Castles of Split Dalmatia County

more than a year ago

Admirer of Croatian history Tocher Mitchell (SME Finance Specialist)
takes you on a journey of castle and fortress ruins in the Split Dalmatia County..

Visitors to the Split region shouldn't just restrict themselves to the beach. Not only is the Dalmatian hinterland one of the most dramatically beautiful parts of Croatia, it also plays host to a multitude of crumbling fortresses and hilltop castles. Given the region's turbulent history – including centuries of warfare between Croats, Ottoman Turks and Venetians – it's no surprise that brooding battle-scarred ruins form such a prominent part of the local landscape.

One of the largest, most spectacular and yet easily accessible fortresses in the county is Klis, planted precariously on sheer cliffs just inland from Split. There’s an excellent view of this fortress from the highway that connects Split with the A-1 autocesta. Partially restored and now an outdoor museum, the fortress is well signposted from the road. It will take you at least an hour to explore the fortress and soak in the great views in every direction.There is a café right below the fortress.

Klis has had a long and colorful history. It was first mentioned in written records in the first half of the 10th century. In the 13th century the Mongols invaded the area but never succeeding in taking the fortress.The Ottoman Turks captured it in 1537. Local nobles succeeded in retaking Klis, but only for a few weeks, in 1596. The Venetians finally evicted the Turks for good in 1648. When you visit Klis you will see why it was fought over so fiercely. Anyone occupying the fortress could control passage through the rather narrow mountain pass from the coast to the hinterland.

Between Split and Trogir, 20km to the west, lies a sequence of seven small towns known collectively as “Kaštela" (Castles), each centred on its own fortress. If you drive along route 8 from Split towards Trogir you will see signs directing you to them (Kaštel Gomilica, Kaštel Kambelovac, Kaštel Lukšić, Kaštel Novi, Kaštel Stari, Kaštel Sućurac, Kaštel Štafilić). Most were constructed in the 16th century to provide shelter from marauding pirates or the Turks. It would take the better part of a day to check out their interesting architectural features. All are accessible by car. The UNESCO World Heritage site of Trogir, an island town, has its own castle fortress, too, right on the waterfront. Kamerlengo Citadel was built in the 15th century and has been well restored. Trogir’s Venetian heritage (the Venetians held sway there for three and a half centuries starting in 1420) is clearly evident from the town’s lovely architecture.

If you go 21km in the opposite direction (southwest) on route 8 from Split you will reach Omiš, which is located at the mouth of the Cetina River. There are the ruins of two castle/fortresses above the town that have spectacular views.The lower of the two, Mirabela, is accessible by about 300 steps from Šubić Street in the centre of town. There is a gate about a quarter of the way up that is sometimes inexplicably locked. Ask at  the town's tourist office first and they'll probably send someone to unlock it. From the top of Mirabela's tower keep there's a sweeping view of Omiš, the river, the sea, and the steep sided mountains that form the sides of the canyon. It's believed that the Kačić family, feudal lords of Omiš during the 12th and 13th centuries, built Mirabela in the early 1200s. Pirates used Mirabela as their lair during medieval times. The Venetians acquired Omiš in 1444 and over time expanded and refortified the redoubt.

Fitness buffs can be rewarded with an even more panoramic view by hiking from the center of Omiš to Starigrad (also called “Fortica”), a fortress/castle about 500m above the town. The hike takes about two hours on a marked trail, which begins on the road to the village of Borak. The turn off to Borak is on the south edge of the Omiš town center. You can also drive part of the way up to Starigrad, making sure to go straight (don't turn right) when you reach the fork in the road. From that point it is a 45 minutes climb. Fortica was built by another Croatian noble family, the Nelipićs, probably in the 14th century. It was one of a series of coastal forts expanded by the Venetians during their centuries-long struggle against the Turks. Gun bastions and embrasures are still clearly visible in the walls, the perfect spot for imagining that you are a defender on the battlements! There are plenty of good hotels and eateries in Omiš, which is a major tourist center. It's a shame that most visitors never venture beyond the beach.


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