Rust Family Foundation: Archaeology Grants Program

Archaeological Investigation of an Ottoman Fortress at Nadin-Gradina, Croatia


Principal Investigator: Gregory Zaro, Associate Professor and Chair
Anthropology Department/Climate Change Institute, Univ. of Maine

Importance of the research

Although the Ottomans ruled over a complex and powerful empire in the Middle East for six centuries, this period has received relatively scant archaeological research.  From an expansion of the Ottoman origins in what is now Turkey in the early 14th century, including overtaking the former Byzantine capital of Constantinople by the middle of the 15th ce
ntury, the Ottoman Empire grew by the 1500’s to a major multi-ethnic and multi-religious power in the eastern Mediterranean, ruling over parts of Southwest Asia, North Africa, and the Balkans.  The Nadin-Gradina Archaeological Project (NGAP) provides much needed archaeological evidence to contextualize historical research on this empire which retains a major legacy throughout the eastern Mediterranean and beyond.  The 2016 season of NGAP focused on the Ottoman era fortress on the summit of Nadin-Gradina, a hillfort along the historic Ottoman-Venetian frontier near the ancient coastal city of Zadar in Croatia, thus providing much needed evidence on the consequences of Ottoman rule on small frontier settlements. 

Fig. 1:
Location of the study area in Croatia.

Previous Research at the Site

The Nadin-Gradina archaeological site is the product of approximately 2,500 years of occupational history, beginning in the Iron Age and continuing through Roman, Late Antiquity, Late Medieval eras, and culminating with Ottoman imperial incursion occupation in the 16th and 17th centuries.   Research in the 1980’s as part of the Neothermal Dalmatia Project documented a general chronology of the site, including test excavations that identified walls, living surfaces and basic material assemblages.  The Nadin-Gradina Archaeological Project (NGAP) began in 2015 with excavations focused on the area within the megalithic wall of the site.  From this research the archaeological site has been determined to cover ca. 32 hectares in area, including late first millennium BCE fortifications as well as the Ottoman fortress which dominates the summit of the site and includes a monument central tower of cut limestone blocks.  Historical documents confirm this construction of rectangular fortress with central tower as well as a small settlement with what appears to be a mosque or minaret.

ig.2 (left): Historical depiction of Nadin during Ottoman times (16th or 17th c). Investigations in 2016 provide confirmation for some elements of the fortress and mosque represented in the print.
Fig.3 (right): Plan of main archaeological components of Nadin.

2016 Funded Research Project (RFF-2016-09)


The intent of the project was to lay the foundation for an intensive, multi-year
program of field research at Nadin-Gradina centered on long-term urbanization, landscape change, and climate in the eastern Adriatic. The 2016 investigations were aimed to confirm the occupational history/chronology of the site with the added element of integrating the latest archaeological component of the site – the Late Medieval and/or Venetian-Ottoman occupation. 


In 2016, the NGAP sought to further advance the overall goals of the project by spatially widening the excavation of Unit B from 2015, which had previously revealed the most complex cultural stratigraphy of any of the 2015 units, with a tentative chronology of 5th century BCE to 5th century CE, followed by abandonment and reoccupation in the 15th century. Additionally, the NGAP explored and partially mapped the presumed Ottoman era fortress, and it cleared,
mapped, and excavated a test unit within the contemporaneous nearby structure (the crkvina). 
Finally, artifact assemblages, and particularly ceramics, were evaluated in order to identify and characterize locally produced wares, including imported wares from beyond the eastern Adriatic. The methodological approach utilized in 2016 included mapping (and drone photography), excavation, and ceramic analysis.

Fig.4: Area B excavation (view to the northwest). The entire excavated area measures 10x10 m and includes Units B, B1, B2, and B3.

Results of the 2016 Project

Settlement history.

Excavation of units B1, B2, and B3 confirmed settlement remains across three major cultural eras (Iron Age, Classical Antiquity, and Late Antiquity), from about the 5th century BCE to the 5th century CE (figs.4-5). The chronological information generated from documented settlement remains around Unit B thus confirms at least 1,000 years of occupational history (5th century BCE to 5th century CE), which will permit the project to move forward in its efforts to document changes in the settlement through time.

Fig.5: Plan view of area B showing architectural/settlement features exposed during excavation. Colors designate tentative chronology based on superposition, associated artifacts, and C14 dates.

Ottoman era Nadin-Gradina: Fortress

A historic illustration of Nadin-Gradina depicts, in addition to a rectangular fortress
and central tower, a small settlement with what appears to be a mosque or minaret
(Fig.2).  Wall segments of the Ottoman era fortress dominate the summit of the site and rise to heights of several meters but are mostly shrouded in thick vegetation (fig.6). The 2016 investigation of the fortress supports its depiction as a large rectangular structure with some internal differentiation, including a pentagonal or hexagonal central tower. The monumental structure measures approximately 65 x 55 m., oriented slightly west of north, with walls constructed of cut or shaped limestone blocks with a heavy application of coarse gravelly mortar. In some instances, megalithic blocks from the late first millennium BCE rampart were reused in the construction of the fortress and auxiliary walls. The NGAP also documented what was likely a principle entrance midway along the structure’s west face, including an outset feature that may relate to a buttress or baffled entryway. Further support for corner buttressing, as depicted in the historic print, was found on the structure’s SW corner.  The fort’s illustrative depiction facing a mosque also corresponds to the spatial arrangement of these two structures documented during the 2016 season.

Fig.6: Panoramic view of presumed mosque site.

Ottoman era Nadin-Gradina: Mosque

Mapping and excavation of the smaller of the two Ottoman era structures (crkvina) provides strong support for its construction and use as a mosque, confirming at least partial transformation of the Nadin built environment during Ottoman expansion into the region. Several observations lead to this conclusion. First, its shape is square, as opposed to the rectangular nature of churches during the Late
Medieval era (fig.7). Second, a small test excavation revealed that collapse debris overlying the latest floor surface of the structure contained chunks of travertine, a light porous stone commonly used in dome architecture, which would be consistent with a single domed roof of a mosque. Third, there is evidence that a minaret once stood just outside the west corner of the building.  Fourth, two entrances (based on cut stone door jambs) one facing the NW and the other facing the NE leading to an abundance of collapsed material against the thickest wall can be interpreted as the front of the structure with a collapsed portico along its façade. 

Fig.7: Plan of presumed mosque at Nadin-Gradina.

A review of single-domed mosque architecture in Bosnia and Herzegovina shows a spatial patterning very consistent with these findings: square, single-domed structures with a minaret near one of the front corners of the building and a portico along the front of the structure with one or more arches and entrances.

Ottoman era Nadin-Gradina: Pottery

Stylistic and technological analyses of pottery from Late Medieval strata reflect a predominance of material culture from local workshops or imported from Italy (Venetian Republic). Kitchenware included both coarse local products, as well as imported Italian lead glazed cooking pottery.  Several types of glazed tableware were also recovered, including incised slipware whose surface is coated in a layer of slip to which incisions and painted decoration were applied.  The largest amount of glazed pottery belongs to majolica, which uses an opaque tin glaze to cover the
whole surface of the vessel. The term majolica derives from the Spanish island of Mallorca, as the first production of majolica in Europe started in Spain and only later in Italy. Overall, the majority of glazed pottery finds from Nadin originate from workshops in northern Italy and can be dated to the 15th and 16th centuries.

Fig.8: Majolica ceramics recovered from excavation of A1-SJ10. Many of these originated in the 15th and 16th centuries from the northern Italy (Veneto, Emilia Romagna, and Marche).


Funding from the Rust Family Foundation supported efforts to illuminate the nature of Ottoman era occupation at Nadin-Gradina, thereby providing an archaeological bridge between the ancient and modern landscape.  The results of the 2016 field work suggest that although Nadin was physically transformed under Ottoman rule, including the construction of a mosque, artifact assemblages indicate strong economic connections to the west (Italy) during this era rather than redirecting exchange networks to the east. In addition, chronologically resolving the final centuries of occupation at
Nadin-Gradina remains a difficult challenge, particularly when Ottoman control of Nadin may have lasted barely more than a century. Nevertheless, the outcome of the 2016 fieldwork provides a solid foundation upon which to build larger, multi-year grant projects for a more intensive investigation into the long-term articulation of urban grown, landscape change, and climate over the past 3,000 years.

Recent Foundation grants: general        Archaeology Grants Program w/map  

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