Zagreb Is So (Not) Perfect for Valentine’s

Zagreb Is So (Not) Perfect for Valentine’s

Zagreb is such a romantic city. Especially if you believe there’s no better love story than the one with a tragic ending. Let’s go through some of them.

Gravestone in Zagreb erected by a mourning wife

Ask any person from Zagreb what would be the most famous love story around. Without delay, they’ll respond: Zlatarovo zlato. Goldsmith’s Gold (or Treasure). It’s a historical novel, and even if they haven’t really read it, they must know the touching love story about a lovely goldsmith’s daughter Dora, Juliet of Zagreb, who ended up poisoned.

Goldsmith’s Treasure Dora, the famous book character, even got a statue

This wasn’t the first time famous Croatian writer August Senoa was inspired by a tragic love story. In his famous poem about a stoned wedding… Ok, so maybe they weren’t stoned, but everyone involved in the wedding ceremony was definetely turned into stone. In his poem, the writer remembers a folk legend from this region. The legend was hopefully only inspired by strangely shaped, human size rocks on Mount Sljeme. Supposedly, it was a true wedding ceremony cursed by a wicked mother-in-law – she turned everybody to rocks.  

Everybody around here knows that the author of both the novel and the poem is a great local writer August Šenoa… but do they know he lost his love once as well? When he was a young man, he met a girl from Slovenia, their lips kissed… just a year later, he was to lay flowers on her still grave.

The most famous real-life love story around is the strange and sad tale about Milivoj Dezman, Ljerka Sram and an abandoned hospital in the woods. Strange combination of motives that still inspires feelings of uneasy if you happen to find yourself near the facility.


Abandoned hospital of Brestovac

There was another Croatian 19th century poet called Stanko Vraz. He fell for a charming lady called Ljubica Cantilly, from an equally charming town of Samobor, near Zagreb. He dedicated his most famous book to her graciousness.  Maybe she did love him back, but she was persuaded into marrying another man, a man who was a merchant, just like her father. It seems that goddess Fortuna wasn’t pleased with her decision. Poor Ljubica died soon after in her early 30s, and her two children both died too early.

Some of the poems in Stanko Vraz’s book are pretty cheerful, but there are some unexpected pieces that give you creeps and chills. Ljubica must have felt really awesome after reading a heartbreaking poem full of the poet’s devastation because of a rose that blossoms, while his beloved sweetheart is already buried in her grave. Ljubica remains one the best known and most celebrated muses of Croatian poetry. Poets have been gathering for years around Ljubica’s actual grave to recite their love poems at the annual poetry event in Ljubica’s town of Samobor.

Samobor fortress was one of the many places in northwestern Croatia ruled over by Barbara of Cilli. Another one was Medvedgrad fortress just above the city of Zagreb. Barbara was left widowed at one point. I don’t know the details of her relationship with her late emperor husband, but I’m sure it’s never easy to lose a husband, especially if you’re a woman left to rule alone in the middle of 1400’s. The black robes she used to wear clearly indicate her grief. The black robes, her cruel heart… and the fact she actually managed the ruling part pretty well… gave her the notorious nickname: Black Queen.

This is not the only royalty who visited Zagreb together with her strange love story. There is a really interesting and little known history about a Belgian princess who left her husband and her children for a handsome young lieutenant from Zagorje county (also near Zagreb). Belgian princess Louisa and Croatian Geza Matacic were forcefully taken apart right here in Zagreb, where Geza was captured and taken to prison while Louisa was declared insane. That wasn’t the end of their love story, it continued 8 years after, when he kidnapped her from the asylum. But I don’t think I should share all the details. An interesting lady Spomenka Stimec put in so much effort and thoroughly researched this case. She will sure be glad to show you through her exhibition dedicated to those events in her lovely house near Zagreb, in a village called Hrascina. And if you’re eager to find out more immediately, why don’t you consult the bestselling book by Dan Jacobson , based on the story?

So you think that it’s outrageous to put a girl in a mental institution because of her uncontrollable heart, but that’s what happened to a really famous writer and the first Croatian female journalist Marija Jurić Zagorka as well. They called her insane for running away from an arranged marriage.

Zagorka’s novels were inspired by Zagreb witch trials. Witches of Zagreb were accused of using their spells to influence love, so they must have caused so many heartbreaks. Sometimes they did quite the opposite, they were able to trick you into love with their potions and remedies. Is that what happened to a poor executioner who gave away his heart to a woman accused of witchcraft and set her free? It is a historical case and love was supposedly mutual. Sure it was, it must be so easy to love a man who single-handedly tortured and murdered a bunch of women who had been in your shoes just before you.

When it comes to dark romance in poetry, no one in Croatia beats Antun Gustav Matos. No wonder they compare him with Baudlaire or even Poe. I wouldn’t dare to go there, but if you love Annabel Lee, you definitely won’t mind a rhyme or two about a dead body of the beloved one, and the only thing that’s still alive is her long hair. It’s one of Croatia’s most famous poems ever.

We stopped burning women for their love potions, we’re not afraid of ending up in a nuthouse for following our hearts anymore… but sometimes, it’s still hard to follow your heart. So, for this Valentine’s Day, I won’t recommend a love story by a local writer from century ago. How about reading a wonderful and rather new fictional romance, a novel that takes place right here in Zagreb – Summer Symphony by Brandon Shire, well known for his lgbt fiction? Beware, the book is also full of some heartbreaking moments.

Summer Symphony by Brandon Shire… Recognize Zagreb cathedral spires in the background?

Finally, Zagreb well-known as the home of break-ups… thanks to one of the most inventive and emotional museums ever: The Museum of Broken Relationships

This has become a legendary item from the Museum of Broken Relationships. Make sure to visit and read the story behind it.

As you can imagine, this is just a small part of the many love stories of Zagreb. Every story comes to an end, but sad endings sometimes remind us of our own happiness. 

Happy Valentine’s Day!

If you’re in Zagreb around Valentine’s, our Dark Romance in Zagreb walking tour is a perfect choice.