Once upon a time, a brave knight had to respite in a barren land. Water he desired yet it was nowhere to be found. He searched in vain and hours passed by, until a beautiful maiden caught his eye. He pleaded for water that she did not have but she told him not to despair.
“Scoop the land before your feet.” she said.
And water he found in the ground. The knight asked for her hand and promised to raise a city on this blessed land.
She used the verb “zagrebi” and so the city received its name.
With no written account of Zagreb genesis, legends and myths fill the blanks.
The city is rooted in the two neighbouring settlements: the canonical Kapitol and the fortified Gradec. The latter one was surrounded by walls with four gates of access. Fires were common in the city which was made out of wood and so the eastern gate known as Stone Gate caught fire four times. The last and most devastating fire was in 1731 and greatly affected the city. Houses burnt down to the ground and lives were lost yet one painting of the Virgin Mary and Child was miraculously pulled from the rubble intact. The painting belonged to the widow Modlar who built a chapel for it in the stone gate to protect the city. The gate never caught fire again. The Stone Gate is the only one still standing today. Now, the gate is a place of worship and the painting of Virgin Mary is renowned for its miraculous powers.
With a majority ( 90%) of population being Christian, Croatians take great pride in their religious beliefs. The Zagreb Cathedral stands tall as the highest building in the whole country. A monumental Gothic sacral building, its interior is as great as its facade.
Yet rumour has it that the cathedral’s chandeliers are not so sacred as one might thought. Originally made for a Las Vegas casino, they were bought and later donated by a wealthy Croatian business man to the Church. Apparently the church men never intended to exhibit them in the cathedral, they merely hang them on the ceiling to see how they go with the place. This was fifteen years ago.
One urban legend tells the story of a young man who was doing handstands on the Church’s tower one morning. Panicked, one onlooker called the fire department. The whole scene seemed like a suicide attempt so the firemen climbed the tour to talk the man out of it. To their surprise, the man had no such intentions. He was a young man from a nearby city and came to Zagreb to become a fireman but he was rejected because he did not have the skills for the job. So he proved them wrong.
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Croatians pay their respects to the ones forever asleep with a monumental piece of architecture. The work for the Miragoj Cemetery started in the 19th century and it took half of century to finish. Designed by an Austrian architect, Herman Bolle created the City of Dead as a reflection of the 19th century Zagreb downtown.
There is a great feel of respect that transcends one when in Miragoj Cemetery. Its imposing entrance is shielded by climbing ivy that seems to keep time outside. The graves themselves are surrounded with arcades and pavilions and the Chirst the King Chapel majestically stands in the middle of it all.
The photos below were taken in January. Summer is the best moment to admire the ivy in full bloom.4
The main farmers market in Zagreb has a lot of atmosphere to it. Nicknamed by the locals “The Belly of Zagreb” because it feeds the capital, the market is as much a social place as a food provider. It combines a traditional open market with stalls and a shelter market behind it. Fresh food and vegetables are sold by the farmers from the neighbouring villages on the stalls outside while the covered market is the home of butchers, fishmongers and old ladies selling the traditionalcheese and cream.
Lotrščak Tower. Erected in the 13th century the tower canon used to be shot everyday at noon so that the churches can synchronise their clocks. Today, the canon is still shot everyday to keep the tradition alive.
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Zagreb also has a museum unique in the world. After the relationship of two Croatian artists came to an end they joked about opening a museum to store of the left-over objects from their relationship. And so they did. The Museum of Broken Relationships is internationally renown and it holds an extraordinary collection of objects left remained from former lovers along with their stories.
So make sure you give Zagreb a chance before heading to the coast. It’s worth it!