Lore, Legend and History in Trogir, Dalmatia:
I’d been told that the historic island towns of Croatia were stunningly beautiful. And I was looking forward to visiting Trogir, Dalmatia, joined to mainland Croatia by two foot bridges. It’s a UNESCO heritage site and curiously has acted as a location ‘double’ for both Venice and Provence in recent films. But I was about to learn more and see for myself.
“Did you know that nobility used to believe the taller your pillars, the richer you were?”
asked my guide Dino Ivancic (who must have been a good bit over six foot tall) – Well, no I didn’t…
Nor was I aware that the edges of church walls at hip level were often rounded to stop people using them as a convenient latrine. That is, until I met Dino who showed me around the charming island town of Trogir on the Dalmatian coast.
It was a colourful tour of Trogir which involved avoiding the cruise ship tours and trying to take in as much as possible of this fascinating walled island just off the Dalmatian coast. The town, is a beautifully preserved medieval labyrinth of buildings surrounded by 15th Century city walls.
The pretty medieval streets in themselves are worthy of a gentle stroll. Balconies and shuttered windows, cobbles and churches. You might even happen across one of the few remaining Venetian winged lion (as in Pag, they were all removed during Mussolini’s time in power).
But it isn’t until you reach the main square that the full impact of the town and its stunning architecture becomes evident. Dino pointed out two houses. The first he said, was built by a local peasant who had married into nobility, for himself, to be close to God. The second, was built for his son. The square is also home to the old court house, complete with shackles, a seat of judgement and a rather fine relief sculpture – the central portion blanked out where once there was another of those Venetian winged lions.
Directly opposite is the Cathedral, built on the foundations of an early-Christian cathedral destroyed in the 12th century. The present building was begun in 1213 and finished during the 17th century. Like it’s predecessor it is dedicated to St. Lawrence but is also known as St John’s Cathedral after bishop John, who died in 1111 during Hungarian rule of Dalmatia. Legend tells that the Bishop’s sarcophagus was dragged out of the church to the shore, where they cut off his hand bearing the episcopal ring. But, during the voyage there was a massive storm and most of the fleet sank. The remaining boats limped on to Venice, but brought with them the plague, which decimated the city. And, the Bishop’s arm reportedly flew back to Trogir and is still incarcerated in the Cathedral.
I thought that might explain the rather macabre altar, but that is actually dedicated to the victims of the Great Plague that happened some 2 centuries later.
The Cathedral is perhaps best known for the work of Master Radovan – and especially for the stunning entrance portal. It’s an incredibly detailed and creative work – take for example the pair of lions guarding Adam and Eve, one on either side of the door. The male lion is depicted killing a serpent, while the female lion is protecting her cubs.
Dino also pointed out the bell tower, notable for its fine detail and because, started at the end of the fourteenth century, construction took four centuries, so each level belongs to a different architectural period, starting with Romanesque at the base, then Gothic, Floral Gothic and Renaissance, with a Mannerist roof and with Renaissance sculptures on the corners.
We stopped for lunch – a simple fish soup and fresh sea bass for me, meat for my energetic guide who also managed to consume a large plate of pancakes swimming in chocolate sauce, before taking a look at the town walls again. Dino pointed out the loggia. During Venetian rule, the gates into the town were locked at 9pm – and anyone who arrived after that time would spend the night sleeping in the loggia. Which can’t have been fun (it’s really not that big and must have been the equivalent of a London night bus!)
And then on to Split.
With many thanks to Dino for an inspiring and memorable trip around Trogir that was all too short.
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