Explore the World Heritage wonder of Trogir, Croatia

With its elegant square, medieval stonework and Venetian heritage, an amble through the alleyways of Trogir’s Old Town offers the opportunity to unravel histor

Mary Novakavich
19 February 2024

Wedged between Croatia’s Dalmatian coast and the sprawling island of Čiovo, Trogir’s medieval Old Town is as hidden as it gets. It even takes a moment just to realise that it is on an island of its own, linked by a pair of bridges to Čiovo on one side and the mainland city of Trogir – which later grew around it – on the other. But as soon as you walk through the Sjeverna Gradska Vrata (Northern Town Gate) and enter the maze of marble lanes and creamy stone houses that lie beyond, its charms become swiftly apparent.

Trogir’s architecture is just one of the tell-tale signs that Venice had a hand in shaping its history. Of course, the Greeks got here before them, arriving in the 3rd century BC, and then the Romans and Byzantines had their say; it wasn’t until the 14th century AD that Venice briefly got their hands on Trogir, before taking over more fully in 1420 and ruling for nearly 400 years. Within this compact space – barely 500m from east to west – lies a beautifully preserved collection of Romanesque, Baroque and Renaissance architecture. It’s little wonder that Trogir’s Old Town has been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1997.

The first instinct of many visitors is to slow down and just meander along the gleaming narrow alleyways. Before long you’ll most likely find yourself in one of the town’s many small courtyards, eyeing steps leading up to some lucky person’s brown-shuttered medieval stone house. But even the most dedicated ambler will quickly discover the Old Town’s main square, Trg Ivana Pavla II, where two of Trogir’s biggest architectural showstoppers lie.

Many of the gates and fortifications of Trogir still survive intact (Alamy)

Begun in 1213 and not completed for another 300 years, the heavy-set Katedrala Svetog Lovre (St Lawrence’s Cathedral) dominates the square. Enter its wrought-iron gates to see the cathedral’s most compelling feature, the western portal, which was carved by Slav master-mason Radovan. You can stand there for ages taking in all the astonishing detail and its jumble of characters, ranging from Old and New Testament figures to seasonal tableaux and scenes from the Nativity and the life of Christ – it’s all there, vividly and exquisitely carved.

Inside lies the 15th-century baptistry and its intricate stonework. It’s worth taking a moment to gaze at the interior’s Romanesque pulpit, Venetian-Gothic choir stalls and Baroque high altar, then it’s on to the Renaissance sculptures found in the Chapel of St John of Trogir. When you leave the cathedral, you’ll see its elegant belltower, whose levels encapsulate the building’s history, starting with Romanesque, Gothic and Venetian and topped by an 18th-century spire. If you want to tackle the tricky narrow staircase towards the top, you’ll discover fine views of the city.

Back in the square, just behind the inviting shade of its café terraces, lie the beautiful marble columns and balustrades of the Gradska Loža, the City Loggia, and its pretty clocktower. Stop for a while on one of its smooth stone benches and take in the painted beamed ceiling and the reliefs carved by the 15th-century sculptor Nikola Firentinac, as well as the 20th-century work completed by Croatia’s best-known sculptor, Ivan Meštrović.

The town hall and clocktower in the main square of Trogir’s Old Town (Alamy)

The imposing walls of Kamerlengo Fortress double as an unlikely summer music venue (Alamy)

Be sure to check out the handsome town hall, a 15th-century former rector’s palace, before plunging back into the labyrinth of lanes. Even if you get lost, you’ll still eventually come to the Južna Gradska Vrata (Southern Town Gate), which opens on to the wide, welcoming expanse of the Riva waterfront. By day, the area is filled with Croatians getting their caffeine fix at laid-back cafés; at night, its ambience steps up a few gears as everyone performs the local version of the Italian passeggiata (the korzo) while buskers play, boats come and go and moonlight shimmers on the water.

Carry on to the Riva’s end to see the hulking Kamerlengo Fortress, built by the Venetians in the 15th century to guard against Ottoman attacks. Nowadays it’s a wonderfully atmospheric venue for summertime concerts, and, if you don’t mind clambering up the rather treacherous stone staircase, it has far-reaching views over the water from the fortress’s tower.

By now you might have spotted a strange figure in some of the souvenir and jewellery shops, namely that of the Greek god Kairos, the youngest son of Zeus and an emblem of Trogir. If not, pop into the 11th-century St Nicholas Benedictine Monastery, near the southern town gate, where the three nuns still cloistered there allow visitors to see the monastery’s small but impressive art collection.

The monastery’s highlight is a relief of Kairos, said to be the god of opportunity and the ‘fleeting moment’ – those elusive few seconds when something special can happen – the period of time that you want to grab with both hands before it disappears. Trogir, that place of countless special moments, couldn’t have picked a better symbol.

Trogir’s iconic cathedral that it incorporates a number of different eras of design (Alamy)

Need to know

Location: Trogir lies in central Dalmatia, a 27km drive west of Split, though it’s actually closer to Split’s airport (which is about 5km away) than the city. Regular buses run from the airport to Trogir; the journey time is 10 minutes.

Getting around: Most of Trogir’s Old Town has been pedestrianised and the whole island is so compact that you can walk from one end to the other in less than 10 minutes. If you are staying on the island of Čiovo, where the area’s best beaches are found, you might want to rent a bike.

When to go: Any time, although July and August can be extremely hot and very crowded, so are best avoided. Try shoulder season or winter for a much more pleasant experience.

Accommodation: The Old Town has several stylish boutique hotels, which are set in historic stone townhouses. The XII Century Heritage Hotel is in a prime spot on the Riva waterfront. It has a shaded restaurant terrace and lovely sea views.

Further information: Check out the DK Eyewitness Croatia (2023) guide

You may also like:

Explore More

More Articles