Monthly Archives: April 2013

UNESCO World Heritage Site #235: Historical Complex of Split with the Palace of Diocletian

Posted by on April 29, 2013

UNESCO World Heritage Site #235: Historical Complex of Split with the Palace of Diocletian

UNESCO World Heritage Site #235: Historical Complex of Split with the Palace of Diocletian

From the World Heritage inscription:

The importance of Diocletian’s Palace far transcends local significance because of its level of preservation and the buildings of succeeding historical periods, starting in the Roman period, which form the very tissue of old Split. The palace is one of the most famous and integral architectural and cultural buildings on the Croatian Adriatic coast.

The ruins of Diocletian’s Palace, built between the late 3rd and the early 4th centuries AD, can be found throughout the city. The Roman Emperor Diocletian spent his declining years in an enormous palace that he had built near his birthplace, Aspalthos, in Dalmatia. The palace represents the most valuable example of Roman architecture on the eastern coast of the Adriatic. Its form and the arrangement of the buildings within the palace represent a transitional style of imperial villa, Hellenistic town and Roman camp.

On the eastern side of the palace lies the Porta Argentea (Silver Gate) with the church of St Dominic on the opposite side, it was reconstructed between 1932 and 1934. The Silver Gate gives access to the Plain of King Tomislav and thence to the Peristil (peristyle), the central open-air area of the palace. Its longitudinal sides are surrounded by an arched colonnade; the arches in the west are closed by Gothic and Renaissance houses. monumental port with four columns carrying a gable closes the Peristyle in the south.

The Mausoleum of Diocletian (today’s Cathedral of St Doimus dedicated to St Mary) lies in the eastern part of the peristyle. The mausoleum has almost completely preserved its original octagonal form, encircled by 24 columns which supported the roof; the interior is round, with two rows of Corinthian columns and a frieze. A dome, once covered with mosaics, roofs the mausoleum. The monumental wooden gateposts and the stone pulpit from the 13th century represent the oldest monuments in the cathedral. The choir, constructed in the 18th century, is furnished with Romanesque seating from the 13th century and ornamented with a painting representing the Mother of God with the saints and donors.

The palace of Diocletian is a very interesting site and unlike anything I’ve really seen before.

I’ve been visited many palaces and roman ruins before, but what I found in Split was totally different. The entire palace has been taken over by the city. By that I don’t mean the city was built on top of the ruins of the palace, as you might see in many other places, but rather it was built inside the palace.

You can literally see homes and businesses with original standing pillars embedded in their walls. The cathedral of Split is the mausoleum of Diocletian. (which is really ironic considering that Diocletian was responsible for one of the greatest persecution of Christians in history.) As it was never intended to be a church, it is also one of the smallest functioning cathedrals in the world.

The palace is located in the heart of Split and should be a part of any visit to the Dalmatian coast of Croatia.

Ignorance, Fear and Travel

Posted by on April 29, 2013

This is NOT Chechnya

This is NOT Chechnya

As I travel around the world I get to talk to a wide range of people. As you would expect, many of them have some affiliation with the travel and tourism industry. I speak to tour guides, representatives of national tour boards, waitresses, hotel managers and even the cleaning staff.

One questions I always ask is how tourism is doing in their particular country or region. Some places are up, some are down and some are very dependent on visitors from another particular area. If the area where the toursits come from suffers economic problems, then the destination will suffer as well.

Back in 2010 I had a front row seat to major political protests in Bangkok, Thailand. During the protests many travel experts, including the legendary Arthur Frommer, were advising people to completely avoid Thailand. With the information I had on the ground, I could see for myself that other than a few square blocks in Bangkok, nothing was happening in Thailand. People who weren’t there were making judgements based on what they saw on television and then extrapolated that to the entire country.

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UNESCO World Heritage Site #234: Stari Grad Plain

Posted by on April 28, 2013

UNESCO World Heritage Site #234: Stari Grad Plain

UNESCO World Heritage Site #234: Stari Grad Plain

From the World Heritage inscription:

Stari Grad Plain represents a comprehensive system of land use and agricultural colonisation by the Greeks, in the 4th century BC. Its land organisation system, based on geometrical parcels with dry stone wall boundaries (chora), is exemplary. This system was completed from the very first by a rainwater recovery system involving the use of tanks and gutters. This testimony is of Outstanding Universal Value.

The land parcel system set up by the Greek colonisers has been respected over later periods. Agricultural activity in the chora has been uninterrupted for 24 centuries up to the present day, and is mainly based on grapes and olives.
The ensemble today constitutes the cultural landscape of a fertile cultivated plain whose territorial organisation is that of the Greek colonisation.

The Greek cadastral system has been fully respected during the continuous agricultural use of the plain, based on the same crops. This system is today perfectly identifiable, and has changed very little. Stari Grad Plain forms an agricultural and land use ensemble of great integrity. The authenticity of the Greek land division system known as chora is clearly in evidence throughout the plain. The built structures of the stone walls are authentic, with the same basic dry stone wall materials being used and reused since the foundation by the Greeks.

The setting up of the management plan and of the authority in charge of its application should enable the carrying out of a thorough programme of archaeological excavations, the fostering of sustainable agricultural development in the chora and the control of urban and tourism development in the vicinity of the property, with all due care being taken to ensure that its Outstanding Universal Value is respected.

I had a difficult time trying to figure out what to make of the Stari Grad Plain.

It is a large section of farm fields. That’s it. There are some small out buildings and stone walls, but that’s it. The reason given for its inscription is that it is an area which has been continuously used in the same way, in the same layout since colonization by the Greeks. Yet, I can’t help but think there are many places like this all over the Adriatic.

Maybe I’m wrong.

I’ve gone back and forth several times in my mind trying to determine if this is a unique world heritage property or just one of the many sites which probably should never have been listed in the first place.

Either way, visiting is very easy if you are going to the island of Hvar. The plain is only a 5-minute drive from the ferry terminal. There is no visitor or interpretative center but there are some signs located on the main road through the plain. Hvar itself is accessible by ferry from the city of Split, which is the second largest city in Croatia.

This Week In Travel – Episode 136

Posted by on April 19, 2013

Regular hosts Gary Arndt, Jen Leo and Chris Christensen are joined by this week’s guest Robert Reid from ReidOnTravel.com (recently retired from Lonely Planet). I was on a shoddy internet connection in Croatia so I wasn’t as fully engaged.

Subscribe on iTunes | Become a Fan on Facebook | Download the iPhone app | Download

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UNESCO World Heritage Site #233: Historic City of Trogir

Posted by on April 19, 2013

UNESCO World Heritage Site #233: Historic City of Trogir

UNESCO World Heritage Site #233: Historic City of Trogir

From the World Heritage inscription:

Trogir is an excellent example of a medieval town built on and conforming with the layout of a Hellenistic and Roman city that has conserved its urban fabric to an exceptional degree and with the minimum of modern interventions, in which the trajectory of social and cultural development is clearly visible in every aspect of the townscape.

Trogir is a remarkable example of urban continuity. The orthogonal street plan of this island settlement dates back to the Hellenistic period and it was embellished by successive rulers with many fine public and domestic buildings and fortifications. Its beautiful Romanesque churches are complemented by the outstanding Renaissance and Baroque buildings from the Venetian period.

The ancient town of Tragurion (island of goats) was founded as a trading settlement by Greek colonists from the island of Vis in the 3rd century BC on an islet at the western end of the bay of Manios, in a strait between the mainland and one of the Adriatic islands, where there was already a small settlement. The Hellenistic town was enclosed by megalithic walls and its streets were laid out on a Hippodamian grid plan: the line of the ancient cardo maximus is that of the modern main street. The town flourished in the Roman period as an oppidum civium romanorum ; during the late Roman period it was extended and refortified. Extensive Roman cemeteries have been discovered, and a basilica was erected in one of these.

The plan of contemporary Trogir reflects the Hellenistic layout in the location, dimensions, and shapes of its residential blocks. The two ancient main streets, the cardo and the decumanus, are still in use, and paving of the forum has been located by excavation at their intersection. Ancient Tragurion lies at the eastern end of the islet; this spread out in the earlier medieval period. The medieval suburb of Pasike developed to the west on a different alignment, and was enclosed by the later fortifications. The port was located on the south side. Finally, the massive Venetian fortifications incorporated the Genoese fortress known as the Camerlengo. Construction of the Cathedral of St Lawrence, built on the site of an earlier basilica and dominating the main square, began around 1200 and was added in the late 16th century. This relatively protracted period of construction has meant that successive architectural styles – Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance – are all represented. It is a three-aisled basilica, each of the aisles terminating in an apse. Inside the porch at the west end is the baptistry. Of the numerous aristocratic palaces the Cipico Palace, facing the west end of the cathedral, is the most outstanding: it consists of a complex of structures covering an entire town block. Most of it dates back to the 13th century, but some elements of buildings from the late Roman period are incorporated in it. During the 15th century the owner brought in the three most celebrated artists of the period to embellish its facade and interior. Throughout the town, and in particular round the ramparts, are the palaces of other leading families. Many of these rise directly from the foundations of late classical or Romanesque structures and are in all styles from Gothic to Baroque.

Trogir is a very charming city situated on a small island about 30 minutes up the coast from the city of Split. It falls under the category of European ‘old cities’ that would be worth visiting even if they were not world heritage sites.

While founded as a Greek colony, there is nothing left of the original Greek city save for the layout of the town. Today the remaining buildings are of a medieval or renaissance origin.

Trogir is a worthwhile stop on any trip to the Dalmatian coast. It is also a 30 minute drive from Croatia’s second biggest city, Split.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #232: The Cathedral of St James in Šibenik

Posted by on April 15, 2013

UNESCO World Heritage Site #232: The Cathedral of St James in Šibenik

UNESCO World Heritage Site #232: The Cathedral of St James in Šibenik

From the World Heritage inscription:

The Cathedral of Šibenik is the fruitful outcome of considerable interchanges of influences between the three culturally different regions of northern Italy, Dalmatia and Tuscany in the 15th and 16th centuries. These interchanges created the conditions for unique and outstanding solutions to the technical and structural problems of constructing the cathedral vaulting and dome. The structural characteristics of the cathedral make it a unique and outstanding building in which Gothic and Renaissance forms have been successfully blended.

Šibenik is a small town on the Dalmatian coast, opening out on a bay separated from the Adriatic by the Sveti Ante (St Anthony) channel and a multitude of tiny islands. The town was founded in the 10th century by the Subic family; it consists of a labyrinth of narrow streets and small squares climbing from the level of the cathedral to the fortress at the summit of the old town. Early in the 12th century it came under the sway of the kings of Hungary, who granted its independence. In 1116 and 1378 Šibenik suffered at the hands of the Venetians. They took the town in 1412, renaming it Sebenico and holding it until the fall of the Venetian Republic in 1797. The cathedral of St James owes its present appearance to three successive periods of construction between 9 April 1431, when the first stone was laid, and 1535.

Georgius Mathei Dalmaticus built the cathedral, with the exception of the nave and the aisle walls, by assembling slabs of stone and the contiguous sections of pilaster and ribbing using a particular technique for the joints. The roofing of the aisles, as well as that of the apses and the dome, is made from stone ’tiles’. These roofing tiles are laid side by side with their horizontal edges overlapping, and the joints are made by the perfect fit. On the dome the tiles are held in place by stone wedges fitted with great precision and are inserted into the ribs as into a portcullis. This type of construction could well have taken its inspiration from shipbuilding, or from the experience of many artists whose first trade was the working of wood as joiners, cabinet-makers, or model makers. The solution adopted for the cathedral at Šibenik was made possible by the outstanding quality of the stone used, which came from the stone quarries of Veselje, on the island of Brac, which are still in operation to this day.

St. James’ Cathedral isn’t the grandest or most beautiful cathedral in Europe let alone Croatia. It’s inclusion on the world heritage list seems out of place compared to other great and historic cathedrals which have been listed.

The real reason I think St. James Cathedral is on the world heritage list is its method of construction. There was no mortar used in the walls. The stones were carefully cut and stacked without anything holding them together.

There are several great world heritage sites in Croatia. However, I don’t think St. James’ Cathedral is one of them. If you are in Šibenik or driving down the Dalmatian coast it is worth a visit (you can probably experience the whole in the 15 minutes) but only the hardcore world heritage site fan is probably going to find it of interest.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #231: Plitvice Lakes National Park

Posted by on April 13, 2013

UNESCO World Heritage Site #231: Plitvice Lakes National Park

UNESCO World Heritage Site #231: Plitvice Lakes National Park

From the World Heritage inscription:

Plitvice Lakes National Park contains a series of beautiful lakes, caves and waterfalls. These have been formed by processes typical of karst landscapes such as the deposition of travertine barriers, creating natural dams. These geological processes continue today.

The Plitvice Lakes basin is a geomorphologic formation of biological origin, a karst river basin of limestone and dolomite, with approximately 20 lakes, created by the deposition of calcium carbonate precipitated in water through the agency of moss, algae and aquatic bacteria. These create strange, characteristic shapes and contain travertine-roofed and vaulted caves. The carbonates date from the Upper Trias, Juras and Cretaceous Ages and are up to 4,000 m thick. In order to maintain and preserve the natural characteristics of the lakes, the whole of surface and most of the subterranean drainage system has to be embraced by extending the original borders of the park. The new areas comprise layers of karstified limestone with dolomites of Jurassic age.

There are 16 interlinked lakes between Mala Kapela Mountain and Pljesevica Mountain. The lake system is divided into the upper and lower lakes: the upper lakes lie in a dolomite valley and are surrounded by thick forests and interlinked by numerous waterfalls; the lower lakes, smaller and shallower, lie on the limestone bedrock and are surrounded only by sparse underbrush. The upper lakes are separated by dolomite barriers, which grow with the formation of travertine, forming thus travertine barriers. Travertine is mostly formed on the spots where water falls from an elevation, by the incrustation of algae and moss with calcium carbonate. The lower lakes were formed by crumbling and caving-in of the vaults above subterranean cavities through which water of the upper lakes disappeared.

Plitvice is without question one of the most spectacular national parks in Europe.

What it is, is simple enough: a chain of lakes connected by waterfalls. However, the visual effect of the lakes, the falls and the color of the water makes for one of the most amazing views you will see on the continent. It is a scene which would be right at home on a Japanese painting.

I had the luck (or misfortune depending on how you look at it) of being in the park during a freak April snowstorm. The ‘winter wonderland’ effect is something that is seldom seen in the park and I was lucky to get photos of.

Plitvice is about a 90 minute drive from Zagreb or Zadar. If you are in the region I would highly recommend a visit.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #230: Muskauer Park / Park Muzakowski

Posted by on April 6, 2013

UNESCO World Heritage Site #230: Muskauer Park / Park Mużakowski

UNESCO World Heritage Site #230: Muskauer Park / Park Mużakowski

From the World Heritage inscription:

Muskauer Park was the forerunner for new approaches to landscape design in cities, and influenced the development of landscape architecture as a discipline.

The site is the core zone of an extensive landscape park laid out by a leading European personality of the mid-19th century, Prince Hermann von Pückler-Muskau, around the New Castle of Muskauer on either side of the River Neisse, the border between Poland and Germany. The entire park extended around the town of Muskau and out into the surrounding farmed landscape. The area covers a total of 559.90 ha. Of this, 348 ha are within Poland and 211.90 ha within Germany. The park forms the starting point for an entirely different approach to the relationship between man and landscape. The design does not evoke classical landscapes or paradise, or provide enlightenment to some lost perfection, instead it is ‘painting with plants’, enhancing the inherent qualities of the existing landscape through embellishing its structures with trees, meadow and watercourses, to allow the landscape to merge with nature.

Pückler created an integrated landscape framework, extending into the town of Muskau. Green passages formed urban parks framing the areas for development, and the town becoming a design component in a utopian landscape. The structure of the Muskauer Park is focused on the New Castle, reconstructed by Pückler in the 1860s, according to the designs of the Prussian architect, Schinkel. A network of paths radiates out from the castle. Along them are ‘culminating points’ in the topography which create ideal viewpoints, each part of an intricately constructed network of wider interrelated views. The elements Pückler used were a combination of built and natural: bridges, watercourses, paths, ornamental buildings, woods, arboreta, scattered trees and the inherent geology of terraces, crags and the valley of the River Neisse. He wove all these into a visual picture of the highest aesthetic quality and one characterised by extraordinary simplicity and expansiveness. The landscape thus has a structure that can be appreciated for its aesthetic qualities. It also has strong intangible values – for the place it holds in the evolution of landscape design, and for its influence on what followed.

Muskauer Park is a site which straddles the German and Polish border. Most visitors will probably be coming to the German side where the palace and interpretative center is, however, the largest part of the park by area is actually in Poland.

Like many other world heritage sites in Germany, it was gutted during WWII and reconstructed in 1990’s. The middle of the park was an active border crossing zone with checkpoints until Poland entered the Schengen Area in 2007.

The palace is now a museum and interpretative center covering the life of Pückler and his thoughts on gardening.