Croatia, although a small country, has an abundant history depicted richly through numerous architectural sights
. Most of them are still well-preserved, dating back to different periods of time and architectural style. Although famous buildings, getting the most attention from numerous tourists, are a part of sacral architecture, there are other interesting architectural monuments. Some of them we will mention in this text. While churches are impressive as sights, in some cities, especially in the inland of Croatia, residential architecture is becoming more popular. Croatia offers a wide spectrum of architectural styles - From old Roman times and their refined simplicity to complex looking, modernist and brutalist buildings in the bigger cities, everything adapted to the needs of the society (at that time).
In our article, we will lead you through the most important buildings in Dalmatia. Let´s find out which churches and monuments you shouldn´t miss visiting, along with some interesting facts and stories about them and some main characteristics of the period they were built in. Also, did you know that Croatia has both the smallest and the oldest cathedral in the world? Find out about them in our article!
According to the legends (find out more about legends and myths of Istria), Croats reached the Croatian soil in the 7th century. Back in those days, this migrating group came along with a signature design called pleter
, which is still a big part of Croatian symbols today. Except on church facades, you can find it everywhere from various archaeological finds to modern Croatian passports. Some say that it resembles stylized Celtic knots. This old ornament is made according to certain geometrical rules which represent a maze, a common motive of medieval art.
The design found its way onto the stone ornamentation of almost every medieval church in Croatia, including the Church of The Holy Cross in Nin
. Nin (17 km from Zadar) is a little, charming town, today most famous for its beautiful sandy beaches, salt work and medicinal mud. Fun fact- Nin has been chosen as one of the most romantic destinations in Europe by European Best Destinations.
It is also known as the oldest Croatian royal city, the former capital of the Dalmatian coast. This area is popular for its long history and numerous churches and archaeological treasures among which two churches stand out - church of St. Nicola
and the Holy Cross Church. Church of St. Nicola (dating back the 11th century) bears a lot of legends - allegedly 7 Croatian kings were crowned here with an interesting symbolic ritual. Legends tell the stories that each king had to turn in each cardinal direction to cut the soil with his sword. The church is approximately 6 m high and it is the only preserved example of early Romanesque architecture of Dalmatia. The Church of the Holy Cross is the smallest cathedral in the world. It was built in the 9th century is the only sacral facility in Nin that has remained undamaged. This church was included in Huffington Post´s list of 50 most unusual churches in the world and if you visit it, you will see why. Its construction may look poorly executed with the elliptical form but this has a deeper meaning. The building was made to follow the sun hours with a special positioning of the windows which functioned as a calendar and sundial.
Another sacral object worth seeing brings us to Zadar
(find out more about Zadar here
) and the Church of St. Donatus
built in the Romanesque style, dating back to the 9th century. Since Romanesque buildings are found almost everywhere in Europe, it appears as the first recognizable "European" architectural style that followed the ancient Roman architecture. Romanic is an expression of a strong will to build again, with full force and with a clear purpose, with deeply religious and human meaning. This period was the time when religious architecture arose with numerous churches being built, as true bearers of culture and art. First, the church was dedicated to the Holy Trinity, but as bishop Donat built it and was also buried there for some time since the 15th century, the church carries his name. Some interesting facts - this church survived the Mongolian invasion and it was built according to the architectural pattern of the church in Aachen (Germany). The foundations of this symbol of Zadar is actually an old Roman forum. Devastating parts of this forum were used to decorate the circular interior. Although no longer used for Mass, its great acoustics make it a favoured venue for classical concerts.
If you are interested in remains of Roman settlements you can visit Salona
(Solin) near Split or if you are going south, towards Dubrovnik - visit the "in situ" archaeological museum Narona (village Vid) built above a former Augusteum featuring statues of the Royal family and numerous objects from ancient everyday life.
One of the remarkable architecture pieces is the Cathedral of St. James
. It is a part of the UNESCO World Heritage list, notable for its elegant cupola and vaulted roof and the 74 sculptures of peoples' heads along the facade. This beautiful cathedral was completely built in limestone and marble from the Island of Brac, built by the 15-century architect Juraj Dalmatinac (although 3 Italian architects started the building process). An interesting note for all the series-buffs, one episode of Game of Thrones took place just next to the cathedral.
We mentioned the smallest cathedral, but Dalmatia also has the oldest cathedral in the world
! When visiting Split (find out more about Split here)
be sure to make a stop at the Cathedral of Saint Domnius
located in the Diocletian's Palace, dating back to the beginning of the 4th century. Before becoming a cathedral, it was a mausoleum. Today there are just a few traces of the mausoleum-like the crypt, while late antique sculptures remained as decorations. The most beautiful detail is surely the Romanesque-Gothic bell tower, which took 3 centuries to build.
Last, but definitely not least. The pearl of the south, and probably the most visited city in Croatia - Dubrovnik.
This city is the treasure of culture and amazing architecture.
While on your way to Dubrovnik, make a stop at Ston to see the "Croatian Chinese Wall"! Yes, it is the second longest after the Chinese Wall with its 5,5km it was built to protect the "white gold" of salt in the Ston salt-works but also to protect the city from hinterland attacks.
Dubrovnik is a city which deserves an article on its own, but let's just mention that this medieval city is full of beautiful Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque churches, monasteries, palaces and fountains. Walking through the city feels like walking through a historical museum, where time has stopped. The whole city is on the UNESCO heritage list,
it is also a famous filming location of Game of Thrones and it survived the big earthquake in 1667, as well as attacks in the Croatian War of Independence. With its amazing city walls and fortification, Mediterranean streets and the breeze from the sea, it will not disappoint you.
If you are an architecture lover, be sure to check out some of these locations and combine fun and culture with relaxation while staying in one of our beautiful holiday villas