Historical and Architectural Sites | Croatia Unbound

Historical and Architectural Sites

Walls of Dubrovnik

WALLS OF DUBROVNIK 

Dubrovnik’s medieval walls hem in Old Town Dubrovnik and its City Port, a string of stone that runs 6365 feet (1940 meters). The long-standing wall comprised of forts, bastions, towers, fortresses has become one of Dubrovnik’s most recognizable landmarks as well as the reason for the city’s inclusion on UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 1970.

The walls’ construction began back in the 10th century and proved a formidable force against invading armies. Major construction continued on the wall over the course of the 12th and 13th centuries, though the most recognizable additions came in the 14th century when fortresses were added to the walls to strengthen their defenses.

Walking along the high walls provides some of the best views of the heart of Dubrovnik. Dubrovnik’s marble streets, well-preserved Gothic, Baroque, and Renaissance architecture, and azure waters have earned the city its epithet as the “Pearl of the Adriatic,” and it’s wholly unsurprising that flamboyant Lord Byron found his paradise on its shores.

CHURCH OF ST. DONATUS

CHURCH OF ST. DONATUS 

The Church of St. Donatus remains one of Croatia’s most famous monuments from the early 9th century (early Middle Ages) and now serves as a symbol of Zadar. It’s one of the only buildings to have survived the Mongol’s invasion of Croatia in the 13th century, making the Byzantine-style church an important cultural artifact.

The church was known as the Church of the Holy Trinity up until the 15th century, at which point it was renamed for the bishop who had it built, St. Donat. Though services are no longer held there, it now serves as a concert hall as the church’s circular shape and stark interior create incredible acoustics. 

Diocletian's Palace

DIOCLETIAN'S PALACE

Diocletian’s Palace in many ways belies its name; as a former military fortress, august imperial residence, and bustling town with serpentine streets laden with restaurants, shops, and people, it’s more of a town than a palace. It’s more of a home than a cultural monument.

Emperor Diocletian, who withdrew from the Roman throne and retired to Split around 300 A.D., built himself a lavish retirement home. See it for yourself on our Adventure of Split tour.

The historical complex of Diocletian’s Palace houses a wealth of architectural and historical remains alongside its boisterous population. The remains of Diocletian’s original palace are scattered throughout the city. Medieval fortifications, 12th-13th century Romanesque churches, 15th-century Gothic palaces, and palaces built in the Baroque and Renaissance style can also be found throughout the city. Some sites in Diocletian’s Palace are more popular than others; check out the three most visited sites below!

St. Duje (Domnius) Cathedral

The St. Duje Cathedral and its bell tower sits in Peristil’s central square. The octagonal cathedral was originally constructed as Diocletian’s mausoleum, and with its 24 encircling columns, rows of Corinthian columns trimming its vaulted interior, and frieze featuring Emperor Diocletian alongside his wife, it’s definitely a mausoleum fit for a former Roman emperor.

The cathedral also sports 13th century wooden doors at the entrance that depict scenes from the life of Christ as well as spectacularly carved altars and murals.

Jupiter’s Temple

The Temple of Jupiter, considered to be one of the world’s best-preserved Roman temples, lies west of Peristil. Though rather small, the Temple of Jupiter houses a great deal in its rectangular frame. Blocks, each with unique motifs, form the vaulted ceiling trimmed with a frieze, and below the temple lies a crypt. A 12th century baptismal font, stone sarcophaguses, and statue of St. John were added to the temple when the temple was refashioned into St. John’s Baptistery in the Middle Ages. A headless granite sphinx imported from Luxor, Egypt guards the temple.

Grgur Ninski Statue

Grgur Ninski served as Split’s archbishop in the 10th century and has been remembered as the man who opposed the pope and delivered services in the Croatian language rather than Latin so that the populace could understand. Ivan Mestrovic crafted a statue honoring Ninski in 1929.

While the statue had previously been located in the Peristil’s central square, it was taken down in WWII, cut into three separate pieces, and buried underground in order to hide it from occupying troops. After, Ninski’s statue was erected outside of Diocletian’s Palace by the Eastern, “Golden Gate” entrance.

It is believed that touching Ninski’s toes bring luck. As years have passed, Ninski’s toes have been rubbed golden by visitors hoping to catch a bit of luck.

Euphrasian Basilica

EUPHRASIAN BASILICA 

Poreč (pronounced por-etch) sits on Istria’s western coast, and the Euphrasian Basilica is its top site. Bishop Euphrasius ordered the construction of today’s basilica between 543 and 554 after noticing the poor conditions of the previous basilica. Now, it boasts nine naves, incredible sculptures, and marble columns imported from Constantinople (now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople…you know, because it got the works). Its crowning feature, literally, are the Byzantine mosaics that line the apse featuring Christ, Mary, and the apostles. Oh, and Bishop Euphrasius as well. With its incredibly intact Byzantine art, it earned its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Euphrasian Basilica houses a complex of religious monuments including:

  • Episcopal Palace
  • Baptistery
  • Atrium
  • Church
  • Memorial Chapel
Pula Amphitheatre

PULA AMPHITHEATRE 

Pula’s locals know its 1-st century amphitheatre as “the Arena.” The oval structure, crafted from locally-sourced limestone, was originally created during the reign of Emperor Vespasian to rival Rome’s Colosseum. Gladiators also waged war against one another in the central arena, with up to 20,000 spectators looking on. In the Middle Ages, knights served their liege in tournaments and riotous fairs were hosted in the amphitheatre.

These days, Croatians use the arena for much less violent pursuits such as film festivals and concerts. Underground passages which once held waiting gladiators now hold exhibitions for Istria’s history of olive growing and viticulture. If you’re hoping to check out ancient mills alongside olive and grape presses in an underground tunnel (which, admittedly, is an oddly specific hope), look no further.

Stradun/Placa Street

STRADUN (OR PLACA) STREET

Whether you know it as Placa Street or Stradun Street, it’s Dubrovnik’s main promenade. The polished stone street stretches between the two town gates, dividing the town and serving as the city’s urban core.

Placa/Stradun street was originally created to help aid the growing socioeconomic ties between the Roman-Greek settlement on Lave and the Croatian-Slav settlement on the mainland. It was ultimately paved with limestone in 1468, with one half of the street paved in a fish rib pattern facing one way while the other half of the street features the same pattern facing the other direction. However, Placa’s uniform rows of stone houses constructed in Baroque style didn’t come into being until after the earthquake of 1667, which destroyed much of the street’s old quaint diversity.

Trakošćan Castle

TRAKOŠĆAN CASTLE

Trakošćan Castle appears to be a whimsical castle worthy of gracing a Disney movie with its round turrets, lush gardens, and white-stone elegance. It’s fairytale worthy looks have made it Croatia’s most famous castle, and its been repurposed as a museum with its cultivated gardens, man-made lake, and lush interior on display.

The 13th century Trakošćan Castle was originally built as an observation fortress to help defend against the Ottoman Turks and was therefore neatly situated atop a hill in Hrvatsko Zagorje. Though Trakošćan has gone through several owners and renovations over the course of its history, the castle didn’t acquire its current modish, Neo-Gothic look until the 19th century.

TRSTENO ARBORETUM

TRSTENO ARBORETUM

Trsteno, a small town only 13km northwest of Dubrovnik, makes for an excellent day trip for those interested in history or horticulture. The Arboretum houses over 300 species of exotic trees and shrubs, with the pièce de résistance being two Oriental Plane Trees each over 500 years old.

Trsteno Arboretum has been around since the Renaissance, though not as a government protected arboretum. The Gučetić-Gozze family declared the site of today’s Trsteno Arboretum as his summer villa in 1502, and in la mode du temps for Renaissance patricians, the summer residence encompassed a grand garden, aqueduct, fountain structure of Neptune and his nymphs, and a large terrace looking over the sea.

The family maintained the gardens until a communist regime confiscated them in 1948; it wasn’t until the subsequent Croatian (then Yugoslav) Academy of Science claimed control that the arboretum started becoming what we see today. That being said, Trsteno Arboretum took some hits during the Croatian War of Independence/Homeland War, damaging a large portion of the Arboretum. Luckily, the Trsteno Arboretum is “growing strong” and recovering nicely (there’s a nice House Tyrell reference for all you GOT fans).  

FUN FACT:

Trsteno Arboretum served as yet another film location for Game of Thrones because the Tyrell’s do love their flowers.

Check out the unique sites and structures Croatia has to offer with Croatia custom travel. Contact us at (800) 214-0579 or info@unbound.travel.