Untold Stories

Mysterious World of Zagreb Legends

Sunny days and the enchanting fragrance of tree blossoms give us a spirit-lifting sense of joy these days. No matter how good Zagreb looks in the Sun, don't be fooled by its inviting face. As soon as the night falls, mysterious tales from the times long past lurk from the shadows.

The most vicious creature of the old Zagreb legends, and my personal favorite one, is Crna kraljica (the Black Queen). The intimidating woman in black used to rule Medvedgrad fortress in the woods above Zagreb. She used to terrorize the entire area. Her majestic ravens attacked her peasants and pecked them until they lost consciousness! When she would get enough of her lovers, she used to throw them from the top of the towers! She lived in those woods surrounded by her wild animals. Eventually, she had even made a pact with the devil and then broke her promise. As a punishment, she got cursed and turned into a serpent. She is probably still somewhere in her secret tunnels between her fortress and the St Mark's church in Zagreb, wrapped around her pile of treasure.

Foto caption: Does the Black Queen still appear on the forest trails of Zagreb after dark?

Did I say that the Black Queen story was my favorite legend of Zagreb? I might be having second thoughts. I love the story about the sleeping dragon of Zagreb just as much. Last year, an earthquake happened in Zagreb. Luckily enough, that wasn't the strongest one in history. The strongest one happened in 1880. Back then, the residents started spreading superstitious tales about a gigantic green dragon. The dragon sleeps under the city with his head under the old town, near the cathedral. His tail is far away in the Eastern part of the city. When the dragon wakes up, the ground shakes. This is not the only story about dragons from the city's past. In fact, don't be surprised to hear similar stories throughout Croatia. It makes me wonder... were those really just superstitious rumors? Or is the sleeping dragon of Zagreb still there?

Foto caption: This secret door belongs to the Archives where they keep some historical documents related to witch trials.

I can't talk about Zagreb legends without mentioning Grička vještica (the witch of Grič). In her magical dance between imagination, historical facts, and fiction, the witch of Grič has become one of the symbols of Zagreb thanks to the novel of the same name by the great Marija Jurić Zagorka. The novel has impressed this witch character deep into the subconsciousness of our city and its residents. It was inspired by the local history of the notorious witch hunts. That part of history tells us a lot about incredible superstitions that possessed Zagreb's inhabitants back in the 18th century and resulted in the death of many women accused of being witches. Therefore, don't be surprised if you visit Zagreb and notice quite a few souvenirs and tourism products inspired by witches. The Witch of Grič has been an inseparable part of the city's identity for decades. It still inspires us and a lot of us have the desire to present it to our visitors.

Foto caption: Empty streets of the old town at night echo with the mysterious tales of old.

As if life in the past times wasn't bad enough! All those creatures made it even more difficult. Dragons and mighty sorceresses are only a little part of the mysterious world of local folk legends. Even if they are hiding from daylight and Sun rays, they will still gladly show up in our minds at night, spark our imagination, and help us understand the rich folk imaginary of this city and its turbulent past.

I now realize that I started this article all wrong. It's not just the daytime that makes this town so inviting. When I think about it, the mysterious face of Zagreb after dark makes the city even more so. Zagreb is a chatty welcoming friend during the day and a quiet stranger with pockets full of secrets at night. I can't decide which face do I love more. How about you?

Image credit: Iva Silla

Author: Iva Silla