Nature Park Lake Vrana

Lake Vrana Nature Park, a nature phenomenon is situated between the two historically interesting and rich cities of Zadar and Šibenik.

It is the biggest natural lake in Croatia and one of the rare, almost intact natural habitats of waterfowls with sources of drinking water. The park is 57 km2, and most of the park 30,02 km2 is covered by Lake Vrana. According to its position and characteristics, the nature park and Lake Vrana are particularly specific not only in Croatia, but in the European area.

The dominant characteristic of the park is that it has been declared and inserted in the list of important ornithological areas in Europe (Important Bird Areas in Europe).

Travelling along the Adriatic main road towards the northern Dalmatia between two historical cities of Zadar and Šibenik, you will come across a natural phenomenon - the two equally beatiful and yet so very different azures. On one side you will see the well indented Adriatic coast, famous for its inviting beauty and clean sea, and on the other side you will see the largest natural lake in Croatia.                           

Because it is one of the rare natural habitats of waterbirds as well as because of its fresh water springs and biodiversity, the Vrana Lake and its surroundings have been declared a nature park on July 21st, 1999. The park's limits are between Pirovac and Pakoštane. The park stretches across 57 km2, 30,02km2 of that being the lake area itself, which streches in the direction from the North-West to the South-East paralelly to the sea coast, from which it is in some places less than a kilometer apart. The lake is unique for its postition and characteristics not only in Croatia but also in other parts of Europe. It is in fact a karst valley filled with brackish water and is below sea-level.

The predominating characteristic of the park is its special Ornithological reserve, which received its title for its well preserved huge reed-patch in the north-western part of the lake, with its immense biodiversity, and for its extraordinary scientific and ecological value ever since 1983. The reserve has been included to the list of Important Bird Areas in Europe and is a potential Ramsar site.

It is an unusual compromise and connection of land and water which offers a refuge to diverse species of plants and animals, offering them all that its neccessary for life. Overgrown with grass, sedge, rush and reed it looks like field with shallow ponds scattered all over it and covered with permanent flowers of vibrant colours and with many butterflies, dragonflies and other different insects which enable the birds to stay in the reserve and in the park throughout the year. Hidden in the reed, bird lovers can experience watching the birds nesting and taking care of their chicks. Vrana Lake is a hot-spot with tremendous diversity of ornithofauna of 249 recorded bird species, of which 102 nest in the park area. Of these nesting birds, four are considered Endangered on the European level and seven on national level. For some of these birds Vrana Lake is the only nesting area in the entire Mediterrenean part of Croatia. The park area is also an important resting and feeding place for a whole range of endangered European species. More than 100 000 waterbirds come here to spend the winter.

The birds are not the only valuables of the park. The lake is full of biologically important fish species, such as the Mediterranean species of the Rudd (Scardinius erythrophtalamus ). This area possesses also many other special features which you will discover on further expeditions.

In the old days Vrana Lake used to be known as „Vedro blato“. Its cultural and historical monuments date from as far back as 2000 years B.C. Vrana Lake Nature Park still hides many secrets and is a constant source of scientific discoveries which the park is trying to explore and present to the world, with the help of experts dealing with different fields of research. There are few areas in the world where you can simultaneously explore three very different environments and landscapes: the sea coast and the rich archipelago behind it, the Mediterranean swamp with its unique landscape and ecosystem, and just behind the hill the rural idyll of the villages of Ravni kotari.

When you visit us, you will be far away from civilization and yet so near it. Come and enjoy the world of nature of our park with genuine curiosity and joy, and you will find the peace and satisfaction which comes from mergence with nature.


Park's Uniqueness

  • The largest lake in Croatia
  • Along the Lower Neretva, it is the only large swamp in the Mediterranean part of Croatia
  • Special Ornithological Reserve
  • Habitat of four Endangered bird species on European level
  • Habitat of seven Endangered bird species on national level
  • The biggest nesting population of the Pygmy Cormorant (Phalacrocorax pygmeus) in Croatia
  • One of the last nesting areas for the Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea), the Great White Egret (Egretta alba), the Little Egret (Egretta garzetta), the Pygmy Cormorant  (Phalacrocorax pygmeus)
  • Habitat for species included in the Bonn Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals
  • Hot-spot – diversity of ornithofauna (249 species, 102 nesting species)
  • Number of waterbirds spending the winter on the lake exceeds 100,000 individuals
  • Habitat for possibly the only population of the Mediterranean species of the Rudd (Scardinius erythrophtalamus)
  • Rich history (first finds date from 2000 years BC).

Inflowing Sea Water

In earlier considerations the thickness of the layer and the contents of the sediment in the lake were still unknown, and it was still thought that its bottom was made of porous limestone. During those considerations it has been estimated that the lake and its springs were salty because of the sea water which was leaking into the terraine through the wide area of Prosika. Later researh has shown that the thickness of watertight quaternary sediments was up to 30 m below the lake. The major part of its bottom was built of tight marl Eocene limestone which prevents the inflow of sea water deeper into the land beneath the lake from Prosika. Sea water might easily penetrate deeper into the land and through the limestone on the north-eastern shores of the lake but the springs and the land is probably not based on that move. The support to this statement is the fact that in the Lateral canal, by draining the water pit during the dry season and by lowering the water level below the lake level, a sample was obtained with the salinity which has not increased above 50 mg Cl/l.

Taking into concern the above facts we can almost surely assume that the salt from the brackish springs in the Vrana Lake originates from the area of Biograd through the limestone between the two basin barriers north of Biograd. 

Climate of the Park Area

Climate in the area of Vransko jezero is typically Mediterranean, with mild, considerably short and rainy winter periods, and dry, hot summers. By Köppen, this type of climate is called "Olive tree climate", it's vegetation is characterized by Holm oak forests, macchia and dry grasslands on carst terrain.

Mean annual temperature is around 15,0 °C. Warmest months of the year are July and August, with January and February being the coldest. November and December have the highest precipitation, and June and July are the driest months.

Park's Sights

There are some important elements of the cultural heritage present int he Vrana Lake Nature Park. Here, we will mention just some of them and describe the most important ones. 

Late-antiquity tower Osridak (4th century):

The only known round fortress from Antiquity on the east Adriatic coast, built in the 4th century, at the time when Roman Empire strengthens its positions against raids from the east. It was the focal point of the complex fortification of the entire hill and a permanent watch-tower, as well as the garrison’s shelter from sudden raids and storms. The object’s form has been preserved in about 30% of its original condition. The remains give sufficient information about its original shape.

Venetian tower Osridak (15th century):

The object was built as the last line of defence against Ottoman incursions into the Lake Vransko area and the Adriatic coast. It is rather well preserved – about 40% of the fort’s original form has been preserved. The construction material remains are scattered close to the sea-line.

Khan Maškovic – Caravanserai / Inn (17th century):

ImageIt’s the westernmost monument of the secular Ottoman architecture in Europe. It was commissioned by Jusuf Maškoviæ, a high ranking official in the Turkish court, originally from Vrana, who planned to use it as an inn and residence after his retirement. After the Ottomans were finally driven out of Vrana in 1699, the Khan came into the possession of the Borelli family, who ruled over the entire Vrana fief from this building. The object has preserved about 50% of its original form. Several construction elements of Islamic architecture, like pointed arches and “bulbs” have remained.

Babin Škoj (3rd millennium BC to 16th century):

ImageThis tiny peninsula has an excellent strategic location, suitable for long and active defence, as well as accommodation of a lot of people, livestock and food supplies. It has therefore retained the same function over the millennia. Before the Prosika Channel connected the Lake with the sea Babin Škoj (Old Lady’s Island) was a small island, and it becomes a small island even today when the water is high. Defensive walls from the Late Antiquity are not as preserved as the older Liburnian fortifications, because the superior quality of stone blocks used by the Romans made these walls a convenient source of building material for centuries.

Venetian frontier observation post (16th century):

ImageThe observation post was most likely built after the Venetian – Turkish borders had been consolidated for the first time at the beginning of the 15th century. The border ran straight across Lake Vransko until 1699. Because of the unstable conditions on the border and frequent incursions from both sides , the Venetian Republic built a whole chain of such structures along the entire land borderline, while the Ottomans occupied old Croatian strongholds a little deeper in the territory they controlled. About 70% of the locality’s original form has been preserved.

Traditional corbelled stone-hut (19th-20th century):

ImageA corbelled stone-hut, or bunja in Croatian, is an archetypal agrarian stone hut, built on stony terrains in coastal Dalmatia and Istria, in more remote olive groves and vineyards. It is located in Modrave, an across-the-sea estate of the inhabitants of Murter and Betina. It was built to provide shelter from sudden storms and for over-night stays, so that its users didn’t need to walk back to the sea and row their boats to the settlements on the island. Such huts were also used by shepherds as shelters from sudden storms. There are about a dozen of these structures and they have been out of their original use for mere twenty or so years, although they can still be occasionally used by a visitor to the Park who has wandered off to investigate less accessible and frequented parts of the Park. The object has survived in its original form with no visible damage. It was built using scrabbled stone found at the site. It has a narrow entrance, protected from strong winds.

Benedictine monastery in Vrana (9-16th century):

The fort of Vrana – Castrum Aureanae, was recorded in the 9th century. The monastery was taken over by the Knights Templar in 1136. They controlled it until their order was abolished in 1312. Referring to the declaration that Croatian King Zvonimir made on the occasion of his coronation in Solin in 1076 by which he presented the Benedictine monastery to the Pope to provide his legates continuing accommodation in Croatian lands, the Templars exempted themselves from the local bishop’s jurisdiction. The monastery had been a major religious and political centre until it came under Ottoman rule in 1529. It exercised its jurisdiction over the entire area of the Croatian-Hungarian “language”. The insignia of the Croatian kingdom were guarded within the monastery’s walls for a long time, which is why King Koloman of Hungary had to come to Biograd, as the closest royal residence, to be crowned in 1102 . After it came under the Ottoman rule Vrana lost its glory and importance, which were never regained. Around 20% of the locality’s original form has been preserved. It was demolished by the Venetians during the Candian war (1645-1669). No restoration work has been undertaken ever since. The devastation continued until the modern times, because the fort’s ruins (carved stone) was used as a building material supply by the local population. Parts of the monastery chapel and the main defence tower have also been preserved.