A Gothic wonderland adorned with impressive tombstones and lavish cloisters, the historical Mirogoj is one of Zagreb's most scenic landmarks
By Daryl Mersom
An easy tram hop from the city centre, the beautiful tree-lined cemetery of Mirogoj is a rarely visited attraction. Founded in 1876 and designed by Hermann Bollé, few visitors reach Mirogoj, but those who do discover an expansive space filled with excellent sculptures and seemingly endless tiled arcades. Here are ten reasons why you should make the journey to Mirogoj Cemetery.
1) It's an architectural treasure
Designed by Hermann Bollé, the architect responsible for Zagreb’s Cathedral, Mirogoj cemetery covers a vast area that stretches up towards the base of Medvednica. The green oxidised copper domes, with their intricate, pastel coloured inner designs, are magnificent. So too are the tiled arcades that appear to stretch on into infinity, past an endless succession of memorials and flowers. The arcades are especially striking in the summer time when they are clad in bright green ivy and the sun patterns the innumerable columns and arches. Bollé is buried here alongside plenty of notable local figures.
2) The Croatian poet Petar Preradović is buried here
Mirogoj is an excellent place to indulge in a spot of taphophilia, or tombstone tourism as it is otherwise known. The cemetery is the final resting place of Petar Preradović, a seminal figure in Croatian Romantic poetry. Born in the north-eastern village of Grabrovnica, Preradović fought as a soldier in the Wars of Italian Unification and produced some of the country’s most celebrated verse. He left another significant legacy to the world: his grandchild Paula von Preradović wrote the lyrics to the Austrian national anthem, ‘Land der Berge, Land am Strome.’
3) Visit the memorial to Croatian basketball legend Dražen Petrović
The grave of Dražen Petrović, the Croatian basketball player who died in a car accident at 28 years old, is one of the most visited sites in the graveyard. At 15 he had already made Šibenik’s first team. He would eventually make it to America for the 1989-90 NBA season. In the 1992 Olympics, he took the Croatian team to the finals, the first time Croatia played as an independent country.
4) See the spectacle of All Souls' Day
Croatians remember the deceased on All Souls' Day, November 2. Nowhere is the day more phenomenal and moving than at Mirogoj, where thousands of candles are lit, and wreathes of flowers are placed to commemorate the dead.
5) Mirogoj is a haven of tranquillity
The capacious grounds of Mirogoj provide a peaceful retreat from the city centre. The sheer size of the place means that on a normal day you rarely bump into another person; the only sounds you hear are bird song and the wind rustling the trees.
6) Get lost in the painted inner domes
The magnificently Gothic domes with their lavish pastel interiors are reminiscent of a cathedral. The eight small windows around the rim of each dome let the light in so that the paintwork is illuminated, and the colours which range from duck egg blue to pastel yellow are brought out. Photographers will have a lot of fun trying to cast the complex patterns in this light.
7) See the work of Croatia's finest sculptors
Famous 20th-century Croatian sculptors Ivan Meštrović and Ivan Rendić designed many of the finest gravestones at Mirogoj. Note the grave of Franjo Tuđman, the first president of independent Croatia in 1990. He is commemorated by a strikingly large black granite tombstone - a raised square upon which sits a gently sloping triangle where Tuđman’s name is engraved in gold text.
8) Get history lessons
Visitors will notice certain dates cropping up on the gravestones. Those with an aptitude for history will be able to link these dates to the significant wars of the 20th century.
9) For the green
If you’re gasping for greenery, a visit to the foliage-covered Mirogoj is an excellent way to escape the city. Although the memorial park is manmade, lush green vegetation has since reclaimed much of it: creeping ivy is everywhere. Studded with evergreens, and the occasional sculpture, Mirogoj should be enjoyed as a green space as well as a burial ground.
10) Get some perspective on life
Over 300,000 souls are buried in Mirogoj. This statistic cannot help but remind visitors of their own mortality. Thankfully, there are nine other reasons to enjoy Mirogoj cemetery before this realisation sets in.