The most enchanting lakes and waterfalls in Europe are located in Plitvice Lakes National Park (Nacionalni park Plitvička Jezera), the largest national park in Croatia. The area’s overwhelming beauty has inspired many mysterious stories, like the legend of the Black Queen. Founded in 1949, it is also one of the oldest national parks in Southeast Europe. Plitvice Lakes has been part of the UNESCO World Heritage since 1979. Nowadays, the park welcomes over 1.1 million yearly visitors.
90 Waterfalls and 16 Lakes
Plitvice Lakes National Park is famed for its 16 cascading lakes and more than 90 waterfalls. Moreover, the lakes are celebrated for their fluctuating water colours. The water colours range from a bright emerald green, a deep blue, or a faded grey. The lakes are continuously changing colour according to the amount of minerals or organisms, as well as the angle of sunlight. The most important ingredient causing the water to turn blue or green is calcium carbonate from limestone rocks.
The Upper Lakes and the Legend of the Black Queen
The Upper Lakes consist of 12 lakes in total, in descending order: Prošćansko, Ciginovac, Okrugljak, Batinovac, Veliko, Malo, Vir, Galovac, Milino, Gradinsko, Veliki Burget, and Kozjak. The largest lakes in the Plitvice system are Prošćansko and Kozjak, which are also furthest apart from each other. The difference in height between the two lakes is about 100 m.
Prošćansko Lake is connected to the “Legend of the Black Queen.” The legend about ‘Prošnja’ tells the story about a period of drought in the region. Inhabitants called upon the magic queen to help them, to which she responded by creating the Plitvice lakes, Prošćansko jezero being the first one.
The lakes are each separated from each other by travertine barriers, created by the deposition of limestone in the water. The water’s continuous downward flow from lakes into barriers into the next lake (etc.) also creates a chain of waterfalls, including the 25 metres high Galovački buk (Galovac Waterfall).
The Lower Lakes and the Legend of the Gavanovo Treasure
The Lower Lakes (Milanovac, Gavanovac, Kaluđerovac) are situated in a porous limestone canyon. There is an accessible boardwalk between Gavanovac and Kaluđerovac lakes, from which you can see lots of fish swimming around in the ultra clear water. Gavanovac Lake takes its name from the Gavanovo treasure, which is allegedly still hiding somewhere in the lake.
The Lower Lakes area also includes the Great Waterfall (Veliki Slap), the highest waterfall in Croatia. The waterfall results from Plitvica Stream’s sudden plummet over the 78-metres-high limestone cliffs into the Lower Lakes canyon. The 4 km long Plitvica Stream never dries out and is the park’s third largest water source.
Šupljara Cave and the Legend of the Wise Monk
The Lower Lakes canyon area also includes the limestone Šupljara Cave. The humid cave has a constant temperature of about 10.5°C. This creates unique conditions, only suitable for specially adapted cave fauna. Examples of these cave species are pseudoscorpions, crickets, and millipedes.
The Šupljara Cave is also the subject of a legend about a wise monk (kaluđer). According to the legend, the monk either lived in the Šupljara or Golubnjača Cave. According to reports, people used to come to the Plitvice lakes and visit the monk to ask for advice.
The Korana River begins where the Plitvica Stream transforms into waterfalls. These are the waterfalls of Lake Novakovića Brod in the Lower Lakes area. This is about 10 metres downstream of the Great Waterfall. Known for its emerald green water, the river continues its 143 km course through a long stretch of canyon towards Golubnjača Cave (where the monk may have lived). The lower Korana canyon itself is a strictly protected area, so I took the first two photos from a considerable distance with my telephoto lens, looking down into the canyon.
That’s all I have to tell you about Plitvice Lakes! I have to admit, it took me a while to post about this incredible place. But that’s mostly because I had to pick a small selection from almost 900 photos and clips (oops). I thoroughly enjoyed researching all those legends about the lakes. Anyone planning to dive into to Gavanovac Lake to find that hidden treasure? If that plan doesn’t work out, I guess I could always shave my head, move house to one of those pseudoscorpion-filled caves, and charge people for some life-changing advice…
P.S. You can find 20+ additional photos in my Flickr album!