One of the former Yugoslav republics, Croatia has overcome a tough recent history to become an independent country with a bright future.
- Capital (and Largest City): Zagreb
- Population (2012): 4,267,558 (127th)
- Total Area: 56,594 km² (126th)
- Official Language: Croatian
- Currency: Croatian kuna (kn) (HRK)
The history of settlement in Croatia begins with prehistoric and iron age tribes, predominantly based around the country’s river valleys. Later, Liburnians, Illyrians, and Greeks settled across the region, the latter mainly on nearby islands. Things began to change in the year 9 AD, when the country came under Roman rule. Significantly, Western Roman Emperor Julius Nepos once ruled his ever-shrinking empire in the 5th century from Diocletian’s Palace in modern day Split. Eventually, the Romans were mostly driven out of the region in the 7th century by the Avar and Croat invasions, ushering in the Middle Ages.
The region was divided into smaller duchies, which were for a time under Frankish rule. Independence was finally achieved when the region became fully Christian, receiving recognition from the Pope in the process. This would not last however, as the end of the 11th century once again saw Croatia come under the power of a foreign ruler – this time Ladislaus I of Hungary. This union of Croatia and Hungary would last for over 400 years, despite the ever present external threats from Venice and the Ottoman Empire.
Eventually, Croatia was divided and left to fend against the Ottomans. The constant ebb and flow between the Ottomans and the regional powers caused a great deal of migration and power shifting. Power transferred between the Habsburgs, the French, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire among others. World War I eventually brought an end to Austro-Hungarian attempts to rule in Croatia.
Following the Great War, the newly independent Croatia decided to join a union with the State of Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs. This union then joined with the Kingdom of Serbia to form the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. The popular Croat Stjepan Radić opposed the formation of a single state, though his assassination in 1928 would pave the way for the dictatorship of King Alexander. The King would later end the dictatorship and rename the country Yugoslavia.
World War II saw Yugoslavia become occupied by Germany and Italy. Parts of the country were organized into the Independent State of Croatia (NDH), which was a puppet state backed by the Nazi’s. It’s leader Ante Pavelić and the ultranationalist Ustaše instituted anti-Semitic laws and began ethnic cleansing against the Serb and Roma peoples living in the NDH. The numbers of those killed varies considerably but the death tolls are believed to be in the hundreds of thousands. Resistance to the fascist regime would lead to the Yugoslav Partisan movement – a communist group led by Croat, Josip Broz Tito.
The Partisans were recognized by the Allies, and with the assistance of Soviet troops, they took control of Yugoslavia after the 1944 Belgrade Offensive. After the war, Yugoslavia became known as the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Though Yugoslavia was communist, it maintained a degree of autonomy from the Soviet Union and was much more open to the West. Tito ruled until his death in 1980, leaving a legacy still seen today as a ‘benevolent dictator’ who was able to unify the country and was viewed positively at home and abroad.
The death of Tito ushered in a decade of deterioration and ethnic tensions throughout Yugoslavia. Eventually, Croatia declared independence in June 1991. After this came into effect, the Croatian War of Independence began between Croatian forces and the Yugoslav Army (supported by Serbian paramilitaries). The war lasted until 1995, and was characterized by extremely high intensity fighting, widespread devastation, and numerous war crimes. The international court at The Hague is still dealing with crimes committed during the Yugoslav Wars to this day. At the end of the fighting however, Croatia had finally achieved victory and lasting independence.
Since 1995, Croatia has worked hard to rebuild and become closer to the West. The country is a member of the World Trade Organization, NATO, and recently joined the European Union. Croatia today has also grown into a very popular tourist destination, with people from all over the world coming to experience what the country has to offer.
Croatia has been influenced predominantly by four different cultures, due to its ‘east meets west’ location. The Western Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, Mitteleuropa (Central Europe), and Mediterranean influences have all had an impact on shaping Croatian culture. The South Slavic Illyrian movement in the 19th century had a significant impact on Croatian identity – with a multitude of works of art, culture, and the Croatian language coming to greater prominence.
This melding of cultures is also seen in the country’s food. Croatian cuisine has Slavic, along with Hungarian, Turkish, and Austrian influences. Along the coastal regions, more traditional Mediterranean flavour can be tasted – namely Greek, Italian, and French.
Architecture is perhaps the best window into the history and diversity of the country. From Roman, to Gothic, to Romantic – the wide array of structures in Croatia says a lot about the heritage of the region.
Sport is also very popular in Croatia with soccer (like most European countries) the most popular, with Croatian players plying their trade for some of the best teams on the continent. Team handball is also a major sport, while basketball, water polo, and tennis are also widely followed.
Most of Croatia is made up of lowlands and the Black Sea drainage basin. The weather is generally warm with an abundance of rain. Large rivers, such as the Danube, help to shape the landscape of Croatia.
Croatia has a long coastline, consisting of about 1777 km on the mainland plus another 4058 km when you include the more than 1000 islands and islets. The Adriatic coast is very rocky but also very beautiful and one of the main reasons so many tourists flock to Croatia.
The largest city and capital Zagreb is the only city with a population over 1 million in Croatia – if you count the surrounding areas. Other important cities include Split – the second city – and the coastal tourist destination of Dubrovnik, famous for its city walls.
Did you know?
- Parts of the TV show ‘Game of Thrones’ are filmed in Croatia, with Dubrovnik standing in for King’s Landing – the fictional capital of the Seven Kingdoms
- Croatia was the birthplace of the cravat, which would become the necktie
- The town of Hum in the northwest is the world’s smallest town, with 17-23 residents
- Dalmatians are named after Dalmatia, a region in southern Croatia
- Nikola Tesla was born in Croatia
- Wine has been made in Croatia for 2500 years, ever since the Greeks brought the craft to the island of Hvar
- Croatia plans to adopt the euro
Croatia has overcome the devastation of the early 90’s and is now a thriving and westernized country. Its ideal placement at the crossroads of east and west, along with it’s beautiful coastline, make it a unique and popular destination for travelers from around the world.
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