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Architecturally, what to expect in Croatia

Croatia is a relatively small country of 4 million people, with many types of architecture:




Late Ancient (Roman)

2nd-3rd century

Diocletian’s Palace – Split, Pula

Old Croatian
(staro hrvatsko)

6th-9th century

Solin, Salona, Trogir, Knin, Šibenik, Biograd na Moru, Zadar


9th, 10th, 11th

Zadar, Trogir, Split


13th-14th centuries

Trogir and Šibenik






Dalmatia, Islands, Split, Trogir, Marina, Omiš, Dubrovnik


18th century



19th-20th century

Split (Nakov Palace, Fish Market, Đardin)


Starting from the top of the country:

Rijeka – (Ree-YAY-kuh) This seaside shipping town has a rich legacy of political connection with the old Austria-Hungarian government. Balconies, gardens, villas converted into apartment buildings, the Korzo (inner coastal walkway) and clock tower all give an Italian + Austrian + Hungarian feeling. The Trsat fortress is recently renovated and a glistening pearl on the hillside overlooking the gorgeous city. Once a year, the city hosts its famous Masquerade (Carnival) party every weekend before Lent, with the big blowout on (fat) Tuesday with parades and participants from every corner of Croatia and beyond! Dress up and join the fun; groups are especially welcome – it’s something to experience!

Pula – (POO-la) meaning Polis was built by the ancient Romans, and is best known for its gorgeous amphitheater. By contrast, another arena on Croatian soil was found in Salona, which is now in ruins, which was used for gladiator fights and just plain sport; it was destroyed by the Avars and the Slavs in 650 A.D. and remains in ruins today. But Pula’s amphitheater is often used for concerts and other events. Formerly home to the Austrian navy in the 1800s, today it hosts international book fairs and is sometimes called the Leipzig of Croatia. Ideally situated between Italy and Slovenia most people here identify themselves as Istrians (on the Istrian Peninsula) and not Croatians.

Zagreb – The capital city of Croatia meaning “the town”, think Brownstones and Gothic City (Batman). It looks and feels a lot like Vienna. Many parks are scattered throughout the city proper, and although only 1 million people live here, it has the feel of a friendly European city. For three years in a row, it was voted the best Advent Christmas Market in all of Europe. Many university students flock to Zagreb, and besides education, it offers Lisinski Concert hall, the national theater, museums and a constant schedule of events on the main square. Pedestrians and bicyclists are everywhere, as well as blue trollies, buses and the train. Housing is more plentiful than in Split, for example, and while prices continue to rise, Zagreb offers the prospect of spreading out into the outlying area (i.e. Novi (or New) Zagreb, Samobor, Velika Gorica) so the cost remains less, whereas Split is landlocked so prices keep rising with no end in sight.

Varaždin – (Var-azh-deen) I always think of sunflowers along the roadside to Varaždin. This was the country’s capital until, in the 18th century, a fire forced its relocation to Zagreb, where it remains to this day. Known for a spindle-topped castle which is now a museum, Varaždin is prosperous, with one of the most stable economies in Croatia, home to an IT university, Varaždinske Toplice (for massage and therapy). Mainly flat, bicyclists enjoy the half-bike, half walking trains (the same is true in Zagreb).

Karlovac – (Kar-low-vahts) With train service and lots of open noble spaces, Karlovac is a wonderful green meadow with prominent turn of the 19th century buildings, hat-like roofed houses (to keep the snow from caving in the rooftops), as well as culture and (sometimes) prosperity. It is one of the farming centers of Croatia, and it is also well known for its natural underground hot springs as a boon for winter guests.

Zadar – (ZAHHH-dar). Formerly known as Iadera, Jadera, and Zara, it is the ancient capital of the Dalmatian region, which stretched out from the Istrian Peninsula to Albania. Dalma means sheep, and the hills were filled with sheep and goats – smaller than inland ones – which ate the salty grass and herbs. To this day, the island of Pag near Zadar is the country’s leading salt producer, and Pag is famous for its succulent lamb and Pag cheese. Zadar consists of a peninsula, filled with Romanesque architecture (St. Donat church), the oldest university of all Croatia dating back to the 1200s, and home to the ancient Iliric tribe called the Liburnians, a clever seafaring tribe during the Greek times. Zadar was recently named in 2016 the best European tourist destination. Sea is breathtakingly blue, patches of forests in Diklo and Kolovare, Lake Vrana to the south and remains of the Roman Forum (with stellas, pillars, old churches and breathtaking scenery) make it a real gem to visit.

Split – (Split!) Formerly known as Aspalatos, then Spalatos and now Split, it’s best known as the best example of late Ancient architecture anywhere in the world, hence its UNESCO protected Diocletian’s Palace. Beyond the amazing Palace, you’ll find Varoš with its stone houses clumped together with cobblestone streets, giving a real European feel, Radunica with its tiny white houses and red tiled roofs, and seaside homes in the Bačvice area of town which command top dollar but are nevertheless, just a walk away from the beach. Rental property in Split seems to be a win-win situation since the town is home to no less than 13 universities (student rentals) and brisk tourism (currently 10 out of 12 months a year) due to its sunny climate, good public transportation, safety, accessibility and centralized location (around the Palace) for the majority of events. Split is a happy place to be!

Trogir – (Tro-GEER) meaning “goat” in the ancient Roman language, is also very Old World, if not a bit on the snooty side. Just outside of Split and not far from the airport, it is a walled city nicknamed Little Dubrovnik. It’s known for having the oldest pharmacy in the world (dating back to 1271). Many historical events took place here, attempted invasions and more, and it has the honor of being among the oldest standing cities left in the world (3100 years, protected by UNESCO funding)! Not as lively as Split, it is nevertheless used as the backdrop for many movie scenes. The ambiance is amazing, with Greek style grid walkways and many reminders of the past. Have a cup of coffee and look around – no doubt, you will feel as if you are still living in the Middle Ages.

Ćiovo – (CHEE-ovo). Many Croats who went to work in Germany have returned here to build lovely houses on adjacent Ćiovo, an island just beyond Trogir, with apartments, vineyards, swimming pools and other modern luxuries. The new connecting bridge has lessened traffic between the township of Trogir and its sprawling suburban area.

Marina – (mah-REE-na) As the name implies, it’s a fishing village, known for its mussels and other shellfish. A large Venetian fortress lies in the harbor where the entire town would hide during the days of Turkish invasions.

Šibenik – (SHIB-en-nick) is considered the first Croatian city, dating back to 1064. Yes, many others are older, but they were built by Greeks (like Trogir) or Romans (like Split). Its intriguing harbor leaves just a narrow passageway for ships to enter, but tragically, suffered the most from Turkish invasion 500 years ago. Today, ironically, a Turkish investment group has built a luxurious 5-star hotel on the seaside, and Šibenik boasts the longest seaside walkway of all Dalmatian towns. Šibenik is known for its amazing Cathedral filled with symbolism, decorated with the faces of townsfolk on the exterior. In 1897, it become one of the first cities with electrically powered lights, thanks to nearby Krk National Park, home of the seven tributary rivers and waterfalls which fuel the hydroelectric power plant.

Hvar – (FARR) Beautiful and expensive, it’s a ferry ride away from Split. Along with Opatija, Hvar was the cradle of Croatian tourism for the past 100 years, and famous visitors from all over the world have frequented this island (Prince Harry, Princess Caroline from Monaco and many more) for its nightlife. Tourists love the seminaries, wonderful fish dinners, and huge town square selling lavender (imported by Napoleon) and gingerbread cookies “medenjaci” – honey spice cookies. A huge fortress gives a panoramic view from which you can often spot nearby Mount Hum on Vis.

Brač – (BRAHTCH) home to 5000 people year-round, it is an easy 30-minute commute from Split, with many ferries every day in each direction. A soap factory, candy factory and many guest houses remain active during most of the year. Saint Helena was reportedly born on Brač, and Chilean Croats (who left during the grape harvest famine) came back to pay their due respects to their homeland. Bol beach is famous for its golden horn, a white sand beach extending out into a point.

Vis – (Vees) Formerly the Greek colony ISSA, it requires at least two hours travel by ferry or catamaran. It was settled by force by Dionysius from Syracuse in the 4th century AD. Home to English forts and tunnels, Greek gravesites (“stellas”) it has unfortunately become obscure as an island of the past. During WWII, Tito had famous war time meetings in a cave in the island’s interior. Positioned in the center of the Adriatic between Italy and the Croatian mainland, it was used as a military outpost since its inception and due to this, perhaps, it has a flourishing ecology with gorgeous sea, flora and fauna. Most people either love it or hate it, and it becomes a ghost town in the wintertime!

Dubrovnik – (Doo-bruv-nick) The crown princess of the Croatian coast, it is a bit of an outsider to the rest of the country. Dubrovnik was a former republic of its own, called Ragusa (a derivative of Syracuse) in ancient times. It is also well-known for being the first republic to officially recognize the American colonies as an independent country apart from Great Britain. During Renaissance days, the town was extremely prosperous, doing trade as middleman of Europe sending wares from the East through the Italian port of Bari and on to Flanders in order to bypass the obnoxious Venetians. Many foreigners adore Dubrovnik, and yes, it is very beautiful, but it is also very, very expensive. An artistic settlement called Cavtat (Tsav-tat) is another notable gem, just a short boat ride away.

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