For those visiting Croatia, holidays are often based in the charming region known as the Zadar Riviera. The stunning wooded interior and breathtaking landscape of the Dalmatian coastline reveal an area rich in history and culture, with less of the hustle and bustle of some of the southern resorts. The port town of Zadar itself is the perfect size for an exploratory day trip, and if you have an interest in the country's storied religious heritage, it offers the chance to enjoy an authentic one-day history lesson wrapped up in a very attractive package. |
Through its noble medieval architecture, crumbling Roman ruins, and impressive monumental edifices, Zadar's religious history is written large on its ancient footings. Take just one day of your Croatia holidays to discover this fascinating aspect of the region's history…
St Donatus Church
The unadorned pre-Romanesque curves of the circular St Donatus form one of the most extraordinary examples of religious architecture in the country. Instantly recognisable, the church is the iconic symbol of Zadar, and dates back to the early Middle Ages (in the 9th century). Incredibly well preserved, in the 15th century this monumental edifice - once known as the Church of the Holy Trinity - took on the name of the bishop who commissioned its construction.
St Donatus' terracotta roof and gently curving silhouette have created a space of exquisite acoustics, and there are regular musical recitals held within it for the public to enjoy.
The church is located at Trg Rimskog Foruma, Zadar. Open every day (excluding closures from Jan-March) from 9am-9pm. Admission is 20kn (approximately £2.10)
St Anastasia's Cathedral
Just a few minutes' walk from St Donatus (at the rear of the forum), the three distinctive portals of St Anastasia's Cathedral (known to locals as Katedrala sv. Stošije) are easy to spot. While its elegant, intricately decorated Romanesque façade is a more recent 12th century addition (after the cathedral was damaged in the Crusaders' conquest of Zadar), the hexagonal baptistery dates back to the early 6th century. The intricate stonework around the doors and altar are well worth a closer examination, and there are also a number of frescoes and early Christian mosaics decorating the sacristy - the oldest part of the cathedral.
The belfry, which is separate from the rest of the cathedral, offers a wonderful vantage from which to take in a fantastic panorama over the city. Nothing comes for free, however, and you'll have to face up to the challenge of climbing the stairs to win the prize of those breathtaking views. But it's well worth it…
St Anastasia's is located at Trg Svete Stošije, Zadar. Admission is 15kn (£1.60) to the cathedral and 15kn (£1.60) to climb the bell tower. Opening hours vary according to season.
St Mary's Church
Diagonally opposite St Donatus in front of the forum area, the origins of the Benedictine St Mary's church and convent date back to 1091. The rounded gables of the church are typical of Dalmatian architecture, and were retained even through its 16th century reconstruction. One of the earliest examples of Romanesque architecture, the three naves of the church house an impressive Baroque interior, along with the remains of some frescoes.
The adjoining convent houses an important collection of religious art and artefacts dating back to the 8th century, and while there you can also catch sight of the beautiful secret garden hidden within the complex. The nuns who live on site are happy to stop for a chat, or (unless you're fluent in the language), perhaps more practically, a smile and a nod.
The Perfect End to a Perfect Day
Because these three religious icons are within such an easy walk of each other, you'll have plenty of energy left over to wander just a few more steps to one of the old city's best-loved eateries – Restaurant Bruschetta, which overlooks the ocean and serves authentic Mediterranean and Dalmatian cuisine. Request a table on the terrace and you'll be treated to a front row seat for one of the most beautiful sunsets you'll experience on your Croatia holidays!
Restaurant Bruschetta, Mihovila Pavlinovica 12, is open every day except Monday from 11am-11pm.
John Dixon is an experienced world traveller and the Managing Director of Prestige Holidays. For over 30 years, he has been providing luxury Croatia holidays, as well as holidays to Bermuda, Sicily and many other destinations around the globe. John tries to visit each of the destinations regularly in order to ensure the quality of his properties, and stay up-to-date about the latest local news and events. He has a taste for the finer things in life and has an interest in arts, history and culture.
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