ZAGREB – CROATIA
Capital City of Beauties at a Bargain
Zagreb is a city of beauties and contrasts, with the style of Vienna, but without the Euro prices. For those travelers seeking the grandness of old Europe on a budget, Prague has been discovered and no longer the bargain it once was, so have a go at Zagreb. Croatia still has the Kuna and may be a while before it makes it into the Euro zone, and with the current troubles of the euro countries, may be glad to be on its own, and still a boon to the adventurous tourist on a budget. While the Dalmatian coast of southern Croatia has become the “new Ibiza” of crowded beaches (or perhaps the Dubrovnic of old), the capital city remains a destination less traveled.
A tour of Zagreb shows the signs of its many ages of change, from medieval beginnings to the divide between east and west under the Austro-Hungarian Empire to the socialist era of the now vanished Yugoslavia. The modern city of nearly a million people is backed between the mountain of Medvednica which protects it from the cold northern winds and the broad plain of the Sava River. There were earlier settlements of the Celts and Romans, but the city of the middle-ages was formed by settlements on two hills, Gradec, the upper town and the lower town of Kaptol, each at odds with one another for a couple of centuries. The two old medieval towns are divided by the Kamenita Vrata gate, guarded on the lower side by a statue of St George astride his steed over a defeated pink dragon. The gate was burned in the early 1700s, but an icon of the Virgin Mary remained untouched, known as Our Lady of Kamenita Vrata, the patron saint of Zagreb.
The first written mention of Zagreb dates to 1094 when Hungarian King Ladislav granted the Catholic Diocese of Kaptol on his route to the Adriatic coast. The center of the lower city is dominated by the Cathedral of Zagreb where the old city walls once surrounded the city. As it stand today the cathedral is an impressive neo-gothic reconstruction of towering spires. The original which dates back to the 12th Century was nearly destroyed by the invasion of the Tartars in the 1300s, and further damaged by an earthquake, rebuilt in 1880. One of the most unique features of the cathedral is the burial repose of Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac, who lies embalmed and preserved inside, behind the altar (see Zagreb Cathedral).
In 1242, the Hungarian King Bela IV escaped the ravishing Tartar horde from his capital in Budapest to the protection of the hilltop Gradec, and in gratitude for saving his bacon, granted the upper city a charter as a free royal city. The two old towns are divided by the mills of the Medvešcak creek, now a narrow street of shops and restaurants. The center of the old upper city is the beautiful old town hall with its colorful tile roof with the coat of arms of Croatia and the magnificent Baroque art of St Catherine's church. The panorama of the city can be viewed from the Strossmayer Promenade, below the medieval Lotršcak Tower where a cannon blasts every day at noon, from a bench next to the silver statue of the poet Anton Gustav Matoš, a popular romantic spot, reached by stairs or the funicular.
The city spread in the later Renaissance and Imperial age around the main square of Ban Josip Jelacic, the heart of the city’s modern cultural life, with the dance of trolley trains passing the statue of the historic Croatian national hero on his horse, erected in 1866. Jelacic lead the charge to end feudal serfdom in the country, allowing popular representation in the Parliament (Sabor), though his pose is from an earlier military assault on the Ottoman Turks to the east (see Castle Durdevac & the Rooster). The city gets its name from the legend of a thirsty soldier who asked a girl named Manda to ladle (zagrabiti) him some water from a spring. This became the Mandusevac Fountain in the center of the square, and the city became Zagreb. A statue to Croatia’s more technical hero Nikola Tesla, can be found a few blocks off the Ban Josip Jelacic square, past the classic Hotel Dubrovnik, on the street named for him, Teslina. Sit in an outdoor cafe or the bars which fill up when the sun goes down and university students fill the streets with vibrant energy.
Zagreb's grand larger buildings laid out in a grid around the Green Horseshoe square is from the industrial age of the 19th Century when the railroad brought industry to the Croatian capital, with neo-Baroque facades of bright imperial yellow colors and lines of wild chestnut trees. Zagreb is a city filled with green spaces, some of planned as parks, some the result of the socialist era, which can best be seen on the road from the airport into the city, where tall indistinctive apartment buildings spread along the busy roadway. One of the more fascinating sights of the imperial days before World War I ended the golden age, just outside the city, is one of Europe’s most beautiful cemeteries, Mirogoj, with its elegant grand domes and long arcades of tombs designed by Hermann Bolle, as much a green park and open-air art gallery as it is the resting place for public figures and former wealthy families.
The city is dotted with fresh produce food markets, tucked into its squares and parks, but the most famed and largest is the Dolac Market, near the cathedral with the wide square adorned with Red Sestine umbrellas protecting the daily sellers of fresh fruit, vegetables, meats, fish and flowers from the sun or rain. For shopping, Zagreb is a city where you can browse for antiques, sweets or current fashions in small traditional shops or contemporary boutiques on the most famous shopping street , the Ilica, a grand golden indoor arcade of the 19th Century. Find a souvenir of two of the inventions Croatia introduced to the world, the fountain pen and the necktie, or the traditional biscuit cake of honey dough, the Licitar, in the form of a red heart - perfect a city known for its beautiful girls. © Bargain Travel Europe
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