Postcard from Croatia
[Originally posted on the MuseLab blog December 1, 2017]
If you hadn't heard, I'm in Croatia (Hrvatska) for about 5 months on a Fulbright scholarship. While I'm here, OF COURSE, I am seeing as many museums and museal sites as I can. Instead of blogging on about this in the traditional way, I will tell you where I have been, give you a few highlights and post a bunch of photos (when I was allowed to take them). At this point, I have not figured out any kind of pattern about Croatian museums specifically, so perhaps I will save that for another later post, after I have been here a little longer. I'm going to only list the sites I have gone "in" because I have seen far more places by just walking by them everyday. I have, so far, been to museums in Zadar (where I’m living), Zagreb, Split, and the surrounds of each of these. So, here is my postcard. Well, more like a letter, but postcard sounds better.
Museum of Antique Glass: Apparently a newer museum, but inside a renovated older building (I think it was a palace). It truly was full of antique glass! It is amazing to think how old the making of glass containers is (and how delicate some of them are). The most intriguing thing I heard about this museum though comes from outside of it, a rumor of sorts, that the centralizing of this museum on glass and not on a particular time period or more traditional topic is controversial amongst academics (I might have some of these details wrong but this is what I gathered). I have no pictures because it is forbidden.
Archaeological Museum: Right on the Forum (which is right on the water) in Zadar, it occupies a very prominent place in the old town. The building is new so it makes me wonder what used to be there (Zadar suffered heavily in their recent war for independence as well as in WWII). But the literature on it says the museum was purpose-built in 1974, even though it opened in 1832). The museum is three floors and all are pretty nice but I really like the top floor, the oldest stuff, which goes back to Paleolithic times. I'm fascinated with the Illyrians and they too were featured here (specifically the more local, northern Dalmatia, Liburnians).
The Church of St. Donat: This seems to be the icon of Zadar. You see photos of it every time you look up Zadar, so we went into it first thing. It's just a big empty building now but you can see all the cool layers upon layers of history, one building period upon the other. It was (first) built in the 9th century, but it has had many lives. This is a perfect place to see the way people over time re-used previous structures (this happens A LOT in Zadar). Today it seems they use it for concerts, which we saw the remnants of (sound gear) on our visit. Very few places had free admittance but the cost was usually very low (about $1.50 to $5 to get in).
St. Mary's Treasury: What do you get when you cross a museum with a convent? No, I'm not telling a joke—but seriously folks, this is a fascinating place! It is quite literally the treasures kept (and saved from various threats) by this church over many, many years. The nuns sell the tickets, run the gift shop, probably set up the exhibits, everything. Not only were the contents incredible (some of the coolest arm and bust reliquaries I've ever seen) but I cannot get over the fact that the nuns have turned their sacred relics over to the tourists in this way. I mean, I'm not naive, I know this happens all the time but something about the set-up of this place made it all the more palpable.
The Forum: Not technically a museum but such a big musealized space, it deserves a mention. On our walking tour we found out which pavements are actually Roman (in situ) and there were far more than we realized. You see, the forum is heavily used by tourists and locals alike, with kids climbing on the antiquities (more like an antiquities park, as they are clearly placed there more recently), cafés located on it, and activities held there. Some fun elements of this space are: The Pillar of Shame (look it up), St. Donat’s Church (see above) built on the same spot, and the odd collection of carefully arranged column and sculpture fragments (we secretly refer to this as the outdoor storage for the museum).
Rector's Palace: This museum only just opened a few weeks before we arrived. It has undergone extensive renovation due to the damage incurred during the war of Independence in the 1990s. They call it an integrated space because they have visual things like exhibits but also musical concerts and more Not-so-ironically the first exhibit we saw there was a photography exhibit from the days in 1991 when Zadar was bombed. We saw this well enough into our visit that we recognized many of the structures and sites that had been reduced to rubble. It was very moving and I’m so glad I was able to see this show; it makes you realize what the people of this city have been through..
Natural History Museum: Very small, most likely a university educational facility more than a public museum. It was all in Croatian (first clue) and it was very specifically focused on local wildlife, mostly from the sea. It had very limited hours as well (second clue). But I always like seeing these smaller places.
Gallery of Art: Situated in the same building as the Natural History Museum, we expected this to be just as small but it was such a surprise! Big spaces, tall ceilings, bright rooms and really wonderful local art. I enjoyed this small-ish museum very much.
Plitvice Lakes: Not really “near” Zadar at all; we had to drive nearly 2 hours each way to get there, but it was worth it. It is the second oldest natural park in Croatia (I think?), opened in the 1940s. They actually moved everyone who lived there out so the park would be "natural." It's stunning. There are no words for it. Look it up, you'll see what I mean. We walked about 6 miles through it.
Other places I’ve visited in or near Zadar:
Paklenica National Park (near Zadar)
Kornati National Park (the islands off Zadar)
Park of Queen Jelena Madio
Park- Perivoj Vladimira Nazora—the place with my favorite label
Diocletian’s Palace: Surprise! You don’t “go in” this palace in the way you think; rather, the old town of Split IS THE PALACE. After many years of use and re-use, Diocletian’s original palace has become the city itself. Just like Zadar, you can never really tell what part is from what time period or culture, they all morph together. It is so fascinating and for someone like me who wants to know origins of everything I see, it is a lesson in letting go. Simply enjoying the fact that what was once an exclusive Roman palace has become a thriving, living, changing home for so many different people over time.
Ethnographic Museum: One of those places now inside of the palace, this is a GREAT museum. We did a walking tour of the entire space that was the palace and I believe the tour guide told us that this museum is where Diocletian’s apartments were situated. In any case, the museum is beautifully done and the local costume of the Dalmatian region is spectacular. But our favorite part of all was the secret little stairs we were told to go to by the front desk assistant. They led up up up to the top of everything, so we got a 360 degree view of Split. Absolutely breathtaking—the water on one side, and the palace and mountains on the other.
We also went to:
City Museum of Split
Museum of Broken Relationships: I have so many things to say about this museum that I might reserve it for its own blog post. I think I took about 100 photos. If you have never heard of it, please take a look at their website and other social media. The entire thing is crowdsourced. So cool.
Krapina Neanderthal Museum (near-ish Zagreb): This was the most special museum of all for me. Eons ago, I studied this site, even did my honors thesis on it. We were fortunate to have the founder not only drive us there but show us around the entire museum, even behind the scenes. He told us all the background and reasoning behind each decision for the museum. Very impressive.
Other museums visited in Zagreb:
City Museum of Zagreb
Nikola Tesla Technical Museum
Pondering curiosity, wonder, meaning, and the foundations of museology.