Although the largest sphinx in all of Europe is located in Zadar, hardly anyone outside of the city knows about it!
On my tenth day backpacking in Zadar, I was given a tour of the city by a kind-hearted, Croatian resident who had become a good friend of mine in the short time I had been traveling there.
She asked me, “Rocky, do you ever wonder why there is a huge sphinx in Zadar?”
We drove around a corner and the large head of an Egyptian sphinx peered at me from between the trees ahead. Wanting to know more, I nodded and smiled.
The Story Behind The Sphinx in Zadar
The Zadar Sphinx is quite large and hard to miss. It certainly was a strange sight to see in the middle of a European country!
My friend/tour guide went on to explain, “Well, you see, it is because a woman named Attilia once moved here from Italy and she wished to have a sphinx! Her husband said, “okay,” and had this sphinx built for her in 1918… so now Zadar has its own sphinx.”
I chuckled as we approached the great sphinx in the garden. It was like a scene taken out of Egypt. Tossed into foliage beside the Croatian shoreline.
To think a woman once woke up wishing for such a thing, simply asked for it, and then had this Egyptian-style sphinx built by her loving husband and his team right outside their home is seriously impressive!
This Attilia lady must have been living the dream if all she needed to do was snap her fingers to have a custom-made sphinx built for her right outside on her property.
Unfortunately, not all stories about the great sphinx seem to align. After visiting the landmark, I began to do some research about it and it seems that there are many different stories and mysteries surrounding this strange sighting in Croatia.
I’ve unpacked some of the alleged stories, facts, and other details behind the peculiar Zadar Sphinx in the sections below.
The History Behind Zadar’s Sphinx
The stories about the Zadar Sphinx and the treasure buried underneath it remain a great source of inspiration for fantasies across generations of Zadar’s citizens.
Croatia shows signs of Roman influence, not Egyptian… That is why the sphinx along the Dalmatian coast is such a peculiar sight for tourists and locals alike.
Where Is the Zadar Sphinx Located?
The Zadar Sphinx is located in the section of the city called Brodarica, within the grounds of Villa Attilia and the park beside Maestral Bay. I’ve linked to it on Google Maps here. The location is roughly 8 km south of Šibenik, Croatia.
Villa Attilia, the property partially shown behind the Sphinx in the photo below, was built in 1901 by Giovanni Smirich: a local artist and historian. Giovanni met his future wife Attilia Spineda de Cataneis in Venice, Italy. Together, they moved to Zadar.
After his wife’s premature death in 1918, other stories claim that he ordered the construction of this sphinx as a memorial to his beloved.
The Zadar Sphinx Love Legend
Devastated by the pain of the premature loss of his wife Attilia, the famous Zadar citizen Giovanni Smirich had the sphinx built out of concrete in her honor.
The symbolism behind its construction makes this sphinx especially important.
According to the legend, since it was built in memory of his beloved woman, it is said the great sphinx grants love wishes.
I hope the Zadar Sphinx grants my love wish. <3
Symbols on The Zadar Sphinx
Today, there are not many sphinxes left in Europe. Of those that remain, the sphinx in Zadar is the biggest by far.
It is an interesting fact that concrete was used for this sphinx. While it is a common sculptural material today, it was a relatively new construction material at that time. By choosing to use concrete, Smirich showed his openness toward experimentation.
The sphinx in Zadar was built with the relief of an eagle on its chest. It possessed fingers instead of paws, with which it was once holding a big sword to protect a shell-shaped fishpond that it once guarded over.
It was not possible for me to see many of these fine details due to damage that has occurred to the sphinx over the years.
For tourists who hope to visit the Zadar Sphinx, there seems to be a promising outlook because of the city’s plans to restore it back to its original appearance!
The Zadar Sphinx Restoration Project
On September 9th, 2020, the Plitvice Times published an article announcing that the 220,000 Euro restoration process of the Zadar Sphinx has begun!
Organized by the City of Zadar, the restoration is part of the RECOLOR Project: Reviving and EnhanCing artwOrks and Landscapes Of the adRiatic.
Another legend claims the sphinx has hidden treasures buried underneath it. I suppose the restoration workers can let us know whether or not that legend was true.
After the restoration is complete, the Zadar Sphinx will certainly be cleaner, more beautiful, and better lit. The city anticipates it should and attract more tourists. The park was quite romantic already with the sphinx and its patina. How this restored sphinx will be accepted by the masses remains to be seen.
As long as the magical sphinx continues to fulfill lovers’ wishes and stand guard over its romantic pond, I am certain people will always return back to visit it.
If and when I return to Zadar someday, I will look forward to seeing the Zadar Sphinx again following its restoration. <3