Home to a staggering population of nearly 800,000 residents, the city of Zagreb stretches from the southern slopes of Mountain Mevednica right across the River Sava. What started out as two modest hilltop settlements is now a bustling city which serves as the capital of Croatia and is widely renowened for its sophisticated imperial architecture and vibrant cultural scene, leading some to call it “miniature Vienna”.
The rich history of Zagreb stretches back to the 11th century, when a diocese and a fortified settlement, now known as Gornji Grad (Upper Town), but then called Gradec, were established. After a brief period of rivalry between Gradec and a nearby ecclesiastical settlement originating in the 16th century, known by the name of Kaptol, the two settlements set their differences aside and formed a single urban entity. This, however, hasn’t stopped members of the Order of The Silver Dragon (Red Srebrnog Zmaja) – a Zagreb-based association of knighthood and medieval culture afficionados – to faithfully reenact famous historical conflicts between Gradec and Kaptol in the Upper Town’s St. Mark’s Square on each Saturday falling between April and October. All those who decide to visit this unique manifestation, in which participants are sporting authentic and fully functional historical replicas of medieval armour, are sure to enjoy an event full of excitement and picture-worthy moments.
Another testament to the splendor of bygone eras is certainly Zagreb’s most esteemed landmark, the monumental Zagreb Cathedral – a 19th century Neo-Gothic edifice which dominates the skyline with its striking limestone towers. The inside of this wondrous piece of art, covered in carefully-crafted white and grey stonework, is resplendent with baroque furnishings and decor, and also houses the tomb of the late Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac. Visitors who are interested in sacramental architecture are also invited to stroll along the charming Kamenita Street and pray at a quiant shrine devoted to Virgin Mary, nestled under the arch of the famous Stone Gate. Now recognized as one of the most iconic historical sights in Zagreb, the Stone Gate is in fact a landmark with a turbulent history. On 31st of May 1731, a fire destroyed much of Gradec, burning all the houses to the ground. At that time, the Gates displayed a painting of the Mother of God, which was miraculously left unscathed by the great fire. To commemorate the event, grateful citizens built a chapel within the arch of the old Stone Gate. The chapel, which still houses the painting of the Mother of God, has since become Zagreb’s biggest shrine and is regularly visited by people who come to light a candle and thank the Lady for protecting them.
Out of the more recent tourist attractions that Zagreb has to offer, one can single out an ingenious art installation starting in Bogovićeva street, called Nine Views. While most people are baffled as to what the statue Prizemljeno Sunce (The Grounded Sun) stands for, prompting them to leave plain scribbles on it, this quirky statue actually represents the Sun scaled down, with many planets that orbit it situated all over Zagreb at a distance that is in scale with the respective distances between the actual heavenly bodies.
Those who wish to spontaneously explore all the local marvels can always start at the Ban Jelačić Square, Zagreb’s main square, dominated by the statue of Ban Josip Jelačić, one of the central figures of 19th century Croatia. Considered to be Zagreb’s beating heart, this is the ideal starting point of your hunt for lovely nearby cafés from which you can observe the iconic local trams as they zip along a city bustling with grand promenades, majestic manors, state-of-the-art museums, charming galleries and beautifully landscaped parks reminiscent of the Habsburg era. Aside from riding the tram, one can also hop into the Zagreb funicular, the world’s shortest public transport funicular, boarding at Tomićeva Street and leading those that are heavy on their feet to the magnificent historic district of Gornji Grad.