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It is hard not to draw similarities between Zadar and Dubrovnik, with its ubiquitous red roofs and tall stone gate. Unique to Zadar, though, is the striking juxtaposition of medieval churches, roman ruins, and utilitarian buildings erected in the Communist Era.
One of our major reasons for stopping by Zadar was to experience the famous Sea Organ. We enjoyed a panoramic view of the water as we walked the long sea-side path toward the instrument, not sure what to expect. As we neared the place, we began to hear the music. It was unlike anything I’d heard before… sort of ethereal… it reminded me of whale calls in a way. As the tide lapped and danced over the underwater pipes, a calming and constant music filled the air and made you want to pause to listen. Lucky for us, the stars aligned that day; with no particular planning on our part, our visit to the organ coincided with a gorgeous sunset over the water. So we sat for some time on the wide steps along with other onlookers to enjoy both at the same time. A truly fantastic experience.
After the sun set, we shifted our attention to the Sun Salutation, another must-see spot a short distance from the organ. Still listening to the backdrop of that organic music, we were greeted by a very different variety of light show. Walking over the display feels a bit like being part of a giant circuit board and a bit like a techno dance club. It’s actually a giant solar panel and in addition to powering its own funky display, it provides electricity for all the nighttime lighting along the seafront.
Both the Sea Organ and Sun Salutation were designed by Nikola Bašić and are worth a trip to Zadar! But that’s not all the town has to offer. Next up was the Museum of Ancient Glass. The vast array of glass specimines from ancient times is really worth a visit. They have everything from the tiniest delicate vial, used for storing a few drops of precious perfume for special occasions to large glass vessels used for burying the remains of loved ones. The varied hues of ancient glass are also explained in detail: which readily available substances as well as more rare minerals could be added to change its final color.
The top floor of the museum was a surprise for us: it’s home to a very current glass blowing shop. From behind a large glass window, you can peer in and watch artisans twirling globs of glowing fiery-orange molten glass at the end of long hollow tubes. It’s fascinating to watch the processes for making different shapes from the molten blob. Some are blown breath by breath into great rounded orbs and then fashioned carefully into vases with a graceful tapering neck. The neck is scored with a sharp metal instrument and then broken to free it from the stick and filed smooth. Others are twisted into snake-like candle sticks and still others are lowered into a boxy mold and mouth-blown just enough to press the sides up against the box from the inside for square-shaped vessels. Some pieces were plunged, steaming into water baths to cool quickly and others were partially reheated in the furnace to make them malleable for further design work. This was actually my favorite part of the museum: it satisfied a curiosity I’ve always had for how ancient peoples without modern machinery went about this art form.
St. Donatus Church is interesting in that it’s actually built on the remains of an old Roman building and you can see the ancient columns poking out around the foundations of the new structure. I’m not sure if it’s a permanent display inside the church, but when we were there, it was basically a cacophonous noise box. Myriad noise-making devices in the guise of modern art were sounding simultaneously for a sure-fire headache. If you hear the tell-tale gonging, I’d recommend visiting the outside of the building only and saving yourself the ticket price!