Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

While many European cities decorate their squares and boulevards with statues of kings and generals in heroic poses, Zagreb takes a different tack. The Croatian capital gives its prime spots to poets, philosophers and novelists. Rudolf Abraham takes us on a tour of Zagreb's literary ghosts.

article summary —

Seated on a worn and silvery metal bench, on a quiet tree-lined terrace in Zagreb’s Gornji grad (Upper Town), a lone figure gazes out over the red-tiled roofs and Secessionist facades of the city below. He sits, evidently lost in thought, his arms flung languidly across the back of the bench. The man is seemingly quite untroubled by the traces of graffiti on his chest and legs. Sometimes a passer-by joins him on his bench, perhaps leaning against him or slinging an arm loosely around his silvery neck, and on such occasions it is not always entirely clear who is keeping whom company.

The figure is Antun Gustav Matos (1873- 1914), poet, critic, journalist and essayist, writer of short stories as well as travelogues and one of the most celebrated figures in Croatian literature. He is to be found on his regular bench throughout the year, lightly dusted with snow on a cold winter’s morning, silhouetted against the warm golden light of a summer evening. The statue is arguably one of the most beloved in a city rich in outdoor sculpture. It is not just by chance that we find him here, though his final resting place is in the great cemetery at Mirogoj. Matos was especially fond of this spot on Strossmayerovo setaliste (Strossmayer’s Walk), writing in 1909 that "there is a bench, from where Zagreb is most beautiful in its autumnal days".

The statue is the work of Croatian sculptor Ivan Kožari?. And it is just one of the many sculptural works which grace Zagreb’s public spaces — from street corners to squares, gardens and fountains. Often standing at street level rather than raised on a plinth, they seem — despite their silence — to interact with the everyday life of the city, as if they are somehow still very much part of Zagreb today.

What is remarkable about these statues is the high proportion of literary figures and intellectuals. Most European capitals celebrate their rulers, soldiers and kings. Zagreb takes a different tack.

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Rudolf Abraham is an award-winning travel writer and photographer specialising in Central and Eastern Europe – in particular Croatia, Slovenia, Austria and Montenegro. He is the author of a dozen books including Peaks of the Balkans, The Mountains of Montenegro, Walking in the Salzkammergut, Walks and Treks in Croatia, Torres del Paine and The Islands of Croatia, all published by Cicerone, National Geographic Traveller Croatia, and The Alpe Adria Trail, published by Bradt. He is co-author of Istria - The Bradt Travel Guide and has contributed to many more books including DK Eyewitness Slovenia and Unforgettable Journeys. His work is published widely in magazines.

Rudolf lives in London, and is a member of the British Guild of Travel Writers. Find out more about his work at Rudolf Abraham Photography, or visit Rudolf Abraham | Travel Writer. You can also find him on Instagram at rudolfphoto.

This article was published in hidden europe 28.