I have a very important announcement: I went to Croatia! Sorry about not telling you beforehand, but I thought I’d write a new post about my trip to “Hrvatska” as a surprise. My parents were planning to go to Croatia and I managed to take a week off from school, so I happily joined them on their trip. I was incredibly excited to go to Croatia, (1) because I was being suffocated by a prolonged exposure to the Dutch weather and flat landscapes, and (2) because I had never been to Southeast Europe. Travelling to a new place means I don’t know what to expect, which always makes the trip twice as enjoyable.
Explore Centuries of Croatian History: 5 Things to Do in Sibenik
An Introduction to Sibenik
The historic town of Sibenik is the first destination on my list of upcoming articles about Croatia. Sibenik is a city in central Dalmatia, and the oldest native Croatian town on the eastern shores of the Adriatic. The town’s present name was first mentioned in documents in 1066 and at one point Šibenik even served as the seat of the Croation King. Sibenik evidently has a rich history, also having experienced various conquests. These powerful conquerors included the Republic of Venice, Byzantine Empire, Kingdom of Hungary, and Kingdom Bosnia through the centuries.
Sibenik has a turbulent history, as it was conquered by the likes of the Republic of Venice, the Byzantine Empire, and the Kingdom of Hungary. At one point in time, the small city even served as the seat of the Croatian King.
During World War II, the town was occupied by Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Afterwards, the town became part of the SFR Yugoslavia until Croatia declared independence in 1991. It was heavily attacked during the ensuing War of Independence (1991–1995), but the Croatian Army and citizens of Sibenik defended the city. Any damage to the historic centre has since then been restored.
1. Enjoy a Botanical Moment in the Medieval Garden
The Medieval Monastery Mediterranean Garden of St Lawrence (Srednjovjekovni samostanski mediteranski vrt sv. Lovre) is situated up the stairs above St Lawrence’s church and “was restored and opened on 6th November 2007 after being forgotten about for a hundred years.” This type of garden is very rare throughout Europe and can be distinguished by its medieval design. Most noticeable are its pathways, shaped like a cross.
It was a hot day when we visited Sibenik, so we took a break to have some refreshing drinks at the cafe in the garden. It’s the perfect place to calm down and have a relaxing look around and a great starting point to explore the city’s history.
2. See the Grotto and Painted Ceiling of the Franciscan Church
The St. Lawrence Church in Sibenik stems from the 18th century, when it was built by the Franciscan Order. By 1669, the nearby monastery had already become an important centre of philosophy and theology. Just before the entrance of the church is an (artificial) Our Lady of Lourdes cave or grotto. This grotto is an imitation of the cave in France, where the Virgin is said to have appeared to a local girl in 1858.
I remember visiting Lourdes in France with my parents and siblings when I was much younger. That’s why it was really intriguing to suddenly see such a similar scene appear within the narrow streets of historic Sibenik. Take some time out of your day to check out the grotto, as well as the magnificent painted ceiling in the modestly-sized church.
3. Discover the Vistas from the Saint Ana Cemetary
You can climb the Saint Ana Fortress and get an amazing view of the city of Sibenik, but visiting the tranquil Saint Ana’s Cemetary (Grobilje Sv. Ana) outside the Fortress also gives you some nice vistas of the surrounding town. In the second photo, you can see the Šibenik bridge over the Krka river in the distance. Despite it being the final resting place for many locals, the cemetery is a lovely, peaceful place to have a (respectful) look around.
4. Visit the Impressive Cathedral of Saint James
The Cathedral of Saint James (Katedrala sv. Jakova) is a Renaissance basilica with a quite an impressive 32 m high dome. Construction started in 1431 and lasted until 1536, although there were already plans for the church during 13th century. The resulting architecture is proof of the cultural interaction between the regions of northern Italy, Dalmatia and Tuscany during the 15th and 16th centuries.
The Cathedral has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 2000. I paid a small fee to view the cathedral from the inside, but unfortunately much of it was still in scaffolding. By now, however, the interior should be fully restored! Be mindful that photography and filming inside the church is not allowed.
5. Admire the Renaissance Architecture of the Loggia
Across the cathedral lies the Sibenik loggia or town house, also stemming from the Renaissance period (1534-1547). It replaced the older, more modest loggia from the early 14th century. The Renaissance loggia was actually largely destroyed in a 1943 bombing raid, but was rebuilt from 1949 to 1960 . That guy you see there waving at you was actually a fellow tourist I ran into that day. When he noticed me taking pictures he gave a friendly wave! Anyway, the loggia is undoubtedly one of the architectural highlights in historic Sibenik. Make sure to go and have a look after your visit to the cathedral.
More about the Dalmatian Coast
I hoped you liked reading/looking this post as much as I enjoyed exploring, researching and writing about Sibenik. There are actually a few more historic cities like Sibenik across the Dalmatian coasts. You can think of places like Zadar and Split, which are definitely worth a visit as well. Keep an eye out for more posts about Croatia coming soon! For now, have a look at the articles I’ve already published on my blog: