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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 a snake in a cage!
Where in the World?
- The Church of Saint Lawrence, known locally as Katedrala Sv. Lovre, has limited visiting hours, which vary based upon the season. When we visited in 2013, there was an 18 kuna fee to climb the bell tower.
- The choir of church bells is beautiful, but I’d advise not being right next to them when the bells toll on the hour. :)
- For more information, visit the Tourist Board of Trogir.
- Are you looking for accommodation in the Split / Trogir area? Shawn and I have spent a total of three winters there, using it as a base to explore Croatia’s popular Dalmatia region:
- The first time, we rented a studio apartment at the Apartments Mirkec (affiliate link) in Trogir. We enjoyed our 7 weeks immensely! The apartment had good Wifi, and a kitchen with all the basics. It was also perfectly situated in the heart of Trogir’s gorgeous Old Town, just a minute’s walk from the seaside walkway (the Riva). Trogir’s bus station was about a 5-minute walk from the Apartments Mirkec, making day trips using mass transportation easy.
- We also spent two winters in holiday apartments in the nearby city of Split. These apartments were in prime locations and would have been in high demand if it was summertime. Our first 2.5 months in Split, we stayed at the lovely Kaleta Apartments (affiliate link), which are located within Diocletian’s Palace. Our elegant studio apartment (called the ‘Diocletian’s Suite’) had lots of character, including Roman brickwork embedded into the wall. We had overhead views of life on Split’s Old Town streets, and we enjoyed chatting with the friendly owners, Novica and Negri. Two years later, we returned to Split, but stayed in the Varoš neighborhood at the Guesthouse F (affiliate link). We especially enjoyed the studio apartments’ central location, plus our tiny terrace, and the kindness of our hosts, Anja and Miro. (One of Guesthouse F’s apartments was originally a horseshoe maker’s workshop, owned by Anja’s grandfather. Shawn and I dubbed it the ‘horseshoe cottage’.) Varoš is just a few minutes’ walk from Diocletian’s Palace. With its quirky narrow streets and stone homes decorated with hunter-green shutters and flower boxes, Varoš is charming.
- Visit my Croatia page for more trip tips, plus an index of all my posts about Croatia.
Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.