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“There’s a sphinx in that garden.”
My mouth slams on the breaks just as it’s about to bite a chunk out of a flaky, cheesy strudel. I’ve only just had a sip of my first coffee of the day. My ears couldn’t have heard right.
“There’s a full size sphinx in the garden over there,” Andy gestures, sending my eyes on a pleasingly scenic route across the calm and clear waters of the Bay of Maestral.
Sure enough, partly hidden in a garden opposite us is a huge sphinx. It’s not far from the road we’ve been taking to get to and from the Amico Apartments, our base in Zadar. It seems incredible that it’s taken us three days to spot it.
Obviously we have to investigate the Zadar Sphinx.
The sphinx sits proudly in the gardens of a rather grand, but slightly creepy mansion which seems as though it’s some sort of sanatorium. As well as the sphinx, there are Roman columns and various other objects strewn around. It looks relatively well tended yet has an air of abandonment.
The gate lies open but we’re nervous of entering, instead we opt to peer curiously through the metal railings at the familiar, but out of place, historical monument.
After breakfast, we’re due to leave Zadar and so don’t have the chance to ask anyone why the Zadar Sphinx exists. A folly like that has to have a story.
Thanks to Secret Dalmatia we now know what that story is. I’m not going to go into all the details, you’ll have to read Secret Dalmatia’s blog to get the whole tale. However, here’s a brief summing up.
The Zadar Sphinx was commissioned in 1918 by local artist, painter and historian Giovanni Smirich as a memorial to his wife Attilia. Although it is a monument to love there is something unsettling about it. Apparently Giovanni and Attilia dabbled in the occult. There is an atmosphere of an old Hammer House of Horrors movie about the sphinx: the dark arts connection is no doubt one of the reasons that local children were drawn to it even though it also frightened them.
The Zadar Sphinx exudes an air of sadness. Morose eyes stare sightlessly across the most beautiful of bays.
Intriguing though the sphinx is, we don’t linger long; maybe we’re subconsciously worried the morosity is catching. After a few minutes we leave the sphinx to its lonely vigil. It’s time to move on to pastures new; the island of Krk to be precise.
Zadar has managed to surprise and delight us from the second we arrived until almost the very moment we were leaving.
Jack is co-owner, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a contributor to lots of other places. Follow Jack on Google+