The dramatic Stone Gate (Kamenita Vrata) marks the eastern entrance to Zagreb’s medieval Gornji Grad (Upper Town) and is one of the city’s most iconic landmarks, providing a useful navigation point for visitors passing between the Upper and Lower towns. The stone-carved arch is more than just a gateway though – local legend has transformed it into a shrine and the adjourning chapel flickers with candles, lit daily by local worshippers in honor of the Virgin Mary.
The origins of the Stone Gate date back to as early as 1266 and today the restored archway forms a key part of the ruins of the ancient city walls. The story goes that the original gate featured a painting of Mary holding baby Jesus and after a devastating fire swept through the capital in 1731, the artwork miraculously survived, appearing to locals like the image of the Virgin Mary was emerging from the ashes.
Encompassing the medieval hilltop settlements of Kaptol and Gradec, Zagreb’s Gornji Grad (Upper Town) is the capital’s historic district, looking down over the modern center of Donji Grad (Lower Town) below. Loosely defined as the area north of the central Bana Jelačića square, Gornji Grad’s lattice of cobblestone streets, pretty medieval squares and lively café culture make it Zagreb’s most picturesque neighborhood and visitors to the city will likely find themselves spending a large portion of their time here.
Stroll along the leafy walkway of the Strossmayer Promenade, where the old city walls once stood; light a candle at the revered Stone Gate (Kamenita vrata), now transformed into a shrine to the Virgin Mary; or pay a visit to the adorably quirky Museum of Broken Relationships. The most famous landmark of the Upper Town is the Gothic Zagreb Cathedral of the Assumption, perched on Kaptol Hill, but other notable highlights include the mosaic-roofed St Mark’s Church.
The modern center of Zagreb might not be as strikingly picturesque as its higher altitude neighbor, but Donji Grad, the ‘Lower Town’, is still the focal point of many visitors’ itineraries, home to several of the capital’s most prominent buildings and museums. The dramatic centerpiece of the Lower Town is Lenuci’s Horseshoe (nicknamed the ‘Green Horseshoe’), a series of eight adjoining parks and gardens that encircle the district’s main public squares and form a scenic walking route around the principal sights.
Starting just south of the central Jelačića Square, the Green Horseshoe includes the 12,500-acre Zrinjevac Park, home to the Zagreb Archaeological Museum and Zagreb’s court buildings; the exquisite English-style Botanical Gardens; and the Mimara Museum, the city’s most important art museum. Nearby attractions include the Cvjetni Trg or Flower square, renowned for its idyllic cafés and colorful flower stands; the Arts and Crafts Museum.
With its grand neo-Renaissance façade presiding over Roosevelt Square in Zagreb’s Donji Grad (Lower Town), the Mimara Museum (Muzej Mimara) is impossible to miss, but the dramatic building is more than just a pretty face. This is the city’s biggest and most important art history museum, housing over 3,750 works, including paintings, sculptures and crafts, spanning over three millennia. The permanent exhibition is made up of the personal collections of Wiltrud and Ante Topić Mimara, an extraordinary assemblage of artifacts bequeathed to the city in 1987.
Elements of the collection come from all around the world, including Persian carpets, ancient Egyptian glassware, elaborate Renaissance altarpieces and archaeological finds from Greece, Rome and early-medieval Europe. Highlights include an enameled 13th-century crucifix, a series of ancient Far Eastern artworks and paintings by Dutch artists Rembrandt and Ruisdael, Spanish painters Velāzquez and Goya.
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