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The area proposed for inscription in the World Heritage List is located in the centre of the historic nucleus of the town of Zadar and comprises the Roman forum with the remains of a temple, the Episcopal complex with the cathedral of St. Anastasia, the archbishop’s palace, the church of St. Donatus and the Zmajevic seminary, the orthodox church of St. Elias, the Benedictine nunnery with the church of St. Mary and the Permanent Exhibition of Religious Art, and the Archaeological Museum. The area of the complex is 3 hectares, and it is surrounded by the protected historic nucleus of the town of Zadar, which is also the buffer zone. In the second half of the first century B.C. the Liburnian settlement of Zadar became a Roman colony, and developed in accordance with the town planning scheme typical of the Roman tradition used in the design of military camps (castra). The longitudinal streets (decumanus) and the transversal streets (cardo) intersected at right angles and formed rectangular residential and public spaces (insulae).
As a rule, the public centre of urban life – the forum – was situated at the intersection of the main longitudinal (decumanus maximus) nd the main transversal street (cardo maximus). The same principle applies to the Zadar forum, which dates from the period between the second half of the first century and the early third century. According to the so far explored and preserved remains (owing, unfortunately, to tragic destruction during the war, in 1943-1944), it has been possible to reconstruct the original appearance of this complex and monumental part of the ancient town. The open central square (lastricat), the largest on the eastern Adriatic coast (95 by 45 m) was bounded on the south, east and north sides by a two-level portico (porticus). The portico, which was elevated by two stairs with respect to the forum floor, comprised a series of massive marble columns with classic bases and composite capitals supporting the cornice decorated with floral garlands and mascheroni. Along the eastern and northern side, facing the portico, were the tabernae, rectangular spaces for the traders. The nympheum was in the southeastern corner. The basilica with semicircular exedras at the western and eastern end was situated next to the southern portico. Two massive votive columns at the eastern end of the forum (the southern one has been preserved to date) marked the transition to the worship area, the capitolium. In the middle of the capitolium, bounded north, west and south by a peribolus with a double colonnade, was the temple dedicated to the Capitoline triad Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. The temple was a prostyle/hexastyle with an open prothyron and a double six column colonnade; three columns enclosed the premise reserved for worship at the back (west). The altar was between the temple front and the railing of the raised capitolium facing the forum. With the appearance of Christianity already in the fourth century parts of the forum underwent reconstruction, especially its northern end, where the new spiritual centre of the town, the Episcopal complex, was gradually developed. Parts of the former structures were retained in the new buildings – the cathedral, the baptistery, the cathecumeion (present-day sacristy), St. Donat’s, the bishop’s palace. In the Middle Ages, the church of St. Elias was built on the site of the former capitolium. In the second half of the eighteenth century it became the church of the Serbian Orthodox community in Zadar. On the occasion it was redesigned in Baroque style, and a church-tower added on its eastern side. A substantial part of the remains was unearthed during the cleaning of the ruins after the Second World War and extensive exploration and conservation activities, such as remains of the flagging, of the portico and the tabernae, the basilica and the raised capitolium and temple. The Episcopal complex consists of several buildings connected in spatial and functional terms, essential for the performance of the bishop’s religious and institutional function, built from the fourth to the nineteenth centuries. The core of the complex is the cathedral of St. Anastasia, formerly of St. Peter, with the baptistery and sacristy (cathecumeneion). Its building started in the Early Christian period – the fourth and fifth centuries – with the reconstruction of the northern parts of the Roman forum which had fallen into disrepair. According to the latest studies, the bishop’s palace was also built at the same time. The cathedral was a basilica with a nave and two aisles, divided by six pairs of columns connected with round arches. On the eastern side was a large semicircular sanctuary, specific because of its width (it was larger than the nave), used for the procession around the altar in the centre. The recently discovered remains of a mosaic in the sanctuary confirm the tenth century account of the Byzantine emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus about the rich decorations in the basilica. Perhaps the first Christian auditorium in Zadar was built along the southern wall of the cathedral by reconstruction of three tabernae next to the northern forum portico in the fourth century. In the fifth or early sixth century it was reconstructed to accommodate the cathecumeneion, the space for the preparation of neophytes, of a rectangular plan with an apse (externally semicircular and internally polygonal) and a still preserved floor mosaic with the typical image of a hind and deer at a spring. The catechumens were baptized in the near-by baptistery, a singular hexagonal structure with a cruciform baptismal basin; in the twelfth century an octagonal Romanesque well was placed above it in accordance with the new baptismal practices. The central space is vaulted within the hexagonal tambour. The baptistery was completely destroyed during the 1943 bombing raids, and it has recently undergone facsimile reconstruction. Owing to his diplomatic skills in negotiating the peace between the Byzantine emperor and the Frankish king Charlemagne, Donatus, bishop of Zadar, obtained as a gift the relics of the Early Christian martyr St. Anastasia, still kept in the contemporary marble sarcophagus with Donatus’ votive inscriptions in the northern apse of the cathedral which has since been named after the saint. According to the latest finds of pre-Romanesque furnishings from the second half of the eighth century, of a high artistic level associated with the workshops of the Aquileia Patriarchy (Cividale in particular), extensive renovation and reconstruction of the cathedral had already been going on in that period. The present form of the cathedral due to its comprehensive Romanesque reconstruction dates from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, when the cathedral was lengthened with the addition of two bays after the destruction wrought by the crusading and Venetian armies in 1202. The aisled structure of the basilica is particularly evident on its monumental front decorated under the influence of the Pisan Romanesque style with blind galleries and arcades and the original, large rose window in the middle. The top rose window dates from a later (Gothic) period. The three portals – the main portal and the two side ones – are decorated with a sculpture partly transferred from the original twelfth century front. In the lunette of the main portal are the Gothic high reliefs of the Virgin, St. Anastasia and St. Chrysogonus from 1324 according to the inscription added during the tenure of archbishop Butovan. The northern front facing the street is architecturally very articulated with a pronounced deep gallery under the roof cornice. The interior is divided by alternating piers with half-pillars and cubic capitals, and columns with Corinthian capitals. The aisles have matroneums with hexaforia opening to the nave. There is a late fourteenth century ciborium in front of the Romanesque pew for the clergy and the bishop’s cathedra at the bottom of the apse. At the bottom of the aisles there are two semicircular apses incorporated into the rear wall with remains of thirteenth century frescoes. Frescoes presenting the same stylistic features are also found internally on the front wall, with a particularly interesting representation of St. Donatus. Beneath the raised presbiterium is the crypt divided by columns and cross vaults into three parts. The sanctuary was redesigned in the early fifteenth century by the addition of wooden choir stalls and the high altar screen with the representation of the Crucifixion and the twelve apostles (now in the Permanent Exhibition of Religious Art), the work of the woodcarver Mateo Moronzoni in the Venetian flowery Gothic style. In addition to the high altar, the church has a number of later, more recent Baroque and neoclassic altars, the Holy Sacrament one along the southern wall being of particularly high value. Among the altar paintings due note should be made of the work signed by the early Baroque Venetian painter Palma the Younger. The cathecumeneion was converted into the sacristy and reconstructed with cross-ribbed vaults in the late fourteenth century. The frescoes in the apses showing Christ’s ancestor Jesse date from the third decade of the fourteenth century. In terms of design, if not of substance, the most important structure of the complex under consideration is the pre-Romanesque church of the Holy Trinity, the name of which was changed in the fifteenth century to honour its probable builder (in the early ninth century) bishop Donatus. This singular structure is circular in plan with a three-apse sanctuary on the eastern side. Six massive masonry piers and two columns by the sanctuary (from the forum portico) divide it into two stories, defining the spatial and functional conception of the church and the bishop’s chapel, unique in European architecture of the time. The architectural design and the sculptures – in stone and wood alike – are typical of the early Romanesque and contribute to the more accurate dating of this valuable monument. The original Early Christian plan of the Bishop’s Palace was certainly changed on several occasions, the most valuable reconstruction being the early Renaissance one during the tenure of Archbishop Maffeo Valaresso. The great sculptor Donatello is also mentioned as having taken part in the decoration of the front. The present neoclassic form dates form the first half of the nineteenth century. The southern side of the square in front of the cathedral is closed by the front of the so-called Illyrian Seminary, a modest Baroque structure built in 1748 by the newly invested archbishop Vicko Zmajevi}. In the second half of the nineteenth century a new Episcopal seminary was built opposite the cathedral on the western side of the square. The construction of the new campanile of the cathedral started during the tenure of archbishop Valaresso in the mid-fifteenth century. Only one story was completed at the time. The campanile was finally completed in 1892, according to plans of the English architect T.G. Jackson, in the pseudo-Romanesque style. The complex of the Benedictine nunnery of St. Mary comprises the church, the campanile, the chapter house and the cloister with three wings. The eastern wing still serves the original purpose, while the other two accommodate the Permanent Exhibition of Religious Art. According to existing records, the nunnery was founded in the second half of the ninth century by Cika, a noblewoman, daughter of the powerful local nobleman Madije. She also became its first abbess. The Croatian king Petar Krešimir IV donated to Cika the small church of St. Mary, which was brought down and a new, proto-Romanesque one built on the same site in 1091. The latter, an aisled basilica, has been mainly preserved to date in spite of considerable reconstruction on two occasions. In 1507 it was enlarged by the addition of two bays, a new Renaissance front, a circular gable and the southern front. The matroneums, galleries above the aisles in Venetian Renaissance style, the work of local masters from Split, Korcula and Zadar, date from the same period. In the second half of the eighteenth century (1742-44) the interior was radically redesigned in late Baroque style and richly stuccoed. The original three-apse sanctuary was brought down and a new, square one built, with a round tambour and dome. The matroneums were redesigned accordingly. In the mid-nineteenth century the interior was renovated again in classicist style. The church was almost totally destroyed in the 1943-44 air raids, and it was reconstructed in the nineteen-seventies. Aware of the importance of the nunnery, with Cika’s daughter Vekenega as the abbess, the first Hungaro-Croatian king, Koloman, endowed the construction of the campanile and the chapter house, the first High Romanesque buildings in Dalmatia, in 1105, after victory and the conclusion of peace, as commemorated by the inscription on the cornice on the first floor of the campanile. The king’s name is also found on four capitals in the room on the first floor supporting the ribs of the groin vault, one of the oldest of its type in Europe. Frescoes depicting scenes from Christ’s life date from the same period. The tomb of abbess Vekenega, in the form of a Romanesque biforium, stands by the southern wall of the chapter house; the latter has a barrel vault with cross-ribs supporting the columns connected with blind arches. After reconstruction, the western and northern nunnery wings have been used for the Permanent Exhibition of Religious Art. The majority of the exhibits derive from the treasuries of the nunnery and of the cathedral. They present in a chronological sequence the wealth and variety of Zadar’s sacral art, from a seventh century votive cross to Romanesque reliquaries in the form of caskets and hands, processional crosses etc. The many objects produced by Zadar’s goldsmiths in the Gothic period (fourteenth and the first half of the fifteenth centuries), and their excellence, attract particular attention. The high class of foreign and local donors is confirmed by paintings of the best Venetian Renaissance and Baroque painters such as V. Carpaccio and J. Palma. The ground floor houses a collection of stone monuments with important sculptures from the eight to the sixteenth centuries, and a facsimile reconstruction of the church of Sv. Nediljica from the first half of the eleventh century. The new building of the Archaeological Museum was completed in the nineteen-seventies on the northern side of Ulica (Street) Kozicica Benje. It displays archaeological monuments from Zadar and northern Dalmatia in three collections: prehistory (second floor), antiquity (first floor) and pre-Romanesque (ground floor).