List posts eh, who needs ’em? Hope you enjoy my twist on the top one reasons to visit the Dalmatian city of Zadar.
You really only need one reason to visit Zadar and that’s the Sea Organ.
One of the world’s most extraordinary pieces of public art doubles up as an ambient musical instrument. Designed by Nicola Basic and opened in 2005 as part of the project to re-generate the Riva, the Sea Organ is a system of 35 vertical pipes which have been built into the steps on the promenade and are ‘played’ by the motion of the rolling waves and wind from the Adriatic Sea.
Its harmonious sound is constantly changing in volume and tone, its subtle evolutions and repetitions of phrases bringing to mind what might happen if you put Karlheniz Stockhausen and Philip Glass in a mermaid’s cave under the sea. Or perhaps an Octopus’ Garden. And forgot to invite Ringo Starr. It is fascinating, beautiful and mesmeric. There is nothing similar in the world. The Sea Organ that is, not Ringo Starr.
Here’s a brief sound clip of it in action.
Alfred Hitchcock apparently rated Zadar’s sunset as ‘the most beautiful in the world’ and he probably wasn’t too far off-beam (no doubt there are many other worthy contenders, but well, he was from Leytonstone), so prepare for crowds if you come to see it at dusk.
Come back after dark though and you can also witness the Zadar Sun Salutation Lightshow in action. Just a little way along the promenade from the Sea Organ, it was part of the same regeneration project. It’s a solar-powered disc, illuminated by hundreds of lights which flash and constantly change colour through the night. Very popular with young, skipping whippersnappers and acolytes of Saturday Night Fever.
Oh, you want more do you? You ungrateful swines. Alright then, here are a few extra tasty morsels. They are extra, not ‘extra tasty.’ As in you have to pay extra to read them. I told you were ungrateful swines.
1. Churches, and lots of ’em!
Zadar as a lot of churches. No, this didn’t impressa me much either – and nowhere near as much as our tour guide clearly hoped it would – but you can’t miss the rather fine, rounded 9th Century example of St Donat’s Church. It’s built on the remains of the Roman Forum, where you can still see the drains where the blood of animal sacrifices once flowed and the notches on the columns, from which prisoners were manacled and flogged.
1. Ice Cream!
Now you’re talking. Ice Cream, or slastičarnica as the Croats memorably call it, is like honey to a bee as far as Zadanistrans (is that what they’re called? Possibly not) are concerned. Whatever you call it, everyone’s eating it everywhere, all the time. Reputedly the best place to go for an apres dinner gelato (sorry slastičarnica) is Donat’s, where you can expect to queue. Make sure you ask for one with Slag, which means cream. No wonder they call it slastičarnica.
1. Shiny Floors!
The Old Town streets are made from strikingly polished, pastel coloured marble, reminiscent of parts of Venice in places. Unsurprising perhaps, since the city was under Venetian rule for centuries. OK, maybe not something you’ll find flagged up in the guidebook admittedly, but it gives the city a cheery, clean sheen and anyway I only promised one reason, remember?
1. The Boat-ride Men of Zadar!
Sounds quite sinister doesn’t it? Or like a name for a particularly interminable, noodley 70s Prog Rock band.
Sadly it’s neither. They’ve just decided to erect a sign pointing you to the long line of ferry boatmen plying for tourist trade along the marina, which brings to mind David Shrigley’s sign for the Glasgow Armadillo.
1. Total lack of Reverence for Old Shit
If a building appears to be centuries old, intricate or beautiful, you can bet your pickled anchovies that it will have a load of graffiti scrawled all over it. Children frolic merrily among Roman ruins.
Most tellingly perhaps, the city’s oldest church, St Lovro, has been turned into a swanky, glass fronted coffee shop. In fairness it was also the site of the city’s oldest cafe. The square outside is a pleasant place to watch the lizards hogging the lamplight while you enjoy a shot of the local brew, the viscous and very sweet, transparent cherry liquer Maraschino.
1. Folk Singing
Group of waistcoated and cravatted men gather in pedestrianised areas, armed with accordions and their vocal chords to belt out fairly sentimental, but rather stirring, traditional folk songs. The style of song has a distinctly Italian flavour about it, but as with the food, you’re not supposed to say that…
And now for the BIG FINISH folks
1. It sounds like ta-daa!
Getting to Zadar by Train
You can reach Zadar (and Split) by train by going on a very scenic route from Zagreb, changing at Knin. The daytime train takes around 6 hours and there’s also an overnight sleeper. Zagreb itself is reached via Paris and Munich from the west, or by direct trains from Budapest and Belgrade. The ever-reliable Seat61 has full info on routes and prices, while this site provides a useful railway map of Croatia.
I visited Zadar as part of a week-long cruise with Katarina Cruise Lines. My journey started in the interesting, if industrial, city of Rijeka and nearby coastal resort Opatija, taking in the islands of Rab, Krk, Cres, Losinj and Molat. It’s a great way to see this part of Croatia, which has not yet completely succumbed to the lure of the tourist buck.