Museums at Night in Zagreb is usually a cold affair and this Friday it was no different. It was freezing. All bundled up we wondered if the Croatian Museum Society couldn’t move it to a warmer time of year. But, the numbers released today show it might be a bad idea: even in the winter weather more than 160,000 people visited the Zagreb museums on Friday, 20 percent of the city’s population. The museums were operating on the verge of capacity.
The Museum of Modern Art was visited by 23,000 people in one night, 19,600 people visited the Technical Museum. The Museum of Arts Crafts was traditionally giving out hot wine and tea to the people waiting in the queue, this time for its exhibition on the Croatian Art Deco that opened just two days earlier. The Atelier Meštrović closed its second floor for visits because the stairs in the old family house were too weak for the crowd that showed up, and offered everyone to come and visit for free during February instead.
We visited the Archive Tošo Dabac, a small atelier overlooking the Ilica Street that is normally open for the public Wednesdays from noon to 4 p.m. only, and only upon prior notice. This time it was full of people, sipping wine and taking photos. There wasn’t that much to see, to be honest, but they have a wonderful online gallery of Dabac’s photography called Zagreb in the Thirties, as well photos of Zagreb by contemporary photographers.
We also visited the Zagreb City Museum, my favorite. There was live jazz in the lobby and rivers of people on the inside. I’ve been there before, obviously, but these are some things I had missed before:
* A list of Zagreb’s witches. Among them, a woman listed only as “Prva sežgana coprnica”, “the first burned witch”, though this translation doesn’t do justice to the original. During 400 years, more than 140 women were sentenced to burn on the stake in Zagreb, though most were spared of this fate. The witches were burned at the bottom of today’s Tuškanac Street.
* Ilica, Zagreb’s longest street and the main shopping area, was named after a creek with the same name.
* In the 19th century, the death announcements placed an extraordinary emphasis on the time of death. The one for the Croatian novelist August Šenoa states that he died at “1/2 9 hours”.
* In 1850, when Kaptol and Gradec were united into Zagreb, the town still had only 15,000 inhabitants.
* At the time, the spring on today’s main square, Manduševac, was the center of trading in the Lower Town. In today’s Ban Jelačić Square, at that time called Harmica, the coaches were bringing post and passengers from Austria, but just like today, there were also shops and cafes.
* The new rich built their houses in the Lower Town, where chroniclers claimed “mud dried slower than in the Upper Town.” The Lower Town was full of peasants in their folk outfits during the day, and of beautiful young ladies dressed according to the latest fashions in the evening.
* In the 19th century, the Zagreb Cathedral was destroyed by an earthquake, but the portal survived. Austrian architect Hermann Bollé decided it didn’t go well with his design, so he removed it.
* I must have seen what the Zagreb Synagogue had looked like, but I forgot. The Jewish community built the temple in 1867 for worship, but also to add to the city’s beauty. And indeed, beautiful it was. The synagogue was demolished in 1941 by the Nazi-aligned regime of the Independent State of Croatia.