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Drnis and Knin
Thirty-four kilometres inland from Šibenik, the small market town of DRNIŠ has little to recommend it. It was occupied by Ottoman forces during the sixteenth century, when it was known as "little Sarajevo", though most of the relics of the Turkish period were obliterated when they were driven out, and the only surviving reminder is a sixteenth-century mosque, since incorporated into St John's Church (Crkva svetog Ivan). There's also a ruined tower picturesquely located above the River Cikola, and an irregularly open Town Museum, which has a rather limited collection of works by local sculptor Ivan Meštrović some pieces disappeared during the Serbian occupation in 1991.
Meštrović hailed from the village of OTAVICE, 10am east, where he is buried in the hilltop Meštrović Mausoleum, a simple cube topped by a dome designed by Meštrović himself. He began the work in 1926, intending it as a family mausoleum, and was buried here after his death in the USA in 1962. Inside, an Art Nouveau-inspired sculpture of the Crucifixion is watched over by a pale, Buddha-like face, hinting at the religious syncretism towards which Meštrović leaned throughout his life. During the Serbian occupation, the bronze doors (bearing touching portraits of the Meštrović family) were stolen, reliefs were damaged, and the tombs desecrated; restoration is in progress.
Drniš is the centre of a large area devoted to the making of pršut (home-cured ham), and most local families keep a few pigs. Late November's svinokolja or pig slaughter is the key event of the local agricultural year, when up to ten thousand of the beasts meet their deaths.
Some 20km inland from Drniš is the rather plain town of KNIN, which became notorious as the epicentre of the Serbian rebellion of 1990-95, when it was the capital of the Serbian-controlled parts of Croatia, the so-called Republic of the Serbian Krajina (Republika srpske krajine, or RSK). Something like ninety percent of Knin's population was Serbian by the early 1990s, making it the obvious focus for Serbian discontent in the Dalmatian hinterlands. Control of Knin was always important to Serbian military planners: the town stands on the rail line between Zagreb and Split, and to remove the town from Zagreb's control - it was argued - would seriously weaken Croatia's bargaining power should Yugoslavia ever fall apart.
Many of the key players in the ensuing Serb-Croat conflict came from Knin: Jovan Rašković, founder of the Serbian Democratic Party; Milan Babić, the RSV's first leader; Milan Martić, the Knin police chief who built up the Krajina first armed forces; and Colonel Ratko Mladić, commander of the Knin military garrison, who practised ethnic cleansing here, forcibly ejecting Croat families from nearby villages, before becoming head of the Bosnian Serb army in 1992. The Serbian irregulars based in Knin during 1991-95 - who called themselves the knindža, in imitation of ninja-style comic strip heroes - melted away when the Croatian army launched the Olrja ("Storm") offensive in August 1995, and Knin's recapture on the morning of August 5, 1995, brought the war in Croatia to a rapid conclusion: Serbian resistance elsewhere in the country collapsed within two days, and pictures of President Franjo Turfman kissing an enormous Croatian tricolour flying from Knin fortress were seen on TV across the world. Most Serb civilians fled in the wake of their defeated army in August 1995 and, though many have returned, the present population is still only a fraction of what it was, the local economy is in recession, and an atmosphere of despondency prevails. The castle is worth visiting if you're passing through, but there's tittle else to keep you, and certainly no tourist facilities.
Knin's train and bus stations are next to one another on the main street, and it's easy to pick a route up to the fortress on the hill above. There's been a castle here since at least the tenth century, and it was the seat of the medieval Croatian state's last effective king, Zvonimir, towards the end of the eleventh century. The castle's all to the Turks in 1522 hastened a change in the demographic profile of the area, with fleeing Catholics being replaced by a predominantly Orthodox population from the Balkan interior. The fortress has been impressively restored, with a central keep surrounded by concentric rings of walls, and outlying towers squatting on outcrops of rock. The battlements offer an extensive panorama of the surrounding countryside, with a view of Knin below in its bowl of brownish hills and the grey ridge of the Dinaric mountains to the northeast on the border with Bosnia-Hercegovina – the best place to enjoy it is from the terrace of the caffe-restaurant inside the fortress.
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