Wednesday, 6 January 2021

PHOTOS: Ivanscica – Northern Croatia's First Nature Park?

January 6, 2021 – The spectacular backdrop to photographs taken at some of Zagorje's most famous landmarks, Ivanscica is the highest mountain in the country's north. Richly ringed by castles and fortresses that draw investigating hikers, could it become Northern Croatia's first-ever Nature Park?

Northern Croatia is renowned for many reasons. It has the highest concentration of castles and stately homes in the whole of Croatia, including many of the country's most spectacular. It has fantastic museums, some of which are even situated inside these castles. Rivers, water parks and ancient spa waters dot the landscape and the rustic, classic cuisine is often so great you know exactly why the capital city claims much of it as its own. In regular years, northern Croatia also has a full calendar of exciting events that take in all manner of music, folklore, arts & crafts, film festivals and much more besides.

Yet, anyone who has visited the land 'over the mountain' will tell you that one of its most remarkable attributes is its scenery. Historic settlements, comprised of architecture varying between the grandiose, the modern and the functional, amalgamated over hundreds of years, sat on gently rolling slopes. Away from the houses and other buildings, vineyards and farmland stretch along similarly undulating land, gifting a view that must have looked much the same 100 years ago. You can see this amazing topography when you fly into Zagreb from western Europe – it's the magical-looking land below you that looks like something JRR Tolkien might have imagined for The Lord Of The Rings.

zagorje-vinogradi--ivo-biocina_1.jpgZagorje © Ivo Biočina / Croatian National Tourist Board

Despite its wondrous natural assets, northern Croatia (which is nowadays split into three, vast counties – Medimurje, Krapinska-Zagorje and Varazdin county), is the only region in Croatia that surprisingly does not have a dedicated nature park. That may be changed with the launching of an initiative to make Ivanscica the first nature park in Hrvatsko Zagorje.

Belecgrad.jpgBabin Zub on the south-west slopes of Ivanscica offers incredible views of Zagorje. Mount Medvednica can be seen in the distance © Croatian Mountaineering Association Belecgrad

Ivanscica is the highest mountain in northern Croatia. It is 30 kilometres long and nine kilometres wide, rising to 1060 metres at its highest point. Situated less than 30 kilometres south-west of the city of Varazdin, it runs along the border between Krapinska-Zagorje and Varazdin counties in a long stretch of mountainous ground that starts near the westerly-lying Strahinjčica (near Krapina_. These mountains hug the horizon within photographs taken at many of northern Croatia's most famous landmarks. They are also rich in geodiversity and biodiversity.

ivanscicahpd.jpg© Zoran Stanko / Croatian Mountaineering Association Ivancica

The nature and geological make-up of Ivanscica has long been drawing visitors. A much-loved site for walking, hiking and climbing, its topography varies between bare rock and lower areas covered with trees like beech, oak and hornbeam. Ivanscica is particularly popular as a traditional excursion on May Day. The numbers of walkers and hikers around this time can reach into the thousands and the event extends over several days.

snowy12333.jpg© Croatian Mountaineering Association Belecgrad

At the peak of Ivanscica is a mountain lodge, Pasarić's house and two lookouts with incredible views, the lodge's original construction date of 1929 attesting to the mountain's long popularity as a place for recreation. It was named after Josip Pasarić (1860 - 1937), a teacher, journalist, sometime politician and a former president of the Croatian Mountaineering Association. Nearly a century old, it is far from being the oldest structure to have taken advantage of this raised ground and the views they provide.

kucaIvan.jpgPasarić's house © Croatian Mountaineering Association Ivancica

On the southern slopes of Ivanscica, two particularly impressive ruins invite exploration. Less than two kilometres south of Ivanscica's peak, Belecgrad Fortress, sits on a secluded and steep rocky peak that is 540m high. It can be reached by approaching from the west. Although now a ruin, this strategically important fortress was once a royal estate, over time belonging to a series of owners including Frederick of Celje Peter Gising and the families Celjski, Szekely, Frankopan, Keglević, Erdody and Rattkay.

hpd-belecgrad-dron.jpgBelecgrad Fortress, seen from above © Croatian Mountaineering Association Belecgrad

Three or four kilometres to the east of Belecgrad Fortress, the medieval castle of Milengrad dates back around 775 years and served as a residence and defensive fortress for a good 400 years before succumbing to either the Ottomans or an earthquake (Ivanscica has been the site of several considerable earthquakes – the most recent being a 6.2 level quake in 1983).

MilengradEmaBabić.jpgMilengrad, one of many castles and fortifications that can be found on the slopes of Ivanscica © Ema Babić

These ruins are impressive enough, but they are only two of a series of defensive structures to ring the mountain, others including the castles and fortresses Pokojec, Oštrcgrad, Loborgrad, Židovina (a Jewish fortification), Gradišče, Ivanec, Bela, Gotalovec, Cukovec, Lepoglava and Grebengrad. Some of these (Grebengrad, Bela and Cukovec) were rebuilt on the site of forts that extend further back than the 12th century.

BelecgradonthesouthsideofIvanscica.jpgBelecgrad on the south side of Ivanscica © Branko Barlović / Croatian Mountaineering Association

There are currently eight National Parks within Croatia - Krka, Plitvice Lakes, Mljet, Brijuni Islands, Kornati, Paklenica, Risnjak and Northern Velebit – each closely guarded to protect and preserve their nature and beauty for future generations. In addition, there are a series of eleven Nature Parks - Žumberak / Samoborsko gorje. Biokovo, Kopački rit, Lastovo archipelago, Lonjsko polje, Medvednica, Papuk, Telašćica, Učka, Velebit and Vrana lake, with Dinara well on its way to becoming number twelve. Their status differs from National Parks in that, although they are protected areas, their standing does not impede on recreation and other activities within them that do not damage their distinct assets. As a site rich for exploration, walking, hiking and climbing, the destination of Nature Park status would perfectly suit Ivanscica and it could well become Croatia's thirteenth Nature Park, the first within Northern Croatia.

Ivanscica Croatian Mountaineering Association Belecgrad.jpg

Monday, 30 November 2020

PHOTOS: The Seven Fantastic Fortresses of FORTITUDE

November 30, 2020 - Fortress of Culture Šibenik has this year begun leading a cross-border heritage project involving seven of the most incredible historic forts on the Balkan peninsula. FORTITUDE joins together three Šibenik strongholds with fortresses in Karlovac (Croatia), Bar and Herceg Novi (Montenegro) and Banja Luka (Bosnia and Herzegovina). Here, we take a look at the adventurous project and each of its seven fortresses

Last week in Šibenik, a meeting was held to discuss how seven historic forts should be linked thematically in the EU-sponsored FORTITUDE project. Over 1.6 Million Euros is being put into the project, of which 85 percent is co-financed by the EU's Interreg IPA CBC Croatia - Bosnia and Herzegovina - Montenegro.

FORTITUDE is being led by Fortress of Culture Šibenik, under which the city's St. Michael's Fortress, Barone Fortress and St. John's Fortress will be run. They join with Old Town of Dubovac in Karlovac (Croatia), Forte Mare, Herceg Novi and the Old City of Bar (Montenegro) and Kastel Fortress, Banja Luka (Bosnia and Herzegovina) in the FORTITUDE project, which aims to strengthen and diversify the cross-border culture and tourist offer, as well as develop high quality and sustainable management of these cultural assets.

Though running from 1st March 2020 - 28th February 2022, FORTITUDE will leave permanent links between these incredible, historic places, not least the annual Fortress Night and the sharing of cultural programmes such as exhibitions, festivals or even entertainers.

As Total Croatia News has just shone the spotlight on The 21 Most Incredible Croatia Castles To See Year-Round, we thought it only fair to pay attention to the seven fantastic forts of FORTITUDE

St. Michael's Fortress, Šibenik (Croatia)
Kaštel_s_TanajeDobarSkroz.jpg© Dobar Skroz

The oldest of the three fortresses in Šibenik's contribution to the FORTIFICATION project, St. Michael's is also the most famous, not least for its historical importance, its prominence in the city skyline and its beloved standing as a cultural event space of international repute. Medieval Croatian kings Petar Krešimir IV (in 1066), Zvonimir (in 1078), and Stjepan II (in 1080) all made official and lasting visits here. They probably enjoyed seeing the incredible building upon approach to the city, and the incredible views offered from its walls, in much the same way we do today. Several islands of the Šibenik archipelago and the medieval town form the vista from the top.

tvrdava-sv-mihovila-sibenik-2fortressofculture.jpg© Fortress of Culture Šibenik

Most of St. Michael's preserved ramparts and fortress bastions date from the late Middle Ages and Early Modern Age, but this original settlement can be dated back to the Iron Age. Named after St Michael's church which once lay within its walls, some estimate the church to date as far back as the 8th century (its first official mention is the 12th/13th century). Sadly, the church, along with a large part of St. Michael's Fort, was destroyed in 1663 when lightning hit the store of gunpowder necessarily kept there for its defence. St. Michael's Fortress has been rebuilt many times since it was first founded and a great multimedia museum inside will guide you through its history. Afterward, take advantage of the sun-sheltered bar.

Tvrđava-sv.-Mihovila-Šibenik-(6)_JU_Tvrdava_kultre_Sibenik_2.jpgSt. Michael's Fortress is a host venue to internationally renowned music stars and festivals © Fortress of Culture Šibenik

Barone Fortress, Šibenik (Croatia)
LadyIvyBarone_izgradnja-43.jpegBarone Fortress © Lady Ivy

Named after the defender under whose control it lay upon its 1646 build, Baron Christoph von Degenfeld, modern attempts to more Croatian-ise this fortification as Šubićevac - using the name of a local medieval family - are largely observed only domestically. The fortress was given a more modern rebuild in 1659 – at the time it was so badly needed, its walls had probably been hurriedly built in the same way as those of a shepherd's grazing plot. The northern facade of the fortress was the part used to repel the invaders and is marked by two bastions that extend outwards, allowing returning fire to be issued in multiple directions. These bastions were reinforced with mounds and contained all of the artillery for the fight. The fortress was renovated and reopened in 2016 and today uses multimedia tools to guide visitors through its history and that of the town of Šibenik. There are great views of Šibenik and St. Michael's Fortress from the walls.

View_of_St._Michael_Fortress_from_Barone.jpegView of St. Michael's Fortress from Barone Fortress © Zvone00

St. John's Fortress, Šibenik (Croatia)
AnyConv.com__Tanaja_s_Baronea.jpegSt. John's Fortress © DobarSkroz

The medieval church of St. John the Baptist that stood on a hill, north of Šibenik's historical centre, dates to at least 1444. It is around this church that St. John's Fortress rose up. Naturally, it's also where the name comes from. In early 1646, when it was speedily built, its contemporary construction helped save the entire town. The population vastly outnumbered and the fortress not even complete, between late 1646 and the end of 1647, St. John's Fortress served as the main - and successful – defence against the largest invading army to have been seen in Dalmatia since Roman times. After the Yugoslavian army stopped using it, St. John's Fortress became somewhat neglected – locals enjoying to visit on a wild walk with incredibly rewarding views. It has lagged behind the city's other such assets in its state of repair, but incredible effort to address such neglect has been undertaken in recent years and the revitalised St. John's Fortress is set to open in 2021.

AnyConv.com__Tanaja_sa_sv._Ane.jpegView of St. John's Fortress from St. Michael's © DobarSkroz

Old Town of Dubovac, Karlovac (Croatia)
karlovac-dubovac-optimizirano-za-web-ivo-biocina.jpg© Ivo Biocina / Visit Karlovac

The Old Town of Dubovac is one of the best-preserved and most beautiful monuments of medieval architecture in Croatia. Although the architectural style is a dead giveaway to such dating, you struggle to believe such a pristine building it really so old – not least because, as a defensive fortress, it has been attacked many times. This fortress is the ancestor of the entire city of Karlovac. Nobody is quite sure when construction of the original fortification was begun, but it was certainly standing by the 13th century. Its Renaissance appearance of today comes from a 15th-century reconstruction. The fortress stands 185 metres above sea level on the western side of Karlovac and overlooks the Kupa – one of the city's four rivers.

VisitKarlovacDub.jpg© Visit Karlovac

The fortress has a permanent museum in its main tower, which details the history and fascinating, notable ownerships. One of its best features is a map of the ancient terrain detailing all of the other castles and fortresses that once existing in the region along the same defensive line of which the Old Town of Dubovac was a part. The tower holds incredible views. The ground floor of the fortress has a brilliant restaurant 0 arguably the best standard of food that has ever been served within its walls (and that's saying something, considering the dignitaries who used to live here). The courtyard plays host to art & crafts, gastro and other social events – best of all, perhaps, the music concerts and cinema screenings which take place with the looming, citadel walls gifting an incredibly atmospheric backdrop.

1280px-Stari_grad_Dubovac_-_Karlovac_2Miro.jpg© Miroslav.vajdic

Forte Mare, Herceg Novi (Montenegro)
BigMareH.jpeg© TZ Herceg Novi

Forte Mare, meaning literally Sea Fortress, is appropriately named as it sits impressively on top of a rock which rises directly above the Adriatic. It was once the epicentre of life in the town today known as Herceg Novi, the modern town lying just to its north. Construction of the fortress began in 1382 under the first King of Bosnia, Stefan Tvrtko I Kotromanić, and was originally named Sveti Stefan (Saint Stephen). It acquired the name Herceg Novi some time between 1435–1483 and continued to grow as a town and structure until the 17th century and was restored in 1833.

HercegMare5a78f3015bd19286b33c65657114fc4_2_XL.jpg© TZ Herceg Novi

Rather than ever being forgotten, the fortress is an integral part of the town's tourist offer and cultural life. Visitors love to see the narrow passageways that lie within the fortress, particularly the one which stretches from the upper fortress all the way down to the sea. The views are also fantastic – lying right at the start of the incredible Bay of Kotor, you can see the southernmost part of Croatia from the top. In warmer months, the site hosts fantastic events like open-air cinema.

FortMare95a78f3015bd19286b33c65657114fc4_XL.jpgIn this photo, you can see the screen of the outdoor cinema on the top of Forte Mare © TZ Herceg Novi

Stari Grad Bar (Montenegro)
AnyConv.com__Stari_Bar.jpgThe construction of FORTITUDE stronghold of Stari Grad Bar was probably started in response to attacks by the Pannonian Avars © Bojana Smiljanić

The Old City of Bar and its fortress actually lie several kilometres inland from the modern coastal city called Bar and sits on the Londša hill, at the foot of Mount Rumija. The modern city was constructed on the site of the port which served Stari Grad Bar, the relocation necessitated by the 1979 Montenegro earthquake which destroyed Stari Grad Bar's aqueduct. Parts of the wonderfully-arched aqueduct can still be seen today, as can the old city walls which form the fortress of Stari Grad Bar.

1280px-Aquaduct_in_Stari_Bar.jpgThe aqueduct in Stari Grad Bar © Dudva

The original fortifications are guessed to come from the times that Roaman-Illyrian people sought an urban refuge from the attacks of the Pannonian Avars between 568 to 626. Such people inhabited Bar until at least the 14th century, being joined by Slavic people until the city was a mixture of Catholic and Orthodox peoples at the point the Ottomans arrived. The city had been known for its builders and stonemasons, as well as the agriculture of its surroundings, and the unique architecture of Stari Grad Bar today attests to that. Even some of the singular, modern dwellings that lie in the now repopulated town seem to fit in with the stonework of much earlier centuries perhaps, in some cases, as forgotten parts of the old city were borrowed and put to contemporary use. Medieval streets and palaces still stand in the town. It is a fascinating place to visit.

1620px-Ruins_Stari_Bar2_Montenegrochenyingphoto.jpgSome of the fortifications of the fascinating Stari Grad Bar, the southernmost inclusion in the FORTITUDE project © chenyingphoto

Kastel Fortress, Banja Luka (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
TomasDamjanovicBanjalukaNKD136_Kastel_tvrava_Banjaluka.jpegKastel Fortress in Banja Luka, the only fortification from Bosnia and Herzegovina in the FORTITUDE project © Tomas Damjanovic

Sat on a small hill on the banks of the Vrbas river, at the exact point where the more minor Crkvena river flows into it, Kastel Fortress is one of the oldest inhabited parts of Banja Luka and one of the city's key tourist attractions. The fortress itself is medieval, built by the Ottomans, but is situated on the site of Roman fortifications. Archaeological excavations have proven people lived on this exact tract of land from at least the 13th millennium BC. From the year 1553, Banja Luka served as the seat of the Ottoman ruler of the region. Shortly thereafter (1580), it became the capital of the newly-formed Bosnia Eyalet, the most westerly administrative district of the Ottoman Empire.

Bosanski_pasaluk_1600-_godine.pngThe Bosnia Eyalet, of which Banja Luka and the FORTITUDE Kastel was the capital. The Ottoman territory stretched throughout much of modern-day Croatia © Armin Šupuk

It held this status through the entirety of the Eyalet's strongest period until 1683. During this period, the Eyalet included much of modern-day Croatia including, at its peak, most of Dalmatia, right the way up to Lika. After then following a similar path to today's border with Bosnia, it again encroached into today's Croatia, just east of Sisak, engulfing all of Slavonia.

__7SaaKnei.jpegFORTITUDE inclusion Kastel lies on the Vrbas river © Saša Knežić

The Ottomans used this site as an arsenal, its development as a fortress taking place between 1595-1603. It was reconstructed to become the fortress we see today between 1712 –1714 and it is said that around 1785 the fortress held some 50 cannons. It was used as a military site up to after World War II. The Kastel covers an area of 26,610 m2 inside the fortress walls and about 21,390 m2 outside the ramparts and it is dedicated as a National Monument of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

SaaKnei__2.jpeg Kastel Fortress in Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina © Saša Knežić

Friday, 4 January 2019

Prevlaka: Works Begin on Fortress in Which Naval Museum Will Open

Works have begun in the extreme south of Dalmatia, just before the Montenegrin border. Prevlaka fortress, the renovation works on which have been being awaited for some considerable time now, have finally started. Prevlaka fortress, which sadly sat neglected and delapidated for years, will be renovated and eventually turned into no less than a naval museum.

As Morski writes on the 3rd of January, 2019, thanks to the Society of Friends of Dubrovnik Antiquities, Prevlaka fortress will get a new lease of life and a sense of purpose. The raising of the scaffolding and the beginning of the works on the renovation of the almost entirely abandoned Austro-Hungarian fortress of Prevlaka have finally been announced.

''It's clear that 2019 will be the same as it has been throughout many past years for the Society of Friends of Dubrovnik Antiquities, fruitful and careful attention due to the wish to preserve our heritage for generations to come,'' said Niko Kapetanić, President of the aforementioned Dubrovnik-based society, who expressed his satisfaction at the start of the works on the reconstruction of Prevlaka fortress, located at the southernmost point of Croatia, almost right on the border with Montenegro, and from which the coastline of Montenegro can be seen.

To briefly recall, this area of extreme southern Dalmatia was under the jurisdiction of the Republic of Croatia until quite recently, and the state left Prevlaka fortress in the hands of Croatia's southernmost municipality, the Municipality of Konavle. Together with the Society of Friends of Dubrovnik Antiquities, the municipality will eventually open a museum dedicated to the Austro-Hungarian Navy in the fortress, with special emphasis placed on the Croatian component.

This isn't something that is particularly cheap to oversee and do, and according to some of the best experts on such matters in the world, ranging from naval uniforms to historic weaopons, to parts of old ships, the final result will be a complete cross section of the former Austro-Hungarian Navy. The plan is also for Prevlaka fortress to house an aquarium displaying an array of Adriatic fish, a souvenir shop, a lookout point, and an accompanying catering facility.

These plans have been revealed by Kapetanić, who didn't really want to speculate on what the price would or could be, but added that it would surely be tens of millions of kuna.

Back in September 2017, Minister of State Property Goran Marić pointed out that while Konavle might well geographically be at the very edge of Croatia, it doesn't mean that it also needs to be at the very edge in terms of relations with the state.

''It's in our interest to bring this project to life and that this [piece of state] property doesn't fall. We like the project that is intended for this property,'' Marić said.

Make sure to stay up to date on Prevlaka's progress and much more by following our dedicated lifestyle page.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

UNESCO Took Sveti Nikola Fortress Under its Wing One Year Ago, Renovation Begins

Works begin on Sveti Nikola Fortress after having been under UNESCO's wing for one year.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Little Šibenik Fortress Once Controlled Traffic Between Central Dalmatia and Bosnia

Dr. Ivo Glavaš gives us a look into the relatively unknown past of one little Dalmatian fortress.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Krka Beyond the Waterfalls: Medieval Fortresses

Continuing our look at National Park Krka beyond the waterfalls, a look to the majestic remnants of Croatia's historic turmoil: meet the five fortresses of NP Krka

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