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World Heritage Site

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Blog: Zadar - Romans and Venetians

The Croatian coastal town of Zadar has been engaged in a battle with ICOMOS since 2012 to get a favourable recommendation for inscription on the World Heritage List. It has tried three times so far with its Roman and early Christian remains, although they were told already in 2014 “Please stop pursuing this!” The town also boosts a second Tentative Site: a part of the serial nomination for the Venetian Works of Defence, which is up for nomination next year. Last week I visited Zadar to check them both out.

Cylindrical Church of St. Donatus

As recently as 2016, the ‘Roman Urbanism of the Zadar Peninsula with the Monumental Complex on the Forum (Croatia)’ has been nominated and subsequently withdrawn after a negative advice. It focused on Zadar’s Roman orthogonal street network and Forum. The remains of the latter were discovered after World War II when “about 60% of the city’s historic fabric was destroyed”.

What’s left of the Forum opens up to the seashore. It’s a large square, with on the city side notable monuments such as the odd shaped church of St. Donatus and a Pillar of Shame. The St. Donatus church literally stands on spolia, as the bottom row of the construction consists of slices of Roman columns. There’s also an Archaeological Museum which could have presented more about the town’s Roman history to me, but it turned out to be closed on Sundays. A few findings are displayed in the open air, possibly in situ where they were found. It does look rather staged though.

Landward Gate

The Venetian TWHS is a separate area from the Roman TWHS: these walls, fortifications and related buildings are located on the fringes of the historical town. They were constructed in 1472 to separate (and better protect) Zadar’s peninsular (Roman) core from the mainland. The defence works are still very prominent, except ironically at the sea side where they were destroyed and the Roman Forum was brought to light, the focal point of Zadar’s other nomination.

The various gates around town have small parking lots, where I was able to find a space and explore the town on foot from there. The most interesting area is the Grimani bastion (now a night club) and the adjoining citadel tower of the Great Captain. When you go to the outer side here, you’ll be in front of without a doubt the major point of interest of this defence system: the Landward Gate or “Porta Terraferma”. It was designed by the famous Venetian architect M. Sanmicheli. The overall setting reminded me a lot of Corfu.

Great Arsenal

Zadar already does attract its fair share of tourists and even in November when I visited, there were numerous other visitors. The town this year already has secured one honorary title: the town hall featured a large banner displaying “Zadar elected European Best Destination 2016”. The Michelin Green Guide for Croatia gives it 2 stars (worth a detour), which seems rather generous. I found it pleasant enough, but had seen all components of both TWHS ánd drank a cappucino on a terrace with the locals within 1.5 hour. Although it must be said that I was visiting on Sunday morning, so for example I wasn’t able to visit the interior of churches like the St. Donatus.

Published 12 November 2016

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