Plitvice Lakes is the largest national park in Croatia and the oldest in Southeast Europe. Human beings have lived in the area for many thousands of years.
Situated in the mountainous karst area of central Croatia, near the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Plitvice was declared a National Park in 1949. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, rich in biodiversity, including rare animals such as lynx, polecats, and wolves.
According to UNESCO, the area was the cradle of the prehistoric Illyrian tribe of Japuds dating from 1000 BC. The Japudic culture was followed by the Romans and from the 8th century AD was occupied by Slavs. Archaeological remains include a prehistoric settlement on the site of the current Plitvice village, fortifications, Bronze Age tools and ceramics.
The park is world famous for its series of 16 interlinked lakes cascade into each other via waterfalls separated by natural limestone dams. The lakes are renowned for their distinctive colours, ranging from azure to green, grey or blue. The colours change constantly depending on the quantity of minerals or organisms in the water and the angle of sunlight.
On April 8, 1949, the Plitvice Lakes were declared a national park area and rigorous protection measures were established. However, on Easter Sunday 1991, the first shots of Croatia’s war with Yugoslavia were fired in this park and during the subsequent fighting from 1991 to 1995, many buildings were destroyed. After the war, the Plitvice Lakes became the first region to be cleared of mines and returned to the wild.
Each of the Plitvice Lakes has a story or legend to tell. For example, Gavan’s Lake is allegedly where the treasure of a man named Gavan lies hidden and Hermit Lake, according to local legend, is where a monk used to live from whom people sought advice and blessings.
Its carnivorous plants are another curiosity of the park, including the common sundew (Drosera rotundifolia), the common butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris) – an endangered carnivorous plant – and the lesser bladderwort (Utricularia minor) – a very rare aquatic carnivorous plant.
The American conservationist Rachel Carson never visited Plitvice Lakes, but she would have appreciated its natural simplicity. In Silent Spring (1962), she wrote: “Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”