When a person living in Zagreb tells you about the place called “Stross”, they can be thinking of two distinct (and quite distant) places in the city centre. This is a story of a square in downtown Zagreb, between Zrinjevac and Tomislav’s Square.
Back in 1997, I was a first-year student of chemistry at Zagreb University, Faculty of Sciences. Our introductory lecture took place in a quite non-descript (at least at first glance) building on the south side of Strossmayer’s Square in Zagreb city centre. Head of Chemistry Department at the time, professor Hrvoj Vančik welcomed us to the Department, told us a few words about the history of the building we were sitting in at the time, and promised us that, by the time we graduated, Chemistry Department will have completely moved to the new, fancy building being built for years on Medvednica slopes, near the already existing Mathematics and Physics building and Ruđer Bošković Institute. Back then, Chemistry was scattered around the town, Strossmayer’s Square was one location, Marulić Square the other, Zvonimirova Street, we had maths and physics during our freshman year “on the hill”, biology in Klaićeva Street… You get it, we commuted (and walked!) around town a lot, which would probably be less of a problem if only it weren’t for those bloody chemicals, which made us, well, stink horribly after 4 or 8 hours of lab work (we managed to get the tram car almost completely empty on few occasions; not a bad achievement if you think about it). At this point you probably already guessed that no-one from my generation graduated in the new building in Horvatovac, the move was delayed more than once, and it was finalized in 2005, leaving the building on the south side of Strossmayer’s Square empty (although not completely stink-free).
Photo of the building from Google Maps
Why am I telling you this? This is actually the tale of the Strossmayer’s Square, and amazing, things that happened to it in the past 20 years. When we spent our time in the labs, or listening to lectures, having a coffee break, nothing was happening at the square. There was an obligatory statue (Josip Juraj Strossmayer, believe it or not, a catholic bishop and politician, a very influential figure in the late 19th century who founded the Academy of Arts and Sciences and was instrumental in re-establishment of Zagreb University in 1874, among other achievements), several benches – literally empty 90% of the time, of course the big Academy Palace on the North, but that had the entrance from the Northern side and no contact with the little square itself. The only real content on the square were weird chemists from their stinky old building, built for the Chemistry students in 1884, and designed by the most famous architect in Zagreb history, Herman Bollé (a touch of design brilliance and a task for those of you who read this article to the end and then visit Strossmayer’s Square these days: right below the roof of the building, on the ornamental row of bricks, you will see some bricks that have something written on them. If you visit while there’s daylight, see how many old chemistry greats you can still remember from you high-school days: I know Avogadro, Lavoisier etc.). Once the chemists moved out, the square became even less populated and popular, and the building was soon remodelled and is currently hosting the Library of the Academy of Sciences, but still has the “chemical touch”, as it has two rooms dedicated to the only two Croatian Nobel Prize winners, Lavoslav Ružička and Vladimir Prelog, who were both, wouldn’t you know it, chemists.
In the past few years, with the rise of Advent in Zagreb, each December, there was a lot going on around Strossmayer’s Square. There was Advent on Zrinjevac, just to the North, which has always been an obvious place for any events in Zagreb to take place, wowing everyone with its beauty in any season, but getting very near to perfection when decorated with Christmas lights. Then the skating rink on Tomislav’s square, just South of our poor Strossmayer’s Square appeared, drawing crowds from Zrinjevac to make the short walk there, going past the mostly empty, non-decorated and forgotten little square that could. If only it were given a chance.
Last year, that chance appeared. I don’t recall exactly, but it think it was some sort of kid’s corner there, I know there were a lot of sweets and deserts, and it was the first attempt to remove the “blind spot” on the wonderful Zagreb Advent. And this year? This year it really shines brightly. Fuliranje, one of those original Zagreb Advent stories that has been around for a few years now, and has been moved around quite a lot (first it was in Tomićeva, then it was moved to Kurelčeva Street) has finally found its home on Strossmayer’s Square. In my opinion, it just – fits. I was there with the rest of the TCN team on the Saturday night, and yes, there was a large crowd of people on the square, but it felt cosy, not overcrowded, the atmosphere was just as friendly and festive as you’d want from an Advent event, there’s a lot of original stuff to eat, drink and do there. I was really, truly happy for the square, and I even think the strict bishop (who was at the same time an innovator and was considered to be too modern and progressive for his time) wouldn’t mind terribly that his statue gets to enjoy Fuliranje in Zagreb Advent this December (and hopefully, for many a December to come).
Correction: This article previously stated that Josip Juraj Strossmayer is the face on the Croatian 10 kuna bill. That is Juraj Dobrila, also a bishop, but from Istria. JJ Strossmayer is not on any Croatian bills.