Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The mad scientist of an architect

It had dawned overcast but not raining and quite a bit warmer than the last couple of days. Still, there is a bit of a breeze so I continue to wear a long sleeved top - don't want the head cold that Donna has so generously shared to develop any further. After a light breakfast of muesli with banana and an apple, we head into Vinjerac to have a drive through look at the town - that takes all of 3 minutes! It is a lovely looking little fishing village that has grown to accommodate those summer people who have discovered it with its magnificent Adriatic coast location.

Aparthotel Buratovic sits just outside the city centre with lovely views over the water and the Velebit Mountains across the inlet. Their facilities are great and I imagine that they would do a roaring trade in the summer months. There are a couple of other guests here as well so they do some trade in the colder months which must be good for the family.

We took a drive over to Nin - only went there because of the remnants of the Roman salt flats but instead found the most significant archaelogical site in the Adriatic corridor. You drive to the town which, for all intents and purposes is an island, over a causeway that has been developed over one of the salt flat ridges. The salt flats themselves are well, flat and shallow. The walls are more earthern than constructed of stone as the ones at Ston. And it was then that we got a bit of an eye-opening.

The town of Nin, like many in this area is walled. Here, the town has spilled out of the walls to the shore on the opposite side of the inlet and a bridge with three narrow arches (really just for water flow - no boat would get through!) connects the two sides. There is a lot of reconstruction work happening and as we drive around the outside of the wall, there are lots of pieces of the original wall still standing, some being braced and one piece being worked on - well, the men were there, sitting and contemplating the wonderful view, but hey why shouldn't they!

We park the car and walk back to have a look at the surviving City Gate. This one dates back to the 16th Century but when we walk in, there is the remnants of a much older one dating back to the 1st century and the roman occupation. There is hardly a soul around. The old town has been well restored and underfoot is all that beautiful white stone polished by the feet of the millenia. Some of the buildings have ben constructed using the rubble of previous buildings in the area. So we see bits of carved portals inserted into building walls and decorations from previous royal properties now having the pride of place above new entry ways and doors. We walk a little further into the town, heading for the campanile (bell tower) - still deserted, they was one older man sitting against a wall - the only person we saw while we walked through the main area. Much of the old town has been restored or reconstructed and it looks like someone really cares about the town and its place in history.

We pass the sign to the 'Smallest Cathedral in the world' and really need to check this out! The church was called the Church of the Holy Cross and dates back to the 9th century. And yes, it is t-i-n-y. It has been de-consecrated but an the archaelogical dig around the building exposed a whole world of interred bodies in the adjacent necropolis. Very interesting. Across the road from the cathedral was a Statue to Grgur Ninski (Gregory of Nin), a 10th century bishop who defied the Pope and introduced the Croatian language into the church here. Rubbing his toes is said to bring good luck, so we rubbed away (hmmm - don't know if it worked - it has been raining ever since!)

Back around in the main square, the Museum was closed but when walking through their courtyard looking at the capitals, column remnants and grave steles, the curator kindly opened it for us. It was so much more than we could have anticipated with items dating from 100,000 BC (pre-historic times) through the modern day - 1600s. There are examples from every age of occupation including three boats and remnants dating back to the 11th century! With the timber still fully intact on one of them!!! Lots of the displays relate to burial sites and the materials that they found in with the bodies - jewellery, earthenware and girdles. All too soon we had been right through the displays. We also learn that the seawall also sheltered a necropolis with hundreds of bodies that were later discovered. And in the watercourse that separates the town from the salt pans there is another old Croatian boat.

From Nin we are heading into Zadar and stop en-route so that Michael can have a walk over to the very unsual and interesting St. Nicolas Church in the Prahulje field. Legend says that seven kings were crowned in Nin. After the coronation each king would go on horseback to this church and present himself to the nation vowing to defend his homeland.

And so, in to Zadar - the Cathedral and St Donats are still closed we are told come back at 4. Went back, still shut. We strolled the back streets and by chance happened upon the open doors for restoration works into the Fransican monastery and its quite beautiful cloister complete with deep well. We are sure that the boss was berating his worker for leaving the door open so that people could get in - but now that we were there, we are determined at least to have a peek outside. The buildings are locked up tight - and there is supposed to be an amazing library of manuscripts somewhere here behind those closed doors.

From here, we could hear intermittent blast of mournful music and remembered that there was something written in Donna's book on Croatia about a Sea Organ in Zadar, so we went to investigate. This was amazing and like nothing any of us have ever seen or heard before. If you would like to hear what it sounds like, this is best video I could find (we didn't have the video camera with us!) - but it was much more active today with choppy water and a stiff wind. The water and wind belted out a lively tune that chased up and down the organ keys! And if you look up behind the steps that lead into the waters of the Adriatic, you will see the marble and timber seating that is reminiscent of a keyboard!

Not only was there the Sea Organ on the waterfront, there was also a very new monument titled 'The Greeting to the Sun'. Set right out on the point where Zadar juts out to welcome the Adriatic into its embrace, this innovative work is by the same architect who designed the Sea Organ. It encompasses a huge disc comprised of lots of solar cells that put on a light show at dusk in sympathy with the sea organ. Too bad we only found out that little bit of information tonight - because we could have gone back to see it. Bugger.

Around the outside diameter of the 21m disc is engraved with the names of the saints after whom the city's churches were named and the delination and time of the sunset on their date of birth at this place. It connects outer space (galaxy) with past space (history) with present space (here and now) with wet space (sea organ) and with deep inner space (bloody mind boggling)! The architect must be crazy to have all that in his head space and making these connections!!! That little gem all came from Donna! Maybe he had a couple of cans of Mad Bat under his belt! And leading away from the installation there is a solar line with all the planets bar Pluto (Michael walked way up the promenade but couldn't find it - although as it is to scale, it could be miles away.)

Now being 4:20 pm we returned to the Cathedral to try to have a look at St Donats but the man on the door was adament that it was closed. After asking some youngsters in the seminary across the square they suggested in broken English to try closer to 7 pm. So off to have a drink before the museum opens at 5 pm. The Archaelogical Museum of Zadar is closely connected to the one at Nin - primarily because this is where much of the finds were made. Many of the items referred to at Nin are on display here in Zadar and we can take photos to our hearts content here! Michael drools over the statue of Ceasar Augustus on display opposite the entrance door. Most of the collection mirrors the set out at Nin, so we don't spend quite as long here - oh, and the roman collection is still being set up - we did see lots of segments of mosaic floor leaning against a wall!

Michael goes around to check and finds the Cathedral open! It is quite plain and unadorned, but does have some truly beautiful altars. We only have 10 minutes before it is closed (I think it was only open for the Rosary that is being said by some local parishioners). We can't get into St Donats - it appears that it is only opened for concerts after I do some net research. This is really disappointing, especially for Donna, as this was the initial purpose of our visit to the City. It is architecturally very interesting and partially constructed from the ruins of the earlier roman forum on which site is stands.

Dinner at Seafood Restaurant Foša around at the marina that is set in the last remaining piece of the former moat around the city.
Appetiser - a prawn and salsa
Blue Fish Platter - svježe sardine na krevet od krumpira i zelene salate od graha (Blue Fish Platter - fresh sardines on a bed of potato and green bean salad) Michael
Dimljeni losos sa krem sirom i losos kavijar (Smoked salmon with cream cheese and salmon caviar) Donna
Teleći terrine s Pistacija u svitak Dalmatinski pršut s biser luk u Acetto Balsamic (Veal terrine with Pistachio in a roll of Dalmatian ham with pearl onions in Acetto Balsamic) Maria
Lignje na žaru Jadranu krevet dalmatinskog stila blitva lišće (Grilled Adriatic Squid on a bed of Dalmatian style Swiss Chard leaves) Michael
Baby biftek s tartufima služio na krevetu u pire od krumpira s tartufima sos (Baby beefsteak with truffles served on a bed of mashed potatoes with a truffle gravy) Donna
Žaru Adriatic Dory sautéed s povrćem (Grilled Adriatic Dory with sauteed vegetables) Maria
Rožata - puding od karamela (Rožata - caramel pudding) Michael
Voće minestrone sa Sorbet od limuna (Fruit minestrone with lemon sorbet) Donna
Limun krema s javorov sirup (Lemon cream with maple syrup) Maria
We finished with coffees before waddling back to the car via a short stop to admire the city walls by the lights of night!

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