Zagreb: Could This Be Love?
by Marla Norman, TCO Publisher
Zagreb wasn’t high on my list of “Must-See Sites” in Croatia — but it should have been. Croatia’s vibrant capital is home to just over a million people and filled with parks, world-class museums, theater and galleries. Historic Art-Deco buildings and design have inspired comparisons to Prague. And like Budapest, half of the city developed on a large hill, while a separate half evolved below. All comparisons aside, however, Zagreb is uniquely individual.
My first impression was undoubtedly influenced by the stylish Regent Esplanade. Built in 1925, this legendary hotel is situated near the city’s train station and was a part of the original accommodations for the Orient Express.
Check-in at the Regent is always accompanied by a glass of champagne, and as you wander from the handsome lobby, past the Habsburg-era ballroom, to the romantic terrace overlooking lush gardens….you’ll discover that you’ve already developed a serious crush on Zagreb.
From the hotel, stroll through the Botanical Gardens, making sure to peak in at the arboretum, then continue on to the Hrvatsko Narodno Kazalište, Croatia’s exquisite National Theater. You’ll also see the fantastical Zdenac Života (Source of Life) by Croatian artist, Ivan Meštrović.
From Ilica St., you’ll find the Funicular. Built well over one-hundred years ago — originally with steam engines — this Funicular is considered to be a kind of living monument. Ride up the hill to Gornji Grad. Enjoy the dazzling views until suddenly — it hits you! You’ve been swept off your feet by lovely Zagreb. And the infatuation is all the more sweet because it was so unexpected.
There are dozens of cute bistros, bakeries and shady benches at the top of Gornji Grad, in the event you’re ready for a break. If not, continue your stroll to the Katedrala Marijina uznesenja i Svetog Stjepana (Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin and St. Stephen). Three grand towers, visible from almost anywhere in the city, make the Cathedral easy to spot. Initial construction for the Cathedral began in 1093, but marauding Tatars destroyed the church. It was later rebuilt with fortifications and a Renaissance watchtower to help fend off constant invasions from the Ottoman Empire.
In 1880, Zagreb was struck again. This time by a devastating earthquake, severely damaging the Cathedral. As part of the neo-Gothic restoration, two additional spires were added to the original. Today, the Cathedral houses the tombs of Zagreb’s archbishops and Croatian national heroes.
Near the Cathedral is another much loved church, Crkva Svetog Marka (St. Mark’s Church). Bright, multicolored tiles depict the coats of arms of Zagreb and the Kingdom of Croatia, Dalmatia and Slavonia.
Artist, Ivan Meštrović’s home and studio, is located at Mletačka 8, in Gornji Grad. A collection of the artist’s paintings, sketches and sculptures is on display here. One of the towering figures of 20th century sculpture, Meštrović not only achieved international acclaim but also came to be revered in his homeland of Croatia as a leading personality in the nationalist movement.
The genius and ingenuity of his work is remarkable. Meštrović trained at the Art Academy in Vienna, and went on to exhibit in Paris, Belgrade, Rome and the U.S. His work in bronze and stone, influenced by the Art Nouveau style, was acclaimed by — among others — renowned French sculptor Auguste Rodin.
To simply walk through Zagreb is a delight. The city is clearly well-loved and sparkles from the attention. Every building seems to have some unique architectural feature, or at least winsome Gargoyles and cupids. Parks and cafes are lively. Cute shops display chic merchandise. In Zagreb, throw away the guidebook and wander.
My one night in Zagreb was supposed to be a quick farewell to Croatia, but as I sat high above the city — utterly charmed by the lit-up views and heady nightlife — I decided that Zagreb was undeniably more than a one-night stand. And maybe, just possibly, this was a place I could even commit to……..