Monday, January 20, 2014


We spent our last day in the Balkans wandering around Zagreb, enjoying a visual feast.

This rather strange statue of a man appearing to serenade two dead men slumped against a pole is near the outdoor Dolac Market. It is actually a monument to a Croatian folk hero, Petrica Kerempuh, who travels through the country and pokes fun at human stupidity. I wonder what the story is here? For example, why does Petrica have a rope around his neck? Who are the two men, and what happened to them?

The intriguing sculpture was made by 20th century Croatian artist Vanja Radausa.

Continuing our stroll, we happened on this sculpture of St. George contemplating, perhaps even paying homage to, his dead dragon. Both saint and steed are marvelously somber and contemplative . . .
. . . in spite of the chomping and munching of nearby diners who don't seem to be bothered by the specter of a very large, dead reptile:

The nooks and crannies of Zagreb are part of the visual feast:
The dude below is Matija Gubec, a man executed for leading a peasant revolt in the 16th century. He was first forced to wear a red-hot iron crown, then dragged through the city before being quartered  in St. Mark's Square. Now he is forced to forever peer out over the site where his execution took place. Yikes.
Not originally on our List of Things to See, I thoroughly enjoyed the Croatian Museum of Naive Art, located near St. Mark's Square. We stopped in to kill time after one of our unsuccessful attempts to get inside St. Mark's Church. Croatia has one of the world's most thriving naive art communities--artists producing acclaimed work who have had no formal training (similar to Grandma Moses in the United States). The art in this museum is primarily from the 1930s to 1970s.
Unfortunately, no photos were allowed inside, but I did buy a stack of postcards. I love the simplicity, the generally optimistic view of the world, and the general lack of sophistication of this art. I am kicking myself for not having purchased a print for framing. Here are a few of my favorites:
Big Forest by Ivan Rabusin, 1966
On the Hills--Primeval Forest, by Ivan Rabuzin, 1960
Winter Village by ?, 1962
Milan Cathedral by Emerik Fejes, 1966

Luxury Ship by Drago Jurak, 1974
Even the manhole covers in Zagreb are an artistic experience. THIS hole is one I can imagine Lewis Carroll's white rabbit disappearing into:
Entering these tight, stone-paved streets was like walking into perspective drawing exercises. We felt irresistibly drawn down their narrowing lengths to their always distant endpoints:

We ran across several churches with stunning exteriors, including the St. Cyril and Methodius Church (below), only to find them locked.

One little church we ran across near the statue of St. George and the Dragon, however, is never locked. The story is that once there was a wall around this section of the upper city, and in that wall were five gates. This one shown below, Stone Gate, was built in the 13th century and is the only gate still standing. In 1731, after a fire ravaged the neighborhood and burned 82 houses surrounding the gate, a 16th century painting of the Virgin and Child was discovered in the ashes and rubble. The frame had burned, but the voracious flames had not touched the painting itself. Accordingly, the painting was deemed to have special powers, and it was hung inside the gate, which then became a chapel.  The figure in the niche on the outside wall is Dora Krupic, a character in an 1871 novel by Croatian writer August Senoa. In the novel, she lives next to this gate.
A Baroque wrought-iron grille, considered one of the best examples of iron grille-work of the period, was placed in front of the painting in 1778 as protection:
The gate is actually more like a tunnel, allowing for a few pews and a candle stand. Sojourners stop in the semi-darkness for a moment to pay their respects to the Virgin, to relive the miracle of the painting's preservation, to say a prayer, to ask for a special blessing, to light a candle for a loved one, or to simply escape from the rain or the sun. It is quiet and respectful within, a tiny sanctuary from the noisy streets.
The walls are covered by engraved stone plaques from those whose prayers uttered here have been answered. Many bear the inscription Hvala, or "thank you."

Many times the city fathers have debated tearing this gate/church down to make way for a wider, more modern road. This is, after all, one of the key entrances to the upper city. The fact that they never have gone through with it might just be as miraculous as the preservation of the painting!
It's easy to miss this one-of-a-kind church. From a distance, it looks like just an ordinary passageway. Picture from here
In 1991, the Archbishop of Zagreb proclaimed "The Mother of God of the Stone Gate," as she of the painting has come to be called, to be the special protector not only of Zagreb, but of all of Croatia. The Stone Gate has become somewhat of a pilgrimage site for Catholics, and it's a definite must-visit for anyone exploring Zagreb.

Well, all that exploring made us hungry, which logically led us to:
(Even though it was one of the few McD's we saw in all of Croatia.)

No, a much, much better stopping point is one of the many delicious bakeries that we had no problem locating all over the city. Note the intense look on Bob's face (standing at the left of this picture).

Next up: Good-bye, Balkans. It was a great trip!


  1. I always love your odds n' ends pieces. I'm a broken record, but you see things, or at least focus on things that just pass me by. One of the many reasons you are a wonderful travel companion.

  2. I really like the idea of a museum of untrained artists. Love the postcards.

    No one does bakeries like the Europeans....

  3. Glad to know that Dave and I won't be hungry in Croatia, and will enjoy the food (still thinking of your photo of a chocolate croissant a few posts back). Beautiful sights and beautiful city. Thanks for your good journaling!