Debauchery & Discretion – A History of Zagreb Brothels

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zagreb brothels

February the 18th, 2024 – Did you know that back in the late 19th and early 20th century, Zagreb was one of the leading European cities in terms of the number of brothels? Almost every house in the famous Tkalčićeva Street had one, with a red light marking its function. Here’s a look at the history of Zagreb brothels.

As Dragana Niksic writes, the grandest of all of the Zagreb brothels was formerly located at the corner of Tkalčićeva Street and Bloody Bridge (Krvavi most), where the State Audit Office is located today. It was called Zlatna kuna (Golden kuna), just like the renowned award given by the Croatian Chamber of Commerce.

It all started with the first public steam baths which opened in the mid 19th century in Zagreb. In addition to caring for their health, the citizens of Zagreb had a great time at these baths. Inns and restaurants with special diet food opened within the bath complexes, and a certain Mrs. Roža Aranjoš and her husband Vilim saw it as a great business opportunity. They bought the worn out Petrova bath above Kožarska Street (Medvedgradska) and opened the first Zagreb bawdyhouse.


Prostitution was completely legal in Zagreb at the time. Croatia was part of Austria-Hungary and, allegedly, the Austrians told the city government: “As long as you pay taxes, we’ll allow any and all activities.” The certificate above even states that the service that Madame Aranjoš’ trade will provide is that of “personal pleasure.” The owner of the ‘concessions for women’s affairs’, the popular Madame Aranjoš, was only one of a dozen owners of upscale Zagreb brorhtels next to the Medvescak stream. The Zagreb mayor of the time decided to bring order to the ‘oldest profession’, and in 1899, the so-called Bawdyhouse rulebook was created. Its 31 articles dictated who could work in the Zagreb brothels. In accordance with the rulebook, women over 17 could work there, while entrance was strictly forbidden for young men under 16.

46 bawds were registered in 1907 in Zagreb. Each of them was required to have an identity card with a photograph and see a doctor once a month for a medical examination. According to old records, a team of ten doctors was in charge of taking care of the health of the employees of the Zagreb brothels. If one of them was discovered doing the job illegally, she would end up being banished from the city entirely.

The appearance of the Zagreb brothels was legally mandated as well – they needed to have high fences and windows with opaque glass, in order to protect the visitors’ privacy. However, even though it was regulated, the living and working conditions at the Zagreb brothels were far from great, with the Madame taking a massive ¾ of the profit, leaving the ladies doing the, erm… job, with a meagre ¼.

In addition to the Zagreb brothels, ladies of pleasure were available at certain bars as well, which had special booths with a bottle of champagne on the table. These bar prostitutes were up to five times more expensive than the street prostitutes (called štriherica or štajgerica), who could be found on the corners at Amruševa, Petrinjska and Palmotićeva Streets.


Some of the most popular bars included Pick (Ban Jelačić Square 6), with the best and most expensive programme and Klub (Ilica), with cabaret shows until 22:00 and music and dancing until 05:00 in the morning.

There were emancipated ‘ladies of pleasure’ as well, who became independent and opened trades from within their own homes. One of the most famous independent prostitutes was located in Radićeva, and she had a very practical way of letting potential customers know whether she was occupied or not. She kept a garden gnome on her window sill, which she would lay down if she was occupied, and set it upright if she was available. The angry women of Zagreb knew about this so they often threw rocks at it when they would walk past.

Some sources claim that the statue of Woman in the Window by Vera Dajhat Kralj in Tkalčićeva Street represents this tradition.

The men of Zagreb were able to enjoy these very strictly controlled brothel services until 1934, when all the Zagreb brothels closed and the oldest profession in the books was finally ruled illegal.

Sources: ladylike.hrZagrebancija


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