Almayer Art & Heritage Hotel, Zadar

Monastery of St. Nicholas

From a hospice to a cultural centre

The heart of the city hides a story of ancient Zadar hospitality

The turbulent history of destruction and creation has left scars on Zadar, as well as numerous records of time that make up the city's valuable monumental heritage of today. With over 70 churches and cultural monuments on the city peninsula alone, and over six hundred in Zadar's surroundings, this city is a living souvenir of the past.

Antique map of Zadar in 1571Antique map of Zadar in 1571. (photo: Stare razglednice i fotografije Zadra/Facebook)

The story of the place that nowadays houses the Almayer Art & Heritage Hotel, is intertwined with the history of the city of Zadar and the fate of the monastery and church of St. Nicholas. According to old parchments and documents, the Ban and the imperial prōtospatharios (commander) Stjepan and his wife Marija in the year 1042 built the church along the western walls as an endowment, together with an apartment (cella) for a small number of monks.

Antique model of Zadar 1612The St Nicholas monastery complex in a model of Zadar from the second half of the sixteenth century (photo: Stare razglednice i fotografije Zadra/Facebook)

Having abundantly equipped the church with furniture, sacred vessels and vestures, they handed it over to their spiritual father Trason - an abbot of the monastery of St. Chrysogonus.

Innate hosting

This branch of the abbey of St. Chrysogonus housed the Benedictine nuns of St. Demetrius who found refuge there after the crusade of their monastery in 1202. Legend says that, on his way to the East in 1212, St. Francis of Assisi was cast by the winds on the shores of Zadar, and stayed in the Benedictine monastery of St. Nicholas. There, miraculously, he healed one of the nuns and consequently Benedictine nuns become Poor Clares (followers of St. Clare, St. Francis of Assisi’s sister). They then, together with the nuns of the monastery of St. Mary, ran an almshouse for indigent women and the St. Bernardine hospice.

Siege of Zadar 1202 VicentinoThe crusaders conquering the City of Zara (Zadar) in 1202, painted by Andrea Vicentino (c. 1542 – 1617)

The hospice offered accommodation to foreign pilgrims, mostly to those who travelled to the Holy Land, but also to those who sailed across the Adriatic to Rome, Assisi, and many other Apennine pilgrimage shrines. Hospitality towards travellers, especially towards pilgrims, was considered a work of Christian love and faith. Zadar was thus a precursor to the establishment of hospices on the eastern Adriatic coast.

The monastery complex on a cadastral mapThe monastery complex on a cadastral map in the first half of the nineteenth century (source: State Archive unit in Zadar)

Zadar Monastery of St. Nicholas was desecrated in 1798 when the Austrian authorities abolished the monastery. The monastery complex and church were converted into a barracks where 400 soldiers and many of their families stayed, and later into a military hospital.

Monastery St Nicholas Military hospitalSt Nicholas church at the time of the military hospital (photo: Stare razglednice i fotografije Zadra/Facebook)

The space between the church and the bell tower was completely buried and levelled, and the interior of the church, monastery, bell tower and the space between them have undergone numerous alterations and upgrades. One of the bell tower’s floors and the final pyramid were demolished, and the floors and constructions of the barracks were erected in the church.

Monastery St Nicholas Military hospitalSt Nicholas church at the time of the military hospital (photo: Stare razglednice i fotografije Zadra/Facebook)

A new beginning 

In addition to the Austrian army, which spent over a century in this place, at the beginning of the 19th century the complex was shortly used by the French army. With the arrival of the Italian authorities in Zadar, the complex continued to be used as a barracks and military hospital and, after the death of the Italian naval officer Tomasso Gulli in 1920 in Split, it was named after him. After the end of World War II, the Yugoslav army used the complex, but after the construction and arrangement of facilities outside the Zadar old town, it soon left.

St Nicholas inside ZadarAmazing St Nicholas' Church interior (photo: Zadar Tourist Board)

It was not until 1988 that restoration work was carried out, which enabled the remains of the church to be preserved from further decay. A archaeological research conducted by the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments in cooperation with the Archaeological Museum in Zadar found numerous artefacts from the Iron Age, through ancient and medieval, to modern times.

St Nicholas Visualization Renovation of the former church and monastery of St. Nicholas In Zadar (photo: Zadar Tourist Board)

After it was completely neglected for several decades, in August 2020 the International Center for Underwater Archeology in Zadar presented to the public a project to renovate the entire complex, which in addition to renovation, aims to valorize the space. The monastery of St. Nicholas will thus become a representative complex in which activities and valuable findings will be presented, as well as international scientific conferences will be held. The City of Zadar will get a new cultural centre and a public space for events and scientific gatherings.

St Nicholas Visualization TopRenovation of the former church and monastery of St. Nicholas In Zadar (photo: Zadar Tourist Board)

The building in which the Almayer Art & Heritage hotel is located today was built in 1863 as an annexe to the military hospital and barracks of the former monastery of St. Nicholas. The hotel inherits the historical value of this building and from the very beginning of its reconstruction, we pay great attention to preserving the architectural and cultural features of this house.

Your second home when you are not at home thus bears witness to times gone by, and Almayer became a hotel with a story it loves to share with its guests and visitors.