About an hour’s drive west of Zagreb lies Karlovac, a historic Croatian town known for it’s medieval castles and fortress ruins. If you’re on your way to the Adriatic coast and have some time, Karlovac is definitely worth the visit. It’s a great place to relax, and commune with nature not too far from the country’s capital. Summertime is especially nice as people from all over different parts of the region come to the outdoor concerts, plays and cultural events that the city hosts.
Built in 1579 to strengthen then ruling Austria’s southernmost empire against the Ottoman Turks, the site of Karlovac was deliberately chosen to be built between the Kupa and the Korana rivers. This was in order to protect the new fortress city and so that a moat could be easily created and maintained around with the supply of water from the rivers.
The city was originally named Karlstadt, after Archduke Karl of Styria, the first person to command the city-citadel. The layout was designed in the form of a six-pointed star with moats and bastions to repel invaders. As the Austrians eventually started pushing the Ottomans southward and further away from Vienna, Karlovac gradually transformed from a fortress to a functioning civilian town. The moats and bastions have been transformed into parks, and modern-day Karlovac has become an industrial city and transport junction for northern Croatia and Slovenia.
However, the city was badly damaged during Croatia’s war of independence from Yugoslavia, and the scars from Serbian artillery can still be seen. Today though the area seems to be going through a renewal.
About 2km outside the central part of the Karlovac the Dubovac castle. It may seem a bit out of the way from the city center, but is worth the trip. From this medieval castle one can get a spectacular view of the city of Karlovac. It’s only 10 minutes by car or taxi, but if the weather is nice, I would suggest walking to the castle. Though an uphill hike, it’s 30 minutes of your time well spent. The site used to be a 10-room hotel but now is being turned into a museum. CNN also mentioned the castle as a must see while in Croatia. It is popular in the summertime and during the Medieval far that takes place in May.
Town Museum (Gradski muzej)
Found on Trg Strossmayer, this is an interesting museum about the history of the region and contains scale models of the old city of Karlovac as well as traditional artifacts and costumes from the surrounding area. There is also a really good photo exhibit on Croatian life in the town. This is a good place for those with a genuine interest in Croatian history.
Address: Trg Strossmayerov 7
Holy Trinity Church
Like Dubovac castle, The Holy Trinity Church and Franciscan monastery is not exactly near the city’s center. However, it is a good place to visit for those interested in sacred art and architecture.
Address: Trg Bana Jelačića 7
Homeland War museum
About 4km south of Karlovac is the village of Turanj and the relatively new Homeland War Museum (Budući muzej domovinskog rata). This is less a museum and more an open-air display of weaponry that was used to halt the Serbian advance in 1991 during the civil war that broke up what was then the nation of Yugoslavia. Many of the weapons (tanks, howitzers, etc.) are World War II vintage that were brought back and used in 1991. It is an interesting display of metal and machines but also a bit sad when one thinks of the destruction cased by the bloody civil war.
Places to Eat
Of course, all this walking around is bound to make one hungry. The good thing about Karlovac is that there’s a great pizza place called Bastion near the main bus terminal. Bastion also has some locally famous sweet pancakes that you should try as well.
Another good place is Restaurant Dobra, found in the Hotel Korana. This is a nice, sit down restaurant with traditional Croatian food from the area. One of their specialities is a traditional meat stew called cevapči. One can also eat wild quail, grilled trout with herbs, or even a grilled octopus dish served with pineapple. This place is also very tourist friendly, with menus printed in five languages! Also of note is the nice view of the Korana river from the resturant.
More Karlovac sites
Karlovac: City of Meetings – official city tourism site with lots of information and updates regarding new happenings and cultural events.
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