Zagreb, gas, lamp
© Viktor Juric

10 secret facts about Zagreb

By Lara Rasin
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When you're 1000 years old, you're bound to have accumulated some interesting secrets. We're here to unravel the unknown about the almost millennium-old city of Zagreb.

Did you know that Zagreb...

1. Was built over a stream?

A creek flows under buzzing Tkalčićeva street
A creek flows under buzzing Tkalčićeva street © ilijaa

Zagreb, or more specifically, the city's central Tkalčićeva street (aka Tkalča), was built over a stream. At the end of the 19th century, concrete was used to fill the top of the stream, which, to this day, stills flows deep underground - beneath the dozens of cafes and restaurants flanking hotspot Tkalča. The buried creek empties into the city's stretch of the Sava River.

2. Still has working gas lamps?

Old Tkalca street in Zagreb evening advent view
Fully functional gas lamps sow romantic light over Zagreb streets© xbrchx

Over 200 old-school gas lamps have lit up Zagreb each night since their installation in 1863. Expert lighters called nažigači have the task of bringing the lamps (and the city streets) to life each night and extinguishing them each morning. Few cities in Europe have held on to this tradition.

3. Connects its mythology with its craft beer?

medvedgrad, pivo, beer, craft
The 'Crna kraljica' (Black witch) in all her glory, along with fellow 'Grička vještica' (Witch of Grič)© iggachu / Pivovara Medvedgrad

Zagreb's oldest craft brewery Medvedgrad pays homage to some of the city's most kooky and spooky legends. One of the brewery's beers is named Crna kraljica (literally, 'Black witch') after the evil queen, always donned in black, of Medvedgrad Castle that was said to make deals with the devil (whether she's a historical figure or not is another story). The brewery also has a flagship beer called Zlatni medvjed - meaning, Golden bear. Which brings us to our next point...

4. Was once home to bears?

Risnjak National Park
Today, brown bears can be found in Croatia's Lika and Gorski Kotar regions© Andrea Marzorati

Zagreb has many places named after bears (medvjedi) - Mount Medvednica, Medvedgrad Castle, pub Mali Medo - but no bears. Why is that? Mount Medvednica (and its much-trekked Sljeme peak) were once crawling with bears. Centuries ago, however, the city's furriest residents are thought to have moved further south to the forested regions of Lika and Gorski Kotar (as Zagreb gradually transformed from a small diocese in 1094 to a metropolis).

5. Rings out with the sound of a real cannon, daily?

Zagreb
Lotršćak Tower proudly guards Zagreb's Upper Town© ilijaa

Since 1877, Zagreb's Grič cannon has been fired every day at noon. In previous years, the cannon's function was to signal noontime to the bell ringers of the city's churches. Today, it's mostly a tourist attraction - which you can best witness (just consider covering your ears at 11:59am) next to its home, the 13th-century Lotršćak Tower.

6. Has the world's shortest public transport vehicle? 

Zagreb
Zagreb's funicular makes for a safe, short - and sweet - ride© Marko Vrdoljak

At about 60 seconds, the Zagreb Funicular has the shortest time for a public transport vehicle in the world. Steam-powered until 1934, the funicular rides from Tomićeva street to the Strossmayer Promenade - dropping you off right in front of the aforementioned Lotrščak Tower - and vice versa.

7. Houses an Old Chemical Laboratory used by Nobel Prize-awarded chemists?

Summer on Stross Strossmartre
Best known for its celebrations, the Strossmayer promenade has also has a scientific side© Marija Gašparović

The Strossmayer Promenade in Zagreb is known for hosting festivals and being one of the liveliest destinations in town. But it also has a scientific past. Between glasses of gemišt, stop to peek into the Old Chemical Laboratory, which was once used by two Croatian Nobel Prize-awarded chemists: Lavoslav Ružička and Vladimir Prelog. Inside, you can learn about their lives and work.

8. Has its own solar system?

The 'Grounded Sun' brings bright yellow colour to central Zagreb, even on a rainy day
The 'Grounded Sun' brings bright yellow colour to central Zagreb, even on a rainy day© TripAdvisor

Zagreb's very own solar system is built around the sculpture of the Grounded Sun on Bogovićeva street, which is right next to the Flower Square. The rest of our solar system's planets can be found in statue form across the city - all proportional in distance and size to the (grounded) sun. 

9. Got its name thanks to a thirsty knight?

Manduševac
Manduševac (named after Manda), on Zagreb's main square, is thought to be the source of the spring today© Marija Gašparović / Zagreb Tourist Board

Zagreb got its name thanks to a thirsty knight. Well, maybe. This 'fact' is more of a widely accepted legend. It tells of a young knight who arrived in Zagreb exhausted after travelling from a faraway land. He found a spring next to which stood a young woman named Manda. Too weak to drink himself, the knight asked Manda to ladle (zagrabiti) some water for him. The rest is history.

10. Stands over an obscure underground network of tunnels?

Gric tunnel
Today, the Grič Tunnel often hosts cultural events and parties© Zagreb Tourist Board

Exactly how many tunnels lie underneath Zagreb, who built them, and when, isn't known. Confirmed tunnels were built by various heads of state across the years to protect people and transport goods safely. Constructed in 1943 primarily as a shelter, Grič is the city's most famous tunnel and runs underneath the centre. Some of the more mystical (and unconfirmed) tunnels are said to reach Medvednica Castle - and even contain a certain Crna kraljica's hidden treasure.

Though ten doesn't nearly cover the Croatian capital's total number of intriguing secrets, it shows just how much there is waiting to be discovered in the fantastic city of Zagreb.

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