Cathedral of St. James in Sibenik
The Cathedral of St James in Šibenik shows a blend of Gothic and Renaissance church architecture.
The cathedral was built in three phases between 1431 and 1535. Its style started out as Venetian Gothic, but was turned to Renaissance by the two later architects. These were also responsible for the characteristic sculptures. Only slabs of stone from the island of Brac were used, even for the dome where stone wedges held the tiles in place.
Community Perspective: It has its own special charm: the location close to the shore, the bright white of the facade, and the 74 small sculptured heads that represent eminent Sibenik citizens that adorn the exterior.
Map of Cathedral of St. James in SibenikLoad map
Enough has been said probably about the Cathedral of St. James in the previous reviews, so I will just talk about Sibenik in general.
I stayed at a flat just south of Sibenik for 2 months in January and February of 2023. My landlord said to me, "Sibenik is the most beautiful city in Croatia." By now I would agree with her or rather say "Sibenik is the most beautiful county in Croatia." Well, I certainly have not visited all corners of Croatia, but the area was just so beautiful with many worthy places to visit.
First about inside the city of Sibenik.
During my 4 month-long trip in spring and summer 2010 when I quickly visited / revisited 21 countries in Europe, I stopped in Sibenik on my way from Split through Trogir to Zadar all in the same day. From the bus station in Sibenik I just walked on the water front to the Cathedral of St. James and walked back to the bus station and left Sibenik. Now I would not recommend this short stay. Between the bus / train station and the Cathedral I would walk through the old town of Sibenik at least one way. It is yet another pretty Venetian old town. It'll be better if you climb to the top of the St. Michael's Fortress and / or the Barone Fortress. From there you get a sweeping vistas of the islands that includes St. Nicolas Fortress, another WHS. (One day I walked for 2 hours from my flat to St. Nicolas Fortress during low tide. By now I have visited all the Venetian Works of Defense WHSs except Fortified city of Peschiera del Garda. I would recommend St. Nicolas Fortress for its unique location. You can take Bus 5 for 20 min. from the bus station to the last stop and walk 2.5 km to the fortress. Or in summer you can take a boat from near the bus station.) The photo here shows the Cathedral of St. James on lower left, St. Michael's Fortress on upper right and the old town of Sibenik in between. Reminds you that this whole area in the photo was bombed and burned during the Serbo-Croatian War in the early 1990s.
Now about outside the city of Sibenik but inside the county of Sibenik.
If you are driving or taking a bus through Sibenik from south-east to north-west or vise-versa, I would definitely recommend stopping at Primosten, just as Mr. Peterer recommends it in his review of Primosten Vineyards TWHS. The old town of Primosten is like an Italian hill-top town rising from the Adriatic Sea, even endowed with beautiful sand and cliff beaches. I thought, with Primosten, we don't need such expensive and stuck-up city like Dubrovnik (where I have been twice). But in summer Primosten could be overrun by tourists just as much as Dubrovnik. (As to the Primosten Vineyards TWHS, I'm not sure if I agree with other visitors. If all the vineyards WHSs in Europe look the same, I thought this TWHS looked different upon closer inspection, with grids of dry-stone walls emanating from the coast line. The main area is around the Marina Kremik where you can reach by car. You can see them from "Our Lady Of Loreto Statue" area as well. I also saw a sign "UNESCO --->" on a road. Well, it's not a WHS yet, but this should be fine, given that "Art of dry stone walling, knowledge and techniques" in Croatia is already inscribed on the UNESCO ICH list.)
Another not-to-be-missed place within the county is the Skradinski Buk area of the Krka National Park, only 13 km north of Sibenik. You can reach Lozovac, the first entry point to the NP, by a direct bus from Sibenik in 20 min. The popularity of this NP is second only to Plitvice Lakes NP / WHS in Croatia, and it is very similar to it, but unlike Plitvice Lakes, the places of interests in this NP are spread out and can't be reached on foot in a few hours. You need at least 2 hours to walk on the wooden platforms that crisscross over the waterfalls in the Skradinski Buk area alone.
Now I saved the best for the last: the small town of Skradin, which is also the second entry point for the Krka NP, where you can reach by a direct bus from Sibenik in 25 min. I walked from the first entry point of Lozovac through / above the waterfalls to the second entry point of Skradin that took 3-4 hours. What is so special about Skradin? Thanks for asking. "Risotto Skradin," the internationally celebrated but elusive risotto, which can now be found only in Skradin due to the time (10 hours) and the effort it takes to make. I say "internationally" because rumor has it that even Bill Gates has been coming to Skradin in his superyacht every year in recent years for this dish, which internet search seems to confirm. OMG, I had to ask myself, "When was the last time I put food in my mouth that caused me to moan, as it melted in my mouth?" I am almost certain that I will come back to Sibenik to stay again in the future, as I've got to have it at least once a year like Bill. And who knows, I might meet him one day.
After I wrote this report I found the following article that covered my last 3 paragraphs above all at once:
The top photo in this article is the vineyards at the Marina Kremik in Primošten, and the second photo is Risotto Skradin.
UPDATE: September 2023
There is a new very informative museum called "Sacred City," which is mainly about St. James' Cathedral, housed in a 4-story building in the old town. I found it upon returning to Sibenik for 2 months from September 2023.
Read more from Tsunami here.
Sibenik was the last stop before the eventual end of my balkans coastal route in zadar.
The city IS as most have said, surprisingly charming. It lies at the slope of the coastal mountain range and surveys a spectacular strait. As such, good panoramic photos are a given.
The OU however IS based on only one building, the Cathedral, which is nothing short of fascinating. It was built 100% out of stone in an early renaissance style. Imo this IS enough to Grant the building WHS status. Furthermore It's actually a very pleasnat and harmonious building. The outside IS decorated with dozens of sculpted faces and the interior, though sober, IS very fitting. Overall, among an ocean of cathedrals and churches in the list, sibenik manages to be outstanding, charming and unique. A particular point i've seen no one mention IS that because of how It was constructed, the Cathedral's interior perfectly reflects Its exterior, which in part makes for the very unusual appearance of the church.
Apart from the Cathedral sibenik can offer quite a bit more. The old town is pretty and fortunately not overrun by tourists (a very welcomed change indeed after Split, Trogir and Dubrovnik). The mountainside has a few fortifications, built in order to protect the city from ottoman forces. They make for an interesting added value (when i went they were trying to accomodate the defenses of the city for tourism, which i've no doubly Will make them far more enjoyable). right in the straits St Nicholas fortress IS actually part of venetian works of defence, though i'm not sure you can actually go there (and I've been told It's not worth It). Finally nearby you've got krka National park, quite similar to the more famous plitvice National park. Unfortunately i ran out of time (and money) and couldn't go, so instead i toured the beautifull natural reserve along the straits, which I honestly recommend.
Site:5/10 experience: 7/10
I spent three days in Šibenik in June 2018, in between my jaunts to Zadar in Split. I took the opportunity to wander through the winding streets of the town, to swim in the crystal clear waters of the Adriatic Sea and to admire the waterfalls of Krka National Park. I really enjoyed this city with the Mediterranean charm of Split or Dubrovnik, but with less tourists and more authenticity. In addition to the attractions mentioned above, the town is home to a second WHS, the Tvrđava sv. Nikole, which is part of the Venetian works of defence.
Although the town is well worth a visit for its charm and historic centre, no single monument stands out in a big way. None at all? No! There is the cathedral! It's not very big, doesn't have an imposing spire, nor a monumental bell. However, its architecture is a real masterpiece. It is built entirely of stone, including the domes and roof vaults. This gives it a gloomy atmosphere when you walk in. The atmosphere is rather heavy and few rays of sunlight penetrate through the windows. It takes a while for the eye to become accustomed to the fine ornamentation carved into the stone blocks that make up the cathedral. But once you do, it is a feast for the eyes.
It is then essential to walk around the outside of the cathedral to appreciate the other sculptures that dot all the corners of the building. The frieze of figures is not to be missed. A stage set up in the adjacent square for an event complicated this part of the visit for me. A climb to the heights of Tvrđava sv. Mihovila will offer a magnificent view of the cathedral. All in all, this cathedral is a work of art in itself and is conveniently located in the heart of a most charming city! Šibenik is not up to the standard of Split or Dubrovnik, but it is far better than Zadar or Trogir.
Somewhat uniquely for a grand church in a town with uneven topography, Cathedral of Saint James does not occupy a commanding highest point. Stairways run up from the cathedral square to residential quarters that sit at higher elevations, some directly overlooking St James. The landing by the church of Svih Svetih offers one of the best-known perspectives. Exterior of the cathedral is full of interesting features, the most striking of which is the band of human faces (numbering 71 in total). The interior did not strike me as having extraordinary features that I have not seen elsewhere; it is also relatively small. Nonetheless, beautiful decorative elements can be found throughout the space; the ceiling contrasts that with a grungy vibe.
Šibenik's relatively lower profile among Dalmatian Coast towns is well explained by the fact that beyond the major point of interest that is the cathedral, there is only the hillside old quarter that does not take long to get a fill of. Šibenik was not deserted on a July morning, but the volume of visitors was significantly lower than in Split or Dubrovnik or even Zadar or Trogir during the same week. There are several minor churches, museums, and monasteries that you can see, but I doubt many people budget time for those. I did stop by the pleasant small garden of the Monastery of Saint Lawrence for about 15 minutes, and walked around a bit, but did not see much that would lead me to a recommendation for future visitors. When all is said and done, the cathedral might be an interesting church to visit - and obviously a must for a WH chaser - but my impression of it was dulled by the fact that I did not find the town better than slightly above average. Your mileage may vary.
Šibenik can be reached in about an hour by car from central Split. A couple of hours should be sufficient to explore the cathedral and the surrounding precincts, unless you do decide to target additional points of interest. Note that St Nicholas fort that is part of the serial Venetian Works of Defense site can now be visited with a boat tour that departs from Šibenik, so you can combine the two.
Read more from Ilya Burlak here.
Of all the cities that I visited along the Croatian coast, I think Šibenik is the one that won me over the most. It manages to mix the big city bustle of Split and Zadar with the quaint back alley picturesqueness of Poreč and Trogir, but retains a feeling of authenticity that can be lacking in the centres of those other cities.
The World Heritage Site is just the Cathedral, which sits rather pleasantly at the northern end of the City centre between the idyllic waterfront and the surprisingly steep stepped walkways in land. In fact these streets of steps weren't initially obvious to us when we walked into town following our map, and we quite quickly realised that our daughter (and buggy) was going to need to be carried quite a lot if we were going to reach our destination. It did however give us a great first sight of the cathedral as we arrived a few streets over, looking down on its roof.
The cathedral is very pleasant and seems to reflect local building techniques and styles, though my visit to the interior was rather brief and hasn't left a particularly lasting impression. However, late night and early morning strolls around the labyrinth of streets and squares nearby accompanied by the sound of ringing bells is one of my fondest memories of my whole trip.
The real charm of Šibenik though was the remainder of the city centre. Trying to plot our way around without encountering steps became a rather enjoyable challenge, aided by the maps posted around town with appropriate colour coded routes. Though even without steps there are quite a few altitude changes. Mixed in with this was, what felt to us, a more functioning city, not one that was only there to service tourists.
It helped that we hit a rich stream of lovely restaurants and cafes. I will give very strong recommendations to Bazza with a local craft beer menu to accompany the excellent salads (honestly the best I have ever had), and the fine coffee, friendly welcome and toys for toddlers offered up at She Bio-Bistro on a small square back from the seafront.
All in all Šibenik provided the most rewarding stay of all the cities I've visited in Croatia. The Cathedral is a pleasant reason to visit this very charming and still liveable city.
Site 4: Experience 7
I visited this WHS in April 2014. Since it is quite close to several other WHS in Croatia and usually visited by tour groups on day trips, I decided to spend the night there. It turned out to be a wise choice as the narrow uphill streets or stairs and the old city centre were empty at sunset or at night or even early morning. This meant that I had the cathedral all to myself and I tried to discover different vantage points from where to take good pictures and appreciate this stone cathedral. The best views in my opinion are the following: 1) from the Ana Fortress or cemetery, 2) from beneath the few stairs immediately in front of the main facade, or else 3) all the way up the stairs to the left of the town hall. The main interesting peculiarity of this cathedral, apart from it being built entirely from stone, is that the apses and facades are adorned by common citizens' faces instead of saints or gargoyles. The highlight of my visit was the intricately carved baptistry at the back of the cathedral. It is in immaculate condition and the natural lighting on the baptismal font with angels was really something I'll never forget.
Sibenik is very pretty town in a scenic location on the Adriatic Sea. It features a picturesque Old Town, with the main attraction being the Sv. Jakov (St. James) Cathedral. The cathedral is built in a Venetian Renaissance style and is quite impressive, even though it is surrounded by buildings and can't really be admired from afar. The interior is also interesting and well-preserved, especially the baptistry. All in all, it is a nice attraction in a nice city, nothing very special, but certainly worth an excursion. The drive or bus ride from Split or Zadar along Croatia's stunningly beautiful coastline is a big part of the enjoyment.
There are a lot of cathedrals on the WH list, plenty of them are larger in size or have a more magnificent interior decoration or are of greater historical significance. But the Cathedral in Sibenik has its own special charm: the location close to the shore, the bright white of the facade, and the carved stone portraits mentioned by Els. They depict citizen of Sibenik and not - as usual - saints or demonic creatures.
But the special feature of the cathedral is the construction technique. It is entirely built of stone, no other material was used. The barrel vault and the cupola were constructed of self-supporting stone slabs. No mortar or other binding material was used.
We visited Sibenik and the nearby Krka National Park as a daytrip from Trogir. We reached Sibenik in the afternoon and amazingly there were only a few tourists. That was a pleasant surprise compared with the crowds in Dubrovnik, Split and Trogir. We also strolled through the almost deserted old town and walked upstairs to the Ana fortress. From there you have a wonderful view to the cathedral and the bay (photo).
It's a required field trip for all grade four studends in primary school. I went there when I was a fourth grader and later each time my mom thaught grade four (if she didn't take them to Plitvice which is an alternate trip) Either way I've seen this magnificent monument so many times and each time was as if I'm looking at it for the first time.
On a late Saturday afternoon, I went by bus from Split to Sibenik, about 80 kms to the north. The public bus took us on a winding road along the coastline, passing several marinas. For me this was the first view of the non-touristy Croatia. It has a general Mediterranean feel about it, it could be anywhere between Spain and Greece.
At the outskirts of Sibenik, we hit upon a traffic jam caused by horning and flag-waving car drivers. At first I thought that people were celebrating because Croatia had won an important football match. But it turned out to be a loud and patriotic wedding - not the last I would see that Saturday.
The cathedral of Sibenik is located about 10 minutes on foot from the bus station and can be seen from afar. You have to get up close to get the real "Wow!"-feeling though. All those fine little sculptures around the gates, facade, and apse! No less than 74 small sculptured heads that represent eminent Sibenik citizens are the highlight of the exterior.
The interior of the cathedral is much darker and soberer. I didn't get the chance to explore the church well on the inside, because that would have meant that I had to push another bridal couple to the side. The cathedral of course is a prime wedding location: another couple and their guests were already waiting at the plaza next door for the next 'shift'. So I had to retreat again, and take the bus back to Split.
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