Zadar Zadar is a city in Croatia on the Adriatic Sea, with a population of 72,718 (2006). It is the fifth largest Croatian city. 93% of its citizens are ethnic Croats (2001 census). It is the centre of modern Croatia's Zadar county and the wider northern Dalmatian region. Zadar is located opposite the islands of Ugljan and Pašman, from which it is separated by the narrow Zadar Strait. The promontory on which the old city stands used to be separated from the mainland by a deep moat which has since become a landfill. The harbor, to the north-east of the town, is safe and spacious. Zadar is the seat of a Roman Catholic archbishop.




The entire district of present day Zadar was populated since prehistoric times. The earliest evidence of human life comes from the Late Stone Age, while numerous settlements have been dated as early as the Neolithic. Before the Illyrians, the area was inhabited by an ancient Mediterranean people. The name of the settlement - Iader, Iadra or Iadera (also spelled Jader, Jadra or Jadera) - came from their Pre-Indo-European language and could be related to a hydrographical term. It was later used by other civilisations.


In the 9th century BC Iadera was settled by the Liburnians, a tribe of Illyrians, who were known as great sailors and merchants. By the 7th Century BC it had become an important centre for their trading activities with the Greeks and the Romans. Its population at that time is estimated at 2,000. The people of Jader (the Jadasinei) were first mentioned in a Greek inscription (384 BC) as the leading enemies of the Greek colonists in the Adriatic in the period of Greek colonization (6th – 4th centuries BC). In the middle of the 2nd century BC, the Romans began to gradually invade the region. After 59 BC, Iadera became a Roman municipium, and in 48 BC a Roman colony. In the early days of the Roman domination, Iadera was a flourishing Roman colony. It lasted for several hundred years, until waves of marauding tribes battered the region. In the 4th century it had probably between 20 and 25 thousand citizens, a mix of Romans and indigenous Liburnians. In 441 and 447 Dalmatia was ravaged by the Huns.

The Medieval Period

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, in 481 Dalmatia was added to the Ostrogothic kingdom, which already included the more northerly parts of Illyricum, i.e. Pannonia and Noricum. In 536 the Byzantine emperor Justinian the Great, started a military campaign to reconquer the territories of the former Western Empire (see Gothic War), Zadar became consequently part of the Byzantine Empire.

In 568 Dalmatia was devastated by the Avars invasion, and throughout the century Slavs (i.e. early Croatian an Serbian tribes), its modern occupants, gradually established themselves in Illyria, where, unlike the earlier barbarian conquerors, they formed permanent settlements. Between 600 and 650 the main body of the immigrants occupied Illyria.

In other parts of the Balkan Peninsula, Serbs and Croats quickly absorbed the native population. However, the coastal cities managed to resist immediate cultural assimiliation (mostly thanks to Byzantine influence). This sociologic process was instead to take many centuries to reach completion. Consequently, The rural aereas were settled by Croats and Serbs, while the native population, mostly consisting of romanised Illyrians, was either eventually assimilated or migrated to the cities (such as Spalatum, Iader and Ragusa. This gradual, long process took place in the 7th and 8th centuries. Dalmatia was, thus, a region culturally divided between the romanic Byzantine cities and the Slavic, more rural, hinterland. These two communities were known to harbor dislike for one another, a grievous circumstance which sometimes resulted in disputes.

Other Romanic natives (later called Morlachs) took refuge in the mountainous interior of Dalmatia, where they preserved their culture for several centuries.

Zadar survived the tubulent times, due its strategic position and its strong defensive system and managed to maintain its Roman heritage (such as its dialect of the independent Dalmatian language). Because of the destruction of Dalmatia's capital Salona and the relocation of its people to nereby Spalatum, Zadar in time became the capital of the Byzantine Theme (administrative unit) of Dalmatia, and was the seat of the imperial Governor. Byzantium, as the protector of Dalmatia enjoyed a strong military and political presence there, due to the persistent threat of invasion by the new Venetian Republic.

However, the geographical position of Zadar, suffices to explain the relatively small influence exercised by Byzantine culture throughout the six centuries (535-1102) of Byzantine rule. It maintained a large degree of autonomy throughout this time. Along with other Dalmatian cities it soon came to resemble a typical medieval commune. In 806 Dalmatia was briefly occupied by the Holy Roman empire under Pepin, but this was quickly reversed and the cities were given back to Byzantium in 812, by the Treaty of Aachen.

Meanwhile, the Croatian state formed inland, and trade and political links with Zadar began to devealop. Croatian settlers began to arrive, becoming commonplace by the 10th century. In 925, the Duke of Croatian Dalmatia Tomislav, united Croatian Dalmatia and Pannonia establishing the Croatian Kingdom. He also was granted the position of protector of Dalmatia (the cities) by the Byzantine Emperor. He thus politically united the Dalmatian cities with their hinterland for the first time.

In 998 Zadar sought Venetian protection against the Neretvian pirates, who had settled near the mouth of the Neretva river.

The Venetians were quick to fully exploit this opportunity: in 998 a fleet commanded by Doge Pietro Orseolo II, after defeating the pirates, landed in Korčula and Lastovo. Dalmatia was quickly captured by surprise and offered little serious resistance. Trogir, was the exception and was subjected to Venetain rule only after a bloody struggle, whereas the Republic of Dubrovnik was forced to pay tribute. Pietro self-proclaimed himself Dux Dalmatianorum (Duke of the Dalmatians), associating it with his son (carefully agreeing to Byzantine suzerainty).

The Croatian kings meanwhile established their own maritime cities, such as Nin and Biograd na Moru (also later Šibenik). The Church, on its part, was involved in general confusion; in 1059 on the church synod in Split it forbade the use of any language but liturgies in Greek or Latin, and so had accentuated the differences between Romanic and Slavic population. In the 10th century the cities came back under Crotian administration and Zadar sought independence from Byzantium. In 1069 the city was joined with Croatia by a treaty for the second time, by the Croatian King Petar Krešimir IV the Great.

Rivalry of Venice and Croatia-Hungary in Dalmatia

In 1099, the Kingdom of Croatia was invaded and forced into a personal union with the Hungarian king Coloman. In 1105 Zadar recognized his rule. Zadar was repeatedly invaded by Venice between 1111 and 1154 and then once more between 1160 and 1183.

In 1183 it finally rebelled, pleading to the Pope and to the Croato-Hungarian throne for protection, but it the year 1202 the Fourth Crusade began forming in Europe. The crusaders were, however, dependent upon Venice for transportation to Egypt. Ever the opportunist, Doge Enrico Dandolo instructed the crusader army that istead of paying they should lay siege to the troublesome Dalmatian capitol. Forced by their lack of money the Crusaders agreed and besieged Zadar. The overwhelmed city soon fell back under Venetian rule.

This did not break the spirit of the city, however. Its commerce was suffering due to lack of autonomy under Venice. They enjoyed considerable autonomy under the distant, much more feudal Croatian-Hungarian kings. A number of insurrections followed (1242-1243, 1320s, 1345-1346) which resulted finally in Zadar coming back under the crown of the Croatian-Hungarian king Louis I by the Treaty of Zadar, in 1358. After the death of Louis, Zadar recognized the rule of king Sigismund, and after him, that of Ladislas Anjou. During his reign Croatia-Hungary was envealoped in a bloody civil war. In 1409, Venice, seeing that Ladislas was about to be the loser, and eager to exploit the situation despite its relative military weakness, offered to buy his "rights" on Dalmatia for a mere 100, 000 ducats. Knowing he lost the region in any case, Ladislas accepted. Zadar was, thus, sold back to the Venetians for a poultry sum.

Venetian Republic (1409-1797)

The Adriatic in 1560, with Dalmatia and ZadarIn the early 16th century the Ottoman Turks conquered Dalmatia's hinterland, and the city became, in essence, a military stronghold protecting Venetian trade in the Adriatic, as well as the administrative centre for the Venetian conquests in Dalmatia. From 1726-1733 a part of its territory was settled by Catholic Albanian refugees. That Albanian settlement is called "Arbanasi".

Napoleonic era (1797-1813)

After the fall of Venice (1797) with the Treaty of Campo Formio, Zadar come under the Austrian crown and once again became united with the rest of Croatia. In 1806 it was briefly given to the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy, until in 1809 it was added to the French Illyrian Provinces. In 1813 all Dalmatia was reconquered and brought back under the control of the Austrian Empire.

During this time, it maintained its position as the capital of Dalmatia. During the Napoleonic era, the first Dalmatian newspaper, "Kraglski Dalmatin - Il Regio Dalmata" ("The Royal Dalmatian"), was printed in the city.

Austrian Empire (1815-1918): the age of nationalism

After 1815 Dalmatia (including Dubrovnik) came under the Austrian crown. After 1848, Italian and Slavic nationalism became accentuated and the city became divided between the Croats and the Italians, both of whom founded their respective political parties. There are conflicting sources for both sides claiming to have formed the majority in this period.

Italy (1920-1945)

In November 1918 Zadar was occupied by the Italian Army, like most of coastal Dalmatia, under the 1915 Treaty of London. Being the city with most Italians in Dalmatia, it was annexed to Italy in 1920, under the Treaty of Rapallo (1920), with the official name of "Zara".

The Italian enclave included Zadar/Zara and the localities of Arbanasi/Borgo Erizzo, Crno/Cerno, Bokanjac/Boccagnazzo, Puntamika/Puntamica and the island Lastovo/Lagosta. According to the census of 1921, this area included 18.623 people. After the advent of the fascism many Croats left the city because of the repressive policies of fascist Italian government. Their place were mainly taken by ethnic Italians.

World War II

Germany (with limited Italian assistance) invaded the Kingdom of Yugoslavia on April 6, 1941. On April 17, the Yugoslavian government, faced with the Wehrmacht's undivided attention, surrendered. Zadar held a force of 9,000 that after limited fighting reached Šibenik and Split on April 15, a mere 2 days from surrender. Occupying Mostar and Dubrovnik, on April 17 they met invading troops that had started out from Italian-occupied Albania. The civilians had previously been evacuated to Ancona and Pula. In 1941, Mussolini forced the newly formed Nazi puppet-state, the so-called Independent State of Croatia (NDH) to hand over almost all of Dalmatia (including Split and even Knin) to fascist Italy. This is known as the Treaty of Rome. The city became the center of a new Italian province. This treaty was, of course, recognised only by the Axis and was, thus, considered void. For the rest of the world, and, indeed, the local populace, Dalmatia was under Italian occupation.

Under fascist reign the Slavic population was subjected to a policy of forced assimilation (ethnocide). This created immense resentment among the Yugoslav people and the Yugoslav Partisan movement (which was already successfully spreading in the rest of Yugoslavia) particularly took wing here. The Italians employed concentration camps (among others the Rab and Gonars camps), political repression, forceful italianization and nationalist repression of Slavs. After Mussolini was removed from power, the government of Pietro Badoglio surrendered to the Allies, and on September 8 1943, the Italian army collapsed and was quickly disarmed. "Il Duce" was rescued, however, and formed the Nazi-puppet Italian Social Republic in the north of the country. The NDH proclaimed the Treaty of Rome to be void and occupied Dalmatia with German support. The Germans entered Zadar first, and on September 10th the German 114th Jäger Division took over. This avoided an occupation by Partisans, as was the case in Split and Šibenik where several Italian fascist government officials were killed by an angry crowd. The Partisans enjoyed massive support from the locals, and before the reoccupation by German forces, nearly a third of Split's population (including the entire local football team Hajduk) joined the Partisan movement.

The city was prevented from joining the NDH on the grounds that Zadar itself was not subject to the conditions of the Treaty of Rome. Despite this, the NDH's leader Ante Pavelić designated Zadar as the capital of the Sidraga-Ravni Kotari County, although its administrator was prevented from entering the city. Zadar remained under the local administration of the Italian Social Republic. Zadar was bombed by the Allies, with serious civilian casualties. In 1944 the partisans entered the town. In the following years a portion of the local Italian minority left the city, preferring to live in Italy, away from socialism. The city however, successfully recovered and became once more an imprtant regional city in the newly established Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

SFR Yugoslavia (1945-1991)

During this period Zadar underwent intensive reconstruction and revitalisation, followed by a large increase in both population and economic power. The Federal government sponsored numerous public works to this end, including the Adriatic highway (Jadranska magistrala) which created a modern road connection to the rest of the country. Besides the local infrastructure, the SFRY government initiated the industrialisation of the city and nearly all its factories were either built or significantly revitalised and modernised in this period. In the 1970s Zadar particularly enjoyed a high standard of living as international tourism came to Dalmatia.

However, during this period the city lost its status as the capital of the region, with Split overwhelmingly surpassing Zadar in population numbers, which, though increasing throughout the 20th century, boomed in the new, post-WWII, Yugoslavia.

All in all, by the 1990s the city was not only rebuilt from the Second World War, but emerged as a modern and completely industrialised regional center, with as yet unsurpassed tourist numbers, GDP and employment rates, which were, surprisingly, significantly higher than the present day's.

Recent history

After the death of Tito Yugoslavia rapidly began to destabilize. In the early 1990s the tragic Yugoslav wars began to devastate the country. Zadar became a part of the new Republic of Croatia. Its economy suffered greatly in the period, not so much because of the war itself, but due to the shadowy and controversial privatization process, which caused most of its prosperous companies to go under. During the Croatian War of Independence, Krajina rebels with the protection of the serbianised Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) under Slobodan Milošević's control, converged on the city and subjected it to artillery bombardment, in what is now known as the Battle of Dalmatia. Their aim was to cut off Dalmatia from Croatia and give the remnants of the Yugoslav Navy (JRM) a port on the mainland. Along with other Croatian towns in the area, Zadar was sporadically shelled for several years, which damaged buildings and homes as well as UNESCO protected sites. Attacks in nearby cities and villages occurred, the most brutal being the Škabrnja massacre, where 86 people were murdered. Connections with Zagreb were severed for over a year, the only link between the north and south of the country was via the island of Pag. The siege of the city lasted from 1991 until January 1993 when Zadar and the surrounding area came under the control of Croatian forces in Operation Maslenica. Attacks on the city continued until the end of the war in 1995.