The Dalmatian Coast is an area of magnificent scenery, architectural beauty and fruitful abundance. Every city and town has a daily market where trestle tables are laden with mouth-watering displays of citrus and deciduous fruits, grapes, vegetables, bottled peppers and olives, and olive oils flavoured with garlic, herbs, and white and black truffles. There are many different cheeses, dried apricots and figs, and fish and seafood fresh from the Adriatic. The air is redolent with the aromas of roasting vegetables and meat – skewers of beef and lamb on open charcoal braziers. There are sacks of nuts, and many different flavours of honey for shoppers to taste, especially honey made from the “mountain flowers” of Croatia and acacia. All utterly delicious!
Lavender, which, with wild rosemary and sage, grows profusely on the white limestone cliffs that reach down to the sea, is sold as a therapeutic oil or in sachets, and fills the air with its pungent perfume. Almost every street has a Pekara (bakery), the yeasty-vanilla fragrance of which lures passers-by in to savour their pastries and breads, hot from the oven. The seductive aroma of coffee adds to this visual and olfactory feast, and promises delectable delights within.
Locally-produced wines, beer, and sour cherry and honey liqueurs, and the lethal Rakija favoured in the Balkans, complement each meal.
With the odd exception, the sun shines gloriously upon this Mediterranean land throughout the long summer months. Even towards the end of September the most popular destinations are still crowded with tourists.
There is much natural beauty in Croatia – the forests, lakes and waterfalls – and the magnificent Dalmatian Coast. The elegant architecture reflects the taste of invaders and occupiers over many centuries. Gothic and Renaissance styles, and the distinctive Byzantine flavour of Venice, are visible in Istria and Dalmatia, while Zagreb boasts the splendid Baroque architecture of nearly four centuries of Habsburg rule. To the north of Croatia lie Hungary, Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. To the south is Montenegro, to which wine tours are offered daily from Dubrovnik. Guided history walks, printed literature, and museums provide a stark reminder of the appalling civil war – the “Homeland War” – that rent the Balkan Peninsular from 1990-95 but a generation ago. Buildings bear shrapnel marks, and the older generation still bear their scars within. But apart from several deserted villages to the northeast, Croatia is slowly recovering, and today enjoys brisk trade in its primary source of income – tourism!
A good place to start when exploring a country for the first time is its heart – the capital. Zagreb – City of a Thousand Hearts – with a population of nearly a million inhabitants – lies on a spacious plain protected from the cold northern winds by the Medvednica Mountain. The name “Zagreb” was first used in 1094 during the founding of the Zagreb Diocese by the conquering Hungarian King Laszlo, although Roman settlement had taken place there much earlier, during the 1st century AD. Legend has it that the name derives from the Croatian word zagrabiti, meaning “scoop” the water, when a young girl called Manda offered a battle-weary soldier a drink from a spring. Today this natural spring is the Manduševac Fountain, and stands in the city centre in Ban Jelačić Square. This spring provided the people with fresh drinking water right up until the end of the 19th century.
Old Zagreb consists of two settlements situated on neighbouring hills: Gradec, also known as Gornji Grad (Upper Town) and Kaptol. The Donji Grad (Lower Town) is the grid-like central business district on ground-level, graced with elegant parks and Austro-Hungarian imperial buildings. The coffee-shop-and-pastry culture of Old Vienna and Budapest is evident everywhere, in contrast to the noticeably Mediterranean atmosphere of the Adriatic coast.
Our lodgings in Zagreb, City of Hearts – a small, recently renovated flat on the 5th floor of an old building with a tiny rickety lift – was located right on Dolac Market Square, the largest market in the city. Not only was it around the corner from Zagreb Cathedral, but, as I had correctly calculated, near a daily supply of delicious fresh produce.
This is the best-known of many open-air food markets in Zagreb – almost every district has one – and has been operating since the early 20th century. There are three levels, including two other levels below the open market square, where fresh fish, pastas, dairy products and meat are sold.
City of Hearts accommodation (2 tiny self-catering flats, booking.com), takes its name from the ubiquitously visible symbol of the city: traditional heart-shaped cookies with bright red icing. The licitar was originally a symbol of love and a Christmas decoration made from honey-dough that originated in central Croatia. These hearts are displayed and sold everywhere, though today they are durable souvenirs made of paste, and unfortunately not edible.
It‘s possible to see the main sights in Zagreb in a day by exploring the Upper Town in the morning and the Lower Town in the afternoon, although this would mean excluding the museums.
The starting point, and first point-of-interest in the excellent Step by Step Zagreb guide booklet, is Ban (Governor) Jelačić Square. This central square has served as the city’s commercial heart since 1641 when it was originally designed as a market place. Here stands a grand equestrian statue of the Austrian general who governed Croatia from 1848-1859, and who is noted for having abolished serfdom. Most of the buildings surrounding the square date from the 19th century, and display a variety of architectural styles, from Biedermeier to Art Nouveau and post-Modernism.
The Upper Town is reminiscent of Prague in appearance and atmosphere. It can be reached by means of the old funicular (built in 1888), or by walking up one of two winding pedestrian roads, Radićeva, or café-lined Tkalčićeva. Both are flanked by boutiques and picturesque old houses with wrought-iron balconies.
Radićeva passes a sculpture of St. George and the Dragon which was created in the early 20th century by the Austrian sculptors Kompatscher and Winder. It’s unusual in that it portrays the moment just after St. George has slain the dragon, as he pays homage.
The Radićeva then passes through the 13th century Kamenita Vrata (Stone Gate). This is the only one of the four original city gates that has survived. It contains a tiny chapel built to commemorate the fire that razed the wooden buildings huddled around the Gate in 1731, but which miraculously left unscathed a picture of the Virgin Mary. Here pilgrims can be seen lighting candles and sitting in the small wooden pews, or standing in reverent prayer before the image of the Virgin – the patron saint of the city.
On the plateau of the hill stands the city’s most distinctive church, St. Mark’s, with its distinctive chequered red, white and blue tiles incorporating the Croatian coat of arms.
This colourful pattern was created during the 19th century, but there is evidence that the church itself dates from the 13th century.
To the left of St. Mark’s Square stands the 19th century Banski dvori (Governor’s Palace), the seat of the Croatian Government and the Prime Minister’s office, and on the right the Sabor (Croatian Parliament), which has held sessions in this area since 1737. The current building only dates from the early 20th century, and it was here that the decision was made to sever political ties with the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918, and from Yugoslavia in 1991.
On the corner of the Square, on Kamenita ulica (Stone Street), stands “Zagreb’s Oldest Pharmacy”, where, in 1399, Nicolo Aligheri, the great-grandson of Dante, worked as a pharmacist. It has been in more or less continuous operation since it first opened in 1355.
17a and b Pics of pharmacy and Alighieri sign
Following Opatićka Street, which runs behind St. Mark’s Church, there are several splendid palaces in which key events in the city’s history took place. No.10 has a striking wrought-iron palisade and gate, and is known for its famous reception room, the Golden Hall. It is now used as the Croatian Institute of History.
At the end of Opatićka stands the Priest’s Tower and the Zagreb City Museum. The latter is housed in the restored former convent of St. Clare; opatica is Croatian for nun. The nuns, invited to Zagreb by Croatian nobles during the 17th century, organised the city’s first school for girls, whom they taught music and singing along with other mainstream academic subjects. Before spending several happy hours in this most interesting museum, which presents the history of Zagreb in a user-friendly manner, I asked the curator where I could find a bite of lunch. I had noticed the abundance of pleasant-looking drinking places in Zagreb, but none seemed to serve any food.
The curator immediately suggested Konoba Didov san (Restaurant Grandfather’s Dream), which specialises in traditional Croatian fare. These include beef soup with noodles, a pastry pie with char, olive oil and garlic, traditional donuts with soft cheese from the island of Pag, pork loin stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon, turkey skewers with potatoes, Zagreb schnitzel with baked potatoes, frogs with Dalmatian smoked ham, snails with homemade polenta, grilled eel, and veal scallops with grilled Mediterranean vegetables and potatoes. Desserts include dry almond cake with maraschino, boiled apples stuffed with walnuts, and Croatian pancakes with walnuts and chocolate sauce. I opted for a traditional squid salad, saving my main meal for the evening with my husband.
The brandies and liqueurs sold here were typical of those offered throughout our trip, and are made from a variety of fruits and herbs: plums, carob, wild cherries, walnuts, mistletoe, juniper berries, figs, apricots, raspberries, quinces and honey. I particularly like the latter, Medovača, flavoured with honey.
Ilirski Trg – Illyrian Square lies behind the City Museum, and is named after the Illyrian movement which spearheaded Croatia’s cultural and political revival during the first half of the 19th century through the promotion of the Croatian language and literature. Indeed, as our travels through Croatia progressed, I became increasingly aware of the fierce nationalism of this nation, as expressed in their institutions, printed information and museums. I also acquired a better understanding of the determined nationalism that fuelled the Homeland War during the ‘90’s. In the centre of the square stands a tiny picturesque chapel, and while standing under the trees, admiring this site, music could be heard floating through the windows of the nearby ballet school.
The Kula Lotršćak (Tower) stands near the edge of the Upper Town, and from here every day at noon a cannon is fired, startling unwary tourists and causing a flurry of pigeons to take to the sky. The original purpose was to frighten the Ottoman invaders, the increasing power of whom had begun to threaten Western Christian Europe since the 14th century. By the 16th century most of Croatia and Hungary had fallen to the Ottomans.
West of the Tower visitors can enjoy a stroll along the Strossmayer Parade, a pretty tree-lined promenade lined with benches and old-fashioned street lamps. The day was fine and mostly sunny, and the view over the city superb.
From this elevated position the Upper Town can be seen falling away below, the Cathedral to the left, and the Lower Town which connects to the Novi Grad (New Town), spreading over the far bank of the Sava River to the south.
The Gallery of Croatian Naïve Art (founded in 1952) is a charming museum near the Kula Tower displaying the rural themes of relatively untutored painters and sculptors whose work dates from the early 1930’s to the 1980’s. Principal among these is the work of Ivan Generalić (1914-92) and Dragan Gaži (1930-83), amongst others.
The Croatian History Museum, a magnificent old Baroque palace dating from the 18th century, is also located here in the Upper Town. It once belonged to a Mr. Vojković who allegedly made his fortune securing advantageous marriages for wealthy older women!
St. Catherine’s Church, which stands on the impressive Katrinin Trg (Square) in the Upper Town, is Zagreb’s most beautiful and significant Baroque church. It was built by the Jesuits during the first half of the 17th century. After the earthquake of 1880 the façade was reconstructed by the architect Herman Bollé. Sadly it was locked on both occasions that I tried to enter it, as was St. Mark’s.
The Jesuits, a Catholic religious order known for their scientific and educational activities, also founded the first Humanistic Secondary School in Zagreb in 1607. It provided a humanistic education to students from all walks of life, from farmers’ children and city folk to the children of the aristocracy. I was impressed by the Neptune fountain in front of the School.
Another museum in the Upper Town, which I was curious to explore because of its bizarre name, is the Museum of Broken Relationships, housed in the former Baroque Kulmer Palace. The brochure states: It’s a place with laughters and tears. Museum with a twist. Unique and intriguing. Intriguing it certainly was, but after reading the sad little stories relating the lost and failed loves that accompanied an impressive display of objects, I felt a touch sad, and left. Amongst the exhibits were a pair of red shoes, a ball gown, CD’s, books, ornaments, pieces of jewellery and an endless collection of knickknacks. The museum claims to offer a chance to overcome an emotional collapse through creation. People continue to contribute items daily, and the overflow has to be kept in a storeroom elsewhere.
The next day we explored Zagreb Cathedral in the Kaptol district. Easily recognisable by its commanding size and presence and its soaring twin towers, it is known as the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was a beautiful sight to see when illuminated at night.
A tall statue of the Virgin, also designed by Herman Bollé, is surrounded by four golden figures symbolising Faith, Hope, Innocence and Humility, and stands above a fountain at the front of the cathedral square.
The Cathedral is now a Neo-Gothic structure dating from its reconstruction after the 1880 earthquake, but its origins can be traced from the establishment of the Zagreb bishopric in 1094. It’s surrounded on three sides by defensive walls with round towers, built in record time between 1512 and 1521 to protect the surrounding community from the Ottomans.
For dinner that first night we went to a restaurant recommended by our host for serving good Croatian dishes: Restoran Vinodol (http://www.vinodol-zg.hr/en/ ). Here, in a cavernous, cellar-like space, we savoured traditional continental and Mediterranean cuisine. We are proud to say that our meals are prepared according to traditional recipes, with a modern approach, thus continually broadening our menu list. Included are attractive daily menus made from selected fresh seasonal foods, states the opening page of their website.
Dishes include creamy pumpkin soup, roasted red peppers, beef fillets on a leafy salad, veal chops in a cheese crust with gnocchi gratin and young cabbage buds in an olive oil emulsion, beef stew with Istrian pasta, and prawn risotto with pumpkin. I enjoyed a slice of pork fillet with prune sauce and fried potatoes. Desserts include yogurt cake with a grated chocolate topping, orange pie, and cheesecake with wild berries. Some of the fresh juices are rather unusual: elderflower, lemon, sage, and lavender, but I chose something familiar: freshly squeezed orange juice.
Štrukli is a typical Zagreb dish: turkey, baked or cooked, salty or sweet, served with mlinci pasta strips, or Zagreb steak: fried veal filled with cheese and ham, rather like its Viennese counterpart, or chicken Cordon Bleu. Typical Zagreb desserts are kremšnita – the most famous cream cake in Croatia, made in the nearby town of Samobor, or strudel filled with apples, cheese or cherries.
There is much to see in the Lower Town, which is characterised by many magnificent buildings in a variety of architectural styles: memorials, museums and galleries. Ilica, Zagreb’s oldest and longest avenue (6 km), forms the boundary between the Upper and Lower Towns, and is used by both trams and cars. This avenue dates back to Roman times, and is lined with designer boutiques and restaurants.
South of Ilica lies Lenuci’s so-called “green horseshoe”: two rows of impressive buildings set in green squares, connected at the top by King Tomislav Square, with a grand equestrian statue of Croatia’s first King (crowned in 925), and the Main Railway Station. The latter was built in 1862 to connect Zagreb to the economic and cultural centres of Vienna and Budapest.
The significant buildings were too numerous to visit during the short time that we had in the capital, and overcast weather made for dull photography, but we enjoyed our stroll through the squares, beginning with Zrinjevac and its so-called First Fountain, and admiring the impressive architecture in the “green horseshoe”. Of special interest is the attractive Meteorological Post, which has recorded weather conditions in the city since 1884, and provided passers-by with temperature, air pressure and 24-hour time co-ordination.
There are also the Archaeological Museum, HAZU – the Croatian Academy of Arts and Sciences (1880), The Gallery of Modern Art, the Art Pavilion (1898).
The Hotel Esplanade was built in 1925 near the main railway station, and was intended for high-brow passengers traveling on the luxurious Oriental Express from Paris to Istanbul. Most striking inside the hotel – apart from the grand reception area, is the stained-glass cupola in the ball room. This is where grand society events are held, including the annual “Miss Europe” beauty pageant.
HAZU, the Croatian Academy of Arts and Sciences, contains the Baška Tablet, a 12th century stone tablet bearing inscriptions written in Glagolitic, the highly decorative script used in Croatia before the use of the Roman alphabet.
The Neo-Baroque National Theatre is located on Marshal Tito Square, named after Josip Broz Tito (1892-1980), the former President of the old Yugoslav Federation.
In front of the Theatre stands the Well of Life, created by the contemporary sculptor Ivan Mežtrović in 1912. It is an attractive circular pool surrounded by a bronze frieze depicting intertwined nude figures including children, elderly people, and loving couples.
A welcome breather from all the impressive buildings and their information in our brochures was the small Botanical Gardens, with its collection of over 10,000 species of plants, both indigenous and exotic. At this late stage in the summer they were all starting to look a little bedraggled, but I particularly enjoyed the herb garden, the pond with tiny terrapins, and the flower beds laid out according to the colours of the rainbow. Entry is free, but there are strict rules regarding disciplined behaviour, ensuring that the greenery, lovely scents of the late-summer flowers, and the general sense of peace in this oasis in the centre of the city can be enjoyed by all.
Marulić Square is dominated by the former National and University Library, today the home of the Croatian State Archives which can be traced back to the 17th century. This building was designed in 1913 by the architect Rudolf Lubynski (1873-1935), and is the most beautiful example of Croatian Art Nouveau in Zagreb.
The high half-dome visible from the front covers the central Reading room, the four pillars of which each bear a globe surrounded by owls. The facades carry allegories of the four university sciences: philosophy, medicine, law and theology.
The University of Zagreb nearby was founded in 1669, and is one of the oldest universities in Europe. The main administrative building, built during the 19th century, was originally used as a hospital, and then as a tobacco factory! Today there are 29 faculties and three academies.
There are also the Museum of Arts and Crafts, the Mimara Museum and the Ethnographic Museum. There are many more museums in the city, too numerous to mention. We also came across a statue of Nicola Tesla (1856-1943), the Croatian scientist and innovator credited with having been instrumental in the development and introduction of alternating current, X-rays, remote control devices, and radio waves.
Also on a scientific note is the contemporary sculpture The Grounded Sun by Ivan Kožarić. It is simply a bronze sphere set in a square with cafes with umbrellas, and can be rolled around at will by the visitors. This inspired another artist, Davor Preis, to create more metal spheres of the planets, placed in different spots around the city, with their sizes and the distances separating them in exact proportion to Kožarić’s original “sun”. Visitors are then challenged to find all the nine planets.
Shopping in Zagreb, as in the other Croatian cities, was disappointing. But there is the lovely fresh produce, and goods from the countryside: lavender items, wooden crafts, leather goods, and rounds of cellophane-wrapped “fig cake” in a variety of flavours. There is beautiful Adriatic coral jewellery in different hues of red, and ties are the recommended gift to purchase, said to have originated in Croatia. Many boutiques trade on this claim, selling ties in all shapes and colours, particularly the red-and-white checkerboard from the Croatian coat of arms in the centre of the country’s flag.
Both the Upper and Lower Towns are easily explored on foot, and there is a good tram network, and buses connect the capital to the nearby towns and villages. Taxis are relatively cheap, with a ride from the airport to the city centre costing around 200 HRK (Croatian Kuna – $30.)
After three days spent exploring the Croatian capital, we headed southwest to our next destination: Plitvice National Park. Unfortunately this plan had to be abandoned due to torrential rain, which showed no sign of abating. As we did not relish the thought of trudging through the chilly park along slippery boardwalks with inadequate rainwear, we continued onwards to Zadar.
Lunch was at one of the many roadside restaurants that my guide book (Insight Guides) had assured provided surprisingly good meals. This turned out to be true, and we enjoyed warmth and an excellent meal at one such establishment just before two busloads of Oriental tourists descended: grilled trout from the nearby river, with vegetables, and succulent apple strudel.
Light rain continued when we reached the northern Dalmatian Coast and Zadar, and persisted for the rest of the evening. Undeterred, we quickly made our way to the principal sights of the oldest continuously inhabited city in Croatia. To reach the Old Town, which lies nestled on the Zadar peninsular, we had either to walk the long way around from our lodgings at Pansion Maria and across a bridge, or take the shortcut across the narrow channel by row-boat. In spite of the storm-tossed seas, we opted for the more adventurous crossing of the latter.
Evidence of human habitation in the Zadar area dates from the Stone Age. From the 4th century BC it was settled by an Illyrian tribe, the Liburnians, known as Ladar, and then the Greeks. The Romans, who arrived in 59 BC, thus named the city Ladera. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476, and the destruction of Salona by the Avars and Slavs in 614, Zadar became the capital of the Byzantine province of Dalmatia. Venetian conquerors came in 1202, helped by the Crusaders, who sacked the city. During the early 16th century the Ottoman Turks took control, but a decisive victory for the Austrian Habsburgs took place in 1593 at Sisak, just south of Zagreb, ensuring no further advancement of the Ottoman Empire into Europe. Habsburg influence in Croatia continued until the WW I. (A coalition of Catholic maritime states had defeated the Ottomans at the Battle of Lepanto in the Gulf of Patras in the Ionian Sea west of Greece in 1571. This victory of the Holy League, led by Pope Pius V, significantly prevented further Ottoman expansion on the European shores of the Mediterranean.)
Zadar became an important Venetian stronghold, ensuring not only Venetian trade in the Adriatic, but a cultural and administrative centre for the Venetian territories still held in Dalmatia. After the Fall of Venice to Napoleon in 1797, Zadar came under Austrian rule. Apart from the ensuing brief period of French domination (1806-1810) during the Napoleonic Era, the Habsburgs prevailed until the end of the World War I in 1918. During the 19th century Zadar became the centre of the Croatian movement for cultural and national revival, and later in the 20th century (1991), Croatian armed forces defended the city during the attempted capture by the Serb rebels.
The city of Zadar is the historical centre of Dalmatia. Apart from the wealth of splendid architecture in the Old Town, our principal destinations were the award-winning Sea Organ (Morske Orgulje) and the Greeting to the Sun, about which we had heard and read so much.
The Sea Organ is a giant musical instrument that produces strange and haunting sounds by means of the waves that force air through 35 pipes placed beneath a swathe of marble steps on the shoreline.
The device was created by the architect Nikola Bašić as part of a project to redesign the new city shore, the Nova riva, and opened to the public in April 2005. The sound it produces is completely random, but strangely harmonic. On choppy evenings such as our first, it produces a multiplicity of clamorous sounds. On our second, a tranquil evening, it was quieter, producing less of a cacophony – until a passing ferry caused a sheaf of ripples to bombard the shore, and the pipes to moan uproariously. Lingering there on a cool and windy evening just as the sun was setting, was a strange and marvellous experience indeed.
While the Sea Organ represents communing with Nature by means of sound, the Greeting to the Sun is a “monument” to the sun, symbolising communing with Nature by means of light. It consists of 300 multi-layered glass plates in the shape of a 22-meter diameter circle placed level with the stone-paved waterfront, and containing photo-voltage solar modules. Lighting elements within the circle illuminate at night, producing a magical disc of ever-changing, multi-coloured glows.
Sadly, evidence of the three-month Serbian siege of the city in 1991, followed by low level warfare during the following four years, is still visible, with shrapnel marks on many of the buildings. But much restoration has taken place during the past 21 years, and tourism has picked up once more.
Once inside the Land Gate, the plinth of which carries a carved winged Venetian lion, there are many interesting buildings to explore. Principal among these is the Cathedral of St. Anastasia, a vast Romanesque structure dating from 1177, which was substantially rebuilt after heavy bombing during the World War II, and Serbian shelling in the 1990’s. The ornate façade has three portals, and leads into a vast interior with three apses. The walls are decorated with beautiful 13th century frescoes which include images of St. Anastasia herself, John the Baptist, and Christ. The bell tower was added later, in 1893.
St. Donat’s Church stands in front of the Cathedral, and is the most impressive building in the square.
This Byzantine monolith, which was commissioned by the Irish saint during the 9th century, is built from stones taken from ruins in the Roman Forum alongside. It is no longer used as a church, but for concerts, exhibitions and light installations. The current multimedia exhibition is titled Old Croatian Heritage in New Light; Every night from 21:00 until late. Experience the magic synergy of Art and History through light, sound, and natural 3-D images of authentic motifs in the ambience of the Old Croatian times, in the early medieval church of St. Donatus. The items displayed in the slideshow are housed in the treasury of the Zadar Archaeological Museum.
It was a wonderfully eerie experience, wandering through the hushed archways and upper galleries of this ancient church, experiencing the fantastic lighting effects, hearing recordings of ancient sacred chant, and savouring the scent of damp stone and the archaic atmosphere. The unadorned, stark cylindrical interior has excellent acoustics for the concerts that take place here on summer nights, and by day fantastic views over the city and sea can be seen from the bell tower.
Little remains of the Roman Forum apart from a few columns. One of these, the Pillar of Shame, was where criminals were flogged or chained for public derision in bygone days.
Today visitors can sip a cappuccino or a cold beer in the cafés and bars in the very places where the Romans once went about their business – the Forum and along the main street – Kalelarga. Here the ladies display their beautifully wrought handcrafts, lace and embroidery.
Picturesque little alleyways run on either side from Kalelarga, and are lined with boutiques and restaurants. Zadar has a number of popular beaches: Soline, Sakarun, Lojena, Diklo, Borik and Uskok, and guided tours of the old City Walls are offered daily. Fresh fruits can be bought in the market on Zlatarska, and of an evening visitors and locals alike enjoy a stroll along the Karma Promenade to watch the celebrated Zadar sunsets.
We had insufficient time to see all the interesting museums in the Old Town, and chose to omit the Archaeological Museum and Museum of Illusions in favour of the Museum of Ancient Glass. Located in the 19th century Cosmacendi Palace, which enjoys lovely views over the Jazine Harbour, this museum is one of the city’s newest attractions. Fascinating collections of old Roman glassware are on display: goblets, jars and vials retrieved from archaeological sites throughout Dalmatia. Some of these were used by Roman women to store perfume, lotions and aromatic oils. There are also early Christian treasures: glass cups used for the Mass, and delicate flasks in which holy water was stored. The first hall contains an excellent and comprehensive display explaining the history of glassmaking, with the raw materials, tools, furnaces and materials for executing various decorative techniques. Visitors can view the ingredients used by ancient Assyrian glassblowers, moulds, pipes for blowing glass, shears, pincers and glass-making instructions. Unfortunately the hour being what it was – late evening, the glass-blowing demonstration had long-since ended.
Other sites of interest in the Old Town include the Church of St. Francis and the Franciscan Monastery, and the Five Wells Square. This Square is located between the medieval city walls and the Renaissance Grimani Bastion. It features exactly as its name suggests: five wells standing in a row.
The area was a defensive ditch in Medieval times, and during the 16th century the Venetians helped the inhabitants withstand Turkish sieges by building a large water cistern underground, with five ornamental wellheads above, for the provision of fresh water.
The next day the weather was fine and the sun shining brightly, and we chose rather than to explore more of the mainland sights, to spend a day out on a boat trip experiencing the magnificent Kornati Islands National Park with our friends. This archipelago of 89 island is sparsely populated, as few have managed to make a living on these rocky strips of land.
The boat was not very comfortable, with its noisy old diesel-belching engine, and blaring pop music for most of the day. But it’s always advisable to maintain a balance between culture and nature when exploring a new country. With this in mind, I tore myself away from the cultural and historical riches of the old city to savour the fresh and briny breezes of the Adriatic Sea. I was not disappointed.
The Kornati Islands (140 in all) are dry and barren, but of a stark and pristine beauty. They make for fantastic photography, with their clear turquoise bays and white rocky cliffs tufted with scrub. Their name derives from the largest island in the archipelago, Kornat, and their surrounds and marine life are now strictly protected.
Small white churches can be seen on some of the islands, some dating from the 16th century, and miles of drystone walls for sheep.
On several islands the granite cliffs are layered, as if built by the hands of giants.
The sounds of the gulls calling and sheep bleating can be heard all day, and the scent of wild lavender fills the air.
Lunch was included in the trip, and constituted a simple meal one of the islands: fried mackerel and a large pork chop, with cabbage and tomato salad, hunks of white bread, fruit juice or wine, and fresh apples.
As on two other islands, we were allowed plenty of free time to wander around, swim, sunbathe, or doze under an ancient olive tree. I came across a few fishermen’s’ cottages, their nets drying in the sunshine, and weekend cottages, covered with bougainvillea.
On the island of Mana, the “ruins” of a village built for the set for the film As the Sea Rages (1959, with Maria Schell) are still standing. Here I enjoyed some peaceful solitude, admiring the fantastic view and writing in my notebook.
Although the boat trip to and from Zadar port took three rather monotonous hours, we were happy to have experienced something of the simple lives of the fisher folk and shepherds who live out on these barren islands.
CONTINUE WITH PART 2, CENTRAL AND SOUTHERN DALMATIA: Split and Dubrovnik here.