This guide introduces you the amazing history of the ancient town of Krk. First of all, there is a short historical chronology of the town from its beginning up to nowadays. There is also a detailed review of period of the knights Frankopan rule, as well as the story of tourism development which, through the past hundred years, becomes the leading economic branch in town.
The only square that has retained the characteristics of a square. It was first mentioned in 1263. The six-sided well dates from the 16th century. There is an interesting archeological site under the square. Among the findings is the oldest town wall from the 4th – 3rd century B.C.
Text: Milica Žužić
Photos: Luka Žanić, Hrvoje Znaor, 360° photos: Hrvoje Znaor
Life in the city of Krk can be continuously traced for over 2000 years, dating back to the Copper Age. At the end of the Bronze Age, almost when the Iron Age began, we find the Illyrian tribe, the Liburnians, in today`s City of Krk. Grave monuments with Latin inscriptions or cipusi, are the evidence that the Liburnians were under Roman influence in the first centuries A.D. Liburnians had been the founders of the city around which they built walls in order to defend it. Archaeological excavations confirm that underneath the oldest visible layer of walls there is an Illyric one built using the dry stone technique with no chipped stone. Therefore, it is safe to say that today`s walls were in the same place where the ones from the earliest period had been. Moreover, the city itself is where the Liburnians’ settlement once was. We don’t exactly know the name of the Liburnian town because the first historical information about its existence was brought to us by Greek geographer Strabon between the end of the 1st century B.C. and our era. He calls it Kuriktike or Kiriatika, deriving its name from the Illyric Kar-ikt which means “the stone island”. Roman writer Pliny called it Curictae or Kurikta in 1st century, and the 2nd century Greek geographer Ptolomy called it Kurikon. The aforementioned ancient writers are named on a stone tablet from the 4th century which tells of the City of Krk as the “splendissima civitas Curictarum” or of the “splendid City of Kurikta”.
Roman period in the City of Krk started in the 2nd century B.C. Today we can see the material evidence from that time: fragments of city walls, thermal baths, mosaics, recently discovered remains from the Temple of Venus, and a lot of stone fragments from Roman grave monuments. The latter example of a Roman grave monument from the 1st century which Nikola IV Frankopan had built into a six-sided tower on the sea front in 1407 has an old coat-of–arms of the Counts of Krk in the central part. Other fragments had been built in some newer buildings, thus serving as capitals or lunettes in churches or private houses. Since Krk was a municipality, highly ranked Roman officials, magistrats (city administration) and decurions (city councils) lived here. There is a gravestone of Decurion Pitius Marullus on the Vela placa (ancient Platea Magna or the Big Square) which today witnesses of the ancient heritage. During the Roman period the urban city complex was further developed using the existing Liburnian plan and adjusting it to its tradition. The city had been divided into four parts by two main streets. The main cardo is laid from the north Upper City Gate to the south Small City Gate thus dividing the city into west and east part. The main decumanus street connects Porta Magna city gates and Vela placa on the west with the Porta Pisana on the east thus dividing the city into north and south. Cardo and decumanus cross each other on Plathea Antiqua or the Old Town Square, “pjaceta”, which obviously existed even before the Roman arrival. Today the streets are laid as they were laid in the Roman times. Inside the city walls everything stayed the same. Only the city walls went through some reconstruction works between 50 and 30 B.C. and the old stone which we can see today in the Frankopan castle (Kaštel) is the evidence of that. The Christianity came to the City of Krk during the Roman rule in the 3rd and 4th century and the first church was built in this period. In the 6th century (579 A.D.) Krk became a bishopric. In 680 A.D. Andrija became the first known Bishop of Krk. Through time, St. Quirinus, the first Christian martyr, became the patron of the City of Krk and is celebrated on 4th of June. Krk Cathedral was built on the remains of Roman thermal baths from the 1st century. The Bishop’s Church had been later adapted and consecrated to the Assumption of Blessed Virgin Mary. The Romans had been probably calling Krk Vecla or the Old City. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 A.D. the City of Krk was ruled by Byzantium as a part of Byzantine region Dalmatia. Therefore, its name was changed into Vekla (Greek: ?????) and the later Venetian name, Veglia, of the city and island was derived. Croatians (Slavs) came to island at the beginning of the 7th century. Roman inhabitants found their shelter inside the city walls, and the newcomers, Croatians, erected castles on the island. They had named it Krk after Kurikum; they called the Roman urban centre the same, whereas in everyday speech they called it Veja (deriving it from Vecla and later Veglia). That is how Krk continued to live as a Roman city till the late medieval period. During the time a lot of social and political changes occurred that influenced the city of Krk as well. This is the period when Glagolitic script appeared on the island. The local Vejas held on to Latin for private and public correspondence as well as the church service, despite the spread of Croatian influence to the rest of the island. Still, Glagolitic script found its way inside the Krk city walls and the evidence for that is the Krk inscription from the 16th century.
After a brief and often interrupted Croatian governing, in 1000 A.D. the island and city of Krk came under the Venetian rule for the first time. Even though Croatian kings Petar Krešimir IV and Dmitar Zvonimir regained the rule of the island in the second half of the 11th century, at the beginning of 12th century Arpad dynasty lost it to the powerful Republic of Saint Mark and the winged lion. Croatian noble family, that became the Counts of Krk, had been given the responsibility to govern the island by the Venetians. Count Dujam, who was first mentioned in 1118, was the founder of the family. Dujam governed the island and the City of Krk as a Venetian vassal. His sons, Vid and Bartol, had been given the island by Venice for life-long governing.
This is how Frankopan`s rose to power. They often used the animosity between Venice and Croatian-Hungarian rulers, pretending to be double vassals, receiving new lands on the mainland in return for their loyalty. Thanks to the Counts of Krk, the courthouse (1191), Kaštel in the Kamplin Square (14th century) and defensive towers (1407) had been built in the City of Krk. Furthermore, they were generous patrons. Thanks to them, Cathedral in Krk had been renovated by adding the side chapels (chapel of St. Barbara, chapel of St. Cross) and, just to mention, a silver altar piece from 1477. Furthermore, the Church of St. Margaret and the Church of St. Quirinus had been built. In the 17th century those two churches became a part of one cathedral complex.
Krk was the last Croatian island ruled by Venice from year 1480. The Frankopan family had used their surname from 1430. Ivan VII Frankopan, the Count of Krk, had been deceived by Venetians and taken to prison. From that point on, one of the Venetian noblemen governed the city and the island acting as a Venetian provveditore i.e.ruler. Besides him, a Big and Small Council had the authority to govern with certain autonomy towards the provveditore. At the beginning of the 16th century many refugees from the mainland came to the island, as well as in the city of Krk, because of the great Ottoman conquest of the time.
After the fall of the Venetian Republic in 1797 the city and island had been a part of Napoleon's Illyrian Provinces for a short period of time (1806-1813). The French closed down the monastery of the Poor Clares, and opened a high school and elementary school for girls, which was led by Benedictine nuns. After the fall of the Illyrian Provinces authority of the island was taken over by the Habsburg Monarchy. In 1822 the island was officially annexed to Istria which was its province. Very soon after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the city had been under Italian occupation (1918 to 1921). During the period, D'Annunzio's Arditi destroyed bishopric’s printing press "Kurykta" and Bishop Antun Mahnić was deported. A relatively peaceful city life continued within the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (which was the Kingdom of Yugoslavia from October 1929). Between the two World Wars tourism started to develop slowly in relation to the pre-war time, but the Second World War hindered further development - the new Italian occupation (1941 to 1943), was followed by the German one (1943 to 1945). After the war the island became a part of Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia (from 1963 Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) and the focus on tourism in the City of Krk intensified. The construction of Rijeka airport near Omišalj in 1970 and the road bridge connecting the island to the mainland (1980) furthered the development of tourism. During this period the first island highway was built thus providing connection with the Adriatic Highway and the interior of the country. Today the City of Krk is the economic and religious centre of the island.
The Counts of Krk appeared on the stage of history in the 12th century, when the Island of Krk was under Venetian rule. The origin of their forefather or founder Dujam I (around 1118 to 1163) appears differently in the historiography, due to a lack of relevant sources. However, the most likely and most widely accepted theory is that the family of the Counts of Krk came from the Gradec Castel, close to Vrbnik, which is considered to be the first possession of the Counts of Krk. Furthermore, it is assumed that this was the starting point for their historical development process during which the family grew, along with Counts Šubić Zrinski, into the most important military and political Croatian aristocratic family. Dujam was most likely honoured for his outstanding contributions and was of great use to Doge Dominic Michieli when the Venetians occupied the Island of Krk in 1115. When the authority of the island was acquired, he entered into a contract with the Doge, which was renewed by his successors. The contract on acquiring power in Krk consisted of rights and obligations of the Count towards the Venetian Doge, and the citizens of Krk toward the Count. Knowing the system of government and vassalage, it is highly unlikely that the citizens of Krk elected Dujam to be their Count by themselves, but rather, it was the other way around – Dujam was delegated by the Venetian government and the Doge as the ruler and manager of the Island as well as the City in the name of the Republic of Saint Mark. The Count Dujam I was succeeded in 1163 by his sons Vid I and Bartol II who received the island from Venice for life-long governing. They ruled the island for about thirty years. The most visible evidence of their government and the wish to have a well-ordered principality is the erection of the City Court on the Kamplin Square which the brothers constructed together with the Krk Municipality in 1191. The witness thereof is the inscription on the lunette above the entrance door. During their rule the cathedral was completed and church of St. Quirinus was built. It evokes a bishop’s chapel, but also a palatine chapel of local counts in which the future generations would be able to follow the religious services in the cathedral. The name of the Counts of Krk is in connection to the City of Krk through its fortifications, predominantly the Kaštel, a fort from the 1st half of the 14th century, which dominates the Kamplin Square. The sovereign rule of Krk noble family was also seen in the spreading of their rule to the neighbouring mainland. The Counts of Krk had been given Modruš County from the King Bela I and Vinodol from King Andrija I during the reign of the Arpad dynasty and the Hungarian-Croatian Kingdom. The Arpad dynasty also took part in the crusades. King Andrija II was grateful to the Counts of Krk for the help he received in war. Therefore, in 1221 he gave them islands of Brač, Hvar, Korčula and Lastovo in token of his gratitude, but the Counts never actually reigned the islands. Still, during and after the end of the Crusades all the great noble families started to get their coat-of-arms as an evidence of their nobility, influence and power. That is how we suppose the Counts of Krk got their coat-of-arms as well. It consisted of a shield divided into an upper red field with gold six-pointed star and bottom gold (white) one. In 1248 the island of Krk was temporarily taken from the Counts by Venice because of their close connections to Arpad family, but they had it regained very soon in 1260. From that point on, two lineages of Krk`s counts ruled the island: Škinelin parentage (which ended in 1386 with the death of Count Nikola II who was the last of that family and left the island 30 years before) and Vid parentage that ruled the island until 1480. During the 13th and 14th century, the Counts of Krk also ruled Senj (from 1271), Gacka County including Otočac (from 1300) and Drežnik County including Slunj (from 1323). At the time Hungarian-Croatian Kingdom was already ruled by Angevins. After the treaty of Zadar in 1358 the island of Krk became part of King Ludovic I Angevins territory. Consequently, the Counts of Krk became the most respectable noble family in medieval Croatia. During that time they reached the peak of their reign. Thus, they spent more time on the mainland than on the island. Krk was ruled in their name by their viscounts in castles and the Counts came there only when they needed to or they addressed the islanders through their deputies. As a result, during the reign of King Sigismund of Luxembourg the brothers Counts Stjepan I (Štefan) and Ivan V (Anž) had the Vrbnik Statute laid out and written on 15 June 1388. It was a law book written in Croatian language and Glagolitic script for the entire Island of Krk. King Ivan V (Anž) became the Croatian Viceroy in 1392 as the first member of his lineage obtaining that position. He was succeeded by his son, Count Nikola (Mikula) IV, the Count of Krk and Viceroy of Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia. In autumn 1430 Nikola IV and his three ships sailed to Ancona to go to Rome to visit Pope Marin V in order to confirm the title Frankopan and a new coat-of-arms, showing two lions breaking bread. From that point on, the Counts of Krk were called Frankopans or Frankapans deriving their last name from the Roman Frangipans/Frangepans (in one document Count Nikola IV adorned himself with the new surname, “Count Mikula de Frankopan”). It was entirely in accordance with European humanistic spirit of that time which sought inspiration in ancient literature, art, virtues and courage. Thus, the European counts had the desire to connect their lineage to the noblest heritage of the past, especially if those were the ones related to ancient Roman family lines. A testament to this is a Roman gravestone (stela) which Nikola IV had built into the six-sided tower during the reconstruction of the city walls. A Latin inscription which reads “1407 AD on the 15th September, during the rule of Count Nikola” was built into the gravestone together with the family coat-of-arms. Today we cannot know which Christian saints the islanders and Count Nikola saw on the Roman gravestone. Count Nikola IV had nine sons. Count Ivan VII Younger became the only ruler of the island of Krk after the settlement between brothers. Much as his ancestors, he continued to be the patron of the church. Therefore, around 1450 he had built the chapel of St. Barbara in the Krk Cathedral with his family and the Frankopan coat-of-arms on the rib ceiling. Moreover, the Count ordered a silver altar piece made in the workshop of master Kolero in Milan in 1477. Count Ivan VII was the last Frankopan on the island of Krk because the Republic of Venice ruled the island and the City of Krk from 1480 till 1797 when the rule of Venice came to an end.
From the beginning of the 12th century and Dujam, the first Count of Krk, to Fran Krsto, the last Frankopan (executed on 30th April 1671 in Wiener Neuestadt together with Croatian Viceroy Petar Zrinski after the failed plot against Emperor Leopold I Habsburg), during more than a half of a millennium, the members of this prominent Croatian noble family had been, besides what was already mentioned, Habsburg generals, Hungarian archbishops, Danish royal regents in Sweden, commanders of Austrian Istria, commanders of Vojna krajina, authors, diplomats, warriors, constructors, administrators, land owners, castle and town owners in Croatia, Bosnia, Hungary, Italy, Austria, Slovenia, Silesia, Moravia and elsewhere. They played an important role in defence against the Ottoman Turks, clever diplomats who knew how to defend their rights and expand their ownership whether by marriage or donation. Frankopans, the Counts of Krk rose above and became the most important Croatian noblemen who had a great influence on Croatian medieval and early modern period history.
Today tourism is the most important industry in the City of Krk. It all started in the medieval period, although it was a lot different from what we know today. Already the Latin Statute of Krk written in the late 13th century regulates the ownership of wine shops and taverns, whereas the inhabitants of Krk were prohibited to keep inns. Only foreigners were allowed to keep inns – those who had no properties on the island; additionally, they were supposed to sell food to everyone, because travellers and foreigners had to be fed "for their money." Therefore, it was about forms of hospitality meant for travellers, but also for all of those who came to the city. Tourism and catering industry were as connected as they are today. In the 18th century probably the most famous city restaurant was opened, the city coffee shop "Caffetteria" which is mentioned in the year 1763. In 1802 the name had been changed into "Bottega di caffe" – it was described by the famous English writer and architect Sir Thomas Graham Jackson in 1866 when he was visiting the city. He noted that the coffee shop was on the ground floor of the Town Hall at the square (Vela placa), the same place where it is situated today. One of the first tourist attempts in the city was the opening of Nikola Udine Algarotti`s library in 1842. A special committee was established to decide on its location. Moreover, a herbarium and collection of stone monuments were also planned there in order to attract visitors` attention. Excursion tourism was the first type of tourism that was organized in the City of Krk in 1884, when 300 visitors with music came from Senj to Krk with a steamboat, and they were hosted by the city innkeepers with good food and dances. The arrival of tourists presented a need for maintaining and presenting historic monuments. The cultural situation itself led to organized actions for decorating the city. In 1849 town representatives, locals, parish and diocese representatives formed a committee responsible for taking care of historical monuments and churches. Very soon they had taken actions for decorating the city. The precise year of founding the “City Beautification Association” or "Societa d'abbellimento", is uncertain but we can assume that it arose from the association for meeting and entertaining called “Casino”. Since the city park was named the City Beautification Association`s Park it is safe to assume it all took place around 1860s. The park got its name after the Association because their rule was for every newly wedded couple to plant one tree in the area called Marina by the sea coast. From 1903 to 1906 the Association printed their own postcards with the city motifs. It was all part of the well-thought programme in order to attract the visitors.
Tourism as we know today in the City of Krk emerged at the beginning of 20th century when the first hotels were built and first beaches with dressing cabins were set up. The precondition for tourists` coming was the traffic infrastructure. As early as 1857 a summer ship route connected Rijeka, Omišalj and Krk. The railroad which connected Rijeka with Zagreb, Ljubljana, Vienna and Budapest in 1873 was also very important. Local steamship company founded in Punat in 1906 started a permanent steamboat line connecting the island to the mainland, Rijeka and surrounding islands. The first city hotels were built in 1909 thanks to the entrepreneurial spirit of Czech Jaromir Machaček, professor at the Business Academy, who built three tourist facilities in Dražica area. Hotel guests, and later on the locals, swam in Dražica bay. Aforementioned Dražica bathing beach was founded in 1910 when the dressing cabins were set up which can be seen from the postcards of that period. Between two World Wars only four hotels were opened in the city of Krk which points to the fact that the hotel industry didn`t develop further. After the Second World War the tourist activities started again and in the year 1953 the “City Tourist Association” was founded. New hotels were built, and the existing ones had been modernized or refurbished, especially from the 1966 onward. In 1960 campsite Ježevac, the first campsite on the island, was set up close to the urban area of the city of Krk. That same year “Hotel Company Krk” was founded. This meant that, for the first time, all the city`s catering facilities were unified in a single company. The tourism industry in Krk saw the opening of the airport “Rijeka” near Omišalj in 1970 as a unique opportunity for development. In 1980 the island of Krk was connected to the mainland by Tito`s Bridge, today`s Krk Bridge. Krk, along with Baška, became the island`s leading tourist destination with its hotels and tourist-catering facilities (restaurants, hostels, taverns, galleries). Moreover, it gives tourists an insight into its rich cultural heritage. Organizing of different events (Krk Summer Festival, St. Lawrence Day) and taking care of city parks, squares and streets makes this city recognized for being one of the best islands tourist destinations in Croatia.