For those interested in history, it is worth making a detour to Nin on the way to Zadar. Croatian history was written here. Today’s small town of Nin, at the end of a bay of the same name, incorporates the ruins of the historic town, which is on an island in the bay and is linked to the mainland by two bridges.
The tribe of the Liburnians built one of their more important settlements here. With its over 100 surviving Liburnian graves, Nin is a major archeological site in Dalmatia. When the Romans ruled here, they did a lot for the town – which they called Aenona – by giving it the status of a municipium. Aenona had a forum, an amphitheater, an aqueduct and town walls. It also had a temple of monumental dimensions; the biggest in Dalmatia.
Nin could not cope with the attacks of both the Avars and the Slavs in the 7th century, but its total destruction also meant a new beginning. The Croats built their political, religious and cultural center here.
Around the year A.D. 800, Franconian missionaries arrived and started to convert people to Christianity. Until the 11th century, the Croatian rulers had no permanent capital, and so they often stayed in Nin and occasionally staged their coronations here. After the Venetians conquered the town in 1570, the Serenissima, as Venice also known, had its fortifications and part of the town destroyed in order to stop the Turks from using it as a shelter. Though this did happen briefly in the 17th century. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Nin was rebuilt, but it never again achieved its former importance.
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Nin’s Old Town
In the middle of the old town, which is still partly surrounded by a wall, stands *Sveti Kriz, the Holy Cross Church, a most significant piece of old Croatian architecture. It dates from the year 800 and has survived without any changes. With a circumference of only 36 paces, it is probably the smallest cathedral in the world – it is called a cathedral because it is assumed that it was the seat of a bishopric. Above the entrance is an inscription identifying Zupan Godezav (Prince Godezav) as its founder. This is the oldest known reference to the name of a Croatian prince. For many years, the building was an enigma to scholars. On the one hand, they were struck by the perfection of its proportions; on the other hand, they couldn’t find essential architectural elements they thought should be there. The riddle was solved by a painter from Dubrovnik, Mladen Pejakovic. He realized that the dimensions and the elements of the building were set out according to the position of the sun throughout the year; of the winter and summer solstices and the equinoxes. Thus a building was created that served as a clock, a calender and a place of worship.
Not far from the Church of the Holy Cross is the Parish Church of Sveti Anselmus. In addition to its few Romanesque and Gothic architectural elements, it is mainly the treasury that is worth visiting here. It houses excellent examples of metalwork in silver and gold, testifying to Nin’s blooming culture in the early Middle Ages. Among them are two reliquaries, works of Carolingian masters from the 8th and 9th centuries, and a ring of Pope Pius II (15th century). Near the road leading to the upper town gate is a statue of Bishop Grgur Ninski, the work of the sculptor Ivan Mestrovic, who here recreated a smaller copy of the sculpture in Split.
On the road to Zadar, just about one kilometer south of Nin, you will see in Prahulje the Church of Sveti Nikola from the 11th century. The cupola was replaced later by an octagonal defence tower serving as an observation point against possible Turkish attacks. This area abounds in two- to three-meter-high burial mounds which go back to prehistoric times.
When passing Bokanjac, you might be lucky and see the intermittent lake Bokanjacko blato, which in rainy weather can swell to a surface area of up to five square kilometers. Eels reach the sea from here through underground channels.