“With its history, monuments and cultural traditions, no other town in Croatia, apart from Dubrovnik, has such significance for the history of the Croatian people as the town of Senj.”
One of the oldest towns in North Adriatic, Senj is known for its exceptionally rich and turbulent history. The town area includes a 76 km coastal strip with several fishing villages, numerous coves and pristine stone beaches.
With its crystal clear sea, beautiful beaches, excellent restaurants and entertainment venues, present-day Senj is increasingly developing as a tourist destination.
Location and Climate
"The Bora is born in Trieste, it gathers its force in Rijeka and reaches full magnitude in Senj."
The town of Senj is located between the see and the slopes of the Kapela and Velebit mountains and includes a 76 km coastal strip. Lying on the east side of the Adriatic, it has maritime communications with other towns and countries of the Mediterranean. The town also has good road connections: with the inland via the Vratnik mountain pass (700 m above sea level); with the Vinodol Valley and Rijeka to the west; with Zadar, Split and South Dalmatia to the south. The town area is influenced by two climate systems: the Mediterranean and the mountain climates. The Mediterranean climate is characterized by warm and dry summers and mild and rainy winters. The characteristic features of the mountain climate are low temperatures in winter, fresh summers and abundant precipitation (rain and snow).
Of all the Croatian littoral, Senj area is the most exposed to the Bora wind. In Senj, the Bora outbreaks are the most frequent, longest lasting and strongest on the Adriatic. This natural phenomenon is extremely interesting to scientists and the Bora of Senj has been the subject of study for a long time. As early as 1954, Senj had an anemograph installed – a devices for constant measuring and recording of wind direction and speed.
Due to the town’s specific climate and geographical position, it is not unusual for the bathing season to start in the sub-Velebit coastal area while the back country, only 20 km away, is still covered in snow.
Senj (lat. Senia ili Segnia, grč. Attienities (Αθυινιτες), njem. i mađ. Zengg, tal. Segna), is the oldest town in the North Adriatic which was built in pre-Roman times some 3,000 years ago on a hill called Kuk east of present-day Senj.
In pre-historic times, underneath a fortified settlement at a point where a torrent flowed into the sea in a long bay there was an anchoring place and a trading base where people from the inland exchanged their produce with the coastal and island populations. As the importance of the trading place grew, inhabitants of the hill fort gradually started moving downhill nearer the sea and formed a new community, first mentioned in the 4th century B.C.
In the Middle Ages, the Croats built a new town upon the Roman remains with the Roman tradition preserved in the name Senia, present-day Senj. Little is known about the history of Senj in the first centuries after the arrival of Croats. The centre of the Croatian Mediaeval state was moved southward (to Dalmatia) and Senj lost its importance as a transport and trading centre. It was not until the mid-12th century that the town was again mentioned in written sources. In 1169, the Senj diocese was established which speaks of the town’s role and importance. From 1184 until the 1270s, the town belonged to the Templar Order. It then came under the rule of the Dukes of Krk, later renamed the Frankopans. Under their reign, Senj was restored to its former glory. Trade began to flourish again and the town regained its role of an important transit centre with the Senj port growing in importance again. Economic prosperity created a basis for expansion of the town and numerous churches and monasteries were built in the town and its surroundings. In the Mediaeval era, Senj was known for its Glagolitic alphabet, presumably created in the 9th century as a means of evangelization of the Slavs. From the 12th century on, the Glagolitic alphabet existed only on the Croatian territory and was particularly developed in the area of Senj. In 1248, by permission from Pope Innocent IV, the Bishop of Senj became the only bishop in the Catholic world to be allowed to use the Glagolitic script and the vernacular in liturgy. This fact influenced the development of the Glagolitic alphabet during the 14th and 15th centuries as confirmed by numerous preserved Glagolitic inscriptions, manuscripts and documents. A Glagolitic printing press was established in Senj around 1494. One of the earliest printing houses in southeast Europe, it printed two incunabula: “The Glagolitic Missal” and “Spovid općena”.
In the mid-15th century, the army of the Hungarian-Croatian king Mathias Corvinus entered the town. In 1469, Senj became the centre of the Senj Captaincy, a military district set up to assist in the defence against the growing threat from the Ottoman Empire, but also to protect the region against the Venetian expansionist policies. In the first half of the 16th century, Ottoman attacks on the Senj area intensified resulting in complete desertion of the surrounding villages with Senj becoming a safe haven for numerous refugees from the occupied territories. The refugees formed the famous Uskoks of Senj, the military units that successfully defended the town and inflicted heavy losses on the Ottoman and Venetian forces until the 1620s. In 1558, construction of Fort Nehaj, the Uskok stronghold, was completed on the Trbušnjak hill. For their brave resistance against the much superior enemy these heroic warriors have been glorified in legend and folklore. However, as a result of the changed political climate in the 17th century, they became a disturbance posing a threat to the Habsburg Monarchy’s new peaceful policy towards the Ottoman Empire and Venice, and were therefore forced to move to other parts of Croatia.
More peaceful times enabled the town to revive trade again thus ensuring its economic prosperity. An especially prosperous period was the second half of the 18th and the first half of the 19th centuries which saw the construction of important infrastructure (the new Joseph’s road, restoration of the port, construction of the so-called Imperial Warehouses, torrent regulation etc.). This was the beginning of the town’s new golden era with Senj becoming one of most important economic and cultural centres in the country. The port of Senj also gained importance as one of Croatia’s most important seaports for imports of salt and exports of wheat and timber. The sailors from Senj sailed all the seas of the world and developed especially strong trading ties with other Mediterranean countries. The prospering town attracted entrepreneurs and labourers; commercial and shipbuilding companies were springing up and the chamber of commerce and trade was set up. Also, important cultural activity was taking place, as reflected in the foundation of the town music society, the reading club and many other cultural organisations. Senj became an important cultural centre and its intellectuals and inhabitants become proponents of the Croatian national idea. Many famous Croatian writers and poets were born and lived here: Silvije Strahimir Kranjčević (1865-1908), Vjenceslav Novak (1859-1905), Milutin Cihlar Nehajev (1880-1931) and Milan Ogrizović (1877-1923).
The new railway line Karlovac – Rijeka (1873) bypassed Senj leading to disastrous consequences for the economy and commercial significance of the town. The volume of traffic in the port declined heavily and the goods were redirected to Trieste and Rijeka which had railway connections to the inland. Senj merely retained the role of an export port for timber. The absence of economic prosperity and marginalization of the Senj traffic route had adverse effects on other aspects of life in the town and the neighbouring communities, resulting in outflow of capital and population towards the end of the 19th century. This trend was intensified in the 20th century, especially after the end of World War II, when political concerns came on top of economic troubles. The old town centre suffered severe damage in bombing with large portions of highly valuable cultural heritage obliterated. Nevertheless, there are still many interesting sights to be seen which make Senj an attractive tourist destination for both domestic and foreign visitors.
After World War II, a gradual reconstruction started and the town once again began to prosper developing more and more as a tourist destination. Senj is today an urban centre with an interesting cultural offer: winter and summer carnival, North Adriatic Klapa Singing Festival, The Uskoks Days, Senj Concert Nights.
What to visit?
Town Museum of Senj is located in the palace of the Vukasovićs, formerly one of the most reputable and influential Senj families. Built in the 14th and 15th centuries in a Gothic-Renaissance style, the Vukasović Palace is one of the finest examples of secular architecture in the town of Senj. The Museum has an archaeological, marine archaeological, numismatic, and Glagolitic collection as well as a collection of arms and military equipment, a recent history collection, an ethnographic collection (Bunjevci ethnic group), and a natural history collection (the Velebit mountain). The Senj Town Museum also has a scientific library (Seniensia) with valuable old and more recent books, a small art collection, and a photography and postcard collection. Part of the museum is also the Regional Collection Lukovo which is located in the village of the same name south of Senj.
Fort Nehaj was built in 1558 under the supervision of Ivan Lenković, captain and general of the Croatian Military Border. The builders used the material of destroyed churches, monasteries and houses originally located outside the town walls. Fort Nehaj today houses the Uskoks of Senj and the Senj Port Authority collections as well as the permanent exhibitions Churches of Senj through History and Coats of Arms of the Senj Nobility.
Religious Heritage of Senj – this collection comprises selected exhibits from the Senj Cathedral repository, archive and the diocesan library. Among the displayed exhibits are the remains of church treasures from other Senj churches, the keys to the town gates of Klis, Empire style parlour furniture from the Bishop Ožegović era, portraits of the Senj-Modruš bishops, and liturgical vessels.
The old town centre is enclosed by the remains of fortification walls and defence towers. The old town is characterized by a network of narrow streets and squares, the most famous street being the Uskočka Ulica – a beautiful example of medieval architecture.
St. Mary’s Cathedral - and other churches in town (remains of the St. Francis’ Church, St. Mary of Art ’s Church, St. Martin’s Chapel)
Big Gate (Velika Vrata) – Built at the entrance to the town, the Big Gate marked the end of construction of Joseph’s road called Jozefina which was built under the rule of Maria Theresa and her son Joseph II. The gate features engraved distances in German miles between Senj and other towns as well as a Habsburg crown.
Senj Writers’ Park – Senj was the birth place and place of residence of some of the most renowned Croatian writers and poets: Silvije Strahimir Kranjčević, Vjenceslav Novak, Milutin Cihlar Nehajev, Milan Ogrizović, Pavao Ritter Vitezović. The City of Senj dedicated a park in their honour featuring busts of each writer right above the old town beach.
Small mountain-foot fishing towns – Nestling by the sea at the foot of Mount Velebit are the towns of Sveti Juraj, Lukovo, Klada, Starigrad, Stinica, Jablanac, Zavratnica and Prizna, ideal spots for a quiet holiday.
Senj back country – If you are looking to spend an active holiday in unspoilt nature, we recommend a visit to the back-country villages of Krasno, Krivi put and Vratnik.