Zadar, with its 70,000 inhabitants, is the cultural and economic center of northern Dalmatia. For a while, it was even the capital of the whole of the Dalmatian region. Here the Liburnians, the Illyrian tribe who settled in northern Dalmatia, founded the town of Jadera.
The historic center of Zadar lies on a narrow peninsula. Of the original four town gates, only two have survived: the Sea Gate on the harbor side and the Land Gate to the east, through which you must go in order to access to the rest of the peninsula.
Sightseers generally begin their tour at the *Kopnena vrata 0 (Land Gate). It was built in 1543 based on plans by the Italian Renaissance master Michele Sanmicheli. Above the main arch, the coat of arms of the town (St. Chrysogonus on horseback) and the Lion of Saint Mark are carved in stone. To the left of the gate is the little harbor of Fosa; initially, it was part of the moat surrounding the town walls built by the Venetians. The moat was filled in, with the exception of this bit next to the sea.
Behind this little harbor stand the remains of the walls of a former citadel. The area around this destroyed fortress has been transformed into a park.
After passing through the Land Gate, you will find on your right the old arsenal of the Venetians. The next right turn leads to Trg Petra Zoranica QI. The square’s center is marked by a Roman column, used by the Venetians as a pillory. At the eastern end of the square is the medieval tower Bablja Kula. This is all that remains of the old town walls. The five fountains are also of interest: before the water conduit was built in 1838, they were the main source of water for the inhabitants.
The northeast corner of the square is occupied by Sveti Simun 0 (St. Simeon’s Church). The church was once dedicated to St. Stephen, and was built on the site of a previous building dating from the 5th or 6th century. It has since been rebuilt several times. In 1632, the relics of St. Simeon were reinterred here, the church was rededicated to him, and a new Baroque facade was added.
The late Romanesque *sarcophagus of St. Simeon in front of the choir is a remarkable example of the silversmith’s craft. This masterpiece was created between 1377 and 1380 by Francesco da Sesto, a goldsmith from Milan, along with his assistants from Zadar. It was commissioned by Queen Elisabeth, the wife of the Hungarian-Croatian King Louis I from the House of Anjou.
On the sarcophagus, which is 1.92 meters long, 80 centimeters wide and 1.27 meters high, scenes from the life of the saint and other contemporary events can be seen, one of them being, for example, the splendid entry of Louis I into Zadar on the occasion when he returned the relics that had been stolen by the Venetians.
Every year on October 8, the saint’s day, the shrine is opened and its interior, filled with valuable votive gifts, is exhibited to the public. Louis I wanted to win over Zadar with this valuable gift because he needed a connecting element beween his southern Italian and his Polish, Croatian and Hungarian possessions. This favorite saint of the town, Simeon, had the task of securing these ties. But it was all to no avail; in his struggle for the Hungarian crown, Louis lost out to his rival Sigismund. Inside St. Simeon’s Church, on the north wall, Gothic frescos have survived.
The former Decumanus begins near St. Simeon’s Church and is still the main east-west axis, though today it is called Kotromanic and Siroka Mica (Broad Street). A walk down the Kotromanic to the west leads past the building of the former town guard. With its powerful late Renaissance style and its 19th-century clock tower, it cannot be overlooked. It houses the Etnografski muzej
(Ethnography Museum), with a collection of traditional costumes, old household objects, instruments and folk art.
*Narodni trga lies in front of the old guardhouse. This has been the center of public life in the town since the Middle Ages. On its northeast side, opposite the town guard, is the Gradska loza (loggia), built in the 13th century, rebuilt by Sanmicheli in 1565, and now glassed in. Right next to it is the old Dvor (Town Hall), considerably younger than the loggia, given that it was built in 1936. Right behind the Town Hall and easily reached through a gate is the Romanesque Church of Sveti Lovro from the 10th or 11th century. This served as a prison in the 18th century.
Following Siroka Mica further to the west, one reaches the religious hub of Zadar: two churches and a monastery stand in great proximity to one another. The most prominent sight is the weighty rotunda of the *Church of Sveti Donat 0, which was started in the 9th century. It overpowers the free space around it, which was once the ancient forum, and is the most representative piece of old Croatian architecture. It was commissioned by Bishop Donatus. Some time at the beginning of the 9th century, he headed a delegation of the Dalmatian towns to Byzantium and to Charlemagne’s court. The visit to Aachen probably explains the similarity of this church to the court chapel there.
The 27-meter-high building makes a stark, monumental impression from the outside. The interior has a circular, twostoried middle hall with a passage around it, screened off by a row of columns. Three apses in the east served for the liturgy. A second floor accommodated additional believers. Almost all the material used to build the church originates from Roman times. Fragments of mosaics, gravestones and bits of columns are still recognizable. Today, the building is a concert hall.
Opposite the church, you can see the Renaissance facade of the Church of Sveta Marija, belonging to the neighboring Benedictine abbey and dating back to the 11th century. It was the sister of the Croatian King Kresimir IV who promoted this project in the royal court. In the 16th century, the church was rebuilt and obtained its present form, looking very much like the cathedral of Sibenik. It was restored after the Second World War and the monastery was partly transformed into a museum of religious art. On the forum, near Sveta Marija, is the *Arheoloski muzej QI (Archeology Museum). Its most valuable exhibits are the finds from Liburnian settlements and the graves of northern Dalmatia shown on the second floor. Other collections document Roman times and the early Middle Ages.
To the west of the former monastery, on Zeleni trg 0, or Green Square, is a 15-meter-tall marble column, on whose capitol one can recognize a relief of the Lion of St. Mark, slightly damaged by bullets. The column is part of the Roman forum, once 90 meters long and 45 meters wide. A few of its pavement stones have recently been exposed.
Not far away is *Sveta Stosija 0 (St. Anastasia’s Cathedral), one of the most monumental Romanesque basilicas of the eastern Adriatic. When, in 1202, the town was pillaged by crusaders, the cathedral suffered badly and had to be restored. This work lasted until 1324. The fagade was marvelously decorated with three portals, and blind arcades on the upper floor which frame two rosettes. In the tympanum above the central portal is the Virgin Mary on the throne with two saints at her side, St. Zoilus and St. Anastasia. The two sides of the portal are guarded by figures of apostles.
The interior of the church is subdivided by two rows of alternating pilasters and round columns into a central nave and two aisles. In the nave, remnants of a mosaic floor dating from the 10th century can be seen. Artful triforia decorate the high walls of the arcade. The main altar is surrounded by early Gothic columns supporting a canopy. The choir stalls from the 15th century are also impressive. Under the main altar is a three-aided crypt; the altar in the left aisle holds the shrine of St. Anastasia.
It is best to walk back from here to the site of the forum, and then turn left at the next crossing onto Simuna Kozicica Benje (the main north-south axis, formerly called Cardo). Soon you will reach *Sveti Krsevan (D (Church of St. Chrysogonus, 12th century) on the right. Behind the fagade, with its three portals, is a nave and two aisles, divided by ancient columns with Corinthian capitals. The apses show frescos of John the Baptist, St. Chrysogonus, St. Anastasia and Christ dating from the 13th and 14th centuries.
But it is the outsides of the apses that are considered to be the greatest attraction. The structure of the walls, with the blind arcades and the column arcade of the main apse, are strongly reminiscent of examples from Lombardy. There is a little cafe here, from which you can admire at leisure this masterpiece of Dalmatian Romanesque style.
After all these visits to churches, we advise you to take a walk along the quays surrounding the whole of the old town. It is best to return to Simuna Kozicica Benje and then turn right. Your attention will immediately be caught by the Porta Marina (D (Sea Gate), the old entrance into the town from the harbor. The gate was built in 1560, and eleven years later a tablet was mounted in honor of the sailors from Zadar returning from the recent victory of a coalition of Austrian, Venetian and other Christian forces over the Turks in the historically-critical naval battle of Lepanto.
On the other side of the harbor is the new town of Zadar and the yacht marina. Along the quays, the tour and ferry boats to the nearby islands of Ugljan, Pasman, Dugi Otok and the whole of the northern Dalmatian archipelago are moored.