Zagreb from above
Zagreb – city with a million hearts
Zagreb from above
The city of Zagreb, capital of Croatia, on the historic and political threshold between East and West, illustrates both the continental and Mediterranean spirit of the nation it spearheads. Zagreb is the cultural, scientific, economic, political and administrative centre of the Republic of Croatia.
Zagreb travels to its past every summer
Zagreb as we know it today, which is to say its historical centre, dates back to the Middle Ages, and the settlements on two hills: secular Gradec, today known as the Upper Town; and ecclesiastical Kaptol. The first written record of Zagreb dates back to 1094 when the Hungarian king Ladislav established the Kaptol diocese on his way to the Adriatic Sea. During the Mongol invasions of central Europe another historic event occurred here, and one that would greatly impact on Gradec, the other half of Zagreb’s core. In the mid-13th century the Tatars ravaged Hungary and their king Béla IV fled to Zagreb where its citizens provided him with a refuge. In gratitude, in 1242 Béla gave Gradec a charter proclaiming it a free royal city. His generosity is symbolically reenacted every day by the blasting of the cannon at noon from the Lotrščak tower overlooking central Zagreb.
St. Mark’s Church is one of the oldest buildings in Zagreb
In the Middle Ages bells were sounded to warn the citizens to return to the fort as the gates to the city were about to be closed and locked. The only gate preserved from the Middle Ages, Kamenita vrata, was burned down in the first half of the 18th century. Miraculously, the only thing saved in the fire was an icon of the Virgin Mary that still occupies its prime spot in the wall. Our Lady of Kamenita Vrata is celebrated as the patron saint of Zagreb and her feast is on the 31st of May when a ceremonial procession is organised. The occasion is also used as the City of Zagreb Day.
The two hills, adversaries in the Middle Ages, were separated by the Medveščak creek and its mills. The creek valley sat along the present day street of Tkalčićeva and it still runs underneath it, out towards the river Sava. In time the threats of attack subsided and the city started to spread out around the valley. A trading centre below the two settlements evolved into what is now the main square of Ban Josip Jelačić. This is the heart of the city and a meeting point for all Zagreb citizens.
Spacious squares and monuments in the neo-styles of the 19th century are seen among the many parks and green spaces that comprise the appearance of present-day Zagreb. Praška leads us away from the main square to the so-called Green Horseshoe. This series of open green spaces, not unlike the Ring in Vienna, is formed in the shape of the letter ‘u’ and contains important institutions of public culture. The ratio of greenery to the urban architecture, fountains and pavilions was carefully planned out.
The old Upper Town evolved into a systematically organised area with clearly defined sections of greenery and carefully located monuments. Building entrances around the Lower Town provide a link between public thoroughfares and the private sphere of residential courtyards. This atmospheric mix of small town and luxurious Central-European metropolis raised Zagreb to the level of contemporary cities to be reckoned with during the nineteenth century.
20th century Zagreb
In 1918, after the World War I, Croatia severed all bonds with the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and became a part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, a new state formed by the south Slav peoples. The population of Zagreb increased and new districts emerged in the eastern and western parts of the city, while impressive residences were built in the foothills of Sljeme. It was at this point that the first radio station in this part of Europe began to broadcast; the Zagreb Stock Exchange opened; the first automatic telephone exchange was built, as well as the city’s first skyscraper.
After the World War II Croatia, with Zagreb as its capital, became one of the six republics of Yugoslavia. The post-war years lead to the further expansion of the city. It finally spread over the south bank of the river Sava with the construction of residential blocks. For centuries, the Sava had been flooding the valley while protecting citizens from medieval invasion and serving as a link to distant lands. From the mid-20th century it became the border between the old town of Zagreb and Novi Zagreb. Today there are twelve bridges connecting north and south, new and old.
the legend of the name
There is also a legend of how the city was named. On a sunny day, a brave governor, exhausted and thirsty from battle, asked a girl named Manda to ladle (zagrabiti) him out some water from the spring. This became Manduševac and the city became Zagreb.
recreation and nature in Zagreb
You can find spaces for recreation almost anywhere around Zagreb. Also within easy reach we find Medvednica, a popular destination for outings. Right in the city centre, parks, streets and squares intersect with green spaces and gardens. Landscaped in the 19th century, Strossmayer Promenade in the Upper Town is where you can enjoy a romantic panorama of Zagreb accompanied by the poet A.G. Matoš, in sculpture form. Further evidence of 19th-century urban planning is provided by the so-called Green Horseshoe. This line of eight green squares created by Lenuci serves as the axis of the Lower Town. One of the most popular is Zrinjevac, known for its row of plane trees brought in from Trieste more than a century ago. Fountains, a music pavilion and busts of notable figures take us back to that time.
In Zagreb you can find Jarun lake, an oasis surrounded with cycle paths, footpaths and sports courts for everyone to use. A large catfish called Jura might just be an urban myth but anglers who fish here do hope to catch something big. In summer, Jarun is referred to as the Zagreb Sea, as its beaches fill with sun worshippers. Sport carries on through the winter.
A walk around Jarun lake is 6.4 kilometers
At the beginning of the year Zagreb hosts the Ski World Cup, justifying another of its names, White Zagreb. Only half-an-hour from the city’s main square of Ban Josip Jelačić we find the highest peak of Medvednica Mountain, Sljeme (1035 metres), which holds a special place in the hearts of the people of Zagreb. This is where famous Croatian skiers and siblings Ivica and Janica Kostelić trained for their many medals and trophies. Their promotion of the ski run at Sljeme led to it being included in the World Cup schedule. Sljeme is also a favourite place for outings, whatever the season.
Croatian lounge culture
Zagreb can be described as a city with the biggest lounge. The moment the sun appears in the sky in spring, restaurant, café and coffeehouse terraces open for custom. Streets become promenades, places to get a cup of coffee, relax or have a business meeting. Lounging in cafés has been a long tradition in this city.
The Zagreb Green Horseshoe and the main square of Ban Josip Jelačić have always been hubs of social life in Zagreb. Nowadays, this has spread across the whole city centre, around the pedestrianised zone and even further. People from all walks of life can find something of interest here. Cafés around Ban Jelačić, or simply ‘Square’ as it is often referred to, attract prominent figures.
Preradović, also known as Flower Square, is loved by artists and young people, as well as an older crowd. Tkalčićeva, once the border between Gradec and Kaptol, used to be full of pubs and served as the red-light district, but nowadays it is a trendy destination for rendezvous and relaxation for the whole family.
The romantic among you can take the funicular on Ilica, the shortest one in the world used for public transportation – you’ll reach the Upper Town in 55 seconds. All of these locations form part of the phenomenon known as špica. Every Saturday around noon people of all ages come to the centre because that is the time and place to see and be seen. The ritual is always the same: people slowly sip coffee, read the Saturday papers, stop off at Dolac market to pick up fresh produce and then go home to prepare lunch.
Zagreb Courtyards is the ultimate summer event you have to visit to experience Croatian lounge culture