The Dalmatia Coastline extends 200 miles along the Adriatic Sea. Divided into three areas, I’m in the northernmost part visiting the Zadar and Sibenik Regions. Dalmatia was first mentioned by the Roman Empire then ravaged by barbaric tribes in the 4th century. The territory was divided in the 7th century- and the Croats occupied the north. It wasn’t until 1812 that the Kingdom of Dalmatia was formed under Hapsburg rule. After World War 2- the Dalmatia coast that was desired by many – became a vital piece of Croatia.
One of the pearls on the Adriatic is the city of Sibenik, a city written by stone. Nestled along the coast and surrounded with fortresses, Sibenik’s geographical location had important military and strategic significance. This ancient town has stood firm in all its beauty.
Cathedral of St. James
The Cathedral is by far the highest achievement in the city and stands with courage and faith- built during a period of Turkish attacks. Taking more than a century to complete, this 3-naïve Gothic/Renaissance Basilica is a true marvel of construction. The impressive dome was not the only masterpiece of Juraj Dalmatinac. Surrounding the apse of the Cathedral are 71 stone heads that represent the locals who did not care to provide funds for the Cathedral’s construction. This could not be hidden- as the church rests in the middle of the town square. You might also sit in the square and hear the church bells ringing; well I can tell you that there is no bell tower on the Cathedral. The bells you hear are a recording.
Krka National Park
The Sibenik coastline is the region full of bays, peninsulas, and islands- home to two of Croatia’s most precious National Parks. The blue and green oasis tucked in Sibenik’s hinterland is a must-see. Krka National Park is famous for the Krka river that carves its way through the region- and a quick drive from the town of Sibenik. Much to my surprise, in the middle of the park, the nature is home to a Franciscan monastery on the islet of Visovac. The Monastery can be visited by boat, the Friar will pick you up on the mainland and you can even attend Mass, tour the gardens and see how this man-made island was built through the years. Built by the Bosnian Franciscans that fled from the Turkish invasion- the Church of Our Lady of Visovac remains and has been praised for centuries. When I visited, there were eight novices on the island that would not leave the island during the “year of temptation.” The best way to see the park is to get on a ferry in the town of Skradin, where Bill Gates spends his summers on his yacht. The town is quaint, charming and the official park office is just steps away from the ferry. The ferry will take you to a drop off where you will hike to see the best sight in the park, the largest of the seven waterfalls called Skradinski Buk. I suggest making this your first stop and then hiking up to the top of the waterfall. For years the pressure of the waterfalls operated mills and even contributed to the first hydropower station in Croatia. The old mills and ethno homes can still be seen and are in function like they did centuries ago. This is by far one of my favorite parks in Croatia and well worth a visit if you are in the area.
The eastern Adriatic Sea is one of the bluest seas in the world… and it’s the most expressive with the contrast of white-grey limestone, which makes up the Kornati Islands. This cluster of islands, islets and rocks off the coast of northern Dalmatia make up another one of Croatia’s cherished National Parks. Mostly privately owned by the people of Murter, this is also the best place to begin your journey through the archipelago. The bare islands were proclaimed a national park in 1980, however hidden fields and orchards, olive and fig trees can be spotted in the small coves. Named after biggest island of Kornat, I toured the island by foot. A few things you will notice while touring the islands by sea are the stone walls that were used to separate the land during Roman times. When the poet George Bernard Shaw saw the islands- said this, “On the last day of the Creation God desired to crown His work and thus created Kornati Islands out of tears, stars and breath.”
Populated for 3000 years, I have finally reached one of the most nationalistic and spectacular cities on the Adriatic. The city of Zadar has been reconstructed many times, but today’s Zadar has shaken off most of its injuries. After driving the Venetians out, the city was occupied by Austrians, then Italianized. Almost completely destroyed in WW2, it recovered and took another devastating hit during the 1991 war. With the live and let live attributes of the city- and former capital of Dalmatia, it’s one of my favorites. The café bars sit aside Roman remains wide promenades lead to the sea and streets wind into plazas full of sights and sounds.
The region of Zadar has had its ups and downs and suffering many wounds as it was conquered and liberated seven times. I headed north to visit some islands that play key roles in the prosperity of the region to the little big town – the island of Nin. This medieval city has historical significance for its modest size. It is the sand, salt and mud that made Nin and it’s surrounding a desirable destination to the Romans. Walking through the town you will see the modernity built within remnants from the 1st century. Right outside these remains you’ll find the key ingredients to a wealthy empire. The town is recognized for its salt pools. During the Roman times, salt was like gold and the land was very rich for this reason. Today the salt is still being produced and a large quantity of it is sent to Japan. Another mineral that is highly prized is the mud that surrounds Nin. Many refer to it as medical mud and you will find people walking along Queen’s Beach covered in the mud before washing it off in the sea. If you are in Nin, give it a try and you will leave the small island nice and cured!