The two hills of Zagreb
Archeological discoveries dating back to around 35,000 B.C. during the Stone Age have been discovered in the vicinity of present-day Zagreb, while later finds show evidence of the Illyrians’ arrival in this part of Europe. The Celts later moved in from the far north, presumably in the fourth century B.C.. They were succeeded by the Romans who built a large urban centre called Andautonia and whose remains have been preserved in the archeological park of Ščitarjevo. Zagreb as we know it today, which is to say its historical centre, dates back to the Middle Ages, and the settlements on two hills: secular Gradec, today known as the Upper Town; and ecclesiastical Kaptol. The first written record of Zagreb dates back to 1094 when the Hungarian king Ladislav established the Kaptol diocese on his way to the Adriatic Sea. The Zagreb Cathedral still dominates the skyline with its neo-Gothic style, while the Renaissance walls surrounding it are rare preserved examples of their kind in this part of Europe.
During the Mongol invasions of central Europe another historic event occurred here, and one that would greatly impact on Gradec, the other half of Zagreb’s core. In the mid-13th century the Tatars ravaged Hungary and their king Béla IV fled to Zagreb
where its citizens provided him with a refuge. In gratitude, in 1242 Béla gave Gradec a charter proclaiming it a free royal city. His generosity is symbolically reenacted every day by the blasting of the cannon at noon from the Lotrščak tower overlooking central Zagreb. In the Middle Ages bells were sounded to warn the citizens to return to the fort as the gates to the city were about to be closed and locked. The only gate preserved from the Middle Ages, Kamenita vrata, was burned down in the first half of the 18th century. Miraculously, the only thing saved in the fire was an icon of the Virgin Mary that still occupies its prime spot in the wall.
Our Lady of Kamenita Vrata is celebrated as the patron saint of Zagreb and her feast is on the 31st of May when a ceremonial procession is organised. The occasion is also used as the City of Zagreb Day. The two hills, adversaries in the Middle Ages, were separated by the Medveščak creek and its mills. The creek valley sat along the presentday street of Tkalčićeva and it still runs underneath it, out towards the river Sava. In time the threats of attack subsided and the city started to spread out around the valley. A trading centre below the two settlements evolved into what is now the main square of Ban Josip Jelačić. This is the heart of the city and a meeting point for all Zagreb citizens. There is also a legend of how the city was named. On a sunny day, a brave governor, exhausted and thirsty from battle, asked a girl named Manda to ladle (zagrabiti) him out some water from the spring. This became Manduševac and the city became Zagreb.