If you have used a ball-point pen, which is most likely if you live in the civilized world, then thank the town of Zagreb, because the tool was developed from the inventions of Slavoljub Eduard Penkala, a citizen of the city.
Zagreb, the capital city of the Republic of Croatia, is an old Central European city that has been a focal point of culture and science, and now of commerce and industry. It is situated between the slopes of the Medvednica Mountains and the northern bank of the Sava River. Its location in the Pannonian Basin intersection falls in between important routes in the Adriatic coast and Central Europe.
When the Croatia achieved independence in 1991, Zagreb became a capital and offers the Baroque atmosphere of the Upper Town, picturesque open-air markets, diverse shopping facilities, and an abundant selection of crafts. Try the social ritual of coffee drinking in one of the numerous bars or terraces, visit the city markets in the open or enjoy a night on the town in numerous bars and clubs. But most importantly, visit its numerous museums. It has the largest number of museums and galleries per square mile in the world. In fact, the whole city is one big museum itself. The stone paved streets lit by gas lanterns that are ignited manually every evening, the gardens and fountains, the lakes Jarun and Budnek, and the churches—the city ensures that there is never a dull moment in your trip.
Despite long periods of foreign rule, the historic architecture of Zagreb remains essentially intact and you can still feel the old city come alive as it were as you walk down the city streets.
The modern name Zagreb is believed to be derived from the Croatian word ‘zagrabiti’, roughly meaning, ‘to take’. Several legends tell of the origins of the city’s name. According to one, a Croatian viceroy moving with his army through a desert wanted water but it was not to be found anywhere. In his anger, he thrust his saber into the ground from where water began to pour out. He ordered his soldiers to scrape the soil, or zagreb in Croatian, to get to the water. Another theory suggests that Zagreb may mean a place behind a hill that is behind the Sava River’s bank.
Slavic tribes settled in the area in the 6th century and established a settlement that eventually came to be known as Gradec, or ‘fortress’, for the fortifications they built to protect the settlement. In 1094 when the Hungarian King Ladislaus founded a diocese, alongside the bishop's see Kaptol developed on the neighboring hill. Both these settlements were surrounded by high walls and towers, and fortified securely. The remnants of these fortifications still remain in parts of the town.
Both settlements came under Tatar attack in 1242 and as a sign of gratitude for offering him refuge, the Croatian King Bela IV bestowed Gradec with a Golden Bull, offering its citizens autonomy. Bela also left Gradec a cannon under the condition that it be fired every day so that it did not rust. Now the cannon is fired every day at noon from the Lotrscak Tower.
During the Turkish onslaughts on Europe, between the 14th and 18th centuries, Zagreb was an important border fortress. The Baroque reconstruction of the city completely changed its appearance. Old wooden houses were replaced with opulent palaces, monasteries and churches. Trade fairs, revenues from landed estates and the many craft workshops greatly contributed to the wealth of the city. Affluent aristocratic families, royal officials, church dignitaries and rich traders from the whole of Europe moved into Zagreb.
In 1850 Gradec and Kaptol were administratively combined into Zagreb, and the development progressed even further. The city was made the capital of the Hungarian domain of Croatia and Slavonia in 1867.
During the 17th and 18th centuries Zagreb was devastated by fire and the plague. The fire was caused by a thunderbolt that caught the wooden roof of a church. Fires were quite frequent before the use of bricks as building material. The disastrous earthquake of 1880 sparked off the reconstruction and modernization of many shabby neighborhoods and buildings. Public buildings were erected, parks and fountains were made, and transportation and other infrastructures were developed.
In the 19th century a railroad bank was constructed, taming the flood waters of Sava, allowing Zagreb to grow outside its medieval boundaries. In 1918, along with Croatia and Slavonia, it became part of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (Yugoslavia).
During World War II Zagreb was the capital of Croatia till 1945 then became the capital of the Yugoslav republic of Croatia until the republic became an independent nation in 1992. Since then it has been the capital of independent Croatia.
One of Zagreb's most symbolic buildings is the 1880 St Mark's Church, with its unique tiled roof that depict the medieval coat of arms of Croatia, Dalmatia and Slavonia on the left side, and the emblem of Zagreb on the right. It also houses the works of Ivan Mestrovic, Croatia's most famous sculptor.
Another church, with its twin neo-Gothic spires, is that of St. Stephen's Cathedral, built in 1899. The baroque Archbishops' Palace is adjacent to the cathedral. The Dolac market nearby is the main market in Zagreb.
In the Upper Town, you will find the 13th century Stone Gate that has a painting of the Virgin Mary which miraculously escaped the great fire of 1731. Here you will also come across Banski Dvori (the Presidential Palace), and Sabor (the parliament).
Zagreb is culturally enriched and its abundant museums reflect the history, art and culture not only of Zagreb and Croatia, but also of Europe and the world.
The Archaeological Museum has a collection of about 400,000 varied artifacts and monuments. The most famous are the Egyptian collection, the Zagreb mummy and its numismatic collection. A part of the museum holds a collection of stone monuments dating back to the Roman period.
The Croatian Natural History Museum holds the world's most extensive collection of Neanderthal remains found at one site. These are the remains, weapons and tools of the prehistoric Krapina man.
The Technical Museum was founded in 1954 and has some of the oldest preserved machinery dating from 1830, still in working condition. Here you can browse through numerous historic aircrafts, cars, machinery and equipment. Also visit the Planetarium, the Apisarium, the Mine and the Nikola Tesla study.
The Museum of the City of Zagreb, established in 1907, is housed in the former Convent of the Poor Clares, of 1650. The Museum showcases the cultural, artistic, economic and political history of the city.
The Arts and Crafts Museum was founded to protect the works of art and craft from the predominance of industrial products. Its collections are classified into 19 diverse themes like furnishing, painting, sculpture, clocks, photography, musical instruments, ivory, printing, devotional items, smoking accessories and toys, among others.
The Mimara Museum’s holdings comprise of 3,750 works of art of various techniques and materials, from different cultures and civilizations.
The Museum of Contemporary Art has a rich collection of Croatian and foreign contemporary visual art.
Stubica Valley was the focal point of battles during the peasant revolt of 1573. The natural beauty, old palaces and the abundance of thermal springs make this an ideal getaway. Here you can see yhe Orsic Palace that houses the Museum of the Peasant Revolt, Stubicke toplice—built on the foundations of an Antique thermal spa, and Gornja stubica.
Krapina is picturesque fortified town where you can see the remnants of Neanderthal men in the cave on the Husnjakovo hill.
Samobor lies in a valley in the fertile Sava River at the foot of the Samobor Mountains. Here every house, square or street tells a story. Find out more going through the numerous exhibits in the Town Museum. It is popular for its carnivals, the Grgos cave and old iron, tin and gypsum mines.
Medvednica, with its highest peak Sljeme (1033m) is reachable by cable car or on foot and is the favorite destination for skiers during winters.
Many Zagreb restaurants offer various specialties of national and international cuisine but being relatively close to the sea, the city’s restaurants offer fresh seafood.
Try the Zagreb strudels stuffed with cottage cheese, apples or cherries, paprenjak (spiced biscuits), the famed Zagreb steak (veal stuffed with cheese and ham and then put in breadcrumbs and fried), krpice sa zeljem (square pasta with roasted cabbage), Kotlovina Pork chops and sausages (fried and then are stewed in their own juice, wine and spices), and strukli (dough stuffed with various stuffing, boiled or baked, added to soup or served as dessert).
These mouth-watering, fulfilling meals could be accompanied with medica and gvirc, beverages made of brewed honey.
The city offers rich cultural and artistic enjoyment with about 20 theatres and stages. The Croatian National Theatre is the most impressive building among them. The Vatroslav Lisinski concert hall, named after the composer of the first Croatian opera attracts thousands every year.
Zagreb also hosts many domestic and international events. Zagreb International Autumn Fair is the traditional general samples fair encompassing all economic branches, and is the biggest fair in Croatia. Other popular fairs and fests include: Animafest, the World Festival of Animated Films; the Music Bienniale, the international festival of avant-garde music; the Festival of the Zagreb Philharmonic; the flowers exhibition Floraart; the Week of Contemporary Dance; and Eurokaz, the international festival of contemporary theatre. Zagreb is also the host of Zagrebfest, the oldest Croatian pop-music festival.
The Medvednica Mountain holds the World Ski Championship tournament at Sljeme. And Zagreb is the only capital in the world that hosts a Ski World Cup race. The event known as the Snow Queen Trophy is the most expensive race on the women's world cup tour.
By air: Zagreb International Airport Pleso is located 14 km south of the city and is also a main Croatian airbase. Smaller airports, Lucko and a small grass airfield named Busevec are barely used.
By car: Almost all motorways in Croatia links to Zagreb.
By bus: The central bus station (Autobusni kolodvor) is located near the railway station and a number of operators cover major European cities.
By train: Zagreb is a railway hub which has direct links with other major European cities. The new 160kph ‘tilting trains’ connect Zagreb with Split and other major cities in Croatia.
The inner parts of the city are mostly covered by trams and the outer suburbs are linked with buses. The funicular in the historic part of the city is a tourist attraction. Taxis are readily available, but are comparatively expensive. A metro system is in the planning stages.
Currency: Croatian currency is the Croatian Kuna. 1 kuna = 100 lipas
Climate: The climate of Zagreb is continental, with four seasons. Summers are hot and dry, and winters are cold. The end of May, particularly, gets very warm. Snowfall is common in the winter months, from December to March, and rain and fog are common in autumn (October to December).
In April, you can enjoy warm, clear skies, while May and June are great months for all outdoor activities. July and August brings in the peak tourist season. September is probably the best times to visit since by then the crowds have thinned out, off-season rates apply and fruits such as figs and grapes are abundant.
Language: Croatian, Serbian, Italian, Slovenian, Hungarian
Time: Central-European time (GMT+1 hour), (during summers GMT + 2 hours)