Zagreb: a delightful surprise!

Croatia was a part of Yugoslavia until 1991. Following its declaration of independence it was embroiled in a war with Serbia; that war also involved Bosnia-Herzegovina.  Because Croatians have long lived near the Adriatic, when the independent country of Croatia was formed it assumed most of Yugoslavia’s access to the Adriatic Sea. The war eventually came to an end in the late 1990s.

Since the end of that war Croatia has become a very popular tourist destination.  It’s often been said that “Croatia is like Italy used to be.”  Most visitors are drawn to the coastal towns and island villages. Many cruise ships call at those ports. I have been to several of them including Dubrovnik and Split while escorting cruise groups. This time I wanted to explore Zagreb, the capital city. And unlike other famous places in Croatia, Zagreb is really a city. It was the fourth largest city of the Austro-Hungarian empire.  People have lived here for millennia and the city will soon celebrate its 900th anniversary. Despite years of communism and a devastating war, today Zagreb is apparently a booming and successful city.

It’s appeal, I found, was based on city planning and building beginning in the early 1800s. Large public squares, parks and green spaces are a prominent part of this city. The most important of these is the Lenuci Horseshoe, a park consisting of seven connected blocks on two sides of a large square, connected by the botanical garden and the rail station to make an enormous letter U. Begun about 1820, the park is the location of magnificent buildings housing museums and more. (Please follow the blue link at “Lenuci Horseshoe” above to find Wikipedia’s excellent explanation of this masterpiece of urban planning.) Magnificent 19th century mansions line the streets on both sides of the “Horsehoe.” The city is filled with decorative mansions and office buildings constructed during the 1800s and early 1900s.

A scene from the botanical garden, part of the Lenuci Horseshoe.

The gothic cathedral and its high towers on a hill overlooking the Lenuci Horseshoe were constructed many centuries earlier. On another nearby hill, the church known as St. Mark’s proudly flaunts its colorful tile roof. These churches stand on what were once hills occupied by the two enemy villages that grew to be Zagreb.

A years-long project to restore the steeples of the Zagreb cathedral is nearing completion. An original pinnacle is displayed outside the chuurch. It had mostly dissolved over the centuries. This photo shows towers from the ancient wall still standing guard over the cathedral.

The colorful tile roof of St. Mark’s church is relatively recent. The small church dates from the 1300s. The tower is one of several that grace the skyline of Zagreb.

Between the “Horseshoe” and the hills on which the city was first built there’s an enormous public square which was lively on Sunday. The main shopping street leads away from the square. In the space between the hills a daily market offers appealing produce and small goods and crafts.

This grand square with an un-pronounceable name, is the center of the city.

I found Zagreb to be very affordable, with the cost of everything much lower than anywhere inside the E.U.  The exchange rate was nearly seven “krona” to the U.S. dollar. Although the Croatian language is totally unlike Latin-based languages including English, I found that everyone I asked a question of spoke English and was willing to help me. The people here were very friendly. They seem to be proud of their city and their pride is certainly justified. If you have a chance to visit Zagreb, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

A very common scene in the center of Zagreb: cobbled street, well-maintained buildings from past centuries, a cafe under canopies where people meet for coffee.

Another cafe scene. The weather was warm and sunny while I was in Zagreb and everyone seemed to be out enjoying it.



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