It’s virtually impossible to mention the town of Ilok without immediately linking it to its prized Traminac variety of grape. And when Ilok’s natural attractions and charm, and its unique wines and foods are interlaced with a wealth of fascinating history, you have plenty of reasons to visit this picturesque, romantic and pleasant town.
The town of Ilok, Croatia’s easternmost town with a population of about 7000, is orientated towards viticulture and winemaking and, of course, tourism. With its rich history, distinctive features, and rich and varied offer, a visit to Ilok will be a unique and unforgettable experience, particularly if coupled with a glass of Ilok’s famous Traminac and other varieties of high quality and distinctive wines.
Thanks to its ideal location on the beautiful Danube and the undulating slopes of Fruška Gora, Ilok has long since become the Danubian kingdom of wine. But there’s more! Besides the old royal town of Knin, the town of Ilok was the only other Croatian medieval kingdom.
Ilok was first mentioned as early as 1267 as Vjlok or Wjlok. Like all interesting towns that often delight you at first glance, Ilok too has had a turbulent history, whose story began 4500 years ago. It dates back to the Stone and Bronze Age, and during the Roman Empire, it was − thanks to its important military and geostrategic position − the location of a Roman cavalry fort, namely Cuccium. The many archaeological sites and remains, such as the ruins of temples, a Roman aqueduct, tombstones and sarcophagi, and ancient Roman coins, testify to Ilok’s ancient history.
In the Middle Ages, Ilok enjoyed a remarkable boom thanks to the development of crafts and trade, which Dubrovnik-based merchants were also involved in. They left their mark on, amongst other things, Ilok’s architecture, the public stairs built at the time to connect the upper and lower parts of town, and the construction of town walls modeled on the then walls of Dubrovnik. This is why Ilok is at times referred to as continental Dubrovnik.
Ilok enjoyed another remarkable boom during the reign of Nicholas of Ilok, who erected a manor and started minting coins, which the famous red and white checkerboard, the symbol of the Croatian coat of arms, appeared on for the first time. It was in 1525 that the development of medieval Ilok peaked when it was given the status of a royal free town. The coat of arms of the free town of Ilok was authored by the famous Croatian painter and miniaturist, Julije Klović.
During the Ottoman rule, Ilok was given its distinctive look. Although managing to resist the Ottoman army for many years, it was at the end occupied by the Turks in 1526 who spent nearly two centuries there. The Turks left their mark on Ilok’s architecture and cuisine, as well as on the many words of Turkish origin that have remained in use to date. Once Ilok was liberated from the Ottoman rule in 1787, an important role in its restoration and general development was played by the Italian Odescalchi family, who not only restored Nicholas of Ilok’s demolished medieval manor, but also extended his original wine cellar underneath it. The Odescalchis also created a large park that has become a trademark of the charm of Ilok. During the reign of the Odescalchi family, Ilok experienced strong growth architecturally, economically and culturally.
Besides the Odescalchi Manor, which today houses the Ilok Municipal Museum, the particularly interesting and widely known old Gothic church dedicated to the patron saint of Ilok, St. John Capistran, with a monastery is well worth a visit. Of course, a visit to the famous old wine cellar underneath the Odescalchi Manor, which has a centuries-old tradition and is a synonym of sorts for Ilok, is an absolute must.
Author: ilok.hr / Slobodan Bukvić, Croatia Airlines, “Croatia”, winter 2019/20
Photography: Ivan Ripić