Posted by: viewfromtheriva | March 24, 2011

Klis Fortress, the Uskoci, minarets and more!

Every time we visit Klis Fortress we learn and see new amazing wonders.  It’s still quite surprising that less than 15,000 people a year visit a fortress that has not played such a pivotal role in the history of Croatia, but has been such an integral part of many histories for more than 2000 years!

Just 20 minutes from Split, the fortress is perched on a rocky crag 800′ high above the valley and  offers a stupendous view back to Split and the sea.  On a clear day–all the way to Vis Island, just 60 miles off the Italian coast!

Here’s the short and skinny from Wikipedia:

The Klis Fortress (Croatian: Tvrđava Klis) is a medieval fortress situated above a village bearing the same name, near the city of Split, in central Dalmatia, Croatia. From its origin as a small stronghold built by the ancient Illyrian tribe Dalmatae, becoming a royal castle that was the seat of many Croatian kings, to its final development as a large fortress during the Ottoman wars in Europe, Klis Fortress has guarded the frontier, being lost and re-conquered several times throughout its more than two thousand year-long history. Due to its location on a pass that separates the mountains Mosor and Kozjak, the fortress served as a major source of defense in Dalmatia, especially against the Ottoman advance, and has been a key crossroad between the Mediterranean belt and the Balkan rear.

The fierce defenders of Klis and the region, the Uskoci had a code of conduct and method of warfare centuries ahead of its time

We were given a private tour by the director of Klis and two colleagues who serve as the fort’s unofficial ambassadors and are trying valiantly to make Klis a more important part of Dalmatian tourism.  Both are former members of the Croatian army. Now on pension and retired, they are particularly championing the role of the Uskoci–the proud warriors who fought the Turks and Venetians (often at the same time!) both for more than 80 years during the 1500’s.

The Uskoci revolutionized combat at the time by daring to engage the enemy at night, during the winter and in lightning skirmishes rather than the traditional fixed attacks.  And when one of their own fell in battle, the surviving soldiers “adopted” his family, caring for them for life, but making sure that his surviving widow was given all his property–an inheritance policy completely unheard of at the time.  Deeply religious, the Uskoci were also daringly modern, displaying public affection for their wives “not just at Easter or Christmas”.

The Church of St. Vid, used only once a year, is gorgeous

The Church of St. Vid,  one of the many structures added to the original fortress over the centuries, was used by the Uskoci and others until he Turks finally conquered Klis.  I’ve only been able to glimpse the inside through the glass doors, but today we were fortunate to be invited inside.

It’s a glorious space with wonderfully high vaulted ceilings and a beautifully restored baptismal font (in the shape of sea shell) surrounded by an intriguing 17thC fresco.

When the Turks took over, they quickly converted St. Vid into a mosque and even added a minaret!  While all remains of anything Islamic in the church have long been removed, the restorers paid subtle homage to the Turks by showing part of the narrow winding staircase that once led to the  minaret.

Although the minaret is long gone, the Church of St. Vid restorers kept part of the the narrow stairwell as a reminder.

The fortress is constantly undergoing some sort of restoration–a 9th C wall is nearing completion and will be used to receive visiting dignitaries according to the director.  They even found remains of a 4rdC Roman cistern.

Another restoration is a 15th or 16th C armory whose double-thick walls were built with a vented air space in between to keep gunpowder dry (and it still works!).

Inside, carved out of the original rock floor, is a cannonball “workshop”!

Looking exactly like what it is, a carved cannon ball "workshop" is a singular feature of the nearly restored Klis Armory

We ended our visit to Klis at the northern end of the “boat” shaped fortress where on one side of the ramparts the climate is literally Continental (and our hosts pointed to the trees and vegetation that were completely different just 10 meters away) and the other is Mediterranean!

According to locals, there are more than two DOZEN plant species that only grow on Klis!  (Maybe being up so high, it catches all sorts of wind-blown seeds?!)

This July the re-enactment of the famous battle between the Turks and Croats in 1537 will be held for the first time.  According to the planners there will Turkish tents and soldiers (coming from Varazdin, they are Croats but will be wearing authentic gear from the period and “ct” Turkish), catapults firing flaming missiles at night, food, gallantry and more.  It should be an amazing time, so don’t miss it.

For less than the price of a big Mac, an afternoon soaking up the history and the amazing views back into Split and all the way out to the island of Vis on a clear day, has to be the best 10kunas you will ever spend here!


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Read more about Croatia at secret dalmatia’s unique blog

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  1. Is this a joke. Uskoks were Serbs and this is terible to read this things.There are organizations of uskocs in Serbia, Monte negro and USA

    • And this means what–that Uskocs weren’t brave? And didn’t die heroically defending Klis against the Ottomans? Don’t quite get your point

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