March 18, 2022. 57°F/14°C
We docked right in Zadar this morning, but our excursion today took us into another historic mediaeval fortress city, Šibenik, for a tour, a visit to a Dalmatian prosciutto maker (no, that is NOT prosciutto made out of Dalmatians!), and a traditional Croatian lunch.
Zadar is a lovely seaside city and, since it has no cruise ship terminal, it felt almost like arriving on a river boat cruise, except with a much bigger boat!
In 2005 Zadar upgraded their harbour area here in the city to make it more attractive, and the result really is gorgeous. The visible item is a large circular solar panel called “Greeting the Sun” which absorbs light all day and emits it at night in multicoloured patterns. We didn’t get to see it since we left Zadar in the afternoon, but our young tour guide described it as a dance club floor effect.
The other truly amazing harbour promenade attraction is the Sea Organ, a set of marble steps leading to the Adriatic that have 35 pipes underneath them that make music when the wind causes waves of water to move through them.
Both elements were designed by Croatian architect Nikola Bašić.
On to our tour. We’re still in the part of the world that was part of the Venetian trading empire, an entity which really has only become real to me during this cruise. Venice, like Rome, is now “just” a city, but each had long periods of wide-ranging dominance and influence.
Šibenik dates back at least to 1066 AD when it was the seat of King Krešimir IV, and was actually founded by the Croat tribe, not Romans or Phoenicians like many of the other cities in the Mediterranean and Adriatic. The city, unlike most in this region, was also never conquered by the Ottomans; it mostly ping-ponged back and forth between Venice and Austro-Hungary, with a very short (less than 10 year) Byzantine period. After WWII it was, along with the rest of Croatia, part of Yugoslavia, but returned to being Croatian in 1995; the portions of old city damaged in that last war have been completely restored.
The old walled city is beautiful, with apartments, tourist accommodation, stores, and lots and lots of cafés. The limestone walkways have been worn smooth (even a bit slippery) by almost a thousand years of pedestrian traffic, and in places have developed an almost metallic sheen that glints in the sunlight.
Although, to be honest, I’d never heard of Šibenik before, there was certainly lots to see here.
There were 3 particularly interesting features in Šibenik that we’d not seen in any of the other old cities we’ve toured so far: nobility pillars, dog water dishes, and electric lanterns.
Nobility pillars were reinforcements added to the corners of homes to protect and stabilize them, but also to add cachet: the bigger the pillar, the richer the homeowner. Nobles would add their family crest to the top of the pillar. Wealthy people might have larger pillars, but they would only be embellished with floral or decorative designs, thereby separating the aristocracy from the nouveau riche. Some things never change.
“Amor de Cani” water bowls, built right into the stonework of homes in the city, reflect more than just a love of animals. Having been severely affected by more than one plague, the inhabitants of Śibenik were also wary of diseases like rabies. Since rabid animals are known to suffer from hydrophobia, these readily available water dishes helped to identify healthy animals from sick ones by whether or not they drank water on hot days.
Street lights! The first European hydroelectric power plant was built (using Croatian Nikola Tesla’s patents) on the river Krka, located in Šibenik-Knin County. It was put into operation in 1895 just two days after the power plant at Niagara Falls. The Jaruga power plant was designed to power the street lights in Šibenik, making it the first city in the world with street lights powered by AC current.
The highlight of old cities, for me, is always the art and architecture of the churches, and Šibenik was no exception. The 15th-century stone Cathedral of St. James is really quite unique. Built over the course of 2 centuries, it incorporates Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance styles, but mostly the latter. The inside of the cathedral is majestically tall (the dome is 32 metres tall, about 100 feet) and quite lovely, but really it was the exterior that was most interesting.
The one notable interior feature is the baptistery, which in order to accommodate the rocky landscape is set down several steps behind the south nave. It is circular shaped, with a large round pink marble baptismal font, but the decorations higher up are set in a hexagon. Five sides of the space have ornately carved designs above shell-shaped arches; on the 6th side the carving is left open in the centre to allow natural light into the room (above our guide’s head in the photo).
The face of God looking down on the baptismal font was apparently based on Greek and Roman depictions of Zeus/Jupiter, and is one of the earliest sculptures depicting God with a human face.
The main west façade of the cathedral looks quite traditionally Renaissance, with just a few Gothic touches like the spiral columns, and seems fairly rectangular. The arch around the door features the 12 apostles and Christ.
Our guide explained that the big difference between a Romanesque or Gothic cathedral (think Notre Dame) and a Renaissance cathedral is the lighter colours used, and the inclusion of more “human” themes . It’s as if during the Gothic period a church was designed to be dark and intimidating, reminding people of their sinfulness – and then in the Renaissance an element of joy was brought into worship.
Juraj Dalmatinac (also known as Giorgio da Sebenico) did many of the cathedral’s sculptures, including 74 heads of ordinary people – and a couple of animals – that adorn the exterior. Local lore has it that Juraj wanted people to feel welcome in the church, and used as his inspiration people he met in the city, instead of adorning the building with the heads of saints. Check out the dog!
The north portal to the cathedral, also called the lion’s gate, features sculptures of Adam and Eve “hiding their sin”.
After our city tour, it was time for some culinary adventure!
We learned in both Montenegro and Split that prosciutto is not just an Italian thing. The Dalmatian area of Croatia is particularly known for their prosciuttos and smoked hams, and we were treated to some wonderful samples at Roca (pronounced “Rottsa”) House of Dalmatian Prosciutto in the village of Stancovci, in Zadar County.
After being welcomed with a traditional Maraska (cherry brandy), also made on site, our group enjoyed a fabulous lunch featuring the Roca farm’s specialties. We started with a hearty bean soup made with smoked ham, accompanied by delicious bread. Each of us then got a plate of cured pork specialties: prosciutto, speck, and salamis, along with a green salad, vegetables, and a glass of red or white Croatian wine. Then came dessert (are you reading this Josie?): PALAČINKE filled with quark and lemon, dusted with icing sugar, and served with dark cherries soaked in liqueur. For anyone unfamiliar with this amazing dessert, which is also known as “palacsinta” in Hungarian, think of it as a cross between a French crêpe and a blintz; quark is a fresh cheese similar to dry ricotta (NOT the stuff you buy in a plastic tub).