The purpose of this review is to shed some light on the complex properties of zirconia's surface chemistry in order to better understand its behaviour under chromatographic conditions. We emphasize the great differences between the much better known chemistry of a silica surface and the chemistry of zirconia's surface. The review describes both the physical and chemical properties of zirconium dioxide from a chromatographic point of view. The chemistry of monoclinic zirconia surface is developed from its underlying crystalline structure. The paper describes the dependence of the specific surface area, pore volume, porosity and mechanical strength on thermal treatment. Methods of synthesis of chromatographically useful zirconia are outlined. The review also covers the adsorption properties of zirconia at both gas-solid and liquid-solid interfaces. Adsorption of water, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and ammonia are described and the controversies concerning the surface concentration of adsorption sites are presented. The complex chemistry of a zirconia surface is pointed out and the importance of ligand exchange reactions is emphasized. In contrast to a silica surface, ligand exchange plays an important role in liquid chromatographic applications of zirconia. Strong, hard Lewis acid sites, present on a zirconia surface, can interact with hard Lewis bases and these interactions, sometimes troublesome, can be successfully exploited even for protein separations. Zirconia's surface can be modified in many ways: dynamically, by addition of competing Lewis bases to the mobile phase, or permanently, by covering its surface with polymers or by depositing carbon. The review also shows that the main difficulty in achieving a wider variety of applications is probably our lack of knowledge and poor understanding of zirconia's surface chemistry.