Back in the day, the building of city walls was serious business. Attacks of nomad tribes and raiders were usual occurrences, and literally every generation witnessed a siege at least once during their lifetime. Coastal settlements were even more threatened, as pirate vessels were a constant danger. So constructing a functional defense grid was not a luxury, but a must for urban residents of the past.
However, little did they know that, centuries in the future, their strong military positions would become sites of visitor tours, café tables and luxurious dinners served by fancily dressed waiters. But they have, and for anybody wanting tospend some time in these unique monuments of a city’s bravery and determination, here is a list of Croatian walls and forts worth seeing.
The walls of Dubrovnik
Of course, we must start with the most famous walls on the Mediterranean. Dubrovnik used to be known as the city-state of Ragusa. And as every other city-state, it had to think seriously about its own security. Thanks to a good economy and strong influence in the region, Ragusa rose its ramparts in the 15th century and upgraded its already powerful safety perimeter to a new level (inhabitants were constructing defensive buildings since the 10th century). In addition to its walls, Dubrovnik features several other notable forts and towers, such as Minceta, Revelin (a club by night), St. Ivan, Bokar and Lovrijenac. For lovers of such architecture, Dubrovnik is a dream come true.
Sveti Mihovil Fortress of Ugljan
One of many reasons why the people of Dubrovnik made so many defenses were their mortal enemies, the residents of Venice (which, in the past, also functioned as a city-state). These people controlled much of present-day Croatian territory, and have also constructed their own fortresses,one of them being Sveti Mihovil on the island of Ugljan. Constructed in the 13th century, it served as a military post and scouting position. Although today utterly abandoned and awaiting professional reconstruction, Sveti Mihovil provides gorgeous view of the islands surrounding Zadar and National Park Kornati.
Fortica of Hvar
Another construct of the Venetians, this fort was made in the 16th century. It was severely damaged in a gunpowder explosion, but quickly repaired, bearing witness to its strategic value to the state of Venice. For a short period, it was even run by French soldiers while Austrian forces added its barracks and watchtowers. The fort’s walls embrace the town of Hvar similarly as the walls of Dubrovnik do to their city. Having a tour around them will provide you with a magnificent view of the island and Pakleni Otoci.
In addition, Hvar features several notable houses of the Hektorovic family, one being a unique fortified mansion, home of important Croatian renaissance writer Petar Hektorovic.
The abandoned castle of Hreljin
Hreljin used to be an important settlement in the middle ages, mentioned as early as 1225. However, once the road of Karolina was constructed, connecting Karlovac with the nearby town of Bakar, Hreljin lost its importance. Finally, it was abandoned in 1790, becoming a ghost village. Yet, from a tourist’s point of view, that just added to its charm. Visiting Hreljin’s castle, which is also abandoned, might be an interesting experience, as this stone giant still proudly guards the cliff of Bakarac, embraced in its own mystical solitude and tales of ages long gone.
Fort Nehaj of Senj
The symbol of Senj is a powerful fort Nehaj. It’s name literally means “Do not worry,” meaning that the people of Senj have nothing to be afraid of as long as Nehaj stands firm. In order to acquire building materials for the fort, Croatian generals ordered the destruction of churches and monasteries around 16th-century Senj. This might be seen as controversial by today’s standards, but those sacral sites were already damaged by frequent Turkish assaults, and were often used as hideout spots by their troops.
Fortress Gripe in Split
Yet another Venetian fort, Gripe was constructed in the 17th century on a tactically important hill of the same name. It was a time of Kandyan war, during which Venice ferociously clashed with the strong Ottoman Empire. The invention and implementation of cannon warfare made the walls of the Diocletian palace insufficient to provide security to Split, so additional buildings had to be constructed.
Today, Gripe is home to the Croatian Maritime Museum.
Klis, the old fort
Existing as far back as the 5th century, Klis fortress is one of the most important sites for Croatian history. The royal Croatian dynasty of Trpimirovic used it as the heart of their state, and held it firm until their extinction in the 11th century. However, its fame and importance once again skyrocketed as it became an important military point, a base of well-known Croatian warriors known as Uskoks.
Uskoks were fighting the already mentioned Ottoman Empire, and were quite successful, knowing their enemy was a fear of Europe at large. However, the Turks managed to conquer Klis in 1537 and turned it into their own fort. Their presence lasted for more than a century, but they were fundamentally chased off by joint operations of Croats and Venetians.
Slavonski Brod Fortress
Part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site List, the fortress of Slavonski Brod never managed to prove its combat efficiency. No army ever challenged the thick walls of this star-shaped structure, the largest fort ever made in Croatia, and one of the largest in Europe. Prince Eugene of Savoy himself commanded its construction in the 18th century, as Turkish danger was still present. Later upgrades, including the fort chapel dedicated to St. Anne, were ordered by Maria Theresa.
Brod Fortress was a gargantuan project, and because it was never militarily engaged, it remained quite preserved. Despite that, Croatian authorities are constantly commencing repairs and restorations of the fort, as years of service can do as much harm as bullets.
Forts, walls, castles and towers. To some, symbols of war and conquest. To others, monuments of bravery and determination to survive and exist. Either way, there are plenty of them in Croatia.