Why visit Zagreb, Croatia?
Why visit Zagreb?
Lively and sophisticated Zagreb is often overlooked by Croatia bound tourists in their rush to the breathtaking coastline of the country. But, those that do take the plunge are greeted by a surprisingly intimate city, despite the population pushing a million, some austere Austro-Hungarian architecture and enough entertainment to make a never-ending pub crawl a real possibility. Orientating yourself is simple, with nearly everything of importance revolving around the central square: Trg bana Jelačića. The Upper Town (Gornji grad) contains the two historic cores – the ecclesiastic Kaptol, with the impressive Zagreb Cathedral, and Gradec, typified by elegant mansions and peaceful squares: which together form the most interesting part of the city and can rival any European capital for elegance.
The innovative Museum of Contemporary Art and Museum of Broken Relationships keep Zagreb at the cutting edge of culture and the abundance of green spaces add another option for the intrepid traveller. Hikers will enjoy the walks on Mount Medvednica and those looking to escape the heat can go swimming in the artificial lake at Jarun. When night falls, another side of Zagreb comes alive, as its reputation for bohemian adventure and boisterous night-life is aided by a series of live gigs, banging clubs and varied summer festivals.
(1-negative experience; 5-positive experience)
Zagreb: the facts
Despite the area having been occupied since Roman times, modern Zagreb is the result of the merging of two medieval villages that had developed on two separate hills. The first written mention of the town occurred in 1094 when the ‘Kaptol’ dioceses was established and in 1242 ‘Gradec’ was declared a ‘free town’. The competition between these two communities would be a running feature in the development of what we now call Zagreb, with the contrast of the ecclesiastical influence on the Kaptol district and the fortified and administrative centre of Gradec district still seen today. In the face of this division, the local was brought under Austrian Hapsburg control at the start of the 15th century.
In the middle of the 15th century, and in the face of the Ottoman invasions of Europe, the bishop finally fortified the Kaptol and together the two towns held out whilst the Turks conquered much of the surrounding lands. Almost by default, the then unified Zagreb became the capital of Croatian identity, whilst the almost two centuries of constant warfare crippled the local economy. The government fled to Varaždin where it remained until 1776 while plague and fires reduced the residents of Zagreb to a paltry 2800.
Only the receding threat of Ottoman expansion brought new impetus to Zagreb. The construction of a market, Trg Josip Jelačića, further helped the development of the town as new constructions around the square were undertaken. Furthermore, The south-running roads provided useful trade routes to the Sava River, attracting merchants and artisans once again.
The 19th century, finally saw Zagreb inherit some of the grandeur that we see today. Improved rail links to Vienna and Budapest, plus an economic expansion fuelled by the clothing trade, steam mills and tanneries, augmented an educational and cultural blossoming. It was during this period that the University of Zagreb was constructed and the Music Institute was established and Zagreb became the centre of the Pan-Slavic Illyrian movement, which campaigned for south-Slavic nationalism and autonomy from the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The dream was finally realised, when following the end of the First World War, Zagreb and Croatia joined the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. The inter-war years, saw a building boom in the centre, where new working class neighbourhoods were developed between the Sava River and the train station, and residential quarters constructed on the southern slope of Mt Medvendinca. In April 1941, Germany invaded and entered Zagreb without resistance. A rather right-wing Independent State of Croatia (Nezavisna Država Hrvatska) was established, who ruled until 1944 and the establishment of a unified Yugoslavia under the strong hand of Marshal Tito.
In communist Yugoslavia, Zagreb, much to disgust of its citizens, played second fiddle to the new capital of the state, Belgrade but still expansion continued. New districts were constructed south of the river which were developed into the mammoth housing project called Novi Zagreb and an airport was constructed at Pleso. Zagreb was made the capital of the newly founded state of Croatia when it declared independence in 1991.
Zagreb experiences a continental climate with four distinct seasons and is noticeably hotter than the rest of the country due to its inland position. Summers are hot with temperatures averaging 22.0°C and temperatures above 30°C not uncommon. Autumns are cooler and wetter with more unpredictable tendencies. Winter is cold, with temperatures averaging −0.5°C and snowfall common. Spring is lovely but short with temperatures rising quickly.
Weather in Zagreb now
The festival season kicks off in January with Night of the Museums (Noc muzeja) where free entry is offered to many of the city’s museums as well as exhibitions and events occur around the city. The international Zagreb Dox documentary film festival takes place from the end of February to the beginning of March at MoviePlex cinema in the Kaptol Center which is quickly followed by Restaurant Week (Tjedan Restoran) where special Restaurant Week menus are available for a decent price.
The summer festivals start in May/June with Summer on Strosu‘s (Ljeto na Strosu) music and events on Strossmayer Promenade. In June, the streets are filled for C’est is d’Best a riot of music concerts, theatre, street musicians, visual arts and dance. The eclectic InMusic festival lasts 2 days, is held on the banks of Lake Jarun and features many international bands and DJs. Park in Zagreb is another summer event that takes place in open-air spaces all across the city. Furthermore, in October, the Zagreb Film Festival, has pieces from around the world and is growing in popularity.