Exploring Cultural Heritage: Croatia
Did you know Croatia has eight cultural and two natural UNESCO World Heritage Sites? Maybe you can include a visit to one or a couple of them on your next trip to the region!
First off – what is a UNESCO World Heritage Site?
In 1972, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) adopted the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, an international treaty aimed at identifying, protecting and preserving the world’s natural and cultural heritage that is deemed to be invaluable to humanity. UNESCO World Heritage Sites belong to all the people of the world, irrespective of their location.
Not only are governments encouraged to protect and preserve these sites, but they are also responsible for making sure inhabitants of a particular territory marked with a UNESCO World Heritage Site know the importance and prestige of such a denomination.
We love to encourage tourists to be responsible travelers everywhere they go, and we believe clients that come to us already share this mentality.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Croatia
Cultural Heritage Sites
Episcopal Complex of the Euphrasian Basilica in the Historic Centre of Poreč
The Episcopal Complex of the Euphrasian Basilica consists of a group of structures built over different time periods, starting in the second half of the 4th century AD. The original basilica was dedicated to Saint Maurus of Parentium, but only its floor mosaics have been preserved over time. The dilapidated basilica was replaced by the present basilica that dates back to the 5th century and whose construction began under Bishop Euphrasius. Byzantine masters executed the wall mosaics which are stunningly well preserved, and the basilica itself also survived Iconoclasm – i.e. attempts by Byzantine Emperors to ban veneration of religious images and eliminate them from Byzantine churches. The basilica also has elements of Gothic style since it was renovated after natural disasters such as earthquakes and wildfires during the many centuries. The Episcopal Complex also includes a 16th century bell tower, as well as the Episcopal Residence built in the 6th century.
This Episcopal Complex has been inscribed in the World Heritage Sites list in 1997 for its architectural uniqueness and preservation.
Entrance to the Basilica is free of charge, and the Basilica is open every day from 7:30 am – 8 pm.
Historical Complex of Split with the Palace of Diocletian
The ruins of the Diocletian’s Palace in Split are among the most valuable surviving buildings from the Roman period on the Adriatic coast. If you are visiting Split, it is very likely that you will end up among ruins of the Palace, knowingly or not, since the whole complex occupied around 30,000 square feet. The complex was built at the turn of the 4th century AD by Roman emperor Diocletian as a place of residence for him and his family after he voluntarily gave up the throne. Apart from his personal residence, it also hosted military garrison.
Since the Palace is scattered throughout the city, only a few of its structures require an entrance fee, such as the basement or underground, while most of the Palace is freely accessible, including its Peristyle – the center of the Palace.
Stari Grad Plain, Island of Hvar
The cultural landscape of the the Stari Grad Plain on the island of Hvar has remained nearly intact since its first colonization by Ionian Greeks in the 4th century BC. The main agricultural activity on the plain concentrates on grapes and olives, and this has been the case since Greek colonization. The Plain is also notable for remains of ancient stones which are a testimony of an ancient geometrical system of land division used by the Greeks and which has remained unscathed over 24 centuries.
The Cathedral of St James in Šibenik
The Cathedral of St James (or often called St Jacob by locals) is one of the most important monuments of the Renaissance period in the whole of Croatia. It is the combined work of three architects – Francesco di Giacomo, George of Dalmatia and Nicholas of Florence – who succeeded each other in overseeing the project during the years of construction (1431-1535) and they all included architectural and artistic elements from the regions they were from: Northern Italy, Dalmatia and Tuscany. Thus, the cathedral is a spectacular exchange of ideas and influences, and combines elements of both Gothic and Renaissance art.
Natural Heritage Sites
Plitvice Lakes National Park
Plitvice Lakes National Park is the oldest – founded in 1949 – and largest National park in Croatia. Over 1 million visitors are recorded each year. What makes Plitvice famous worldwide are its sixteen lakes that are arranged in cascades. These beautiful lakes are the result of the continuously changing karst landscape that gets molded by the works of rivers and subterranean rivers over the centuries. The interaction of limestone, water, air and plants contributes to the formation of natural travertine dams, which is why we have cascading lakes. In order to preserve this unique naturally formed landscape, swimming is prohibited.
Historic City of Trogir
The Old City of Trogir is sometimes referred to as city-museum because of such a high concentration of well preserved historic monuments and authentic architecture. The reason why the Old City of Trogir was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1997 is indeed because of its preserved urban fabric that has had minimal modern interventions. The city also still preserves its orthogonal shape that dates back to the Hellenistic period. The magic of visiting Trogir also derives from being located on an islet between the mainland and the island of Čiovo – this excursion might truly feel like stepping into a different time period once you find yourself surrounded by beautiful stone walls and centuries of history.
Highlights in Trogir are the St. Lawrence Cathedral with the portal of Master Radovan.
Old City of Dubrovnik
Dubbed the “Pearl of the Adriatic”, Dubrovnik is another town that feels like an open-air museum. Even though it was founded in the 7th Century, Dubrovnik or Ragusa is best known in history as the Republic of Ragusa, and carried that name from 1358 to 1808. The Republic of Ragusa was an aristocratic maritime republic rivaling the Republic of Venice in its dominance along the Adriatic coast. The prosperity, sophistication and artistic taste of the Republic of Ragusa are well preserved in its monuments and buildings of the Old Town. Apart from having been inscribed on the list of World Heritage Sites in 1979, Dubrovnik’s Old Town is also receiving help from UNESCO for the restoration of monuments that were damaged during the armed conflict in the 1990s.
Stećci Medieval Tombstone Graveyards
Stećci are quite a novelty in the collective consciousness of the people living in areas in which they are commonly found, such as central and southern Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Western Sebia, Western Montenegro. Records of these monumental medieval tombstones haven’t been accurately and meticulously kept, even though some of them date back to the middle of the 12th century. There are a total of 28 sites, consisting of about 70,000 tombstones in total, with the majority of them found within the borders of modern Bosnia and Herzegovina. The tradition seems to have disappeared during Ottoman rule, but before that they were common among Bosnian, Catholic and Orthodox followers. Some of the epitaphs are written in an extinct Bosnian Cyrillic alphabet. An interesting feature on these tombstones are the decorative motifs, many of which remain enigmatic to this day. Are you as intrigued as we are?
Venetian Works of Defence between the 16th and 17th Centuries: Stato da Terra – Western Stato da Mar
This heritage site consists of 6 structures located in Italy, Croatia and Montenegro. These works of defense demonstrate the designs, adaptations and operations of modern defense structures (alla moderna), which were to feature throughout Europe. They were built to strengthen and defend the power of the Republic of Venice (La Serenissima) between the 16th and 17th centuries. On Croatian territory, the two sites part of this complex are the defense system of the city walls of the city of Zadar, as well as the fortress of St Nicholas in Šibenik.
Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe
This is a transboundary property that stretches over 12 countries. European Beech began spreading at the end of the last Ice Age from a few isolated areas in the Alps, Carpathians, Dinarides, Mediterranean and Pyrenees, and its successful expansion is contributed to the tree’s adaptability and tolerance of a variety of climatic, geographical and physical conditions. The protected areas of beech forests that have been inscribed in the World Heritage List in Croatia include forests of the Northern Velebit (Hajdučki Kukovi and Rožanski kukovi) and Paklenica National Park. These areas only allow visits by scientific researchers and those conducted for educational purposes.
Intangible Cultural Heritage
Spotlight: Licitar Hearts
“What are these little red hearts I see everywhere?”, you might ask yourself as you wander the streets of Zagreb or other towns in Northern Croatia.
They are called Licitars, and they are decorated sweet honey dough biscuits that are now largely sold as souvenirs, but in the past their sentimental value was deemed higher than that of a bouquet of roses.
The art and craft of making Licitars dates back to the 16th century, and their preparation can take more than two months – which is why they were highly sought after, and their makers highly regarded in society.
In 2010, UNESCO added the Gingerbread craft from Northern Croatia to the “Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage” for Croatian culture.
Other elements on the list include the Međimurska popevka, a folksong from the region of Međimurje in the Northwest of Croatia; the Batana Ecomuseum, a community project of safeguarding the living culture of the town of Rovinj on the Istrian peninsula; Klapa multipart singing of Dalmatia, southern Croatia; Sinjska Alka, a knights’ tournament in the town of Sinj; Traditional manufacturing of children’s wooden toys in the Zagorje region; Two-part singing and playing in the Istrian scale; the Festivity of Saint Blaise, the patron of Dubrovnik; and Croatian lacemaking.
Video: Traditional folk song “Vuprem Oči” (I direct my eyes) from Međimurje, the Northernmost region of Croatia
Video: Two-part singing and playing in the Istrian scale
Thank you for reading and we hope you enjoyed this blog! Now you have a couple of more reasons to visit Croatia!
UNESCO (2019). UNESCO – Croatia. [online] Available at: https://ich.unesco.org/en/state/croatia-HR?info=elements-on-the-lists [Accessed 8 Oct. 2019].
UNESCO (2019). World Heritage. [online] Whc.unesco.org. Available at: https://whc.unesco.org/en/about/ [Accessed 8 Oct. 2019].