Zadar Sea Organ
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Exhibition reveals secret history of Zadar’s waterfront

The renovated Duke's Palace in Zadar is currently showcasing the Habsburg-era planning behind the city's Adriatic promenade

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Time Out contributors

Now in its final week, the exhibition Nova riva at the Turn of the 19th and 20th Centuries at the renovated Duke’s Palace in central Zadar shows how the city’s waterfront transitioned from being heavily fortified to an Adriatic promenade.

American author Albert Anthony, born to local parents and baptised here on Trg Petra Zoranića some 40 years ago, visited the exhibition as part of his current research into that period in Zadar’s history.

“Thanks to the ingenuity of many local people who made this exhibition possible, today visitors can experience a lesson in both history and efficient urban management,” says Anthony. This dovetails with Anthony’s own field of expertise, encapsulated in his latest book, Leadership & Management.

"As someone who writes about leadership, management and productivity, I often look to historical lessons to see how leaders adapted effectively to periods of transition and change. Zadar and Dalmatia as a region have proven to be leaders during multiple centuries of transition, Venetian, Austrian, Italian and now Croatian. The organisers of this exhibition show that we are part of a rich history that has withstood the test of time. The ultimate leadership lesson here is managing adaptability in the face of continuous change."

Anthony points out that the exhibition is one of many staged at the Rector’s Palace following an impressive overhaul, first unveiled in 2017. This historic landmark forms part of the Duke’s Palace complex, along with the Providitor’s Palace, the City Library and two concert halls, a prime urban showcase of 7,000 square metres officially given over to the public in its entirety in April 2022.

Zadar waterfront
Dino Stanin/PIXSELLZadar waterfront

“Having attended the gala cocktail event when the newly renovated Rector’s Palace first opened,” says Anthony, “I was able to see the potential for this palace complex as one of cultural, historic and architectural significance". 

"Today, with both of the two palaces open to the public, we see an example of the productive use of previously unused property... at the very spot where the 19th-century Governor of Dalmatia once stood, managing a vital city strategically positioned on the central Adriatic, commercially intertwined with the sea itself."

"Many of us from the Croatian diaspora in the US may have visited the world-famous Sea Organ and Greeting to the Sun on the southern promenade in Zadar, but might not be aware of what the promenade looked like before 1945.”

Centre of trade & influence

As a commercial and political centre under the Republic of Venice which collapsed in the late 18th century, the city of Zadar later became the capital of the new Kingdom of Dalmatia, integral to the larger Austrian Empire. Even so, Italian remained the official language. After World War I, when the Austrian Empire fell and Zadar became part of the Kingdom of Italy until the end of World War II, another transitory period of change ensued. 

“The promenade was well planned and organised, with buildings architecturally suited to the period, as well as green space and walkability. This would have required efficient management and administration, as well as leaders with vision who understood that a nation begins with its cities first, and that a city can be planned productively with an eye for use of space and practicality."

Zadar waterfront
Dino Stanin/PIXSELLZadar waterfront

Describing the depiction of this vision at the Nova riva exhibition, Anthony says: "I particularly enjoyed the well-preserved urban planning documents, drawings and photos. They not only show Zadar as both a cultural and architectural marvel in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but also how infrastructure was planned for the growing city, with drawings created without a computer or software but by hand. We also see how the original Italian was used in official documents, the city being referred to as Zara”.

Anthony concludes: “Exhibitions like this are a way for visitors to Zadar, perhaps digital nomads working here remotely or those from the Croatian diaspora, to learn about a period of history they may not be aware of, and how it helped shaped the city of today”.

Nova riva at the Turn of the 19th and 20th Centuries

Duke’s Palace, Trg Petra Zoranića ( Open until Dec 15, 9am-6pm. Admission free.

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