Black Queen is the most infamous mythical resident of Zagreb. She is a diabolic lady in long black robes, hence the name. But her name also perfectly suits her vicious personality, knowledge of evil magic, ability to shapeshift, not to mention she even made pact with the devil on at least one occasion. She was a cruel ruler, a witch, a snake and a fearsome dark apparition on the forest pathways.
Black Queen once ruled the Medvedgrad castle, a medieval city that rises above Zagreb on the slopes of the Medvednica mountain. Historians tend to find the source of folktales about Her Viciousness in actual female rulers of the castle. Their leading choice is Barbara of Cilli, a countess and queen that was obviously quite unpopular in the northwestern Croatia. She was also the one who supposedly walled a peasant girl Veronika up in another Croatian castle Veliki Tabor, and seemed to be a mysterious vampire who sucked blood of young people in Kneginec village. But, even if the latter stories are not likely to be believable, Barbara of Cilli could have easily deserved her black queen reputation for many historical reasons. The fact that she was a foreigner who gained power over many Croatian towns aside, the woman was quite an intriguing, daring and mystical figure. She was a bold and deceitful politician and a brave woman who was not afraid to stand up to her husband (we’re talking 15th century). She was also widowed at the age of 46, and afterwards she couldn’t have been found wearing anything but black dresses. And most interesting of all, she practiced alchemy. What else could such a character trigger in those days, if not folk tales that would adorn her with a ghastly supernatural identity.
Be that as it may, stories about the Black Queen form a colourful part of local folklore. So, why bother to spoil their magic with attempts to connect them with a real-life person? It might just be more romantic to preserve the fantasy within the folk tales by thinking of the Black Queen as indigenous dweller of Medvednica woods.
Although local folk lets the Black Queen myths slip into oblivion, her remembrance still exists. You can still hear the children playing a game Crna kraljica jen, dva, tri(Black queen, one, two, three) with one child acting as Her Majesty and others doing the peasants. Their goal is to approach her from behind and take over her place, but she mustn’t notice that they are moving when she turns around. Indeed, there were many fearsome stories of Black Queen mistreating people. Her numerous lovers, for example, who would end up thrown out the windows after she got enough of them. Or her peasants. She had a giant raven that terrorized the surrounding settlements. It used to peck and chew off the meat of poor villagers until they’d gone unconscious of pain. People were even saying she was keeping lions. The story is not as unbelievable as it seems – there indeed was a habitat of wild cats near the castle. But the animal she is certainly most connected to is snake. There are many stories in Zagreb surroundings that involve cursed treasure guarded by snakes. Most of those stories are connected to the Black Queen folklore. And here’s what made her turn into a snake:
When the Turks attacked Medvedgrad fort, there was no one who would stand by the Black Queen to defend it. Therefore, she decided to evoke the only one who was more acquainted to the black magic than she was – the devil himself. If he would defend her, she promised to give him Medvedgrad in return. Of course, she didn’t mean it quite like that… When the castle was saved, she figured out a way to trick the devil. Still, the devil was even more of a trickster. She ended up cursed. She is still residing somewhere beneath Medvedgrad in the form of a snake, guarding her gold. Who ever tried to find the treasure beneath the old town, never returned from that quest. And that’s just a small part of rich traditions regarding the Black Queen. We didn’t hear of an encounter for decades. The last one who saw her was a soldier boy whom she addressed in the form of a snake, although it might have been another snake princess. She asked him to kiss her, but he refused. Too bad for him, for he had the chance to win the treasure of Medvedgrad. She now has to wait a hundred more years for a day when it’ll be possible to remove the spell. Who knows, it might be just when you decide to take a hike on the mountain Medvednica…