Cemeteries are not only the setting of a horror movie, but can actually be a tourist attraction. And by tourists, we don’t necessarily mean of gothic-rock fans. By all means, if you are interested in history, architecture or nice scenery, Mirogoj is a good place to go. Especially if you belong to that “I-don’t-mind-visiting-a-cemetery” group of tourists.
What Père Lachaise is to Paris, Mirogoj is to Zagreb. A main cemetery where many important citizens lie in their eternal peace, together with untold hundreds of common folk from Zagreb. But Mirogoj is more then that. Its arcades, pavilions and tombs are like monuments to architecture, and make it an open-air art gallery. Its natural beauty also stays in the memory, as well as the history whispering from every corner of its huge stone walls. But let’s start from the beginning.
History and Art
Even at its very beginning, Mirogoj couldn’t have started without a historical figure. In this case, it was Ljudevit Gaj, a very influential linguist and journalist who lived in the 19th century. He was the leader of the so-called Illyrian Movement, which greatly developed Croatian literature and political maturity. He owned a mansion beneath Medvednica Mountain (a place where many legends and myths are waiting to be discovered). After his death, Zagreb rulers bought his estate in order to build a massive cemetery there.
The task of designing it was given to Austrian architect Hermann Bollé. He opted to surround the actual graves with arcades and pavilions. He also imagined Mirogoj’s ground plan as a reflection of 19th century Zagreb downtown, creating a “Town of the Dead”.
This sounded like a good idea, and work began in 1879. Five years later, Bollé was asked to design a morgue for Mirogoj. Two decades after that, he had to lay plans for constructing the chapel of Christ the King, the very heart of the entire cemetery.
Bollé’s Mirogoj was finished in 1929, as the last of his ideas left the drawing board and became architectural reality. Its construction took half of the century to finish. That is not a small wonder, as its very entrance, interwoven with climbing plants, looks like a citadel welcoming those who enter.
Additional work followed, of course, peaking with the construction of crematorium (the work of architects Hrzic, Krznaric and Mance) in 1984.
Many other artists gave their touch to Mirogoj’s looks. A walk through the cemetery’s lanes will lead you to sculptures by Ivan Mestrovic, Antun Augustincic, Dusan Damonja and Edo Murtic. Most of them were buried on Mirogoj as well. Which leads us to the next chapter in our story.
Artists and Politicians
It was a fair decision to bury Hermann Bollé on Mirogoj. After all, he designed the whole place. But apart from him, many other notable individuals found rest there. Here are some of them.
Marija Juric Zagorka
A distinctive Croatian female writer, Zagorka’s historical novels made her a celebrity in her own time. Her monument can be seen in popular Tkalciceva street.
A well-known Croatian playwright and writer. His works are often staged even in the western world.
A professional basketball player who entered the American NBA League in 1989. He played for the Portland Trail Blazers and New Jersey Nets.
The first president of Croatia, Tudman played a leading role in the creation of Croatia as an independent state.
Croatian painter and graphic designer, known for his theatre scenographies.
Another man of the theater, Gavella founded the Croatian Academy of Dramatic Arts, and contributed to Croatian acting theory with his written works.
How to reach Mirogoj?
If you don’t feel like going by mass transit, taking a cab can be a good idea. Otherwise, reach Zagreb’s Cathedral and you will find a bus station (it is outdoors, so don’t expect a building). There, take a 106 or 226 until you arrive. Also, if you wish to see Mirogoj in its full glory, visit around All Saints’ Day (1st November). This is because people in Zagreb visittheir family graves on that date, decorating them with flowers and candles.
To conclude, Mirogoj is a weird place. On the one hand, it is quiet and peaceful. On the other, it is artistic and monumental- just like every city, including that of the deceased, should be. Come and see it for yourself.