpture. A portion of the first floor was for some time used as an archive, and as of the late 1990ies, building material was being stored on the ground floor and in the lower garden. The attic and a portion of the first floor had for many years been used as a substandard residence. It was the years of inappropriate usage that had the most negative impact on the condition in which this splendid monument of the Dubrovnik area villa architecture was found, prior to the onset of renovation works in April 2011.
In March 2009, the Republic of Croatia, represented by the then Minister of Culture, the Croatian Conservation Institute and the City of Dubrovnik concluded a contract with the Batahovina Foundation to finance the renovation of Villa Bunić-Kaboga. The aim of the project was to investigate, renovate and present this exceptional piece of cultural heritage in an appropriate manner and on a full scale, and assign it a suitable purpose that would guarantee its continual maintenance and inclusion into the life of the community, once the renovation was completed.
Proceeding from an objective set in the 1980ies and drawing from the experiences of the neighbouring Villa Stay, which has for many years housed the Croatian Conservation Institute’s Dubrovnik Department for Conservation, the plan is to facilitate the villa’s stronger integration into the public and cultural life of the town of Dubrovnik, by using it for the Institute’s regular activities, while also keeping it open to the general public.
Preparatory works and preliminary documentation
The preparatory works began in September 2008 and were carried out in several phases. After years of neglect, inappropriate usage and exposure to the ravages of war, it was necessary to enable access to the villa building by clearing the uncontrolled shrub, accumulated waste, stored building material and parts of the construction that have collapsed. In order to provide safe conditions for all investigations that must come prior to drawing up the project for renovation of a cultural good, intervention works were carried out to secure and support the unstable parts of the structure.
Headed by Dr. Nada Grujić, a comprehensive conservation research was conducted, which included a stylistic and historical analysis, a study of archival records and investigations of the building itself. Aside from the research aimed at confirming or rejecting the premises regarding the genesis of the house, obtained after analysing the archival records, the wall paintings were investigated as well, and a detailed list was made of the injuries to the architectural sculpture of the villa. The research eventually resulted in a Conservation Study Report, with a proposal for conservation and renovation of the villa.
The history of the villa construction and the findings of the investigative works proved that the first phase of construction was dominant in its Gothic-Renaissance architectural design. The proposed guidelines for conservation and renovation therefore insisted on returning the loggia to its original state, conserving especially those pieces of sculpture that were attributed to Petar Andrijić and his workshop, in addition to those elements of architectural stone sculpture that belonged to the standard production of the stonemason workshops in the first decades of the 16th century.
The 18th-century intervention (the atrium, the staircase and the first-floor hall) was highly valued as one of the most complex varieties of differently oriented staircase axes in the Dubrovnik area. It was therefore suggested that the contemporaneous wall paintings in these rooms also be conserved, valued all the more, as they are an integral part of the architectural concept. The side front rooms have kept some of the original mouldings, layers of paint and wall paintings; presented at least in fragments, they exhibit the taste of the owner and the culture of housing in the second phase of this villa’s history.
Archival blueprints that were discovered, in addition to the architectural records of the existing condition of the villa that have been previously drawn up for various purposes, only partially sufficed for the purposes of conservation research and the preparation of the mentioned study report, but were not sufficient basis for completing the project documentation. It was therefore that the employees of the Croatian Conservation Institute composed a detailed architectural record of the existing condition, which is a basic precondition for preparing all further technical documentation for the renovation of the villa.
With the architectural recording of the existing condition completed, it was possible to conduct an analysis of the existing condition of the bearing structure, which is in turn a precondition for the subsequent project of static consolidation of the building.
Given the historical and cultural value not only of the Villa Bunić-Kaboga building, but its garden as well, the preliminary phase also included an analysis of the existing condition of the vegetation, as a basis for preparing the horticulture design project, and eventually the revitalization of the garden.
The preliminary works were financed by the Ministry of Culture.
Once the Conservation Department in Dubrovnik had approved the complete documentation put together during the preliminary phase of the project for the renovation of Villa Bunić-Kaboga, the technical documentation began to be prepared – the initial design and the main renovation project. The Batahovina Foundation, having agreed with all the contract parties, selected Studio Vetma Arh Ltd., an architectural bureau from Dubrovnik, to be the main project designer. After several months of discussions and research into the needs of the users for its designated use, the main project for the renovation of the villa building was completed in June 2010. The resulting Certificate for the main project was issued in October the same year. In April 2011, the renovation of the villa building began. Based on a Study Report for the renovation of the Villa Bunić-Kaboga garden, the Main Project for the renovation of the garden was also initiated.
The villa renovation contractors, Građevinar-Quelin Ltd. and DOM Izgradnja Ltd. from Dubrovnik, were joined by employees of the Croatian Conservation Institute for the conservation of wall paintings and the stone sculpture of the villa. Conservation work on the wall paintings was carried out by the Dubrovnik employees of the Department for Wall Paintings and Mosaics, alongside their external associates, and sometimes assisted by their colleagues from Zagreb. The conservation treatments of the stone material were, for the most part, performed by the employees of the Split Department for Conservation, Section for Stone Sculpture, also assisted by their colleagues from Osijek and Zagreb. With the expert and project supervision and organizational support of the Studio Vetma Arh Ltd., in 2011, all those taking part in the renovation embarked on a two-year-long campaign. In what was in fact a very short period, their everyday exchange of their different fields of expertise, skills and experiences, mutual coordination, appreciation and complementarity, eventually produced the result that was presented to the public two days ago.
Without detailing all the works carried out, the systems installed, the materials applied, the procedures and technologies implemented, we will list only a few of the treatments performed during this exceptionally complex project: the replacement of the roof and all ceiling structures, the recovery of the remaining parts of the structure, other construction and craft work with maximum preservation of the existing structures, the careful dismantling and reassembling of the existing materials and furnishings (portions of the original roofing, marble and other stone tessellations, marble stairs in the interior, the exterior stone staircase), the fabrication of new furnishings modelled after the existing ones (stone closets, decorative ribs in the vaulting of the portico, pieces of carpentry and building fittings, the staircase balustrade) and a restitution of some elements of the façade according to contemporaneous examples of the Dubrovnik villa architecture in the surrounding area. The entire treatment was, as earlier mentioned, followed and complemented by the conservation of the stone sculpture and the particularly sensitive treatment of the wall paintings in the villa interior. Conservation work on the stone sculpture was supervised by Osanna Šašinka from the Section for Stone Sculpture of the Split Department for Conservation, while the works on the wall paintings were supervised by Fani Župan from the Department for Wall Paintings and Mosaics.
Detailed accounts and reports regarding the conservation work on the wall paintings and the stone sculpture will be the subject of the final and study reports that are currently being prepared. A detailed presentation of all the works performed, intended for both the experts and the interested public, is planned for some future occasion, once the final delivery is made, the technical exam performed, a work permit obtained and the villa is put into service.
Renovation work was financed by the Batahovina Fundation, with part of the funding, in terms of the value added tax, having been provided by the state budget, through the Ministry of Culture. The overall execution of the project was closely monitored and supported by the representative of the Batahovina Fundation, Dr. Ivo Felner, who was both the initiator and the promoter of the project.