A while back, Sasha and I came across a number of historic images of Zadar—mostly old postcards—posted on-line. We thought it would be interesting to seek out the original context of the images and take duplicate photos to illustrate historical changes in Zadar’s urban landscape. Although the city stretches back more than 2000 years and certainly exhibits significant change since Roman occupation, one of the greatest changes resulted from the destruction of Zadar during WWII. During the early 1940s, Zadar was heavily bombed, leaving many buildings completely destroyed. In some cases, new buildings were constructed, while in others, the urban landscape was left open and converted to public squares, parks, and other recreational uses. In fact, much of what is known of the ancient Roman cityscape—including the Forum—was revealed after many of Zadar’s central buildings were destroyed during the war and subsequently removed. Most historic images we found date to the late 18th and early 19th century, and hence demonstrate significant change in the city’s urban space.
Last weekend, Sasha, Austin, and I booked an excursion to the Kornati Islands—part of the outermost archipelago off the coast of Zadar—that didn’t quite turn out as advertised. We have no real complaints, but rather wish to share a few humorous observations. Indeed, we had a wonderful time, enjoyed the crew of the boat very much, and were able to visit some very beautiful island landscapes while also gazing upon the open waters of the Adriatic Sea for the first time.
We shopped around a bit and learned that many (most?) companies that advertise day excursions to Kornati seem to offer the same basic package: depart Zadar around 9am with breakfast on the 3 hour boat ride out to the islands, spend two and a half hours at Telašćica Nature Park that includes lunch along with opportunities to visit an inland salt lake and the seaward facing vertical cliffs of the island, and the return trip to Zadar for an early evening arrival. We were quite excited for this excursion, since Kornati—with its 140 or so islands—is described as the densest archipelago in the Mediterranean region.
We were alerted early in our journey that something was amiss when “breakfast” was served: a two-course meal consisting of a shot of schnapps (and not one of those good, flavored kinds!), followed by our choice of water or wine. In fact, wine was available throughout the journey, and though we didn’t partake, we suspect it was complimentary given the number of repeated visits a particular tourist couple had made. We also noted that, although the tour group normally books around 100 people, the boat only seats about 40 for a 6 hour trip. The most interesting observation we made, however, would have to be that our excursion to Kornati wasn’t actually to Kornati. We simply passed by the northern most island of Kornati National Park before docking at the southern portion of Dugi Otok (Long Island) for our two and a half hour island stay. Ironically, these are the types of things that made our visit to “Kornati” more memorable!
Traveling is always a richer experience when you can communicate with the local people. Greg and I both feel presumptuous speaking English while abroad, so we began our study of the Croatian language (hrvatski) before leaving the U.S. We were very lucky to receive help from a retired University of Maine language professor who is from Croatia. She generously gave her time and helped us with the alphabet, pronunciation, and vocabulary. When we arrived in Zagreb we found that many Croatians speak English, making it easy for us to get around. However, neither of us wanted to depend on English, so we have been working with a wonderful tutor here in Zadar.
Perhaps it’s true that you do not learn a language until you have made ten thousand mistakes. If that’s the case, then we are well on our way! One day, while shopping in the market, I attempted to ask for a quarter kilo of onions. I realized I had not employed my hrvatski correctly when the vendor started filling the second bag! I tried again, “četiri kilo?” I asked. “Da” (yes), she said. Then it hit me: I was asking for four kilos (about 9lbs) of onions instead of a quarter kilo. I quickly corrected myself, “četvrt kilo,” and thankfully she laughed and sold me a quarter kilo of onions. Despite the fact that I almost had to carry 9lbs of onions home, in the mistake department Greg is king. He has managed to introduce me as his husband, as well as exclaiming, “volim se!” (I love myself) instead of “vidimo se” (see you later) when saying farewell to our tutor.
Croatians themselves seem well aware of the complexity of their language. When we share with someone here that we are trying to learn Croatian, without fail we receive a friendly smile and a somewhat sarcastic “Good luck!” Mostly we find that people are appreciative of a foreigner attempting to speak their language (even if we do butcher it in the process). We stumble quite a bit in our communications, but everyone here has been very patient with us, allowing us to take our time to find the right words and responding slowly or, in many cases, in English so that we will understand.
Across the Zadar channel lies Ugljan Island, a long and narrow strip of land with rolling hills and a few interior valleys. The island’s highest point, rising to an elevation of 249 meters above sea level (817 ft), is easily visible from Zadar but is made more apparent yet by the giant radio tower that crowns its summit. Actually, the real jewel of the peak lies not in its communicative powers in the present, but rather in its strategic location in the past, evidenced by the centuries-old stone fortress that currently encloses the tower, the fortress of Sv. Mihovil, or St. Michael.
To visit the site, we set out early on foot to catch a ferry from Zadar to Preko, and proceeded to follow a narrow road up and over a small set of hills, across an interior plain predominantly covered with olive groves and undoubtedly centuries-old field walls, and up a steep switchback path to the summit. Fortunately, most of the path was paved with asphalt or cobblestones, since I had the unfortunate pleasure of pushing Austin’s Jeep stroller to the top. We made the journey from the ferry to the fortress in a couple of hours and enjoyed lunch with a view that was well worth the effort.
From what I gather, little is known of the history of the fortified structure, but archaeologists here at the university suspect the foundation may date to the 13th century, with probable renovation and reinforcement by the Venetians sometime between the 15th and 18th centuries. Regardless of its history, the view from the summit is spectacular and offers sweeping views of much of the island, Zadar to the east, and dozens of Adriatic islands to the west.
We descended with nice afternoon views, took the ferry back to Zadar, picked up some tortellini from a local trattoria, and walked home to complete the 9 mile journey (round trip). Let me just conclude by giving a plug for the Jeep stroller. If you are in the market, get the Jeep—it’s for gettin’ around.
The University of Zadar is separated into “new” and “old” campuses. The new campus lies outside of the walled peninsula and just beyond the harbor, and is situated within a former Yugoslav military base. Several buildings have been renovated for university use, while others remain in a state of decay or are simply shells of the former buildings. Scars from the war of independence in the early 1990s, or the “Homeland War” as it is referred to here, are also visible in the neighborhood surrounding the campus where several buildings still exhibit some damage from bullets and other artillery. While the renovated military buildings are sufficient for the time being, architectural plans for a newly constructed campus in the same location have been approved. Financial support for the new campus will hopefully come from the European Union, of which Croatia is expected to become a member in July 2013.
The old campus occupies a quiet corner of the walled city, with its gaze permanently fixed toward the sea. In fact, only a seaside promenade separates the university buildings from the waves of the Adriatic—a more impressive campus location, I have not seen. Departments are housed on both campuses, with the younger departments typically assigned to the new campus. Students may spend more time on one versus the other depending on their degree plan, but most migrate fluidly between the two for class meetings (about a 15 minute walk).
I have an affiliation with two departments here—Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology on the new campus, and Archaeology on the old campus. Fulbright grants can be strictly teaching, strictly research, or a combination of the two. Mine is a combined teaching/research grant, so I will be teaching one course with the remainder of my time devoted to research. The class I will teach, “Human Impacts on Ancient Environments,” will be offered through the Department of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology on the new campus, even though the curriculum is mostly centered on archaeology. Workspace is very limited on both campuses, but the Archaeology Department was able to offer me a small desk in one of their shared offices. It works well enough for me, as I am able to read, write, and collaborate with others easily enough. Cell phone reception is very poor in the office, but I learned the first day from other faculty in the office, as well as students and faculty in the neighboring lab, that standing on a chair next to one of the windows not only boosts the signal substantially, but provides a nice view of the sea while you complete your call. When in Rome (or a former Roman colony, as the case may be)…
Although classes don’t begin until March, I have been spending time in my office space on the old campus regularly, primarily engaged in research. Apart from archaeology and anthropology, I have met several members of the Marine Sciences program here, who invited me to give a talk at their monthly interdisciplinary research seminar. I offered a presentation titled “The Archaeology of Environmental Change: Current Challenges and Opportunities to the Interdisciplinary Study of Humans and the Environment.” There was good attendance, and I was happy to see a nice mix of disciplines represented, including archaeologists, marine scientists, historians, agronomists, and cultural anthropologists. All seemed very interested in collaboration or the general sharing of ideas, and as a result, my coffee calendar is full for the next month.
The Old Town of Zadar lies perched on a small peninsula in the eastern Adriatic Sea. It is beautifully positioned between the Dinaric Alps to the east, and the Zadar archipelago to the west—a series of largely elongated islands that protect its shores from the open sea. The physical beauty surrounding the city is unsurpassed. Quite honestly, when the sun is shining, I have a hard time imagining a more stunning coastline or a clearer body of water.
Equally impressive is the city itself. Our apartment sits to the south of the peninsula, but a mere block from the sea. We are fortunate to stare out at the waters of the Adriatic and Ugljan Island—one of more than a thousand off the Croatian coast—from our balcony. It’s about a mile walk along the coast to reach the first icon of the peninsular city—the southern fortification bordering the Fosa Harbor, and the Land Gate designed in 1543 while under Venetian rule.
The city’s fortified walls remain along the peninsula’s northeast and southeast sides, while the northwestern and southwestern (seaward) walls were removed in the late nineteenth century. Most of the peninsula is pedestrian traffic only, with cars restricted to a perimeter road. Several main avenues adhere to a grid pattern—no doubt a reflection, in part, of its Roman foundations more than two millennia ago—but side streets become narrow and at times snake their way through small neighborhoods, street side cafes and restaurants, or markets. The city is rich in history, but it has also suffered considerably from bouts of war, and perhaps most harshly during World War II. Despite the destruction, the city remains littered with buildings from the 9th century and later, some of which are built out of the very stones of decayed Roman edifices. Given the city’s often tumultuous past, perpetually at the crossroads of expansive empires, it is a miracle that any of these historic monuments have survived.