Layers of history in Dalmatia

The Dalmatian coast along the Adriatic Sea has been subject to wave after wave of domination by great powers. Rare is the period during which local peoples governed themselves. The Illyrians were overwhelmed on the coast by the Greeks and then the Romans; the Avars and Slavs were dominated by the Ottomans, by the Venetians, and finally by the Austrians. The Croats probably came to Istria and Dalmatia in the 7th century A.D., but true independence for them was not won until the break-up of Yugoslavia and the “Homeland War” of 1991. Today, a proud people are sovereign in their ancient home, while looking to their wider community in Europe.

Michael in SplitThe photo shows me standing before the most extant part of Diocletian’s Palace in Split, which is the peristyle towards the entrance to Diocletian’s quarters, while to the left is a part of the Cathedral of Saint Domnius founded on the same spot 400 years afterwards. Layer upon layer of history is here to be seen, in stone and in the warp and weft of Croatia.

Bol, Brač, Croatia

Church at Bol, Brač, CroatiaThis is the small church of Saints Peter and Paul, near the town of Bol on the island of Brač in Croatia. This church was first mentioned in 1720, and is one of the oldest churches on Brač. Today, it is surrounded by beach resorts, and I came across a stream of local people heading out to the gravel beaches with small children in tow, looking to beat the heat of the day in the cooling waters of the Adriatic.

Hvar, Croatia

Hvar, CroatiaThis is a view of the town of Hvar, on the island of the same name in Croatia. The photo was taken from the Venetian fortress that overlooks the town and harbour, which is known locally as Španjola (possibly from Spanish builders and military engineers employed during its construction). In 1571, the townspeople of Hvar took refuge in Španjola to save themselves from an attack by the Ottomans, and watched from the heights above as their homes were destroyed.

The thermometer is well into the 30s, and I had two swims off the back of the boat in the Adriatic. Just another day in paradise.

Korčula, Croatia

Korčula, CroatiaKorčula is the reputed birthplace of Marco Polo, although there is no proof of this claim. Marco Polo was a Venetian citizen, born around 1254 — there was a prominent merchant family named Polo in Korčula at that time, and no family by that name in Venice. Korčula is the name of the island as well as the principal town, and it is a walled city like Dubrovnik, but very much out-of-the-way and quieter.

Trstenik, Dalmatian coast, Croatia

Trstenik, CroatiaTrstenik is a small village on the Pelješac peninsula, north-west of Dubrovnik. There is little to do here, and that is just fine by me.

Last night, Croatia played Spain in the Euro 2012 qualifying round. Spain scored in the final minutes in a goal that was undoubtedly offside. I was outraged at the injustice of it all, but the Croatians seem pretty sanguine about the whole thing. They’re out of the tournament, so it’s better luck next time.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Dubrovnic fortificationsI’m hiding out from the 31 degree heat in a shaded cafe in the old town of Dubrovnik, near the Church of Saint Blaise (or Sv. Vlaho, the patron saint of Dubrovnik). The first photo shows part of the ancient fortifications facing the Adriatic. These walls and the beautifully-preserved old town within have earned Dubrovnik a UNESCO world heritage designation.

Michael in Dubrovnik
This city was the heart of the Republic of Ragusa, which existed from 1358 to 1808, when it was conquered by Napoleon. It was a trading centre that at its peak rivaled Venice to the north. Tourism is probably most important to the city’s economy today, and it is a featured stop for cruise ships on the Adriatic Sea.

Dubrovnic war damageDubrovnik was heavily damaged during the “Homeland War” of 1991, subsequent to the break-up of Yugoslavia. The city was besieged by Serb and Montenegrin forces, and elements of the former Yugoslav National Army, for seven months. It was shelled from the neighbouring hills, and many buildings were damaged or destroyed. Over 300 citizens were killed. This map documents the damage: solid triangles are rooftop strikes by shelling, and solid circles are pavement strikes; hollow shapes are shrapnel damage; the red shapes are buildings destroyed by fires caused by the shelling.

Dubrovnik from Srđ hillThis is what the city looks like today, two decades after the pointless fighting is over. The view is from the top of the cable car on Srđ hill, near the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Seen from here, Dubrovnic truly is a jewel set in the Adriatic Sea.

Mljet, Croatia

Mljet, CroatiaI am sitting in the village of Pomena (population: 50), on the island Mljet. Cafes are all around, patronised by tourists who came by boat like me. A zodiac filled with scuba divers has just entered the harbour, and a police cutter (Policija) has docked on the pier.

The western half of Mljet is a national park. The photo is of Malo jezero (small lake) which is actually a salt water inlet of the sea. Tonight, at the end of Day 2 of the boat trip, I sit at the Captain’s Table for dinner. It sounds like a grand term for use on a boat that cannot properly be called a ship, but I am looking forward to some traditional Croatian seafood.

Makarska Riviera, Dalmatian coast, Croatia

Swimming in the Adriatic SeaSwimming in the clear waters of the Adriatic Sea, and strolling the seawalk of a Dalmatian town — these were my activities on Day 1 of a boat trip out of Split.The first photo is me swimming off the back of the boat “Ocean”, which at the time was anchored offshore of Dugi Rat. The second photo is the promenade along the sea in the town of Makarska. As a Canadian from a temperate boreal climate, I am easily impressed by the palm trees!Makarska, Croatia

Diocletian’s Palace, Split, Croatia

Diocletian's Palace, Split, CroatiaHere I am in the old town of Split, Croatia, which is built in and around the ruins of a palace built by the Roman Emperor Diocletian for his comfortable retirement from political life. Although construction of this large seaside retreat began in 293 A.D., the settlement of Split occurred much earlier, as the Greek colony of Aspálathos in the 6th century B.C..

Wall of Diocletian's Palace, Split, CroatiaThe weather is spectacular, and the scenery picturesque. The Croatian people are particularly welcoming. These days, they are more than a little excited about Croatia’s participation in the Euro 2012 football tournament. The streets were deserted last night as everyone was indoors watching the match against Italy. When Croatia scored a goal, a roar was heard rising up out of the city. Fireworks followed seconds later. The match ended in a 1-1 draw, and Croatia is doing well at the group stage, to the relief of everyone here.