May 15, 2023 – The parks and squares of Zagreb come alive again this weekend with Zagreb Open City Days.
“All the world’s a stage,” said Shakespeare in As You Like It, “and all the men and women merely players.”
It is a quote that comes back to me often these days as a contented Zagreb resident, for the longer I live here, the more I appreciate how the city is using its various open spaces to promote art and culture.
From what was once a capital city with little to do with tourism, Zagreb is blossoming as a destination, offering a diverse offer which is constantly evolving.
The capital is perhaps most famous for its award-winning Advent in Zagreb, an out of season concept that literally developed from nothing to become one of the flagship events in the Croatian calendar, but there is another very exciting development in the Zagreb tourism strategy which is bringing out the city’s personality and promoting art and culture in an innovative way – its combination of its open spaces such as parks and squares.
C’Est is d Best, Courtyards, Artupunkura, Ilica Q’Art, and Zagreb Classic are all now established annual festivals where the entertainment spills out onto the streets, parks, squares and courtyards of Zagreb, giving a delightful atmosphere and a surprise at every turn for people walking this most walkable of cities. I have lost count of the number of times I have stumbled upon an exhibition or live music while out for an evening stroll, and one of the things I love most about this wonderful city is seeing how art and culture combines with its public spaces. Zagreb is truly a stage of which Shakespeare would have been impressed.
And this weekend sees another such event, and one which is growing into a regular event. Following the success of the inaugural Zagreb Open City Day last October, a concept created and conducted by Dubravka Vrgoč, Anica Tomić and Ivica Buljanc, this weekend will see the event expanded into Zagreb Open City Days, a 2-day cultural manifestation covering 7 of the city’s premier spots, through a mixture of dance, poetry, song and ballet.
It is an interesting concept, one that tourists and local residents are encouraged to join, as the programme moves from location to location over the two days, incorporating different activities at each location. Here is what there is to check out, and the times to be there.
Saturday, May 20
King Tomislav Square – “Gathering” – 11:00
We kick off at King Tomislav Square, home to classical concerts in the summer, and that iconic ice rink in winter. The first event is known simply as ‘Gathering’, a live chain of locals, tourists and passers-by to create a human chain across the square while holding hands. This symbolises unity and togetherness and a better future.
Ban Jelacic Square – Ode to Youth – 12:00
Heading north an hour later in time to hear the infamous midday Zagreb cannon on Ban Jelacic Square. – ‘Ode to Youth’ will explore the dialogue between solidarity and music. Hana Gospodnetic, accompanied byVitomir Ivanjek and Ivan Petranovic, will lead the choir on a choral journey of famous songs from the present and yesteryear, all dedicated to Zagreb. Passers by will be invited to join in the singing, a reminder of the spontaneity of life and joy. In addition to the main choir, some Zagreb primary school choirs will also be performing.
(Photo J. Duval)
Dolac Market – Flash Mob – 12:45
One of the great social and meeting places in the city is of course, Dolac Market, in many ways the heartbeat of Zagreb, particularly on a Saturday late morning, as residents grab a coffee or something stronger while picking up their favourite fruit and veg. This Saturday will bing an extra spice with the arrival of a flash mob. The arriving artists will intrigue customers and stall holders alike with their performances. Exactly how, you will have to find out on the spot, for only the location is revealed for now, not the content.
(Photo J. Duval)
Zrinjevac Park – Dance – 19:00
What better way to finish the first day than dancing in one of Zagreb’s most famous and beautiful parks, Zrinjevac? The first masked dance was held in Zagreb way back in 1749, and while there has been frequent reference to the so-called “plesnjaci” – organised dances where ordinary citizens took part. It is a lovely tradition, and one you can help resurrect to the sound of Robert Marekovic and his band, the Swingers, who will be performing a set of classics from the 1960s and 1970s..
Sunday, May 21
(Photo J. Duval)
Zrinjevac Park Music Pavilion – Zagreb Chanson – 11:00
One of the true icons of Zagreb is the location of the opening of Day 2 – the Zrinjevac Park Music Pavilion, one of the great symbols of Advent in Zagreb, as well as a resource increasingly in use throughout the year. Sunday morning Zagreb chansons will be the order of the day, performed by Ivana Starcevic and Matija Antolic. This will be followed by Marko Petric reading passages about old Zagreb, with citizens invited to share their personal stories and favourite moments about the city.
European Square – Sports Matinee – 12:00
From chansons to sport a short walk away on European Square, with a range of sporting activities for all ages, organised by the Croatian Deaf Sports Association. Everyone is invited to participate to promote togetherness through sport.
(Photo M. Gacaparovic)
Flower Square – Ballet – 16:00
Ballet has a strong tradition in the city, and the School for Classical Ballet of Zagreb will help to make it a little more accessible with a diverse ballet programme on Flower Square, ranging from ballet exercises to popular ballets.
Tuskanac Park – Enchanted Forest – 18:00
Can there my a more enchanting place to conclude Zagreb Open City Days than Tuskanac Park. Home to the city’s open air theatre, Tuskanac is a true natural haven right in the heart of the city, and the perfect location for the Enchanted Forest programme. The stage event will be directed by Ivica Buljan, who will take visitors on a ‘treasure hunt’ looking for performers hidden in different locations and reciting poetry, extracts from the literary greats such as Shakespeare,Chekhov and Moliere, as well as improvised performances of everyday life. Unorthodox theatre in an enchanting setting.
So, Mr. Shakespeare, how would you rate the city of Zagreb as a stage?
You can find more about Zagreb Open City Days on the official website.