Sibenik, Croatia is one of central Dalmatia’s most picturesque towns. Nestled in the shadow of a rocky hill between the Krka River and Adriatic Sea, Sibenik’s natural beauty is undeniable. But it’s what lies beneath the surface that makes Sibenik truly special.
In contrast to neighboring cities which were established by the Roman Empire, Sibenik was founded by native Croats during the Middle Ages and quickly became a prosperous trading center thanks to its well-protected harbor. The ruins of St Michael’s Fortress still command the hill overlooking town, and the view from the ramparts is well worth the climb. On summer evenings, the fortress is converted into an open air stage.
Sibenik’s main claim to fame is the UNESCO-listed Cathedral of St. James. Built by three different architects during the 15th and 16th centuries, the cathedral is lauded for its fusion of Gothic and Renaissance styles. It is also notable for being made entirely of stone. Walking around the perimeter, you can’t help but notice the faces staring back at you; these 71 busts represent townspeople who had a hand in the cathedral’s construction. How would you like to be immortalized like that?
A warren of cobbled lanes radiates from the cathedral, the labyrinthine layout seemingly unchanged over the centuries. Steep staircases twist and turn around ancient buildings, creating many levels to explore. I only encountered a handful of fellow tourists as I made my way up and down which enhanced the sense of adventure. Narrow flues open onto wide squares, many presided over by churches and chapels, and cats recline on the warm paving stones. Tinkling fountains hint at gardens tucked behind courtyard walls.
The Medieval Mediterranean Garden of St Lawrence Monastery is an oasis the likes of which are rarely seen. In fact, it’s the only garden of its kind in Croatia! Designed to be an accurate representation of a medieval garden, its flower beds are arranged around a cross-shaped path with a fountain at the center. The flora are both ornamental and functional, including many plants and herbs that would have been cultivated during the Middle Ages for medicinal purposes. A cafe on the terrace serves cold drinks and ice cream that are very welcome on a hot summer day.
Sibenik was an easy one-hour drive from Zadar, making it a great option for a day trip – though the enchanting town will have you wanting to stay longer! If you only have time for lunch and and a quick wander, I recommend enjoying a pizza at one of the establishments by the water. Parking can be found on a pier just outside the historical center.