Zagreb’s most surprising architectural gem…
Lovingly encased within seven acres of lush landscaped gardens, Miragoj Cemetery figures as one the top 20 must-visit places in the Croatia’s capital, Zagreb. The final resting place of 300,000 souls from diverse religions, created by architect Hermann Bollé, is one of Europe’s most beautiful cemeteries.
A mere 10-minute bus journey from Kaptol in Zagreb’s Upper Town will take you conveniently to this remarkable landmark. The ogling will commence even as you roll along that endless, monumental brick wall draped with green-red ivy leaves. And as you cross the street towards the entrance, you will have to peel your eyes away from the 20 gorgeous onion-shaped lime-green onion cupolas crowning the wall. Be careful not to stub your toe on the sidewalk or knock over a dustbin. Indulge your eyes with the sight of the central dome of the Church of Christ the King that dominates the entryway. More drama waits to unfold inside.
Beyond the gate, for nearly a half a mile to the left and right, lies a stunning Neo-Renaissance arcade. Pause at the elegant archway visible through the thick clumps of ivy carpeting the wall and let your eyes travel all the way to the end of the arcade. Your feet will guide you further. Impossible to resist a closer look at those decorative tiled floors, fine cast-iron lanterns, carved columns and graceful statues….all classic reminders of a museum! Pinch yourself as a reminder…this is a cemetery!
As you step outside to admire the entire structure yet again, consider the miracle…all this survived the massive earthquake of 1880, when more than 1700 houses in the neighbourhood were heavily damaged!
But the real treasure of Miragoj lies in its sprawling gardens. What a stroke of genius that the city council not only acquired this stunning property from Ljudevit Gaj (Croatian reformer and poet), for use as a cemetery in 1872, but also retained and expanded the green expanses.
Stroll along the numerous walking paths of this magnificent park to experience it in all its glory. Trace the shadows as the sun plays hide-and-seek under the tall chestnut, lime, maple and spruce trees. Find the birds that chirrup from among the dense bunches of leaves and feel the gentle breeze that ruffles your hair.
Chapels and mausoleums lie scattered around. Scan the lanes and lanes of graves, big and small, some enclosed within decorative grills, some with steps leading up, some mentioning multiple names of family members. Some graced with candles and flowers left by loving family and friends. Others as if they had been unvisited since years. You may identify tombstones of Franjo Tuđman, the first president of the Republic of Croatia, basketball player Drazen Petrovic. Many prominent citizens including poets, scientists, writers and politicians, are also buried here.
Depending on how you look at it, the walk is calming or disturbing. You certainly cannot ignore the fact that its a burial ground. Thousands and thousands of graves, spread over acres of lovely gardens. You wonder if visitors ever get lost in here…there don’t seem to be many directions or signboards.
When you finally exit the Cemetery gate, maybe you will encounter a hearse arriving quietly, accompanied by a procession of solemn faces. The guard at the gate will ring a rope-bell to announce their arrival. You wait for them to pass through and the overriding thought in your mind is this. Miragoj is peaceful, artistic and graceful…like the rest of the city. And why not? The deceased deserve it!
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