Heritage Sites in Croatia and Why You Should Visit Each One
Croatia has seven UNESCO World Heritage sites, which is quite a large number for a country of its size. Ranging from natural beauties to architectural wonders, these sites represent the pantheon of Croatian cultural heritage.
Diocletian’s Palace, Split
Split is the second largest city in Croatia and a tourist focal point: known for its friendly atmosphere, natural beauties and a great cultural heritage – Diocletian’s Palace. Some eighteen hundred years ago, the Roman emperor Diocletian built his retirement mansion on the coast of the Adriatic: he picked a spot which impressed him as the sea was especially clear. He enjoyed his palace for a couple of years but then he passed away; the Roman Empire collapsed in the following centuries, but life around the palace continued, and eventually, a city which would become known as Split had grown around it. Some parts of the Palace are still standing, such as its ancient walls and basements, now housing souvenir shops and vendors. Everyone can come and explore the remains of the palace; there is no entrance fee, and it continues to be Split’s most popular landmark. The Cathedral of St. Domnius, patron saint of Split, is about the same age as the palace; it features authentic Romanesque architecture and its oldest parts were actually Diocletian’s unused mausoleum.
Euphrasian Basilica, Poreč
Located in the Istrian town of Poreč, the Episcopal Complex of the Euphrasian Basilica is one of the most preserved examples of Byzantine architecture in the world. The oldest parts were built in the early 4th century AD, and some of them, such as the floor mosaic (featuring one of the earliest symbols of Christianity, a fish) stand to this day. The basilica itself, dedicated to St. Mary, is decorated by wall mosaics done by Byzantine artists, but the complex has features of various styles which were added on as the centuries passed. For example, after an earthquake in 1440 which left parts of the basilica destroyed, new windows were made in a Gothic style. This architectural diversity and the fact that it’s one of the best preserved early Christian sites in the world made it a heritage site.
St. James Cathedral, Šibenik
This 16th century Cathedral is the main sight of Šibenik. Built almost entirely out of limestone, its builders used a building technique which required no bonding material to keep the limestone blocks together. The construction lasted more than a hundred years, but the result is a marvellous example of Renaissance architecture, drawing influences from the Italian region of Tuscany. The Cathedral’s apses, which feature more than seventy portraits and sculptures of noblemen of 16th century Šibenik, add a dash of mystery to the church. Considered the most important Renaissance object in Croatia, it is listed as a UNESO Heritage site since 2000.
Hvar Old Town Plain
Although the entire Old Town of Hvar, a town on the island of the same name, features centuries’ old buildings and streets, it’s the agricultural landscape next to it that is really special. The Plain was built by the Greek colonists of the island in the 4th century BC, and it’s still in use today. Most of the Plain is still in its original form, thanks to the maintenance of stone walls, stone shelters and the water collection system. This often overlooked heritage site provides great educational experience for anyone who wishes to learn about agricultural systems of the past, and the fact that the agricultural activity at the site never stopped for 24 centuries makes it even more astonishing. The grapes and olives grown on the Plain are considered the best on the whole island.
The Historical Core of Trogir
The Historical City Core of Trogir is known for a large number of churches and palaces from various periods: there are Baroque buildings, Venetian-era Renaissance complexes, a fortress on an islet, and even Romanesque little churches such as the Church of St Lovro. But perhaps the greatest building in Trogir is the church of St. Lawrence, its west portal a masterpiece by Radovan, one of the greatest architects of the time, and the single most significant work of the Gothic style not only in Croatia but in Eastern Europe as well.
Dubrovnik Old Town
Often nicknamed “the pearl of the Adriatic”, the city of Dubrovnik boasts with several spectacular landmarks, the most popular being the ancient city walls. Dubrovnik was a powerful naval city-state from the Middle Ages to the 18th century. More than two kilometers in length, the walls are among the oldest and most preserved in all of Europe and have become the symbol of the city as they once protected the freedom of the people of Dubrovnik. They consist of three circular and fourteen quadrangular towers, with five bastions, two angular fortifications and a fortress. The Old Town of Dubrovnik is on the UNESCO List as well: featuring the largest pedestrian street in the country, Stradun, and several churches, palaces and monasteries which have made it the most prestigious destination Croatia has to offer.
Plitvice Lakes National Park
A system of sixteen lakes, world-famous for their cascades, distinctive colours (varying from crystal blue to emerald green), unspoiled nature and the beautiful landscape. They are the home of many endemic species and have many kilometers of walking trails so the visitors can experience the nature in its fullness; more than a million tourists visit the Park every year and the nearby towns and farms are becoming places of rest and recreation for those who visit. The Park was declared a part of the UNESCO World Heritage in 1979, one of the first areas of its kind to have been given this status. The water continues to shape the surroundings; destroying the travertine barriers, forming new waterfalls, canals and cascades, and this construction continues in undisturbed and unspoiled ecological conditions. Spreading over an area of circa 30 000 hectares, it’s the oldest National Park in the country.