What’s better than spending a beautiful sunny day visiting a medieval fortress that just so happens to feature on one of your favourite ever TV series?
Let me tell you: spending a beautiful sunny day visiting a medieval fortress that just so happens to feature on one of your favourite ever TV series and having the place all to yourself. That’s what’s better.
Just a few miles northeast of Split, Klis Fortress is perched neatly atop a hill overlooking the village of Klis, like a dragon keeping watch over its eggs. Or, you know, an animal that actually exists keeping watch over its eggs.
As a Welsh person and lifelong member of the Dragons Do Exist Party, I can’t believe I actually just typed that sentence. I mean, why would we have a dragon on our flag if they didn’t exist?!
The exact date of construction of Klis Fortress is actually unknown, although experts date it somewhere around 3 B.C., which would make it a youthful 2020 years of age at least. Holy moly that is old.
Over time its exact use and structure has changed somewhat and can you really blame it? I mean, if you ever manage to make it to your 2000th birthday without one or two facelifts along the way then, by all means, go ahead and judge. But until then let’s just all admire the Fortress for the fact that it’s still there.
Klis Fortress was originally intended as an Illyrian stronghold, which it was until the fall of the Roman Empire when it passed over to become a part of the Byzantine Empire. During the 9th Century A.D., Duke Mislav, of the Duchy of Croatia, made Klis Fortress his throne. Like, he didn’t just sit on the wall the whole day pretending it was a fancy golden chair but made the Fortress his ‘seat’ in the ruling sense. In the same way that the Queen has Buckingham Palace as her seat… I think.
After the death of Duke Mislav, the Fortress was ruled by royal members of the House of Trpimirović, who were first Dukes of the Duchy of Croatia and then kings of the Croatian Kingdom. They developed the stronghold into their capital, and Duke Trpimir I moved the dux’s main residence from Nin to Klis.
This bloke apparently did a lot to spread Christianity throughout medieval Croatia, so good on him I guess.
At some point, the Trprimirović family died out, and Klis Fortress was governed by a bunch of Croatian nobles. The King actually wanted to give the Fortress to the city of Split itself but they were all like “nah, I can’t be bothered with that” and so it fell into the hands of the Templars (for those unfamiliar with the term, the Knights Templar was a Christian military order).
A little later in time the Mongols came along and tried to attack Klis Fortress because they thought some guy called Béla IV of Hungary, who was apparently king of Hungary at some point, was hiding out there (spoiler: he wasn’t). The Mongols had invaded Hungary a little bit earlier on, and somehow Belá IV managed to escape the battlefield of the Battle of Mohí and fled all the way to Croatia.
So along they came along on their horses, armed with spears and bow and arrows and whatever other weapons existed in the 1200s, and they started to unleash Hell on the Fortress. Except it wasn’t exactly Hell because the Fortress is so well positioned and completely inaccessible on three sides that what they actually unleashed was a whole lot of nothing.
They got off their horses and tried to climb the sides of the Fortress which, having been there myself, I can only applaud their courage. Think sheer cliff drops, very pointy stones and a lot of weeds. What they didn’t take into account was the fact that there were a bunch of people in the Fortress hiding behind walls, in the walls and on top of the walls, just waiting to throw rocks at them. The Mongols climbed, the Croats chucked rocks at them, the Mongols fell and eventually gave up.
They went off to other parts of Croatia to hunt out Béla IV but in one of history’s greatest games of Hide and Seek, they failed. He survived to live almost 30 more years, dying from a terminal illness in 1270, but Croatia had suffered quite a bit of damage from the extensive attacks the Mongols put them under.
Between then and now, history dictates that Klis Fortress has exchanged hands a few more times, with the last military occupation being during World War II, by Axis powers. Since 1990 and the independence of Croatia, the Fortress has been Croatian, as evidenced by the flag flying high above the structure.
Throughout my travels I’ve been to quite a lot of castles, fortresses, forts and other places of supposed military importance. Growing up in Wales, which has been home to at least 600 castles over time, 100 of which are still standing in some form today, I’ve always had a basic understanding of what makes a good castle or fort.
It needs to be strong (obviously), it needs to have a good vantage point (no point building it behind a wall) and it needs to be impenetrable. Or as impenetrable as a man-made structure can be.
Klis Fortress ticks all the boxes.
It’s built so high up that it gives you vertigo. You have unobstructed 360° views of the surrounding areas. There’s only one way in and one way out of the fortress (unless you count being hurled off the side of a wall). What’s more is that it’s built not on top of, but into the existing natural elements. It’s not entirely 100% man-made, and so it can’t be knocked down and destroyed. It will always exist, at least in part.
It’s ideal location and natural defences has helped it secure its place in history as one of Croatia’s most important defensive structures.
So it’s totally and utterly bizarre that with all that history, all the background and the character of the place combined with its absolutely picturesque surroundings and serene settings, it doesn’t have hoards and hoards of visitors.
Before it was featured in Game of Thrones as the City of Meereen, it was getting about 15,000 visitors a year. That’s all. I’m not sure how many people visit a year these days, but judging by the fact that I spent almost 3 hours there and didn’t see one single other soul (aside from the grumpy ticket man at the entrance) I wouldn’t bet on it being much more.
As I already said, I’ve seen my fair share of castles and fortresses. But do you know what Klis Fortress has that others don’t??
Very lax health and safety measures in place.
And when I say very lax, I mean they’re non-existent. There aren’t any signs telling you to keep away from the edge unless you want a quick but very painful death. There isn’t any red tape or do-not-cross lines.
You can go anywhere.
You can climb the walls, you can go inside the walls, explore every nook and cranny, and really go to town on the place. There is no off-limits.
Obviously, as is the case with every historical site, you should treat it with respect. Having survived more than 2000 years, do you really want to be the one known for breaking it down? But it was nice to be able to have a completely unobstructed view of the surroundings, to be able to look over the edge without having a do-good member of the safety police blowing a whistle at you.
I went to Klis Fortress just because of the Game of Thrones connection, but what I found was so much more. It’s an underappreciated, under-visited little gem of a place. For history buffs, nature enthusiasts, Game of Thrones fans or just people wanting a bit of an afternoon spent somewhere nice, it’s the perfect choice.
And at only 20 Kuna (approx. £2.25) entry for adult and 10 Kuna (approx. £1.10) for children you can’t go wrong really.
How to Get There by Bus From Split
Visiting Klis Fortress from Split honestly could not be easier. As long as you know what you’re doing.
Before heading off I did a lot of Googling on how to get there. I spent more time on the Split bus website than I did watching all the Lord of the Rings films combined. There’s a lot of conflicting and, quite frankly, confusing information out there on various websites and blogs and what not.
And I’m here to add to that!
Just kidding, I won’t do that. I’m just here to explain exactly how I got there.
Your best bet for a quick and easy ride is to get the bus number 22 from the stop outside the National Theatre. The upside of this bus is that it takes you straight to the fortress. The downside is that it only runs on weekdays (Monday to Friday).
This is the current timetable:
Now this is where I provide a little piece of information that may just change your life. See those times going down the first and second column? 05:00, 06:00, 07:00 and so on? Well, they are the times that the bus leaves Klis Fortress, NOT the times it leaves Split.
Then it turns around at Split and heads back to Klis Fortress in time for the next bus. So, the 10:20 bus leaves Klis Fortress at 10:20, and has to be back at Klis Fortress for 11:45. Which means it’d reach the Croatian National Theatre at around 11:00.
I found this out the hard way by hanging around for almost an hour. Bad job internet.
There are other buses (34, 35 and 36) that leave from Sukoisanska Bus Station too, most of which also run on weekends, but these don’t go to the Fortress. They drop you at the bottom of the hill which means you’ve got a long climb ahead of you! Take my word on it, you’re better off just going for the 22.
You can check all up-to-date timetable information for the 22, 34, 35 and 36 at this website right here.