Shades of Vertigo: Climbing the Bell Tower in Trogir, Croatia

in stairwell of Trogir Bell Tower

Sometimes, fear can get the best of you, and here in Trogir, Croatia, I must confess that it did.

Whenever I explore a new city, I like getting high above it, and despite an aversion to heights, I’ve climbed some of Europe’s most iconic church towers: Notre Dame de Paris, Germany’s Ulm Cathedral and the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. On a recent spring morning, however, I couldn’t muster up the courage to conquer the bell tower of the Saint Lawrence Cathedral, Trogir’s most famous monument.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have done my research in advance. One reader had dubbed the structure the ‘tower of terror’ and many Trip Advisor reviews warned the faint of heart of the unnerving climb. So, I prepared myself for the ascent, leaving anything at our apartment that might be a candidate for rappelling down the infamous stairwell’s cavern. My rings stayed at home, and so did my purse.

trogir bell tower entrance

When we arrived at the 12th-century church, the sole tourists there, I asked the friendly attendant, Maria, if the climb was scary.

“Just the last flight of stairs,” she said. “I have to make the climb every day to be certain no one is up there at closing time.”

A sign posted to the door of the spiraled staircase didn’t do much to ease the nerves:

“You’re climbing on the bell tower on your own responsibility.” The preposition ‘on’ offered a new set of possibilities that I didn’t really want to consider.

belltower sign

The first flight of stairs was standard European cathedral fare: spirally, narrow, and with worn stairs that make you ponder whose feet have pounded them for centuries. Visions of the fictional bell-ringer Quasimodo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame came to mind.

cathedral stairwell

view from trogir belltower onto street

When we reached the first exterior platform, we were granted glimpses of the Cipiko Palace’s Venetian Gothic windows, the main square, and the magnificent carved details of the St.Lawrence Cathedral: its rose window, railing, and the elaborate tower we had yet to climb.

Trogir Bell Tower and Rose Window

Trogir belltower

The first staircase.

Cipiko Palace windows, as seen from the cathedral's platform.

Cipiko Palace windows, as seen from the cathedral’s platform.

View from the first platform.

View from the first platform.

st. lawrence cathedral railing detail - croatia

Knowing that the bell tower was closing in just 25 minutes – and wanting to protect our eardrums – we swiftly continued our ascent upward, advancing to the tower’s stairwell.

stairwell of Trogir belltower

trogir stairwell of belltower with open windows

Instantly, I could feel my heart pounding when I saw the stairwell’s open nature. I had a hard time banishing belltower scenes from the Alfred Hitchcock film Vertigo from my mind as I climbed to the second level, past open Gothic windows more than twelve feet tall.

Trogir belltower open windows

Trogir belltower stairwell

climbing trogir belltower

Shawn, tackling the intimidating, final stretch.

shadows in Trogir bell tower

And fear swiftly got the best of me when I saw the final stretch – a ladder-like, metal staircase precipitously bridging the divide between the stone staircase we’d just climbed, the tower’s open cavern, and the final level above. The metal staircase’s panels were also open. Gusts of wind rushed in, and I feared I’d slip on the significant amounts of pigeon poop amassed on the stairs.

climbing in stairwell of trogir belltower

It was just on the verge of noon, and we knew we had to act quickly since we didn’t want to be meters away from the choir of bells when they made their deafening toll on the hour. I handed Shawn my camera, wishing him a safe passage and a swift return.

In order to reach the top level, Shawn had to climb two legs of the open metal staircase, dodging a pigeon that suddenly flew along his path, then hoisting himself through a small opening in the floor.

Trogir belltower stairwell

Shawn snapped this shot of the final level’s opening in the floor.

climbing trogir cathedral belltower27

The splendid view from the top, Shawn’s four images also follow.

climbing trogir cathedral belltower29

climbing trogir cathedral belltower30

climbing trogir cathedral belltower31

climbing trogir cathedral belltower32

Trogir belltower

trogir belltower

That’s Shawn up there!

As Shawn called down to me from above, with exclamations of how gorgeous the view was, and gentle encouragements for me to join him, I looked out from the second platform onto the cluster of red rooftops, Trogir’s town square, and the little people below. I set my sights upon the last leg of the climb, wondering if I could muster up the courage to go just a bit farther, using this as an exercise to overcome my fear of heights.

I finally decided to just be content with where I was, for I had a special view all to myself.

trogir belltower gothic architecture

trogir bell tower view onto main square

What fears have you or haven’t you overcome? Do you find it’s easier to tackle fears when you’re in unfamiliar surroundings? (When I was in Morocco, for example, I was able to muster up the courage to put a snake charmer’s snake around my neck, but back home, I’d be hesitant to even touch one in a cage!)

Where in the World?

Planning Pointers:

  • The Church of Saint Lawrence, known locally as Katedrala Sv. Lovre, has limited visiting hours. Be sure to check what they are before your visit. As of March 2013, the cathedral is only open from 0900-1200, and during church services. During the height of tourist season, it seems it is also open in the afternoons from 1600-1900.
  •  A choir of church bells is beautiful, but I’d advise not being right next to them when the bells toll on the hour.
  • In 2013, there was an 8 Kuna fee to climb the bell tower.
  • For more information, visit the Tourist Board of Trogir.
  • Need more inspiration? This link contains an index of all my posts from Croatia.

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

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32 Comments on “Shades of Vertigo: Climbing the Bell Tower in Trogir, Croatia

  1. Wow – those are some serious crazy steps at the end! I have yet to come across anything quite like that! (Clearly, I must try harder!!)
    So – you ask about over coming fears! I am not quite sure I over came this one – but in Noumea a number of years ago, I tried to do the flying trapeze – yep – the circus act with bodies flying over head!! I didn’t success in making the move, but I did get up there and had to let myself fall to the safety net below. Super scary and I wish I had done it, but very glad that I tried. Turns out, I do have a little fear of heights. Luckily, it rarely stops me.

    • Anita, was the Split Cathedral anything like this stairwell in Trogir? If not, perhaps I could’ve tried the Split ascent after all!

      I really enjoyed your near trapeze-flying comment. Kudos to you for even getting up there and taking the plunge onto the net! I can imagine what this must have looked like, but I wonder – did they take any footage or pictures, or are the memories just forever etched in your mind? :)

    • Vera, thank you for visiting and for taking the time to leave your nice compliment. It’s a pleasure to connect.

      I see that you have had a great deal of international traveling adventures yourself and that you’re originally from Torino. I was lucky enough to go to the winter Olympics there in 2006. A beautiful city! I’m impressed at your knack for languages too.

      We’ve found it interesting that this part of Croatia (Dalmatia) shares some Italian characteristics, with its cuisine and language.

    • From that third floor, the descent must have been especially frightening. It seems many of Croatia’s bell-towers have the same architecture – perhaps I’ll get a second chance to conquer one after all. :)

    • Frightening seconds aside, it was, Phil. :) With all the pigeons flying in and roosting inside of the tower, it seems the climb would appeal not only to the photographer who favors architecture, but a nature photographer like you. :)

    • Thanks, Mark – we timed it right with the sunny day and season. I can’t imagine being up there with bunches of tourists; it’s a cramped spot.

  2. I’m impressed you got that far, Tricia, and your photos are superb. That’s the important bit! I’m a pretty intrepid tower climber but that last stretch does look hairy.
    I’m a wimp when it comes to stuff like bungee jumping and skydiving.

    • Jo, I guess it wouldn’t come as a surprise, but I don’t think I could bungee or skydive either.

      I was impressed when my grandmother’s friend went skydiving for the first time a few years ago. She did so to celebrate the life of her brother, a paratrooper, who had died in the war.

      What are some of your favorite towers?

  3. Hi Tricia, that does look pretty scary. I think it’s great to face your fears when the reward is something you really want but sometimes, I think the greater challenge is knowing when to say “I don’t need to do that”

    • I echo your sentiment, Melinda. When faced with whether or not to kiss the Blarney Stone in Ireland, I took the first route (after much trepidation about leaning backwards over a high drop off to do so) but here in Croatia, the latter approach seemed right. :)

  4. Congratulations, you made it so much further than I could have done. I also share the same fear.

    • Do you know which spots in Dubrovnik are popular for getting a good bird’s eye view of the city (preferably a setting that’s a bit more secure than these metal stairs that got the best of me in Trogir?) :)

  5. I love (and hate) climbing bell towers. My university had an amazing bell tower that had musical bells – the “chimemasters” played the massive, oversized “keyboard” that rang the bells (it was set up like a keyboard but instead of keys, there were large levers for the hand and feet to play). Everything from our school song to the Beatles to classical music came out of that bell tower. The climb to the top is 161 steps – and worth every one!

    http://www.chimes.cornell.edu/about.html

    • It was interesting learning about a famous American bell tower; thanks for sharing your memories and the link. It’s funny to imagine Beatles tunes belting ouf of a tower. Kind of reminds me of the time when temple-goers in India invited me to spontaneously play the harmonium in a Hindu temple. The only song I could remember was ‘the Entertainer.’ Not the average fare for India. :)

      Did you ever consider becoming a chime-master?

      • The Beatles and pop songs were fun, but I think my fondest memories are of the school songs playing every morning and evening. And on Sunday mornings, they played an extended concert. We liked to lay in bed and open our windows and listen to the chimes concert – lazy Sundays were the way to go.

        I didn’t even know chimemasters existed until after my freshman year – it wasn’t well publicized. But even then, I think there would have been too much anxiety for me to want to do it – while the only requirement was being able to read music, I would have been so worried about slipping up because several thousand students, professors, etc would hear the mistakes (occasionally, though rarely, you could hear a mistake in the song).

      • Lazy Sundays with such a soundtrack – sounds fabulous! I’m a piano player too, so I can imagine how one would be a bit nervous performing for the entire campus. :)

    • I took the shots as far as 2/3 into the adventure, but Shawn snapped the ones from the tippy top of the tower. Seeing the view from his eyes was the next best thing from experiencing it myself. :)

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