Wall Towns in Croatia
There are several towns in Croatia with impressive fortifications; although their lost their military purpose centuries ago, they still stand as a monument to times long, long gone.
The city walls of Dubrovnik are probably the most famous sight of Croatia. But the truth is other Croatian cities have fortifications and walls as massive and beautiful as Dubrovnik’s. A place of long, turbulent history, towns had to have fortifications as protection from invaders. Here are some other Croatian towns with impressive walls.
Korčula is a town located on an island of the same name. The island was first settled by the Greeks, then by the Illyrians and finally by the Croats in the 9th century. Since the 14th century, it has been surrounded by thick stone walls. The town was designed in the so-called fish bone shape: narrow streets branching off the spine of the main street, thus resembling a fish skeleton.
That shape was used to minimize the effects the sun and strong winds. Nowadays, the entire historical part of the town, the Old Town, is surrounded by oval shaped walls, protecting the town from enemies from both sea and land. There were fifteen towers once, but only two towers still standing, the Balbi and the Capello (both dating from the 15th century). There are two entrances to the fortified Old Town: the so-called Land Gate from the 1650s, built under the quadrangular Tower of Revelin, and the Sea Gate, leading from the town harbour.
As you can see, there are several other towns in Croatia with impressive fortifications; although their lost their military purpose centuries ago, they still stand as a monument to times long, long gone.
The town of Ston is located some sixty kilometers away from Dubrovnik. Centuries ago, Dubrovnik (Republic of Ragusa was the official name) was a naval city state which ruled over Ston and its sister village, Mali Ston. The settlements had great strategic importance as it was the location of salt pans and salt mines, which greatly contributed to Dubrovnik’s wealth. Since the salt was very valuable, Dubrovnik faced many attackers trying to capture Ston, and massive defensive stone walls were built in the 15th century.
Heavily fortified, there were five fortresses, thirty rectangular and ten round towers along the 7 kilometers long walls, with residential buildings around the edges. Also, back then, the entire town had only six streets inside the walls: the two gates were the only entrances. The entire complex connects three fortresses, one on which is built on a hill above the town.
Although some parts of the walls have been demolished by the Austro-Hungarian authorities in the 19th century (who took the walls’ building material and used to build community buildings), most of the walls remain standing to this day. Sometimes nicknamed “The Great Wall of Europe”, the walls survived a devastating earthquake in 1996. After a few years of restoration, they were reopened for tourists in 2009.
The second largest and the most populated island in Croatia, Krk, has been inhabited ever since the Neolithic. The walls around the town of Krk were built between the 12th and 15th century by the Venetians. The great tower at the main gate is also from that time. Historical sources often mention the walls as the Venetian government constantly upgraded and strengthened the walls. Archeological research proved that the town had at least seven other towers. Furthermore, it was discovered that previous inhabitants of the island, The Romans, had built their own walls around 1st century BC.
The town of Motovun lies in the heart of Istria. Founded in the Middle Ages, it was built on a 277-meter-high hill. If you want to reach it by foot, you’ll have to climb the longest staircase in Istria, consisting of 1052 steps. Motovun was an important military fort in the Middle Ages, and its walls ensured the city could not be conquered easily. Walking them you’ll enjoy the spectacular landscape, green fields and the nearby Motovun forest.
The oldest parts of the walls date back to the 11th and 12th century. The main bulwark was fortified a century later, and in the beginning of the 15th century, Motovun had grown into a Gothic stronghold. For most of that time the city was ruled by the Venetians, who invested a fortune into fortifying the city. Still, a part of the wall was taken down because of a peace treaty between Venice and Austria. Nowadays the walls are a walkaway to enjoy the view on the surrounding landscape. The entire town is connected through a system of external and internal fortifications, and the walls are one of the greatest examples of Venetian colonial architecture, drawing influence from Romanesque, Renaissance and Gothic styles.
Grožnjan is the hidden gem of Istria. First mentioned in historical records in 1102, it’s safely tucked on a hill above the Mirna river valley. The parts of the walls which are standing today were mostly built in the 14th century, between 1360 and 1367: the Umag captain Pietro Dolfin moved his seat to Grožnjan and fortified the town defences. The walls were renovated again as a precaution from potential Ottoman attacks in 1446. If you climb the walls, you can see the Adriatic. The town actually developed on a prehistoric settlement, which Romans later used to build a fort. Tourists can visit the four Roman tombstones housed in the town’s Venetian loggia (which served as a meeting place for the noblemen and was built in 1557). Other historical landmarks include the Church of St. Vitus (the altar of the church was donated by Pope Pius VII who claimed it had special powers), and the mural-decorated Grožnjan Chapel.
The town is nowadays “a town of artists”, with 64 art galleries. It’s a renowned art colony where painters and sculptors come to renovate abandoned houses and turn them into art. Houses are so close to each other and the town still has a medieval atmosphere of sorts: the newest building in it was built 275 years ago! During its long and turbulent history, it changed hands multiple times and was owned by several Venetian noble families.