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Croatia’s UNESCO World Heritage sites and Intangible Cultural Heritage

Croatia is one of the few countries in the world that can boast with many tangible and intangible cultural heritage in such a small area. A total of 27 assets are under UNESCO protection, of which are 10 tangible properties and 17 intangible cultural goods.

Check out a list of tangible and intangible assets that are under the protection of UNESCO in order to get an insight into how culturally rich Croatia is and certainly worth a visit.

Croatia’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites:
1. Old city of Dubrovnik

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Dubrovnik, the “Pearl of the Adriatic”, is a symbol of Croatian tourism and the most famous and most visited city in Croatia. Its medieval city walls and towers are widely recognized. Within the walls there are valuable cultural and historical palaces and churches, the most famous of which is the church of St. Blaise, city’s patron saint that is being especcially revered in Dubrovnik. Although the city was damaged in a terrible earthquake in 1667, it managed to preserve its rich cultural and historical sites. The Old Town of Dubrovnik has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1979.

2. Historical Complex of Split with the Palace of DiocletianIt

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Diocletian’s palace is situated in Split and it is one of the best preserved buildings of this kind in the world, therefore it has been inscribed on UNESCO World Heritage list in 1979. It was built between the 3rd century BC and the 4th century AD, by Roman emperor Diocletian for its retirement, a he he eventually died in the palace. Cathedral of St. Domnius, which was built on the remains of a mausoleum, as well as Romanesque churches, medieval fortifications, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque palaces are also under UNESCO protection.

3. Plitvice lakes National park

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Plitvice lakes National park is, along with Dubrovnik, one of the symbols of Croatia and the oldest national park in Croatia. Plitvice Lakes National Park is a complex of 16 large and smaller lakes, that cascade one into another and create beautiful waterfalls. The basic feature of this park are travertine barriers that have been forming for thousands of years that created this complex of lakes, waterfalls and caves. In the surrounding woods live rare plant species and animals. The national park was included in the UNESCO List in 1979.

4. Historic city of Trogir

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The history of the city of Trogir dates back to 2000 BC, which makes Trogir one of the oldest cities in the Mediterranean. Its foundations date back to the Illyrian, Hellenistic and Roman periods, and due to its exceptional cultural and historical importance, the entire old city was included in the 1997 UNESCO World Heritage List. In addition to many Romanesque churches and Baroque and Gothic buildings, Trogir’s Cathedral stands out with Master Radovan’s portal, which is one of the most significant examples of Romanesque-Gothic art in Croatia.

5. Episcopal Complex of the Euphrasian Basilica in the Historic Centre of Poreč

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The cathedral complex of the Euphrasian Basilica in Poreč has been the center of spirituality and faith for centuries. Its unique early Christian and Byzantine architecture is an example of excellent world-class artistic expression. Entire complex was built on the site of a former 4th-century oratory and includes a church, atrium, baptistery and episcopal palace. Extremely significant are the mosaics from the 6th century in the apse and the capitals of the pillars that support the Romanesque arches of the side naves with carved motifs of birds, fruits and flowers. In 1997, the entire complex was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

6. Cathedral of St. James and St. Nicola’s fortress in Šibenik

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The Cathedral of St. James in Šibenik is one of the most significant architectural achievements of the 15th and 16th centuries in Croatia, and unique monument of European sacral architecture. Construction began in 1431 and lasted until 1536. It is specific that it is completely built of stone without the use of any bonding material. Due to its exceptional values, the cathedral was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2000.

St. Nichola’s fortress is situated at the entrance to the St. Anthony’s Channel. It is a unique Renaissance building of a Venetian fortification and an exceptional monument of world’s architectural heritage. In 2017, the fortress was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List as part of the nomination”The Defence System of the Republic of Venice between the 16th and 17th Centuries”.

7. Stari Grad plain on Hvar island

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The large plain, in the centre of the island of Hvar, changed its name as its masters changed: the Greek Khora Pharu, the Roman Ager Pharensis, the Medieval Campus Sancti Stephani (the Plain of St. Stephen), and finally today’s Stari Grad Plain. The field was a well organized system of numerous agricultural estates. Many vineyards and olive groves have remained ‘unchanged’ since the first colonization of the ancient Greek and have remained a unique testimony to the geometric system of land division used in Antiquity.
Since it is great example of the best preserved land division on the Mediterranean, the Stari Grad plain was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2008 together with the old town of the Stari Grad.

8. Stećci-Medieval tombstones

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Stećak is a common name for a stone tombstone from the Middle Ages decorated with rudimentary paintings. They are located in the wider area of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the northwestern parts of Montenegro, the western parts of Serbia and the southern parts of Croatia, mainly in Dalmatia. The largest number of stećak tombstones dates to period between the 12th and 16th centuries. Necropolises in Croatia with stećak tombstones are located at the following locations: Cista Velika in the Imotski region and near the church of St. Barbara in Konavle. In 2016, the stećak tombstones were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

9. Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe (Northern Velebit and Paklenica National park)

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Velebit is the largest Croatian mountain. In Velebit Nature Park there are two national parks: Northern Velebit and Paklenica. In 2017. beech forests in the area of NP Paklenica are included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. Their exceptional value worthy of UNESCO protection is based on originality, age, geographical location and size. Paklenica National Park with its magnificent canyons and forests is certainly one of the most beautiful parts of the Velebit massif.

10. The Defence System of the Republic of Venice between the 16th and 17th Centuries (Zadar and St. Nicola’s fortress in Šibenik)

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Zadar was once the largest fortress city in the Republic of Venice and its city walls were an important part of a complex defense system. Zadar with its city walls, together with other components of Venetian defense works during 16th and 17th centuries, located in today’s Croatia, Italy and Montenegro, joined the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2017 as an outstanding monument of a modern maritime fortress. The most striking part of Zadar’s city walls is the Land Gate, the main historical entrance to the city built in 1543 by Michele Sanmicheli, a famous Venetian architect.

Croatia’s UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage:
1. Ojkanje singing

Ojkanje is a special way of singing the syllables hoj, voj, oj. It is the oldest way of singing in Croatia, which is still cherished in the Dalmatian hinterland. The shout of “oj” would be transmitted by the wind and this way the neighbors were warned of the danger of wolves while tending sheep. The song would be composed after the other shepherd from another hill would reply and confirm that he received the message. That way shepherds were also searching for their flock sheep on the mountain slopes.

2. Two-part singing and playing in the Istrian scale

Two-part singing and playing in the Istrian scale is unique type of folk singing by two singers in Istria, one of whom sings in falsetto and the other in a normal key, accompanied by the unusual sounds on traditional instruments. The complexity of performing songs lays in fact that in order for singers to achieve characteristic tones, they have to partially sing even through the nose.

3. Klapa multipart singing of Dalmatia

Klapa multipart singing of Dalmatia is the skill of multipart singing a capella, without instrumental accompaniment. Klapa singing draws its tradition from the Mediterranean culture, in small coastal towns and on the islands, the boys would gathered in klapa and sang in the company of friends, mostly without instruments. Usually the song is started by one singer, followed by other voices.

4. Bećarac singing and playing from Eastern Croatia

Bećarac is traditional vocal-instrumental singing in the area of Slavonia, Baranja and Srijem with frequent jokes and mockery, love and erotic connotations.

5. Annual carnival bell ringers pageant from the Kastav area

Annual carnival bell ringers pageant from the Kastav area is a procession of bell ringers and their traditional carnival celebration. A group of masked people with huge animal masks, covered with sheepskins, winches with axes and clubs with a lot of ringing, noise and almost magical dances walks through the surrounding villages. The first records of organized bell ringers date back to the 19th century, but the roots go deeper into the past.

6. Nijemo Kolo, silent circle dance of the Dalmatian hinterland

Nijemo kolo from the area of the Dalmatian hinterland is a dance without music. Heavy, but completely rhythmic beats with traditional leather shoes “opanak” on the dance floor are indicating the dancers, to speed up or slow down the step in a circular motion. Nijemo kolo was performed at traditional celebrations of local saints, and a guy would dance next to a girl, occasionally introducing her to the circle to let everyone know that it was a filrting and that the girl belonged to him.

7. The Sinjska Alka, a knights’ tournament in Sinj

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Sinjska alka is a knights’ tournament in Sinj, which is held every year in memory of the heroic resistance of several hundred soldiers who in 1715 defended the city from the onslaught of sixty thousand Ottoman soldiers. The Alkars ride a horse along a one hundred and sixty meter long trail in colorful traditional clothing with medieval weapons (holsters and clubs) aiming with a long spear at the Alka, a small iron ring that hangs in the air and to shoot “in the middle”.

8. Lacemaking in Croatia

Lacemaking in Croatia is a tradition that has been nurtured for centuries in small rural areas. Lacemaking began during the Middle Ages with the Paulines in Lepoglava and on the islands of Pag and Hvar with the Benedictine nuns. The original lace adorned sacral interirors, but later it become part of traditional folklore clothing and footwear.

9. Traditional manufacturing of childrens wooden toys in Hrvatsko Zagorje

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Traditional children’s toys are made of wood in the area of Hrvatsko Zagorje (in the North of Croatia). Toys were entirely hand made, and today this is a protected skill and a valuable heritage. Men carved and women painted more than 120 wooden toys (whistles, horses, cars, tiny furniture, spinning dancers, jumping horses and flapping birds). The tradition of making wooden toys began in the 19th century, and even today there are a large number of bearers of this tradition.

10. Procession “Za Krizen” (following the cross) on the island of Hvar

Procession Za Krizen (following the cross) on the island of Hvar is a procession of a group of 6 people from six different villages on the night from Good Thursday to Good Friday led by members of the fraternity and a key figure – cross-bearer. The procession departes from Jelsa for a procession through the night by candlelight, accompanied by religious songs. The cross-bearer carries the cross from his parish all night through the neighbouring villages like a pilmerage, and at dawn the cross is solemnly returned to the place of departure of the procession. This is a special honor for many locals, especially for the cross-bearer who has to wait for this honor for years.

11. The festivity of Saint Blaise, the patron of Dubrovnik

The festivity of Saint Blaise, the patron of Dubrovnik, is a unique festival in Dubrovnik that has been celebrated in the same way for 1045 years, with Catholic rites and a magnificent procession through the streets of the old town. The beginning of this tradition dates back to the 10th century and is based on the legend of a saint who helped the people of Dubrovnik to defend their freedom during the Venetian siege of the city.

12. Spring procession of Ljelje/Kraljice (queens) from Gorjan

In the village of Gorjani near Đakovo, a special tradition is held, the annual spring procession of Ljelje/Queens , which was once widespread throughout Slavonia, Branja and Srijem. On the Christian holiday of Pentecost, young girls go on a tour of the village with sabers. Weapons are a mandatory part of costume design because they are part of the ritual dance performed by ljelje, most often accompanied by bagpipes, “tamburica” players or “bečar” singing. According to legend, during the Turkish siege, Gorjan women disguised themselves as men with swords and frightened Turkish soldiers to think that they were ghosts.

13. Gingerbread craft from Northern Croatia

The gingerbread craft in the area of northern Croatia originated in the Middle Ages mainly in monasteries. Gingerbread heart is perhaps the most beautiful souvenir that you can bring from northern Croatia. The natural colors of white, yellow and green in which gingerbread would be dipped were obtained by secret recipes, and a special red color became unique for gingerbread products from this area.

14. Mediterranean diet in Croatia

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The islands of Brač and Hvar in Croatia are in the company of Spain, Italy, Greece and Morocco and are joint carriers of the protected Mediterranean diet. Cooking skills have rarely changed over the centuries, and the consumption of food is a social matter and extremely important for the Dalmatian identity. Salted fish in olive oil, a piece of goat cheese, “gregada” (fish soup), Brač lamb, broth, each dish tells its own story.

15. Community project of safeguarding the living culture of Rovinj

Ecomuseum Batana is a unique project of preserving the local maritime culture of Rovinj, based on respect for tradition, respect for modern social needs and the synergy of man and the environment. The main elements of the Batana Ecomuseum are: House of Batana – central interpretation and documentation center, Mali škver – construction of batana on the city waterfront, Spacio Matika – Rovinj canteen that nurtures local gastronomy, Istro-Romanian dialect and local musical expression.

16. Međimurska popevka, a folksong from Međimurje

Međimurska popevka is a traditional form of singing in northwestern Croatia, Međimurje. The first musical notes date back to the 16th century, and although the song was initially practiced by the female population, today it is sung in different versions and occasions.

17. Art of dry stone walling, knowledge and techniques

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Art of dry stone walling, refers to the knowledge required to make stone structures, by stacking stones on top of each other, without the use of any binding material. The stability of the structures was ensured by careful selection and placement of the stone, and the drywall structures shaped numerous, diverse landscapes.

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