European Green Lizard

The general opinion is that Europe has no exotic fauna nor exciting wildlife but that is only partially true. Wherever a true lover of nature looks, he or she can find exciting animals. In Mediterranean countries, besides sea life,  the coastal landscape hides several interesting animals and one of the most beautiful ones is definitely European green lizard (Lacerta viridis). There are three very similar species living in Croatia and all three are protected: Lacerta bilineata (Daudin, 1802), Lacerta trilineata (Bedriaga), 1886) and Lacerta viridis (Laurenti,1768)

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The local name is zelembać. This beautiful lizard is easily recognized and cannot be mistaken for a different lizard in this area as it looks almost fluorescent!  It is easy to differentiate Balkan green lizard and European green lizard – European green lizard has blue throats while the Balkan one has yellow. Biggest differences are noticeable when the animals are young as all the various colors and stripes are visible at that stage of their lives.

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Young Balkan green lizard

Zelembać is a large lizard that can grow up to 16 cm (cc 6,3 ”) but the tail can be twice as long! It is usually seen enjoying sunshine on rocks or lawns, or hiding in the bushes. Or running across the road. It is not a very shy lizard but it does usually stay hidden and will not allow one to approach it too close. Natural predators are birds of pray but also cats. Zelembać is very useful in the fields feeding on snails, bugs, small lizards but also mice.

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The females nest about 6 – 20 eggs in really humid and hot places and the lizards mature at the age of two. There can be up to 200 lizards living on one hectare!
The males are easily differentiated from females for the vivid blue color of their throats but they are also bigger and with bigger heads.

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Although not critically endangered, all three species are protected – the fine is 400 Euros for killing one. There is no real reason for doing so as this is a very useful animal in all habitats.

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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!

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!