Around the Adriatic: Croatia - Starigrad, Wednesday 2019 April 10

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April 10th 2019
Published: May 18th 2020
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Rain fell on us all day.

Vanya, our city guide, met us in the pouring rain in the historic centre of Sibinek. She started off on her regular patter about the square, when Manka suggested we tour the church first, out of the rain. She agreed verbally but was unable, even momentarily, to bypass important buildings and their history. Sibinek was one of those cross-roads cities - settled by the Romans in their eastward expansion and similarly absorbed into the Austro-Hungarian Empire centuries later. Remains of the old city wall have been curated as a preservation technique. Their ancient stoniness was emphasized by the close-by modern glass City Library. In the same park, ancient and modern were fused in a stylized of statue of King Krešimir IV, who reigned until 1074.

In the old city centre, we walked along Calle Larga, the former market street. In one narrow street, Vanya encouraged us to look around an artist’s shop, filled with pretty jewelry and ingenious things for children. Vanya’s apartment has been above this shop for many years, and the artist revealed that Vanya herself is a local character and good neighbour. Large former homes of the rich were jammed together wall-to-wall; there
St James  Cathedral St James  Cathedral St James Cathedral

Sense of mystery, because we couldn't visit inside
were even external pathways of stairs that were escape routes for rich residents in case of calamity. Now they are all restaurants and hotels. The dining patio of one restaurant almost covered a large square, shrouded on this wet day in big umbrellas. Embedded in one of the walls was a “measure”, that is, the official lengths of the rod and cubit for trading businesses in the fifteenth century.

When we did reach the Cathedral of St James, it was closed in preparation for a service. We stood across the square under an awning and admired the huge Gothic and Renaissance building constructed without mortar. Every stone has divots that fit into the adjacent stones - a marvel of work that is now invisible! On the Cathedral’s long side was a portal in Venetian style: statues of Peter and Paul stand on either side of the portal, and the door is guarded by Venetian lions. The carved door was a replacement for the original, shot up in the 1991 war.

Around the back of the church was the Baptistry, which was open. The space was cramped for the ten on our tour and was impossible when another, larger tour group also entered. Imposing on the arched space was the large marble font, held up by cherubs. I peeked at the church through the modern glass doors that led up to the sanctuary. Outside again, Vanya pointed out the line of carved heads that encircled the Baptistry; each head is different and none “looks” at another, representing that people are overly immersed in their own concerns.

Unexpectedly, our lunch was at a big road-side restaurant, Kabela’s. Outside the building were two big outdoor BBQ fires, and it specialized in roast lamb and pig. A bit chilly from the morning, we were happy to enjoy the feast of thick vegetable soup, big shared platters of roasted meat and onions, and cream cakes. Non-alcoholic beer went well with the rich food.

After lunch we drove along the sea coast with its many islands. Homes and low-rise buildings were new or newly renovated. Some were probably holiday rentals, because a lot of people come for vacations from all over Europe and North America.

Our afternoon tour of the major city of Zadar was mostly washed out by the pouring rain. We had to brave the elements for the first marvellous sites at
Roman forum 27 BC - 3 BC Roman forum 27 BC - 3 BC Roman forum 27 BC - 3 BC

Great mix of times and functions
the tip of the Zadar peninsula, “Greeting to the Sun” and a “Sea Organ”. “Greeting to the Sun” consists of hundreds of small solar panels set into the concrete quay, surrounded by a metal frame on which astronomical data are impressed. This represents the sun, and when darkness falls multi-coloured lights are powered by the panels. At believable but inexact intervals, disks representing the planets are distributed to approximate the solar system. We followed this celestial trail to the source of strange whale-like sounds – the “Sea Organ”. Cast in concrete, hidden tubes and pistons are “played” by the varying wave action, creating sometimes soft tones, sometimes booming. Watch my video.

Walking along the old streets, we passed the Cathedral of St Anastasia built in the 13 century and came to the Church of St Donatus built in the 9 century, which faced a large rectangular square. This had once been a Roman forum, and stones remained from several of the buildings. Listen to the bells of St Donatus in my video.

Abandoning any pretense of further touring the old city in the pouring rain, our city guide took us to the Archeological Museum, where Roman and other remains could be contemplated in dry warmth. The displays astonished me and helped me understand the constant pressure of war in this
Adriatic Sea near Zadar Adriatic Sea near Zadar Adriatic Sea near Zadar

Calm after the stormy day
area. Prehistoric artifacts showed that the location and the abundance of fresh water made the Slavic region desirable to every ruler. Through the ages, the common people prospered or suffered as tyrants and imperial powers claimed power. The museum displayed what had been left behind as evidence of both home life and the destruction of war.

We went back to our hotel in Starigrad, sobered by what we had seen. Dinner was across the road at the hotel dining room. The woman who served us was one of the owners. (“The whole family works here until May, when the season starts.”) Her mother-in-law had made the fabulous sauce for the rotini: tomato, black olives and garden herbs. This was followed by platters of sea bass, potatoes, cauliflower in butter, and ice cream. When I refused the ice cream, she brought me a sweet local orange and two mandarins, which I shared.


Sibenik harbour Sibenik harbour
Sibenik harbour

The calm of grey
Church of St Francis and statue of King Krešimir IV  Church of St Francis and statue of King Krešimir IV
Church of St Francis and statue of King Krešimir IV

Church established in the late 14 century and decorated in Venetian style in the 17 century
Sibenik street, polished by timeSibenik street, polished by time
Sibenik street, polished by time

Good for a nap
Local Library Local Library
Local Library

Libraries come in all shapes and sizes.
Vanya's apartment (window shutters)Vanya's apartment (window shutters)
Vanya's apartment (window shutters)

Passionately living in the centre of Sibenik's history
Calle Larga Calle Larga
Calle Larga

Former market place
Square in Sibenik Square in Sibenik
Square in Sibenik

Solid rain, but some patrons
Official measures  Official measures
Official measures

Preventing arguments
Venetian building, now a hotel Venetian building, now a hotel
Venetian building, now a hotel

Restoration for tourism
Escape route for the rich Escape route for the rich
Escape route for the rich

Thinking ahead in city design
St James Cathedral 1431-1505 St James Cathedral 1431-1505
St James Cathedral 1431-1505

Imposing centre of Sibenik
St James Cathedral interiorSt James Cathedral interior
St James Cathedral interior

Our only glimpse
St Peter and St Paul on either side of the entrance St Peter and St Paul on either side of the entrance
St Peter and St Paul on either side of the entrance

St James Cathedral
Venetian lionVenetian lion
Venetian lion

St James Cathedral
New doors of St James CathedralNew doors of St James Cathedral
New doors of St James Cathedral

Destroyed in war during the 1990s
 Heads all look away from each other Heads all look away from each other
Heads all look away from each other

St James Cathedral Baptistry

18th May 2020

April showers . . .
. . . bring slippery-looking stones. I hope the footing wasn't as treacherous as it looks. That harbourfront is beautifully preserved/restored and the Sea Organ is a stroke of genius. It does indeed sound like whales singing, and the holes in the flagstones bring to mind blowholes. As for the bells, I love those central city squares, although maybe more to visit and wander through than to live beside.
22nd May 2020

Water and Bells
Thanks, we did have good walking shoes. Living next to the tolling bells might be a trial, indeed.

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