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A Croatian Holiday Off the Beaten Path in Dalmatia: Klis

Klis, a small town 340 meters above sea level, is situated on the main road between Split and the hinterland at a pass between Mosor and Kozjak in Croatia. Overlooking Split and the ancient Roman ruins of Salona in today Solin, the medieval fortress is perched on a rocky mass above the town. Klis, 9 km northeast of Split, makes an ideal tourist destination for a day trip from the Dalmatian capital.

Klis: A Gateway to Dalmatia, Croatia

Historically, Klis had always been a strategically important stronghold that controlled access from Bosnia and inland Croatia to coastal Dalmatia. First built by the ancient Illyrian tribe Delmati before the Roman conquest, Klis was the gateway for the Slavs and Avars to reach and destroy the ancient Roman city of Salona in the first half of the 7th century. Two centuries later the Klis fortress was made the seat of Croatian dukes and kings of the Trpimirovic House.

Klis came under the authority of the Croatian-Hungarians kings following the end of the native Croat dynasty at the end of the 11th century. Except for a brief spell during the reign of the Bosnian king Tvrtko I, the Klis fortress was under royal protection and management by Croatian-Hungarian nobility and castellans until the 16th century.

The most turbulent period in the history of Klis came in the early 16th century when Petar Kružic, captain and prince of Klis, led the defense against an Ottoman Turkish siege for more than 25 years. After his death in 1537, the Jadro River divided Dalmatia into the Turkish Klis (Klis Sandzak) and Venetian Split for 111 years. The Turks fortified Klis and built a mosque with a minaret. It was not until March 31st, 1648 that Klis was liberated from the Turks.

Led by General Leonardo Foscolo, the Venetian army expelled the Turks during the Candian War. The Klis fortress was completely restored and greatly expanded according to modern strategic principles. The previous mosque was converted into a church although the old Turkish fountain survived. Much of the present Klis dates back to this period under the Venetian rule.

The Klis fort was taken by Austrians after the fall of the Republic of Venice in 1797. Interrupted by a brief French rule, Klis stayed in the hands of the Austro-Hungarian monarch until the end of World War I. The Klis fortress carried out its last military function when it was mainly used as a stronghold for Italian and German occupation forces from April 1941 to October 1944.

Major Tourist Attractions in Klis

Klis is divided into three distinct areas, namely Klis-Grlo behind the fortress, Klis-Varoš below the fortress and Klis-Megdan which is near the main entrance of the fortress. The elongated fort has three entrances and three levels surrounded by a triple ring of city walls. On a fine day, the Klis fort offers a spectacular view of the Dalmatian coast as far as the island Vis.

Standing on each side is a key structure of the fortress. The Rector’s Home (Kneževa kuca) on the eastern end of the fort is built by the Venetians on the foundation of the old buildings dated back to the Croatian kings. The church of St. Vid (Sveti Vida) was once a mosque before the Venetians restored and dedicated it to the saint. Most probably founded in the 17th century by the Venetians, the officers’ barracks stand on the south end of the fort. The Oprah tower is the most important medieval defensive structure on the western part of the fort.

Every year on August 16 Klis celebrates the Municipality Day on the feast day of Saint Roch. The Mass is followed by a procession through the medieval town. In the evening a theatre performance is held in front of the church of St. Vid. The climax of the day is the festival held at Klis-Megdan which features a fashion show and a rich musical program with celebrated entertainers. Klis delicacies including the most famous spit roasted lamb, known locally as janjetina, are served.

Getting to Klis

Klis is served by regular bus service from Split. Bus 22 departs from the bus station near the Split National Theatre whereas lines 35 and 36 depart from the Sukošanska bus station. Klis is located at the intersection of the roads Split-Sinj and Split-Drnis. Driving from Split takes about 20 minutes.