Things to Do in Zadar
Visitors to the Croatian city of Zadar are inevitably drawn to the melodious sounds emanating from the city’s most popular sight: the Sea Organ (Morske Orgulje). This massive underwater instrument, designed by architect Nikola Bašić, plays musical notes generated by the sea. The constantly shifting waves never play the same tune twice.
With blue coral lagoons, dramatic limestone cliffs, and a fascinating saltwater lake, Telašćica Nature Park is one of Croatia’s most magical natural wonders. On the island of Dugi Otok in the Adriatic Sea, Telašćica offers visitors endless hiking, diving, swimming, fishing, and wildlife-viewing opportunities.
Near the Church of St. Donatus, in the city of Zadar, Croatia, you’ll find the remnants of an ancient Roman marketplace. Built between the 1st century BC and the 3rd century AD, the forum is one of the largest of its kind east of the Adriatic.
Lying inland from Zadar in northern Croatia, the Zrmanja River rises in the Dinaric Alps and runs for 44 miles (70 km); the bulk of its course lies within the Velebit Nature Park before it empties in the Novigrad Sea after passing the cute, pastel-colored town of the same name built along its meandering banks. Along with its tributary the Krupa, the upper reaches of the Zrmanja are one of the country’s hottest spots for rafting and kayaking through its spectacular limestone canyons – in parts 656 feet (200 meters) deep – and underneath its tumbling cascades. The most spectacular falls are Veliki Buk, a crescent-shaped mini-Niagra where the pristine waters hurls itself 65.5 feet (20 meters) in two steps over a limestone cliff face; a popular hike to the falls starts at Muskovci, with amazing views over the lush Zrmanja river valley.
Zadar is one of the oldest cities of Croatia’s Dalmatian coastline and has its roots way back in Roman times, when the first fortified walls were constructed around the little peninsula where the old town still lurks prettily. By the 16th century, Zadar was the prize possession of the Venetian Republic and its walls were further extended and modified with a series of decorative and imposing entry gates.
The main entrance to the old town is the ornate City Gate (also called the Land Gate), which was finished in 1543 and is close to Foša harbor on the southern side of the old town. Adorned with six columns supporting a pediment, the gate is classically triumphalist in style with three arched gateways – the middle one designed for
wheeled traffic and the two side gates for pedestrians. It is topped with the coats of arms of both Zadar and the Venetian Republic, with a winged lion in between as the symbol of St Mark (the patron saint of the Republic).
The other five gates into the city are the St Rocco and Sea gates – both built by the Venetians; the medieval St Demetrius Gate, which was walled up and subsequently reopened in 1873; the Chain Gate (built under Austrian rule in 1877); and finally the Bridge Gate, built when Zadar was under Italian rule in the 1930s.
Zadar’s Church of St. Donatus is a sight to behold, its towering circular walls rising out of a plaza scattered with Roman ruins. Commissioned by Donatus of Zadar (the church’s namesake come the 13th century), the Pre-Romanesque building dates back to the 9th century, and now stands as a classic representation of Byzantine Dalmatia architecture.
With a captivating and grand exterior, the interior might seem relatively austere. But there’s more here than just a humble church: given that it is built atop the Roman forum, you can still pick out ancient remnants from those times, including two preserved columns, and even a sacrificial altar. Moreover, St. Donatus is especially loved for its impressive tower-top views — that stretch across the city to the sea and islands beyond — and as a concert hall, for which it is used given its phenomenal acoustics.
Whether you’re feeling your way through the Vortex Tunnel, laughing at yourself in the Mirror Room, or solving mind-boggling puzzles, Zadar’s Museum of Illusions will challenge your senses and open your mind. Inspired by Zagreb’s museum of the same name, the museum makes a fun diversion from city sightseeing.
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