Two Medieval Cities

Trip Start Jun 08, 2010
Trip End Aug 26, 2010

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Flag of Croatia  , Šibensko-Kniniska,
Friday, July 2, 2010

Croatian money was hard to deal with. There were just over 6 kuna to a dollar. The euro and the swiss franc I could just round to 1 per dollar. In Japan, I usually just dropped a few zeros. The kuna prices were harder to get a feel for. For example, 35 kuna for a pizza sounded like a lot, but it was really just about $6. I also end up having to go to the ATM all the time. I would get 500 kuna out, because 500 is a big number so it seemed like it should be good for a week, but it was really the equivalent of under $100. Just a few days of food and entry fees.

My first stop of the day was Šibenik. My guidebook didn't mention the town. The book was for all of Eastern Europe, so it had to leave some things out. I found out about Šibenik somewhere on the internet, and didn't have any idea what was there, apart from the Cathedral of St James, which was a UNESCO World Heritage site. The town turned out to be a very well preserved medieval town set on the side of a hill by the sea. There were lots of narrow, winding alleys with stone stairs and interesting medieval architecture.

Workers were setting up bleachers and a stage in the town square, so there wasn't really a clear view of the outside of the cathedral. The inside was where the church was at its best, though. The nave was a fantastic blend of Gothic and Renaissance features, but the star of the show was the baptistery. It was off in a separate room, down a short flight of stairs. There was a small fee of 10 kuna (about $1.50), so most people skipped it. I think that was a mistake.

The baptistery made exceptional use of natural lighting. It was a small cylindrical room with a domed ceiling. As I mentioned before, it was down a flight of stairs, and the only illumination came through small windows in the wall opposite the staircase. The windows themselves were hidden from view behind the cylinder walls and the light entered the room through an ornate trellis at the top of dome. Solid portions of the dome prevented the light from reaching the walls of the baptistery directly. As a result, the dome roof was glowing with yellow sunlight, while the walls were dull and shadowy. The stark contrast created an excellent dramatic effect on the various saints and angels inhabiting the dome. The cathedral was no pictures, so you'll just have to dust-off the old imagination, or book a trip to Croatia.

When I felt I had wandered sufficiently through Šibenik, I continued down the highway to Trogir. Trogir had the same basic description as Šibenik, as small well-preserved medieval town with some old churches. Unlike Šibenik, the entire old town area of Trogir was a UNESCO World Heritage site. It consisted mostly of Rennisance and Baroque buildings. (So the title of this entry isn't entirely accurate, but I'm setting up for a theme.)

Trogir's Cathedral of St. Lawrence had and impressive array of sculpture. Leading the way was the Romanesque doorway created in the 13th century. In addition to carvings of Bible scenes, saints, and medieval activities, it had nude (fig leaves excepting) statues of Adam and Eve that my guidebook claims are "the earliest examples of the nude in Dalmatian sculpture". (I.e. in coastal Croatia.)

Trogir was interesting enough, but I personally was more impressed by Šibenik. The featured churches were of similar high quality, but I thought the rest of old town Šibenik had more interesting architecture, and the hill setting definitely added character to the town. The UNESCO people seemed to have liked that Trogir retained a orthogonal street plan from classical times, but for me, orthogonal streets aren't as much fun to get lost in.

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