Today is the day of City of Zadar. November 24th is celebrated as the day of St Grisogono, the patron saint of Zadar that can be seen on the coat of arms of this city. This morning, we enjoyed a lovely walk down the city streets on a beautiful November morning. We walked the streets, riva… went to the park and I remembered my high school days as we walked the historic areas of the peninsula: part of the city that was nearly erased in the Anglo-American bombing raids in 1943 and 1943. A while back, I bought an original photo taken from an American “flying fortress” showing one of the raids on Zadar…
Zadar, in over 3000 years of its history, was only captured by the crusaders in 1202. as part of a dirty Venetian plan to capture its only rival in the Adriatic. But devastation like that in the fall and winter of 1943 and 1944 never happened before. Only miraculously the most important monuments have been preserved, but nearly all evidences or Zadar’s urban life were annihilated… The devastation was so big that Zadar is often referred to, when discussing these raids, as “Dresden of the Adriatic”
All we have left now are the wonderful collections of postcards and photos from those day. Most of them are collected in great book of Zadar’s postcards published by one of the most important local collectors: Mr. Zvonimir Šuljak and written by one of great local authorities on history of Zadar Mr. Abdulah Seferovic (Both are great folks to talk to about all sorts of historic heritage of Zadar area!)
This is now the only way to see what the urban areas of Zadar looked like before the bombing and, by many, equally devastating, post WW2 architectural interventions on the historic peninsula.
Ever since the Napoleon conquest in 1806, that finally ended centuries of Venetian rule, Zadar became first the capital of French, then Austrian and finallly Italian rule in Dalmatia. To many, Split is the most important city in Dalmatia but, although it was bigger than Zadar for many centuries, it was really a minor city throughout its past. Only after WW2, Split became the true capital of Dalmatia.
The culture flourished in Zadar from early 1800s as every government was pumping a lot of money in this distant, provincial town. Especially during the Italian rule as this was their stronghold on the eastern Adriatic coast. Italians were working hard to make Zadar truly an Italian city by Italianisation of nearly everything: from historic facts to names and last names of people and inhabitants of this small Italian enclave. I still remember my cousin’s mother in law telling me how Mussolini rule was great for them while they where kids as they have been receiving all sorts of help from Italian government and even helping their poor relatives who were just across the border, in Kingdom of Yugoslavia. She was always talking about fist-size peaches 🙂
The Italian majority in Zadar was first hurt by the allied bombings and then chased away by the communist rule. In those terrible times, many people were looking for all sorts of revenges: from personal to national and many of Zadar’s Italians perished… Some say that bones of many are still in one of the caves of Levrnaka in Kornati, many managed to escape and leave their bellowed city for good, some stayed and form a small Italian community.
Among those who went from their homes were Ottavio Missoni (fashion designer – born in Dubrovnik) and even the founder of Barilla pasta is supposedly from Zadar…
Zadar never recovered and today’s historic monuments are, although impressive, just small patches of once very colorful city. There is still plenty to see in Zadar but the postcards and various memorabilia tell the story of a very different place.
Times are changing and I have my own memories of Zadar. I still remember going there back in the 70s and 80s with my parents, going to basketball games in Jazine, drinking juice at long gone cafes… Then came the war of 90s destroying one different, “new” Zadar and we are starting all over again.
During my American years I hang around many Croatians in Boston area and, as many of them were from Zadar area like myself, we were listening a lot of Tomislav Ivčić songs. Not a good thing if you are home sick!
Zadar is a special place. Very special for all of us from this region.
We can’t bring back the time but we can enjoy our time that we have. And I am enjoying it. Every time I go to Pet bunara square, to Forum, when we eat at restaurants and listen to the sea organ…