Travel Experiences: Zadar, Croatia
Not so long ago I was able to tour around Croatia, this relatively unscarred by tourism country in the middle of Europe. As an archaeologist and professional researcher, I always love to explore the history and historical sites whenever I’m exploring a new country. As I explored Croatia, I found a lovely place called Zadar.
Zadar is located roughly 347km (217 miles) southwest of Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. Most travellers will miss it as they make their way to Split of Dubrovnik and unfortunately they miss out on this beautiful city.
When I arrived in Zadar I noticed that the city is divided into two sections; the Old Town is actually situated away from the rest of the city on a peninsular about 4km long. Simply beautiful, the Old Town is full of Roman ruins, churches from the medieval periods, museums, palaces and libraries – I was in heaven! The newer part of the city is a little more lacklustre than the Old Town but still is very interesting.
Zadar has seen human occupation for more than 2,000 years before the Romans came along and conquered the area in the first century BCE. If you look, you can still see these ancient ruins of the forum which was the heart of any Roman town throughout the empire. Before the Romans, the Liburnians established it as a trading centre with the Greeks and Romans for 800 years.
During the Byzantine period, Zadar was established as the capital of Dalmatia and I learnt that the city’s most famous church, St. Donat’s Basilica, was built in this period. After this, Zadar’s rule changed hands constantly, from the Osogoths to the Croatian-Hungarian kings, the Venetians, the Turks, the Habsburgs, the French, the Italians, and the Yugoslavians before becoming part of an independent Croatia. Once you come here, you can see the influence each period had on the city.
I didn’t have much time unfortunately. As soon as I checked into my little hotel in the newer part of the city, I set off exploring. My first port of call was the Archaeological Museum. It was established in 1832 and looks quite dull and boring on the outside. However, once you step inside you can see some amazing artefacts on display. There are exhibits from each period and some wonderful models.
I couldn’t come here without taking the time to visit St. Donat’s Church. This is the city’s most famous church, dating back to the 9th century. Inside I was amazed by the beauty of the architecture and although I am not a Christian, the artwork inside was simply lovely. I also remember the haunting acoustic music that flooded the church.
After this I went and found myself a lovely restaurant to sample the local cuisine before making my way to St. Mary’s Church. I heard the legend that a local noble woman founded a convent here in 1066 and then St Mary’s Church in 1091. In the 16th century, it was rebuilt to give it a more up-to-date look and this has made it into one of the prettiest churches in Croatia. Inside I saw some wonderful gold religious artwork.
Unfortunately I had to return to my hotel and leave the next day, but I will never forget my trip to Zadar. It was simply beautiful and I am glad that unlike other travellers, I did overlook this hidden gem.