The first written mention of the city dates from 1094, when a diocese was founded on Kaptol, while in 1242, neighbouring Gradec was proclaimed a free and royal city. Both the settlements were surrounded by high walls and towers, remains of which are still preserved.
Zagreb’s history dates back to the Roman times when the urban settlement of Andautonia, inhabited the location of modern Ščitarjevo. The name Zagreb first came into existence in 1904 with the founding of the Zagreb bishopric of Kaptol. In 1242, it became a free royal town and in 1851 it had it’s own Mayor, Janko Kamauf. In 1945, Zagreb was declared the capital of Croatia. Today Zagreb is the highest populated and the biggest city in Croatia.
There is no proper archaeological evidence that traces Zagreb’s past. Legends and stories revolving around various characters and places have made up the region’s history. If we go by these legends and whatever little evidence there is, then, Zagreb was divided into two hamlets, namely on the hills of Gradec and Kaptol along with the settlements lying between the valleys of the former Medveščak creek (today’s Tkalčićeva Street) and the Vlaška Street.
Present historical area of Zagreb doesn’t belong to the Middle Ages, but archeologically a little more further, i.e. from the 18th century. But still in the formations of the buildings, we can get the feel how settlements must have been in the Middle Ages.
Of the two settlements Gradec and Kaptol, the existence of Kaptol was substantiated in 1094 when King Ladislaus founded the Zagreb bishopric. The bishop, his residence and the Cathedral was located on the southeast part of the Kaptol hill. The confirmation of VIaska Ves was cited in 1198, when it was under the bishop’s jurisdiction. The area of Kaptol Street ran along from south to north with canons houses arranged along in rows. When translated “group of body of Canons” in Latin mean “Kaptol”. That’s how the city got it’s name as the canons were equally dominant in the region.
In 1217 the Cathedral was sanctified, but was damaged in 1242 during the Mongol attacks. But in 1263 it was restored. The layout of the Kaptol extended from southern end of Bakačeva Street to present day Kaptol school. In ancient times, Kaptol had no defensive walls but only wooden fences which had to be constantly built and re-built. It was only in between 1469 and 1473 that the fortification towers and walls were erected. One of these fortification towers is the Prislin Tower near the Kaptol School. In 1493 the Turkish had tried to invade Kaptol but without much success. But this attack, alerted the Bishop of Zagreb, who then built a fortification around his residence and Cathedral. The defensive walls and towers built in 16th century have been well preserved till present day.
In the 13th century two Gothic churches were built, St. Francis and St. Maria’s which went under substantial reconstruction during the 17-18th centuries. In the Opatovina small houses of those times can still be seen, but in Dolac the narrow streets were get rid of, to make way for the market.
In 1334 the canons of Zagreb set up a separate colony in their neighborhood, north of Kaptol, which came to be known as Nova Ves (today’s Nova Ves Street).
With the royal charter handed over to Gradec by King Bela IV in 1242, called the “Golden Bull”, Gradec became a “free royal city” with citizens having the power to elect their Mayor, among other rights. They built defensive walls to protect themselves from any other invasions. These fortification walls built between 1242 and 1261 gave Gradec it appearance which can be seen from Gornji Grad hill.
There were four main gates that led to Gradec: the Mesnička Gate in the west, Opatička Gate in the north, Dverce in the south and the Stone Gate in the east. Of these the Stone Gate is the best preserved.
The main nucleus of Gradec / Gornji Grad is the St. Mark’s square which included the St. Mark’s Church. The Barque bell tower was added much later to the church.
On the northwest walls of the Church is positioned the oldest coat of arms of Zagreb with the year 1499 etched on it.
The City Hall of the medieval times was situated on present day Čirilometodska Street, which was the seat of city administration. After many alternations and reconstructions, this City Hall is still used by the City Council for meetings.
The appearance of Vlaska Street in medieval times is not much known of. In present day VIaska Street, in olden times were situated the archbishop’s residence and gardens. The old row of houses dating from the 18th and 19th century, show the route of the old roads.
14th Century – 18th Century
During the Turkish onslaughts on Europe, between the 14th and 18th centuries, Zagreb was an important border fortress. The Baroque reconstruction of the city in the 17th and 18th centuries changed the appearance of the city. The old wooden houses were demolished, opulent palaces, monasteries and churches were built. The many trade fairs, the revenues from landed estates and the offerings of the many craft workshops greatly contributed to the wealth of the city.
Affluent aristocratic families, royal officials, church dignitaries and rich traders from the whole of Europe moved into the city. Schools and hospitals were opened, and the manners of European capitals were adopted. The city outgrew its medieval borders and spread to the lowlands. The first parks and country houses were built. Zagreb confirmed its position as the administrative, cultural and economic centre of Croatia.
It was in the 17th century that Zagreb was chosen as the seat of the Croatian viceroys when Nikola Frankopan became the viceroy in 1621. The Jesuits arrived in Zagreb on an invitation from the Croatian parliament and they were the ones who started the grammar school, St. Catherine’s Church and monastery. They also started an academy in 1669 where philosophy, theology and law were taught.
In the 17th and 18th centuries Zagreb was destroyed due to fire and plague. The Royal Council government moved its headquarters from Varaždin to Zagreb and during Joseph II rule the city became the headquarters of Varaždin and Karlovac regions.
When Kaptol, Gradec and the surrounding settlements were administratively combined into the integrated city of Zagreb in 1850, the development accelerated still more. The disastrous earthquake of 1880 sparked off the reconstruction and modernization of many shabby neighbourhoods and buildings. Prestigious public buildings were erected, parks and fountains were made, and transportation and other infrastructures were organized.
19th Century – 20th Century
In the 19th and 20th centuries Zagreb saw the formation of important historical structures. It was also the focal crux of the Croatian National Revival.
In 1862-1863 the first railway line was constructed between Zidani Most and Sisak. In 1878 Zagreb received its first waterworks while the horse drawn tramcar was introduced in 1891. With the arrival of railway nearby regions gradually merged with Donji Grad. Many important historical structures, monuments, theatres, museums were built during this time. When electricity was introduced in 1907, development got a boost and led to the present day Zagreb’s layout.
After World War I, the city expanded considerably and regions such as Stara Peščenica and Črnomerec were formed. After the war, restructuring of the city started with the working class residing in Sava and residential area developing on the southern slopes of Medvednica.
By the 1920’s, the population grew by 70% which was the largest population explosion in Zagren till then. The first radio station was installed in 1926.
After World War II, construction industry started to flourish especially in the area between the railway line and the Sava river. In the mid 50’s a new residential area was formed south of Sava River, called as Novi Zagreb (New Zagreb). The city also spread out eastwards and westwards and the regions of Dubrava, Podsused, Jarun, Blato, etc were integrated in Zagreb.
The industrial area of Zagreb expanded in the eastern region on the outskirts of the city, between the Sava and Prigorje region. The international airport Pleso was built to the south of Sava River.
Zagreb became the capital of Croatia in 1991. During the Croatian War of Independence from 1991-1995, there was some periodic fighting between the JNA Army barracks, but the city did not suffer any major destruction. When the Serbs attacked the city with rockets in May 1995, seven residents were killed.
Zagreb became linked with its urban suburbs such as Sesvete, Zaprešić, Samobor, Dugo Selo and Velika Gorica. Sesvete was the closest suburb and it eventually became a part of Zagreb city rather than Zagreb County. Sesvete is now a developing area extending towards Dugo Selo and eventually it will take hold of it.
In the 19th century the population increased tenfold. The twentieth century brought the Secession style to Zagreb. The city lived in the plenty of a civil society, with firm links with all the central European centres. With an increase in wealth and industry from the 1960s on, the city spread out over the wide plains alongside the Sava River, where a new, contemporary business city has develop.