All of the Croatian people I have met through my years have always talked about the natural beauty of their homeland. I always nodded in agreement because it struck me that most people shared the same sentiment, regardless of their origin. This says to me, that natural beauty and splendor are everywhere. Our planet is a wonderful place and there are countless gems like the Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia, for us to appreciate and preserve.
The Plitvice Lakes National Park was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 1979. The beauty of the National Park lies in its sixteen lakes, inter-connected by a series of waterfalls, and set in deep woodland populated by deer, bears, wolves, boars and rare bird species
Photograph by Roman Bonnefoy
The National Park covers a total area of 300 square kilometers (116 sq. miles), whilst the lakes join together over a distance of eight kilometers (5 miles).
The sixteen lakes are separated into an upper and lower cluster formed by runoff from the mountains, descending from an altitude of 636 meters (2,087 ft) to 503 meters (1,650 feet) over a distance of some eight km (5 miles), aligned in a south-north direction. The lakes collectively cover an area of about two square km, with the water exiting from the lowest lake to form the Korana River.
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.
There’s also quite an altitude difference - the highest point is at 1,280 meters (4,200 ft), the lowest at 380 meters (1,247 ft) - although the total height difference between the lakes themselves is only 135 meters (443 ft). Veliki Slap is the largest waterfall, at 70 meters (230 ft) tall.
Photograph by Henning Schroder
The Plitvice Lakes had become a major tourist attraction in the late 19th century. The first hotel was built there in 1896, and as early as 1893 it already had a conservation committee - the predecessor of today’s national park authority. In 1949 the communist government of Yugoslavia nationalized the lakes and made them a national park. The park was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1979 in recognition of its “outstanding natural beauty, and the undisturbed production of travertine (tuff) through chemical and biological action”.
The park soon became one of Yugoslavia’s most popular tourist attractions. However, in March 1991 it became the scene of the Plitvice Lakes incident - the first armed confrontation of the Croatian War of Independence that resulted in fatalities. The park was held by forces of the Republic of Serbian Krajina during the conflict and suffered some damage in the process, with hotels and other facilities being used as barracks. At auto-camp Grabovac there were civilian deaths (three children) from a Yugoslav Army shell in September 1991. It was retaken by the Croatian Army in August 1995 during Operation Storm, which ended the Croatian war.