Guardians of Zagreb: The Evolution of Gradec’s Medieval Fortifications

In the construction of Gradec, after King Bela IV granted the municipality the Golden Bull, typical features of medieval city architecture emerged, along with other characteristics important for urban planning at that time. It involved a dominant placement on a natural and protected elevation. From such an elevation, the city exerted superior control over its vast surroundings. The layout, with a central square, a church, and surrounding streets converging towards the square, is characteristic of medieval cities. It came into being naturally through development, growth, and the integration of all these details into a unified urban whole.

The construction of defensive walls played a significant role in building Gradec, and these walls encircled the entire city. The construction of these defensive walls required substantial sacrifices and material costs from its inhabitants. Construction began in 1242 and lasted a full 24 years, until 1266 when the entire Upper Town of Zagreb was surrounded by strong walls, towers, and fortifications.

The issue of defensive walls remained highly relevant even in the 16th century, primarily due to the Hundred Years’ Croatian-Ottoman War that lasted from 1493 to 1593. The fortifications built in the 13th century, shortly after Gradec received the Golden Bull, were in rather poor condition, necessitating constant renovations. During the 1540s and 1550s, the city received commissions to assess the condition of the fortifications, especially during the heightened threat of the Turkish army. In 1552, at the behest of King Ferdinand, two commissions were convened in Zagreb to discuss the state of the defensive walls.

Due to the strategically important position of the city of Zagreb, western countries were also interested in its defense, as the Turkish conquest of Zagreb would have increased the danger to many countries located north and west of present-day Croatia.

Many rulers and soldiers, both domestic and foreign, regularly emphasized the importance of better defending the city of Zagreb. Captain Juraj Wildenstein, in 1544, stressed the need to fortify border areas, and Ban Zrinski appealed for improved security in Zagreb, which was promptly acted upon. In the mid-16th century, citizens implored King Ferdinand to ensure that Zagreb was adequately fortified, which led to the swift dispatch of masons to inspect and reinforce insecure sections of the walls. Even before that, Ferdinand had ordered certain sums to be allocated from the tithes for the purpose of fortifying the city.

At the request of the citizens, King Ferdinand ordered Ban Nikola Zrinski to initiate the fortification of Zagreb, financing it from the revenue collected from Zagreb’s merchants. Since there was not enough money in the city treasury, Ban Zrinski convened a parliament in 1552 to approve and raise the necessary funds. During the parliament, a decision was made to thoroughly fortify and protect Zagreb from external threats, and various defense proposals were presented.

The first proposal suggested demolishing the deteriorating walls of Gradec and Kaptol and constructing new ones. Another proposal involved demolishing some houses on Gradec, including the Church of St. Mark, and removing the roof from the cathedral. However, not much was accomplished after this parliament.

About a decade later, in 1463, King Maximilian brought a commission to assess the fortifications and overall defenses in Zagreb and provide their opinion. The commission estimated that approximately two hundred thousand forints should be spent on fortifications, in addition to labor costs.

Despite the significant issues posed by the defensive wall to Zagreb, there were never major actions taken to renovate or improve them or the overall defensive state of the city. Authorities were often reluctant to allocate funds for defense, even in the 1540s and 1550s, when there was a considerable Turkish threat. During that time, as the Turkish danger loomed large, funds for fortification and city defense were not approved for Gradec.

In the last year of the Hundred Years’ War, in 1593, the city judge, together with his associates, requested war advisers in Graz to send funds for the construction of new defensive towers. The city was in extremely dilapidated condition, with the justification that Zagreb was the largest but also the most ruined fortress.

Hi! My name is Ivan, and I'm an author of discoverzagreb.com. I have been photographing and exploring Zagreb for more than 15 years, and if you want to know more about me and discoverzagreb.com, read the Introduction articles by clicking here.

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