It was much cooler this morning and the previous night’s rain had brought a change in the weather but it was still pleasant enough to sit on the terrace for breakfast and we were treated to another of Iveska’s memorable breakfasts, today with Bosnian cheese pie and plenty of hot tea.
The weather was rather unsettled and after we had checked out and promised to return we kept a nervous eye on the sky and headed north back towards Split on the journey back to the airport at Zadar. The clouds thickened and as we passed the ancient Roman town of Salona just east of Split there were a few ominous drops of rain on the windscreen. Salona was a substantial town that was the capital of the Roman province of Dalmatia and although we didn’t stop off for a visit it was possible to see some of the extensive ruins running along the side of the road.
We were heading for the town of Trogir, which is about twenty kilometres north of Split and is the best preserved Romanesque-Gothic complex not only in the Adriatic, but also in all of Central Europe and inevitably therefore a UNESCO World heritage site. It was mid morning when we arrived and the town was already very busy. The old city is built on a little island, only separated from the mainland by a few metres and with access to it over a small bridge. This is a popular visitor attraction and parking is inevitably at a premium and at fifteen Kuna an hour easily the most expensive of the week.
Trogir has a fabulously preserved medieval core that is surrounded by walls and comprises a partly restored castle and tower and a series of churches, houses and palaces from the Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque periods. We wandered straight through the narrow medieval streets and out of a town gate on the waterside and then it started to rain. It looked like it was going to be a heavy shower because the bar owners were going through the cushion collecting routine so without umbrellas it seemed that the only thing to do was to find somewhere for shelter and have a first beer.
Actually it turned out to be no more than a passing shower and everywhere had dried up nicely and the cushions were back out long before we had finished our drinks. The bar looked out over the water to the larger island of Čiovo, which is joined by another bridge and is the industrial bit of Trogir where there is a busy shipyard that turns out about six large ships or ferries every year.
Now that the rain had stopped we walked along the quayside as far as the old medieval castle that stands guard (or at least used to stand guard) at one end of the island. It wasn’t open so after walking around the walls we headed directly back to the centre of the town where it started to rain again. It was time for more shelter so we chose the grandest building in the town, the thirteenth century church of St. Lawrence, which is the most significant work of the Romanesque-Gothic style in Croatia.
After paying the entrance fees I was delighted to spot a door to a spiral staircase and a climb to the top of the bell tower. There was a large sign that stated that going to the top was at the visitors own risk and absolving the church of all responsibilities. We were about to find out why!
The first third of the climb was straightforward and uneventful up the sort of staircase that we have negotiated many times but then the stone staircase stopped abruptly at a first level and the next part of the climb was up a set of precarious wooden steps that had a handrail but nothing else to prevent a careless visitor falling through and ending up in a tangle of broken bones on the stone floor at the bottom of the tower.
Worse than that was the prospect of slipping and falling the other way which would have involved a fall through an open stone window and onto the court yard below with little real prospect of survival. During the fatal fall however there would have been some excellent views because the higher the steps climbed the view over the roof tops towards the sea on one side and the mountains on the other got better and better.
This was more like the Tower of Terror than the Tower of Trogir. At the top of the hazardous wooden stairs was a second level where the bells were and then some even more dangerous iron stairs to negotiate to complete the climb to the very top of the tower which involved a struggle through a small opening without any handrails at all and which opened out into the final level where there was time to enjoy the spectacular views and to contemplate and reflect on just how perilous this climb was and to worry about getting back down again.
This was even more unnerving than going up because it was now possible to see just how precarious the decrepit steps were. The iron was rusting away, the wood was decaying and holding all of this lot up was a series of concrete plinths that looked as though they were in imminent danger of collapse. Generally I like climbing towers but I wouldn’t tackle this one again in a hurry and I can confess to having been genuinely concerned and very, very pleased to get back to the bottom.
It was still raining so it seemed sensible to take shelter under a café bar umbrella and enjoy the sights from a stationary position so we did that and ordered some drink. It was about five minutes to twelve and exactly at midday the bells of the Cathedral started to clatter out their announcement of the hour. The possibility of this hadn’t occurred to me as we had climbed the bell tower but I was so glad that we weren’t still up there when these things rang out because that would have scared the hell out of me.
As we sat in the square the rain cleared and the blue sky rushed in and there was an instant transformation in the weather and after finishing our drinks and before leaving Trogir we went back outside the city walls to get the blue sky photograph opportunities that we had missed half an hour or so before.