History of Croatia

Croatia can itself provide a cross section of cultures, which from ancient times, all the way until today, played an important role in Europe.

History of Croatia

Admirers of old architecture and historical buildings can certainly be in their element here – as Croatia is full of well preserved sights from every historical period. Just as always here, attention has been paid to beautiful, almost artistic building and as different artistic and architectural styles have been accepted, Croatia can itself provide a cross section of cultures, which from ancient times, all the way until today, played an important role in the Mediterranean region of Europe.

Medieval Dubrovnik
Certainly one of the most famous postcards of Croatia is a picture of the old town of Dubrovnik surrounded by its town walls. You enter into the medieval centre of the town through two gates – The Pile Gate and the Ploče Gate, and it is guarded by four towers – Minčeta, Bokar, Sveti Ivan (Saint John) and Revelin, while the western exterior part of the walls overlooks the Lovrijenac fortress, a perfect stage for theatre performances but also for romantic weddings. The old town holds a large number of public and private, sacral and secular buildings, created in various ages from the original foundation of the city in the 7th century. The centre of public life is the Luža square and the main streets of Placa or Stradun. On Luža square still today proudly stands Orlando’s column, marking the place where in history various information was announced, ceremonies were conducted and public penalties given out. Today it is the place where the official opening and closing of the "Dubrovnik Summer Festival" takes place, and the main place where the Feast of Saint Blaise is held. The main door of the baroque church of Saint Blaise, the city’s patron saint, opens on to Luža Square. Here is the beautiful Sponza palace, which once served as the customs-house, the mint, the state treasury, the bank, and in the Rennaissance era the Dubrovnik academy. In the next street, Pred Dvorom, is the Rector’s Palace, built in a gothic-rennaissance style according to the ideas of Onofrio della Cava, and later a beautiful baroque atrium was attached to it, in which today classical concerts are held, among them the festival of Julian Rachlin and friends. The city’s bell-tower ascends over the southern end of the Stradun, while on the opposite side is Onofrio’s great fountain, a 16 sided receptacle covered with a dom, one of the final points in the old water supply system. Take a peek at the nearby Franciscan monastery with its beautiful cloisters and at the oldest pharmacy in Southern Europe, in which are stored old ceramic pharmacy bowls. When the day comes to its end, and the daily heat drops, it is the right time to climb the town walls. Enjoy the view over the roofs of the old town. Over the old town harbour Porporela, can be seen the little island of Lokrum, which is a special attraction. Of course add it to the list of places to visit.

Ston’s Walls and Forts
These impressive walls are considered to be the second biggest in size in the world, so that they are sometimes called the European Wall of China. This huge complex of walls and towers was built by the people of Dubrovnik between 1333 and 1506, so as to protect the city and its saltworks which were in that period, brought Dubrovnik considerable income. The plans were followed and the small towns of Ston and Mali Ston were fortified. Originally the walls were seven kilometres long, however during history this region was hit by several strong earthquakes in which a part of the walls collapsed, and today they extend to a length of 5.5 kilometres. The walls in 2009 were rennovated and opened to the public. The towns of Ston and Mali Ston, which are found at the foot of the walls, today are tourism centres. In Ston you can go to the church of Saint Michael, in which the oldest frescoes in this region are preserved, the church of Our Lady of Lužine from the Romanesque period with a bell-tower from the 18th century, the Knight’s Palace from the 14th century, the Veliki Kaštio, a fortress at the Southeastern corner of the town, which was a part of the fortified complex. This region is famous for the cultivation of oysters, so here there are a large number of restaurants which have on their menus this type of shellfish, which is said to be an aphrodisiac. During the summer months there is the Ston summer, with its many cultural and entertainment events. And you can refresh yourself at the town’s 16th century fountain.

Town of Korčula
The old town of Korčula was built in the shape of a heart, encircled by walls and towers, with as many as nine churches and the cathedral of Saint Mark, the palaces of aristocratic families, narrow streets in the shape of a „fishbone“, with imposing land and sea town gates, which according to some documents date back to the 10th century. The old town centre that we know today is mostly from the 15th and 16th century and later. In that period there was no shore built on the side of the walls facing the sea and so it seemed like town was rising up from the sea. According to the scarce documentation there is, and according to the legends passed on by the inhabitants for centuries, here in 1254, was born the most famous world traveller and diplomat at the court of the Mongol emperor Kubla Khan, Marco Polo, and, in one of the biggest battles of the middle ages, he was imprisoned by Korčula. Aside from the house of Marco Polo, in the old town centre, you will find beautifully decorated houses and palaces since a stonecutting craft flourished here. However apart from its beautiful architecture, Korčula offers many interesting events. Visitors to the town of Korčula can enjoy the spectacular knights games called Moreška or the colourful processions in which participate three town brotherhoods: All Saints, Saint Michael and Saint Roko. The most beautiful procession is in the evening of Good Friday, when the brothers, dressed in their different church robes carry lit big and little candles and go in a line around the old town.

Diocletian’s Palace
Diocletian’s palace was built at the end of the 3rd and beginning of the 4th century, and in that period no one dreamt that in fact in this place would be a great city centre - today’s Split. What’s more, in that period, this space was dominated by Salona, today’s Solin, the fourth biggest city in the Roman empire. Diocletian’s palace, constructed in the style of a military camp, a regular four sided shape surrounded with walls and towers on its corners. However, the building as a whole didn’t have a direct model in construction terms and is considered to be wholly original. Inside the walls, everything was organised for all of the Emperor’s needs: the Emperor’s chambers were located in the southern part, while in the northern area were his servants and army. Already in this period, running water was available in the palace, thanks to a water supply system with its source being the river Jadro, and part of that water supply system is still in operation today. The emperor spent the last few years of his life in the palace, and the story goes that in the year 480, the last lawful emperor of the Western Roman empire, Julius Nepos, known as Romulus Augustulus was poisoned here. As the centuries passed, the original architecture was changed to what is now the best preserved Late Classical palace in the world, however the inhabitants of the city, later called Spalato, and afterwards Split, preserved the palace with just a few changes during the Byzantine, Venetian, and Austro-Hungarian periods. Even to today the beauty of the palace’s peristyle is preserved, Diocletian’s mausoleum – today’s cathedral of Saint Duje, Jupiter’s temple, colonnades along the streets, early Christian chapels, Romanesque houses, and from later periods, the Gates of Andrija Buvina and the architectural work of Giorgio da Sebenico. Diocletian’s palace is famous as a national and world treasure, and was included on UNESCO’s list of world cultural and historical heritage, in 1979.

Historical Town of Trogir
The ancient town of Trogir was founded long ago, in the 3rd century B.C., by Greek colonists from the island of Vis. In that antique centre lies the historical centre of Trogir, today the most well preserved Romanesque Gothic town in central Europe. Because of its location on an islet, inside the strait that links the mainland with the island of Čiovo, Trogir is certainly the most beautiful from a bird’s eye perspective, and to confirm this climb up to the 15th century Kamerlengo fortress, which is found on the southwestern edge of the town. This fortress was once the quarters of the military garrision, however as unpeaceful times have past, among its walls is now the place where the town’s summer stage is to be found. Along the southern walls is, from 1593, the town gate, with an inscription, which praises the once Roman town and its inhabitants. Almost every house in the town has stylistic features, a herald or inscription, and a large number of palaces and houses, most of which are from the 13th century are preserved as are 10 churches. The charming town square surrounded by the knight’s palace, houses and the palaces of noble families, among them the most luxurious being the one of the Ćipiko family, and the town loggia which serves as a courthouse. Right in the square is found the ruins of the early medieval church of Saint Mary, and surely the most significant building – the cathedral of Saint Lawrence with its fascinating portal, the master-piece of Master Radovan, the most important example of Romanesque-Gothic art in Croatia. With a wide range of art works, from Romanesque, Gothic and Rennaissance works all the way to the Baroque period, Trogir over the centuries has amazed a large number of travellers.

Šibenik Cathedral
If you go through the streets of the old town in search of the Šibenik cathedral you will easily find it. Its side wall forms the border of the beautiful central square in which every June the Children’s festival is held. This incredibly beautiful cathedral of Saint James, the pride of the town, is an interesting presentation of the transition from the floral Gothic period to the Rennaissance. Romantics will happily spend time sitting in the small intimate square while the smell of the sea and salt reaches them from the immediate vicinity, and observe how the past pervades the present. Built from the stone, constructed from big stone blocks on the place of the former smaller cathedral, this triple-apsed basilica and chapel is unusual because it doesn’t have a bell-tower. It uses instead a tower on the nearby town walls. In the construction of the cathedral the work of a large number of Italian and local masters is seen, and you will very quickly see the garland of 72 engraved Rennaissance portraits through which Giorgio da Sebenico recorded his prominent contemporaries. Perhaps, Nikola Firentinac, brilliantly executed the dome and around the inside of it, sculptures of the saints, which he made himself are placed. If you start to explore the interior, a large number of other master-pieces await you, a few altars, a treasury and two Bishops tombs located under the choir stalls. Here there is rich furniture on which worked the best artists of the 15th century, among them Juraj Petrović, the author of wooden crucifixes. Because of its iconography, sculptures, and selection of secular themes, the cathedral announced the new spirit of humanism.

Saint Donatus and the Forum in Zadar
The church of Saint Donatus in Zadar is the most valuable architectural monument from the early middle ages and a unique symbol of the town of Zadar. Although its style is similiar to the centralised three apsed churches of the early Byzantine and Carolingian period, because of its monumentality, unusual cylindrical shape and two interior levels, it will surely intrigue you with its originality. According to the legend it was built by the Zadar bishop Donatus in the 9th century and in the 10th it is mentioned in the famous work "De Administrando Imperio" by the Byzantine emperor Constantine VII. Originally dedicated to the Holy Trinity, it was called by the name of Saint Donatus from the 15th century. A large part of its architectural decoration, like its monolithic columns, originates from antique churches. Taken mainly from the ruined Roman forum, on which are the foundations of the church, so that one can see the scattered bases of the Roman columns lying beside Saint Donatus. Already for a number of years the church has not been used for religious purposes, and until the middle of the 20th century it was the home of the Zadar Archaeological museum. However, Saint Donatus won’t only enthrall you with its longevity and beauty. Given its exceptional acoustics, which enables whispers or the softly played instruments to be heard clearly, it has already for decades been used for musical events, such as "Musical Evenings in Saint Donatus", the famous international festival of medieval renaissance music, which happens in Zadar in the summer months, a special festival which is absolutely unforgettable.

Ancient Pula
To find a Roman amphitheatre, you don’t have to travel even to Rome. It is enough to go to Pula, where one of the most well preserved arenas in the world is located. Back in the distant 1st century B.C., the foundation for the first amphitheatre were laid here, however today’s shape of the Pula arena or Vespasian’s amphitheatre was received in the 1st century A.D, during the rule of Flavius. Legend says that the emperor Vespasian gave the order for the building of this amphitheatre in honour of his lover, who had territory here. Until the 5th century, gladiators fought inside, just as in other arenas, entertaining up to 20,000 spectators with the spilling of blood. The arena with its size points to the fact that once it played an extremely important role in the lives of this town’s inhabitants. If you go inside it and sit on one of the stone blocks, you are sure to begin to think about the role of the spectator in those terrible battles. However, the time of the gladiators has passed, and the Arena today is used for wholly humanitarian purposes, among them as a stage for the Histria Festival, the Pula Film Festival and a large number of concerts. Local and foreign musicians, just adore to hold their concerts here. That’s why Elton John, Cesaria Evora, Jamiroquai and others have played here. Enjoying music on a summer night among the wooden and stone walls under a starry sky is simply an unrepeatable experience. In the arena, every event becomes a spectacle.

Euphrasian Basilica
If you are in search of dazzling Byzantine art and brightly coloured mosaics go to Poreč which has a real jewel from that period, the Eurphrasian Basilica. Built in the sixth century in the time of the Bishop Euphrasius and the Emperor Justinian I, and belonging to a large episcopal complex, which aside from the basilica includes the parish church, a sacristy, a baptistery with a bell tower, the votive chapel of Saint Maurus and the nearby Bishop’s palace. Although the building has been damaged by earthquakes, wars and fires, its authentic floor mosiacs from the 5th century remain preserved, and are representative examples of early Christian art. The portrait of Christ and the faces of martyrs, like the fascinating composition of the Nativity are amazing with their precise filigree work. The oldest fragments of the mosaic, in Saint Maurus’ votive chapel, date from the 3rd century. Maurus was the first bishop of Poreč and its martyr, and in the basilica his powers are preserved. By following the floor mosaics and the preserved inscriptions it is possible to follow all the phases of the construction, adaptation and rennovation of the basilica, but also the reconstruction of the Christian community’s life in Poreč. Today’s shape of the basilica comes from the 13th and 15th centuries, while the church tower was built in the 16th century. The apse is richly decorated with figurative mosaics, which together with the mosaics of the church of San Vitale in Ravenna, are the most important examples of mosaic art in Europe, and along with its facade, could be included in the list of most beautiful preserved works of Byzantine art. In the year 1997, the Euphrasian Basilica was included in the UNESCO list of World Cultural Heritage.

Zagreb’s Upper Town
A walk through Zagreb’s Upper Town is not only romantic, but also instructive given that its streets and houses speak of many interesting stories about life in old Zagreb. In 1242 the king Bela IV, with a famous charter, the Golden Bull, pronounced that Gradec, be a free town of the realm, giving it a preferential position. Medieval Gradec, today Zagreb’s Upper Town, lies on a hill inside walls that were raised in the middle of the 13th century. There were once four entrances into the town, however today only one is preserved, the Stone Gate (Kamenita Vrata), in which in 1760 the small baroque chapel of Mary, Mother of God was built. Zagreb citizens gladly stop here and light prayer candles, and the passage is always illuminated with their flickering light. Saint Mark’s Square, in the centre of the Upper Town and once the main square of Gradec is the scene of a large number of important events in Croatia’s past and present. Besides the church of Saint Mark, with its characteristic roof decorated with heralds, are found the highest Croatian state institutions. They are Banski Dvori, the home of the Croatian governors, who together with the adjoining baroque palace marks the seat of the government of the Republic of Croatia. On the corner of Saint Mark’s square and Ćirilometodska street, for as long as anyone can remember is the place of town hall. A plaque on its facade recalls the more important historical events, such as the first performance of the Croatian opera of Vatroslav Lisinski "Love and Malice". The most beautiful baroque church in Zagreb, the church of Saint Catherine, which the Jesuits built at the beginning of the 17th century, dominates the other square of the Upper Town. One hundred metres west from here is the Dverce town palace, besides which there once stood a small town gate. Lotrščak tower protected it and from that tower nowadays the Grički cannon marks midday. Strossmayer’s promenade attracts lovers with its beautiful view over the city on one side and Kaptol, with the cathedral and Church of Saint Mary, on the other. Here you will find an unusual sculpture of a poet, who is resting on a bench - a monument to the poet and writer Antun Gustav Matoš. This old man, popular with Zagreb citizens, sits exactly as if he is inviting you to join him.