Krk

The largest of the Adriatic islands, KRK (pronounced "Kirk", with a strongly rolled r) is also one of its most developed, a result of its proximity to Rijeka, whose airport is situated on the island. Much of the north is industrial, and blighted by package-oriented mega-developments like those at Omišalj and Malinska; the south and east, by contrast, offer grey, furrowed mountain peaks, lustrous vineyards, olive plantations and sun-bleached villages The main settlements are Krk Town, in the middle of the island, a historic little place with scraps of city wall surrounding a compact old centre, and Baška in the far south, a quirky fishing village with a spectacular sandy beach. Krk was originally a Roman base called Curictum; Caesar is supposed to have had an encampment on the island, and was defeated by Pompey in a naval battle just offshore in 49 BC. Later, Krk fell under the sway of the Venetians, who in 1118 gave control of the island to the Dukes of Krk, subsequently known as the Frankopans one of the region's most powerful feudal families. Krk returned to the Venetian fold in 1480, after which it shared in the fortunes of the rest of the Adriatic: long, slow decline, followed by a sudden economic upsurge in the late twentieth century thanks to the tourist industry In addition, the construction of the bridge linking Krk to the mainland enabled many locals to take jobs in Rijeka or elsewhere without having to move away from the island, thereby saving Krk from the rural depopulation which has afflicted other parts of the region.

Its proximity to the big city hasn't stopped Krk from preserving a few peculiarities of its own. Enduring specialities found nowhere else include surlice, long, thin tubes of pasta dough, traditionally eaten sa gulašom (with goulash) or sa zgvacetom (lamb stew), and Vrbnička Zlahtina, the excellent white wine from Vrbnik on Krk's east coast. The island also preserves an archaic musical  tradition in the form of the myeh, a bagpipe made out of a goat's stomach, whose shrill, atonal squalls of noise form the basis of the dances performed at the Krk Folklore Festival (Smotra folklora otoka Krka; usually July), which is hosted by a different town on the island each year. The equally strident sopila (a screechy oboe-type instrument indigenous to Istria and Krk) is celebrated at the annual Meeting of Sopila Players (Susret sopaca; late July) in the village of Pinezić, 8km northwest of Krk town – the tourist office in Krk town will have details of both events.

There are three flights a week here from the capital, and regular buses from Rijeka via Omišalj to Krk Town, a journey of about ninety minutes. Alternatively, passenger ferries run in summer from Crikvenica on the mainland to Silo (though note that buses to the rest of the island from Silo are infrequent), from Lopar on Rab to Baska June–Sept only), and from Merag on Cres to Valbiska.

 

Krk Town

The island's main centre, and in the full throes of rapid expansion, modern KRK TOWN meanders over a series of hills in formlessabandon, though at its heart there's still a small, partly walled city crisscrossed by narrow cobbled streets.The main fulcrum of the town is Trg bans jela&ca, a large open space just outside the town walls to the west, looking out onto a busy little harbour. Watching over the southeastern corner of the Trg is a hexagonal guard tower of thirteenth-century vintage although, like many of Krk's buildings, it makes much use of Roman-era masonry. A Roman gravestone is positioned halfway up one wall of the tower, portraits of the deceased peering down on passersby as if casually observing street life through an open window.

An opening on the western side of the square leads through to Vela place, a smaller public space overlooked by another medieval guard tower, this time sporting a rare sixteenth-century 24-hour clock (noon is at the top, midnight at the bottom). Heading roughly east from here is the old town's main thoroughfare, J.J. Strossmayera, a two-metre-wide alleyway that becomes virtually impassable on summer nights, when the entire tourist population of the island seems to choose it as the venue for their evening torso. Even narrower alleys lead south from Strossmayera towards the town's Romanesque Cathedral of the Assumption (Katedrala Uznesenja), a three-aided basilica built in 1188 on the site of a fifth-century church (and, before that, a Roman bath complex) incorporating pillars taken from a range of Roman buildings. There are two rows of ten columns fashioned in a variety of designs and materials - limestone, marble and red granite - with their capitals decorated with intricate floral patterns and scenes of birds eating fish. Among the altar paintings, look out for a sixteenth-century Deposition by Giovanni Antonio da Pordenone, and a largish Battle of Lepanto by A. Vicenti, showing the Madonna and Pope Pius V watching approvingly over victorious Venetian forces.

Built alongside the cathedral, from which it's separated by a narrow passageway, is another Romanesque structure, St Quirinus' Church (Crkva svetog Kvirina), whose campanile sports an onion dome topped by a trumpet-blowing angel. The campanile's lower storey is now a Treasury (Riznica) housing numerous artworks amassed by the bishops of Krk, most famously the Madonna in Glory, a silver-plated altarpiece made in 1477 by Venetian workshops for the last Duke of Krk, Ivan VII. It's a - literally - dazzling piece of craftsmanship, with central panels showing reliefs of the coronation of the Virgin and side panels depicting various saints. Behind the cathedral, a surviving stretch of wall incorporates the Bishop's Palace and an adjoining tower embellished with the Lion of St Mark - the symbol of Venetian sovereignty - although these sea-facing bastions were built in the fifteenth century under the Frankopan.

On the northern side of Strossmayera, steep cobbled streets seem to tunnel their way through a largely residential part of the old town which, largely devoid of cafes, shops and streedighting, has the feel of a half-abandoned rural village. Standing at the northern apex of this maze, the Church of Our Lady of Health (Crkva majke bozje od zdravlja) is worth a quick look if it's open - the nave is framed by two graceful lines of Romanesque arches, each held aloft by salvaged Roman columns. Diagonally opposite is the much larger church of the Franciscan monastery (Franjevaćki samostan), which rarely opens its doors outside mass times.

Krk's main bathing area lies to the east of town, where a sequence of small rocky coves provide a variety of atmospheric perches. There's a naturist beach about twenty minutes' walk east, by the Politin campsite.


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