The Story of Zagreb through Architecture

By Sona Rao


Many say a photograph captures the present moment. However, if observed closely, it captures everything that has happened until that instant. The ephemeral moment of passing a building in Zagreb is like looking at a picture, but a closer look can reveal what stories lie in the foundation or in between the cracks. The architecture of Zagreb is special in that no two buildings are the same, yet every building is related through history. A walk through Zagreb can explain so much if travelers know where to look and how to look past the façade. Croatia has a history of constant change. With wavering borders, Croatia’s identity has transformed many times. A look at the architecture of Zagreb is an understanding of the cultural identity of Croatia. At the turn of every corner is a new page, and every district a new chapter.


The history and geography of the region parallel. The Medvednica mountains stand in the northern part of Zagreb and river Sava is in the south. The story of Zagreb begins in the 11th century when it was founded in Medvednica and the city expanded southward, creating an interesting gradient of time in the architecture throughout the city; the oldest structures are found in upper town near Medvednica and the newest are found in the south near Sava. Zagreb is a medieval city and remnants of Romanesque establishments, primarily churches and fortifications, still exist in Zagreb today. For example, Zagreb used to be surrounded by a city wall, a common structural element of medieval cities, that circled around upper town and ended at the present-day Dolac market. While majority of this wall has been converted to residential areas and promenades, portions of the wall still remain embedded in the buildings.

Zagreb was the size of upper town until the 19th century. Upper town has two main hills that housed different types of buildings: Gradec and Kaptol. While Kaptol was a religious center with many Romanesque churches, Gradec was residential and cosmopolitan. An example of a Romanesque building is St. Mark’s Church. Known for its colorful and symbolic exterior, the church was built in the 13th century but was renovated to a Gothic style in the 14th century, evidenced by the pointed archway of the southern portal with sculptures of the Twelve Apostles. The Zagreb Cathedral, one of Zagreb’s most recognizable landmarks, was also built in the 13th century but because of wars against the Ottoman Empire and earthquakes, the cathedral underwent a series of renovations throughout history. Today, the cathedral has two Neo-Gothic spires that tower over the city as well as an arched doorway engraved with intricate beige floral designs.

Roman Catholicism continued to be a focal point of Zagreb in the 17th century, but religious establishments had transformed into a dramatic Baroque style that had been spreading across Europe. An example of a Roman Catholic Baroque church is St. Catherine’s Church, which was built in 1632 and was the first sacred Baroque building in Zagreb. It is characterized by open spaces, grand colonnades and domes. A statue of St. Catherine is embedded near the top above evenly-spaced statues of religious figures and philosophers below her. Croatia’s long-standing continuity of religion was evident in churches like St. Catherine’s and its predecessors, until Croatia underwent a pivotal cultural conversion and external forces extended the city to the south.

The expansion of the Austro-Hungarian Empire into Croatia in the 19th century realigned the cultural center of the country, and its impact is clearly outlined in the streets of Zagreb in the transition from upper to lower town. Below Gradec and Kaptol lies Ban Jelacić Square, the heart of Zagreb’s festivals and main events. Ruled by the Habsburgs, Austria-Hungary absorbed Croatia until the 1920’s and was responsible for a majority of Zagreb’s praiseworthy architecture, particularly in the center of the city. Most of their buildings are found along the Green Horseshoe, a series of parks that wind through the streets, flanked by government buildings. In fact, Zagreb is often considered a “little Vienna” because of its secessionist-style architecture. Secessionist architecture, also known as Art Nouveau, was characterized by linear ornamentation, detailed patterns and a series of arches. Considered by experts to be one of Zagreb’s greatest architectural achievements, the Croatian National Archives building is the epitome of Art Nouveau that also blends Neoclassicism. The Archives is famous for its wide dome above the main façade and its opulent vertical openings. Overall, the multicolored secessionist buildings along the Green Horseshoe add life to the city and represent a major part of Croatia’s historical identity, however the country took another turn in the 20th century.


Croatia in the 20th century was a part of Yugoslavia. Tito and Mussolini’s influence had transformed the political and social structure into communism and socialism. Buildings from the 50s through 80s are seen mostly in southern Zagreb, but communist influence had spread throughout the city to Ban Jelacić square. Unlike Art Nouveau, buildings from this time period are utilitarian and lack character. The buildings have repetitive patterns of windows and are colored white or grey. This part of Zagreb was prominent until 1991, when Croatia declared independence as a nation for the first time in a very long history.

As the fulcrum of a country that has pivoted in so many directions, Zagreb is a multifaceted city with variegated architecture that mark different parts of its past. As travelers stand on the upper hills, they can see the tale of Zagreb from the medieval churches in the hills to the modern buildings by the river.


Zagreb Through a Runner’s Eyes

By McGee Nall

As I run down Frankopanksa in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, I dodge elderly women and hop around little children to avoid collision. Anything unexpected can flash beside you – a tram, a biker, a whiff of smoke. Keeping a steady rhythm is difficult as I run through the Ban Jelačić square mid-afternoon, whizzing past the recent surge of Korean tourists, local vendors and hyper high schoolers. The sound of the tram chugging along the rails makes the heart pound faster and my pace pick up as if real danger was approaching. A dash through the main arteries of Zagreb can feel hectic for a tourist, but in recent years, a running community has emerged, ready to explore more parts of the city by foot. It’s never a dull moment when blazing through Croatia’s capital, taking in every sight and sound the city has to offer.

The jogging scene exists in Zagreb, but not in the American way. Practically everyone who breathes claims to be a “runner” in the States, but in the heart of Croatia, running and other sports are approached with intensity and discipline. A typical American teenager might try ten sports over the course of their adolescence, but a Croatian teenager perfects one sport with laser focus.

Running clubs and schools are recent additions to Zagreb’s culture. Five years ago, the average runner might go past five to ten joggers along the Sava river bank. Today, the average jogger will zoom past hundreds of locals exercising on the dirt paths beside the river. Since the running fever is relatively new in Zagreb, locals still notice and chuckle at the few joggers who pound past their afternoon coffee breaks, interrupting their slow way of living. Purgers (as city locals are called) run, but mostly in their specific locations away from the heart of the city, such as Lake Jarun, Sava River and Maksimir Park.

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Maksimir Park

Maksimir Park, located northeast of Ban Jelačić square and across from the capital’s soccer stadium, is a key jogging location, particularly during summer’s peak when shade is coveted. The park, which includes several trails, a café at the entrance, and a zoo, is home to the Zagreb Runners. Founded just over a year ago, the crew trains three times a week and participates in local and international races.

Domi Nation, one of the presidents and founders of Zagreb Runners, caught the running bug before the contagion spread throughout his hometown.  As many Croats do, Nation played soccer religiously until, for various reasons, his teammates left to do other things. At a loss for how to stay in shape, Nation resorted to running. It didn’t take long before he was prepping for his first marathon: New York’s in 2012.

Unfortunately, Hurricane Sandy hit that year and as a result, the New York Marathon was cancelled. Frustrated, Nation decided to run the marathon anyway – alone. Avoiding the flooded parts of town, Nation mapped out his own route, buying water bottles and any other forms of nutrition along the way. When discussing his finish, he described the simultaneous victory and disappointment.

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Domi Nation, a president of Zagreb Runners

“You look around, and no one knows. People are going to their everyday activities like, ‘Look at this guy in a checkerboard shirt,’” Nation says, referring to Croatia’s flag. “When you cross the finish line, you get the metal and everything – but this [experience] was bizarre.”

Nation’s odd marathon debut experience didn’t stop him from running, encouraged him to pursue the sport which led to a relationship with Nike, and then to founding Zagreb Runners. This crew has also formed a relationship with the Belgrade Urban Running Team, binding the two countries together through their love of the sport. “[Zagreb Runners] became politically interesting because of our friendship with Belgrade,” Nation says, who cares about “bridging the gap” between countries and locals within the Zagreb Runners’ team. “When I see people who meet within our running crew and on our trainings, when I see them hanging out and becoming really good friends – it sounds corny, but it’s the biggest pleasure to see.”

Nation acknowledges not only the need for camaraderie in the sport, but also avenues through which to perform the sport well, even for travelers. He encourages tourists to not only run from landmark to landmark, but to also seek out their destination’s key running spots. “Wherever I go, I do take my shoes,” Nation said. “I always do it because it’s a way to see a city in a different way.”

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View from Strossmayer

Continuing my afternoon run, after passing Velvet café on Dežmanova street and turning right, I approach the daunting Strossmayer hill. Analyzing my physical condition, I decide to walk the steep cobblestone road leading to Upper Town. At the top, I greet the white-haired man selling popcorn and take a moment to enjoy the vast view of Lower Town. Running past St. Mark’s church towards the stone gate on Kamenita, a young woman, her back toward me, stands wearing a long, black velvet cape. Due to the afternoon sun’s position, the light seems unable to touch her. As she remains motionless, almost haunting the cobblestones that lay before her, I run past her towards the city gate. I stop to walk quietly in an attempt to not disturb the woman gazing up at Mary’s shrine or the elderly gentleman lighting a candle.

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St. Mark’s Church

After a loud, thrilling jaunt through Zagreb’s Lower and Upper Towns, I decide to run in a slightly more peaceful location. The Sava River, an approximately 20-minute tram ride from the main square, is another hub where Croats emerge from their high-rises to run. Forca, a three-year old running club, meets in the same spot along the bank five times a week to train. The club is led by Goran Murić, a 36-year old Croat, tanned and toned from spending years training in the sun. He’s the founder and head coach of Forca while also teaching kinesiology at the University of Zagreb. Murić runs twice a day and has his own personal coach. His rigorous discipline has served him well, considering he has been the champion of several Zagreb marathons and was the winner of the Wings for Life World Run held in Zadar in 2014.

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The Hendrix Bridge over the Sava River

As we sit on a park bench, watching scores of joggers run past and bikers roll across the gravel, Murić, with a consistent soft smile, shares his view on Zagreb’s recent running “boom.”

“I think people sit a lot in their offices and they needed a change,” Murić says slowly, intentionally choosing each English word. “People have a lot of problems with politicians and [running] is some kind of escape from everyday problems.”

Due to the costs of renting a bike or buying a tram ticket, Murić believes jogging is a cheaper way of exploring the city, especially considering Zagreb’s simple layout. “Zagreb is not so big, so you can run for 1-2 hours and visit the main sights,” he says.

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The Forca running club meeting for their evening training

Due to my 10 km/h pace, I’m placed in Forca’s Team 6. It doesn’t take long during our 20-minute run before we begin to sync together in a rhythm as our shoes pound against the gravel. With hardly any clouds in the sky, the sun hitting our sweaty faces shows no mercy except with the promise of a cool evening as it begins to set behind the high-rises. As we run towards Hendrix bridge, we make eye contact with Medvednica Mountain. A family strolls through the dirt path alongside the field of weeds on our left, their dogs zoom through the stems like a cheetah chasing its prey. With birds flying overhead, the sound of hundreds of feet thump, thump, thump along the ground, and a breeze finally cools my reddening skin. As we run towards the mountains and river ahead, we mimic the long blades of grass next to us, climbing towards the sun, freely gliding in the wind as one mobile chorus.


Pula, Croatia: Where Ancient Meets Modern

By Elizabeth Chambers

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“In front of you, you see the whole history of Pula,” said Mariam Abdelghani, tour guide and local of the Croatian city. We were standing feet away from the Arch of Sergii and its neighboring architecture. “The yellow building is from the time of the Austrians, the blue from the time of the Venetians, and the green from the time of fascist Italians.” This coastal town located on the Istrian Peninsula is the site of some of the most well-preserved ruins in the world. Though often overpowered by the grandeur of luxurious Dubrovnik, Pula has a unique artistic and historical nature to present to its guests.

As the bus entered the outskirts of the city, it tilted side to side, maneuvering narrow streets. Stone buildings with terracotta roofs flanked the route. Pink flowers spilled from window boxes of homes as vines climbed up their façades. Arriving at Hotel Veli Jože through the electric blue front door, a carpeted staircase led up to a mosaic floor, where the reception desk stood. The hotel’s character radiated from its tall antique ceilings and beaten stone stairwells.

DSC_0152 copy.jpgBuilt in the 19th century, Hotel Veli Jože was formerly used as an Austro-Hungarian Naval headquarters. Its original stone frame now holds 160 beds within 75 rooms. Spaces are decorated simply, with blue accents upon white walls. Large double-paneled windows open wide, allowing in a warm breeze in the summer.

A 20-minute walk away is the Valkane cove – an ideal place to spend an afternoon in Pula. An oceanfront bar in the cove, Šumi More, offers a variety of drinks – including a homemade blueberry mojito, presented with fresh mint leaves and carved ice cubes, which hold extra syrup.

Owner of Šumi More, Marko Ristic, sat on his outdoor terrace. He offered iced shots of Rakija – a Croatian liquor. His Rottweiler sauntered around the area greeting guests with kisses. The sun sat high in the sky. Families shared laughs while couples shared cigarettes. Children ran around in bathing suits, squealing as they dared each other to dip toes in the water. Hours later, as the sun began to set over distant trees, warm stone slabs framed the turquoise ocean offering heat to reclining guests.

Aside from providing a relaxing atmosphere for its guests, Pula’s waterfront has a significant purpose. The coastal city is home to the only working shipyard in Croatia: Uljanik. Functioning since Roman rule, Uljanik employs over 2,000 locals, presently. It is so important to the city’s economy that every time a ship is completed, the town is invited aboard to view the new creation.

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Inland, Pula presents an array of historic architecture, scattered across the relatively modern city. The Temple of Augustus sits on one side of the main square next to the city hall. Destroyed during World War II by the Allies, it was reconstructed from its original stone in 1947. A ten-minute walk away is the Pula Arena, where roughly 23,000 people would gather to watch gladiator battles.

Standing in the Arena’s center and seeing its magnitude, one can only think about how odd it is that this structure has stood since Roman rule. Where gladiators would fight to the death, tourists now wander with Nikon cameras around their necks. A long, dimly lit hallway leads to an underground room beneath the arena. Here the gladiators prepared for battle and wild animals were stored. Moisture trapped between thick stone walls makes the air damp.

The Pula Arena is the best preserved amphitheater in the world and still serves as a venue for concerts today. Because vibrations damage its stone frame, only five or six loud shows are allowed per year. The arena presents the Pula Film Festival annually, during which the amphitheater is lit up in vibrant color and transformed into a cinema. A functional piece of Roman architecture, the Pula Arena is an element of the city that historically and continually attracts crowds.

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Typical Roman cities, like Pula, were built with a decumanus – a main street that runs through downtown. ‘Deca’ signifies the number ten, which represents the fact that ten soldiers in full uniform could span the width of the street. Pula’s decumanus is where ancient history meets modern art. Boutiques and galleries now line the road, occupying original architecture. The Galerija Makina, opened in 2010, displays contemporary photography by artists all over Europe.

“Almost every exhibition is for sale,” said owner Branka Cvjetičanin pointing to the black and white photographs. “But they are very expensive,” she added. The gallery had high ceilings, white walls and florescent lights. Cvjetičanin’s heels could be heard clicking on the floor a few feet behind. Slovenian photographer Peter Rauch’s exhibition “Die Umwelt” was on display.

A couple of buildings down, a jewelry store’s display shined onto the cobbled street. Inside, rows of glass cases displayed an array of coral, turquoise, amber and lava in both polished and natural form. Galerija Nakita Andreja is a family-owned business that has been passed through five generations. “The family tradition is jewelry,” says owner Vilma Andreja. “We have never imported…all of the jewelry is made by my husband and my son.” A small company like this is not uncommon in Pula. Families often pass on traditions and expertise.

The decumanus eventually drains into the main square. People gather to share gossip and cappuccinos at outdoor cafes, admiring the view of the Temple of Augustus. Pula has a distinctive character that stems from its unique building blocks: cultural tradition and ancient ruins.


Zagreb Through the Drinking Glass

By Madison Gable


Zina Samek, owner of Vinoteka Vintesa, in Zagreb, Croatia smiles as a bottle near the edge of the wood rack catches her eye. She points at the label of a Dingač reading “Bura” and says, “This is the wine that inspired Benmosche,” before she launches into an explanation. Robert Benmosche, President and Chief Executive of American International Group, visited Croatia and fell in love with both the Adriatic Sea and the wine produced on its coasts. Benmosche was also intrigued by the 2001 discovery of Zinfandel’s ancestor grape, Crljenak, being native to Croatia, so in 2006 he imported 1,500 Zinfandel from Napa Valley to grow the fruit in Dalmatia. Benmosche’s story epitomizes the allure of Croatia’s wine to those who are introduced to it. The trick is having the opportunity to be introduced, after which Zagreb’s restaurants, bars, shops and locals themselves will take care of the rest. Zagreb vintners Vinoteka Vintesa, Bornstein Wine Bar and Shop and Stari Fijaker restaurant provide a capital entry point to the world of Croatian wine.

Vinoteka Vintesa harbors its collection of exclusively Croatian labels in a sunny shop tucked away in an alley where it shares its address with a local pizzeria and small hostel. The store’s bright colors are corralled by the three walls covered nearly floor to ceiling in the dark glass of wine bottles. Co-owner, Zina Samek, humbly shrugs, “It’s a shop like any other shop,” yet with a knowing smile adds, “but you have to be able to speak about the wine to sell the wine.” Samek discusses Vintesa’s wine collection with customers meandering through the shop and staring intently at the multitude of labels; she gestures freely with her hands at the wooden racks, explaining that they are organized by region. Above the shop’s lone desktop computer is a map, hand-painted by a local artist, that depicts Croatia’s wine regions in vivid yellows, greens and pinks. Zagreb falls at the converging point of the cool but humid Zagorje, Plešivica and Prigorje wine sub regions of the Croatian uplands, making it central to many vineyards. Samek distinguishes several of the hundreds of bottles that line the walls, pointing out Purger (Zagreb local) favorites such as Korać, Tomac and Šember.


Samek always keeps several bottles open and ready to pour for curious visitors. Merlot streams into a shiny glass at the tip of her steady hand as she lists other shops in the area. She mentions Bornstein Wine Bar and Shop, a name inevitably referenced in conversation about wine in Zagreb. Borsnteins, being the first private wine shop in the entire region of former Yugoslavia, is synonymous with the up-and-coming wine scene in the city and the country as a whole. Owners Ivan and Doris Srpek recognized the importance of the name when they took over the business four years ago. Mrs. Srepk details that “the name was already a brand that stood for quality, service and education.” Bornsteins occupies a 200-year-old cellar with vaulted brick ceilings and dark wood floors in upper town. The building has the air of a timeworn library, each wine bottle containing a story as rich with history and culture as any book. The Srpeks, curators of these bottled stories, serve as interpreters to inquisitive travelers. Their deeply imbedded knowledge of the industry and close ties with domestic vineyards allow newcomers to cultivate an understanding of Zagreb’s wine culture.


Photo by Grace Williamson

On a Tuesday afternoon Mr. Srpek sips a red with patrons as he discusses various Plavac Mali varieties. Mr. Srpek insists, “I don’t like cutting the story short.” He stays true to this philosophy, sparing no detail as he explains the culture of wine in Zagreb. He reminisces on days spent with Croat friends drinking Muscat over ice with lemon and mint, laughing, “We would start around noon and have three or four bottles each.” Mr. Srpek also references gemišt, wine mixed with sparkling water, explaining Croats drink this in the summers, perhaps after a long day of work. He adds that dishes made with cured meats are popular in the region and that the more acidic and refreshing whites produced in the Croatian uplands provide a good balance for salty or fatty foods, making them popular throughout the country. Bornsteins’ business relationships are characterized by a nationally shared appreciation of wine and food. Mr. Srpek describes a visit to his partners at Šember vineyard, a winery only thirty minutes outside of Zagreb, as being concluded with a meal of duck accompanied with “wine and wine and wine.” He explains that another local winemaker he does business with hosts a free lunch every Wednesday, usually offering a hearty stew made by his mother, for those who come to buy his wines.


Photo by Grace Williamson

Both Borsntein’s and Vinoteka Vintesa’s customer bases do not solely depend on individual purchases from tourists and locals; they also conduct business with local restaurant owners. Zagreb’s food and wine industries’ fates are intertwined and their relationship plays out in local restaurants. Tomislav Juras, owner of restaurant Stari Fijaker, further illustrates this essential link. He sits at an old wood table near the back of his restaurant, which is buzzing with customers’ conversation during the lunch rush. The table serves as a makeshift desk, and is littered with papers, keys and a single pack of Lucky Strikes, but he makes room on the table for a plate of štrukli, a traditional Croatian pastry, and a glass of Chardonnay. Juras shares that his family’s restaurant was the first to receive the certificate for serving exclusively “Croatian Authentic Cuisine,” and that he strives to “keep the old spirit of Zagreb” with his business. Juras sells exclusively Croatian wines on his menu, and has been buying his house wine from the same family farm on the Zelina wine road since 1994. Jarec Kure vineyards, named after the owner’s father’s last name, Jarec, and husband’s last name, Kure, has supplied Stari Fijaker with wine served alongside meals made from fresh Dolac market ingredients. Juras laughs, saying the process is “so romantic, but not so romantic at all,” since it’s simply business as usual for him. Juras is yet another path through which Zagreb’s visitors can cultivate an understanding of the role wine plays in the everyday lives of Purgers.


Behind the doors of Zagreb’s Vinotekas, wine bars and restaurants lies the secret to discovering the city: a glass of Croatian wine. Friends, both new and old, tell stories over bottles of Graševina; traditional meals become contextualized by the history of Dingač. A traveler who immerses themselves in Zagreb’s wine culture leaves with something more to grasp than just a souvenir. Tracing your way through the intricacies of Zagreb’s budding wine industry provides a singular mode of experiencing the city and leaves you with a propensity to navigate the city less like a tourist and more like a local. Order a glass, a bottle, listen to its story and revel in the moment that the city unfolds before you.

Istria: From Coastline to Mountainside

By:  Kristen Monson

A Roman arch stands alone in the square, one side intricately carved, the other bare. The Arch of Sergi divides Pula, Croatia into East and West. Less than 100 feet away is a mustard, three-story building with white shutters framing rectangular windows. Adjacent to the gold-colored store is a faded blue building with cream trim and arched windows. A stone balcony stretches across it. Next to it stands a pale green building with straight lines and square windows. Scanning from the Arch of Sergi, the architecture changes from Roman to Austrian to Venetian, and finally ending with Fascist style; in the matter of 350 feet, the entire history of Pula is shown by these four structures.

Pula is a coastal town located on the Adriatic Sea in the Istrian county of Croatia. Years of different empire rule and history took part in the making of the town that is today’s largest cultural and economic center of Istria. With the only shipyard in the country, Pula is an industrial town with a strong community. “Here in Pula, we live in this shipyard,” explains local tour guide Mariam Abdelghani. Whenever builders finish a ship, citizens of Pula are invited to Uljanik Shipyard to see and explore the boat.

Pula, along with other towns in Istria, have a strong Italian community and is the only county that is bilingual with Croatian and Italian frequently being spoken. Walking through the streets of towns in Istria, Italian flags hang from buildings next to Croatian flags. Istrians do not see Italian flags as a foreign country’s flag, but rather half of their culture. Flags are not the only sign of Italian presence though. Much of the architecture in Pula is Roman, with monuments still existing from as early as the first century BC. The Temple of Augustus is one of these monuments. The temple was constructed between the year 2 BC and AD 14 and is located in the Forum housing a collection of ancient stone and bronze sculptures. Today, the stone-based Forum is used for weddings photos in front of city hall.

Situated outside the old city walls, the Pula Amphitheater is one of the world’s biggest arenas—second to the Coliseum in Rome—and held 20,000-25,000 people during the time it was used. Built in the first century AD, having an arena in Pula showed the importance of the town. Tens of thousands of spectators would flock to the limestone arena to watch gladiators fight wild animals and other gladiators. Today, the amphitheater is the best-preserved arena, which people can walk around in and attend events like the Pula Film Festival, concerts, operas, ballets and sports competitions.

What makes Pula a destination worth traveling to is not only the culture and history of this town, but also the surrounding area of Istria. Less than 30 minutes away is the coastal town of Rovinj. With red roofs filling your eyesight and flowerpots on every windowsill, Rovinj looks more like a movie set than a home to people. Although the small town is popular with tourists, it is still unscathed by urbanism. The narrow streets wind their way through town, with many of the roads leading to the Church of St. Euphemia on top of a small hill. With a miraculous legend behind the name of Rovinj’s most significant monument, the church is worth visiting as it even has a statue of St Euphemia on top that can predict the weather—although sometimes not the most reliable. All the roads lead you back to the city from the top of the hill, with the two main ones taking you along the water or the other through the art and jewelry store dotted street.

Close to Rovinj, but different in dynamic, the ancient Roman town of Poreč is devoted to tourism and has become the party center of Istria. Although the town can be more crowded than other surrounding towns, it has something to offer every type of traveler. Along with museums, Poreč’s streets are home to many atelier galleries and restaurants serving local seafood. The main attraction is the Euphrasian Basilica, a UNESCO World Heritage site that was built in the early to mid 6th century. The basilica is worth visiting for the mosaics alone. Although some parts have been destroyed throughout the years, the Byzantine elements of architecture are still noticeable.

In the northern part of Istria, overlooking the Mirna River valley lies the hilltop town of Motovun. A 45-minute drive from Rovinj to Motovun changes the scenery from coastline to rolling hills. Motovun Forest stretches for miles along a river valley that is especially rich in producing truffles. The town relies on this river, as many families’ livings are made by picking truffles with the help of dogs especially trained in finding them. In the town, shops selling whole truffles, truffle oils and sauces, and local wines are placed on every corner, making it easy to spend money on truffles that rival Italy’s and France’s finest truffles. Vineyards producing some of Istrian’s best red and white wines surround Motovun, so grabbing a glass at a café is recommended. Although a small town, a large number of events still take place including the International Motovun Film Festival that takes place at the end of July.

Although on the Adriatic Sea, Istria is not known for their beaches, but produces the finest wines, truffles and olive oils in the country, and possibly in the world, to make up for that. With multiples towns that are thousands of years old and with the influence of many different countries and empires, it is easy to be captivated by the culture Istria has, making it an area worth visiting.



Pula: The Destination Less Traveled

By: Amanda Allbee

“The people are the best thing about Pula,” said the town butcher after tossing back a glass of honey rakija, the bittersweet nectar of Croatia. A colorful sleeve of tattoos covered his arm, wrapped in plastic, as it was freshly etched into his skin earlier that day. Out of his unbuttoned shirt peeked a black-inked portrait of his mother and his father in a soldier’s hat, gazing at each other across the city, separated by buildings and the shipyard. “We take in everyone, we don’t tell anyone ‘no.’ We don’t give a shit,” he explained in between each “ciao” he called out from our outside table at Fiorin Jazz Club to the passers-by he knew, which happened to be everyone. Čobe, a butcher of Pula who was born and raised in the small city on the Istrian peninsula of Croatia, embodies the gritty attitude of this often-overlooked coastal destination.

Pula is a city that lives for tourists; however, tourists often choose Croatian cities down the Dalmatian coast that are far more polished, heavily advertised hubs that draw in visitors with picturesque views of the Adriatic from cutesy seaside cafes, prime shopping from the plethora of local craftspeople selling their trinkets and Croatian-made products, and perfect rows of vibrant buildings lining cobblestone streets. Pula is a blue-collar town with the only working shipyard in all of Croatia. Though shopkeepers and waiters will not reply in perfectly rehearsed English, and there is not even a promenade for seaside strolls presenting a prime photo-op for visitors, Pula has a character similar to Čobe’s: it needs to be given a chance to reveal its idiosyncrasies and charm.

With each fleeting glimpse of turquoise water, I ached for the sea more and more while traveling by bus to Pula from the inland capital city of Zagreb. I arrived at Hotel Veli Jože in the late afternoon. The cheerful façade of Veli Jože augmented my desire to take a dunk in the Adriatic; light-washed brick walls framing a charming blue door, and matching widely opened shutters that welcomed in the salty afternoon breeze illustrated the aesthetic of a seaside inn. From Veli Jože, it is a quick twenty-minute walk past a cemetery and apartment buildings to a spot where locals sunbathe on flat rocks surrounding the gentle waters of a sheltered harbor of the Adriatic Sea. There is no pointed-arrow sign indicating “beach: this way,” but an opening through the trees where you are able to see clear blue water in the distance. Locals sprawl across flat slabs of rock along the water, languidly basking in the sun. There is one establishment rooted in the middle of the rocky shore, a bar called Šumi More that makes a mean mojito with a homemade blueberry compote of which the owner gives you extra, made from fresh blueberries that are in season during the early summertime.


The front of Hotel Veli Joze.

A trek to the city center from the water after an afternoon of sipping “blueberitos” under the sun is not a big deal; twenty-five minutes and you could find yourself smack dab in the middle of Pula. When I first stood in the center of town, I was in disbelief that it was real. Roman architecture still standing so in-tact surrounded by cafes of people sipping on cappuccinos and puffing cigarettes; this scene was not simply fabricated within the past twenty years to give the appearance of rich history as means to attract tourists. There are no red velvet ropes protecting the temple of St. Augustus from hands curious or destructive, it is simply incorporated into the livelihood of the locals. A tradition for newly-wed couples is to take a picture in front of the temple, and on Saturday afternoons when weddings are held in town, local women gather at the cafe next to the temple to watch and make commentary about the bride’s dress. A church built in the sixth century stands nearby, and behind is a view of Uljanik, the shipyard which employs two thousand Croatians. Locals pride themselves on more than just the incredible beauty the Romans left for them; they take pride in what they have built for themselves over the past twenty years since economic progress in the newly-independent state was reestablished. “We live with this shipyard,” said tour guide and local Mariam Abdelghani. “Every time they finish a new ship, they invite the citizens to see. We are a very proud people.” There are two shifts per day; morning-shift workers chain up their bikes and are relieved by the next shift in the afternoon.


The workers of the morning shift at Uljanik Shipyard chain up their bikes at the entrance.

Families that do not have a tradition of working at Uljanik contribute to the city in other ways. Going shopping on the streets of Pula, it seems as if your eyes are playing tricks on you as you may see the same person who was behind the register at the candy shop now in the jewelry store, and then again at a perfume store. If this exact scenario plays out, it is more than likely a member of Vilmia Andreja’s family. Like many families of Pula, they own multiple shops in town: two candy stores, a perfumeria, and a jewelry gallery. Although the Andreja family owns so many businesses within the city, their tradition for five generations has been jewlery making. She, her husband and her son craft every piece of jewelry in their gallery, Andrej Galerija Nakita, by hand. They use unpolished coral, amber and lava from Dalmatia. Not every store in town exclusively sells handcrafted Croatian products- on the same street you will find a seemingly out-of-place contemporary art gallery which features the work of Croatian, Serbian, English, Slovenian and Austrian photographers. Curious as to what a high brow gallery like Galerija Makina was doing in the middle of a city like Pula, I entered the showroom. The work of Slovenian photographer Peter Rauch was on display, his modern black and white photographs of houses looked expensive, and owner Branka Cvjetičanin confirmed that they were. “It’s mostly tourists who buy them,” she explained. A bold move, I thought. A sophisticated gallery would undoubtedly generate more income and notoriety in an urban setting such as Zagreb, yet it is another confusing and quirky facet of Pula that makes the city so interesting. I smiled at the thought of shipbuilders coming after their shift to picking out a black and white contemporary piece, tracking grit and oil onto the polished floor of the gallery.


The outside of Galerija Makina.

Walking through the center of Pula, whether your intention is to shop, eat, or enjoy the day, the history of the city is inescapable;  it is intertwined with the lives of those who inhabit the first colony of the Roman empire today as it is a relatively new independent state. After picking up in-season cherries and strawberries from the Trznica market, a building that was constructed during Austrian rule, you will find yourself confronted by the “Golden Gate,” the Triumphal Arch of Sergi constructed in the end of first century BC during Roman times. To the right, the entire history of Pula stretches out before you through the architecture of each consecutive building: from the Austrian Empire, to Venetian rule, the Fascist rule of the Italy. It is a sight that transcends time; it makes you feel as if the world is spinning around you as you attempt to dissect each piece of history and compartmentalize its significance to the city. But in a place like Pula, such a separation of time is impossible. In a place where buildings from the year 600 act as a centerpiece for rows of cafes, and a church dedicated to the first Roman Empire in 2 BCE serves as a backdrop for wedding photos, where the most well-preserved amphitheater in the world is consistently a venue for concerts and film festivals to which seven thousand people sit on the same worn stones Romans carved their initials into during gladiator fights, and where chipped away blocks of the amphitheater were to be used for a temple constructed over one thousand years later, history simply builds on itself like layers of the Earth’s crust. “If you dig here, you will find ruins,” said Abdelghani. When attempting to build a parking garage on the outskirts of the center, which is the farthest point to where you may drive your car, it was not long before the metal machinery clanged against archaeological ruins pre-dating the Romans and up until the last one hundred years. The exposed ruins surround streamlined apartment buildings a mere few decades old; a view in some cities tourists would pay for, the residents nonchalantly coexist with it. Sitting at a cafe in front of a piece of architecture thousands of years old, sharing drinks with friends is nothing out of the ordinary.


Architecture of Austrian, Venetian and Italian influence.

“When you drink rakija, your conversation gets better,” said Čobe the Butcher with an unflinching face after another hearty gulp of the golden liquid. Like a conversation that grows more fluid and intimate with the social grease of liquor, the magic of Pula is exposed steadily as it is chipped away at by the pick of a curious traveler, chunk by chunk like the archaeological ruins of the Romans. It is a town that refuses to succumb to the constraints of a velvet rope, to chain up its foundations to put on display like sculptures in an art gallery, warding off sticky fingers with a “DO NOT TOUCH” sign. A long time ago, Pula chose to live with its history, to pour life into it so that it remains warm and awake. It is surely something not many people have encountered before, I certainly had not. It felt unnatural, stroking the stone of a two thousand year old structure, like it might crumble and seep through my fingers like sand; it was powerful and nearly spiritual to do so without any repercussions. The people of Pula do not allow this power to get to their heads- hardworking and humble, they graciously allow guests to experience the awe-inspiring wonders of their curious little city.

An Ambassador of Wine

By Grace Williamson


Five minutes after meeting Ivan Srpek, owner of Bornstein Wine Shop and Bar, he says to me “Please sit, would you like a glass of wine?”  Mr. Srpek walks behind the long, wooden bar and removes two glasses and a bottle of Šember Sparkling Brutê.  In quick, effortless pours, he fills our glasses.  As he sits to join me, we begin what would turn into hours of conversation.

People traveling to Zagreb (the capital of Croatia) know the sites they want to see and can check them off their list as they snap a picture—the Cathedral, St. Mark’s Church, and the National Theater—but to those who wish for a more enriching tourist experience, they must see the people.  Mr. Srpek’s story is one of intrigue because it shows a passion for culture.  In this lies the appeal of traveling to Zagreb: meeting the people who cultivate rich experiences unique to the city, specifically in the way of wine.  People fill the cafes on any given weekday in the city, sipping glasses of reds and whites amongst friends or colleagues.


Mr. Srpek has the mindset and personality for hospitality, making him the perfect ambassador for the wine industry in Zagreb.  He welcomes guests as they walk down the stairs leading into the cellar and answers the phone with an unfailing enthusiasm as people call with various wine inquiries.  He explains his business mentality figuratively, as he puts it, “There’s a box at the door where you leave your junk, and you pick it up on the way out.”  A focus is placed on quality of service in order to create a warm, intimate environment for people to unwind.  As for the wines, the quality reveals itself, leaving lasting impressions on guests and empty bottles—souvenirs of a good time.


The perpetuation of tradition begins in the very walls of Bornstein, built 200 hundred years ago to begin the commercial wine industry in Zagreb.  Exposed brick pillars met the lofted ceiling; every wall was lined with bottles, and the stairs leading down into the cellar are bathed in light from the open front door.  The cellar was first owned by a Jewish man named Vlado Borosič.  During the second World War, his family had their last name changed form Bornstein to Borosič as a way of protecting themselves from Nazi Germany.  Years later, he named the shop Bornstein, paying tribute to his father, who was a famous architect. Mr. Srpek bought the Bornstein name four years ago and has kept it as a way of preserving the history and tradition associated with the title.

Mr. Srpek is passionate about the small businesses of Zagreb and is active in working to promote their wines.  Srpek’s wife, Doris, is equally as ardent about wine culture, and they share a chemistry for this reason, she laughs behind her black framed glasses, “Me and my husband are a bit of romantics.”  Mrs. Srpek has created a map to show guests the wine regions of Croatia—Slavonia, Croatian Uplands, Istria, and Dalmatia—discussing each in such detail, one feels they are navigating the rolling hills north of Zagreb, where Pušipel Classic is produced, or wiping the ocean spray from their face on the Dalmatian island where Plavac Dingač is made.


Laughing through a mischievous smile, he swirls what is left in his glass of red zinfandel, “Am I allowed to tell that at all?  I think it was illegal.”  Mr. Srpek began falling in love with wine at the age of 12, while growing up in Adelaide, Australia, where he would sneak glasses amongst the house guests his mother hosted in the evenings. Originally, he was drawn to Zagreb seeking “a connection with my family, with my genes,” as his relatives were from Croatia. He soon felt a deep sense of belonging in the culture, particularly in the wine industry: “What I love about culture here is people are very warm.”

For the last four years, Mr. Srpek has owned and operated Bornstein in such a way that shows his connection to family—and not just his own.  Šember (a personal favorite of Srpek’s) is one of many local families who stock the shelves with delightful, unique varieties of wine at Bornstein. Their family business has been passed down through the years and the current owner, explains Srpek, “took over from his father; he is the fourth generation.” Reputable amongst Croats for their sparkling rosé, Šember has grown in popularity with the help of Bornstein.  A mutually beneficial relationship forms when small business owners support one another, Mr. Srpek elaborates, “We’re a small business, and we like to support small businesses.”  Forming such bonds is one of the reasons he loves Zagreb, “It is such a close-knit community; we are living on top of each other.”


With Zagreb in the middle of the youngest wine region (The Croatian Uplands), there are a number of budding wine makers.  By recognizing the upcoming generation and promoting their products, Mr. Srpek guarantees, in future years, people will be able to enjoy exquisite tastes from around Croatia.  The most popular white wine in Croatia—Malvazija Istarska—is made by a young gentlemen, Claudio Tomaz, living in Istria.  Bornstein’s shelves are scarce with these bottles come summertime as Croatians migrate to the coast, where sipping on this light, dry white is perfect with a seafood dish.  Since its beginning, Bornstein has served to educate people about wine and is therefore the perfect platform for producers such as Tomaz.

“Excuse me just second.” Srpek leaps up from his seat under the shade of our umbrella-covered table to speak with two ladies, aimlessly wandering around the corner.  He returns soon after, “Sorry, they looked a bit lost.  Where were we?”  As Ivan Srpek and I continued talking, I watched his expressions and the light in his blue eyes while he discussed that which mattered most to him: family and wine.  Beside us, Mrs. Srpek brought a bottle of wine to a table of workmen who were resting after making deliveries in the surrounding stores.  Smiling, I left that day with a warm, satisfied stomach and a bottle of Malvazija Istarska.