Centrepieced by a Roman forum, Zadar has a significant ecclesiastical heritage reflected in its historic churches. Some contain the remains of saints brought here after the fall of the Romans. It’s not all altars and caskets, though – contemporary attractions include the wacky communal art installations of Nikola Bašić.
Designed by Venetian architect Michele Sanmicheli in 1543, the Land Gate is the most dramatic of the four still standing around Zadar’s historic centre. Atop it, the winged lion of Venice greets four-wheeled and two-footed visitors as they enter the peninsula from the mainland at Foša harbour.
Part medieval Venetian – designed by the same architect, Michele Sanmicheli, as the City Gate – and part 19th-century decoration, the central clock tower, the City Guard overlooks Zadar’s main square of Narodni trg. Once housing an ethnographic museum, this landmark now has purely decorative value, as well as a popular choice for rendezvous.
Beside his Sea Organ, installation artist Nikola Bašić devised the ambitious ‘Greeting to the Sun’. Comprising a circle of 300 glass plates, his creation runs on solar power, producing a wonderful show of light after dark. The surrounding names relate to the astronomical calendar drawn up in Zadar in 1290.
Officially Obala kralja Petra Krešimira IV, the western embankment is the ideal stretch for an evening’s walk, catching Zadar’s celebrated sunset. Landscaped in the 19th century, the former Riva Nuova, new promenade, was where Alfred Hitchcock stayed and strolled in 1964. Waterside billboards mark the event.
Zadar’s most unusual sight has been gazing over Maestral Bay, close to the Lungo Mare restaurant, for nearly a century. Only recently noticed by travel bloggers, the Zadar Sphinx fronts an elegant villa built by Zadar nobleman Giovanni Smirich. The sphinx came later, created in honour of his recently deceased wife.
Pet bunara, ‘Five Wells’, lend their name to the semi-enclosed square relandscaped in the late 1990s. Just inside the Land Gate and overshadowed by the Captain’s Tower, the wells no longer provide fresh water, but provide today’s visitor with a sense of daily life here in the 1800s and before.
Zadar’s version of the gondolier, barkajoli are ferrymen who still row passengers between the mainland and the peninsula. The tradition dates back for generations. A rowboat waits for trade beside Obala kneza Trpimira, where a café, ‘Barka’ (‘Boat’) now stands, or on the north-eastern embankment, near the Garden Lounge.
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