Among beautiful nature and praised gastronomy Croatia is also known as a country with rich history. The territory of our country has been populated since prehistoric times. Many civilizations have left a trace in forming our country’s culture but one stands out - ancient Romans. Archeological sites have been discovered all over the state, but when it comes to „roman archeological heaven“ one part of the country „catches the eye“ of all history lovers – it's the Dalmatia inland. The Romans came to the territory of Croatia around 2. century B.C. and divided the land in two provinces – Pannonia and Dalmatia. Many Roman legions stayed and guarded that territory. For now it has been discovered that 9 legions were at some point settled throughout Pannonia. In Dalmatia Roman legions built 2 military camps – Burnum and Tilirum and for now it is a fact that at least 5 Roman legions were in Dalmatia – XI., VIII., IV., VII. These sites are still undiscovered by many tourists, so we can say they are a diamond in the rough of Croatian tourism located just a few kilometers away from our seaside cities.
1.WHO WERE ROMAN LEGIONARIES?
Let us start from the beginning. Today’s society has a lot to thank Romans for. Democracy, law, architecture, roads are just a couple of things Romans, so to say, invented. Besides that, Romans were also known for their wish to conquer. In order to fulfill that wish they had to have a good army – Roman legion. The legions were placed in almost every part of what is today known as Croatia – from inlands where they were guarding the so called Pannonian Limes to the seaside. The unstoppable army – roman legion – built their forts in all the key places, many of which are found in the „not-so-popular“ and for many still undiscovered tourist sites.
The legionary was a professional warrior. Every citizen younger than 45 y/o was eligible to become one, but they had to learn how to read, write, swim and tread.
Legionaries are known for their strict discipline and not so easy life. For example, every legionary had to make their own food – they were given 900 grams of cereals (oats, wheat, corn etc.) that they had to grind and make a meal out of it. Also, they were drinking only vinegar water to prevent illnesses. Their day started with a roll call, lineup, reading of daily obligations and guard schedule. Also they spent their „free time“ in fortified military camp – known as Castra – where they would practice on maneuvers and combat. Besides going to wars and battles, legionaries were also the guards of the borders of the Roman Empire. Because of that they had to walk in full equipment (that weighted around 30 kilos) every day for at least 10 kilometers. In peace times they used to take part in all kinds of workshops – blacksmith, ceramist and similar activities. Also, they were building temples, monuments and roads. In the nighttime they liked to hang out around camp fire and drink wine.
In the Dalmatia inland, a lot of traces were left by VII. Roman legion. During the 1. century around 5000 legionaries stayed in the area and left a lots of marks – from monuments to roads. So, for every history lover out there we are taking you on a little bit of a different road – the one on which a true roman legionary once walked on.
- SOLIN – MAIN STATION FOR EVERY HISTORY FAN
If you don't mind we suggest starting your trip in Solin. For many history fans a „go-to“ place when it comes to ancient cultures. Just a few kilometers from Split, Solin was the capital of roman provinces Dalmatia, it is also one of the most preserved ancient cities in Croatia. Former Salona was surrounded by walls inside of which you can find the finest of roman culture – amphitheater, thermae, churches and so on. In other words, you can literary walk into the past of our country.
We suggest you make a stop at Manastirine where you can enjoy the beauty of roman architecture. It is a well preserved, in the ancient Rome at first illegal, Christian cemetery that is one of the biggest old-Christian cemeteries under the stars.
After you explore the streets of Salona, go east, the path should take you to the exit of the town where you will see the city gates – Porta Caesarea. If you want to look further and follow the path of VII. Roman legion, that guarded Salona and roads that take you inland, just a few hundred meters outside of the city walls you will find a fascinating construction called „Pet mostova“ („five bridges“) under which used to be backwater of the river Jadra.
The citizens of Solin truly live their history and they prove it with exquisite gastronomy. Among other delicacies, here you can enjoy roman crepes that will give you the needed strength for the rest of our Roman tour!
- DUGOPOLJE – KEY POINT OF ANCIENT ROMAN ROADS
Now we are taking you a little bit outside of the popular tourist route. Our next stop is – Dugopolje. The Roman road that starts just outside of the Salona (remember the city gates – Porta Caesarea) took all of the passengers through Klis to Dugopolje. On the way to this small village along the road you will probably notice the remains of the old roman road, one of the first roads in Dalmatia. If you are interested you can learn a lot more about it on the educational trail Kurtovići-Klapavice. The road is perfect for all of you interested in easy walks and cultural heritage.
p.s. nearby Dugopolje (close to the village Kotlenice) you can go deep into the mountain Mosor into one of the most famous Croatian caves - Vranjača
p.p.s. on your way to Dugopolje you can make a stop at Klis and climb your way to the fortress Kliška tvrđava. There you can enjoy a stunning view on Split and islands surrounding the area.
- GARDUN I TRILJ – NEBRUŠENI DIJAMANT POVIJESNOG TURIZMA
The VII. Roman legion guarded the roads stretching from Salona to Tilirium. Today Tilirium is known as Garudun, a little village in the municipality of Trilj. In Gardun you can discover a real historical gem – the base of the VII. Legion – their camp. The research on this site started not so long ago, so it is still quite a mystery and you will not find this place in classic tourist routes. Nevertheless, this site keeps one of the most valuable remains of the roman camp architecture and military equipment. If you want to explore the everyday life of a roman soldier this is the place you should see. Mosaics, tombstones, money and weapons are just a tiny bit of what has been found in this place. All of the objects found in this place testify Gardun was populated throughout the classical period, but the time legionaries spent here was the most lively period of the town.
Aside from visiting archeological site and sightseeing of the ancient walls, goods that characterized the lives of legionaries are to be found in one of the youngest museums in Croatia - Muzeju triljskog kraja. In addition, the traces of VII. Roman legion are kept in the Archeological Museum in Split, Museum of the Cetinska Krajina Region as well as in the archeological collection of Sinj Franciscan Monastery.
If you want to know and taste what Romans ate in Trilj you can explore historical cuisine. Local people still keep antique recipes that you can make yourself or if you are not much of a cook you can try in Konoba Teuta.
If you ever get bored with walking and want something more active – think about playing a football game, because Trilj is a birthplace of the biggest sport in the world (confirmed by FIFA)! Every year you can enjoy a football tournament where Romans and Dalmatae play against each other, to spice things up, the game is played by antique rules – just like the legionaries played it!
If you decide for some more walking we recommend another roman road and educational trail – Samoleč. With the length of just 500 meters everyone can „conquer“ it. One part of this antique road goes towards the neighboring Bosnia and Hercegovina while the other end of the road connects Cetina valley with Neretva valley.
p.s. if you are planning on staying for more than one day in one of the youngest cities in Croatia, while exploring the history, you can get into a real adventure. If you like adrenaline rush you can try rafting, canoeing, mountain climbing, fishing and many more activities that make your adrenaline levels spike up. All thanks to Cetina river that means a life to the locals.