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.
Originally constructed in the fifth century to house the remains of Saint Anastasia, Zadar Cathedral assumed its late Romanesque appearance during a 12th-century rebuild. The largest church in Dalmatia, it features a bell tower completed by Englishman Thomas Graham Jackson in the 1890s. The views alone justify the separate entrance fee.
Tucked inside the Land Gate near the entrance to Zadar’s historic centre, the five-sided Captain’s Tower was built around the same time as the Venetian landmark, when the threat of Ottoman invasion was imminent. Today it has been converted into an exhibition space, four floors connected by a winding staircase.
St Simeon’s Church
As a 17th-century rebuild, the St Simeon’s is of limited architectural interest. Within, however, an ornate silver casket atop a high altar contains the remains of St Simeon who lived at the time of Christ. Commissioned in the 1300s by Elizabeth of Bosnia, the chest is fully displayed every October 8.
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.
Greeting to the Sun
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.
St Donat’s Church
Circular-shaped St Donat’s symbolises Zadar. No longer a place of worship, St Donat’s hosts summer concerts of church music for which its acoustics are perfectly suited. Built by the saint of the same name, who brought the remains of St Anastasia to Zadar, St Donat’s was completed in the ninth century.
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.
The produce of the surrounding countryside is on offer six mornings a week at Zadar’s main market close to the harbour on the eastern side of the peninsula. It has two sections, an outdoor one lined with colourful fruit and vegetables, and an indoor fish market alongside.
Tržnica Zadar, Pod Bedemom, Zadar, Croatia, +385 23 254 600
Zadar City Museum
Covering urban development from antiquity to World War I, the Zadar City Museum is housed in what was Sv Krševan monastery, converted by Napoleon into a lycée. Highlights of the collection include elegant furniture from the 1600s and portraits of city notables from a century or so later.
Zadar City Museum, poljana Pape Aleksandra III, +385 251 851
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.
Narodni trg assumed the role of the city’s main square after the Roman forum fell into disuse. Built in Venetian style in 1565, overhauling a building in place since the 1200s, the Gradska Loža (City Lodge) was where municipal decisions were made. Today set behind glass, it functions as an exhibition space.
Overlooking the Roman forum, the Archaeological Museum contains more historic treasure than its plain exterior would suggest. Along with artefacts from the original local Liburnian tribe, Roman mosaics and evidence of early Christian worship, a scale model shows how the Roman forum would have looked 2,000 years ago.
Archaeological Museum, Trg opatice Čike, Zadar, Croatia, +385 23 250 516
The Sea Organ on the north-western tip of the peninsula was created by installation artist Nikola Bašić. A series of holes in the pavement emit bizarre noises powered by the strength and pattern of the waves. Many sit on the sea-lapped steps to enjoy the weird sounds, or even sunbathe alongside.
Stretching across concrete and greenery in the heart of Zadar’s historic centre, the Roman Forum was the marketplace built by Augustus 2,000 years ago. Here citizens gathered, traded and worshipped at pagan temples. Passers-by may inspect the broken stonework, nothing is kept behind glass or under lock and key.
St Mary’s Church & Treasury
Plain St Mary’s is overshadowed by nearby St Donat’s and the Cathedral. But this Benedictine complex houses a remarkable treasure, the Gold & Silver of Zadar, a glittering collection of chalices, crucifixes, tapestries and reliquaries, some containing parts of saints. These exquisite works date between the eighth and 18th centuries.
Museum of Ancient Glass
The Museum of Ancient Glass, housed in the former Cosmacendi Palace, contains houses an impressive display of perfume jars, cups and vessels, some dating back to Roman times. The museum also lays on workshops and demonstrations of the age-old techniques that created such fine craftsmanship.
Museum of Ancient Glass, Poljana Zemaljskog odbora 1, Zadar, Croatia, +385 23 363 831
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.
St Chrysogonus Church
Named after one of the city’s four patron saints, Sv Krševana (St Chrysogonus) is tucked away behind Narodni trg, a Romanesque church consecrated in 1175. Chrysogonus was probably matyred at the hands of Diocletian in the fourth century and his remains were brought to Zadar in 649.