Klis Fortress & A Game of Thrones Tour in Split, Croatia

Klis-Fortress-Game-of-Thrones-Tour-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.

Klis Fortress

Straddling the mountains Mosor and Kozjak, the Klis Fortress has held a coveted position in Central Dalmatia for millennia.

Spring Flowers Klis Fortress

Looking out towards the Adriatic Sea and the Oprah Tower. On the right, spring blooms frame a section of the fortress’ defensive walls.

Klis Fortress Split Croatia

Klis Fortress Split Croatia Tour

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.

Klis Fortress History Split Croatia

View Klis Split Croatia

The village of Klis below, bordered by emerald-green fields studded with almond trees bearing spring blooms.

Klis Fortress - Oprah Tower with Croatian Flag

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.

Klis Fortress History Game of Thrones Tour Split Croatia

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.

Daenerys Frees Slaves Klis Fortress

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.

Klis Fortress Canon

Klis Fortress Tour Cat

A cat guards the entrance to the fortress while soaking up the Dalmatian sunshine and looking out towards the Adriatic Sea.

Game of Thrones Tour Croatia Rugged Mountains

A section of Croatia’s rugged Dinaric Alps.

Klis Fortress View of Split Croatia

Klis Fortress Croatia Game of Thrones Tour

A look-out point frames the Klis Fortress’ Oprah Tower. On the right, almond and olive trees dotting the countryside around Klis.

Klis Fortress Tour Split Croatia

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.

Klis Fortress St. Vitus Church

Light passes through iron-work on the door of St. Vitus.

Klis Fortress Tour Church of St. Vid Vitus Interior

St. Vitus’ Altar.

Croatian Queen Regina Klis Fortress

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.

Klis Fortress Church Holy Water Font

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.

Klis Fortress What piety builds, piety preserves

Just above the entrance to the church is a stone plaque from 1743, written in Latin: “What piety builds, piety preserves.”

Klis Fortress Game of Thrones Tour Split Croatia

Klis Fortress Canon

A weathered cannon sits at the ready, making one wonder what dramatic battle scenes ensued here over the centuries.

Game of Thrones Klis Fortress Tour

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.

Klis Fortress Spring Flowers

Flour Mill Restaurant Croatia

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.

Game of Thrones Mill Restaurant Croatia

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.

Old Croatian Flour Mill

A millstone grinds wheat into flour, as it has for at least the past five centuries.

Flour Mill Restaurant Croatia

Mimosa flowers add a burst of color to the exposed-stone wall interior of the restaurant.

Croatian Cooking

The mill’s owner tends to the fire cooking our peka, grilled fish and roasted vegetable dishes.

Croatian Grilled Fish

Sprigs of rosemary garnish a stainless steel platter of grilled trout (pastrva), a freshwater fish.

Croatian Blitva and Peka

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.

Game of Thrones Tour at Croatian Mill

Our Video of This Experience:

Where in the World?

Planning Pointers:

  • 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.

Thanks:

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.

30 Comments on “Klis Fortress & A Game of Thrones Tour in Split, Croatia

  1. A very enjoyable post! Your photos and historical information paint an excellent picture of this beautiful area and what it offers. I especially like the mill and would love to try their wine and delicious looking food!

    • Glad you liked it, Marilyn. I’m with you about thinking the mill was pretty special. I’m pretty certain it was the first functioning one I’d been to, and I enjoyed imagining all the people who’d brought their wheat to be ground there over the centuries.

    • Ina, thank you for sharing images from the impressive Klis Fortress. When we first spied it on the way to the hinterland last year, we were intrigued and couldn’t wait to visit someday. I’m happy we had that chance this winter. Its history is certainly deserving of more attention and it was fun exploring it before the masses do.

      • Such a “small” place – Klis – and yet such grand history of great importance and human determination. Thank you Tricia for choosing to write about it and including such marvelous photos, which on their own evoke such wealth of history that is so “Croatian” – tells of harsh history and yet glory :D

  2. Enjoyed your wonderful photos and write-up and the video was great. Will be checking out the next season of “Game of Thrones” to see if I recognize any locations!

    • Mary Ann, glad you enjoyed the glimpse of Klis. Actually, knowing your appreciation of history, you’ll have to come to Split to see it in person. And doesn’t the sunning ‘guard-cat’ somehow remind you of Sunny D’s personality? :)

  3. Another beautiful post! I know nothing about Game of Thrones, but I guess that’s OK since this fortress looks so beautiful and historic anyway. There is so much to see in Croatia. I hope to spend more time there soon. :)

    • Admittedly I haven’t seen any of the series either, Jenna, but as you said the sweeping vistas and dramatic history make a visit there very enjoyable! If you go with your sons, they’ll definitely need to resist the urge to explore the higher spots in a natural, child-like fashion. The site is still so under-developed that there are several sections with very steep drop-offs. I’m hoping the site will continue to get more preservation attention as a result of being a star in the upcoming series. :)

    • Mark, the setting and views of the countryside and coast are definitely stunning. I confess that I’ve never seen the Game of Thrones before, which was filmed here. Are you a fan of the series?

  4. Now we do have to watch the Game of Thrones to see this majestic scenery and very beautiful historic location. All the glorious food made us hungry. Loved the video and photos.
    J+C

    • Judit & Corina, a pleasure to connect, and thank you. Glad you enjoyed the scenery and glimpses of just some of Croatia’s wonderful wine and slow-cooked food. Did you know that the Dalmatian Coast is the Zinfandel grape’s ancestral home? It might be a fun destination for the Wine Dine Daily duo. :)

  5. Great series of photographs, makes me wish I could go back in time and walk along these ruins when they were in their prime…just to take a look at the view and see another world. Enchanting place (and the great meal you show at the end would make it all worthwhile!). Cheers.

    • Randall, I also think it’d be fascinating to be able to travel back a few centuries and see how the defensive technology of the fortress has changed. Certainly, though, there’s something magical about strolling such an area and just imagining. I appreciate how ruins exercise one’s brain in a creative and curious fashion.

      • Yes, this is one reason I love to travel ~ to appreciate the day as it is, but then also to imagine just how things were in the past. How I would get along and explore their history. Cheers.

  6. Your pictures and the video are nice. Your husband is a very good narrator. Thank you for sharing.

    • Gerard, Shawn and I both say thank you for your compliments. Video-making is something he’s enjoyed since he was growing up; it’s especially rewarding to share our accounts of such scenic and historic spots as the Klis Fortress. I’ve read it only gets about 10,000 to 15,000 visitors a year – it’s definitely deserving of more attention. :)

    • Mayor Vetma, hvala lijepa – thank you! We look forward to returning to your beautiful city and stunning fortress again soon. Here’s hoping some of our readers will also discover these Croatian gems.

  7. Fabulous, Tricia! If ever I return to Croatia, I will add this destination to my list. I love your restaurant photo. It could be a postcard!

    • Ruth, definitely a neat place; I’m hoping that Game of Thrones exposure will help get it some more preservation attention as well. I’ve never seen the TV show before, but am curious how the fortress will look on the big screen. Enjoy the weekend ahead!

      • I haven’t seen it either, but I think I need ti check out an episode or two to see if I recognize any places. They also filmed in Iceland. Good point about the preservation attention…

      • Sounds as if you’ve recently been to some of the filming hot-spots, Ruth. I saw an article in Business Insider yesterday that mentioned several entrepreneurs crafting Croatian travel itineraries costing thousands for GoT groupies. I wonder if Iceland has similar excursions.

  8. I couldn’t resist not to link Klis fortress story on my website. Website visitors will appreciate useful historical information but above all photos that say more than thousands words. I hope you don’t mind!

    • Croato, I’m happy to hear that your readers will be able to learn more about the Klis Fortress via my post. I’m sure that with the Game of Thrones having been filmed there that the site will be seeing an increased number of visitors. Here’s hoping that’ll help further the restoration efforts too.

  9. Pingback: Most Beautiful Islands: Croatia-Dalmatian Islands (REBLOG) | Dispensable Thoughts

  10. After seeing your great articles, being a Croatian who lives abroad but returns to Croatia on average every second year I want someone to start a petition to preserve Solina and Klis and for the highway past Solina to be moved and the area further excavated. The Dijaspora would also donate to a cause like this a long as they knew the money was being used ethically. The Archaeological museum, Klis & Solin should be marketed as a day trip and one entry fee charged for all three. Profits should then go to restoring and excavation. I’m always surprised at how blazae Locals are about their country and take it for granted. Many also complain about unemployment but as a foreigner I see so many untapped opportunities in Croatia. One can’t just sit back and blame ybe government which is often the case in southern Europe

    • Dani, thank you for your thoughts via this passionate comment. I agree that all three sites are very deserving of care and attention. I’ve never started a petition before, but I do wonder if you would have any luck with this website? https://www.change.org/start-a-petition (I’m not endorsing it, but I have seen others manage their petitions this way.)

      In what country do you live now, and what part of Croatia are you from originally? My husband and I have no Croatian ancestry (of which we’re aware) but after spending two winters there, the country does feel a bit like home. :)

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