Milky Way from Grobnik – a story about milkmaids

Milky Way from Grobnik – a story about milkmaids

Diligent women called mlikarice (milkmaids) were supplying Rijeka with milk, passing daily a long way on foot with heavy milk containers on their back. This is their story.


Due to its location cramped between the coastline and the mountainous hinterland, Rijeka lacks conditions for agricultural and livestock production. And like in every city, neither asphalt nor concrete nor noises are favourable to such production. Thus Rijeka obtained the majority of such foodstuffs from its rural surroundings. A large portion originated from Grobničko polje (Grobnik Field). There were many households keeping great numbers of cows in the barns. Grobnik citizens were using cow milk in their everyday diet, either fresh or processed into cheese, whilst a part of the milk was delivered to the citizens of Rijeka. In the pre-modern food processing industry days, this task was left to women, who brought milk into the city in large milk containers. In Chakavian dialect, they were called mlikarice (milkmaids).

Their life was anything but easy. Living in the countryside, they would wake up in the early hours of the morning to light up the fireplace. Then they would make coffee for their, still sleeping, families, milk the cows and finally burden their backs with containers full of fresh milk. Before buses connected Rijeka with its hinterland, they went to the city on foot. That sometimes meant as many as 15 kilometres in one direction. The load on their backs weighed 60-70 kilograms. At first they carried the containers in wicker baskets, later replacing them with backpacks. Apart from milk, they also used to bring wood into the city, to sell it as firewood. And then back home, by the same route.

In time, the footpath from the village of Hrastenica to lower Orehovica they used to take, was named Mlikaričin put (Milkmaid’s path). A Milky Way pouring from Grobnik pastures to Rijeka dried up in the late 1990s, when the last of the milkmaids disappeared.

But one can still be seen in Rijeka. A sculpture modelled after a real person, milkmaid Antonija Reljac from the village of Podhum stands at Mljekarski Square. She holds a petroleum lamp in her hand because she would set off on her journey towards Rijeka during the night, while others were still sleeping.