A March 2005 trip
to Zagreb by Owen Lipsett
Quote: Often regarded by visitors as little more than a transit point to Croatia's incomparable coastline, Zagreb offers many charms of its own as a result of its historic role as an important trading city and modern status as Croatia’s capital.
Despite their (often bloody) rivalry, the two towns increasingly came to be regarded as a single unit for the sake of political expediency since they formed the most important settlement of the Hapsburg Empire’s "Military Frontier" with Ottoman Turkey. Zagreb didn’t officially become a single unit until the mid-19th century, when the city expanded from the two hills to the gently sloping area to the south, which consequently contains the cultural institutions created during the Croatian national revival that followed. The second city of Yugoslavia, Zagreb became the capital of an independent state for the first time in 1991 and remains the most cosmopolitan city in the Balkans.
Gornji Grad (Upper Town): Kaptol’s most famous monument is naturally its eponymous cathedral (rebuilt in neo-Gothic style in 1899), which is nearly encircled by the 18th-century Archbishop’s Palace. The famous Dolac Market occupies a large square (and a hall underneath) nearby. Gradec’s highlight is St. Mark’s Church, whose roof is tiled with Croatia’s coat of arms, appropriate given that it faces the Sabor (parliament). The surrounding streets contain several museums, the most interesting of which is the superb Museum of Zagreb at Opatička ulica 20.
Donji Grad (Lower Town) Trg bana Jelačića, named after the Croatian viceroy who put down the Hungarian Uprising of 1848 on behalf of the Hapsburg Emperor, is Zagreb’s true center. Directly downhill, along Praska ulica, lie three large verdant squares, bounded by the excellent Archaeological Museum, Academy of Arts and Sciences (containing the superb Strossmayer Gallery of Old Masters), and various cultural and commercial buildings. The outstanding Museum of Arts and Crafts and controversial Mimara Museum are located slightly farther to the west.
Hotel accommodation in Zagreb is expensive, making private rooms a better option. The official youth hostel is, quite frankly, dangerous, while travelers I spoke to praised the private Ravnice Youth Hostel, although it is located well outside the city center.
The Zagreb Tourist Board maintains offices at Trg bana Jelacica 11 and Zrinjevac 14, which provide complimentary maps and sell the Zagreb Card, which costs 90Kn and provides free public transportation and half-price admission to most museums for 3 days.
The tourist office also provides free copies of Zagreb in Your Pocket. Although its restaurant reviews are generally reliable, the café; club; and, above all, museum reviews are often appallingly inaccurate.
Getting Around Zagreb: Zagreb is a true walking city, with most sights concentrated in either Gornji Grad or the area of Donji Grad between Trg bana Jelačića and the railway station, although the architecture in either area is a sight unto itself. If you are unable or prefer not to walk, trams are the best way of getting around Donji Grad. Tram no. 6, which connects the bus and train stations with Ban Jelacic Square and continues along fashionable Ilica Street (passing the funicular to Gornji Grad en route), is the most useful line. All stops are supposed to display maps of the entire system, but, unfortunately, vandals and graffiti "artists" often deface them beyond recognition.
Hotel | "Bozo Muzar (Private Accomodation)"
Location: The apartment is approximately 20 minutes by foot from Trg bana Jelačića (the city center); largely along Ilica ulica, Zagreb’s trendiest shopping street; and a 5-minute walk from the Republike Austrije Tram Stop (nos. 1,2,6, or 11 - see http://free-zg.htnet.hr/muzar/grad/velkamapa.jpg for details). In comparison with most other accommodation options in Zagreb, expensive and budget alike, this is a comparatively good location, especially considering that the area is extremely quiet and safe but also close to a busy commercial area. The almost universal Croatian plague of graffiti is mercifully not in evidence nearby.
Room: I stayed in a single room (with two beds – Mr. Muzar charges per room) with its own bathroom. It was reasonably spacious in terms both of what I was used to having stayed in neighboring countries and by Croatian standards. The furnishings were quite new, and the bathroom was spotless (by far the finest I’ve seen in any private room). As is typical of Croatian private rooms, towels and hand soap were provided but shampoo and body soap were not. Crucially, given Zagreb’s harsh winters, the room is well heated and sufficient blankets were provided on the comfortable (thought somewhat narrow) bed. The room included a television (which only receives terrestrial Croatian channels) and a hi-fi sound system with tape and CD players.
Service: Mr. Muzar resides elsewhere (and also rents several other less centrally located rooms) but was always available on his cellular phone. Besides arriving and departing, I had no cause to deal with him, although he very kindly lent me books on local attractions (as opposed to the tourist office brochures most hosts provide.) He very kindly did not charge me for my having accidentally broken a glass and accepts both kuna and euro at the official exchange rate (as opposed to many hosts who inflate it.).
Please see http://free-zg.htnet.hr/muzar/smjestaje.html for further information and rates.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on May 14, 2005
Jadranska 9, HR-10000
+385 91 540 13 00
Although I suspect that its proximity to the funicular linking Zagreb’s Upper and Lower Towns has something to do with its popularity, the quality, diversity, and hearty portions of Slavonian specialties seem to be what attract regulars and casual visitors alike. Often ignored by visitors who head directly to the Dalmatian coast and its Mediterranean cuisine, Slavonia constitutes the northeastern portion of Croatia and is known for meaty far more akin to the national cuisines of Hungary, Austria, and Serbia, which is typically washed down with the region’s excellent wines. Appropriately, Vallis Aurea consists of a reasonably spacious bar (to your left as you enter from the street) serving a wide selection of the regions viticulture marvels and a dining room (reached by continuing straight from the entrance) that resembles a charming, whitewashed wine cellar.
While the food is generally excellent, I should warn you that the stodgy štrukli (boiled pockets of dough filled with cottage cheese and topped with a combination of flavored cornstarch and sour cream) were not to my taste and may not be to yours either. The hearty grilled meats, a staple of all Balkan cuisine, accompanied by boiled vegetables, were quite tasty. My personal favorite, however, was actually Šibenik pašticada, which, as its name implies, is actually a dish typical of Dalmatia. It consists of beef and bacon cooked in vinegar, wine, and prunes, accompanied by small chewy pasta resembling German spätzel. I ordered it as one of their daily 30Kn lunch specials, meaning that it is not always available, although it’s difficult to go wrong with anything on the menu, as long as you know what you’re getting into!
Open daily 9am to 10pm. Credit cards accepted. Despite the crowds, the courteous wait staff always manages to find room.
+385 1 48-31-305
The remainder of the museum’s exhibitions can’t compare with this rather unique display, but the vast majority of them are quite outstanding, and all are accompanied by explanatory wall plates in English. Potentially dull collections of historical artifacts are often given new life with unusual display techniques. An electronic ticker lists the names of unfortunates condemned to die as witches in Room 6, presenting this mass hysteria in a disarmingly immediate manner. Similarly, the combination of a television playing news footage of the Yugoslav Army bombardment of the nearby Sabor (Parliament) with mangled furniture from President Franjo Tudman’s office, in Room 44, brings the reality of the attack closer to home than either would have individually.
Unlike most civic history museums, which focus on either political developments or social history to the detriment of the other, The Museum of Zagreb, in general, links the two. For example, the placement of paraphernalia from the nationalist Sokol Society alongside artifacts from less overtly political groups serves to usefully locate it in the social milieu of its times. Somewhat leavening this careful curation are some delightfully eccentric collections of phonographs (Room 49) and "Old Packaging" (Room 50), the latter virtually inviting you to sing "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall…"
Although the museum is excellent, it is far from flawless. The display on Ban Josip Jelačić (Room 28), Croatia’s greatest military hero but regarded as an Austrian minion by Hungarians, could explore the nature of Croatian-Hungarian relations more deeply. Similarly, and while the exhibition in Room 44 on the fascist "Independent State of Croatia" decries the genocidal practices of this regime and points up the activities of its opponents, it fails to underline its basic status as a Nazi puppet state, a fact crucial to understanding its role as a cudgel used against Croatian nationalists in the post-World War II era.
Museum of Zagreb
20 Opaticka Street
The finest of Zagreb’s innumerable galleries, the original basis for this exhibition was the private collection of Josip Juraj Strossmayer (1815-1905), the Bishop of Đakovo (in eastern Slovenia), who donated it to the then-Yugoslav Academy of Arts and Sciences on his death, after whom the square is also named. Despite being the son of German peasants who had immigrated to Slovenia, Strossmayer was a passionate advocate of Croatian culture and Yugoslavism (the union of southern Slav peoples) as the best way of preserving that culture from its traditional opponents (German, Italians, and Hungarians). Although few of the works in the collection are by Croatian artists, Strossmayer’s ecumenical (and at times unorthodox) religious views are evident in this often unusual collection.
The first four rooms largely consist of religious works by lesser Italian masters (labeled in English as well as Croatian), but there are some famous names among them. Tintoretto’s "Madonna and Child with Donor" in Room 4 is the true highlight of this section, although it should be noted that it was a donation by the master swindler and Nazi associate Ante Topic Mimara (whose personal collection forms the basis of the eponymous and grandiloquent museum nearby). Veronese, Ghirlandaio, and Carpaccio are among the other artists represented in this section, which also contains a few works by medieval Croatian artists.
The collection in the Gallery’s final six rooms is significantly more interesting. Room 5 features a superb "St. Jerome" by Jusepe de Ribera and an almost masculine small painting of a penitent Mary Magdalene by El Greco. The delightful collection of Dutch and Flemish genre painting in Rooms 7 to 9 is highlighted by Pieter Breughel the Younger’s "Village Wedding" (Room 8) and Jacob van Ruisdael’s "Crossing the River" (Room 9, another dishonestly acquired Mimara donation). A room filled with playfully light, small canvases by 18th-century French artists, including Fragonard and Boucher, rounds out the collection.
Strossmayer Gallery of Old Masters
Trg Nikole Subica Zrinskog 11
Zagreb, Croatia 10000
+385 1 / 481 33 44
New York, New York