The Ocean plays a star role in what makes Croatia such a popular travel destination. Every seaside town along this most indented of Mediterranean Coastlines has a Riva – that pleasant paved seaside strip where people promenade, swim, fish, moor boats, drink coffee and take their evening stroll.
The Riva in Zadar shines with more than just the sun’s rays.
Riva – Sea Organ and Sun Salutation
Zadar’s Riva has expansive views, across Zadar Strait to Ugljan Island only 3km from the town harbour. Our Airbnb apartment was situated at the southern end of the Riva, offering the perfect opportunity for an afternoon walk northward to the joint attractions of the Sea Organ and Sun Salutation.
Looking to Ugljan Island across the strait.
The Sea Organ is an intriguing concept created by architect Nikola Bašić . A set of wide 70 metre long marble steps provide the perfect place to sit and view the sunset, mesmerised by strange ghostly harmonies emitting from the sea. Thirty-five pipes built beneath the steps, create organ music conducted by the haphazard movement of waves. I’ve likened it previously to music for mermaids and you can view and listen to it here. With our bedroom windows open late at night, sea organ music would ebb and flow exquisitely around the room.
Implant 300 multilayered glass plates in a 22 metre wide circle in the surface of the Riva, then sit back and enjoy the show. That is what Nikola Bašić achieved within metres of the Sea Organ.
LED lights powered by the sun’s stored power, pulse in time with wave action producing colourful sequences that flash and disappear hypnotically. What I didn’t realise at the time was that the entire waterfront lighting system is also generated from the Sun Salutation’s photovoltaic cells.
These two impressive attractions create great interest along the promenade.
The Land Gate and Fosa Harbour
Walking in the other direction from home led us to the eastern walls of the city at Fosa Harbour, beyond which is the beautiful Renaissance Land Gate, once the main town entrance.
The Venetians built the gate in 1543 with a triumphal arch for vehicles and smaller gates either side for pedestrians. On the seaward side, the winged Lion of St. Mark reminds of a time when Venetians ruled Zadar.
Of the four gates that remain in the walls this one is the most impressive. It is considered the finest Venetian monument in Dalmatia.
From here you can either enter the gate or turn south and to find a swimming spot.
My camera has one fault with disastrous consequences, but I guess I should take responsibility. It allows me to take photos without having a camera card loaded. I know!
I’ve done this twice and our walk to Kolovare Beach was one of those occasions. We had a lovely afternoon exploring the area – having drinks at a waterside bar, watching beach volleyball and finding the imperial fountain. Marty provides a lot of photos for the blog and thankfully he took two shots that afternoon. Here they are.
Walk to Kolovare Beach.
The Imperial Fountain was built in 1536 during the Renaissance Period, then renovated during the 18th Century. It is contained within a circular building open to the sea and once provided fresh water for the town and Venetian ships. Sadly it is somewhat neglected today but still structurally sound and a beautiful sight.
Cafes, Music and the Rome influence
The squares of Zadar are not lacking cafes full of patrons. Some looked far too busy for us.
The main thoroughfare in Zadar is the original Roman Road but then Rome’s influence can be seen all through town.
Between the Riva and the backing street Ul. Mihovila Pavlinovica, cafe tables and chairs spread out in the grassy park. To enjoy the ambience just take a seat and waiters will deliver your order from across the street.
Cafe with Roman column.
Cafe Rio on the northern side of our apartment block, with it’s cushioned bench seats could easily hail from Turkey.
On the southern side was a mural depicting the famous now deceased Croatian singer, songwriter and politician Tomislav Ivčić, famous for his song Stop the war in Croatia, which surprisingly was a top ten hit in Australia in 1991. He died in a car accident aged 41 and is buried in the famous Mirogoj Cemetery in Zagreb.
We were serenaded by guitar music in our apartment some nights, so it was probably no accident that his mural adorned the walls beneath.
The Streets of Zadar
Zadar is no Dubrovnik. Her streets are not over-run with tourists and her scars of war have been filled with a mix of normal everyday buildings. Whether modern or ancient, Zadar’s streets are a friendly place for locals and visitors to roam.
Roman Forum, St. Donatus Church and the Oldest Inhabited Town
The remains of the Roman Forum are spread out in a manicured grassed area with paved walkways. Although only pieces remain, they are interesting pieces. Wrong-doers were chained to the shaming post (above) during the middle ages for a dose of public humiliation.
Present day Zadar has been populated since pre-historic times, with the Romans first invading in the 2nd Century BC. The town has a huge history of prominence, destruction, invasions and rulers, but along the way it acquired the typical Roman rectangular street plan, forum and a water supply system arriving from lake Vrana, via a 40 kilometre long aqueduct. It is known as the Oldest Inhabited Town in Croatia.
Head of Jupiter with Rams Horns.
Circular, 9th Century Byzantine St. Donatus Church was built on top of the Roman Forum.
The building is in good condition, except for the missing timber floor. This stroke of luck reveals the way the old roman columns were used as footings for the 9th century Church. The church has gorgeous forum and ocean views from the top level.
Zadar Cathedral of St. Anastasia and Bell Tower
Originally built in the 4th Century, this Romanesque version dating from the 12th Century, was reconstructed after damage in WWII. The bell tower can be climbed from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. except on Sunday for beautiful views of the peninsula. I believe the sunset views from up there are to die for.
Looking skyward past the bas relief of Madonna and Child.
I thought the Church was pretty from the outside so I peeked within. I’m no church aficionado, but I did like the unusual dark timber ceiling (no colourful frescoes here) and the natural stone columns that dominate the room in a sombre but attractive way.
Zadar’s Famous Sunsets
Looking south while waiting for Sunset on the Riva.
Our camera cards are full of Zadar’s Sunsets. We didn’t climb the Cathedral’s Bell Tower for Sunset, the shot below being taken from the Riva near the Sea Organ Steps.
Crowds gather for Sunset from the Sea Organ steps.
In the words of Alfred Hitchcock “The sunset of Zadar is the world’s most beautiful and incomparably better than in Key West, Florida.”
Hmmm. Poor Key West…
Zadar and Wars
Looking at Zadar today it is hard to believe that 60% of the old town was destroyed by allied bombing in the second world war after Germany took the city, or that it was partially destroyed by Yugoslav rocket attacks 1991-3. Back then the people were stuck in their homes without food or water. The waterfront was finally reconstructed in 2005 at which time the Sun Salutation and Sea Organ were installed.
Fortifications are an everyday sight on the streets of Zadar. These photos show another two of the town gates.
Where to Stay at Zadar
Diklo and Boric 6km to the north-west have traditionally contained the majority of tourist accommodation. If you (like us) would prefer to stay more centrally, I suggest looking at Airbnb “old town” options. We loved our choice. Hosts Ana and Nik were so hospitable, they even waited on the street to guide us to a saved parking space. They surprised us with chocolates and fresh cherries (Maraschino Cherry Liquer originated in Zadar). We loved their third floor apartment set amongst the bars and restaurants and best of all – just across the street from the Riva. If you have not used Airbnb previously you can use the link in our sidebar and you will receive a discount (currently at $35 AUD).
While there are markets and a supermarket in the old town, we visited Supernova on the way through the new Town. Six kilometres and 14 minutes from the old town by car, this modern shopping centre has a large supermarket, specialty stores, food court and restaurants. The Tele2 (mobile data) store there helped get our phone working again.
Zadar is one of the best connected towns in Croatia. Car and passenger ferries to the Adriatic islands and beyond (Italy) depart from the harbour. Jadrolinija sells tickets for all local ferries with international tickets available from Jadroagent inside the walls.
Zadar airport is 12km east of the city (Ryan Air, Croatian Airlines). Bus (2km east of the old city) and Train (adjacent the bus station).
Budget Travel Talk
St. Donatus Church entrance fee 20 kuna. Opening hours 9 am – 9 p.m.
Cathedral of St. Anastacia – entrance free. Opening hours 6.30-7pm Mon-Fri, 8-9am Sat, 8-9am & 6-7pm Sun.