church inside the Roman palace in Split

church inside the Roman palace in Split

During our years in Albania (1995-1997) we travelled in the region; not only Albania, but also the surrounding countries. In the beginning this wasn’t easy, on account of the Yugoslav war, the multiple conflicts between the now ex-Yugoslav republics. We couldn’t cross into Montenegro, for instance, or into Sebia, where anything Albanian was sensitive. But with the end of the Croat war in 1995, this country became accessible again, so we stepped in a plane, flew from Tirana to Ljubljana in Slovenia, and took the train to Zagreb for a two week trip exploring what had been left of Croatia.

flowers along the Adriatic coast

flowers along the Adriatic coast

In Zagreb we rented a car and drove first to the Istrian peninsula, to Porec and Rovinj. Then we continued via Rijeka, a rather ugly industrial town and harbour, and further down the coast to Zadar, another not very attractive port city, down the Dalmatian coast, perhaps one of the prettiest of Europe. One comes through places like Sibenik, where the cathedral is a World Heritage site, and Trogdir,  on the way to Split. Here we returned the car, and took a public ferry to the islands of Korcula and Hvar – definitely recommended! – and on to Dubrovnik in the south of the country.

I have no notes left from this trip, 20 years ago, so it needs to come from memory only, and the photos I took (scanned slides that unfortunately had started to discolour a bit). So there is not much of text here, just a photo essay. But because Croatia is now such a popular holiday destination, I thought it would be nice to show how it was, at the time, just after the war that was such a defining period in modern Croatian history.

 

elegant houses along the river in Ljubljana

houses along the river in Ljubljana

church and square in central Zagreb

church and square in central Zagreb

not sure what this one market stall in Ljubljana has that others don't

not sure what this one market stall in Ljubljana has that others don’t

The two capital cities, Ljubljana in Slovenia and Zagreb in Croatia, were quite attractive, and well developed in comparison to the rest of the Balkans. Ljubljana is really an extension of Austria, rich in architectural highlights of Middle European origin (Jugendstil), and not war-damaged like most of Croatia, thanks to an early independence declaration, quickly accepted by all parties. Zagreb is a compact capital, equally nice, and a cultural centre, boosting lots of theatres and museums, although in 1996 the art scene was, understandably, somewhat subdued.

the typical, green shutters and white laundry

the typical, green shutters and white laundry

colourful laundry

colourful laundry

Istria is an almost self-contained peninsula, just south of Trieste in Italy – and definitely sporting the same attractive beaches. On top of that, it has several old coastal towns, like Rovinj, with narrow alleys, a harbour and lots of old churches. One of those, the Euphrasian Basilica and its Roman mosaics, is in Porec, just north of Rovinj, and has made it to Unesco World Heritage Site.

not only the streets are narrow, the houses, too

not only the streets are narrow, the houses, too (probably in Rovinj)

narrow street in Porec (probably)

narrow street in Porec (probably)

entrance to the Euphrasian Basilica in Porec

entrance to the Euphrasian Basilica in Porec

frescos inside the Euphrasian Basilica

frescos inside the Euphrasian Basilica

Roman mosaics in the courtyard outside the Basilica

Roman mosaics in the courtyard outside the Basilica

 

 

view of Rovinj across the water

view of Rovinj across the water

the city gate of Zadar, complete with wingen lion

the city gate of Zadar, complete with wingen lion

the massive Saint Donatus church in Zadar

the massive Saint Donatus church in Zadar

another view of the Saint Donatus church

another view of the Saint Donatus church

view from the church tower illustrates the war damage

view from the church tower illustrates the war damage

In my memory Zadar, at the beginning of the Dalmatian coast further south, wasn’t particularly attractive, although present day guidebooks claim otherwise. It does have the noteworthy – because of its uncommon shape – Saint Donatius church, as well as a historic city entrance. In 1996 the traces of the war were still clearly visible, looking down from the church tower.

the waters in front of the Dalmatian coast

the waters in front of the Dalmatian coast

a church tower in one of the Dalmatian towns

a church tower in one of the Dalmatian towns

another charming little church

another charming little church

Further along the Dalmatian coast is Sibenik, with a huge cathedral of which I somehow have no photos, but there are also smaller churches along the coast, quite nice and again, quite unusual sometimes. Just north of Split is Solina, where some of Croatia’s Roman remains can be found, in the form of an amphitheatre, in those days an unprotected, open site where one could freely wander around.

Roman amphitheatre in Solina

Roman amphitheatre in Solina

detail of the Roman amphitheatre

detail of the Roman amphitheatre

 

 

 

the transformed Diocletian Palace in Split

the transformed Diocletian Palace in Split

an arch in the Diocletian Palace

an arch in the Diocletian Palace

columned apartments in the palace, mundane laundry

columned apartments in the palace, mundane laundry

view over parts of the palace

view over parts of the palace

and view over life in the palace

and view over life in the palace

Split, also Unesco World Heritage Site, is a fabulous place, mostly on account of its Palace of Diocletian, a Roman emperor who ordered the construction of this extraordinary place in around 300 BC. Extraordinary, because now it is large inhabited by the towns people of Split, who have transformed the palace into small apartments, shops and other community necessities – apparently, they have done this already since the beginning of the 8th Century, when the palace was populated by refugees from a nearby war. Walking the narrow streets, Roman columns are everywhere, neatly incorporated in the structure, and decorated with colourful laundry.

appraoch of Korcula town, view from the ferry

appraoch of Korcula town, view from the ferry

church spires in Korcula

church spires in Korcula

Wether it still exists, I don’t know, but 20 years ago a public ferry connected the islands in front of the Dalmatian coast. You could buy a ticket from Split to Dubrovnik, and hop on and off wherever you saw fit. Approaching Hvar, the town of the same name looked quite attractive, so we decided to stay the night, and continued the next day to Korcula, another gem of an island, and gem of an old town. Regrets, regrets, with enough time, one could do a lot more then we did.

one of the gates in the city wall of Dubrovnik

one of the gates in the city wall of Dubrovnik

columned arches of the palace

columned arches of the palace

one of the Dubrovnik palaces

one of the Dubrovnik palaces

the local women discussing matters

the local women discussing matters

 

 

 

 

The highlight of Croatia must be Dubrovnik, the walled city full of palaces and churches, gates and squares, and roads paved with ancient slabs of rock. We arrived a little of one year after the Independence war ended, the war that had badly damaged Dubrovnik and its historical monuments. A damage of which there was hardly anything visible anymore: as soon as the bombing raids stopped, the local people had collectively gone out again, and repaired the shot-up ancient fountain, the city walls that had crumbled under mortar shells, the burned out church roofs, and most of the other bombed buildings, an incredibly impressive achievement. And somebody had been so smart to make a picture book, with on each left-side page a corner of the town as it was, immediately after the war, and on the right how it looked now, a year later. An inspiring example, and a great end to a short trip, of which I cannot remember that many details anymore….

the famous fountain of Dubrovnik, beautifully restored after the war

the famous fountain of Dubrovnik, beautifully restored after the war

another columned gallery in Dubrovnik

another columned gallery in Dubrovnik

decorations at one of the columns

decorations at one of the columns

another Dubrovnik city gate

another Dubrovnik city gate

door decorated

door decorated

Hope you enjoyed the photos.

just to proof that it really was quite some time ago that we visited Croatia....

just to proof that it really was quite some time ago that we visited Croatia….

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *