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No visit to Dubrovnik is complete without a walk around the spectacular city walls that encircle its historic core. They're among the finest in the world and are the city's defining feature. From the top, the view over the old town and the shimmering Adriatic is sublime. From the sea, the juxtaposition of pinkish-grey stone and azure waters is mesmerizing, while from above the tight maze of church steeples and terracotta roofs is the setting for a fairy tale – or, at the very least, some Game of Thrones episodes. History The first set of walls to enclose the city was built in the 9th century. In the middle of the 14th century the 1.5m-thick defences were fortified with 15 square forts. The threat of attacks from the Turks in the 15th century prompted the city to strengthen the existing forts and add new ones, so that the entire old town was contained within a stone barrier 2km long and up to 25m high. The walls are thicker on the land side – up to 6m – and range from 1.5m to 3m on the sea side. Pile Gate is one of the historic entrances to Dubrovnik's old town © amirraizat / Shutterstock City gates Historically, the entrance to the city was via two elaborate gates: the Pile Gate to the west and the Ploče Gate to the east. Both have drawbridges that were raised at sunset when the doors were locked and the keys handed to the rector. A third entrance, the Buža Gate, was added to the northern wall at the top of Boškovićeva street in 1907. The most impressive of the three is the Pile Gate, built in 1537, which remains the main entrance to the town. Note the stone Statue of St Blaise, holding the city in his hands, set in a niche over the Renaissance portal. This 4th-century Armenian martyr is Dubrovnik's patron saint, and similar images are positioned in various parts of the wall and above all the major entrances. After passing through the outer gate you'll enter a large court with a ramp and stairs heading down to the inner gate, dating from 1460 and topped by a statue of St Blaise by leading Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović (1883–1962). Fort Minčeta protects the landward side of the city from attack © ansharphoto / Shutterstock The forts Round Fort Minčeta protects the landward edge of the city from attack. Fort Bokar is the westernmost tower, built to protect Pile Gate. Fort Lawrence, a large, free-standing fortress, was built to guard the city's western approach from invasion by land and sea, with walls from 13ft to 39ft (4m to 12m) thick. The views back over the old town from here are wonderful. Fort Revelin is the largest of the old-town forts. It sits separately from the city walls, overlooking the Old Harbour and the eastern entrance to the old town. The massive battlement of Fort St John dates to the 16th century, but you may be able to spot the outline of the original square tower (built in 1346) that predated it. You can pose on cannons along the upper terrace during a city walls walk, but you’ll need separate tickets to visit the attractions within. The views over the old town and Adriatic are spectacular © Sergey Novikov / Shutterstock Walking the city walls There are ticketed entrances to the city walls near the Pile Gate, the Ploče Gate and the Maritime Museum. To reduce congestion, you're required to walk the walls in an anticlockwise direction. At busy times it can resemble a sweaty, slow-moving conga line. Don't let that put you off: the views over the old town and the Adriatic are worth any frustration resulting from a busy period. One of the most charming aspects of the walk (although perhaps not for Dubrovnik's long-suffering residents) is the glimpses it gives into hidden gardens and courtyards in the residential fringes of the town. Starting from the Ploče Gate entrance, you'll quickly reach St Luke's Tower (1467), facing the Old Harbour and Fort Revelin. The northern, landward section of wall is the highest, reaching a peak at rounded Fort Minčeta at the city's northwestern corner. This massive structure was completed in 1464 to designs by Juraj Dalmatinac, who is most famous as the creator of Šibenik's extraordinary cathedral. The battlements at the top provide remarkable views over the old town's rooftops. You can get a good handle on the extent of the shelling damage in the 1990s: those rooftops sporting bright new terracotta suffered damage and had to be replaced. From here it's mainly downhill as you pass over Pile Gate and then narrow to single file as you climb towards Fort Bokar at the city's southwestern corner. The seaward stretch of the walls passes a couple of cafe-bars and souvenir stores, before terminating at Fort St John at the entrance to Dubrovnik's Old Harbour. Many parts of the city walls featured in HBO's TV series Game of Thrones © John and Tina Reid / Getty Images Game of Thrones filming locations Dubrovnik's walls and forts feature prominently in the HBO series Game of Thrones. Fort Minčeta was used for the exterior shots of Qarth's House of the Undying, Tyrion Lannister commanded the defence of King's Landing from the seaward-facing walls during the Battle of the Blackwater and, if you can look past all of the CGI enhancements, you'll recognize Fort Lawrence as the core of the Red Keep. Tickets and other practicalities Tickets can be bought at the entrance, but you will skip the line if you buy online in advance. Don't underestimate how strenuous the wall walk can be, especially on a hot day. There's very little shelter and the few vendors selling water on the route tend to overcharge.
Taking up a prime harborside position, the extraordinary complex of Diocletian's Palace is one of the most imposing ancient Roman structures in existence today, and it's where you’ll spend most of your time while in Split. Don’t expect a palace, though, nor a museum – this is the city's living heart, its labyrinthine streets packed with people, bars, shops and restaurants. Although it's easy to lose sight of the palace amid the bustle of Split's waterfront promenade, take time to step back and look up. The original arches and columns of the palace wall can be easily discerned above the shops and restaurants. It would have presented a magnificent face to the sea, with the water lapping at the base of the walls. It's not hard to see why Diocletian built his imperial apartments on this south-facing side of the palace, gazing directly out over the water. In the buzzing city streets, it's easy to lose sight of the palace © Andrey Omelyanchuk / 500px History of the palace walls and gates Built as a combined imperial residence, military fortress and fortified town, the palace's original structure has been added to continuously over the millennia, the alterations increasing the allure of this fascinating site. Diocletian – the first Roman emperor to abdicate voluntarily – commissioned this magnificent palace to be completed in time for his retirement in AD 305. It was built from lustrous white stone transported from the island of Brač, and construction lasted 10 years. Diocletian spared no expense, importing marble from Italy and Greece, and columns and 12 sphinxes from Egypt. Golden Gate was the biggest and grandest of the city gates © tichr / Shutterstock Each wall has a gate at its center that's named after a metal: the elaborate northern Golden Gate, the southern Bronze Gate, the eastern Silver Gate and the western Iron Gate. The unassuming Bronze Gate once opened straight from the water into the palace basements, enabling goods to be unloaded directly from ships and stored here. Now this former tradesman's entrance is the main way into the palace from the Riva. Between the eastern and western gates there’s a straight road (Krešimirova, also known as Decumanus), which separated the imperial residence on the southern side, with its state rooms and temples, from the northern side, once used by soldiers and servants. Substructure While the central part of the palace's substructure is now a major thoroughfare lined with souvenir stalls, entry to the chambers on either side is ticketed. Although mostly empty save the odd sarcophagus or bit of column, the basement rooms and corridors exude a haunting timelessness that is worth the price of admission. For fans of Game of Thrones, here be dragons – Daenerys Targaryen keeps her scaly brood here when she's in Meereen. The Romanesque bell tower was reconstructed in 1908 © piotrbb / Shutterstock Cathedral of St Domnius and the Temple of Jupiter Split’s octagonal Cathedral of St Domnius is one of the best-preserved ancient Roman buildings still standing today. It was built as a mausoleum for Diocletian, who was interred here in AD 311. The exterior of the building is still encircled by an original colonnade of 24 columns. A much later addition, the tall Romanesque bell tower, was constructed between the 13th and 16th centuries and reconstructed in 1908 after it collapsed. Although it's now the cathedral's baptistery, the Temple of Jupiter was originally an ancient Roman temple dedicated to the king of the gods. It still has its original barrel-vaulted ceiling and decorative frieze, although a striking bronze statue of St John the Baptist by Ivan Meštrović now fills the spot where Jupiter once stood. The font is made from 13th-century carved stones recycled from the cathedral's rood screen. Tickets for the cathedral include admission to the crypt, treasury and baptistery (Temple of Jupiter). Tickets are sold separately for those eager to climb the bell tower. You'll need a head for heights, though, as the steep stone stairs quickly give way to flimsy metal ones suspended over the internal void. There are around 3000 residents within the palace walls © Apexphotos / Getty Images Present day life within the palace walls There are 220 buildings within the palace boundaries, home to about 3000 people. The narrow streets hide passageways and courtyards – some deserted and eerie, others thumping with music from bars and cafes – while residents hang out their washing overhead, kids kick footballs against the ancient walls, and people sit in their windows watching the action below.
By far Croatia's top natural attraction and the absolute highlight of Croatia's Adriatic hinterland, the Plitvice Lakes National Park is a glorious expanse of forested hills and turquoise lakes. Within the boundaries of this heavily forested national park, 16 crystalline lakes tumble into each other via a series of waterfalls and cascades. The mineral-rich waters carve through the rock, depositing tufa in continually changing formations. Clouds of butterflies drift above the 11 miles (18km) of wooden footbridges and pathways that snake around the edges and across the rumbling water. It's exquisitely scenic – so much so that in 1979 Unesco proclaimed it a World Heritage Site. The name is slightly misleading though, as it's not so much the lakes that are the attraction here but the hundreds of waterfalls that link them. Exploring the park From Entrance 2, the southernmost of the two entrances, it’s an easy amble down to the shore of 2.5-mile-long (4km) Kozjak Lake and P1 (a hut and boat stop). Surrounded by steep, forested slopes, Kozjak is the park's largest lake, and forms a boundary between the upper and lower valleys. It contains a small oval island composed of travertine. A good path runs along the lake’s eastern shore: follow it to reach the spectacular lower lakes – with forests, grottoes, steep cliffs and waterfalls – or take one of the regular free boats. Next is emerald Milanovac Lake, then the path runs below cliffs beside Gavanovac Lake. Above is the open-topped cavern of Šupljara, where there’s a lovely viewpoint over Plitvice’s lower reaches. A wooden walkway cuts across to the north bank, around reed-fringed Kaluđerovac Lake and past two towering sets of waterfalls. The second, the aptly named Veliki Slap, is the tallest in Croatia, with a 255ft (78m) drop. Follow the trails to see the cascades of Plitvice © Mark Read / Lonely Planet To explore the upper section of the lakes, return to P1 and follow the trails to Gradinsko Lake, bordered by reeds that often harbor nesting wild ducks. A series of cascades links Gradinsko to beautiful Galovac Lake, where an abundance of water has formed a series of ponds and falls. A set of concrete stairs over the falls, constructed long ago, has been covered by travertine, forming even more falls in a spectacular panorama. Several smaller lakes are topped by the larger Okrugljak Lake, supplied by two powerful waterfalls. Continuing upwards, you’ll come to Ciginovac Lake and, finally, Prošćansko Lake, surrounded by thick forests. Various combinations of boat, road train (a tourist bus with carriages) and hiking are available, depending on your level of fitness and the amount of time you have. A useful map is printed on the tickets and the information booths are extremely helpful. Spring and fall are the best times to visit © Mark Read / Lonely Planet When to visit While the park is beautiful year-round, spring and fall are the best times to visit. In spring and early summer the falls are flush with water, while in autumn the changing leaves put on a colorful display. Winter is also spectacular, although snow can limit access and the free park transport doesn't operate. Unquestionably the worst time to visit is in the peak months of July and August, when the falls reduce to a trickle, parking is problematic and the sheer volume of visitors can turn the walking tracks into a conga line and cause lengthy waits for the buses and boats that ferry people around the park. If you have limited time, focus on one section of the park © SJ Travel Photo and Video / Shutterstock Tickets and other practicalities Tickets must be purchased online at least one day in advance of your visit. The extraordinary natural beauty of the park merits a full day's exploration, but you can still experience a lot on a half-day trip from Zadar or Zagreb. You must be able to walk a fair distance to get the most out of the place. If you've got limited time, the upper lake section can be completed in two hours. The lower section takes about three, although it's best to start with the bus ride and end with the boat to save yourself a climb. Swimming is not permitted in any of the lakes. Hotels and campsites near Plitvice National Park The four hotels operated by the national park are relatively charmless institutions, but they're conveniently positioned right on the park's borders. There are also two campsites. Otherwise, there are excellent guesthouses within walking distance in surrounding villages. For a particularly atmospheric alternative, hunt for private rooms in tiny Korana, an idyllic village set by a gurgling stream and reached by a narrow road north of the Korana bridge. Read more: croatia's -national-parks-link" href="https://www.lonelyplanet.com/articles/best-national-parks-croatia">Exploring Croatia's national parks
Controlling the valley leading into Split, the imposing Klis Fortress spreads along a limestone bluff, reaching 1260ft (385m) at its highest point. Its long and narrow form derives from constant extensions over the course of millennia. Inside, you can clamber all over the fortifications and visit the small museum. History Klis' history (in a nutshell) goes like this: founded by the Illyrians in the 2nd century BCE; taken by the Romans; became a stronghold of medieval Croatian duke Trpimir; resisted attacks for 25 years before falling to the Turks in 1537; briefly retaken in 1596; finally fell to the Venetians in 1648. A series of highly informative but very wordy panels detailing this long and complicated history is displayed in a 17th-century, Venetian-built armory in the inner part of the fortress. The room also contains a collection of 17th- to 19th-century muskets, swords and armor, and a mock-up of the sort of garb worn by the Uskoks, the local warriors who defended the castle from the Turks. You'll pass through three gates to reach the inner fortress © Olga Visavi / Shutterstock Walls and gates There are three gates to pass through before you reach the inner part of the fortress. The ticket office is located in the main gate at the lower end of the complex, built by the Austrians in the 1820s. From here a path twists up to the second gate, which was the main entrance in the Middle Ages – although its current form is also courtesy of the Austrians. The last gate, also medieval, is reached by a set of stone steps at the far end of the fort. Its current appearance is from a Venetian reconstruction in 1763. Views from St Vitus' Church At the heart of the upper fortress is a simple, square church topped with a dome, dedicated to St Vitus (Sv Vid). During the Turkish occupation it was converted into a mosque. The views from the entire fortress are remarkable, but no less so than at the very top, taking in all of the sprawling city of Split and the islands beyond. Game of Thrones exhibition Game of Thrones fans will probably recognize the fortress as Meereen, where Daenerys Targaryen had all those nasty slave-masters crucified in season four. If you're having trouble visualizing Klis in its GoT guise, there's a display of stills from the show in an 18th-century gunpowder chamber in the top part of the fortress. How to get there and other practicalities Klis is located 7 miles (12km) northeast of the city center, and can be reached by bus from Split's local bus station. In summer, time your visit for the morning. It gets scorching hot up there and there's little shade. Finish with lunch at one of Klis' renowned spit-roast restaurants. If you've hired a car for the day, Klis can easily be combined with a trip to the ruins of Salona.
Zlatni Rat, Croatia's most photographed beach, extends like a tongue into the sea for about a quarter of a mile (400m). Despite the hype and constant crowds, the "golden cape" is a gorgeous place. Made up of smooth white pebbles, its elegant tip is constantly shuffled by the wind and waves. Pine trees provide shade and rocky cliffs rise sharply behind it, making the setting one of the loveliest in Dalmatia. There's a small nudist section immediately west of the cape. To avoid the worst of the winds, you're best to hit the beach in the morning or late in the afternoon. Windsurfing at Zlatni Rat Bol is a windsurfing hot spot, with much of the action centered on Zlatni Rat. Although the maestral (strong, steady westerly wind) blows from April to October, the best times to windsurf are the end of May and the beginning of June, and the end of July and the beginning of August. The wind generally reaches its peak in the early afternoon and then dies down at the end of the day. Big Blue Sport, based on a beach 700m east of Zlatni Rat, rents windsurfing gear (per hour/half-day €18/40) and offers six-hour beginners' courses (€135). It also rents stand-up paddleboards, kayaks and mountain bikes. A lot of Bol's windsurfing action is around Zlatni Rat © Julia Lavrinenko / Getty Images Places to eat near Zlatni Rat The best option for a meal is Mali Raj, located just above the beach by the car park. This alfresco tavern has a shady garden and serves delicious Dalmatian dishes such as grilled squid and fish. There are also various places where you can order drinks on the beach itself. Getting there Put Zlatnog rata is a shady mile-long (1.5km) pedestrian promenade that links Zlatni Rat to the historic center of the pretty town of Bol, the bus station and the ferry wharf. It follows the waterline all the way and is lined with pine trees and interesting sculpture. In summer, stalls sprout up, selling trinkets and ice creams, and touting tours and activities. Taxi boats run from the old-town harbor, and there is parking near the beach for those with their own wheels.
Split’s octagonal cathedral is one of the best-preserved ancient Roman buildings still standing. It was built as a mausoleum for Diocletian, the last famous persecutor of the Christians, who was interred here in AD 311. In the 5th century the Christians got the last laugh, destroying the emperor's sarcophagus and converting his tomb into a church dedicated to one of his victims. Note that a ticket for the cathedral includes admission to its crypt, treasury and baptistery ( Temple of Jupiter). The exterior of the building is still encircled by an original colonnade of 24 columns. A much later addition, the tall Romanesque bell tower, was constructed between the 13th and 16th centuries and reconstructed in 1908 after it collapsed. Tickets are sold separately for those eager to climb up for views over the old town's rooftops. You'll need a head for heights, though, as the steep stone stairs quickly give way to flimsy metal ones suspended over the internal void. In summer, visitor access to the cathedral is via the sacristy, situated in an annexe around the right-hand side of the building. This structure also houses the cathedral's treasury, which is rich in reliquaries, icons, church robes, illuminated manuscripts and documents in Glagolitic script. In the low season, entry is via the front door and the treasury isn't open to the public (tickets are 10KN cheaper when the treasury is closed). Inside the cathedral itself, the domed interior has two rows of Corinthian columns and a frieze running high up on the walls that, surprisingly, still includes images of the emperor and his wife. To the left of the main altar is the altar of St Anastasius (Sveti Staš; 1448), carved by Juraj Dalmatinac. It features a relief of The Flagellation of Christ that is considered one of the finest sculptural works of its time in Dalmatia. The choir is furnished with 13th-century Romanesque seats, the oldest of their kind in Dalmatia. Other highlights include a 13th-century pulpit; the right-hand altar, carved by Bonino da Milano in 1427; and the vault above the high altar, decorated with murals by Dujam Vušković. As you leave, take a look at the remarkable scenes from the life of Christ on the wooden entrance doors. Carved by Andrija Buvina in the 13th century, the images are presented in 28 squares, 14 on each side, and recall the fashion of Romanesque miniatures of the time. Don't forget to take a look in the crypt, accessed by an exterior door on the right side of the church. Now a chapel dedicated to St Lucy, it's an eerily quiet chamber that stays cool even on the hottest days. If you're interested in the technical aspects of the building's architecture, check out the free New Research on Split Cathedral exhibition in the building opposite the main entrance.
Top billing in Poreč goes to the 6th-century Euphrasian Basilica, a World Heritage Site and one of Europe’s finest intact examples of Byzantine art. Built on the site of a 4th-century oratory, the complex includes a church, an atrium and a baptistery. The glittering 6th-century mosaics in the apse of the church are the highlights. The belfry, accessed through the octagonal baptistery, affords an intimate view of the old town. Gazing at the mosaics, note how Jesus and the Apostles on the top row are balanced by a set of 12 female saints in the arch, with the Lamb of God at their apex. The main group, in the curve of the apse itself, is centred on the Madonna and Child flanked by angels, saints and Bishop Euphrasius (to the left, holding a model of the church), who commissioned the basilica. Beneath the mosaics, the sanctuary is enclosed by beautifully inlaid marble arranged in geometric patterns. Also note the capitals of the columns supporting the Romanesque arches of the nave; each matched pair is different, carved with birds, flowers and fruit. Make sure to pop into the adjacent Bishop's Palace, which contains a display of ancient stone sculptures, religious paintings and 4th-century mosaics from the original oratory.
Pula’s most famous and imposing sight is this 1st-century oval amphitheatre, overlooking the harbour northeast of the old town. It's a huge and truly magnificent structure, slotted together entirely from local limestone and known locally as the Arena. Designed to host gladiatorial contests and seating up to 20,000 spectators, it still serves the mass-entertainment needs of the local populace in the shape of concerts and film-festival screenings. At 133m long, 105m wide and 32m high, Pula's amphitheatre is the sixth largest of its kind. On the top of the walls is a gutter that collected rainwater, and you can still see the slabs used to secure the fabric canopy, which protected spectators from the sun. You can get a decent view of the Arena from just walking around the outside, but the entrance fee enables you to clamber around the stones and visit the underground chambers. Once used to house the wild beasts and to drag away dead gladiators, they now contain rather more genteel displays of amphorae and equipment used in the production of olive oil. In summer, check out the Spectacvla Antiqva (adult/child 80/40KN), an evening event held at least once a week, featuring gladiator fights and Roman-style clothing, hairstyles, food and drinks.
The crowning architectural glory of the Dalmatian coast and the undisputed masterpiece of its principal designer, Juraj Dalmatinac, this World Heritage Site is worth a detour to see. It was constructed entirely of stone quarried from the islands of Brač, Korčula, Rab and Krk, and is reputed to be the world’s largest church built completely of stone without brick or wooden supports. The structure is also unique in that the interior shape corresponds exactly to the exterior. Dalmatinac was not the first (nor the last) architect to work on the cathedral. Construction began in 1431, but, after 10 years of toying with various Venetian builders, the city appointed Dalmatinac, a Zadar native, who increased the size of the building and transformed the conception of the church into a transitional Gothic-Renaissance style. The unusual domed-roof complex was completed after Dalmatinac’s death by Nikola Firentinac, who continued the facade in a pure Renaissance style. It was all finally completed in 1536. The cathedral's most unusual feature is the frieze of 71 heads on the exterior walls at the rear of the building. These portraits – placid, annoyed, comical, proud and fearful – almost appear to be caricatures but are depictions of ordinary 15th-century citizens. The building cost a great deal to construct, and it’s said that the stingier the individual, the grosser the caricature. Note also the Lion’s Portal on the northern side, created by Dalmatinac and Bonino da Milano, in which two lions support columns containing the figures of Adam and Eve, who appear to be excruciatingly embarrassed by their nakedness. Pick up the excellent brochure (available in various languages) as you enter the church; it provides a self-guided circuit of the many artworks and architectural features inside. A highlight is Dalmatinac’s extraordinary baptistery in the rear corner, with its exquisitely carved ceiling and font supported by three angels. Other interior artworks worth noting are the tomb of Bishop Šižigorić (by Dalmatinac), who supported the building of the cathedral; the altar painting of St Fabian and St Sebastian (by Filippo Zaniberti); and a particularly gruesome 15th-century Gothic crucifix (by Juraj Petrović).
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