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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Pyramid of Dalmatia – the mystery continues?

It has been a while since I last reported on the pyramid “mystery”: https://secretdalmatia.wordpress.com/2014/03/11/dalmatian-pyramid/ in the meantime, I was contacted by several very interesting people who were trying to locate it and challenge the location I established.
One of them  – Mr. Galic from Mostar – had a very interesting story and most likely the right location of the “pyramid” from the old map.

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Basically, he did a proper research on the toponyms mentioned on the old map and concluded that the “pyramid” cannot be where I put it (the hill of Zvonik) and is further south. He made correct assumptions and found a place that actually has a hilltop ruin named kulina. Yes, that is very close to Colina mentioned on the map! The place is located in Nisko, a tiny hamlet on the southern slope of Moseć mountain. The area suffered greatly during the Turkish wars and occupation and was brought back to life when the Franciscan monks brought new inhabitants from Bosnia back in 1720. so it is likely that those inhabitants had no clue of the region they were brought into and that the fortress was already a ruin.

Today, Nisko is nothing more than a sleepy hamlet…

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Nisko village and Kulina hill above it.
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Very few people live in Nisko…

One winter day, when vegetation wass low and one could actually see most of the structures, I drove to Nisko. The access to the hill is easy but there is not much to see. The hill is full of stone dry walls that don’t make much sense. And, it seems, someone from the village still plants some vegetables (potatoes?) in the only part of the hill that looks fertile.

It is very hard to make any educated guesses so I just took a lot of photos of structures and also studied a lot the aerial photos.

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The structure does not say much nor it indicates that it could be of a pyramidal shape. Mate Matas – one of the explorers of the gradina hilltop fortresses in this area – wrote that this could even be a possible seat of old-Croatian county Zmina. Here is the full text (in Croatian):

Oko 1 km južnije od spomenute Gradine odnosno oko 500 m sjevernije od zaseoka Galići nalazi se Kulina koju prema položaju i nekim drugim obilježjima treba ubrojiti u ilirska gradinska naselju. Naziv Kulina (stara ruševna kula), specifični ostatci (temelji građeni s vezivom) i predaje (u njih treba ubrojiti i usmene izjave stručnjaka arheologa i povjesničara), upućuju na zaključak kako se navedeno gradinsko naselje najduže koristilo. Dužina između temelja bedema Kuline u smjeru I-Z iznosi oko 70 m, a u smjeru sjever jug približno 50 m, što znači da se ona ističe primjernom površinom.
Kulina se ističe i impozantnim širinama i visinom nekadašnjeg bedema. Prema zapadu i sjeverozapadu odakle je i najbolji pristup prema utvrdi širina bedema iznosi oko 12 m, a njihova visine oko 4 m. Prema jugu i strmijem prostoru širina i visina bedema se postupno smanjivala. Prema količini materijala moglo bi se zaključiti da se bedemi prema jugu te istoku i sjeveru bili najniži i najtanji, što se donekle može objašnjavati i strmijim padinama odnosno lakšoj obrani utvrde s tih strana. Međutim, na južnoj i istočnoj strani naziru se tragovi temelja građenih s vezivom. Jesu li u pitanju temelji utvrde ili posebnih stambenih objekata građenih u novijem razdoblju teško je odgovoriti bez detaljnih arheoloških istraživanja lokaliteta.
Takvim bi se istraživanjima pronašao i odgovor na 
pitanje što predstavljaju pravilni kvadratični temelji također građeni s vezivom, a koji se nalaze uz zapadnu stranu već spomenutih dužih temelja građenih s vezivom (možda su u pitanju ostaci spremnika za vodu, zemunica, stambenih prostora i sl.). U zanimljivosti ili posebnosti Kuline treba ubrojiti i jasno izražen unutarnji prostor s naglašeno ravnom podlogom, ograđen suhozidinama. Dužina tog prostora u smjeru I-Z je 12 m, a u smjeru S-J iznosi 10 m. Na tom unutrašnjem prostoru još su vidljivi i veliki kameni blokovi koji su očiti predstavljali okvir vrata okrenutih prema jugu gradine. Postoje i pretpostavke kako je spomenuta gradina mogla biti i sjedište starohrvatske župe Zmina. Tome idu u prilog i pronađeni ostaci starohrvatske bazilike u polju ispod Kuline u blizini crkve sv. Ivana. Dio pronađenih ostataka pohranjen u samostanskoj zbirci u Sinju. Ispred sadašnje crkve sv. Ivana je stećak s ukrasom koji je nekada služio i kao oltar…

Today, nothing more of some indications of walls can be seen.

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Parts of the structure that can be followed in a in a semi-circular shape around the hill
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The fertile field of Nisko

Basically, the mystery stays. No one can prove that this was truly a pyramid but the theory that this was an important stronghold is based on facts.

There was another interesting discovery by Mr. Galic – he connected the Nisko “pyramid” to the ruins of Asseria and Varvaria… Those two important archaeology sites were connected by “lay lines” in another blog post I wrote 3 years ago: https://secretdalmatia.wordpress.com/2013/01/13/ley-lines-in-croatia-secret-dalmatia/

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From Nisko to Nin

The blog is just the discussion on whether all these important “temples” (structures) were found on a single line just by coincidence or it was done on purpose. I still believe it is pure coincidence but…

So, here are the exact locations of the line going through previously established locations of Visovac, Bribirska Glavica, Asseria and Nin (Temple of Jupiter – the largest Roman Temple on the Adriatic coast we know of)

The line continues north to Brijuni as described in that blog on the Lay line.

Now, calling it a Lay line may be completely wrong as this may be something very different. It is also VERY strange that all these important historic places are on the same line but let’s still say it is a pure coincidence due to the orientation of our coastline.

There is another curiosity connected to this “pyramid of Nisko”: Nisko – in Croatian – means “low”. The alleged “Bosnian pyramid” is in Visoko. Which translates “high”…

Another interesting coincidence! Or not?

Benkovac Wine Tasting

Earlier this spring we had a pleasure to show our hospitality to several quite interesting guests from USA. Mr. Frank Dietrich of Blue Danube Wines, joined by his staff, wine writer Marcy Gordon and Zdravko and Marion Podolski of GoHvar blog all joined us at a very special little tasting in Benkovac.

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The tasting was held at a 15th century Benkovac castle – an impressive historic monument that was nicely restored and now houses a local museum. It is often used as a great presentation venue for various events.

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When the guests arrived, the food was also served. Just small bites but very tasty and quite authentic: escargot done the traditional way for the region…

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and prisnac.

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Lady in typical Bukovica outfit.

But the stars of the day were, of course, local wines! All the major wine makers showed up: Škaulj, Figurica, Masvin…

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Mr. Šime Škaulj from Nadin at his stand

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Figurica from Smilčić

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Almost all wines were organic and had the eco label which was a bit surprising but I am glad that the wine makers of the region are taking the right path after the war and neglected vineyards. Most of the wines were local maraština (white), merlot, plavac but also Masvin served their own Crljenak which was surprisingly good.

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One of more interesting wines was Asseria by small Bačić winery as it was a blend of several wines and also local maraska cherry brandy.

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The event was a great success and the best proof how a very unique settings can serve as a fabulous place for small and intimate events. The organisation was at a high level and all wines served proved that the quality is (finally) coming back to the region of Ravni Kotari. The region was once a major exporter of wines but, in the past 60-70 years has lost all the quality in favor of mass production… Badel, a major Croatian company for wine and liquor, made the tide turn with their Korlat vineyards and now is being followed by small local winemakers all over the region.

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The Benkovac tourist board with Bankovac Museum did a wonderful job in organizing everything!

So, what to say but “Živjeli!”

Explore more of Croatian food and wine with our Culinary Croatia.