There is very little about Croatia’s history that is clear. Historians have fought over its origins, earliest tribes, and allegiances. This complicated history makes Croatia an alluring and mysterious destination for many travelers.
Even though there is much that is unknown, let’s take a glimpse at what we do know!
Under Roman Rule
The Romans ruled Croatia from around 11 B.C. to the 5th century A.D. During this time, there were two areas, Dalmatia and Pannonia. During their time in Croatia, the Romans built many roads throughout Dalmatia that linked the coast to the Aegean and Black seas and the Danube. This made the area a “land of plenty.” Unfortunately, this did not last and while the Roman Empire began to fall, so did their power in Croatia.
By the mid-7th century, Croats and other Slavic tribes invaded - to initially seek out the marshlands of modern-day Ukraine - and moved into Pannonia and Dalmatia. They built communities and warred with each other, leading to the development of powerful clans.
In 800 A.D., the Frankish emperor Charles the Great took over Dalmatia and converted many to Christianity. After he died in 814 A.D., the Byzantine Empire controlled most of Dalmatia, while the Pannonian Croats stayed under Frankish rule. However, Christianity continued to spread and strengthened cultural ties with Rome. Today, nearly ninety percent of Croats are Catholic.
The Kingdom of Croatia came into existence when King Tomislav was crowned in 925. Dalmatia and Pannonia became one kingdom, and Croatia became a formidable force in the Balkans. After he passed away, his royal successors ruled until the end of the 11th century. Then Hungary took power.
War and Peace
In 1918, after World War I, Josip Broz, known as Tito, became the leader of Yugoslavia. Croatia was included in Tito’s rule of Yugoslavia, along with Slovenia, Serbia, and other places. Tito changed Yugoslavia’s agricultural focus to an industrialized one. He died in 1980, and eventually, Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia on June 25, 1991. Serbs living in the Croatian territory of Krajina announced their independence from Croatia, which prompted a civil war.
The Bosnian War raged from 1992 to 1995 among Serbs, Croats, and Bosnians. Around 100,000 people died, including many civilians. Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic tried to ethnically cleanse areas of the former Yugoslavia of Croats, Bosnians, and Muslims. NATO finally stepped in with airstrikes in 1995, which led to The Dayton Peace Accords being signed on December 14, 1995. The war was over. Today, Croatia has blossomed into a thriving tourist-friendly country with a stable economy and government.
If you are looking to immerse yourself in the history of Croatia, there are a few spots that you must add to your travel itinerary.
- Diocletian’s Palace, Split - While this is one of the most popular of Croatia’s historical ruins, the thousands of people who walk through its main square might not even realize that they are walking past a near intact Ancient Egyptian sphinx from Luxor. Diocletian was set on copying the Egyptian custom of having a sphinx guard the palace. Supposedly there were twelve shipped to the palace directly from Egypt. Although much of the structure was destroyed, there are remains of the sphynx and other incredible remnants of the era.
- Pula Amphitheatre - Right in the center of Pula is one of the finest Roman Amphitheaters still standing. A visit during the day will transport you back to when gladiators and lions fought in front of enthralled audiences. And in the evenings, since it is one of Croatia’s best-preserved ancient monuments, it is still utilized as a picturesque setting for the annual local film festival and live music performances.
- Bokar Fortress - Designed by one of the greatest Renaissance pioneers, Michelozzo di Bartolomeo of Florence, this fortress was built to defend the western entrance to the city of Dubrovnik. It was completed in 1570 and is open all year round for visitors. Plus, it also serves as the location for the Dubrovnik Summer Festival.
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