There are few nicer times to visit the Croatian capital than late May. As I write these early morning words, to the sound of birdsong and with rays of sun through the window, the day ahead has a couple of meetings across town. I will stroll through various streets and parks to get there in pleasant temperatures, enjoying the relaxed pace of a capital city which has yet to be fully discovered.
One thing I have come to appreciate after a year living in the city is that there is always something going on here, and the use of the city’s unlimited outside space for venues and events has become almost a trademark of Zagreb. To get a flavour of the outdoor fun that awaits this summer, for example, check out the TCN overview of Summer in Zagreb.
But there is no need to wait for summer to enjoy a good time in the city, for this Tuesday, May 31 will see plenty of activity in the city’s streets, parks and Upper Town with the annual celebration of Zagreb City Day, an occasion when Zagreb celebrates its rich heritage and culture through a series of exhibitions, concerts, free tours and other events.
Although the settlement that is today’s Zagreb was first mentioned in 1094 (apart from archaeological evidence of human inhabitation from the Stone Age and Illyrians), the date of May 31 has its origins in a natural disaster in more recent times.
On May 30, 1731, a devastating fire broke out across the city, which at that time was mostly constructed from wood, with much of Gradac (the area around today’s Upper Town) badly damaged, including the Stone Gate. But while everything around it perished, one little painting was found intact and untouched the following day among the ashes – a painting of the Virgin Mary with baby Jesus. A miracle was proclaimed.
It is not known who the artist of the magical painting was, but it can be viewed today at Stone Gate, which is today considered to be a holy site.
The story did not end there, as Archbishop Franjo Kuharic proclaimed Our Lady of the Stone Gate to be the patron saint of Zagreb on May 31, 1991, a feast which is celebrated on the same day, Zagreb City Day.
A celebration of Zagreb’s patron saint will take place on Zagreb City Day. It will begin with the celebration of the Eucharist in front of the Zagreb Cathedral at 7 p.m., led by Msgr. Lazarus You Heung-sik, head of the Clergy Congregation, together with Cardinal Josip Bozanić and other bishops, and priests and monks of the City of Zagreb. After the Mass, there will be a procession with candles and the image of the Mother of God of the Stone Gate from the Cathedral, Bakaceva Street, the north side of the Ban Josip Jelacic Square, Radiceva Street to the Stone Gate where the entire program will end.
But Zagreb City Day is about much more than just celebrating the city’s patron saint, as Zagreb Tourist Board CEO, Martina Bienenfeld explains:
“We celebrate the Zagreb City Day with various free programs, and this year it will also be symbolically celebrated in Sarajevo, as part of the Ja BIH festival where an exhibition of our famous travel writer and photographer, Davor Rostuhar, dedicated to Zagreb for its birthday, will be held. Traditionally, our green and sustainable Hanging Gardens are a kind of overture, which we place in mid-May on the lamps of the Upper and Lower Town. In addition, we are happy to share the news that the flights of the Israeli company Sun d’Or, a branch of the national airline El Al, will start arriving in Zagreb on 31 May, which will connect our city directly with Tel Aviv every Tuesday. Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a happy Statehood Day on 30 May, as well as happy Zagreb City Day on 31 May.”
And so to the free events and tours – what is happening? Quite a lot!
I am finding Zagreb to be a really interesting city to explore, helped in part by some innovative tour itineraries. There are three free tours on Zagreb City Day, an educational city tour for children (14:00), a costumed city tour “From the Pen of Zagorka” (18:30), and a costumed city tour “Zagreb’s Enchanted Story” (19:30). To book your place (and for details of the entire programme, visit the Zagreb Tourist Board page).
Looking to delve into the city’s rich historical past? Take a tour with the Zagreb Time Machine on Zagreb City Day. Key locations in the Upper Town will come to life from 10:00, as the old town songs of street musicians will reverberate in Upper Town Musical Sights, before the Honorary Company of the Kravat Regiment will perform the changing of the guard at 11:30 starting by the Ethnographic Museum. And then in the early evening, from 17:00 – 20:00, the Upper Town in the past will be on display.
No celebration would be complete without live music, and the Music Pavilion in Zrinjevac Park is the place to be at 17:30 to dance a little and take in the tunes of the 10-member Swingers Band. There is something for everyone, with a repertoire of American musical legends that connects them with traditional evergreens and songs dedicated to the city of Zagreb. The performance is free for all generations and includes famous titles such as: La Bamba, Footloose, Suspicious Minds, Tequila, Let’s Twist Again, Fly me to the Moon, Golubovi, Autobus Calypso, Samo jednom se ljubi, Sretan rođendan, Duda, Dudica, Volare, Stand by me, Hit the Road Jack, Marina, Americano, Can’t Help Falling in Love.
There are several plays and fun workshops for the little ones, with a programme in the morning from 09:30 on the small stage of the Maksimir Public Institution, followed by another in King Petar Kresimir IV Park from 17:30. The Maksimir Public Institution will also be hosting various exhibitions all day, including a photography exhibition, award-winning works of visitors, and an exhibition of employees of Maksimir Public Institution. Later, from 17:00, host and quizmaster Marina Orsag will be hosting the Green pub quiz and show.
There will be one more green addition to this city of parks and outdoor spaces, with the return of the Hanging Baskets project, where around 250 greenery baskets are places on the street lamps of the Lower and Upper Towns, one ore image of Zagreb as a green and sustainable destination.
Visit the full programme here. It promises to be another day of fabulous outdoor discovery in this enchanting city.