I moved to London in April 2008 in order to be closer to real frappe and to visit Greek towns and sites that fall outside of Greece proper. I was in dire need of a break from the dismal London weather and from constant weekend trips across Europe, so I booked in a 2 day retreat to a place called Zadar, Croatia.
Standing at the customs counter I was falling asleep when I realised I had been standing in front of the customs officer for about 5 minutes. I thought ‘why hasn’t she stamping my passport?’ I peered at her computer and as I suspected she was checking Interpol and other databases. As has become my custom at airports, I politely asked why was I being held up and how do I know that she herself is not a double agent. Her supervisor explained – ‘but sir we have to do a check on you, as you do not look British!!
When I arrived at the hotel I picked up a brochure and read about the history of Zadar and Croatia. It simply told me what I didn’t want to hear, Zadar and indeed Croatia, was occupied by the Byzantine (medieval Greek) Empire for 5 centuries. I couldn’t believe it. I wasn’t prepared to travel to Croatia to write yet another article on Greek history.
So here is a compromise. Whilst this is not an article perse, I thought I would tell you something about the Byzantines in Croatia.
Starting with Zadar and its magnificent church of St Donat. This is an impressive church built by the Greeks during the ninth century AD in the Roman forum. The area of Zadar City is a traveller’s delight. The old town is built on a little island connected to the mainland. You can see the old fortifications, no cars are allowed inside the old town. It reminds me of Old Rhodes town – it is visually stunning and rather romantic, surrounded as it is by the sea and numerous boats.
The church is the highlight of the town and it is fair to say the most impressive attraction. You can sit in the church and escape from the heat of the day and have a good think about where to get your next beer from.
Zadar itself was founded by the Illyrians rather than Greeks but was known to the Greek traders who settled there as Ίδασσα (Idassa).
Greek (Byzantine) control of the Dalmatian area
At its peak the Byzantine Empire covered most of the Mediterranean, the Balkans, the Black Sea and Greece proper. It is fair to say that whilst they controlled the Dalmatian coast, the hold over Croatia was never that strong. Another interesting point is that the ancient Greeks of Cocyra and Sicily founded perhaps a dozen colonies on the Croatian (Dalmatia) coast. This includes Issa (Vis), Pharos (Hvar, Lesina), Corcyra Melaine (Korcula), Epidauron (Tsavtat), Narona (Vid), Tragurion (Trogir), Epetion (Strobrech), Salona (Solin), Asseria (near Benkovats) and Heracleia (modern site has not been located).
The forces of the great Byzantine general Belisarious conquered Croatia in 535 AD and by the eighth century Zadar was the capital of this Byzantine province. Byzantine control of Dalmatia and indeed Zadar lasted until 1102 AD. Furthermore, the small Greek independent state, known as the Despotate of Epirus (founded by Michael Komnenos Doukas) controlled some sections of Dalmatia and its islands in the thirteenth century before being overrun by the Greeks of Constantinople and then the Venetians (the of Venetians by that stage controlled most of Dalmatia).
Once I made my pilgrimage to the church of St Donat, I was able to enjoy my little holiday in Zadar. It was an interesting place to visit, with just a small population of 80 000, 200 days of sunshine and no English speakers it was exactly what I wanted at this time of the year. And surprisingly another holiday destination with a connection to our Greek past.