Kozjak is an unusual mountain. It has two very different faces: rugged and unhospitable sea facing side looking like a wall and more pleasant and greener northern side. Kozjak Mountain was sheltering the bay of Kastela and Split from invadors since the earliest times. It is full of archeological sites and historic remains so I was happy when my friend, the director of Kastela Museum, Mr. Ivan Šuta, asked me to do a visit to most of the relevant sites.
Kaštela region – bay between Split and Trogir is one of the most historic areas in Croatia boasting finds from all epochs. Unfortunately, the region is devastated since the WW2 with industry and illegal construction which turned once idyllic and, arguably, most beautiful bay of the Adriatic into a mess…
Few samples on old postcards from 1920s:
In just a short, 5 minute ride from downtown Split, one can reach a completely different part of the country. Forgotten and lost to the modern day Split and Dalmatia. The world that has almost disappeared among all the traces of former glory and former struggle. The world that is quiet and peaceful.
But also, a very popular hiking route for locals due to its proximity to Split and various climbing levels, variety of sites and difficulties.
But it was not always like that. The area surrounding Split was a frontier for many centuries. That is best seen by visiting Klis which was one of the most important fortresses of the region but also by visiting Blaca field nearby.
Military Remains from WW2
On the very road to Blaca, an old WW2 Italian outpost marking the separation from the so called NDH (Croatian Nazi satelite state from WW2) and the Italian fascist occupation forces.
This strategic road was guarded from several positions and with several heavily fortified and now abandoned bunkers. Interesting remnants of the not so distant past.
But then we continued up the dirt road to Sv. Jure church at 676 meters (2217 ft) above the sea level. This small church was built on the ancient stone wall and there are several stećci – stone monuments surrounding the church.
This has been always a very strategic place overlooking the former capital of Roman Dalmatia – Salona but no remains of those fortifications have been found. The church is a small, single-nave church, measuring only 5×5 meters. There are about 19 monuments located around the church with various depictions: shield, crescent, sword…
More on the location (in Croatian) – https://hrcak.srce.hr/index.php?show=toc&id_broj=6905&lang=en
And then we continued to another great location – Sv. Luka
This little church is first mentioned in 1397. and it was destroyed several times by the Turks. It was completely restored in 1994. and is another popular spot for hikers with stunning views of the islands and Split region. It is located near the radar outpost (no admittance) perched on Kozjak’s highest peak: Veli vrj, 779 meters (2555 ft).
For last, we saved the most impressive site. Biranj hilltop fortress is one the most special places on the Adriatic coast.
Today, it is not much from the distance but it is actually one of the largest hilltop fortresses on this side of the Adriatic with over 73 000 m2 in size. It is a massive, 3 defensive walls surrounding the main peak at 631 m (2070 ft).
We chose this time of year for visit as the archaeological campaign was just under way and we had an opportunity to see the latest find – 3 aixed blade arrowhead attributed to the infamous Pannonian Avars who were to blame for destruction of Salona and Byzantine Dalmatia.
The excavations revealed numerous new details on the existence of this fort and it seemed to be one of the final outpost of Salona with massive defense walls from all epochs.
But the site is also well known and very popular with the locals for pilgrimage to the church of Sv Ivan of Biranj.
The church probably dates from 12th ct but its modern form it got in 1887. It was heavily damaged in WW2 but the villagers of Kaštel Lukšić fixed it in 1951. by managing to get all the supplies for its reconstruction in only one night from the sea harbor to the peak.
The celebration of Sv Ivan (St John) falls on the 23rd of June and all the folks who don’t work celebrate on Kozjak on the 24th. However, the true celebration is on the day of The Passion of St. John the Baptist – August 29th. Each local family from Kaštel Lukšić has their own spot with the table that they take care of and that has been passed down for generations.
There is also a small herd of horses with one shepherd living temporarily below the church. I did not ask questions and tried not to look his big dog in the eyes 🙂
The whole plane of former Salona is clearly visible from Biranj and, while the approach was most certainly from the easier, northern side, there is a narrow passage between the rocks that can be a back up or escape route if needed. Not an easy one!
I left Biranj feeling overwhelmed with new knowledge. Spectacular views, historic heritage, great and unique sites… Kaštela hinterland is really a special place on our coast worth returning and exploring in detail. Of course, we have merely scratched the surface of this region with numerous sites and stories yet to be told.