Trieste to Zadar, June 28, 2010


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Europe » Croatia » Istria » Pula
July 3rd 2010
Published: July 4th 2010
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Having tried planes, boats, and trains, we added to our repertoire today with a bus ride into Croatia. We do not think camels will play any role in our transportation scheme.

You cannot readily rent a car in Italy and return it in Croatia, and we did not want to have to drive all the way back to Trieste at the end of our Croatian sojourn, so we took a bus from Trieste to Rijeka, Croatia. Rijeka is situated at the "kink" in the coastline between the Istrian peninsula and the Dalmatian coast. It is a busy port and industrial city, but rather lacking in character for tourists. After some delays occasioned by a change in address of our car rental company without any notification, we boarded our 9-passenger Open van and headed first for Pula.

Our interest in Pula was sparked by the incredible Youtube video of Il Divo performing Amazing Grace there. For any of you who have not seen the video, you must. The high quality version has apparently been removed by Sony, but the versions that remain make the point. I still get chill bumps when Carlos Marin, the Spanish baritone, brings his huge voice i after the bagpipe. The video was recorded in the Pula Arena, and after reading about it we decided we should go see it.

The Arena is the sixth largest surviving Roman arena, and perhaps the best preserved, with the original side towers and all three architectural orders preserved. Ironically, its preservation is tied to it past. It was the place of martyrdom of St. Germanus, and as such was ordered preserved in the 13th century. St. Germanus is known now largely because of his descriptions of post-Roman British society from his visit to combat Pelagianism (man is not tainted by original sin). It was built in the 1st century BCE, and was largely used for gladiatorial contests. It is not the venue for concerts of various types, seating about 5000 for modern concerts (as opposed to about 23,000 in its original state). Luminary artists who have performed here include Luciano Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli, and the aforementioned Il Divo (who may represent the only thing Simon Cowell has put together that is of lasting worth). If you approach from the route we took, it suddenly rises up in front of you, serenely facing the sea as it has done for 2000 years.

Next to the Arena is a Roman forum, but we did not take time to tour that area.

Pula itself is a thriving port located at the far southern tip of the Istrian peninsula. This peninsula is projects in to th Adriatic like the Sinai peninsula into the Red Sea. It has been under control of various governments in its history, including Venice for quite some time. Following WWII, it was placed into Yugoslavia, and many ethnic Italians emigrated to Trieste and elsewhere. Although this emigration may have been hastened and strengthened by the ethnic cleansing practiced by Yugoslavs under Tito (foibe massacres), it had already begun by the time those became known.

During its time under Austro-Hungarian rule, Pula was the chief port and shipbuilding center for the Austro-Hungarian navy. In that role, it served as the home base for some time of Baron Georg Ritter von Trapp, greatly fictionalized in "The Sound of Music". His oldest son was born in Pula, while the baron himself was born in Zadar. That area was Italian between the wars, and he claimed Italian citizenship during that interval. The area around Pula was also the location of some of the work of Robert Koch (discovered the organism causing tuberculosis among other diseases, and won the Nobel prize). Marshall Tito had his headquarters nearby.

We had to re-trace our route back up the Istrian peninsula and past Rijeka, then headed southward along the Dalmatian coast. Although famous as a mecca for sun worshipping Europeans and Russians, the Dalmatian coast is not a long strip of sandy beaches. In most places, the mountains come down nearly to the shore, and beaches tend to be pebbly. But the water is magnificent - clear, calm, glowing with blues and greens depending on the cloud cover and what is under the water. Small harbors shelter boats large and small, and every village seems to have some place where people go to get in the water.

We chose Zadar because it was a convenient distance, but it turned out to be unexpectedly inviting. Arriving in late afternoon, we settled into our hotel and then walked down toward the old town. After an exquisite dinner consisting largely of a whole John Dory done on the grill at a restaurant just outside the old city wall, we headed into the old city.

Zadar has been occupied since pre-historic times, but came into prominence about the 2nd millennium BCE when it became a flourishing port of traders and pirates. Its residents (Liburniuns) had the good sense to avoid the wars between the Illyrians of the Istrian peninsula and Rome, and later had the good fortune to accurately predict the winner in the wars between Julius Caesar and Pompey. It fell into disrepair and then was reconstituted in time to be attacked by members of the Fourth Crusade, who were attacking at the insistence of Venice in order to pay off their debt to Venice for building their fleet. Their original plan was to attack Jerusalem by going through Egypt, but ended up taking Constantinople instead, which appears to have done much to sour relations between the Eastern and Roman branches of the church. The sack of Constantinople was so thorough that the invading Turks later took it easily, thus accomplishing the unintended goal of giving over Constantinople to the invading Muslims, against whom they were to have fought. But they made a lot of money from the endeavor.

Zadar has a small Roman forum with little left, but the three principle attractions today (in addition to the beaches) are the Church of St. Donatus (a pre-Romanesque structure from the 9th century) and two recent additions by the same architect, the Sea Organ and the Greeting to the Sun.

The Sea Organ is a series of 35 organ pipes played by wave action forcing air through the pipes. It is described succinctly as "the newly built urban musical attraction in Zadar, Croatia, named "Morske orgulje" ("Sea Organ"). The said installation is implanted into the stony stairy promenade alongside the seashore. The 35 organ pipes are built subterraneanly, into tunnels attached to the flank of a central service channel. Each organ pipe is blown by a column of air, pushed in turn by a column of wave-moved water, through a plastic tube immersed into the water. The pipes' sound emanates to the surroundings through appertures in the vertical planes of the uppermost stairs. The 7 successive groups of pipes are alternately tuned to two musically cognate chords of the diatonic major scale. The outcome of played tones and/or chords is a function of random time- and space distribution of the wave energy to particular organ pipes." I hope you fully understand now.

To hear it gives one an eery feeling, and Jan described it as one of the most beautiful sounds she had heard. Although you cannot capture the entire effect in a computer file, here is a sample:

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Designed by the same architect, the Greeting to the Sun is a large solar collector married to a large light display. The collector stores enough energy during the day to power the light display and the lights in the area throughout the night. Again, it is difficult to capture the full effect in video, but you can get some idea from this:

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7th July 2010

I so wish I was with you all. Love the blogs and thanks for the YouTube links. Simply fascinating!!

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