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article imageUndiscovered Croatia: A Visit to Sinj in Inland Dalmatia

By Paul Bradbury     Mar 4, 2013 in Travel
Sinj - As Croatia gears up to join the EU on July 1, Digital Journal continues its discovery of Dalmatia with a trip to historic Sinj and a meeting with tourist board director Jelena Bilic.
Young, stylish and charming: the first impressions of new tourism director Jelena Bilic from the Sinj Tourist Board, as Digital Journal took a trip into the Dalmatian hinterland on March 2, 2013. As Croatia joins the EU, the Dalmatian coast's tourism business is booming, but there has been little trickle through effect felt in destinations such as historic Sinj, just 30 minutes north of the Dalmatian capital Split.
The annual Alka festival  celebrating the defeat of the Turks in 1715  is the biggest event in Sinj.
The annual Alka festival, celebrating the defeat of the Turks in 1715, is the biggest event in Sinj.
Alan Mandic
That will change, especially with the dedicated efforts of people such as Bilic, and the initial impressions soon gave way to something much more impressive - the sheer determination to realise the tourism potential of one of Croatia's most fascinating - but least visited - destinations.
Jelena Bilic  new director of the Sinj Tourist Board  has brought a dynamism to the position  and im...
Jelena Bilic, new director of the Sinj Tourist Board, has brought a dynamism to the position, and improved tourist information considerably.
Alan Mandic
Croatian tourism has benefited from the improved infrastructure of new motorways, and the direct road link from Western Europe to Split has certainly reduced driving times, but the new motorway has had a negative effect on the town of Sinj, which lies on the old road to the capital Zagreb. Prior to opening, the town had some 21,500 overnight stays in 2006, compared to just under 12,000 last year.
Bilic is on a mission to reverse that trend. Installed into the position a year ago, after a successful early career in the hotel industry in Hvar, Dubrovnik and Zagreb, she has returned to her native Sinj to implement her expertise in what has been a highly impressive start.
The Dalmatian town of Sinj  a surprising birthplace for the Croatian Center of Tolerance.
The Dalmatian town of Sinj, a surprising birthplace for the Croatian Center of Tolerance.
Alan Mandic
A new website, a very active Facebook page, the first quality tourist guide and the erection of informative signs by all the main attractions, there is an energy about the tourism promotion in the town which sets it apart from other destinations in the region.
All the energy and goodwill in the world is useless if there are no quality tourism attractions to back up the effort, and this is perhaps the biggest surprise of all in Sinj. For a town with so few tourists, Sinj is unusually rich in a variety of tourist attractions.
The Franciscan Monastery in Sinj
The Franciscan Monastery in Sinj
Alan Mandic
There are numerous impressive buildings in the town for the historically curious, and the year 1715 plays a major role in the town's psyche and heritage, for in that year the heavily outnumbered defenders of the town repelled a much larger force of Ottoman attackers, an event which is commemorated every year with Sinj's biggest attraction - the unique Alka knights' tournament (see video below).
A major factor in the victory was the praying of the population to Miraculous Madonna of Sinj, an icon painted by an unknown artist in the 15th or 16th century, and whose presence has overlooked the welfare of the town ever since. Now located in the Church of the Miraculous Madonna of Sinj, locals say that after praying, the Madonna's cheeks will redden a little if the prayer will be answered, and a tear appear on her cheek if not. To complete the prayer, one must walk through a small passage built into the wall behind the icon.
Our Lady of Sinj  whose role in the defeat of the Turks was crucial.
Our Lady of Sinj, whose role in the defeat of the Turks was crucial.
Alan Mandic
The Franciscans have played an important role in the town's history, and their presence is keenly felt, with several imposing buildings in the centre of town, but it is a much smaller piece of heritage which lays claim to potentially Sinj's biggest claim to fame - the cradle of football in Europe. In the words of the Sinj Tourist Board:
"A tombstone of a seven-year-old Roman boy Gaius Laberius holding a ball with hexagons joined in the manner of a net-like ornament. The symbol of a real leather ball, it is considered firm evidence that football in Europe was first played in the Cetinska Krajina Region. It was found in the Tilurium site, in the locality of Gardun, and dates back to the 2nd century.
The home of football in Europe? An intriguing Roman artefact with some 2nd century clues.
The home of football in Europe? An intriguing Roman artefact with some 2nd century clues.
Nikola Belančić
Today the tombstone is built into the front wall of the Perković family-owned stone building in Vrlička Ulica at number 10 in Sinj. Made of limestone, the monument is 113 centimetres high and 46 centimetres wide. At the bottom there is a two-part inscription, the first part of the inscription being in a well-defined frame and informing about Gaius Laberius, whereas the second part is an inscription by an unkonown author dedicated to the boy. The central part is a round medallion framed with ornaments, bearing a portrait of the boy who holds the ball in his right hand. At the top of the monument there is a frieze showing a kantharos (a large two-handle vase), a dolphin and the head of Medusa (in ancient mythology, the personification of evil) and a triangular gable with acroteria (plastic ornaments of tops and corners) in the shape of lion’s paws. The head of Atis is sculptured in the triangular gable.
Even though football was played at Gardun among Roman soldiers and sons of the rich, originally the game was Illyrian and the Delmates had played it long before the Roman troops arrived. This is further proven by the fact that in no locality other than Gardun throughout the historical Roman Empire, a football-related pattern or image has been found. In 1969, the international football association (FIFA) dedicated a cover of its official journal FIFA NEWS (issue 71), headlined Archaeology and football, to the archaeological discovery of the amateur archaeologist Josip Bepo Britvić. According to the FIFA, this discovery is a piece of information significant for both archaeology and football fans. (Delmates VS Romans match)."
The Alka tradition is well preserved in Ispod Ure restaurant in the centre of Sinj.
The Alka tradition is well preserved in Ispod Ure restaurant in the centre of Sinj.
Alan Mandic
The sporting tradition started in the Roman era continues today, with the Sinj hippodrome the centrepiece of several horse-riding activities, its small airfield affording sporting activities such as sky diving, and the mighty nearby Cetina river perfect for white water rafting and canoe safaris.
With its own airfield Sinj offers paragliding and many other activity sports.
With its own airfield Sinj offers paragliding and many other activity sports.
Sinj Tourist Board
With its rich and diverse tourist offer and the dynamic efforts of dedicated staff such as Bilic, it will not be long before prayers for increased tourism in Sinj will turn the Madonna's cheeks a very dark red.
The most famous local dish is arambasic  cabbage leaves stuffed with chopped meat.
The most famous local dish is arambasic, cabbage leaves stuffed with chopped meat.
Alan Mandic
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