Giovanni Smirich is the builder of the villa, the park and the sphinx itself, and a person of great importance for the culture of Zadar, where he worked as a painter, museologist and conservator at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Smirich was born in Zadar in 1842, where he received his primary education. He then studied painting in Florence, Siena and Venice in Italy. After completing his studies, he returned to Zadar and worked as a drawing teacher in the Lower, and later the Higher School (today a primary school and grammar school). He soon left his pedagogical work because he was appointed director of the museum in the church of St. Donatus. This museum grew into the Zadar Archaeological Museum, and Smirich is considered its founder and first director.
His activity is diverse: with work in the school and work in the museum, he especially stood out in the field of protection of cultural monuments. For over 30 years he acted as a conservator elected by the central government in Vienna.
Among his most important conservation works are the supervision of the reconstruction of the Cathedral of St. Anastasia in Zadar, the construction of the bell tower of the cathedral, works on the restoration of the church of St. Chrysogonus, restoration of the chest of St. Simon and documentation of medieval sacral monuments in the city. Even though some medieval churches in the city are demolished throughout the history, we know what they used to look like thanks to the drawings made by Giovanni Smirich.
While studying in Italy, he met his future wife, Attilia Spineda de Cataneis, who comes from a noble family from the province of Treviso. Giovanni and Atilia had five children and had a harmonious marriage. In 1901, Smirich built a villa for his family with a large English-style park in a bay across from the old town. After the death of his wife, he raised a statue of a sphinx believed to have been built in 1918 in memory of his beloved wife.