Croatia is a small country in Europe, located between the river Danube and the Adriatic Sea.

The name Croatia comes from Latin, whereas the native Slavic name is Hrvatska. A Croatian national is called Croat or Hrvat, and the language is Croatian or hrvatski.

Croatia is inhabited by a bit over four million people (4 381 352 residents according to 2001 census data), a large majority of which are Croat. Minorities include Serbs, Bosniaks, Slovenians, Hungarians, Italians, Czechs, Slovaks and others. The predominant religion is Catholicism, while Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Judaism and others are practiced by a minority.

The country code is HR, telephone prefix is +385, the currency is kuna (1 euro =~ 7.5 kuna).

Geography

Relatively small, with some 56 thousand square kilometers of land, Croatia spans almost the whole northeastern coast of the Adriatic Sea, and extends into the continent over the Dinaric Alps up to the rivers Drava and Danube.

It is rather awkwardly shaped, it looks like a horseshoe which happens to surround Bosnia and Herzegovina on the north, west and south. Other neighbours of Croatia are Slovenia in the northwest, Hungary in the northeast, Serbia in the east, Montenegro in the southeast and finally Italy on the other side of the Adriatic.

The lowest point is the Adriatic coast (0m), whereas the highest point is the Dinara peak (1830m) of the mountain of the same name, located in northernmost part of Dalmatia.

The major regions are:

Note that this is a geographic division, the country's regional division is entirely based on the smaller counties ("županija"), not on larger regions.

Regions

Central Croatia

("središnja Hrvatska")
This is the area in the central/northern part of the country. The capital Zagreb (1 M people) is located here, and the population is pretty dense. The landscape is mostly composed of plains and small hills.

The following counties are located in this region, listed along with their major cities:

Slavonia

("Slavonija")
The eastern part of Croatia, in the pannonian plains, is mostly a lowland, with some hills in the center. The largest city is Osijek with a population of just over 100 K; the surrounding area, however, is densely populated but rather evenly distributed so one can't pick any other city out of the group.

The counties and major cities are:

Istria, the Northern Coast and Mountainous Croatia

("Istra, sjeverno hrvatsko primorje i gorska Hrvatska")
This is a conglomerate of regions on the west of the country: the first item is the Istrian peninsula which extends towards the gulf of Venice, the second is the area at the northern part of the Adriatic around the Kvarner gulf, and the third is the part of the Dinaric Alps in Croatia. The largest city is Rijeka (over 150 K people) in the Kvarner gulf.

The counties here are:

Dalmatia

("Dalmacija")
The southern part of Croatia, which includes most of the Adriatic coastline all the way down to the entrance to the bay of Kotor (which is in Montenegro). The largest city, Split (250 K), is in the center of the region. This region includes both the highest mountains (Dinara) on its northern edges and most of the islands.

The counties and cities are:

Please note that each of the regions is getting a node of its own. It's a work in progress.

Heraldry

Croatian flag is a classic Slavic combination of red, white and blue (horizontal from top to bottom). It is embellished by a checkered red and white coat of arms in the center, popularly known as šahovnica. The coat of arms has a blue crown, consisting of five fields representing the some historically important regions and cities:

  1. a white star over a yellow moon, representing Zagreb, the capital city
  2. two horizontal red stripes for Dubrovnik, a famous old city in the south
  3. three lion heads for Split, an ancient yet large city in the coastal region of Dalmatia
  4. a goat with two rather long horns colored red, for the Istra peninsula in the northwest
  5. a brown marten surrounded by two thin blue stripes over which there is a yellow star -- this is for Slavonija since the stripes represent rivers Sava and Drava which surround that region from the north and the south, and martens are commonly found there as well.

Each of the 22 counties has its own flag as well.

History

The area we call Croatia today has been inhabited since ancient history. The oldest human artifacts have been found in a cave near the small town of Krapina, just north of Zagreb, and they are estimated to be 100 000 years old. There are other archeological sites where human artifacts were found, from every major prehistoric age.

The first documented records begin in the seventh century B.C., when the Greek explorers first settled on the Adriatic islands of Vis (Issa), Korčula (Korkyra) and others. The Greek colonies were followed by Roman ones, which expanded even further into the mainland, forming many cities in Illyria, at the time home of today somewhat mysterious Illyrian tribes.

Croats themselves are said to have originated from a nomadic tribe in Asia. A lot of this is quite theoretic, but odds are that this group migrated to the steppes around 200 B.C., and later in the fourth century, to the today's southern parts of Poland, Belarus and western Ukraine, where they merged with the Slavs and formed a state called "White Croatia", near today's Krakow.

In the Great Migration, Croats came into the Illyrium. After their victory over the Avars, between year 625 and 635, the Byzantine emperor Heraclius gave the land between river Drava and the Adriatic to the Croat people. Legends say that they were led into their new homeland by five brothers: Klukas, Lovelos, Kosentzes, Muhlo and Hrovatos and two sisters: Tuga and Buga. The stories about the numerous leaders are also correlated to form an idea that Croat earls and dukes actually ruled the land in an oligarchic manner, basically laying the groundwork for the Croatian Parliament.

The nation was quickly developing in the early middle ages, culminating with duke Tomislav's coronation as the first Croatian king in 925. His dynasty (the Trpimir dynasty, named after the first one of his ancestors who became influential) reached a peak during the reign of Zvonimir, but it lasted only until 1102 when the last Croat king died and the Croatian crown was given to the Hungarian king, Koloman.

Croatia was joined in a state with Hungary and later Austria for centuries. This period is marked by the expansion of the Ottoman Empire into Europe and into the Croatian territory. Croats take pride in the fact that the Turks never managed to conquer Europe because they could never go past Croatia. Many heroes have fallen in the countless battles against the Turk armies, most famous of which is Nikola Šubić Zrinski. In 1566, this Croatian Ban (baron, viceroy), led a small army of some 2300 soldiers into a battle with Suleiman the Magnificent's 90000 soldiers, 300 cannons army on their way to Vienna. Šubić's troops, mostly composed of Croats, stood their ground in the fort of Siget (Szigetvár) and without any reinforcements postponed Suleiman's arrival in Vienna for a whole month, giving the Austrian army time to prepare their defense. They all gave their lives in the end, but the 25000 casualties they inflicted on the Ottoman army led to the eventual defeat of the Ottomans at Vienna.

Some periods were worse than others: at one point in the 17th century, the Ottoman Empire expanded so much that the unoccupied remainder of Croatia was described by a historian as the "remnants of the remnants of the once famous Croatian kingdom" ("reliquie reliquiarum olim inclitis regni Croatie"). Today's territory of Bosnia, described as "Turkish Croatia" at the time, would never again be part of Croatia itself.

Nevertheless, the country survived as part of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. Discontent with their underdog position in the monarchy, in 1850s Croats organized in the so-called Illyrian movement which aimed to develop them as a nation, and eventually merge with the other Slavs. The national anthem Lijepa naša (Our beautiful) was composed at that time. Eventually they saw the downfall of the monarchy in the First World War.

At the end of WWI, Croats decided they would prefer a relatively safe union with other South Slavs over a risky struggle for independence, and so the Yugoslavia was formed. At first, the change from the old union with the Hungarians was welcomed, but the Serbian camarilla soon turned the country into a dictatorship. Only the beginning of the Second World War prevented the country from collapsing from within.

The WWII left a tragic mark on Croatian history, because an attempt to reestablish Croatia's sovereignty came out to be a fascist puppet state. The Ustashi movement tarnished the noble reputation of Croats as a nation that never oppressed others, by forming concentration camps such as the one near the village of Jasenovac where they imprisoned, tortured and killed thousands of Jews, Serbs and others who were against the regime. Eventually, however, the anti-fascist Croats joined forces with other southern Slav nations and successfully fought a guerilla (partizan) war against the quislings.

After the Second World War, Yugoslavia was reworked under a communist rule of Josip Broz Tito. Croatia's current borders were formed then as well, when it became a republic within the Yugoslav federation. This country was not controlled by the likes of the Black Hand, rather by Tito's charisma and the Communist Party with a fairer distribution of power among the different nations. After years of post-war struggling, Croatia eventually advanced to regain its status of one the wealthiest of the six Yugoslav republics.

The socialism era came to an end in the 1990s, and Croats took the opportunity to regain independence in 1991, led by newly democratically elected president Franjo Tuđman. This was disputed by Serbia which tried to keep all the old republics within Yugoslavia in the same manner the kingdom of Yugoslavia did seventy years before. The outbreak of nationalism caused a series of wars between Serbia and the secessionist republics among which was of course Croatia. This resulted in the death of over eleven thousand people and injuries and destruction of homes for many more: ever so sadly depicted in the story about Vukovar. Milošević's armies were ultimately defeated and Croatian government reclaimed all of the territory of Croatia.

Today, Croatia is a parliamentary democracy which takes special pride in its endured Parliament. Powered by tourism and a reasonably well educated workforce, the growing economy is transforming the country in all of its old occidental glory. The nation struggles to get away from the dreaded Balkans, and instead form a modern, advanced civil society.

Interesting facts

Caves in the Croatian mountains are home to a most interesting endemic species, the humanoid fish -- the only cave amphibian.

One of the top few endangered species on the Mediterranean, the Mediterranean monk seal has survived on some of the islands in Croatia.

Marco Polo is said to have been born on the Croatian island of Korčula.

Croatia has made its mark in the history of neckwear as the origin of the tie. As it happens, a regiment of Croatian soldiers in Austro-Hungarian army wore silk shawls in a procession before Louis XIV, who happened to like that enough to make it an official symbol. These became known as cravats, a word descended from the name of the initial trend-setters.

Nikola Tesla, a famous physicist and one of the pioneers of electrical engineering, was born and raised in the mountainous region of Lika in Croatia.

Eduard Slavoljub Penkala, the inventor of the pen, lived in Croatia.

Ivan Vukičević-Lupis, a naval captain from Croatia, constructed the first torpedo in 1860 (and patented it in 1866). An engineer called Robert Whitehead improved Lupis's invention and the first torpedo factory went into production in Rijeka, Croatia.

Croatia is the home of the five-billionth inhabitant of this planet -- on July 11, 1987, the United Nations commission sponsored the birth of a little boy called Matej Gašpar, in Zagreb. (Why or how they pinpointed exactly that kid is beyond me.)


The home page of Croatia on the Internet is at http://www.hr/

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