Here are some reasons to add Trogir, one of the most beautiful towns in Croatia,to your travel plans, especially if you are staying in Split or Šibenik.
Things to do in Trogir for free:
- travel through the fantastic medieval universe
- search for strange carvings and ancient graffiti
- experience excruciating shame and profound humiliation
- know thyself
As I work as a tourist guide in Trogir, I would be delighted to show you around and lead you through these exciting 4 points. Or just read on and try to find them on your own.
1. Travel Through The Fantastic Medieval Universe
You cannot miss it. The most prominent church in Trogir is the Cathedral of St. Lawrence (or St. John, as locals would call it).
Its bell tower is hovering over the city with its ornate windows and stone lacework.
The entire church is a true masterpiece and it’s well worth paying some 3 euros to get in. However, if you have limited time or energy, this is what you will do: Hold on to the metal gate bars in front of the church entrance and don’t let go of them. Don’t allow other tourists to push you away. Your journey starts and end there.
The Portal of the Cathedral of St. Lawrence in Trogir is the finest Romanesque monument in Croatia. It was created by Master Radovan in 1242. Radovan very realistically tells 3D stories in ivory-like limestone, creating a whirlpool of statues, trees, animals and monsters.
At first, it would seem like a huge mess. Nonetheless, there is a specific story told there. You just need to decipher it.
The Story Told By The Radovan’s Portal In Trogir
You will certainly recognise Adam and Eve. Our story begins with them. They’re shown with fig leaves covering their intimate parts. Hence, something’s wrong.
Indeed, right beneath the statues of our forefathers, the lions have already produced offspring. In the Romanesque Bestiary, lion is a symbol of SIN.
A bestiary, or bestiarum vocabulum, is a compendium of beasts. Originating in the ancient world, bestiaries were made popular in the Middle Ages in illustrated volumes that described various animals and even rocks. The natural history and illustration of each beast was usually accompanied by a moral lesson. This reflected the belief that the world itself was the Word of God, and that every living thing had its own special meaning.Wikipedia
As the result of their sin, entire humankind and all the races have now to bear that burden on their backs. Master Radovan illustrates that effect by putting members of four (as they believed) races to carry the load of the Portal. Their distinct racial features are clearly shown.
The outer boundaries of our world were believed to be inhabited by all kinds of creatures, including monsters. Interestingly, they actually believed they were REAL!
So, the outer frames of the Portal come with a parade of these creatures. Gradually, Astrology and Greek mythology take over, and introduce us to the world where natural and supernatural meet.
Unaware of the invisible realities, humans perform their everyday activities. The central rectangular columns are reserved for illustrations of the months of the year. For some reason, only 5 months are listed. Possibly, the author, Master Radovan, died before he could bring his story to the end.
Anyway, his gallery of scenes, showing what’s happening in each month, is so amazing. Take a look at “Mr. January’s” shoes!
Finally, Radovan takes us to the the focal point of human history. The birth of Jesus Christ is shown in form of an amazingly intricate Christmas card.
Pay attention to all the details, starting from the fact that Mary is in her bed, with Jesus being placed next to her. Notice the bed sheets being so delicately made of stone that they seem translucent.
The shepherds, their dogs, their sheep, goats and cows, they all join the angels in a joyful outcry.
What May Have Been The Purpose Of The Portal In Trogir?
Actually, there’s a hidden agenda behind it. In fact, it really IS BEHIND this portal.
Inside of the church, on the reverse of the “Christmas card” relief, there’s a warning to all those who despise THE CROSS!
Now, who would that be? Well, the Catholic Church in Europe had in those years been threatened by heretics of all kinds. From Southern France (the Cathars) across Bosnia (The Krstjani) over to Macedonia (the Bogomils), the heretics all shared beliefs that Jesus really wasn’t a man and that he really didn’t suffer. It was just an illusion, they said. And they didn’t worship the cross.
To counteract these beliefs, the Portal had to take a snapshot of tangible reality. We live in a material universe, not an illusion!
Ironically, the heretic dualism (fight between Evil and Good) came to be the leitmotif of this entire masterpiece!
2. Search For Strange Carvings And Ancient Graffiti
Throughout Trogir, you will find similar carvings. (BTW, this photo was taked right by the Radovan’s Portal). Interestingly, many Cathedrals in England are “decorated” with similar symbols. In Trogir, they are found mostly at supervised public areas, because men would often engage in fistfights because of the game.
It’s called Nine Men’s Morris, or Mills. This board game that was very popular in the Middle Ages.
Some have even attributed magical powers to these drawings.
This graffiti is probably the easiest to find. So obviously decorating the southern wall of the Cathedral of St. Lawrence in Trogir main square.
It is certainly ancient. Some researchers place it to 16th century.
The adjacent textual graffiti found further down the wall f the Cathedral, written in Latin might give us a clue: The city was welcoming a new rector from sent fromVenice, Francesco da Mosto, who was a rector in Trogir from 1582-1584!
Just around the corner of the Trogir City Hall, you will find the Romanesque church of St. John The Baptist.
The church is the only building that remains after the destruction of the Benedictine monastery.
This conspicuous carving of an axe is situated on the northern wall, and is found above the walled-up entrance to the underground crypt of the church.
3. Experience Excruciating Shame And Profound Humiliation.
A “pillar of shame” (or Berlina) was found on the main square, but in the Trogir archives no mention of such a verdict had been recorded.
According to the statute, anyone who blasphemed against God or the saints (and would not want to pay the fine) had to spend half a day ad berlinam in platea. Thus the convict would be publicly embarrassed in front of the whole community.
On the pillar near the Trogir loggia one can still see a part of the iron chain, which can only be assumed to have belonged to the pillar of shame of the late Middle Ages. The place would be appropriate in any case: the person tied to that pillar would be seen by the whole community, which was the purpose of the shameful punishment.
The fine for disobedience, admittedly, was small, but he who would not pay was put naked on a pillar of shame (poni debeat nudum ad berlinam). They were to stay there from sunrise to sunset.
Interestingly, there is an inscription with a similar message just a couple of steps away, at the entrance to the palace of Coriolanus Cepio (Koriolan Cipico), which says: “NOSCE TE IPSUM” or….
4. Know Thyself
“There are three Things extremely hard, Steel, a Diamond, and to know one’s self.”Benjamin Franklin
This originally Greek proverb has been applied to those “whose boasts exceed what they are“. Also, “know thyself” may be viewed as a warning to pay no attention to the opinion of the multitude.
Now, this guy, Coriolanus Cepio (Koriolan Cipiko), must have been an interesting person. What can we learn about him by inspecting the interior of his palace? (BTW, this is my favourite hidden corner in Trogir. It’s totally NOT TOURISTY. Well, not yet. (August 2020) The building is used by the local music school and as a storage space for local cafes. (!!!))
For one thing, he was rich. Where did his money come from? Well, spoils of war. How do we know? Actually, first edition of one of his books was auctioned at Christie’s. Here’s what they say about the author:
Petri Mocenici imperatoris gesta is first-hand account of the Levantine expedition against the Turks (1470-74) following Negroponte. The author, the humanist nobleman Coriolano Cippico (CEPIO, Coriolanus (1425-93), accompanied the future Doge Pietro Mocenigo at the battle of Scutari, and he describes ancient monuments and their epigraphs as well as the capture of Smyrna, the Venetian protectorate of Cyprus, and Scutari. He takes great care in highlighting the Venetian victories under Mocenigo, in contrast to the earlier failure of Mocenigo’s predecessor, Niccolò Canal, at Negroponte.
So, he was a soldier and a humanist. This might have created internal conflict. As a soldier, he had to hurt people. As a humanist, he had to care for people. What would he do with the riches? What would people say? The invisible jury? Would the motto “Nosce Te Ipsum” help him in some way?
One thing is certain. He made sure that his money is well spent. He invited some of the most prominent artists of Europe to do some work in Trogir, including Nicholas of Florence, who did one of the most amazing Renaissance masterpieces in Croatia, the chapel of Blessed John of Trogir, inside of the Cathedral of St. Lawrence.
How can I apply the motto: NOSCE TE IPSUM? Do I know myself? What will I do with my time, money and energy? Am I doing things to please others? Do I worry about what others think about me? On the other hand, how can I show love for others? Whose slave am I?