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.