Hilltop Fortress of Orlić and true abandoned Croatia

Every year, before the holidays, my last post is on one of the forgotten and, for most people, completely lost hilltop fortresses. Not only that winter is the best period for exploring but it is also a time when most of us think of our past year, accomplishments, failures, desires and wishes. It feels natural to visit places where people no longer live. Places that sit abandoned for millenia.

One of those places is Orlić hilltop fortress (or Gradina how it is called locally). These sites are generally atributed to local Liburnian or, commonly known, Illyrian tribes that inhabited these regions before the Roman arrival but also mixed with all later settlers.

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Gradina Orlić is located just off the old road from Krupa village to Ervenik. Strange thing is that it was not mentioned in any of the numerous books and scripts I had a chance to read. That was a reason more to go to the actual place and see what it is all about.

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The road is mostly in a good shape until one reaches the path that goes to the foothill of the Orlić Hill. That path is for serious off-road vehicles and for those who don’t mind their cars getting scratched as it is a demanding and slow rocky goat path…

The landscape is rugged but fascinating. The very edge of Dalmatia offers a mixture rocky hillside and desert looking plane filled with small patches of woods and interesting stone walls so characteristic for the region.

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One can see the remains of a large family estate in the foothill called Macure.

The unusual stone walls usually just mark the fertile lands so the plants would not get eaten by goats. Now these shapes are just filled by oak trees and bushes… The hinterland of Zadar and Šibenik, as well as Split, are filled with these unusual shapes even reminding of ancient symbols or some mysterious civilization. With the way our progress and migration to the cities these will become mysterious and unknown “signs” quite soon.

The hilltop fortress is in a lovely position overlooking this impressive valley and having all control of the hillside in the back – towards modern day Knin.

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Orlić fortress on satelite image

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The climb is not difficult but it is somewhat demanding due to really rocky terrain. One can easily break a foot or leg in this landscape!

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The winter colors are mostly yellow and brown mixed with gray. It is a dramatic change from the lush greens of our spring and summer…

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The fallen oak

There is nothing much to see once on the top. The fortress – probably just a refuge, not even a settlement – is now just a pile of rocks.

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Both stone walls seen from below

But the place is perfect for listening to the winds of Velebit and enjoying great views. The place is perfect to enjoy solitude.

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Great view of hilltop fortress of Trebačnik in the distance
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Velebit in the distance

I try never to go back the same way so I continued towards Ervenik. Traces of past war visible at every step…

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True abandoned Croatia.

This part of the country will probably never be inhabited again. Just like former settlers abandoned Orlić fortress, past villagers left their stone villages after centuries living there just to look for better life somewhere else.

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I usually have at least one more person coming along as it is better to travel in these remote areas with someone who can call for help in case of a need. This time, no one was able to join me so I decided to go on my own. Sometimes, the urge is hard to resist.

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One of my goals is to travel every old road in the region. The journey continues!

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Old Road to Tulove Grede and over Velebit Mountain

This past spring we finally managed to take the famous old road Majstorska cesta leading from Dalmatia to Lika and passing beautiful Tulove grede rock formation.

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This is where the adventure begins

Tulove grede are one of the most scenic parts of Velebit mountain and, if you ever took the highway from the coast inland, it is the formation just above the Sv Rock Tunnel. But, to get there, one has to take the old road and that is possible just from outside Obrovac town.

The road is wide and, for some part, asphalted but the true adventure starts once you leave the paved road. The macadam part of the road is in very good shape and can be easily traveled with normal cars.

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Highway just before the Sv Rok tunnel. Tulove grede formation in the distance

This 41 km long road has been constructed in two phases between 1825 and 1832 to shorten the traveling time between the center of the Monarchy (Wiena) and, then regional capital of Dalmatia, Zadar. This very demanding task was trusted to Josip Kajetan Knežić of Petrinja who was a major in Austrian army and a self taught engineer. Knežić was a fascinating character and left a lasting mark on Croatian architecture and ingeneering with numerous roads, architectural monuments and irrigation works through the region.

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I have one bridge to visit and then will write more about him but if you have ever traveled the road from Senj inwards, you have witnessed another Knežić masterpiece and you definitely remember the chapel of Sv Mihovil in Majorija.

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Back on the road, we had a lovely ascent from the start of macadam and the beautiful views of Zadar hinterland and islands opened!

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Canyon of Zrmanja and Novigradsko more bay

The road is simply great and kept in great condition. It is also proclaimed a National heritage so someone will be taking care of it (I hope).

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Probably one of the most favorite stops on this road is the church of Sv. Franjo or (St Frances).

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The church is now locked and not sure who has the keys as I would really like to get inside some day. Just across the street are the remains of several buildings that served for guards and maintenance back while the road was still in use. Near the church are two monuments and one is dedicated to Francesco Farcasso who died here in 1851 battling 22 bandits. The newer one is from 1862 and dedicated to Ivan Zagorac who froze to death.

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The entire area is quite lovely and makes a great stop.

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But these are not the only monuments on this road…

This was also a very important communication during the Homeland war in the 90s. Many traces of past combats and still visible and parts of the area were under land mines till 2014. The saddest monument is to one of true heroes of our war.

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Velebit was one of the harshest and worst battlefields of our war in the 90s and tombstones of many heroes keep reminding us of their sacrifices.

And few minutes later, we reached the foothill of Tulove grede where there is plenty of space to park cars and start the ascent.

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The ascent is easy and the trails are nicely marked. This is a very popular destination for all nature lovers and, especially during weekends, there will be at least a dozen of people.

There are two trails leading to the peak of Tulove Grede. Both are fine and both take you around the HUGE hole in the ground that is, apparently, a cave that collapsed long ago.

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Apparently, there is a small water spring at the very bottom of the hole but one needs some 10 meters of rope to reach it.

Our friends took the route above the hole.

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Once we were at the peak, because of the kids, we did not go all the way to the top of the rocks but that is another cc 20 minutes along the marked trail and some climbing is required. The rock formation near the peak are fascinating!

 

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Bunker form the past war

And after a short break, we went downhill for a picnic lunch and to continue our adventure all the way to Lika.

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This area is known among birdwatchers as home to Alpine cough (Kavka in Croatian; Pyrrhocorax graculus) colony and we saw them flying above us.

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They are easily recognized for red legs and longish yellow beak.

On the road to Lika, we saw few motorcycles as well but no cyclists which was surprising as this is one of their favorite routes.

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The climb is easy for all generations.

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And then it was time to follow the road all the way to beautiful Lika region. As soon as we crossed the “border”, the scenery changed and we drove mostly through the forest.

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Once in Lika, you can either turn back to take the same road again or take the highway. Under the watching eye of a Common buzzard we left home.

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Majstorska cesta is one of great adventures in Croatia no matter how you want to cross it. It would even be fun walking it and camping overnight somewhere in the wilderness.

So many great adventures!

Winter Wanderings in Dalmatian Hinterland

As the winter is gone, Easter holidays just behind us, we are all looking forward the beauty of Spring in Dalmatia, I am publishing one last winter blog post.

I love winter in Dalmatia although I don’t get to enjoy it as much as before. It has been quite busy and hope to have more free days in April and upcoming summer. I did not get to explore as much as last year and there are quite a few places still to see and visit. The basic plan is to cross every road, to drink from each spring, to climb most of hills…

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Velebit covered in snow (February 2016)

Zadar hinterland I have covered quite a bit in the past years and have only few more areas to visit to wrap it up. One of the areas I am constantly visiting is Bukovica which is one of my favorite areas in all of Croatia. There is something quite unique about this rocky, inhospitable looking region…

Medviđa

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There is an ancient road leading from Medviđa to beautiful Žegar field with one side road that I never explored. So, this winter, curiosity won and I made a sharp right to Komazeci hamlets. The entire area was greatly devastated in the past war so very few people live here. Most of them are breeding cattle and cows are often seen on this road.

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Deep in the hillside sun sets early

The Sun sets early in these hamlets as they are behind a high hill. In some of these hamlets, only sheep can be seen and I certainly hope that there is someone to lock them up as there are plenty of wolves roaming in this hillside!

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Old houses. Abandoned decades ago…

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It is peaceful and quiet. Only birds can be heard but we also heard some gunshots!

Italian hunters, with local hunters, often hunt in this area. There are reports that some of them illegaly hunt singing birds but I hate hunting no matter what is the prey… I wish all those activities are banned in the country.

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Bringing dogs in their pick ups

The area is beautiful in Spring and cannot wait to revisit in few weeks when everything is in bloom!

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Ancient water hole

All these drives are awesome off road experiences! Not so demanding in terms of mud but quite scenic and interesting for good off road vehicles.

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The Unstoppable Beast

Gornji Karin
The area of Karin is another one of my favorite areas and just perfect for exploring as it hides several abandoned villages and historic places. One of them is a tiny, abandoned hamlet of Ćose. Hard to reach, it is now visited only by some cattle.

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Winter sunset

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There is an old family complex in one part of the hamlet. It is made with great skill although most of these complexes have been ruined during 60s and 70s with concrete adaptations. Originally, they are all made of stone and some of the houses are quite impressive! The eternal beauty and harmony of old buildings has not been match in modern architecture of the region. And that is sad. As most of these places are now in ruins…

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Ancient oak tree

Especially impressive is an ancient oak tree near the village. It is a tree of myths and legends. The center of life of this village directly connected to the land where generations lived and died. The place where ghosts are still present. Good spirits of the past still can be heard whispering through the bare branches of this magnificent tree.

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Gumno

On another occasion we went to another hamlet. Lakići is also abandoned and all in ruins.

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Lakići from air

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I had a drone with me and took some nice aerial shots although winter is not the best time for taking photos. However, the trees are without leaves so one can capture all the important details. The village is filled with beautiful, traditional North Dalmatian architectural details at every step.

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Some of the huts are still covered with stone slabs but, since they are not in use, they will not stay covered long…

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When planning a trip here, I have noticed that there may be an interesting canyon near by. We were not prepared for a gorgeous and deep canyon only a hundred meters away from the village as there are no rivers nor streams!

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Canyon from the air
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The view of Karin Sea in the distance

We continued down the road to Karin. I am not a fan of it. It is likely one of the most devastated places in the region but the entire bay, called Karin Sea is not the prettiest part of the coast for sure. We went to see one ancient gradina hilltop fortress but were stopped before we got too far from the car.

One local guy wanted to warn us off his dogs nearby. We were not planning to go there as it was in the opposite direction but his presence was helpful as he has some serious dogs in the bushes! The guy, Ivica, moved here after the war and he showed us several wounds he suffered back in early 90s.

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Shrapnel wounds 

He is originally from Županja and now lives, with his family in Karin. And breeds dogs. He has 10 šarplaninac dogs in one field. Šarplaninac is also known  Illyrian Dog or Dog of Sharr Mountain and is a famous Balkan breed. It originates from the border region of Macedonia and Albania and it was a common guard dog of Balkan shepperds and also a service dog of former Yugoslav army. The pride of his selection is a massive Medo. The dog is so vicious looking that even Cujo looks cuddly compared to him! Luckily, the chain is quite strong and he could not get to us!

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Medo

The spring is almost here and new adventures await. Plenty of great places to see, rivers to cross.

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Winter sunset