A Walking Tour of Trogir, Croatia

trogir-history-and-walking-tour cityscape

Trogir, Croatia, our current home away from home, has a fascinating history that goes back more than 2,300 years. During our first weeks on this tiny island getaway, we preferred to soak up the town’s details bit by bit, leaving much to imagination, but when the opportunity presented itself to go on a walking tour with Natalija, a new friend and certified tour guide, we decided it was time we properly unravel the mysteries of the ancient town.

Meeting Our Guide, Natalija

We commenced our walking tour at the spot where we’d originally met Natalija – Trogir’s Petar Berislavić School, a handsome, century-old building with a commanding location on the Adriatic. When we’d gone there to make arrangements to visit an English class earlier in the month, Natalija (who works as the school’s legal advisor; she is a lawyer schooled in Split), helped translate. Our visit to the 6th grade class would turn out to be a fun diversion: we chatted about the students’ current lessons (their teacher kept reminding us that we could only speak to the kids in the present tense, as it’s the only one they’d yet learned), and their extracurricular passions. One boy was an up and coming water polo player, another was an avid basketball fan, and the female students professed a love for studying, not sports. As we left the classroom, impressed by the young students’ fine grasp of English and feeling their contagious energy, we concluded that these Croatian youth weren’t very different from their peers we’d met in classes in Southeast Asia and India just a year earlier.

Trogir's Elementary School Building with palm trees in the foreground

The Petar Berislavić School, a favorite roosting spot for seagulls.

An Overview of Trogir’s History

Standing in front of the school on the day of our walking tour, we saw familiar student faces peeking out of the open windows; several students waved at us in a hearty fashion, sending us off on our way with Natalija. Natalija started out by explaining Trogir’s etymology. Trogir was founded by Greek colonists in the 3rd century BC; they called the port Tragurion, similar to the Greek word Tragos meaning ‘male goat.’ After the Greeks, the Romans and Venetians would put their stamp on Trogir’s history, followed by Habsburg Empire rule and French troops. Trogir and Croatia as a whole would eventually become part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia. The town was also occupied by the Italians during WWII, incurring some bombing damage. Croatia finally gained its independence in 1991 and Trogir was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.

Kamerlengo Fortress and flowers - Trogir, Croatia

In the wintertime, the Kamerlengo Fortress is not accessible, but during the summer months, performances are held here.

Nearby, the elementary school is the mid-15th century Kamerlengo Fortress. Natalija drew our attention to the fortress’ tower, and what remains of a decorative frieze of the Winged Lion of Saint Mark. If you’ve been to Venice, or any spots once under the Venetian Republic’s rule, it’d be a familiar sight, except this one was largely destroyed after the fall of Venice in 1797. Natalija told us that we’d see the town’s only surviving winged lion in a few moments.

The Kamerlengo Fortress Tower, with a destroyed winged lion frieze

This winged lion, on the Kamerlengo Fortress’ Tower, was destroyed after the fall of Venice in 1797.

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Next, we strolled to a suburb of Trogir called Pašike, which Natalija explained was once the district of the city’s poorer people. Trogir’s adjacent historic quarter, on the other hand, is where the noble people called home, behind entryways adorned with elaborate coats of arms. Natalija explained that noble ladies would often come to the wall bordering Pašike, so that they could escape the stuffy air, and dark, high walls of Trogir, where it was difficult to soak up the sunshine.

Trogir's northern gateway with statue on top

Trogir’s north portal.

Entering through Trogir’s north gate, Natalija called our attention to the statue of Trogir’s town protector, St Ivan Orsini. Just a few footsteps inside is the Garagnin-Fanfogna Palace, the building that now houses the City Museum.
Garagnin-Fanfogna Palace

The Garagnin-Fanfogna Palace balcony. If the family wished to pardon someone awaiting execution, they would place a white sheet on this balcony.

“The family that once lived here was very powerful – so powerful that they could pardon someone awaiting execution by simply putting a white sheet on this balcony,” Natalija explained.

Back in the palace’s courtyard was a haphazard collection of limestone olive oil millstones, and the city’s only Winged Lion of Saint Mark frieze that was not damaged after the 370+ years of Venetian rule came to an end. Natalija drew our attention to the open book at the lion’s feet, explaining that it’s widely believed that an open book indicates a period of relative peace, whereas a closed one symbolizes times of war.

Winged Lion Frieze in Trogir, Croatia

Trogir’s sole surviving winged lion frieze. The others were destroyed in the town after the fall of Venice.

Olive millstones in Trogir courtyard

Olive oil millstones.

Trogir courtyard

Trogir courtyard

Trogir courtyard

Nearing Trogir’s main square, Trg Ivana Pavla II, named after Pope John Paul II, we stopped at the Cipiko Palace, which was home to the Cipiko family’s well-known writers, artists and historians. The large rooster replica in the entryway, Natalija explained, was seized from a Turkish ship by a Cipiko family member during a pivotal battle of the 15th century. High up on the building’s front façade are beautiful windows that would be equally at home overlooking Venice’s canals.

Cipiko Palace's decorative work over windows - Trogir
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The large rooster that was seized from a Turkish ship during an important battle in the 15th century.

An Italian Connection

If you’re thinking that some of these names sound a bit Italian, you’re correct. During medieval times, Latin was spoken here. Even today, Natalija explained, many Dalmatian families still have Italian surnames. She compared the Dalmatian temperament to that of the Italian people (playful and less rigid than northern Croatians, who are said to have been influenced by the Austro-Hungarians).

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The most prominent monument on the square and in Trogir is the St. Lawrence Church/St. Lovro Cathedral, with its celebrated entryway, carved by the master Trogir sculptor, Radovan.
Intricate carvings on Radovan's portal - St. Lawrence Cathedral
Natalija explained some of the symbolism behind Radovan’s work (Adam and Eve are represented, the lamb represents good, the dragon is evil) and an interesting art history tidbit about the column and sculpture just in front of the church.
Trogir History and Walking Tour04

It looks rather old, but this sculpture in front of the St. Lawrence Cathedral is new and controversial.

“This statue is of Jesus,” she explained, “and many tour guides will walk past it without saying anything because it is a bit scandalous and only a year or so old.”

Trogir History and Walking Tour03

Natalija elaborated, explaining that the city leaders and the church did not agree about whether or not to recognize St. John’s Day as a local holiday. Church leaders were upset when the patron saint’s day wasn’t recognized, so they erected the sculpture. I found this funny since I’d photographed the sculpture just days before – certain it was as old as the church. Natalija joked that someday it may be removed since putting it there could be seen as questionable given Trogir’s UNESCO World Heritage status.

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Wells like this are a common sight throughout Trogir courtyards.

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Other prominent buildings on the square are Former Duke’s Palace/City Hall, the town’s Clock Tower and Loggia, which was formerly a courthouse of sorts. Natalija showed us chains that once held the accused wrists during the trial, and explained that executions were carried out in the main square.
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The Church of St. Lawrence

Natalija, our guide, in Trogir’s loggia.

Next, we wound through a charming courtyard, where multiple potted plants lined the stairways, and laundry lines criss-crossed overhead, before exiting through the town’s south portal, which amazingly still wears 15th century wooden doors (complete with intimidating iron adornments).

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For weeks, Shawn and I pondered what these stone protrusions are. Natalija explained that in the past, people put rods in them. With a sheet draped over the rod, cool breezes were brought into the home during the hot summers.

Trogir History and Walking Tour01

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“After 1100 PM, people were not allowed to come into the town,” Natalija explained, so this Small Loggia (or Mala Loza) was a shelter for them while they waited for morning.” The loggia later evolved into a fish market, and today houses souvenirs during Trogir’s busy tourist months.
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Having looped back to the elementary school, our tour had come full circle. We were thrilled to finally have acquired a greater appreciation of Trogir, thanks to Natalija sharing her afternoon with us. When we mentioned to Natalija that we’d likely be exploring nearby Split in the coming days, she tempted us with more intriguing historical tidbits about Diocletian’s Palace and beyond. She’s a true fountain of knowledge.

Where in the World?

Planning Pointers:

  • If you’re coming to Trogir or the Split area, and would like to arrange a private or small group walking tour, do consider getting in touch with Natalija. Her English is fantastic, and as a lawyer, she offers an interesting perspective on the area’s culture and history. You can reach Natalija at: natalija.nov[at]gmail.com .
  • If you’re a Dr. Who fan, check out the Trogir locations where the Dr. Who episodes were filmed in 2009.  We haven’t seen the episodes, but did watch a bit of this program which shows behind the scenes filming footage.
  • Need more inspiration? This link contains an index of all my posts from Croatia.

Photography & text © by Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

Related Articles:

trogir-croatia-visit-tourism-travel31b Getting Acquainted with Trogir

Trogir - St. Lawrence Belltower The Blue Skies of Trogir

pouring red wineThe Hunt for the ‘Original Zin': A Wine Tasting Tour of Croatia

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48 Comments on “A Walking Tour of Trogir, Croatia

  1. Thanks for a very interesting and informative post. I learned a lot since I have never been to this part of the world and don’t know much about its history.

    • Marilyn, what a nice comment; thanks for letting me know that the post taught you a bit. :)

      The region indeed has a complex past; we still have much to learn too.

    • Kat, I guess it comes as no surprise that I highly recommend it. Having been here during the high season in 2007 and low season, I also think that now is a special time. I’m sure that in Dubrovnik it can be perpetually crowded, year round, but here in central Dalmatia, it’s very relaxed this time of year. From sailing, to going wild asparagus hunting, to wine tasting, and visiting an elementary school, we’ve had an extraordinary time here.

      Of course, I’m happy to help should you have any questions. :)

  2. That rooster is so cool! And the idea of their ingenious bed-sheet fans :-) Love them all actually!

    • We now call those the ‘medieval air conditioners.’ :) Our guide also mentioned that the original rooster’s hallway companion (another trophy of war) was stolen, so they wisely made a replica of the rooster. Cool indeed, though. Makes me wonder what the symbolism is behind the rooster?

    • Paige, I hope I captured all the details correctly. :) What brought you to this lovely town for 3 months? We’ve been here since early February, and are getting sad at the thought of leaving. What season were you here?

      • I was there in spring about two years ago. I think technically I was in Okrug, since I was over that big hill. Four years ago I made a good friend there (Marin, he owns the hostel). He helped me find a vacant vacation apartment–not too hard to find in the rainy season. I was there to write a book–or that was the rumor in town. My Croatian wasn’t good enough to disabuse the notion. Hehe.

        You’re there when everything is closed! :) It’s a different matter in August, for sure.

      • We’re loving being here while everything’s shuttered up, but know the tourists will be unleashed rather soon. :)

        We just met a nice gentleman the other day while we were sailing out of Trogir and his name is Marin. While it’s probably a long shot, wouldn’t it be a small world if he was the same Marin? I’m sharing the post tomorrow with his picture.

        I saw from you website that you also spent some time in other countries in the Balkans. Did you spend as long a time elsewhere as you did here in Trogir? Which spots were special for you? We’re debating where to head next!

      • WordPress is fussing at me. :) Perhaps my reply is too long.

        I really fell in love with that region, but my longest stay was in Trogir. I know there are a lot of Marins in Croatian, I’m going to bet it is the same Marin. Exceptionally friendly guy. :) I’ll check your post.
        Bosnia was a very important part of my travels. I loved Mostar. I went there once solo and once with my brother. Naturally, Sarajevo is a highlight too.
        If you want to stay coastal, Montenegro is also fun. I made fast friends there as well. Also, if you haven’t taken the bus down the coast of Croatia yet, it’s a treat in itself! I love the bus drivers–smoking right under the non-smoking signs and taking turns that unfazed the locals, but left newcomers feeling the full adventure of the trip. :)

      • Our Marin didn’t speak any English, but he was so cheerful and gregarious, it didn’t really matter. :)

        I’ve seen Mostar and Sarajevo back in 2007, and was intrigued by both; my husband hasn’t though, so I’d love to return.

        I think we might be taking that bus down the coast that you mentioned. :) We actually took the bus from Munich to here in early February, but since it was an overnighter, we probably missed a lot of those rebellious details.

        In what part of the world are you now?

  3. Wonderful post… the pics, the architecture, the windows, the carvings… the washing.., the alleys – all utterly beautiful, utterly charming, and all in bright sunshine!

    • Many thanks, Valerie! I also love seeing the juxtaposition of the new fabrics/clothing with the ancient alleyways. There’s indeed an effortless sort of charm here.

    • Thanks, Phil. Using your incredible wildlife photograph as an example, I really need to get out in the countryside more and see what critters are lurking. We went asparagus hunting the other day and heard there were snakes, but none showed up for us. :)

  4. Great pictures! I am planning a 2 week travel to Croatia this summer, and I am impatient to visit this place!! Looks so peaceful! Thanks for sharing your experience!

      • it’s my first time to Croatia so we’ll be visiting the main attractions. We have 10 days in the country and want to focus on Istria, the region of Split and the Dubrovnik area. Do you have any good advice??

      • Esmé, I’ve seen different places during different trips: Zagreb, Trogir, Dubrovnik, Split and Šibenik.

        During this trip, We’ve spent all of our time in Dalmatia and we’ve enjoyed Šibenik, Trogir and Split. We’re headed to Dubrovnik on Monday, so it’ll be interesting to see how it’s changed from the last time I was there (in 2007).

        We were also hoping to make it to one of the national parks (Plitvice or Krka) but just haven’t made it this time around. All of our new Croatian friends highly recommend them! And the islands sound wonderful – Hvar and Vis are the ones regularly recommended to us.

        Much to see here; I hope to return someday soon, and wish you a splendid trip, Esmé!

      • Thanks for all your tips Tricia! can’t wait to be there!!

  5. I enjoyed this posting so very much. Felt I was walking along with you. Your photos are wonderful!

    • Mary Ann, Shawn and I keep saying how lucky we were to meet Natalija. Now, when we walk past each one of these spots, it’s as though the stories have been unlocked. We’re really going to miss it here! Hope you’re having a lovely weekend!

  6. I love your posts on Croatia! It’s a neighboring country to mine and i am truly fond of it, both of people and the landscape! I am so glad i found your blog, will follow with great interest!

    • Thanks so much, Ruth – I’m pleased I happened upon your post on Montenegro, so that we could connect! In what part of Montenegro do you call home? We’re hoping to head there soon, likely after our time in Croatia.

      • I am in Podgorica, the capital ;) Welcome to the Black Mountains, i hope you’ll like it here!
        p.s. if i can be of help, do contact me via blog or on fb (it’s listed on the website too ;))

      • It’s so kind of you to offer to help us with any questions. Thank you.

        We were contemplating coming to Podgorica for a day or two. What are some of the special activities that you like to do there?

        I think we should start learning the Montenegrin Cyrillic alphabet soon. :)

      • Tricia, sorry for the late reply, we had some stuff going on in the family, so i wasn’t really checking the notifications :( It’s latin alphabet here too, and if it’s not raining heavily a stroll in the old town is a good idea (Stara Varosh) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stara_Varo%C5%A1_(Podgorica)

        also, King Nikola’s summer castle and the art museum in it are really worth checking out (it’s close to the US Embassy.)

      • Ruth, sound like some interesting sites to see there. Thank you for sending the links and for sharing your pointers.

        When I was in Montenegro in 2007, it seemed that the Cyrillic alphabet was being used more than it is now. We just spent two days in Herceg Novi and now we’re in Kotor, and most signs I’ve seen are written in the Latin alphabet. Do some parts of the country favor one alphabet over the other, or has there been a movement to use the Latin alphabet?

      • p.s Geez, i remembered what is it that you saw – it’s the adverts in Russian lol!!! The coast is full of them! ;)

      • I remember seeing the highway road signs too, though. We haven’t made it out from the coast yet, so I’ll report more later once we do. :)

    • Glad to know I passed the test, Natalija. :)

      Thank you again for taking the time to show us Trogir. We have such wonderful memories of that afternoon, and your commentary made us appreciate Trogir even more.

  7. Pingback: Ami l'arte? Ecco 10 posti da non perdere nel 2014 | il Blog di Musementil Blog di Musement | Arte & Viaggio

  8. Pingback: Europe travel bucket list for art lovers 2014Musement Blog | Art & Travel

  9. I think my website visitors will be glad to know about Trogir guide. I’ll add a link to my website from Trogir page, so they can contact you!!!

    • Pero, happy to share a slice of Trogir’s history with your readers. For being such a tiny town, it’s certainly replete with architectural gems and history.

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