Nin

To the west of the Maslenica Bridge, the Magistrala forges across the Ravni kotari (literally "flat districts"), a fertile expanse of farmlandand one of the few places in Dalmatia where you'll see cows, sheep and pumpkins alongside more commonplace Mediterranean features such as vineyards, olive groves and maquis. About 15km beyond Posedarje, another side-turning leads north to NIN, erstwhile ecclesiastical capital of Croatia and now a sleepy, beach-fringed town, set on a broad bay facing the southwestern extremities of the island of Pag. Initially settled by the Liburnians followed by the Romans, Nin later became a royal residence of the early Croatian kings and a major see of their bishops from 879. Like everywhere else along the coast it fell Venetian rule in the fifteenth century, and was soon threatened by Ottoman advances, until in 1646 the Venetians evacuated the town and then shelled it from the sea, after which it slipped quietly into decay. By the time T. G. Jackson got here in 1887 Nin was no more than a large village whose inhabitants were so wan and unwholesome from malaria that his guides wouldn't let him stay there overnight.

The malaria has gone, but apart from that Nin can't have changed much since Jackson's visit, preserving a scattering of Roman ruins, crumbling walls and a clutch of quaint old churches which give evidence of Nin's former importance. Nin also boasts some decent beaches, with alluring sandy stretches north and east of town, and a more pebbly affair at the tourist settlement of Zaton to the west.

 

The Town

The town is built on a small island connected to the mainland by two bridges: Gornji most and Donji most ("upper bridge" and "lower bridge"). Donji most is your most likely starting point, across which lies the main street, which leads past the plain-looking St Aselus's Church (Crkva svetog Azela), an eighteenth-century structure built on the site of Nin's former cathedral and dedicated to a first-century martyr held by local tradition to be the town's first bishop. Inside, a small chapel to the right of the main altar holds a fifteenth-century statue of the Madonna of Ze6evo, which commemorates an apparition of the Virgin on a nearby island. A copy of the statue (the original is too fragile) is borne in a procession of boats to Zecevo on May 5, the anniversary of the vision. Next door, the treasury (riznica) houses an extraordinary collection of gold-and silver-plated reliquaries, beginning with a ninth-century chest of Carolingian origin containing the shoulder blade of St Aselus, and decorated with reliefs of SS Marcela, Ambrozius and (on the extreme left with hands raised) Aselus himself. Fourteenth-century -century Zadar goldsmiths produced the nearby reliquary for Aselus's arm, as well skull reliquaries for Aselus and Marcela – their lids embossed with angels and griffins.The treasury's collection of St Aselus's body parts is rounded off by a dainty casket in the sllhape of a foot. A little further up the main street and just off to the right, the smacruciform Church of the Holy Cross (Crkva svetog Križa) is the oldest church in the country, with an inscription on the lintel referring to Župan (Count) Godezav dated 800 AD. A simple whitewashed structure with high, Romanesque windows and a solid dome, it's sometimes open in summer, though it's bare inside apart from the simple stone slab which serves as an altar – ask at the tourist office or at the Archeological Museum at the top of the main street (Arheološki muzej). This small but excellently presented museum at the head of the main street kicks off with an ancient Liburnian peka (a cooking pot on top of which embers are piled) which looks identical to those still in use in Dalmatian kitchens today. The imported ceramics dredged up from Liburnian wrecks in Zaton harbour include a wealth of north Italian tableware and a dog-faced ornamental jug from Asia Minor. One room is devoted to two eleventh-century Croatian ships (one of which has been fully reconstructed) rescued by marine archeologists from shallow waters nearby. Possibly sunk in front of Nin port in order to prevent attack, these were easily manoeuvrable, eight-metre-long vessels which could be used either for fishing or fighting, and could easily be pulled up onto land or hidden in small bays. A collection of early medieval stonework culminates with a large stone font sporting a clumsily engraved inscription honouring Weslav, one of the first Christian rulers of the embryonic Croatian state.There's also a model of the Roman Temple of Diana, whose scrappy remains lie round the corner from the museum. Beyond the temple ruins lie a surviving stretch of town wall and the Gornji most, over which the austere, barn-like thirteenth-century St Ambrose's Church (Crkva svetog Ambroza) stands silent guard.

Entering Nin on the main road from Zadar, you'll notice another tiny church, St Nicholas's (Crkva svetog Nikole), an eleventh-century structure. Surrounded by slender Scots pines, it was built on'an ancient burial mound and later fortified by the Turks – the resulting crenellations give it the appearance of an oversized chesspiece. The interior is almost always locked, but it's an impressive site nevertheless, with a fine view over the blustery lowlands to the worn shape of Nin and the faint, silver-grey ridge of the Velebit mountains in the distance.

Nin's superb beach is an easy three-kilometre walk from town - head north from the landward side of Donji most, passing a small-boat harbour before ascending to meet a small crossroads, where you carry straight on. After a while you'll pass Camping Ninska Laguna, then branch off on a path which leads through a purply-green, heather-like carpet of grasses and reeds before emerging onto a duney shore. The beach is genuinely sandy, and there's another fine view of the Velebit mountains across the water.


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