The story of Zadar Sphinx is very romantic and very unusual!
Located in the Uvala Maestral or Bay of Maestral, (it is actually Dražanica vela bay) it can be seen right from the road. It is not an easy walk from the Zadar peninsula but if you cross to the mainland by a barkarijoli row boat service, you will have a lovely walk along one of the most prestigious parts of Zadar. The villas of the old Italian owners are still amazingly beautiful and many of them with wonderful gardens and even fish ponds.
In front of one such villa, you can see a Sphinx.
The villa’s name is “Villa Attilia” and it was built in 1901. by a local artist, painter and historian Giovanni Smirich back in 1918. He was born in Zadar in 1842. and died also in Zadar in 1929. He studied in Sienna, Florenze and Venice like most of the Zadar’s Italian nobility. He met his future wife Attilia Spineda de Cataneis in Venice and they moved to Zadar where she gave birth to 5 children.
As Giovanni and his wife were both into occult, they built a garden with several interesting decorative elements: a cave, small lake with gold fish…After his wife’s death, he ordered a local mason to build a sphinx in memory of his bellowed wife. The sphinx is built of concrete.
The mason was, according to some, Krive Barićev so lets mention his name as well.
The Zadar Sphinx is not an ordinary sphinx: it has fingers instead of paws and it looks as it was protecting the small pond with gold fish was between them. The pond is long gone due to devastation. Same happened to the relief of the eagle on it’s chest. But also to a dagger and a shell it held in it’s fingers “protecting” a small pond with gold fish.The Zadar Sphinx was often a subject of “artistic expressions” of local kids but it was cleaned recently… Although purple lips looked good on her 😉
The “Villa Attilia” has been nationalized back in the 1945. and the villa became some sort of a hospital or a clinic. That led to a devastation of the garden but what also helped were the legends of a treasure burried in or bellow the sphinx itself. There were some attempts to destroy the sphinx when people were looking for treasure! Why do people think that treasure is always gold or jewelry is beyond me!
Among other mysteries, the hieroglyphic inscription on the “hair” is also something that no one deciphered yet.
There is only one descendant of the late Smirich family and Mr. Mario Padelin is trying to preserve his family’s heritage as it truly belongs to all of us. How many kids have been playing on the sphinx or were terrified by it while young (me too!)? Giovani Smirich was a great painter and worked hard on restoring Zadar’s most important monuments and was one of the founders of a local Archeological museum. However, most of his paintigs perished in the flames of WW2 bombings of Zadar…
There are not too many sphinxes in Dalmatia left. Most famous being those brought by the Romans and now in Diocletian’s Palace. But this is the biggest of all sphinxes in Croatia.
It is also a very special sphinx since it was built in memory of a bellowed woman: it is said that it grants love wishes.