The City of Đurđevac, located in Northern Croatia, is hiding an interesting natural phenomenon – the area the size of 40 football fields covered in sand! Of course, one cannot expect to see an actual Sahara desert, but one can see “Đurđevački peski” (The Sands of Đurđevac), an area of partially stabilized sand dunes in the eastern part of the City of Đurđevac. This barren soil area, also known as Bloody Sands or “Hrvatska Sahara” ( the Croatian Sahara), was declared a special botanical and nature reserve back in 1963, with the intent of preserving a large number of endemic species. It is also home to 300 species of butterflies, as well as an array of flowers and plants which are labeled throughout the desert.
The Mayor of Đurđevac realized the town’s potential for becoming a tourist attraction, so he decided to acquire camels from a farm in Germany and to set a complex for some unique and rarely-seen animals.
And with that, the “Hrvatska Sahara” (the Croatian Sahara) came into existence!
“Hrvatska Sahara” is not actually located in a desert. It is situated in the very center of the City of Đurđevac, right next to the beautiful fortress called Old town Đurđevac. There are four camels in the fenced area named Đurđica, Dina, Tomica, and Romeo, along with Shetland ponies and a species of goat from North Africa, with rather unusual horns. It is not allowed to ride camels, but they are very friendly. Petting and feeding are the main attraction, especially for children. The staff here is educated and professional and able to answer any questions asked by the children.
The Old town Đurđevac is rather small compared to other well-known fortresses in Croatia, such as the Veliki Tabor in Hrvatsko Zagorje. Local authorities have done wonders with it – the interior is completely renovated, without compromising its authentic look. The rooms are used for all kinds of exhibitions and a hollow courtyard center is now a terrace of the “Pivnica” restaurant.
The ticket price is 20 kunas (around 2,7 €) for the adults and 10 kunas (around 1,3 €) for the children.
The famous Đurđevac legend
According to the legend, in the 16th-century Ottoman commander Ulama-beg wanted to crush the resistance of the fort of Đurđevac with a long siege to starve its inhabitants. Food was running out, and there were no signs of help arriving to avert the siege. When it seemed that all hope was lost, an old lady approached the commander and explained that there was only one rooster left to feed the entire town. She carried on by saying that they had nothing to lose by firing the rooster (or picok in the local language) at the Turks to give them the impression that food was so plentiful, they could afford to fire it at the Turks for fun, he agreed to give it a try. The Turks, having been fired on by a rooster, realized that the siege would take forever as the town had so many supplies, and they decided to abandon their siege. Since then the people of Đurđevac have been known as Picoki, a derogatory term given to them by the defeated Ottoman commander Ulama-beg. The story is well told and reenacted in the museum on the first floor, and it is celebrated in the annual Picokijada festival.