Ok, you might have had to cancel your next trip (to #Croatia), but here's an opportunity for you to learn a few before the actual visiting. The usual fast-paced everyday that most of us experience, often don't allow us to dig deeper into what captured our attention about our next travel adventure.
With the extraordinary higher amount of time spent at home during this challenging year of 2020, we found ourselves reading more, learning new skills, and re-discovering talents and activities that we abandoned quite some time ago. I myself resumed my daily cooking routine which I enjoyed more than ever and planted a backyard amidst the urban New York City now thriving in vines, herbs, flowers, and berry bushes.
For all travelers who await better times (just like me) to finally reach the Croatian coast, we've prepared a quick lesson about the UNESCO sites in Croatia and the lavish, intriguing history behind them.
Once familiar with the crown jewels and what makes them so special, you will find yourself touring the historical sites like a pro.
1. Old city of Dubrovnik
The city of Dubrovnik, once also known as Ragusa is lying on the southernmost part of today's Croatia and was an important port and trading hub since its beginning in the 7th century when the Greeks settled in. While its importance as a commercial outpost rose, Dubrovnik gained independence and grew into the oligarchic Republic of Ragusa during the 12th century. Two centuries later, Dubrovnik ruled itself as a free state, even during the times of the Ottoman Empire when it was forced to pay a high annual tribute in order to preserve its independence.
Surviving an earthquake, a fire and a civil war, Dubrovnik remains what is known as "Pearl of the Adriatic" for its incredible historic Old Town which is the world's best-preserved medieval city. The city center, still inhabited with locals and vibrant thrives in Renaissance fountains and facades, Baroque churches, monasteries and palaces, marble-paved streets, all surrounded by the incredible imposing city walls, where you can actually walk and feel like part of its history, not to mention the stunning view of the surrounding islands.
2. Historical Complex of Split with the Palace of Diocletian
Diocletian, a Roman emperor who built a residence for his retirement known as the "Palace of Diocletian", which is a complex consisting of a summer house and a Roman military camp (castrum), divided into four parts with two main streets. The four gates around the walls lead to the Emperor's apartment and public, private and religious buildings, the Vestibule (section of the imperial corridor), Peristyle (a continuous porch surrounded by a row of columns), Temple of Jupiter and the Substructures - best preserved of their kind, now hosting art exhibitions.
The Complex is built out of high-quality limestone and marble from the nearby Brac island, and don't be surprised with astonishing details such as 3500 years old granite sphynx originating from Egypt.
Here's an interesting fact: When people begged Diocletian to return to the throne in order to resolve the conflicts that had arisen through Constantine's rise to power and Maxentius' usurpation, Diocletian famously replied:
"If you could show the cabbage that I planted with my own hands to your emperor, he definitely wouldn't dare suggest that I replace the peace and happiness of this place with the storms of a never-satisfied greed."
3. Plitvice Lakes National Park
The fact that by now everyone knows about this natural phenomenon is not surprising after all. When I first visited the park at 9 years old I was stunned, but little did I know that decades later, people across the U.S. where I live now, would immediately shout "Plitvice"! (struggling to pronounce the consonant-dense word), whenever the subject of Croatia is brought up.
This paradise of nature is a result of the confluence of several small rivers and subterranean karst rivers, forming 16 lakes that overflow to shallow basins.- therefore the name #Plitvice Lakes, which derived from the work "plitko", meaning shallow.
Plitvice is a place of numerous natural phenomenon that resulted in rich biodiversity. The karst area features materials such as limestone or dolomite, underground waters and passages, crowned with magnificent waterfalls and lush greens, grouped into the Upper Lakes (12) and Lower Lakes (4), that an be all toured within a one-day visit, literally walking through the lakes on wooden paths.
4. Stari Grad Plain - Hvar
The imprint of Greek settlers can be found across the coast, but this is a unique agricultural landscape that dates back in the 4th century BC, preserved in its original form and still in use. The sophisticated and advanced system of parcels divided by drywall with built-in tanks and gutters shows its effectiveness to these days, enabling the fertile farms in the area the production of grapes, olives, fruits and vegetables. This project was used multiple times across Europe for agricultural planning.
The plain is located on the island of Hvar, in the historical village of Stari Grad - a spot easily reachable by sailboat, therefore, not to be missed on your trip.
5. Defensive system of Zadar
As part of the elaborate Venetian Works of Defence built between the 16th and 17th centuries named Stato da Terra – western Stato da Mar. You may be familiar with the fact that the Republic of Venice was stretching through most of the Adriatic coast of Croatia, for four centuries (starting 1392, ending 1797).
This significant part of history has left a great architectural and cultural heritage to the coast, as Venice was a wealthy and powerful maritime republic. Citizens spoke the Venetian language, which survived to these days and which happens to be my native language.
When in #Zadar, take an approx 3 km seaside walk aside the great city walls, the impressive Land Gate, the main historical entrance to the city built in 1543 by Michele Sanmicheli, a famous Venetian architect. You'll encounter the triumphal arch, two smaller side arches for the pedestrians - considered among the finest Reinassance monuments of the region of Dalmatia.
6. Historic city of Trogir
Another Venetian achievement built on an octagonal street plan which dates back to the Ancient Greek era. This medieval city has an amazing white stone promenade by the sea, and just by strolling it you'll find yourself constantly turning your head at different attractions such as the Kamerlengo fortress (especially amusing by night), the Cathedral of St. Lawrence with its elegant bell tower, the 15thcentury loggia, clock tower, and Gothic Renaissance Cipko Palace.
The back alleys are no less charming - this is the town where I most feel the medieval vibe, and one can really feel immersed in history. #Trogir is a cultural townscape on a fortified island surrounded by two bridges on canals built to protect the city better from invaders. Not even residents were permitted to enter through the gate after sunset. A town certainly not to be skipped when visiting Dalmatia, one of the most exceptional places in Central Europe.
7. Episcopal Complex of the Euphrasian Basilica in Porec
Located on the Istria peninsula in the Northern Adriatic, described on the unesco.org website as: "The group of religious monuments in Porec, where Christianity was established as early as the 4th century, constitutes the most complete surviving complex of its type. The basilica, atrium, baptistery and episcopal palace are outstanding examples of religious architecture, while the basilica itself combines classical and Byzantine elements in an exceptional manner."
8. Stećci Medieval Tombstone Graveyards
A total of 4000 tombstones (stećci) is spread on lands of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro. The cemeteries date from the 12 to 16th century, made out of limestone were a common custom in Europe from the Middle Ages. This part of Europe had distinctive local traditions and iconography, which are carved as decorations in the stones.
Stecci are an important testimony to European artistic and archaeological heritage of medieval culture, bringing us back in time with their reliefs, symbols, and religious motives as well as scenes from everyday life.
9. Cathedral of St. James in Sibenik
Another religious object, a magnificent triple-nave catholic basilica in the city of Sibenik, consisting of three apses and a dome, is the most important architectural monument of the Renaissance in the entire country. The construction started in 1402, with plans dating back to 1298.
The cathedral "bears witness to the considerable exchanges in the field of monumental arts between Northern Italy, Dalmatia and Tuscany in the 15th and 16th centuries." ( unesco.org )