If you do a lot of sightseeing, chances are you’re familiar with UNESCO’s World Heritage Site list, a compilation of exceptionally significant historic and cultural sites across the globe. “Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations,” explains UNESCO. “Our cultural and natural heritage are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration.”
The number of heritage sites in Croatia totals seven, most of which are located along the coast from Porec, in Istria, to Dubrovnik, in southern Dalmatia. Read on to learn what makes these sites so special.
1. The Episcopal complex of the Euphrasian Basilica in Porec, where Christianity was established as early as the 4th century, is the most complete surviving complex of its kind. All of the basic components (church, memorial chapel, atrium, baptistery, episcopal palace) have been preserved. The earliest construction works began in 313 on a simple oratory in a private Roman house, and the present Byzantine-style basilica was built in the 6th century by bishop Euphrasius. The basilica’s mosaics are its outstanding feature, so be sure to take a peek inside, where these beautiful, tiled illustrations gleam gold in the candlelight.
2. The Cathedral of St. James in Sibenik demonstrates cultural exchange between Northern Italy, Dalmatia, and Tuscany in the 15th and 16th centuries. Don’t miss the unique exterior frieze of 71 highly individualized portraits of Sibenik’s Renaissance citizens. The cathedral’s skillful construction, devised by the architects Francesco di Giacomo, Niccolo di Giovanni Fiorentino, and Juraj Dalmatinac, also helped to land it a spot on the heritage list. Read more about it in our guide to Sibenik.
3. The city of Trogir, located northwest of Split, was chosen as a World Heritage site for its remarkable urban continuity. A medieval town built on the layout of a Hellenistic and Roman city, Trogir is also home to beautiful Romanesque churches and Venetian-era Renaissance and Baroque buildings. Simply put, centuries of urban planning and building come together seamlessly in Trogir.
4. Diocletian’s Palace in Split was built between the 3rd and 4th centuries by Roman emporer Diocletian. In the Middle Ages, the Cathedral of Saint Domnius (Sveti Duje) was constructed using elements from the ancient mausoleum, and Romanesque churches, medieval fortifications, and Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque palaces were also built inside the Roman complex. Read more about Diocletian’s Palace in our guide to Split.
5. The heritage site of Stari Grad Plain is located on the popular island of Hvar, but most visitors aren’t even aware of it. UNESCO describes the plain as a “cultural landscape” that was first colonized in the 4th century BC by Ionian Greeks from Paros. The ancient stone walls that divided the land into 24 plots for growing grapes and olives have remained practically intact and since then, and the plain has been used continuously for the past 2400 years.
6. Founded in the 7th century by a group of Greek refugees, Dubrovnik earned its reputation as a Mediterranean sea power in the 13th century. Dubrovnik’s Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque churches, monasteries, and palaces, as well as its impressive city walls survived an earthquake in 1667. In the 1990s the city suffered severe wartime damage, but after successful renovations coordinated by UNESCO, the so-called “pearl of the Adriatic” quickly bounced back and is once again one of the most popular destinations in Croatia.
7. Croatia’s only natural heritage site, Plitvice Lakes National Park made the list thanks to its beautiful caves, lakes, and waterfalls, all created over the course of thousands of years. The park is also home to many rare bird species, as well as bears and wolves. For some stunning snapshots of the lakes, check out our Plitvice National Park photo gallery.
Several sights in Croatia have also been submitted to the tentative heritage site list, including the Episcopal complex in Zadar, the towns of Ston and Mali Ston, along with their fortified walls and salt pans, the city of Motovun, and the historical nucleus of Varazdin.
Have you been to any of these sites? Did it live up to its name as a UNESCO World Heritage site? Tell us about it!