Zagreb’s history is very much a tale of two towns, whose rivalry was sometimes very intense but whose fortunes were linked. The Kaptol was the town where the church’s influence was paramount, while Gradec was situated defensively on a hill and was loyal to the king. The legacy of these two competing town-states is still evident today, with the two having stark contrasts in design, architecture and lifestyle.
The site where Zagreb now stands has been in existence since the Neolithic era, while the Romans established a settlement at the nearby Andautonia. Excavations in the area have revealed many artifacts that predate the 11th century when King Ladislaus of Hungary ordered that a diocese be set up between the Sava River and Mount Medvednica.
The city that would become Zagreb was established in 1094, when two neighboring settlements were built. One of these was a religious settlement built around the churches, while the other was more military and secular in nature and was set upon a hill that was easily fortified.
The 17th and 18th centuries were dark times in Zagreb’s history with huge fires in 1645, 1674, 1706 and 1731 laying waste to vast areas of the city. The fires, however, were nothing compared with the deaths resulting from plague outbreaks in 1647 and 1682, which decimated the population. Fortunes changed for the better in 1776 when the Croatian Royal Court was relocated to Zagreb. This had the effect of finally unifying the two towns of Kaptol and Gradec, and Zagreb enjoyed a ‘golden era’ of economic, cultural and artistic evolution during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Following WWII, Croatia and Zagreb became part of the Soviet block and a communist government was established. Its economic and social policies reversed Zagreb’s development and the city suffered once again. The citizens gradually reasserted themselves from 1950 onwards, and finally in 1991, Croatia regained its independence. Zagreb has recently enjoyed steady economic growth and the city is attracting more tourists each year and has begun to rival Prague and Vienna as a tourist destination.