Zrinjevac – the Early Days
The construction of the charming park Zrinjevac has been a turning point in Zagreb’s urban development. The park is enlisted as a monument of landscape architecture due to its design that has been preserved for over a century.
At first, the square was called the New Square. Quite interesting, if we consider the fact that today we actually refer to it as the oldest planned square in Zagreb, and the oldest park of the lower town. But in its first decades the name was just right , since this square was the southernmost area of the town and it indeed was a completely new square.
The New Square, however, had in its appearance been quite the opposite of its present harmony. It used to be a cattle market. Besides cattle, people used to buy and sell agricultural and artisan products surrounded by tents and wooden shacks with bakery and pastry articles, drinks offer, and inevitable entertainers, jugglers and fortune tellers.
But, during the second half of 19th century, a need to civilize the place emerged due to sudden expansion of the city. There were a few ideas, but the one that prevailed was relocating the cattle market and making this square into a prestigious park.
Rupert Melkus, the head construction inspector of that time, introduced his own project for the future park.
Melkus supervised the construction works and we can basically thank him for the looks and design that the park has kept till present day: four grass fields surrounded by alleys with a central roundel. The citizens themselves participated in the selection of trees, and they went for the plane trees. Those centennial trees are now under special protection. They were once very popular trees for promenades, but most of the plane tree alleys aren’t as preserved as this one.
The park was officially open to the public in 1873. Not only did every citizen want to be present at the opening ceremony, but this place turned out to be the favourite meeting-spot, a little oasis. And although it’s hard to imagine, in the first couple of years there was none of the beautiful palaces that surround the park. Soon, the first public building – palace of justice on the eastern side of the square – was erected. And then the beautiful palace of Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts was also built. It contains a worthy Collection of Old Masters.
It had been intended to place the palace on the southern part of the park itself, thus ruining its composition and design. Fortunately, another project emerged, and the building was placed on the southernmost end. It became the starting point for the following square in a row – the lovely Strossmayer’s square.
At the same time private classicistic palaces were being built along the park. Many find the yellow Vranyczany family’s palace on the western side to be the most impressive one. In 1879, when it was only built, the whole town used to comment it with excitement.
There are a few objects that give the park such an antique touch. Among them are three fountains. The first one is particularly interesting. It is the oldest one and we call it the Mushroom. When it was first set up, the citizens didn’t really like it. Quite contrary, they mocked it and gave it its funny nickname. But, in time it became one of the symbols of this square and of the whole city. It is often to be found on Zagreb postcards.
The meteorological column and the pavilion in the center of the park were both gifts of wealthy citizens, and are now a perfect reminder of the enthusiasm that used to flourish when it comes to Zrinjevac. Everyone wanted to take part in its development – regular citizens were choosing trees for the alleys, those with enough power and money were building their palaces alongside the park, and there were those who wanted to express their delight and thrill through donations.
By the end of 19th century the square and the park gained the very appearance we can witness today.