Zadar is famous for its old city, Romanesque Cathedral, and sea organ. Good enough reasons for me to go there for a day visit. So I did on March 16, 2019. And I expect to come back soon because I had a great time there.
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How did I arrive in Zadar
I went there by car from Split. There were two options: to use highway A1 or to use sea road D8. I decided to take the second option because there was no toll on D8, and I could enjoy travelling by sea. Furthermore, there was no traffic jam which sometimes occurs during summer.
The ride was comfortable, and it took me about 2.5 hours to reach the town. I passed by many other exciting destinations like Trogir, Primosten, Sibenik and Vodice.
If you are not arriving in Croatia by car, you can take a bus from any major Croatian city.
When I arrived in the town, I left my car just near the ferry port. It is the most convenient place to park because the old town is just nearby, approximately 2 minutes of walking distance away.
The parking price was 6 kuna (0.9 euro) per hour.
Zadar old town history
Usually, when we talk about famous historical destinations in Dalmatia, the top of mind place is Dubrovnik. But in terms of cultural inheritance, Zadar is not far away.
The history of Zadar dates back to BC time. It was part of ancient Greece and the ancient Roman Empire, under the name Iader.
In the centre of the town Romans built Forum Romanum, which remains you can see today.
In the Medieval period, Zadar was part of the early Croatian state. Later it was taken over by Hungarians and the Venice Republic. In 1202 Christian army was supposed to go to Jerusalem, but they instead conquered Zadar.
Venice ruled over Zadar and Dalmatia for over 400 years and it strongly influenced the art and culture of the people living in this area.
After Napoleon conquered Venice, the town and Dalmatia were under France.
After the fall of Napoleon, the city was under Austria's administration.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Zadar was a beautiful town with a fully preserved cultural inheritance. Many will say that Zadar had precedence over Dubrovnik at that time.
Unfortunately, the 20th century was not the happiest period for the city. During the Second World War, many of the monuments were completely destroyed, and the citizens had to run away. Only a few hundred people were living in the city after the war.
Another disaster happened in the 1990s during the Croatian homeland war when the cultural inheritance of the town was damaged again.
After the homeland war, many of the monuments were reconstructed and renovated, but the town's cultural inheritance lost its integrity, which is preserved in other destinations which did not suffer that kind of devastation, for example Dubrovnik. Nevertheless, there are still so many cultural attractions to visit in the town.
Zadar is not all about the history and cultural inheritance; it has preserved the original charming Mediterranean atmosphere which can be noticed on the faces of the people while walking through the old town.
Places to visit in Zadar old town
The first interesting thing I noticed was the old city fortification. It was built in the 16th century by Venice, for the purpose of defence against Turkish invasion. UNESCO put it on its world heritage list in 2017., together with the fortress of St. Nicholas in Sibenik. Both are categorized as Venetian works of defence between the 15th and 17th centuries.
Next thing that took my attention was a significant number of sacral buildings. First of them was the Church of St. Chrysogonus from Romanesque age. Unfortunately, there was no chance to see the church from inside. Here is what was written on the panel about the church:
"Consecrated in 1175 it is a true masterpiece of Romanesque style, whose characteristics are exquisitely shown in the decorative design of the main apse."
Maybe you will be lucky and find it open during your visit.
Church of St. Donatus is another early Romanesque masterpiece of art located on the main square It's constructed as a three-apse basilica with a unique shape, which can hardly be found anywhere in European architecture.
The ticket price for visiting the church is 20 kuna (around 2.6 euros).
What you see in the photo below are remains of an old Roman forum built in the 1st century BC. Unfortunately, most of the remains were destroyed in the Second World War.
Among all the buildings in Zadar, the most monumental is the Cathedral. It is a three-nave Romanesque basilica.
There are also elements of later styles which are the result of multiple reconstructions over time.
The entrance to the Cathedral is free, while the ticket price for climbing the bell tower is 15 kuna (around 2 euros).
It takes a bit of climbing effort to reach the top of the tower, but it is worth the effort since there is a beautiful panoramic view of Zadar old town from the top.
The Cathedral lunette is typical Romanesque style, similar to other ones built in the same age (For example cathedral in Trogir).
The monastery and church of St. Francis have special historical importance: it's a place where Venice and Hungary signed the peace treaty in 1358. Dalmatia became part of Croatia - Hungary union till the early 15th century when Venice captured Zadar and Dalmatia again.
The main and the longest street in the old town is called Siroka Ulica, previously called Kalelarga. It's a place of special emotions for all people who grew up in Zadar.
After visiting the old town and its sacral monuments, it was time for me to take a walk on Zadar Riva (coast). The atmosphere was great, like in other Croatian coastal towns. But there was something that made Zadar unique compared to these cities: sea organ.
It took me around 5 minutes of walking from the old city until I heard the first sounds of the sea instrument. I stayed there for a few minutes to enjoy the sea and its waves playing music.
Riva is one of the best places in Croatia to enjoy the sunset. During the summer season, you can notice many people gathering there around 8 pm to enjoy the beautiful colours in the sky created by the sunset.
Accommodation in Zadar
One of the best apartments is Suites One, a luxury place located in the centre of the old town.
The other available accommodation options are shown on the map below, provided by our partner, booking.com.