Situated in the heart of the Adriatic, Zadar is Dalmatia with a rich cultural heritage set in a gorgeous landscape. The car-free old town is one big monument, surrounded by historical ramparts, a treasury of archaeology, and riches from ancient, medieval, and Renaissance times.
A Brief History
Zadar has a history that spans thousands of years. Founded by the ancient Illyrians, the city evolved into a Roman colony called Iader. Under Roman rule, Zadar flourished as an important economic and cultural center. Notable Roman monuments, such as the Roman Forum and St. Donatus Church, still stand as reminders of this era.
During the medieval period, Zadar experienced a series of rulers, including the Byzantines, Venetians, and Hungarians. In the 9th century, it became part of the Croatian Kingdom and later the Republic of Venice. The city’s strategic location on the Adriatic coast contributed to its prosperity as a trading and maritime hub.
In the 16th century, Zadar fell under Ottoman rule, enduring a period of significant cultural and architectural influence. However, the Venetians regained control in the 17th century, leaving an indelible mark on the city’s architectural landscape.
The 19th century brought changes as Zadar became part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In the 20th century, the city witnessed various geopolitical shifts, including being part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia after World War I and later the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
During the Croatian War of Independence in the early 1990s, Zadar, like many other cities in the region, faced significant challenges. However, extensive restoration efforts have revitalized its historic sites and infrastructure.
Museum of Ancient Glass
Stop in the one of the last remnants of ancient glass blowing in Croatia at the Museum of Ancient Glass, brimming with artifacts from an earlier chapter of Roman times. On the second floor, you can watch artisans work in front of a furnace primed to more than 1,300°C molding hot glass into all sorts of vases, jugs, and souvenirs. You can even have a go at blowing the glass for yourself if you’re brave enough.
Set along on the Roman Forum, this museum displays the impressive Prehistoric, Illyrian Roman, Byzantine, and medieval artefacts recovered in and around Zadar. For many visitors the most exciting part is devoted to Roman times, when there was a great deal of activity in the area. There’s a model here showing what Zadar’s Forum looked like at the height of Roman power.
Simple and elegant steps, carved in white stone, were built on the quayside where there lies 35 musically tuned tubes with whistle openings on the sidewalk. The movement of the sea pushes air through, and depending on the size and velocity of the wave musical chords are played. The waves create random harmonic sounds which you can hear while enjoying the surrounding natural beauty and one of Zadar’s famed sunsets.
St. Donatus Church
The pre-Romanesque church of St Donatus was founded in the 9th century and serves as the very image of Zadar and the spirit of Dalmatia. The circular shape is typical of the early Byzantine age in Croatia, and when it was built was called the Church of the Holy Trinity.
Plitvice Lakes National Park
Although the Plitvice Lakes are about 90 minutes north of Zadar it’s well worth the trip. The park is easily one of Europe’s most beloved natural attractions, boasting fourteen lakes, each connected to the next by waterfalls and natural pools as waters make their way down the mountainside.
Locals here have the benefit of fresh fish surrounding them, and the city is also flanked by a large land area named Ravni kotari or “the flat counties”. Here rich soil and a clean environment provides great conditions for growing fruit and vegetables. Around the country’s many open-air markets, plenty of stallholders put forth a sign that reads “Produce of Zadar” in order to attract buyers looking for good food.
You Can’t Miss…
You can’t miss fish grilled over charcoal or cooked in a tomatoey brudet sauce. Then there’s risottos, of which crni rižot with black squid ink may qualify as the most interesting. And seafood prepared na buzaru with white wine, garlic and parsley.
If You Love Fish…
The fish market is wonderful, which is built right into the city ramparts at the spot where the fishing trawlers dock with their catch of the day.
The Old Town is the best place to stay if you’re only in Zadar for a short time. There are also some cheaper spots outside the Old Town if you can’t find an affordable place inside the city walls. Old Town Zadar is ancient and a great place to hang your hat as you wander Roman ruins, eat gelato, and enjoy the city’s quaint ambiance. The only real downside of staying in this area is that it can get crowded.
10 Reasons to Visit Zadar
Concert at St. Donatus Church
Croatia’s Amazing Plitvice
Jack’s Favorite Moment
Lost Keys of Zadar
Situated in the heart of the Adriatic, Zadar is the urban center of northern Dalmatia with a rich cultural heritage set in a gorgeous landscape. The city is one big monument, surrounded by historical ramparts, a treasury of archaeology, and riches from ancient, medieval, and Renaissance times.
I was making my way down the Croatian coast with a few friends on a two week long road trip that started in Frankfurt. We decided to stop in Zadar for the day on our way to Split as it seemed like it was worth a stop. And that was a good call…except for the missing keys. Zadar is one of those destinations that epitomizes an entire country or region. Just about everything Croatia is known for you’ll find here – ancient history, stunning architecture, beautiful coastline, natural beauty, tasty food, and a rich cultural heritage.
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