Klis Fortress & A Game of Thrones Tour in Split, Croatia
For two thousand years, Croatia’s Klis Fortress has held a coveted position among Central Dalmatia‘s craggy landscape. Having been one of the filming locations for Season 4 of a Game of Thrones, as well as host to dramatic events over the millennia, the Klis Fortress appeals to Game of Thrones fans and history enthusiasts looking for things to do in Split.
Admittedly, I’ve never seen an episode of the popular television series, but during our three months in coastal Split, Croatia, we couldn’t escape the hype surrounding Game of Thrones filming locations in and around the area. From “my brother was an extra and met Daenerys” to “our friend acted as a slave girl” to “they filmed a scene on the cobbled street in front of our office” residents were excited and speculative about which Split scenes would make it into the upcoming episodes. Trailers helped them exercise their detective skills and pinpoint some Game of Thrones filming locations even before Season 4 debuted.
In addition to the mighty Klis Fortress, which is featured in episode 4 as the city of Meeren, it turns out that several Split locations were featured: the eerie basements of Diocletian’s 1,700-year-old palace, one of Split’s narrow, cobbled streets near its City Museum, a quarry outside of the city, and a centuries-old watermill where we’d have a traditional Croatian lunch after visiting the Klis Fortress with our friends who lead a Game of Thrones Tour there.
When we explored the formidable fortress one winter afternoon, known as the Kliška Tvrđava in Croatian, the surrounding countryside was coming alive with trees bearing white almond blossoms. Walking the rugged pathways, while admiring the sensational views of the Adriatic Sea and striking mountains, we tried to imagine what battles took place at Klis over the centuries. A weathered cannon, ramparts, and look-outs hinted at the sieges, and it was fascinating to learn that the fortress once overlooked the border between the Turkish and Venetian Empires. We also learned that the climate is different on the north and south sides of the fortress, with the former being Continental and the latter Mediterranean.
As early as the 2nd Century BCE, Illyrian tribes inhabited the area around Klis. Over the centuries the strategic spot, which straddles Mosor and Kozjak mountains (where we went hiking, and wined and dined at 400 meters above the Adriatic Sea, respectively), was seized by the Romans, Avars and Slavs, Croats, Ottomans, Venetians, Austrians, French, Austro-Hungarians, and Italian and German troops. In 1990, when Croatia declared its independence from Yugoslavia, the fortress’ signature Oprah Tower again flew the red, white and blue flag of Croatia.
After having visited popular tourist meccas like the Heidelberg Castle, and Dubrovnik’s city walls which often teem with visitors, it was refreshing to explore a site such as Klis that still feels relatively undiscovered. With the exception of our small group, there were only one or two other pairs strolling the grounds. We did see signs of restoration, which was reassuring, but realized how much was left to be done to preserve the fortress when we noticed there wasn’t much signage, and that parts of the site were so untouched that one could easily tumble off the edge of a cliff face.
Having worked up ferocious appetites, we left the Klis Fortress journeying on winding village roads towards Antonica’s Mill (Izletište Antoničin Mlin), a restaurant housed in a still-functioning watermill that might have been constructed as early as the 13th Century. On the way there, we passed the stone quarry that served as yet another filming location for Season 4 of the Game of Thrones.
Arriving at the mill, we felt as though we’d stepped back in time. Fresh water raced underneath the charming structure, surrounded by an expansive green space. Inside the stone building millstones revolved just as they had for centuries, grinding out a fine stream of wheat into wooden bins.
Historically called Benzon Mill, the structure is one of the few remaining mills in the area. The owner, cook and waiter were delightful to chat with. One talked about how that morning he’d just caught the trout that we feasted upon for lunch. He also had a twinkle in his eye when he showed us a photograph of himself playing the role of King Arthur in a theatrical production. A small Lhasa Apso pup was sitting on his shoulder and he had a dagger and sword in hand, with a playful entourage surrounding him.
The lunch proved to be a traditional Croatian feast. From homemade wine and water naturally flavored with wild sage, to Croatian Swiss Chard, grilled fish, as well as vegetables and meat roasted to perfection under a peka bell, we returned to Split with content bellies.
When the next season of Game of Thrones debuts, I just might have to be on the lookout for some of the wonderful Split scenes that we soaked up that day.
Straddling the mountains Mosor and Kozjak, the Klis Fortress has held a coveted position in Central Dalmatia for millennia.
Looking out towards the Adriatic Sea and the Oprah Tower. On the right, spring blooms frame a section of the fortress’ defensive walls.
A cobblestone walkway leads visitors up past Cypress trees and rocky walls with Agave plants. On the right, a father escorts his daughter through the Second Entrance. This portal has been restored several times, first by the Venetians after the 1648 attack, and later by the Austrians. This rose-tinted archway dates back to the 1820s.
The village of Klis below, bordered by emerald-green fields studded with almond trees bearing spring blooms.
On the west side of the Klis Fortress is the Oprah Tower, which was first mentioned in the 14th Century. It was rebuilt by the Venetians.
Agave plants hug to the rocky walls of the Klis Fortress. Agave only bloom once and incredibly, some can live to 100 years old! On the right, the village of Klis, and the snake-like highway off in the distance that leads to the Dalmatian hinterland.
Our friend, Srđan, re-enacts a scene from Game of Thrones, Season 4 when Daenerys frees the slaves. (This image shows this spot during the filming.) In the distance is the city of Split, and the island of Čiovo encircled by the Adriatic Sea.
A cat guards the entrance to the fortress while soaking up the Dalmatian sunshine and looking out towards the Adriatic Sea.
A section of Croatia’s rugged Dinaric Alps.
A look-out point frames the Klis Fortress’ Oprah Tower. On the right, almond and olive trees dotting the countryside around Klis.
Within the Klis Fortress complex is the Church of St. Vitus. The structure was first built as a church, but after the Turks claimed the territory, they built a mosque here in 1537. When Klis was liberated in 1648, the Venetians converted the structure back into a Catholic church. The domed ceiling hints at its past as a mosque.
Light passes through iron-work on the door of St. Vitus.
St. Vitus’ Altar.
Archaeologists found these fragments during restoration work inside St. Vitus Church. This section seems to include the mention of Regina (Latin for ‘Queen’), which leads some historians to believe that a Croatian dynasty existed earlier than originally thought.
This holy water / baptismal font on the left hand side of the church’s interior features detailed stone work. Its inscription dates back to 1658.
Just above the entrance to the church is a stone plaque from 1743, written in Latin: “What piety builds, piety preserves.”
A weathered cannon sits at the ready, making one wonder what dramatic battle scenes ensued here over the centuries.
The Austrians built this building, formerly an Artillery Barracks, in the early 19th Century. Today, only the ground floor remains as the top story was demolished in the 1930s.
Antonica’s Mill Restaurant (Izletište Antoničin Mlin), situated on the Zrnovnica River, possibly dates back to the 13th Century. It’s set to be a popular destination with Game of Thrones fans since it was visited by slave girl, Missandei in Season 4.
The water wheel at the still-functioning mill generates energy to grind fresh wheat flour inside. On the right, friendly restaurant owner and staff members Marko, Slavko, and Dragana.
A millstone grinds wheat into flour, as it has for at least the past five centuries.
Mimosa flowers add a burst of color to the exposed-stone wall interior of the restaurant.
The mill’s owner tends to the fire cooking our peka, grilled fish and roasted vegetable dishes.
Sprigs of rosemary garnish a stainless steel platter of grilled trout (pastrva), a freshwater fish.
Olive oil-drenched Croatian Swiss Chard (blitva) and a pan overflowing with Peka (roasted meat, potatoes, and peppers). Polenta and whole-wheat bread accompanied these hearty dishes, along with homemade wine and water flavored with wild sage.
Our Video of This Experience:
Where in the World?
- The Klis Fortress is located above the village of Klis, about a 20-minute-drive from Split, Croatia. To get there and to the watermill restaurant, we rode with our friend and his Game of Thrones Tour colleagues.
- Part of what makes a Klis Fortress visit so enjoyable is that it is not yet perfectly developed nor an extremely popular tourist destination. As a result, be mindful of steep drop-offs while exploring the fortress. Though the site was undergoing restoration work when we visited in early 2014, there were some sections where a mis-step could cause you to fall a considerable distance.
- For more information about the history of the Klis Fortress, visit the Klis Tourist Board website.
- Shawn and I have spent two winters in Split, finding accommodation in apartments that would be packed during the summer months, but are practically empty during winter. During our first 2.5 months there, we stayed at the lovely Kaleta Apartments (affiliate link), which are located within Diocletian’s Palace. Our studio apartment (called the ‘Diocletian’s Suite’) featured much character, including Roman brickwork embedded into our wall, and overhead views of Split’s Old Town streets. Owners Novica and Negri were thoughtful citizen ambassadors too. Two years later, we returned to Split, staying in the charming Varoš neighborhood, which is known for its quirky stone homes sporting hunter-green shutters and flower boxes. For those 2 months, we stayed in quaint studio apartments at the Guesthouse F (affiliate link). We especially enjoyed 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, which previously belonged to Anja’s grandfather. Shawn and I dubbed it the ‘horseshoe cottage’.
- If you’ll be staying in Split for a few days, you might be interested in the Split Card, which gives you free entry to certain museums and galleries, and reduced rates to others. Back in 2014, people staying in Split for 3 days or more could pick up the Split Card for free, but as of 2016, there is a fee to purchase the card. The link above details the current cost, as well as the participating museums and businesses.
- Would you like more ideas to help plan your Croatian holiday? This link contains an index of all my posts from Croatia.
Hvala / thanks to our friend Srđan and his Game of Thrones Tour colleagues for allowing us to tag along on this maiden tour of the Game of Thrones filming locations. The tour appealed not only to the Game of Thrones fan in Shawn, but also to our love of history and Croatia’s delicious food.
These words, experiences, images, and opinions are entirely my own. Video footage is courtesy of my husband, Shawn.
Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.