Located at the geographical, cultural, historical and political crossroads between Eastern and Western Europe, the city of Zagreb is the capital city of Croatia – the cultural, scientific, economic, political and administrative centre. Zagreb has a population of almost one million people, i.e. close to a quarter of the overall population of Croatia.
The foundations of contemporary Zagreb date back to the Middle Ages on two hills – Gradec, today called the Upper Town, and ecclesiastical Kaptol, where the Zagreb diocese was founded in 1094 by the Hungarian king Ladislav. In 1242 Béla gave Gradec a charter proclaiming it a free royal city. His generosity is still symbolically reenacted every day at noon by the blasting of the cannon from the Lotrščak tower that overlooks the city centre.
In the second half of the 17th century, Zagreb became a university centre, one of the longest existing in Europe. Later on, Zagreb also became the seat of government. Differences between the ecclesiastical city and the free royal borough slowly disappeared and the two finally merged in 1850 to form the unified city of Zagreb. The development of industrial production, commerce, transport and banking during the second half of the 19th century made their mark on the city’s appearance. Spacious squares and monuments in the neo-styles of the 19th century are seen among the many parks and green spaces that comprise the appearance of present-day Zagreb.
In the early part of the 20th century, Zagreb developed close links with other European centres of art, culture and science
Modern times continued to transform the everyday life of local citizens until the outbreak of World War II. After the war Croatia, with Zagreb as its capital, became one of the six republics of Yugoslavia. The post-war years lead to the further expansion of the city which finally spread over the south bank of the river Sava with the construction of residential blocks. From the mid-20th century it became the border between the old town of Zagreb and Novi Zagreb. The Zagreb Fair, a venue for international business conventions, moved across to the south bank of the river.
In 1991 the Croatian Parliament proclaimed the independence of Croatia as a sovereign state with Zagreb as its capital. The Parliament of Croatia and the Government have their seat in the Upper Town, the oldest secular centre of the city.
Zagreb enjoys a rich cultural life. Along with some 30 museums, a large number of galleries and many theatres, various attractive music and dance festivals make Zagreb a vibrant city of art.
The Croatian National Theatre is the national home of ballet, opera and drama. Of all the concert halls, the most prominent is the Vatroslav Lisinski, named after the composer of the first Croatian opera. The Archeological Museum contains the mysterious mummy of a woman from Thebes in Egypt, wrapped in linen – the longest preserved text in Etruscan that’s still to be decrypted. The Zagreb City Museum brings a modern interpretation of historical events in the city from prehistoric times to the present day. The Strossmayer Gallery of Old Masters houses a collection of works by famous painters and is an essential stop for connoisseurs of European art from the 15th to 19th centuries. Nearby we find the Modern Gallery, in which works by every significant artist from the 19th and the 20th centuries are exhibited. Zagreb has also entered the 21st century with a new building for the Museum of Contemporary Art. In the Upper Town, the Klović Gallery is housed in a former Jesuit monastery; just around the corner, you’ll find the world-famous Museum of Broken Relationships.
Centres for recreation and professional sports can be found all around the city
Also, what used to be a branch of the Sava river is now the Jarun Recreational Sports Centre, built for the 1987 University Games. Here you’ll find cycle paths, footpaths and sports courts for everyone to use – international rowing competitions take place on the lake. At Jarun there is also a small patch of undisturbed nature, home to several hundreds of species of birds, fish, water animals and insects. Sljeme is also a favorite place for outings, whatever the season.
Lounging in cafés has been a long tradition in this city. The Zagreb Green Horseshoe and the main square of Ban Josip Jelačić have always been hubs of social life in Zagreb. Cafés around Ban Jelačić, or simply ‘The Square’ as it is often referred to, attract prominent figures. Preradović Square, also known as Flower Square, is loved by artists and young people, as well as an older crowd. Tkalčićeva street, once the border between Gradec and Kaptol, nowadays represents a trendy destination for rendezvous and relaxation for the whole family.
The gastronomic selection in Zagreb comprises a rich combination of many cuisines
There are many places in town where you can find specialties of inland Croatia as well as Mediterranean and international cuisine. Štrukli and turkey with mlinci pasta strips are one of the traditional meals of inland Croatia. There is also the Zagreb steak, a piece of fried veal filled with cheese and ham, somewhat similar to its renowned Vienna counterpart.
Another feature of the city are its open-air food markets. Almost every neighborhood has one but the Dolac, near the Cathedral, is the best known. This is where producers sell fresh fruit and vegetables, meat and fish daily. During the day eateries by the market offer cheap, fast, home-made dishes. There are cake shops and bakeries on every corner. You should certainly try Zagreb strudel with apples, cheese or cherries, and there is also kremšnita, the most famous cream cake made in the nearby town of Samobor. Also, one can try the praised wines made from grapes grown near Zagreb.