Zagreb’s Upper Town (Gornji Grad) has an irresistable “charm” that makes it everyone’s favorite part of the city. I wrote a post about Dolac Market, but wanted to elaborate on some other well-known points of interest in the area. Attractions include Kamenita Vrata (Stone Gate), St. Mark’s Church, Zagreb Cathedral (Kaptol), Lotrščak Tower, Grič Cannon and Tunnel, Museum of Broken Relationships, and more.
Recently, foggy, rainy weather has added an air of mystery to Upper Town’s cobbled streets. I’m using media photos in this post to show building interiors currently inaccessible and exteriors in clearer weather without scaffolding.
March 2020 Earthquake
I noticed many buildings shrouded in scaffolding and wondered if major renovations were in progress throughout Zagreb. Actually, it’s repair work being done from damage caused during the 2020 earthquake. I had hoped to go inside the Cathedral, St. Mark’s Church, and other notable landmarks, but they’re cordoned off indefinitely for repairs.
The March 2020 earthquake was the strongest in Zagreb since the country’s major 1880 earthquake 140 years ago. It caused substantial damage to the historical city center and affected over a thousand buildings. The earthquake occurred when coronavirus social distancing regulations were in affect.
North vs. South
I took a private city tour starting at Zrinjevac Park, the beginning of Zagreb’s “green horseshoe,” a u-shaped system of parks and squares. Of course, the guide provided a massive amount of detailed information about Croatia – Balkan (1912 – 1913) and Yugoslav (1991 – 2001) wars, political leaders and eras, communism, etc. My brain could only retained a small part of what he shared, and this post barely scratches the surface of notable information about Zagreb Upper Town.
One obvious thing that was pointed out, is the vast difference between northern and southern Croatia. Much more than geography, contrasts between the two encompass architecture, food, culture, and climate.
Southern Croatia is coastal and more Mediterranean. It’s a popular summer resort area. The north, especially Zagreb, is the “political and cultural heart of Croatia”. In addition to being the seat of government, Zagreb has many popular attractions – museums, galleries, markets, parks, first class performing arts, skiing, hiking, and ice skating. Over a quarter of Croatia’s four million population lives in Zagreb and its outskirts. I didn’t realize how close it was to ski resorts in Mount Medvednica, and trams can take you to hiking trails just a few minutes away. The Dinaric Alps. are about a five-hour drive from Zagreb.
Upper Town was originally settled in the 11th century and is the oldest part of Zagreb. In the beginning, it was known as Grič or Gradec. The streets are lined with “17th- and 18th-century buildings set along narrow, winding roads stretching between two hills – Kaptol and Gradec“. The south side connects to Lower Town (Donji Grad), where my apartment is located.
“Grič or Gradec is the name for the old part of the city of Zagreb, from which, together with Kaptol, today’s Zagreb was born.” Zagreb Tours
In contrast to Lower Town’s wide boulevards, the atmosphere in Upper Town is more “intimate and old-fashioned“. The area has Zagreb’s most interesting restaurants, bars, and cafés.
The boundary between Upper and Lower Town is Strossmayer Promenade, named after Bishop Josip Juraj Strossmayer, “theologian, politician. and fearless people’s tribune”,. This area is a “favorite venue for art installations and festivals”. It’s also the site of Lotrščak Tower and Grič Cannon. This year in just a few days, Christmas Markets are highly anticipated and expected to be spectacular! Zagreb will be overflowing with festive lights, decorations, and people. I’ve heard that beginning this weekend, FIFA World Cup games will be broadcast on screens in pubs and open areas of Upper and Lower Town.
Lotrščak Tower, Grič Canon and Tunnel
Lotrščak Tower was built in the 13th century to protect Zagreb’s south city gate. Panoramic views from the tower are spectacular, and it’s the “best-preserved building inside old city walls“.
Since 1877, Grič cannon has fired a single shot from the tower at noon every day. My guide planned our time, so we’d be there to see and hear it. The cannon makes a loud noise! Grič Tunnel runs beneath Strossmayer and was a former WWII underground tunnel turned into a pedestrian walkway.
The tower was named Lotrščak after its bell. The bell “signalized the closing of city gates“.
The Zagreb Funicular is just below Lotrščak Tower. Built in 1890, it’s been operating since 1893. The funicular is “the oldest means of public transportation in Zagreb” and the “world’s shortest cable railway”. With a track length of 66 meters (215 ft.), it’s a short 60-second ride with dynamite views!
The funicular connects Upper and Lower Town from 6.30 a.m. until 10 p.m. daily. Rides are scheduled every 10 minutes, and a one-way ticket costs 5 kn. Zagreb funicular is a protected “monument of culture“.
St. Mark’s Square and Church
St. Mark’s Square (Trg Svetog Marka) is “emblematic of Zagreb Upper Town”. Renovated in 2006, the square is dominated by one of Zagreb’s most “iconic” buildings, St. Mark’s Church. The roof on the church was constructed in 1880. It “represents the arms of the Tripartite Kingdom (Croatia, Dalmatia, and Slavonia) on the left and the emblem of Zagreb (Gradec) on the right”. Currently, St. Mark’s Church is closed indefinitely for repairs.
St Mark’s Church dates back to the 13th century. On weekends from April to October, Zagreb’s Cravat Regiment Guard perform a “changing of the guard ceremony” in front of the church.
The church’s gothic portal sculptings from the 14th century are “composed of 15 figures – 11 stone gothic and 4 wooden baroque sculptures – carved into shallow niches”. Interior sculptures are by famous Croatian artist Ivan Meštrović.
“Zagreb Upper Town was built during the 13th century, but due to fires and earthquakes, the whole city has been rebuilt from scratch several times, so it’s hard to tell how it originally looked.” Absolute Croatia
German Architect Herman Bolle created the existing roof in 1880. From 1876 – 1882 a series of devastating earthquakes damaged St. Mark’s Church and other major landmarks. Bolle and Viennese Architect Friedrich Schmidt “directed restoration of the church and repairs to other landmarks, like Mirogoj Cemetery”. I visited the cemetery during a previous trip to Zagreb years ago. It’s more like an outdoor museum than a burial site.
In addition to its historical and cultural treasures, Upper Town is home to Zagreb governmental buildings:
- Presidential Palace – Banski Dvor
- Croatian Parliament – Hrvatski Sabor
- Constitutional Court of Croatia
- Zagreb City Assembly – Gradska Skupština Grada Zagreba
St. Mark’s Square has been the site for important governmental activities, including the inauguration of Croatian Presidents:
- Franjo Tuđman 1992 and 1997
- Stjepan Mesić 2000 and 2005
- Ivo Josipović 2010
- Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović 2015
In 2020, the current president of Croatia, Zoran Milanović, decided to take his oath inside the Presidential Palace – sometimes referred to as Ban’s Court
Kamenita Vrata (Stone Gate) is part of the old city walls that once stood around Gradec. Built in the 13th century, Stone Gate connects Kaptol to the east of St Mark’s Square.
“According to legend, a great fire in 1731 destroyed much of Gradec. Houses burned to the ground, including every part of the wooden gate except for the painting of the Virgin and Child. People believe the painting at Stone Gate has miraculous powers. They go there to pray, light candles, and leave flowers to thank the Lady for protecting them.”
“Flickering candlelight, silent prayer, and hope greets you as you pass the Stone Gate and wonder what this place is. The Stone Gate is the most significant oath site in Zagreb. Feel free to stop by, light a candle, and pray for health, happiness, good luck, and love.” Absolute Croatia
I stopped for a few minutes and joined a small group of people huddled in front of the painting. Many brought candles to light. Respect and silence are practiced in the area, and the special atmosphere is powerful.
Zagreb Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a major landmark. The cathedral’s beautiful twin spires are the most prominent and recognizable fixture on Zagreb’s skyline. The spires have been damaged many times. Sadly, the cathedral is currently off limits to visitors, because work is being done to repair earthquake damage. The Gothic structure has been “transformed many times over the years, but the sacristy still contains a cycle of frescos dating from the 13th century”.
The Cathedral has magnificent Baroque marble altars and statues, a pulpit, and the tomb of beloved Cardinal Alojzije Viktor Stepinac, created by sculptor Ivan Meštrović. Stepinac was Archbishop of Zagreb from 1937 until 1960 – he served during World War II, under brutal fascist rule of the Ustaše over the Axis puppet Independent State of Croatia (NDH).
The Museum of Broken Relationships
The Museum of Broken Relationships (Muzej Prekinutih Veza) is “dedicated to failed love relationships. Its exhibits include personal objects left over from former lovers, accompanied by brief descriptions”. The museum was founded by two Zagreb-based artists – Olinka Vištica, a film producer, and Dražen Grubišić, a sculptor – after their love relationship came to an end in 2003.
The Museum of Broken Relationships began as a “traveling collection” of donated items. It found a permanent home in Zagreb. The museum “received the 2011 Kenneth Hudson Award for Europe’s most innovative museum“.