Bjelovar Pavilion, bjelovar, daruvar
© Štefan Brajković Bjelovar Pavilion

Ten brilliant things to do in Bjelovar

Handsome, historical Bjelovar offers a surprisingly diverse range of brilliant things to do

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A fortress town under the Habsburgs, Bjelovar lies between Zagreb and Slavonia, a busy city of some 40,000 people. Cafés, bars and restaurants dot the grid-patterned centre, and in the latter you might be able to try the town's famous smoked cheese, Bjelovarski kvargl which, as one of Croatia's best delicacies, is protected at a European level. the horizon characterised by the bell towers of two impressive churches, with a theatre and cultural centre on either side of the tree-lined park in the heart of town.

This article is sponsored by the Bjelovar Bilogora county TB and The Croatian National Tourism Board: 'Croatia Full of Life'.

Ten brilliant things to do in Bjelovar

Relax at the central pavillion

1. Relax at the central pavillion

At the heart of Bjelovar's beautiful central park is a stately music pavilion, constructed during World War II on the site of an old well. Built from the brilliant white stone for which the Brač island is so famous, this is the largest stone pavilion of its kind in Europe and still plays an integral role in the town's social and cultural life to this day, acting as a host venue for musical engagements and within some of the town's broader annual celebrations.

Take in local art
© Štefan Brajković

2. Take in local art

Partly based on the private collections of Habsburg railwayman Heinrich Kamer and 20th-century entrepreneur Ivan Barešić, the artefacts on display at the Bjelovar City Museum form an eclectic range. The most notable artist featured is locally born Edo Murtić, whose abstract work began to garner international acclaim from the 1950s onwards. His contemporary, sculptor Vojin Bakić, born in Bjelovar, saw many of his public works destroyed during the Croatian War of Independence – here they form part of the permanent collection. Look out, too, for temporary shows, such as the one showcasing Ivan Meštrović that opened in May 2019. Items relating to ethnography and medieval history feature elsewhere around the museum.

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Admire a Baroque cathedral
© Štefan Brajković

3. Admire a Baroque cathedral

A parish church until Pope Benedict XVI declared it a cathedral in 2009, St Teresa of Ávila was built in the typical Baroque style of the day, between 1765 and 1772. Its name was taken from the patron saint of Habsburg empress Maria Theresa, responsible for the construction of most of Bjelovar a decade earlier. The Bishop of Zagreb then came to dedicate the church in 1775. A century or so later, the same earthquake that destroyed much of the capital also rocked Bjelovar and the same architect who rebuilt Zagreb Cathedral completely restored St Teresa of Ávila in the late 1880s and early 1890s. Another century later, and a grenade hit the church during the Croatian War of Independence and killed three worshippers – a memorial plaque honours their memory. Set in front of pretty green parkland, in stark white and pastel yellow colours, the cathedral is one of Bjelovar’s major landmarks.

Marvel at the mystery of 250-year-old statues
© Zvonimir Atletic

4. Marvel at the mystery of 250-year-old statues

Nobody really knows who the artists were who, towards the end of the 1770s, completed work on the four statues to be found surrounding Bjelovar pavilion. Almost as old as Bjelovar itself, the statues help tell the tale of the town, which was founded as a military hub on an important defensive line. Saint Teresa of Ávila, protector of the town and patron of its cathedral, is depicted in the first, Saint George (known as Juraj here), patron of the Đurđevac regiment, in the second. Saint Ivan Nepomuk and Saint Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine the Great appear in the other two. Each can directly be associated with Bjelovar. Except Nepomuk. A priest who was imprisoned and ultimately executed for refusing to divulge to his king the contents of his wife, the queen's confession, Nepomuk is forever associated with the keeping of secrets. But just what is the secret that ties him to the town? 

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Get active in Bjelovar's other central park
© Plamen

5. Get active in Bjelovar's other central park

The park located right at the heart of Bjelovar is beautifully manicured, its pavilion unmissable. But, such is its pristine nature, you really wouldn't feel comfortable lying a blanket on the ground here to lie in the sun, nor take off your t-shirt to play badminton or similar. Known as the Borik park, after the cemetery next door, or as the park of the sad willows, Bjelovar's other city centre park is a wonderful place to relax and do such things. The park holds an ancient natural water source and it has been debated that in the future this might be used to bring a water feature, even possibly water sports, into the park.

See the stark and sombre war memorial
© Vendermast

6. See the stark and sombre war memorial

Bjelovar and Bilogora county holds one of the most famous war memorials of the former Yugoslavia, the Dušan Džamonja-designed Monument to the Revolution of the people of Moslavina, located in located in Podgarić, Berek. But Bjelovar itself has its own war memorial, located just a couple of kilometres from the centre at the entrance to the city. The branchless and leafless stumps of trees here vividly tell of life cut short and of the huge explosion which took place here in the early 1990s. The site was once the location of a barracks which, at the time of the Homeland War, was used as an ammunition storage area. Some 170 tonnes of ammunition and explosives were deliberately destroyed here by Yugoslavian National Army forces, rather than allow them to fall into the hands of Croatian defenders. 11 defenders were killed in the blast, which produced a huge mushroom cloud over the area and the shockwave damaged properties in a 12-kilometre radius.

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Check out the town's home of culture
© Fraxinus

7. Check out the town's home of culture

The impressive building now assigned as Bjelovar's Dom Kulture (home of culture) was famously once a synagogue, its religious status removed, but the building significantly not destroyed, during the period Croatia partially came under the control of fascist forces during World War II. The circular section visible on the front facade once prominently held a Star of David. Today, the hall plays an important role in the town's cultural expression and acts as a host venue for each of Bjelovar's major annual festive occasions and also regularly holds music concerts. Many of Dom Kulture's events can be found on the website of the Tourist Board of Bjelovar and Bilogora county.

See the mark of different cultures in the Church of the Holy Trinity
© Fraxinus

8. See the mark of different cultures in the Church of the Holy Trinity

Despite the town being founded within a Catholic region, the Orthodox church in Bjelovar is almost as old as the town itself. The building of this more easterly religion was impacted by the design of famous Austrian architect Hermann Bollé, who refashioned the church's interior around a hundred years after its birth. Bollé's comparable projects are more famous, namely the cathedrals in Đakovo and Zagreb, plus the latter's Mirogoj cemetery. With the church containing work by famous Croatian painters Celestin Medović, Bela Čikoš Sesija and Ivan Tišov, within this one building we can see the influence and coexistence of several cultures within the region.

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Sink your teeth into grilled meat
© Reinhard Thrainer

9. Sink your teeth into grilled meat

The low mountains of Bilogora in Bjelovar-Bilogora county are home to some of the most highly prized cows in Croatia. Their meat is distinct, aged and served at many of the country's finest restaurants. Bjelovar's best eateries can be a brilliant place to try it, whether you opt for the full-on aged steak as the centrepiece or sample it as part of a more humble lunch of pljeskavica (hamburger) or čevapi, which use this meat.

Observe recent history
© Stalni muzejski postav Domovinskog rata

10. Observe recent history

Bjelovar saw bitter fighting during the Croatian War of Independence in the early 1990s. With contributions from those who were involved at the time, a permanent exhibition has been set up to illustrate the conflict. It comprises three main themed sections, one showing the uniforms and insignia worn by Croatian armed forces, another the equipment that saw use at the time while a third displays the operational activities around Bjelovar and other battlefields in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. While most of the documentation is in Croatian, the exhibits, and the dates they relate to, bring home just how recent these events were. Open on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, or phone ahead to arrange a visit.

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