I think this song is also known to those who do not like this type of music. It is from the operetta by Emmerich Kálmán Countess Maritza which premiered in Vienna in February 1924 but spread very quickly all over the world, even at the Broadway. The song became a hit. Baron Zhupan invites the Countess to visit Varaždin while the roses are still blooming. It is no coincidence that he says (in the German original) that his passion burns like goulash juice and his heart is dancing a czardas… Varaždin is located in the north of Croatia, it is a short distance from Hungary and close to Slovenia as well!
The city center is a pedestrian zone. We parked the car near the hotel Turist and on the Zagrebačka street, we walked to the city. Immediately at the first major crossroad, a large building attracted our attention – the Croatian National Theater.
It was built in 1871 by the Viennese architectural studio Fellner&Helmer as one of their first theaters within the whole Austro-Hungarian monarchy. Later, they built 40 more theaters, among them Volkstheater in Vienna and also the historic building of the Slovak National Theater in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, my home country.
We were lucky, we also managed to attend a concert of the Varaždin Chamber Orchestra in the music hall. But I also had a look at the theater hall – the combination of gold decoration and red velvet reminded me of the Vienna opera houses. Next time, I should count how many theaters designed by the mentioned company I have already visited!
The very first written mention of the town (then Garestin) dates back to 1181. Less than 20 years later, Varaždin was declared a free royal city and in 1767, even became the capital of the country for the next 10 years. It was destroyed by a huge fire and so all the important institutions moved to Zagreb. However, the devastated Varaždin began to be rebuild, rich Croatian and Hungarian aristocratic families built beautiful Baroque and Rococo palaces here, which still adorn the streets. The city obtained an elegant Central European character. That it’s why many call it “Little Vienna”.
Nevertheless, you shouldn’t admire the renovated facades only. When it was possible, I peeped into the courtyards as well. At one place, I was surprised by a wild garden, and in the 16th century Mrazovic House (Franjevacki trg), I discovered a nicely arranged courtyard with a sundial and even a pillory! By the way, there are info-tables in English at all major houses.
The heart of the city is the King Tomislav’s Square (Trg Kralja Tomislava) which is dominated by the Town Hall with a high clock tower, the seat of the zhupan (not the one from the operetta!). There were few tourists here, local people enjoyed the calm atmosphere of a June Sunday morning.
The most striking building besides the Town Hall is Draškovič palace, built in Rococo style in the second half of the 18th century. In 1756, the Austrian field marshal Franz (Franjo) Leopold von Nádasdy moved here. After receiving the title „Ban of Croatia“, he chose Varaždin for his seat and thus also the capital of the country – until the great fire in 1776.
We also wanted to see the nearby Cathedral of St Mary to Heaven Ascended. However, it was closed so we could only admire the rich reliefs on the entrance gate and the Baroque portal with the coat of arms of Gašpar Draškovič. It was his initiative to build this cathedral in the 17th century.
We turned and walked in the opposite direction to the Franciscan Church of St John the Baptist built on the site of a medieval church of Knights Hospitallers.
In front of the church, there is a statue of Grgur Ninsky (Gregory of Nin), the bishop who is said to have introduced the national language in the religious services instead of Latin. The sculpture was made by Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrovič. If you have ever been to Split, you have certainly seen a similar but bigger and more monumental statue of this bishop by the same artist. Here, too, in Varaždin, Grgur has a polished shiny toe on his left foot since it is touched by passers-by in the belief this will bring them good luck. They are not discouraged of doing that even by the not very friendly expression on the bishop’s face.
The church has the highest tower in Varaždin – 54.5 m. Interestingly, there is also a tower on the coat of arms of the city but no one can tell where exactly it used to stand.
This is a crinoline of love. It should remind of the story of the great love of lieutenant Milic and his Stazika which was immortalized by the Croatian writer Ksaver Shandor Gyalski in his novel.
And perhaps it is also a memory of the times when tailor’s and weaver’s guilds were successfully expanding in Varaždin. In 1918, the first textile factory was established here, the predecessor of Varteks, the largest textile manufacturer (10,000 employees) and exporter in former Yugoslavia.
Varaždin is also known as the City of Angels. These smiling chubby figures with small wings are on several Baroque facades, but a large flock (is this word used for angles as well?) can be found in a gap between the walls of two houses. The place is well marked with an arrow and cannot be overlooked.
There are several museums in the city. We chose the Museum of Insects – an entomological collection in the Herzer Palace which was collected and later donated to the city by a local teacher, Profesor Franjo Koščec. In addition to many bugs and butterflies, there is also a replica of his study.
The Ursuline sisters came to Varaždin in 1703 from Bratislava. Again, it was thanks to the initiative of the significant Croatian aristocratic family of Draškovič. The nuns founded a monastery, the Church of Christ’s birth and a girls’ school. The church is painted in pink and with white hemming, it resembles a sweet cake. 300 years ago, however, no one would have wondered, since pink was the colour of Baroque.
The small square in front of the church is the center of traditional crafts, but on Sunday no one worked, no one hammered here. Two girls took a few selfies on a large wooden throne and at least for a moment, they felt like queens in a former royal town.
We continued along to the most famous sight of the city. It is the Gothic-Renaissance castle complex Stari grad, the seat of the feudal administration built between the 14th and 19th centuries. The fortress is situated in an English park surrounded by massive moats. It was here, where once, the beautiful Anastazija fell into the water and was saved by lieutenant Milic. They fell in love with each other but on the wedding day, Stazika died…
Subsequent owners – counts of the Erdödy family, had some parts of the castle rebuilt in the Baroque style. In 1923, the building was bought by the city and almost a thousand objects from the depositories of the city museum were exhibited here. Today, you can admire a collection of old clocks but also rooms furnished with furniture from different historical periods, as well as glass, ceramics, paintings, targets and other old objects here. It is a pity that there is only minimal information in English.
While male visitors can have a look at the collection of weapons, the female eye will enjoy the fashion exposition. The exhibited clothing maps the history of clothing and fashion accessories. I liked this fan of the Slav Ball in Vienna in 1861.
You can walk around the castle, it is a very pleasant walk. The fortress is divided into several wings, it looks different from each side, in fact, it is an architectural museum itself.
At the end, we walked through the watchtower with a gallery inside and came back to the city, to the Miljenko Stančič Trg (Square). Here you have several possibilities how to spend your time in this charming city: to get some fresh drinking water from a well, go to the tourist information center (but not on Sundays!), visit the Gallery of Old and Modern Masters in the spectacular Sermage Palace or just sit, enjoy a cup of coffee (our choice!), watch the people around and drink in the scent of this place…
…and then to go to the Museum of Angels. It is easy to find – angels are hanging on the facade and there is a chair with large white wings as a backdrop for a selfie.
The initiator of the museum is the Croatian artist Željko Prstec who has been devoted to this topic for almost 30 years. During this time, the angels had become to him what apples are to Cezanne and ballerinas are to Degas. His angels are cute, have lovely faces, hold a lyre or trumpet in their hands and float over various historical corners and sights of the city.
The museum has been a must-see stop for angelic fans since 2011. It contains not only Prstec’ paintings but also a collection of more than 400 figures of angels made of various materials brought or sent by people from all over the world. Of course, I also looked into the adjoining courtyard. Figures of nice angles were flying here as well.
The only landmark that is outside the city center, so you have to move there by car, is a cemetery, designed as a park. In the stalls near the entrance, they sell burners carefully wrapped in cellophane as a gift with a large black or purple ribbon. The ivy-covered monuments look like huge green ghosts from here.
The rich Varaždin families lived in splendid palaces and rested in luxurious tombs. However, there are also memorials of the victims of both world wars as well as the war in the 1990s.
I was really enchanted by Varaždin. I am not surprised anymore that Baron Zhupan insisted that Countess Maritza should go with him to this town. Roses and love bloom here even today…
And what reminds of a famous operetta? There is a coffee house named after Countess Maritza on King Tomislav’s main square. But I was disappointed, a cake of the same name is not available every day. So instead I had a Varaždin klipič – a bread roll that has been an essential part of the local cuisine for over 200 years. You can even find it as a street art motif at one of the Varaždin streets.
And where you can find good food in Varaždin? I recommend the restaurant Domenico (Trg Slobode 9), a small pizzeria hidden in a side street, with Croatian, Italian and Mediterranean cuisine and reasonable prices. And as a bonus – the view of the beautiful park of Vatroslav Jagič from its terrace.
If you have the time, take a walk along the banks of the River Drava (near the local sports center), especially in the evening it is a romantic walk, you can watch fishermen or feed swans. And there is also a swimming pool.
And how did I get to Varaždin? By bus from Vienna! It took about 5 hours. You can search for the connection: here
Museum of Angels – in Croatian, but in the museum, they also have some information in English
So do not forget:
Come with me to Varaždin
While the roses are still in bloom
There we could be happy
We both, all alone!
Text: © Copyright Ingrid, Travelpotpourri
Fotos: © Copyright Ingrid, Travelpotpourri