• Leslie

Klis Fortress: an Ancient Stronghold Outside Split Croatia

Updated: Aug 13, 2019

Klis Fortress in Croatia

Built on a rocky ridge, with an impenetrable wall of mountains surrounding it, the rugged Klis Fortress dominates the skyline.

Kliss Fortress is an easy day trip from Split Croatia. A rare chance to step back in time, admire ancient ruins, and scamper across old stones. If you want to have a place all to yourself and bask unhindered in the rawness of a historic site, Klis beckons.

History of Klis Fortress

Klis Fortress has colorful 2000 year old history of resistance and conquest. It's one of the greatest examples of defensive architecture in Croatia.

It's an ancient site, founded by the Illyrians in the 2nd century BC. It was annexed by the Romans, like so much else, in 9 AD. In the 7th century, it was besieged by the Slavs. Later, it became a stronghold of the Croatian kings.

The Croats resisted attack for 25 years, before finally succumbing to the Ottomans in 1537. For 111 years, the Ottomans controlled Klis and battled the Venetians, who controlled nearby Split. Finally, the fortress fell to the Venetians in 1648.

a canon at Klis Fortress

Under Venetian rule, the fortress was restored and greatly expanded. Then, Austrians seized the fortress in 1797 and the French controlled it from 1805 to 1813. Then the Austrians held it again until the end of the Astro-Hungarian empire in 1918.

The doughty fortress saw its last military action in WWII. It was a stronghold for Italian and German occupation forces. In 1990, after the breakup of Yugoslavia, the Croatian flag was placed on the fortress.

Klis Fortress Experience

You zigzag up a fairly steep incline to access the fortress. It sprawls over the hilltop and is full of lookouts and nooks.

The fortress has three defensive stone walls, which are surrounding a central strongpoint. The structure is irregular because it was designed to fit into the natural topography, an early salvo of "organic architecture."

You can explore the fortress with complete freedom -- a rare and privileged experience at a historical site. There are no guards, lines, cordoned off areas, locked doors, or safety signs. There are also no guardrails. One misstep and you could fall off the fortress walls.

From the fortress, you have a killer view of Split, its harbor, and the surrounding countryside. It's worth going for that alone.

scene from Season 5, Episode 2 of Game of Thrones featuring Klis Fortress

Game of Thrones at Klis Fortress

Klis Fortress is so imposing that it's hardly surprising it was chosen as a set for the medieval fantasy show, Game of Thrones. Sprinkle some dragons and, voila, you're done. No extra set building required.

Set-jetting Game of Thrones fans and Khaleesis in training will recognize Klis as the filming location for Meereen in Seasons 4-6. Klis is the perfect setting for the ancient and exotic city on Slaver's Bay in Essos.

Mereen is where Daenerys Targaryen's descent into quasi madness is foreshadowed. In Season 4, she crucifies 163 slave masters along the streets of Mereen and sets up shop in the Great Pyramid. Her intentions are good -- she wants to abolish slavery. But her methods are brutal.

Varys and Tyrion walk through the streets of Mereen, aka Klis Fortress

The throne room of Mereen, featured heavily in Season 5 is found in nearby Split. It's in the basement of Diocletian's Palace, which is a UNESCO site. The fighting pit of Mereen is the bullring in Osuna Spain.

At Klis, there's a room dedicated to Game of Thrones' memorabilia. It's got a dragon, GOT photos, and GOT armor on display. Nothing special by the standards of other Game of Thrones sites, but worth a look.

Despite its GOT notoriety and beautiful location, Klis Fortress is blissfully uncrowded. It has only 15,000 visitors per year. It's an off the beaten path path destination in Croatia, for those of you who are tourist shy (like me).

Daenerys and Jorah at Klis Fortress. She is about to banish Jorah from Mereen for betraying her

Klis Fortress doubles as Mereen in Game of Thrones

July Festival at Klis Fortress

Each year, on the last weekend of July, Klis organizes a traditional medieval festival called “Uskočki boj” or “The Uskoks’ battle for Klis." Unfortunately, I missed it because I was visiting in August.

It's a two day event celebrating Klis' defense against the Ottoman Empire. The main event of the festival is the reenactment of the famous 1532 battle between the Uskoks and the Ottoman Army.

Klis Fortress. Just add dragons and you have Mereen

Practical Information for Klis Fortress:

Address: Kliška tvrđava, 21231, Klis, Croatia

Getting There: The easiest way to get there is on a Game of Thrones tour. Or from Split, you can take Bus #22 from the stop just east of the National Theater and get off at the Klis Megdan stop. The bus takes about 30 minutes, but can be unreliable. Or, if you have a car, it's a 20 minute drive from Split. You can also go via taxi or Uber. From Zadar, it's a 1.5 hour drive via the E65 highway.

Hours: 9:30 am to 4:00 pm, closed Mondays

Entry fee: adult 40 kunas, child 20 kunas

Pro tip: Public bathrooms are at the foot of the fortress, not inside. Bring water because you can't buy it there.

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