Historic Churches of Zagreb: Sacred Sites of the City

Let me take you on a short walk around the city center, where we’ll learn more about three churches. These three churches are probably the most known sacred places in the town, and we’ll start with, in my opinion, the most beautiful church in Zagreb.

I’m talking about one of two churches from this article in the Upper town – St. Mark’s Church.

St. Mark’s Church is located on the square with the same name, surrounded by two “political buildings”. On the west side, there is the Croatian Government, and on the east side, the Croatian Parliament building.

This church is one of the oldest churches in Zagreb, dating back to the 13th century. The most famous thing about St. Mark’s Church is its uniquely colorful tiled roof, which was constructed in 1880 by Friedrich Schmidt and Hermann Bolle. The roof shows tiles laid to represent the coat of arms of Zagreb and the Triune Kingdom of Croatia, Slavonia, and Dalmatia.

Aside from the roof, it is worth mentioning one of the most valuable parts of St. Mark’s Church which is its south portal. Why? Because it is considered to be the wealthiest and most valuable Gothic portal in southern Central Europe.

The portal is the work of sculptors of the Parler family from Prague. The Gothic composition of the portal consists of fifteen effigies placed in eleven shallow niches. On top are the statues of Joseph and Mary with the infant Jesus, and below them, one can see St. Mark and the Lion; the Twelve Apostles are placed on both sides of the portal (four wooden statues replaced the original ones, which had been destroyed).

Inside the church, you can see sculptures made by Ivan Meštrović and art by Jozo Kljaković and Ljubo Babić. Eventually, the frescos were renovated, the ceiling was gilded with 22-carat gold leaflets, and a new organ was recently installed.

Unfortunately, due to renovation because of the damage caused by the earthquake that hit Zagreb in March 2020, the church is currently closed to visitors (summer 2023).

We’re visiting the second church a couple hundred meters away – St. Catherine’s Church on Katarina Zrinska Square.

St. Catherine’s Church is considered the most beautiful Baroque church in Zagreb. It was built between 1620 and 1632 on a small 14th-century Dominican church site. Jesuits came to Zagreb in the early 17th century and thought the original church from the 14th century was inadequate and worked to build a new church.

St. Catherine’s Church was victim to fire twice in history: once in 1645 and again in 1674, devastating the interior. The church was refurnished with the help of wealthy Croatian nobles, and in return, they were allowed to display their family coat-of-arms or have the honor of being buried or entombed in the church.

After the disestablishment of the Jesuits, St. Catherine’s became part of the parish of St. Mark’s in 1793.

And the last church is the Cathedral. Yes, I’m talking about one of the highest buildings in Zagreb – the Zagreb Cathedral.

Zagreb Cathedral was built on enemy territory back then. In the days, Gradec (today Upper town) and Kaptol were big enemies who had fought for centuries, and in 1850 they, and a couple of more small villages/towns, united in Zagreb.

But, let’s return to the Zagreb Cathedral, dedicated to the Assumption of Mary and kings Saint Stephen and Saint Ladislaus. The Cathedral has been in the same spot since the 11th century. Before the earthquake that hit Zagreb in March 2020, which damaged the Cathedral, the towers were 108,2 (north tower) and 108,16 (south) meters high. Within the towers are eight huge bells, and the heaviest weighs 6,5 tons (made in 1843).

What you will see today does not represent the original construction. The first Cathedral was damaged during an enemy attack and a fire in the 13th century. Finally, it was severely damaged by the 1880 earthquake and was restored in the Neo-Gothic style by Hermann Bollé, the Cathedral you see today.

Source: Digital Collection of National and University Library in Zagreb

Cathedral before the earthquake in 1880 (picture above).

Though the Cathedral is closed due to renovations after the earthquake in 2020, the interior is simply beautiful. There are baroque marble altars, statues, and the tomb of Cardinal Alojzje Stepinac.

The Zagreb Cathedral Organ belongs to the line of concert organs with romantic sound characteristics. It is classified among the world’s top ten finest and top-quality organs! It has over 6,000 flue pipes, seventy-eight registers, and four manuals.

The cathedral treasury keeps priceless treasures dating back to the 11th to 19th centuries.

Fun fact: One of the chandeliers in the Cathedral was once hung at a casino in Las Vegas.

Do you have your favorite? Even though the Zagreb Cathedral is impressive, I prefer the St. Mark’s Church in the Upper town.

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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