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Kraljevica - The Town of St. Nicholas

Updated: Feb 19, 2019

A town of seafarers and noblemen, Kraljevica is an old Kvarner city with a long and important history. Unfortunately, its tourist capacities have stuck in time, but new ideas and new spirits are becoming more and more prevalent. Thus, we decided to check what is going on in this town, which is so often seen only from the magistral road leading from Rijeka to Crikvenica and beyond. In Bakarac, Kraljevica, Križišće, Mali Dol, Šmrika and Veliki Dol, all the places within the boundary of City of Kraljevica, tradition and tourism live one next to other, with a very Kvarnerian flair. The green hilly background and clear blue sea are beautiful natural settings for Kraljevica, while the medieval castles of the noble families Zrinski and Frankopan guarantee a jolly good time for the history buffs.

Kraljevica (Italians call it Porto Re, which means the same – the Royal Port) is first mentioned in the 13th century when a small fort is built next to the chapel dedicated to Saint Nicholas. Since then, St. Nicholas is the saint protector of Kraljevica and almost its very brand. The festival of St. Nicholas, who is favourite among the seafarers, is the main event in the town's calendar. Why St. Nicholas? Kraljevica is nicely built on a place oriented to the sea, with favourable bays that host small ports and protect from the vicious winds. In many seaside towns, St. Nicholas is celebrated with bonfires and lighting a small wooden ship or boat, but Kraljevica has several years ago began with possibly the nicest tradition of pilgrimage to this beloved saint. From Rijeka and other places, pilgrimage is made with small and big boats and ships, sailing to the saint. The boats arrive in the main port and procession is made to the Church of St. Nicholas, where a Holy Mass takes place, together with a special blessing for all seafarers. After that, the whole town celebrates on the streets of Kraljevica.

The church of St. Nicholas is a part of the Zrinski's Old Town. In 1651 Count Petar Zrinski expanded a small Frankopan fort next to the chapel and made it into a majestic building with two atria, a church and the city administration, library and other facilities. In this atrium, lots of events take place, for example singing. Our Edvard sang lots of times with his klapa right in this beautiful place. From atrium you can easily walk to the church itself, which was rebuilt in the late 18th century – it is declared the national cultural asset. Outside the church is a big monument of St. Nicholas, overlooking the port.

In the middle of 17th century, the noble families of Zrinski and Frankopan built two representative castles in Kraljevica and in 1729 the Austrian emperor Karl VI builds the military port and shipyard. It is still officially the oldest shipyard in Croatia. In it, the Austrian Empire made big military and merchant sailships and in the beginning of 19th century, it was a place where the first steamship came to life. Kraljevica Shipyard is ranked the oldest continuously operating shipyard in the world and the oldest industrial operation in Croatia. It has built more than 500 ships and continues to build vessels for international clients.

Since the 1880s, Kraljevica is developing tourism. Apart from one of the first bathing beach in the Adriatic, built in the peninsula of Oštro (still one of the beloved bathing places for citizens of Rijeka and its surroundings), Kraljevica was known for its health tourism. In the beginning of 20th century, Kraljevica is known for excellent climate: sea, air, sun, and sand is considered to have great medicinal properties and especially the hard northeast wind bura helps the health. Many hotels, villas, and camps are opening up and offer a classic touristic destination on Kvarner. As an edifice to this tradition stands the Liburnia Hotel, which waits to be transformed again to the health tourism place. Unfortunately, the industrial development of this area has contributed to a relative stagnation which continues until today. New plans, however, represent healthy and realistic ambitions.

Given the orientation to the sea, it is no wonder that seafood makes a basis of the local culinary traditions. The deep waters of the mouth of Bakar Bay are excellent place for catching fish and especially tuna. In the nearby place of Bakarac, tuna catching was the main way to earn money. The shore tuna towers (tunere) imply a traditional system of tuna hunting throughout the centuries. It consists of nets, outlooks, small ports, and covered and closed supporting spaces. They could be found in bays along the coast of Bakarac. The most important towers have been restored as a protected ethnological monument.

No one who visits Kraljevica can leave without having a tour of the Castle Nova Kraljevica or Frankopan Castle. It was built in the mid 17th century as a late renaissance lavishly decorated residential palace with a rectangular plan and four corner towers. Despite its need for renovation, this castle is just spectacular in size and beauty. Its inner court is a place where many would like to have a wedding picture and it is just here where we met Mrs Linda Petrović from the Tourist Board of Kraljevica. Young and restless when plans for Kraljevica are at hand, she just sips ideas and initiatives for Kraljevica's tourist future. She tells us a secret: the famous conspiracy by count Petar Zrinski and prince Fran Krsto Frankopan against the Austrian court was planned just here. After they were arrested and executed, the castle was devastated and used for various purposes. It re-flourished in the late 19th century with the arrival of Jesuits who added the second floor and adorned the tower with parapets.

The castle is destined to become great again. Inside is the centre of the local historical initiative „Putevima Frankopana“ (The Routes of the Frankopans). From the beginning of the 12th century to the second half of the 17th the Croatian aristocratic Frankopan family left numerous traces of their influence and power throughout Primorje-Gorski Kotar County. ‘The Routes of the Frankopans’ cultural route encourages the evaluation, restoration, protection and innovative interpretation of 17 Frankopan castles and 3 sacral buildings. As the castle Nova Kraljevica of such a grand design, the central point of the route is exactly here. We were guided through every single castle and church through an interactive exhibition, although your mind might wonder off to check the armour of the Irish count Laval Graf Nugent von Westmeath who joined the Austrian Army and fought against the Napoleonic armies in Croatia. Or you might just stare through the window of the castle and enjoy the stunning view of the Kvarner Bay.

Within the castle is the Tourist Board, lots of other associations, the best restaurant in town and the big atelier of Nenad Petronio, a painter with the maritime background. He finished the Maritime Faculty, but his love is painting, religion, and Frankopans. In three huge rooms within the castle walls, Mr Petronio plays with colours and shapes, making pictures, mosaics, and vistas recognised in Kraljevica as the town's beloved artist. It was astonishing to see how quick Mr Petronio makes the picture of John Dory, with beautiful watercolours. His pictures may be bought in the castle and one can see them often at the various exhibitions. Nenad Petronio +385 (0)51 76 13 86; +385 (0)91 251 57 64

Our tour of Kraljevica wouldn't be possible without kind help from the Tourist Board of Kraljevica:

Gallery of Kraljevica (photos by Tourist Board):

Gallery of the Kraljevica's Shipyard:

Gallery of Nova Kraljevica Castle and Ways of Frankopan:

Gallery of Nenad Petronio:



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