Zagreb: About the city
Zagryveb lacks the big-city vibe of Vienna or Budapest, its Habsburg Empire-era mates – but that’s where its charm lies. Set below Mount Medvednica, where the last foothills of the Alps meet the Pannonian plain, citizens call this a big village. You can walk to most appointments. If not, most of its 15 tram routes pass through Trg bana Josipa Jelačića, the main square. Everyone meets over coffee. The communal, post-shop sip, or špica, is a Saturday tradition. During the week, local spots serve gableci, cheap lunches. Everything here has a time and place, an order common to German-speaking Europe but with a Balkan sense of fun and, after dark, hedonism. Light sightseeing duties may involve a hike around the cobbled Upper Town, a stroll of the landscaped greenery and grid-patterned streets of the Lower Town, and, more recently, a hop across the Sava river to Novi Zagreb, home of the Museum of Contemporary Art. Zagreb is comprised of two rival hilltop settlements, Gradec and Kaptol, the site of today’s Sabor, or Croatian Parliament, and the Cathedral, respectively. The oldest and most tourist-friendly parts of the city are set north of the Sava and for the most part the river plays no role in the city’s urban dynamics. The Croatian capital’s roots can be traced to 1094, when Hungarian King Ladislas founded a diocese. The city remained under the archbishopric of Hungary until 1852. Kaptol and Gradec fought for most of that millennium – only uniting in 1850. Evidence can be found in the naming of Krvavi most, Bloody Bridge, the alley that links Radićeva with Tkalčićeva. By the 19th century, urban development reflected a search for a Croatian identity. Prestigious edifices such as the Academy of Arts & Sciences and the National Theatre centrepieced a neat spread of grid-patterned streets and squares up to the new train station. But power still rested in Vienna and Budapest. With the clamour for reform, in 1848, the Croatian Ban, Josip Jelačić, led an army into Hungary. His bid for autonomy failed but he was honoured with a statue on the main square, also to be named after him. As the de facto second city of Tito’s Yugoslavia, Zagreb acquired an industrial edge. Across the Sava, forward-looking mayor Večeslav Holjevac built the Socialist-style housing estate of Novi Zagreb. Many Socialist-era shop fronts can still be seen around the Lower Town. At the same time, an underground rock and art scene flourished and a Zagreb spirit emerged, distinct from the bourgeois atmosphere between the two world wars. It was savvy, independent, liberal, certainly not supportive of rule from Belgrade, but neither comfortable with the nationalist undercurrents of Franjo Tudjman and his cronies. Apart from an audacious rocket attack in 1991 on the Ban’s Palace and one on citizens in 1995, Zagreb was spared the worst of the Yugoslav war. Its population swelled by refugees from Bosnia and the countryside, Zagreb and its outskirts did see a significant political shift to the right. This has been dissipated with the need for post-war recovery. Zagreb, in the mid-point between Mitteleuropa and the Mediterranean, knows its future lies with Europe. The war and the economic struggle after independence froze the city in its two seminal points in time, Habsburg and Socialist. Recently, shiny malls, fashionable shops and gleaming office blocks have sprung up, as well as a bar quarter on the pedestrianised streets around Preradovićeva, and a commercial district along Radićeva, south-east of the Lower Town. The opening of the Museum of Contemporary Art was another breakthrough; the resource puts Zagreb on a global footing.