In 1994, the capital city of Zagreb celebrated its 900th anniversary, and it has plenty to show for it; Its historic monuments suffered only minimal damage during the war.
The capital is located in the northern, mountainous area along the Sava River and is home to more than one million people. The city is considered the hub of Croatian culture, education and trade and comprises three distinct areas.
The oldest section is called Upper Town, or "Gorni Grad." These city streets reflect almost 10 centuries of history. The central square is named after St. Mark's Church,, which is known for the two colorful coats of arms that have been on its roof since 1880. One represents the city of Zagreb, the other the Kingdom of Croatia, Dalmatia and Slovenia.
Nearby stands a formidable stone gate, the only one of four ancient town gates to survive the forces of nature and man. According to legend, a fire leveled most of the area in the 1700s, but left a painting of the Virgin Mary undamaged. Pilgrims frequent the Stone Gate Shrine where the painting is kept today.
Another landmark is the cannon from the Lotrscak Tower. It is fired at noon each day, as it has been for more than 100 years.
The magnificent Zagreb Cathedral dominates the city skyline. It's two distinguishing neo-Gothic towers, which were kadded during renovations in the 19th century, rise high above the Upper Town.
The predominance of the past does not stifle the pace in Zagreb. An estimated 60,000-70,000 people swarm to the Dolac Marketplace for fresh vegetables and meat every day. It's known as "the belly of Zagreb."
After glimpsing the origins of this old city, the lively Lower Town awaits. A ride on the funicular railway (a cable-run system of steep tracks on a hillside) will take you from the medieval upper town to Zagreb's bustling downtown squares. Popular tram lines shuttle residents in more modern parts of the city.
Lower Town forms a well-designed green horseshoe around the classical palaces. Ban Josip Jelacic Square is the center of social life in the capital, and is a fitting place to begin a trek through the numerous squares. The statue of Croatia's first king, Tomislav, watches over three blocks of manicured green squares nearby, with the city's Arts Pavilion as its striking backdrop.
Not to be outdone, the neo-baroque Croatian National Theater presides over its own square on the other side of the horseshoe. Emperor Franz Josef I officially opened this temple of the arts in 1895.
The ivy-covered walls around the park-cemetery Mirogoj are a serene destination within the bustling city. Architect Hermann Bolle designed the landscaping like an English park. It's one of the best-kept cemeteries in all of Europe and features a gallery of work by Croatian sculptors.