Sibenik: 25 Things to Know about Croatia's UNESCO Fortress City

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by Paul Bradbury,

Continuing our look at the jewels of Croatia tourism in TCN’s 25 Things to Know about Croatia series on January 10, 2018, one of the rising stars of the Adriatic coast – Sibenik. 

The Cathedral of St. James – Šibenik, Croatia from Romulic & Stojcic on Vimeo.

1. UNESCO  World Heritage – The Cathedral of St James

Sibenik is often overlooked by tourists who head instead for better known Dalmatian cities such as Split and Dubrovnik, but just a very tiny look at what Sibenik has to offer shows that they are missing out. Big time! One of the great architectural wonders of the world, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site,  the Cathedral of St. James, dominates the front of Sibenik’s gorgeous old town. Just how did they built it entirely from stone? Learn more from the official UNESCO website

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2. UNESCO World Heritage – Fortress St Nicholas

Having a UNESCO World Heritage Site in your city is pretty cool, but how many cities in the world can boast two? Sibenik is the only city in Croatia with two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, after the inclusion of the spectacular St. Nicholas Fortress last year. The triangular-shaped fortress has been guarding the city for centuries, and we reported a couple of weeks ago, the UNESCO flag has been raised. And, as you would expect with any self-respecting UNESCO World Heritage Site, this is a fortress full of legend, as you can see from the video below.

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3. Croatia’s Finest Dining Experience – Pelegrini

All this UNESCO World Heritage Siting can make a grown man hungry, so what better than a spot of lunch overlooking the amazing Cathedral of St. James in a restaurant which is regularly named the best in Dalmatia and Croatia. Pelegrini has become a byword for Dalmatian gourmet excellence over the years.Take a tour of the menu on the official website

 

4. The Oldest Native Croatian City on the Adriatic

Among its many claims to fame, Sibenik is also the oldest native Croatian town on the Adriatic. It has a wonderfully authentic feel to it even today, and one of the finest promotional videos about how life used to be can be found in the fortresses of the city – as well as online, above. I encourage you to watch it. 

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5. First Street Lights in the World

Sibenik was not too far from the birthplace of that mind of the future, Nikola Tesla, and while the fabulous Krka waterfalls were not of the same magnificence of Niagara, they did play a role in history. 

“The oldest Jaruga power plant was the first alternating current (AC) power system in Croatia. It was designed to power the street lights in Šibenik, making it the first city in the world with street lights powered by a polyphase system of alternating current (AC).” Read more…

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6. Legendary Famous Sons – Drazen Petrovic

There is no doubting who is Sibenik’s most famous sporting son, arguably the finest Croatian basketball player of all time. Having been awarded the Golden Badge as the best athlete in former Yugoslavia, Petrovic moved to the States, where his performances for the New Jersey Nets had him in consideration for the NBA title of best shooter ever. Tragically, his life was cut short at the age of 28 when he was killed in a car accident. He is still revered in Sibenik today, and it is possible, by arrangement, to visit his local club and shoot a few hoops in the place here his career began. 

 

7. Legendary Famous Sons – Maksim Mrvica

If Petrovic is Sibenik’s famous sporting son, his musical equivalent is world-famous pianist and musical genius, Maksim Mrvica. Mrvica may be a global star these days, but it was his determination to continue his musical studies while war erupted around him in his native Sibenik in the 1990s which gave him the backbone to succeed. Learn more about his astonishing career here

 

8. Fortress Innovation – St Michael’s Fortress

One does not have to be in Sibenik very long before the city’s fortress heritage hits home. The city has had a turbulent history given its strategic position, and its various fortresses have played an important role in defending its citizens. But while other destinations lazily leave their fortresses and tales of the past to attract tourists, Sibenik is leading the way in terms of innovation and technology. Is there a finer concert location in all Croatia that St. Michael’s Fortress, for example? I wrote at length about our visit in the summer – check it out here

 

9. Fortress Innovation – Barone

St. Michael’s is not the only Sibenik fortress worth hiking to – do check out the cosier and more compact Barone, which is included in the entrance ticket and only a short hike from St. Michael’s. More info on the link above, but do explore the views and then the delightful tasting menus of local products, a really interesting selection, with something from everyone. And don’t tell anyone, but the olive oil on sale is among the best you will find in Croatia. 

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10. A Local Casanova

Sibenik is a very romantic city, and it is probably no surprise to find that there was a local charmer who has become known as the local Casanova, and whose legacy is partly upheld in a delightful hostel bearing his name – Johnny’s Place. Eternally penniless, with money just around the corner, Johnny had a range of tricks to seduce beautiful foreign women and access their purses to fund his luxurious lifestyle. Learn more here.

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11. A Mediterranean Garden in a Sea of Stone

The magnificence of the stone of Sibenik is a stunning first impression, and one really does not mind climbing the steps to the fortresses, for there is a stone architectural wonder at every turn. And plenty of surprises. 

In this sea of stone, do seek out the fantastic Mediterranean Garden of St. Lawrence, a true gem, and a fantastic place to stop for a refreshing drink on your way to those fortresses.  Learn more here.

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12. Driving Sibenik Tourism – Solaris

Tourism needs strong hotels to be successful, and in this respect, Sibenik is both fortunate and seeing those fortunes improve. The biggest show in town is Solaris, whose various hotels and campsites offer the bulk of accommodation in Sibenik, as well as many activities – a really great family resort. Learn what is on offer here

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13. A Touch of 5-Star Quality – D-Marin Hotel and Marina

For a real touch of quality, however, the arrival of Turkish Dogus Group has helped lift the profile of the city from a luxury tourism point of view. Not only did the Turks build the 5-star D-Marin hotel and construct an impressive marina, but they also hosted Brad Pitt, who is rumoured to be involved in developing an ultra-luxury resort. Check out the marina here.

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14. EU Funds: the Sibenik Success Story

Croatia is famously useless at taking advantage of all the EU funding opportunities on offer, but Sibenik is an outstanding exception to the general rule, so much so that a colleague recently named the city the “uncrowned champion of planned development and the best example of how to make the most from EU funding.” Up to a billion kuna, planned and received, so far.

15. Gateway to National Parks and Islands

It is always nice to have good neighbours, and if one stops for a moment to take in the diverse offer of the wider Sibenik region, one realises just what a fantastic destination it is. Looking for nature? The two national parks of Krka and Kornati are on your doorstep? Wine lover? Arguably Croatia’s premier wine tasting experience it close to Skradin – Bibich? Sailor? There are few places in Europe to rival the Kornati Islands? Still in need of more fortress action after Sibenik? Head to Knin, home to the second-largest fortified fortress in all Europe, and a key location in Croatia’s turbulent history. Island hopping? Your biggest problem is to choose which one, or if you prefer to stay on land, so many other destinations are accessible – Zadar, Primosten, Trogir and Split to name just four. And with the increased flights to both Zadar and Split airports, accessibility has never been easier. 

 

16. An International Festival for Kids

In June and July, Sibenik becomes a city of children, a city celebrating children’s imagination and creativity. This year it will be host to children of the world, for the 58th year in a row, and its streets will be taken over by children’s creations. Just as every year for the past five decades, those who value this children’s world of games, joy and goodness will surely come and visit. Notwithstanding the rich tradition of this city, it is the children and the now traditional International Children’s Festival – a unique cultural event of world proportions during which the city squares are surrendered to children and dedicated to the development of all the artistic forms of their creative drive – that have become the trademark of Sibenik. The festival has three basic programmes: a festival of domestic and international children’s ensembles, the workshop programme directly and publicly involving children in the act of creation, and the educational part where a symposium addresses issues such as aesthetic education of children. During these two weeks, Sibenik should be an inevitable destination to those who never forget their playful side, and even more so to those who have completely forgotten it.”

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17. Home of the Parachute and Faust Vrancic

While Nikola Tesla may have lived up the road in Smiljan, Sibenik’s most famous inventor is Fausto Veranzio, or Faust Vrancic, a polymath and bishop who was born in the city. Amonf his many accomplishments, he is credited with the invention of the parachute, and you can visit the Faust Vrancic Memorial Centre on the nearby island of Prvic.

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18. Eco-Friendly Ferry Transportation

In line with its progressive approach to tourism, EU funding and other initiatives, Sibenik is also pioneering the use of eco-friendly ferries to transport passengers to and from its neighbouring islands. The UrbEco project was covered by Total Croatia Sailing last year.

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19. Men Who Made a Difference – Juraj Dalmatinac

Sibenik’s stone heritage is due in large part to one Giorgio di Sebenico, or Juraj Dalmatinac as he is known locally. A sculptor extraordinaire, Dalmatinac was the chief architect on the Cathedral of St James from 1441 to 1473, just one of his many accomplishments. Learn more about his life and work

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20. Indigenous Souvenirs – Buttons, Hats, Bagatins

Looking for an authentic Sibenik souvenir? Help is at hand from the Sibenik Tourist Board:

Šibenik Button
Over the years, the Šibenik Button decorated male national costumes, whilst over the last few decades, it has been recognized as an original souvenir of Šibenik. Today, the Šibenik Button can be bought in the form of earnings, rings, charms, tie pins, brooches, necklaces and other similar items. The Button has the form of two half spheres connected in the middle and hollow inside. The outer part is decorated with thin silver threads and balls. The original Button was made in silver, with an exact size; however, today you can find it made out of gold and aluminium and a number of different sizes.

The Šibenik Button was made by the famous filigree Ljazer Čivjak according to the ideas of the designer, Franka Baranović. In 2007, the Šibenik Button was named the most original Croatian souvenir by the Croatian Tourist Board. Today the Šibenik Button is a component of the costumes of Šibenik Klapas (a cappella groups).

Šibenik Bagatin
Šibenik was the first Croatian city to mint its own money.
The Council of Nine in Venice approved the creation and usage of Šibenik coins – Šibenik bagatin as a twelfth part of 30 Venetian ducats. Bagatin was a mean of payment in Šibenik for more than two centuries.
According to the Decree on Forging, one side of the coin contained a figure of St. Mark, the patron saint of Venice and the other, St. Michael, the town of Šibenik’s patron. Immediately after Šibenik other cities also started to mint their own money: Split in 1490, Zadar in 1491, Trogir in 1492 and Hvar in 1493.

Šibenik Hat
The Šibenik Hat is one of the most recognizable symbols of the town itself. Over the last century, it stabilized in an orange colour with characteristic black embroidered decorations. It is basically a very old popular tradition. However, the Šibenik Hat dates back to the period when Šibenik was the first Croatian city. Later the first and only cathedral was built here with regard to the means of construction. The Šibenik Hat reminds us of the recent periods when this city experienced an industrial boost constructing the first encircled production and distribution system of alternating current in the world.
The industrial potential which was, by these new possibilities from that period, positioned on the edges of the town, strongly established it until the present day. Here too Companies dealing with aluminium usually chose colour orange for their companies.

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21. Much More Than Fortresses – the Benedictine Monastery

When researching for our 25 Things to Know about Croatia series, I often consult the folks at Secret Dalatmia, the boutique tour agency who seem to know EVERYTHING. They quite like my initial list, but told me it should really include the Benedictine Monastery. As I went to research it, I came across a fantastic article about the Benedictine Monastery… by Secret Dalmatia.

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22. Dalmatian Beach Heaven

Sibenik is, of course, a waterfront location, and that means that beaches are not far away. There are plenty of island-hopping beach options to explore, but Sibenik has a few worth visiting as well. Guests of Solaris will not have far to travel, and the tourist board has an overview of some options here.  

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23. Dubrava Falconry Centre

Wildlife lovers may be interested in the Dubrava Falcony Centre, which is located 7km from Sibenik and is the only centre in Croatia which offers birdwatching for all kinds of birds of prey. Come face to face with these fearsome creatures and learn more about the Centre for Rehabilitation of Birds of Prey here.

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24. Olive Garden Resort in Jadrija

One of the most unusual things I tasted last year was rakija from roses, a beautifully presented aperitif (see below) at the Olive Garden Resort in Jadrija, just around the corner from Sibenik. A delightful little tipple, matched totally by its wonderful surroundings. Where else can you enjoy a holiday in an olive grove with the beach literally at the end of the garden. Lovely place. 

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25. Sansona Festival

Dalmatian tradition, Dalmatian architecture, Dalmatian song. Where better to finish our Sibenik tour than in the heart of the city, which is taken over by music each August with the annual Dalmatian Sansona Festival, a wonderful occasion which showcases this outstanding city in all its glory. 

Sibenik is fabulous. Have you visited yet? Learn more about Sibenik from the official Sibenik Tourist Board.  

 

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