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    The smallest country in the world offers the heart of Catholicism and among the world's finest art collections, including the Sistine Chapel and the Raphael Rooms (ceiling pictured). Go to Vatican City!

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CroatiaThe name Croatia comes from the Latin phrase Dux Croatorum, meaning the "Duke of Croatians." Although what exactly the root itself means is unknown; it seems likely the name was assigned to a particular Slavic tribe by outsiders, although no real evidence exists to prove or disprove any theory.



Croatia's recent history is tied to Yugoslavia and southeastern Europe, but today Croatia is in the European Union, which actually matches much of its longer history, tying it to the west. Although the people of Croatia are very genetically and linguistically similar to other people in the region, culturally they have always been connected to the west, beginning with their time under Roman rule.

The lands of modern day Croatia were a part of the Roman Empire and were an influential piece of that empire as a couple emperors came from the region of Croatia. Even after the empire split into the west and east (Byzantine Empire) empires, Croatia remained with the west, although most of the Balkan Peninsula fell under the control of Byzantium. This is when the division of the peninsula began.

Under the Roman Empire and later the Frankish and Venetian Empires (as opposed to being under the Byzantine Empire), the region and people of Croatia always looked west and became Catholic while most of the people on the peninsula later converted to Eastern Orthodox. All these rulers were Catholic, including the later Hapsburgs, maintaining the Catholic faith of the people and truly giving them a different identity than the Serbs, Montenegrins, and Bosniaks, who speak a similar language.

These outside rulers also had great influence on the people of the region as architecture along the coasts is strongly Venetian and foods from both Italy and Austria can be easily found, although the natural reliance on the seas still dominates the cuisine.

Under Yugoslav rule Croatia changed greatly in terms of lifestyle, but didn't change to a significant degree culturally. Communism encouraged advancements in technology, communication, infrastructure, and transportation, which meant cities grew and jobs shifted to the industrial sector. For much of history life was based off the lands as many people farmed, raised animals, or fished; this is still true to a great degree, but today many others find work in other sectors.

Despite Yugoslav rule, the culture of Croatia remained tied to their past and little changed in this regard. The major differences between Croatia and their neighbors remained, beginning with Catholicism separating them from most neighbors while ethnicity and language continued to differentiate the people from Slovenia. However, more than these simple differences, the people of Croatia tend to focus on family, friends, neighbors, and the future; there is a push forward, constantly seeking out a better future, a stable economy, and greater opportunities, which seem to begin with attracting tourists to their beautiful islands, beaches, parks, and cities.

Information for Croatia was last updated: March, 2014 ● View our: Sources & Special Thanks