Rocky, barren ground. Sinkholes, caves, underground water with no apparent surface streams or lakes. Karst. Derived from the Slavic word krs or kras, the German karst, and the Italian carso or carsico, the word means ‘rocky mountain’ or ‘stone.’ Karst landscapes cover half of Croatia’s topography and more than 80% of Croatia’s lavishly indented coastline and 1,000 plus islands.
Interactions between the Dinaric Alps, Dolomite Mountains and rainwater create some of Croatia’s most dramatic landscapes. Dinaric limestone forms most karst landscapes along with another porous, sedimentary rock called dolomite. Since limestone is largely made of calcium carbonate (created by fossilized coral and mollusks), it dissolves when rainwater (carrying carbon dioxide) seeps into its cracks. As rainwater dissolves the stone, sinkholes, caverns, and caves form. Karst caves played an important role in Croatia’s cultural, social, and sometimes conflicted political history. Today Hvar’s and Biševo’s blue caves are popular tourist destinations.
Rain water is stored in underground water systems or karst aquifers which provide water for animal and plant life. More than 25% of the world’s population either lives on or obtains its water from karst aquifers. In spite of what looks like a barren barren environment, in summer Croatian karst landscapes are usually covered with aromatic herbs like thyme, rosemary, lavender, and sage. And campanula tommasiniana/Croatian bellflower pictured here on Mount Učka in Istria.
Krka National Park is sometimes said to be the heart of Croatia’s karst region. The park is in central Dalmatia near the Krka River. It features canyons, waterfalls, lakes, rapids and distinctive karst scenery. The cascading waterfalls in Krka Park are formed as karst slowly collapses. Both Krka and Plitvice Lakes National Parks have villages located within the boundaries of this protected area, but only in Krka Park is swimming allowed.
Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of the world’s most beautiful karst formations. The park was founded in 1949 and designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1979. Plitvice is so visually stunning and unique it attracts a million visitors each year. Selfie takers who fall occasionally off wooden paths into the lakes are frowned upon. Plitvice’s karst-created water system is vital to the health of this protected natural phenomena.
The terraced lakes and waterfalls are possible because of karstation and the interaction between air, water and plant life. Travertine dams are formed from algae, moss, and bacteria growing together. These dams help water to pool into shallow lakes. Because Plitvice’s sixteen connected lakes are supersaturated with dissolved calcium carbonate mixed with other minerals, the color of the water is blue, azure, grey or green depending on the intensity of mineral deposits and angle of the sunlight.
Marie Scatena and Public Domain