Andrija Šimić: The Tale of a Croatian Freedom Fighter

Andrija Šimić, born on 22nd November 1833, in the small village of Alagovac, in Ružići in western Herzegovina, was one of the most prominent Croatian hajduks during the 19th century. The hajduks, known as outlaws or freedom fighters, were mainly of Christian background and resisted the oppression and tyranny of the Ottoman Empire. Šimić’s hajduk gang, active in the second half of 1868 and through 1869 in Turkish territory, would attack and rob passengers, blackmail rich Muslims and Christians, and occasionally resort to robbing the poorer passengers when desperate for money. However, Šimić maintained a moral code and prohibited his partners from intercepting and robbing women.

In August 1870, Šimić’s gang robbed people on their way to a fair in Duvno, near Imotski, which led to the mobilization of both Austrian and Turkish authorities to plan their arrest. After evading capture for a while, Šimić was eventually caught in Podosoje on 14th January 1871 and handed over to the authorities in Imotski. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and spent 31 years in prison before being pardoned by the emperor in May 1901. Upon his release, Šimić received a warm welcome in Split, where he was regarded as a living legend.

Despite his criminal past, Šimić was well-liked in Dalmatian Zagora and Herzegovina due to his actions to help the poor, such as buying Ottoman land to build houses and providing horses and cows to the people of Vinica. He died in 1905 and is buried in the village of Runovići.

There is an interesting story related to one of Hajduk Andrijica’s sabers, which he gave as a gift to the Bitanga family in Imotski. The saber was hidden by the family in 1945 after the communist authorities searched and seized weapons from households. It was rediscovered by chance in 2012 and now greets visitors at the entrance to their wine cellar.

The Bitanga family believed themselves to be indebted to Šimić due to an encounter between him and Frane Bitanga, who was robbed of municipal money while working as a delivery person. Šimić took pity on Frane and ordered his gang to return the money so that he would not lose his job. This act of kindness led to the family’s belief that they owed a debt to Šimić, and when he was released from prison, he was invited to lunch at their house, where he presented them with his saber.

While Šimić’s physical and intellectual strength had been legendary, when he arrived at the Bitanga’s home, he was described as an exhausted and stooped old man. This caused disappointment for some, having imagined him as the heroic figure from the legends.

Andrija Šimić’s charisma and glory played a role in naming Split’s football club Hajduk. A poem written by Ivan Mimica during their time together in prison describes Šimić as a short old man.

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