Zadar

Ancient Churches and Castles of Zadar County

more than a year ago

Admirer of Croatian history Tocher Mitchell (SME Finance Specialist)
takes you on a journey of Ancient Churches and Castles of Zadar County.

Like other regions of Croatia, Zadar County has a myriad of spectacular and fascinating castle ruins and ancient churches. Because it was the heart of the medieval Croatian kingdom, a key trading post and militarily important in controlling the northern Adriatic Sea, this region is particularly rich in castles and history. For millennia, the area that is now Zadar County has been the front line in the struggles between various empires and ethnic groups: the Romans vs. the Visigoths, the Venetians vs. the Turks, the French vs. the Austro-Hungarians and most recently the Serbs vs. the Croats. Fortunately for the modern visitor, the only struggle these days is deciding where to go sightseeing first! The sea, hilly islands and Velebit mountains add a dramatic backdrop to ancient buildings.
If one starts in Zadar and proceeds on a clockwise circuit of the county, the first notable town encountered is Nin, 16 kilometers north of Zadar on Route 306. It has the oldest church in Croatia, the tiny, Romanesque Church of the Holy Cross (Crkva svetog Križa). An inscription on the lintel is dated 800 A.D. On the south side of Nin, just outside the town, is another tiny church, St. Nicholas’s (Crkva svetog Nikole), which was built in the 11th century. Located on an ancient burial mound, it’s easy to spot. When the Ottoman Turks occupied this area in the mid-16th century they refortified St. Nicholas, adding the crenellated top. It makes the church look like a miniature castle. After the Venetians drove the Turks out in the following century, St. Nicholas was refortified again.

There are several spectacular castle ruins in Zadar County. Starigrad Ljubač, 15 kilometers due north of Zadar City, lies on a cliff above the sea and has a commanding view of Pag Island to the north. Templar knights are believed to have built Ljubač in the 13th century. The castle provided them with a clear view of anyone approaching by sea from the north or west. When the Turks invaded in the 16th century, the local inhabitants took shelter there. Later the castle featured prominently in battles between the Turks and the Venetians. As is usually the case, there are no signs indicating the way to this site. To reach Ljubač turn right at the Sonik grocery store in the middle of the village. Go 1.2 km up that road, then turn left (north) on a dirt road at the first giant antenna at the top of the hill. Follow that dirt road to Ljubač. It’s about a 45 minutes walk on undulating terrain. It’s not advisable to drive unless you have a sport utility vehicle, in which it would take 15 – 20 minutes. Not too far from Ljubač, on the southern tip of Pag, is another precariously situated castle fortress called Fortica. Built by the Venetians in the 16th century, it’s just below the bridge from the mainland to Pag, guarding the strait below. It matches the color of Pag’s barren landscape. You can easily reach the Fortica from Ljubač. The two are visible from each other, making one speculate what rivalries or alliances between their occupants might have existed over the centuries. Alternatively, you can get to Fortica by going north towards the town of Pag on route 106 from the Posedarje exit on the A1 motorway. Novigrad (literally “New Town”, somewhat of a misnomer), a castle ruin perched on a hill above the town of the same name, also has had a turbulent history.

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