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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Secret Dalmatia cooks for homeless

We are lucky to have met dozens of great people in our line of work. Many amazing people are working with us with one goal: to provide great experiences for travelers. One of them is Lana Iljadica who is not only our dear friend and one of the best guides ever but also a person with love for everyone. She runs a project called O La La 366 – the goal is that volunteers team up any day they can and cook one meal for the people in need. You can find out more on their FB page (in Croatian): https://www.facebook.com/groups/123892347724030/?fref=ts

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So, as Mariana who is part of Secret Dalmatia does this whenever she can, we got the April 17th as “our” date. It is always easier when you have a professional managing everything and actually knowing what to do when cooking for 30 people so it was time for another great person we are blessed to know. Tatjana happily accepted our invitation and we were all meeting in front of a supermarket in Trogir on the 17th.

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At Tatjana’s

The shopping was quick as there were 5 of us and with a great list so next stop Tatjana’s Trogir home. Many will recognize it being featured in Adrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods Croatia but this is also a place where we have our, now famous, cooking class and special “behind the closed doors” experiences.

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And cutting and chopping and peeling…

Tatjana assigned the tasks and Mariana, Dubravka and Marija were quickly at their stations with aprons on.

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I have chosen an important task of documenting everything and cutting the bacon :)))

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It was an afternoon of hard work but also a lot of fun and VERY delicious food!

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Soon, the aromas and scent of some great dishes filled the air and nearby streets outside Tatjana’s 12th century courtyard. It was the time for tasting and packing.

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Banana bread muffins (with chocolate)

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The food for all 33 of the guests was ready by 6 PM and packed. There were three courses + salad prepared. All in unmistakable Tatjana’s creative way! A fiesta of tastes and colors. Anyone who has eaten there at least once will know what I mean 😉

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Starting packing

The dinner was served at 7:30 at the homeless shelter in Split. We did not go with Mariana, Dubravka and Tatiana as we had to go back home but seeing those happy faces was a very rewarding experience according to the girls! Happy to do the same at least one more time this year!

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The cooking team!

If there is anybody else who would like to help and “donate” a dinner, feel free to contact O La La 366 at their Facebook page!

Fortress of Sonkovic

Winter is always the best time to explore. The weather, when sunny, is ideal for hikes and walks.

And there is always something cool and new to see.
Recently I found out about a fortress in Sonković village near Skradin. It is only a short drive away and just about 10 minutes off the highway. The fortress looked interesting in Google Earth but checking it for real is what it is all about.

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Sonkovic Fortress from air

The fortress is located on a sharp rock overlooking a stream that never goes dry. This stream was one of the reasons why this area was settled long ago in the antiquity. The area was inhabited long ago but the very village of Sonkovic originates probably from the Middle ages when the fortress was also built. Sonkovic was the last name of the noble Croatian family Sonković who owned these lands and, eventually, gave the name to the village.

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Olive trees

Sonković is now typical village of Northern Dalmatia located on the foothills overlooking the fertile land. I am still upset when I see people building houses right in the fertile fields as that was never our custom. There are numerous olive groves along the roads and, while most trees are old, there are quite a few younger groves. The life continues… Despite the occupation in the Homeland war. Sonković was liberated again only in 1995.

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Overlooking the fields

Not too many people returned now so the census of 2004 notes less than 300 inhabitants (both Croats and Serbs). The most common last names of this part of Skradin hinterland are: Matić,  Palinić (Čulin), Kartelo, Roško, Lovrić, Sladić, Guberina, Babić, Jurić, Keran, Vranić  and Vuković.

We entered Guberine hamlet looking for the fortress.

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Guberine

Only barking of few dogs were heard…

And soon we reached the fortress.

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Sonković Fortress

It is a typical medieval fortress of the region: round tower with construction of the larger building surrounding. Till today, just half of the tower still stands and some remains of the main buildings are visible.

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Part of the wall

The tower was probably in service well into the times of Turkish occupation (started in 1528) and abandoned after the region was liberated in the late 1600s.

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The tower

The location was perfect for defense and the fortress is even now a bit hard to reach let alone in the time of guards, crossbows and swords. The rocks are sharp and some parts are inaccessible but, in general, it can be reached and seen easily. The stones from the main building were probably “recycled” by the locals when the fortress was abandoned but what is left of the tower gives an insight in the structure.

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Interior of the tower

The stream below is especially active in the winter months while, in the summer, the spring always gives fresh water but not enough to keep the stream alive all the way to Guduča river nearby.

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Sonković stream

The canyon where the stream flows is quite pretty and we wanted to explore some more but then we saw the mine field danger signs… And we did not go any further. We also could not see any locals to give us more details as some of these signs are put at generous distances from real threat. We did not want to risk anything so we returned to the car.

It is a pity that such a gorgeous location is out of reach but I hope the region will be truly liberated soon.

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In the sunset…

The winter night was falling quickly and the air got cooler. We did a bit of off roading through vineyards and fields and left the tower and the village to dream of some better and more lively times…