waterfalls plitvice

Plitvice Lakes History

UNESCO World Heritage | 1st National Park of Croatia | Plitvice Lakes History

History of Plitvice Lakes

Plitvice is the largest and one of the oldest National Parks in Croatia. Sixteen stunning cascading lakes make the park famous for its natural caves and tufa lakes connected by beautiful waterfalls. The area of Plitvice Lakes National Park has always been considered part of the historical regions of Lika and Kordun. During the Ottoman Wars, the region was part of the Croatian military border, which was under the direct control of the Habsburg War Council.

little waterfalls plitvice

Plitvice Lakes Location

The national park is located in the mountain region of Croatia. Situated amid Dinaric Alps, between the Mala Kapela mountain in the West and the Plješevica mountain in the east, Plitvice Lakes connect the inland of Croatia and the Adriatic coast. The national route D-1 Zagreb-Split goes through the park between Slunj and Korenica in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Other larger municipalities within the Plitvice area are Rakovica, Otočac, Ogulin, Gospić, and Bihać in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The space occupied by Plitvice stretches through two Croatian counties. A more significant part of the national park is situated in Lika-Senj County, and a smaller percentage of the Plitvice Lakes occupies Karlovac County.

Within the area of the national park, there are 19 small settlements. Together they form the municipality of Plitvice Lakes, whose headquarters are located in Korenica.

Plitvice Lakes Historical and Cultural Heritage

Plitvice is a region rich in forest, freshwater, flora, and fauna, so of course, it is of great cultural and historical significance. The natural shelters and diverse terrain of the region have enabled people to settle in the area. Well, we are not surprised that Plitvice Lakes have had a human presence since prehistoric times. Important roads connecting the continent and the coast have also contributed to the settlement of the Plitvice area.

This area was inhabited by Iapodian people in prehistoric times, from the 12th to the 1st century BC. The Japods built their settlements on a hill for better road control and defense. They were also engaged in cattle breeding. New people settled in the Plitvice area with the arrival of the Romans, who built new settlements. The Japods were involved in the political and economic life of urban centers.

In the medieval period, settled Croats mixed with Romanized Japods and other groups of the population. Medieval fortresses were most often built on the sites of prehistoric forts.

autumn in croatia plitvice
plitvice aerial view

Ottoman Empire and Habsburg Monarchy

With the end of the 15th century, a decisive battle in Croatian history between the Austrian and Ottoman Empires was held not far from Plitvice Lakes. During the battle on Krbavsko polje, almost the entire Croatian nobility was killed. The Ottomans advanced far into the western countries, all the way to Croatia and Hungary. At the beginning of the 16th century, the Croatian Parliament elected the Habsburg monarchy and Austrian Archduke Ferdinand as the new Croatian king, hoping that the funds would prevent the advance of the Ottoman Empire. In 1528, the area around Plitvice Lakes fell under Ottoman rule, and the Habsburg Empire regained it only 150 years later.

In 1538, King Ferdinand I established the Croatian military border. The military border was the border area of ​​Habsburg, Austria, towards the Ottoman Empire. The laws that ruled this area under particular jurisdiction for centuries impacted the local population. As a result of establishing this specific regime, people left these areas en masse and emigrated to the West.

Close to the end of the 17th century, the Lika area was liberated from Turkish rule. In Sremski Karlovci, in 1699, the peace treaty was signed. The area fell under the control of the Military Border at the beginning of the 18th century. The Ottoman Empire and the Habsburg Monarchy fought several times again until the Syst Treaty of 1791 defined the boundaries of the two empires. The mentioned agreement was of great importance because it also described the border of Croatia in this region. So that Drežnik Grad, Cetingrad, the area of Plitvice Lakes, and the rest of Lika belonged to the monarchy. The demilitarization of the 19th century meant the beginning of a new life in the area. It marked the beginning of life without military conflicts and a military lifestyle that has been around for so long.

Three Legends of the Lakes


Legend of the Wise Monk and Šupljara Cave

You can visit The limestone Šupljara Cave in the Lower Lakes canyon of the park. Cave’s unique conditions are only suitable for particularly adapted cave fauna. Some of these cave species are crickets, pseudoscorpions, and millipedes. The legend of the wise monk says that the monk either lived in the Šupljara or Golubnjača Cave. According to historical reports, people used to come to the Plitvice lakes to visit the monk to ask for his advice.


The Legend of the Gavanovo Treasure

The Lower Lakes are situated inside a permeable limestone canyon. An accessible boardwalk connects the Gavanovac and Kaluđerovac lakes. Gavanovac Lake is named from the Gavanovo treasure, allegedly still hidden somewhere in the lake. The Lower Lakes area is also home to the Great Waterfall (Veliki Slap), the highest waterfall in Croatia. The waterfall has a sudden plummet over the 78-meters-high limestone cliffs into the Lower Lakes canyon. The Plitvica Stream never dries out, and it is the park’s third-largest water source.

beautiful plitvice croatia europe

The Legend of the Black Queen

Twelve lakes make up the Upper Lakes of the Plitvice National Park. The largest and deepest lake is Kozjak Lake, and the second largest is Prošćansko Lake. These two lakes are furthest apart from each other, and there is a 100-meter height difference between Prošćansko and Kozjak Lake. Prošćansko Lake is associated with the “Legend of the Black Queen.” The ‘Prošnja’ legend tells the story of a period of drought in the region. Inhabitants called upon the magic queen to help them, and she responded by creating the Plitvice lakes. With Prošćansko lake being the first one she made. The lakes are each separated by travertine barriers created by the deposition of limestone in the water. The water’s continuous downward flow from lakes into obstacles into the next lake also makes a chain of waterfalls.

The Oldest National Park of Croatia

Tourism began to develop in the Plitvice Lakes area as early as 1861. The then officers of the Military Frontier started the construction of tourist facilities. The first was “Imperial House,” which is the first tourist house in the area. The Imperial House had a capacity of only three rooms. After the first few tourist facilities, the Plitvice Lakes slowly became a tourist attraction after the first few tourists facilities were built. And in 1894, the breathtaking natural area of Plitvice began to attract thousands of travelers and tourists. Plitvice Lakes is the first and oldest national park in Croatia. These beautiful lakes and the area surrounding them were declared a national park back in April of 1949 when nature protection measures were established. A modern road connection to Plitvice Lakes was constructed in the 1960s, which led to a significant increase in visitors and traffic to the national park. And many new hotels and tourist facilities were built during this time. UNESCO World Heritage Site included Plitvice Lakes on their World Natural Heritage List in 1979. Lakes were recognized for “exceptional natural beauty and undisturbed tufa production.”

pltivice and red leaves