I was being watched. I was certain of it. Each time the hairs on the back of my neck prickled, I spun around to confront my stalker, only to find empty space. Zagreb, in fact, was virtually empty. Just a few days earlier, I had been in the gorgeous coastal town of Rovinj, the first stop on a planned trip down Croatia’s Istrian and Dalmatian coasts. But temperatures of 100 degrees and shoulder-to-shoulder crowds of tourists soon had me rethinking my plan. Despite numerous opinions from fellow travelers that everything worth seeing in Croatia was on the coast, I headed inland to the capital city.
My route reversal was a stroke of genius. Not only was Zagreb an historic and lovely city, full of parks and more museums than I could see in a month, it was ten degrees cooler than the coast and virtually deserted. Everyone in the city had fled to the coast for their annual holiday.
Still, there was that unsettling sensation of being watched. The third time the hair stood up on the back of my neck, I turned around and found myself face-to-face with Nikolai Tesla. A giant-sized Tesla, in fact; just one of dozens of larger-than-life sculptures of artists, scientists, writers, poets, and inventors that are scattered around the city. I chuckled when I realized that, in the absence of actual people, I had been sensing the presence of these hulking figures.
Over the next few days I happily wandered the Upper and Lower Town areas of Zagreb, snooping out every one of Zagreb’s outdoor sculptures. Some, like Tesla, were names known to me. Others were unfamiliar, like Giorgio Giulio Clovio, a Croatian who is considered to be the greatest manuscript illuminator of the Italian High Renaissance, and Tin Ujevic, a famous Croatian poet.
Zagreb seemed a city where art imitates life until my final day of wandering. At Lortscak Tower, built atop remainder of old city walls, I did a double-take when a real live character dressed as an historic Croatian peasant washer woman smiled and explained the meaning of her traditional costume. Down the street on Strossmayer Promenade, I found a sculpture of a scrawny man reclining on a bench. On a real bench just a few feet away, a stick-thin man assumed the identical posture of the sculpture, and I realized that Zagreb is a city where life imitates art.
11 thoughts on “Zagreb, Croatia – Where Life Imitates Art”
Such a beautiful city! Thank you on a detailed impressive guide!
Saved your post for the future ?
I liked you post and photos, they are all familiar to me. I live in Bosnia and Herzegovina – neighboring country to Croatia and I visited Zagreb several times. As you say it is lovely city during the summer but it is even lovelier during Christmas and New Year time with wonderful decorations and lights
Hi Maja: How interesting. I would love to see the Christmas lights in Zagreb someday. I also visited BiH, and will be writing about those experiences as well (lovely, friendly people there), so stay tuned!
Maja knows what she speaks of. Advent in Zagreb – and Advent Markets – have been listed the best in Europe 3 times running. Also, try to experience at least one Svi Sveti. November 1st is when Hrvats descend on cemeteries to pay their respects to their ancestors. At night the cemeteries are washed in candlelight. Many of course love the main cemetery Mirogoj Cemetery but for me, my heart will always be in the small, forgotten places where my ancestors rest deep in the earth 🙂 <3
Thanks so much for that suggestion Michelle. I’ll try to work Svi Sveti into a future visit.
Hi Barbara – this is a lovely account of Zagreb you give. I always try to point travellers to Zagreb to the amazing sculptures dotted around the city. You really gave it due credit. I also wrote about the sculptures of Croatian writers – you might like my account! http://travelhonestly.com/croatian-writers/
Just read your article as well, Andrea. It has much more in depth information than mine and I found it fascinating. Thanks so much for sending it along.
Croatia is such a wonderful place. It is a perfect place to spend holidays, the sculptures, museums all are amazing. After reading this post, I am eager to travel Croatia. Thanks for sharing your experience with us. I really enjoyed this post.
You’re very welcome, Kanchan. Zagreb turned out to be one of my all-time favorite cities, and I’m so glad my article sent a message that it’s a wonderful destination.
Stunning… my thirst for Croatia is even stronger than it was before.
Me too, Emma – I’m headed back next year.