Zagreb cathedral

Zagreb Cathedral

The cathedral as you can see it today, well we had another strong earthquake March 22nd 2020, and the cathedral was damaged. Read here about its history.

Huge reconstruction works from late 19th and beginning of the 20th century, after the earthquake of November 9th 1880 (6.3 on Richter scale) created the cathedral as we new it until 2020.

But this beautiful building stands on the site with a very layered past.

The construction works on this cathedral started in the 13th century.

Historical context

The cathedral stands on the spot where according to old documents the first bishopric was founded in 1094. by the Hungarian king. Don’t let this information confuse you. The Hungarian king Ladislav was travelling through Croatia, he was in fact conquering what he thought was his rightful inheritance after the death of the Croatian king Dmitar Zvonimir. This ancient history is very interesting. The laws of the church back then were saying that a bishopric can be founded only where a substantial number of people lived. So in a village or a small town a parish church and a priest would suffice. That’s why a generally accepted opinion is that there was a substantial settlement around the hill where the bishopric was founded, and also next to it, where the Dolac farmer’s market is located today. After the foundation of the bishopric the French Benedictine monks arrive with manuscript church books.

Dolac Farmers Market

There are no written documents about these events, as after the first cathedral was built in the beginning of the 12th century, Croatia was hit by a Mongolian invasion at the beginning of the 13th century. And they destroyed everything that stood in their way, including the first cathedral.

Fearing for the treasuries the bishop with his staff saved himself, the treasuries and documents on the island of Rab on the Adriatic Coast. He left the treasures there after he returned to Zagreb thinking on going to get them back when the danger of new attacks passes. But historical events turned in such a way that Zagreb never got back those founding documents and treasuries. The island of Rab was occupied by the Venetians within a couple of years, and Rab and Zagreb found themselves in two different countries. The legends say that all the treasures were then transported to Venice, to Venetian archives. But some of our French visitors tell us then, that Napoleon then took and transferred many of Venetians oldest and greatest wealth to France. Our professors tell us to dig and search the old archives and second-hand bookstores wherever we are in the world. You never know where and when you can find something.

Here is a little more about this oldest, almost mythological period of Zagreb’s past. Once you get to the period when there are no written documents, what is left are legends and myths. There are many theories about the name of Zagreb, but one that is very popular among the monks in Kaptol and the cathedral is about an old monastery that was standing where the cathedral is today. It was the monastery with Italian monks dedicated to St. Gabriel, before the bishopric was founded, so prior to 1094. From then through the centuries this name changed from St. Gabriele to the Italian form Zagabria, or Croatian form Zagreb.


So in the second part of the 13th century we begin building a new church. This was during the episcopate of the bishop Timothy. From this period we still have the main apse, the north and the south apse, probably a part of the naves, and the sacristy which is completely preserved from this period. The frescoes in the sacristy are from Timothy’s period and one frescoes in the south nave of the cathedral. By the end of the 15th century the cathedral was mostly finished, the roof and most of the equipment was made of wood, therefore susceptible to fire. kula_1070258

But the 15th century the more and more frequent Ottoman incursions have sown
fear among the residents of Kaptol (and citizens of the neighboring Upper Town), and they decide first to fortify the city of Kaptol at the end of the 15th century and
by 1520 to fortify the cathedral. Those 16th century renaissance defense walls still stand and the north part of the walls is completely authentic from that period. The period of the Ottoman rule has changed in such a way these lands that we witnessed the consequence of these changes throughout the 20th century.

By the 18th century the cathedral has 31 altars and a magnificent Baroque pulpit from 1695. (Still in the cathedral today). Today you can still see in the cathedral
only three of the baroque altars the Last Supper and St. Luke’s altars stand one opposite the other, both closest to the main altar. And the altar of the Virgin Mary transferred from St. Stephan’s chapel into the cathedral.

Huge reconstruction works were undertaken after the earthquake in 1880. The general opinion was that Zagreb deserves a rich representative church, so the bishop Strossmayer, the greatest benefactor of Croatian arts and culture of the 19th century has prompted the idea and the project was given to the Viennese architect Friedrich Schmidt, then the most important neo-gothic architect in Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. His pupil Herman Bollé carried the works, became independent very quickly and changed the project.

European and Global context

During the period of late Croatian kingdom and the beginning of Zagreb France was governed by the House of Capet. Russia begins its history as Kievan Rus’, that’s the period of the last Croatian kings and the beginning of Zagreb.

Interestingly, during the Ottoman conquest of South-East Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries, on the other side of the world in the same time the Conquista by Cortes and the conquistadors was in full swing with the siege of Mexico City that same year 1520. when Kaptol and the Zagreb cathedral were fortified for protection.

Late 15th and beginning of the 16th century when many parts of South-East Europe become Ottoman territory Russia is under the rule of Ivan III the Great ending the dominance of the Golden Horde. The same Golden Horde that passed through Croatia in the first part of the 13th century initiating the establishment of the town Gric (the Upper Town).

In France Francis I (François Ier) is king of France. And Europe sees the blossom of Renaissance art with Michelangelo, Leonardo and many Croatian renaissance authors from Dubrovnik to Zadar, as the Croatian coast was never part of the Ottoman Empire.

Let’s leave the rest of the story and the description to your visit to Zagreb and Croatia.

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