The original University of Zadar was founded by the Dominicans in 1396 as Universitas Iadertina, a theological seminary, Iadera being the Latin version of Zadar. The university was a continuation of the University of Dyrrachium, in Durrës (Dyrrhachium), Albania, then Medieval Kingdom of Albania, which had been created around 1380, and then transferred to Zadar in 1396, amid the mounting Turkish threats in South-eastern Europe, thereby becoming the University of Zadar.
It was the first institute of higher learning in the country. In 1807 it ceased to become an independent institution and its functions were taken over by other local universities. In 1956 the University of Zagreb, the country's second oldest university, re-established it as its satellite Faculty of Arts campus. The faculty later became a part of the University of Split. More than six centuries after the original university's founding, in 2002, the Croatian Parliament passed an act to allow for its re-founding as a full-fledged independent university. The new University of Zadar opened its doors to students in January 2003.
Since its reestablishment, the university has continued to grow from strength to strength. The Bologna process was implemented for the 2005-06 academic year as with all Croatian universities. A follow-up study a year later showed that the move greatly benefited University and has increased its profile internationally. This allowed it to engage in collaborative research agreements and student exchange programmes with other reputable universities around the continent. It also has agreements with universities in South America and the United States. First Croatian president, Franjo Tuđman, graduated on University of Zadar on 28 December 1965, which was then part of University of Zagreb.
Today, the University of Zadar is the largest integrated university in the Republic of Croatia, which includes 25 university departments:
In order to organise and promote scientific-research activities, the university has founded four scientific-research centres as its constituent units. These include: the Centre for Adriatic Onomastic Research, Centre Stjepan Matičević, Centre for Karst and Coastal Research and Centre for Interdisciplinary Marine and Maritime Research - CIMMAR.