Zagreb … admiring the roof rather than raising it in the proud Croatian capital

I never thought I would find myself falling in love with a tiled roof, but that’s exactly what happened when I first set eyes on the delightful church of St Mark’s, Zagreb.

The emblematic roof of St Mark's Church, Zagreb (behind the green spire of a neighbouring church)

The emblematic roof of St Mark’s Church, Zagreb (behind the green spire of a neighbouring church)

Beautiful

Beautiful

The 13th-century church is usually only opened to the public for mass, but its main draw for less religious folk like myself, can be seen and enjoyed anytime from Trg Svetog Marka (St Mark’s Square).

It may seem rather odd that political rather than religious symbols have been used so lovingly to adorn this church roof since the late nineteenth century, but when one considers the city’s turbulent struggle for independence, it’s little wonder that the people of Zagreb revere their Croatian identity as much as their religion.

To the left is the medieval coat of arms of Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia, and to the right is the emblem of Zagreb

To the left is the medieval coat of arms of Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia, and to the right is the emblem of Zagreb

The back of St Mark's. The bell tower was completed in 1891, nine years after the tiled roof was first put in place

The back of St Mark’s. The bell tower was completed in 1891, nine years after the tiled roof was first put in place

Zagreb Croatia, things to see and do in Zagreb, St Mark's Church, Crkva Svetog Marka, Trg Svetog Marka, back close up details

Zagreb Croatia, things to see and do in Zagreb, St Mark's Church, Crkva Svetog Marka, Trg Svetog Marka, turret close up

St Mark’s is not the only place in Zagreb where Croatian national identity is publicly celebrated hand-in-hand with religion.

Just a short walk from St Mark’s Church along Kamenita ulica, is the Stone Gate. In medieval times this was the eastern gate to Gradec, a geographically elevated part of Zagreb now known as the Upper Town (Gornji Grad). Legend has it that in 1731 a fire completely destroyed the gate and everything within it, except for a painting of the Virgin Mary owned by a woman who lived in rooms above the gate. Although the wooden frame around it was burnt and destroyed, the painting itself miraculously showed no signs of damage or scorching. The Stone Gate was subsequently rebuilt and turned into a shrine to house the painting which even to this day is believed to possess heavenly powers. The painting still hangs inside the Stone Gate today, albeit behind a huge wrought iron gate, and every evening prayers are conducted in front of it drawing large crowds of locals and pilgrims.

Approaching the Stone Gate from Radićeva ulica

Approaching the Stone Gate from Radićeva ulica

Inside the Stone Gate. Engraved marble slabs with intentions and thanks to the Virgin Mary adorn the walls. Candles are lit and are constantly attended to by devout volunteers to the left of the gate entrance (leading to Radićeva ulica and the Lower Town). There is also a seating area next to the candle stand for those who wish to pray. The painting of the Virgin is hidden behind the wrought iron gates

Inside the Stone Gate. Engraved marble slabs with intentions and thanks to the Virgin Mary adorn the walls. Candles are lit and are constantly attended to by devout volunteers to the left of the gate entrance (leading to Radićeva ulica and the Lower Town). There is also a seating area next to the candle stand for those who wish to pray. The painting of the Virgin is hidden behind the wrought iron gates

Zagreb Croatia, things to see and do in Zagreb, Stone Gate shrine close up

At night, one is advised to find another route to the Upper Town as the Stone Gate can become rather congested

At night, one is advised to find another route to the Upper Town as the Stone Gate can become rather congested

Standing room only: the daily saying of the rosary to the illuminated painting of the Virgin Mary (Kamenita ulica entrance)

Standing room only: the daily saying of the rosary to the illuminated painting of the Virgin Mary (Kamenita ulica entrance)

Zagreb Croatia, things to see and do in Zagreb, Stone Gate statue of Dora, crowds

By the Kamenita Street entrance to the Stone Gate stands a statue of a woman (as seen in the photo above) that one could be forgiven for thinking was another representation of the Virgin Mary. This is in fact the statue of Dora Krupić who has no religious significance whatsoever, but is significantly political to Croatians.

Dora was the protagonist to Croatia’s first historical novel The Goldsmith’s Gold, written by Croatian novelist and political activist August Šenoa. First published in 1871, Šenoa’s novel portrays life in sixteenth century Zagreb encouraging his nineteenth century readers to celebrate their Croatian identity in what was then Austria-Hungary. In the novel, the much adored and kind-hearted Dora lives close to the Stone Gate with her goldsmith father (who is also the gatekeeper) until she is killed by an evil local barber in retaliation for her refusal to marry him. It is probably no coincidence that Dora’s statue, sculpted and placed here in 1929, has been made to resemble the Virgin Mary. Although a fictional and political character, Dora and what she represents is clearly held in high regard by locals as much as the Virgin Mary is.

In the presence of ladies: looking towards the Stone Gate via Kamenita ulica, the shrine and painting of the Virgin Mary can just be made out inside, the statue of Dora can clearly be seen to the right of the entrance

In the presence of ladies: looking towards the Stone Gate via Kamenita ulica, the shrine and painting of the Virgin Mary can just be made out inside, the statue of Dora can clearly be seen to the right of the entrance

Dora Krupić

Dora Krupić

No devoutly Christian capital is complete without a cathedral, and Zagreb is no exception. The gothic Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is the tallest building in Croatia and takes pride of place in Kaptol in the heart of the city. It too represents national pride and history as much as religious identity being built in honour not just of the Virgin but of two medieval Kings: St Stephen, first king of Hungary and St Ladislaus, king of Croatia, both ruling in the eleventh century.

The Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Although there has been a cathedral here for almost a millennium, the present building is mainly twentieth century, rebuilt after a massive earthquake destroyed it in 1880. It would appear that the building work is still not complete one hundred years on as I’ve never come across a photograph of the cathedral free from scaffolding. My guidebook even scoffs that the twin spires in particular are “seemingly permanently under repair”.

Will it ever be finished? The cathedral's spires never seem free from scaffolding

Will it ever be finished? The cathedral’s spires never seem free from scaffolding

Newly masoned gargoyles waiting to be hoisted up onto the roof of the cathedral to replace ones badly eroded by weather and pollution

Newly masoned gargoyles waiting to be hoisted up onto the roof of the cathedral to replace ones badly eroded by weather and pollution

Right gargoyle "Wow! We must be at the very top of the twin spires. The people below look like ants from here". Middle gargoyle "Those are ants Stan".

Right gargoyle “Wow! We must be at the very top of the twin spires. The people below look like ants from here”. Middle gargoyle “Those are ants Stan”.

The only way to enjoy the cathedral scaffolding-free these days is either on the back of the Croatian 1000 kuna banknote, or from a scaled bronze model of the city close by on Ulica Tome Bakaća.

The bronze model of Zagreb along Ul. Tome Bakaća

The bronze model of Zagreb along Ul. Tome Bakaća

How the cathedral will look once the present restoration work is completed (although it won't be bronze in colour and hopefully the crucifixes on top of the spires will look less precarious)

How the cathedral will look once the present restoration work is completed (although it won’t be bronze in colour and hopefully the crucifixes on top of the spires will look less precarious)

Zagreb Croatia, what to see and do in Zagreb, model of the city along Bakačeva, close up of cathedral with bird

Yet, even with scaffolding, the cathedral is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful sights of Zagreb.

Zagreb Croatia, what to see and do in Zagreb, Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Kaptol seen from Lotrščak Tower

 

TLT x


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2 Responses to Zagreb … admiring the roof rather than raising it in the proud Croatian capital

  1. Victoria says:

    Great photos – we’re off to Zagreb in a few weeks – currently in Dubrovnik for two and then Istria for another two.

    Croatia really is the most beautiful place – I can’t wait to check out the capital – The architecture looks fab!
    x

  2. Anne Guy says:

    I am with you on the roof tiles…they are indeed splendid! Loved the gargoyles in conversation too! The sparrow clearly likes the bird scaled model of the city…Thanks for this insight into what looks like a really fascinating city!

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