When you find yourself in the area of the Dalmatian karst, which gulps water in constant thirst due to its subterranean limestone structure, and you come across a spot where up to 500 thousand liters of water literally rumbles through in a second – it is, indeed, a sight resembling a miracle.
The Krka National Park is packed with such astounding places.
The Krka River source is located near the city of Knin, and the river passes through the Knin valley and enters into a canyon that will accompany the river along most of its course. Quite nearby, sixteen kilometers downstream from Knin, is the first place where the Krka River takes a plunge, creating the Bilušića buk cascade over 20 meters high.
Through a large portion of its course, the Krka forms lakes. Brljansko Lake (1,300 x 400 meters) ends with the cascade of Brljan. The highest waterfall on the Krka River is Manojlovac, with the total height of 59.6 meters, and with the highest individual cascade reaching over 30 meters. The water colossus of the Krka is in full force there.
A sightseeing point is there as well, from where you can see an extraordinarily steep canyon, roughly two hundred meters deep. So-called “Hollow Churches”, Šupljaje, can be seen there. That’s how the folk refers to arcs made of stone, the remains of the ancient Roman camps.
Downstream of Manojlovac, one comes across the waterfall of Rošnjak, with water flowing over just one single barrier. That is precisely what makes it unique – a single cascade among multiple cascades. One kilometer downstream – there is the cascade of Miljacka. Above the river at that point, one can see two medieval fortresses: Trošenj (also referred to as Čučevo) and Nečven. The owners of Trošenj were the family Šubić, and the owners of Nečven were the families of Nelipić and Martinušić. The Turkish forces took over these fortresses in their conquests back in 1522. From that point until 1686, the view from the fortresses belonged to the various aghas, beys, fortress commanders and qadis of the Ottoman Era.
The course of the Krka is a natural picture book with so many different pages. From the first to the last page, the Krka changes its temperament countless times: it can be calm; it can form lakes; it can be wide in the valleys, and narrow and immensely strong in the canyons.
The valleys of the Krka River are green, because the soil contains more marl than limestone. That is why the water was retained, the nature turned green, and people came along. Carigradska draga is one such valley, located next to the Orthodox Christian Monastery of the Holy Archangel, better known as the Krka Monastery, mentioned for the first time as early as 1402. Its architecture is an interesting mix of Byzantine and Mediterranean elements. In the same valley, but high above the river, there are the ruins of Vilingrad or Bogočin, dating from the 14th century as well.
At the locality of Bogočin, calm water enters the lake, and proceeds further through a canyon 150 meters deep. The end of that canyon is the beginning of the cascades of Roški slap.
The dimensions of that particular waterfall are astounding. Its maximum width is 450 meters, and it is 650 meters long, with the river dancing its dance over the tufa barriers in a manner incredibly intriguing to the eye. Silver necklaces announce the cascades of Roški slap – the phenomenon of rippling water that will soon head for the cascade, creating an image resembling necklaces in silver color scattered across the river. These necklaces will soon disappear down the Roški slap.
Given the abundance of force in the river, man took advantage of it to increase his strength. Many water mills have thus been built on the Krka River, and the water mill complex on the cascades of Roški slap is arguably the most attractive ethnographic locality of the Dalmatian hinterland.
The borrowed force of water was used to grind wheat and feed the people of the Dalmatian hinterland, and to wash the cloth and heavy homespun blankets and rugs made from sheep wool. Since the latter was considered to be women’s work at the time, the river used to be a meeting point of sorts for women of the Dalmatian hinterland, with donkeys as means of transport. There would sometimes be sufficient place in the basket for a child, looking forward to bathing in the Krka River.
Water mills are monuments of traditional architecture. Nowadays, revived water mills are used to present ancient crafts. Above the Roški slap, there is the attractive prehistoric locality of Oziđana cave. One can enter the cave and witness the presence of man in the area by looking at the archaeological collection from the Neolithic times.
The area of the Park is designed in a manner that offers visitors close and safe contact with nature. Educational trails, sightseeing points, and one of the best educational hiking trails in Croatia, Stinice – Roški slap – Oziđana cave, eight and a half kilometers long, enable visitors to fully experience the area of the Park. The entire trail is a pathway through extraordinary biodiversity. Mediterranean species are particularly prominent in the flora, and when it comes to the fauna, it includes fourteen endemic fish species of the Adriatic area present in the freshwater of the Krka River.
The lake below Roški slap is approximately 300 meters wide, and the surrounding vegetation, mostly reed and sedge, is a refuge for waterfowl. The lake then enters the narrow passage Među gredama, approximately 500 meters long and between 50 and 100 meters wide. The view from the vessels below, towards the high peaks of the canyon, brings joy to visitors, but also awareness of the insignificance of man in the rugged grounds of nature. Following that canyon, the Krka River again opens into the Visovac Lake.
In the middle of Visovac Lake, there is a small island of the same name – a widely recognizable image of the Krka National Park, for it houses a church and a monastery, making the view of the island quite special. This small space, slightly over one hectare, has had quite diverse inhabitants over the years. In the 14th century, the hermits of St. Augustine built the monastery and the church. During the Ottoman conquests, they left the island, with Bosnian Franciscans arriving in 1445. The Franciscans stayed there until the present day, with smaller interruptions. One can visit the monastery and examine the valuable inventory and historical documents, many of them Turkish.
Above Skradinski buk, the valley of the Krka River merges with the valley of the Čikola River, forming a unique lake surface with two extensions. In the downstream part of the meadows, one comes across a highly unusual water surface – a perfect circle 150 meters in diameter. This is the karst well Torak, its surface calm and smooth like a mirror, for the water rises from the depth of 30 meters.
The area of Skradinski buk is most frequently the main aim of the visitors. It is the biggest cascade on the Krka River, and the richest in water, its flow over seventeen barriers creating a wonderful sight and sound of nature. The cascade is 400 meters wide, and approximately 46 meters high in total. Many water mills are built here as well. The older generations will tell you that the sound of the cascade reminds them of the turning of mill stones, and the sound of stamper mills for cloth and baskets full of blankets being washed in the river. The last whirlpool of Skradinski buk is the end of the freshwater course of the Krka. The distance from Visovac to Skradinski buk is approximately six kilometers.
All that noise, the metamorphosis of green water into noisy white foam plunging down the cascades, makes one think as if nature is laughing from its very essence on Skradinski buk. The joy of the river is immense.
All the shades of green are perfectly clear in this place. The cool blue is as fresh as it can be. The two merge together in the spluttering joy of the river. This is where the Krka River celebrates each and every day, each and every moment. No matter when you come, you are certain to arrive to a ceremony of that most joyful form of nature – the cascade.
Plant world is also thriving in the amazing abundance of water, including iris, the national flower of Croatia as proclaimed by the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts.
There are 1,022 plant species and subspecies recorded in the area of the Krka National Park so far, together with 36 moss and freshwater plant species, including a number of endemic Illyrian-Adriatic species. The most interesting plant in the Park is the endemic species chimney bellflower (Campanula pyramidalis), growing in crevices of steep rocks in the canyon part of the Krka River course. When it comes to other endemic plants growing in warm and dry habitats, particularly prominent species include Seseli tomentosum, Campanula lepida and Dalmatian pyrethrum; among plants growing in wet grasslands, we should mention the Italian squill, found in large numbers in the valleys of the rivers Krka and Čikola. When it comes to these two rivers, several primary vegetation types can be seen along their courses, including the plant world of aquatic and wetland habitats, as well as canyon vegetation. Mediterranean and South European plants prevail; however, one also comes across plants belonging to the Central European, European and Eurasian floral element.
Illyrian iris and yellow iris grow in the territory of the Park too, and both are strictly protected. Iris is the national flower of Croatia, as proclaimed by the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts in 2000. The word iris stems from Greek, that being the name of the personification of the rainbow in Greek mythology, and it reflects the vivid color of the plant’s flowers.
The olm lives in the cave Miljacka 2. It is an endemic amphibian species and the biggest subterranean aquatic animal, with regressed eyes hidden under the skin, as it lives in complete darkness. Horned viper is the only venomous snake living in the Park. It spends time in rocky terrain with low bushes and on canyon slopes. It is easily recognizable by its characteristic small “horn” on top of its head. One particular value of the area lies in endemic lizard species: they include blue-throated keeled lizard and sharp-snouted rock lizard.
With its 225 bird species, Krka National Park belongs to the most valuable areas of Europe in ornithological terms. During migrations, but also during wintering, one can observe big flocks of ducks on the Krka River. Around eighty bird species are nesting in the Park, including some very rare species – eagle owl, lanner falcon, Bonelli’s eagle and peregrine falcon. The most numerous nesting bird living in water habitats is the attractive great crested grebe, carrying its offspring on its back. When it comes to the mammals in the Park, extraordinarily valuable findings include the brown long-eared bat, Daubenton’s bat and long-fingered bat. Bats have small eyes and poor eyesight, and their perception of space in flight is created by echo. They feed at night, and sleep during the day by hanging upside down in a shelter. When it comes to rare animals living in the coastal part of Croatia, the Park provides the opportunity to see the otter in the course of the river, wildcat in the canyon part, and roe deer on meadows around the lake of Visovac.
Cave Miljacka 2 is particularly prominent among various speleological sites in the territory of the National Park. It is the longest topographically analyzed cave in the area of the Park, with 2,800 meters of the cave length explored so far. In the periods of high waters, an underground river flows through the cave; it is assumed that it is created by waters of the river Zrmanja that disappears underground in Mokro Polje. During the periods of low waters, a lake of unknown depth, approximately 200 meters long and ending with a siphon, is located in the cave. Up to 9,000 bats can be found in the cave in the summer period, including around 7,000 long-fingered bats as the representatives of the most numerous taxon. Tufa cave behind the mill, 124 meters long, is probably the longest cave in the fossil (old) tufa in Croatia. The deepest known pit in the area of the National Park is Stara jametina on the left bank of the Čikola River, explored up to the depth of 85 meters. Two caves – Oziđana on the very top of the canyon on the left bank of the Krka River, above Roški slap, and the cave of Jazinka on the left bank of the Krka, located a couple of hundred meters downstream of the medieval fortress of Nečven – are extraordinarily important due to numerous archaeological findings.
In total, there are 129 taxa recorded in speleological sites of the Krka National Park. According to the Nature Protection Act, all subterranean animal species are protected. Even though research on speleological phenomena remained relatively modest so far, it still points to major diversity of the plant and animal world, and to the presence of important and rare taxa, including a discovery of several species previously unknown to science.
The island of Visovac is a place of special atmosphere, with a monastery of the Franciscan Order still attracting pilgrims and representing a unique tourist attraction. The area of Carigradska draga on the Krka River is home to one other spiritual center too, this time of Orthodox Christian believers – the Krka Monastery.
A pearl of Classical antiquity, the Roman Legion camp of Burnum is located on the right bank of the Krka River, on a site that represented an intersection of important road routes in Roman times. It was constructed in the first century A.D., and still contains the remains of arches that once belonged to the building of the military command, as well as a well-preserved amphitheater. Numerous findings obtained in the course of archeological excavations are part of the archeological collection presented in the Puljane Eco Campus. The amphitheater was able to receive six to ten thousand spectators in the past; today, it is a venue of the Burnum Ides. Held in the summer, this event revives the Roman history and customs of this area, two thousand years after the camp was originally built.
Remains of several medieval Croatian fortresses from the 14th century can be found in the Park too: Kamič
ak, Trošenj, Nečven, Bogočin and Ključica. The latter fortress is one of the most important fortification sites in Croatia in terms of its dimensions and the level of conservation. Fortresses of Nečven and Trošenj once used to be connected by a wooden suspension bridge, that ended up destroyed at the beginning of the Cretan War. Kamičak is also known as a birthplace of Juraj Utješinović, the first Croatian cardinal.
After they left, the Franciscans came to the island in 1445. In the 17th century, they reconstructed the monastery, which saw several additions built over the years. The monastery houses an archaeological collection, collection of historical church robes and cutlery, and a rich library containing a number of valuable books and incunabula, with a copy of Aesop’s Fables from the 15th century as a particularly valuable item in the collection. According to legend, the Franciscans brought a painting of Our Lady to the island, which is the reason why Visovac is also referred to as the Island of Our Lady, and why many pilgrims visit the site.
The spiritual center of Orthodox Christian believers – the Krka Monastery (of the Holy Archangel) is located in Carigradska draga on the Krka River. Raised on the grounds of an older Eremite monastery, it was first mentioned in the written records in 1402. Orthodox Christian believers flock to it in times of religious holy days. According to legend, the Krka Monastery was built on a place where St. Paul the Apostle once preached the faith of Christ to people around A.D. 60. Dabro-Bosnian Metropolitan Theodore established a seminary in the monastery in 1615, as the first organized school of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Below the church built in Byzantine style, visitors can enter the old Roman catacombs. The treasury of the monastery contains valuable icons and art and craft artifacts.
The power of water provided by the Krka River also attracted many entrepreneurs who built hydroelectric power plants and other production facilities in the area. There are three hydroelectric power plants along the course of the river: Miljacka, Roški slap and Jaruga on Skradinski buk. Built towards the beginning of the 20th century, they still produce electricity.
The remains of the fourth hydroelectric power plant on the river Krka, the oldest such plant, are located on Skradinski buk. It was built and put to work in 1895, only two days after Tesla’s hydroelectric power plant on the Niagara Falls. Long-distance power lines eleven kilometers long and city lighting network were built simultaneously with it, constituting the first comprehensive electricity supply system in Croatia. Thanks to its builders, the Mayor of Šibenik Ante Šupuk and engineer Vjekoslav Meichsner, the city of Šibenik thus got electric city lighting before many European cities.
The agreement was conditioned by the following: should Miljeva and Bogdan be blessed with sons in their marriage, one of these sons will get Ključ as inheritance and will establish his family there. When the wedding was agreed, oak forest needed to be cleared, so that the wedding procession from Bogočin could come to Ključ for the bride, Miljeva. Duke Domagoj died in the meantime, but the preparations for marriage were made immediately upon his death. Girls from various parts – Cetina, Imotski, Kotari, Zagora, Promina and other places – prepared and brought Miljeva woven and embroidered gifts. Miljeva got gifts from her fiance Bogdan too: seven apples, with a jewel in each one. Numerous guests came to the wedding, including dukes and local headmen invited by old Bogoje and widow Čika. There had never been a more amazing wedding in that area. Wedding procession with Miljeva started the voyage from Ključ early in the morning, aiming to arrive to Bogočin at dusk. Then, all of a sudden, a huge winged dragon emerged out of the Krka River, grabbed beautiful Miljeva, and took her down the cliff to the lake of Brljan. Scared, the wedding procession ran away. Trying desperately to save Miljeva, devastated Bogdan jumped to the water, where the angry dragon dragged him forever into the depths of the Krka River. When his sad father Bogoje got the news, he gathered all the inhabitants and made it known to them that he will leave all his fortune to the parish, so that the memory of his son Bogdan and duke Bogoje himself would live forever. He built a monastery on the other side of the Krka River (where the Monastery of Holy Archangel is located today), so that priests could pray for the misfortunate son and sad Bogoje, as they watch over empty Bogočin. A bit further upstream, he also built two twin-towns: Čučevo and Nečven, opposite of each other, to symbolize his son Bogdan and his never-to-be bride Miljeva. He closed Bogdan’s two twin sisters into the high towers of both towns, so that they pray and cry for their unhappy brother day and night. Then he built two bridges, one at Miljacka, and another at Roški slap, so that every passenger would pay two bridge tolls – one for Miljeva, and another one for Bogdan. After that, he destroyed the town of Bogočin and went into the world, not leaving a single trace. Widow Čika, Miljeva’s mother, built a tower at Ključ, where she prayed for her daughter and her son-in-law Bogdan until the end of her life. Ever since then, people refer to the town of Bogočin as Vilingrad or the Town of Fairies, the river under Ključ they refer to as Čikola, and the area between these two towns they call Miljevci.