Zagreb feels very European in a way that makes me think of Vienna and Prague, though I’ve never been to either. It does make me want to visit there as well. This totally makes sense if you look at the growth of the city and the influences on it’s architecture. Sarajevo has three distinct architectural phases – Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, and Yugoslav (think communist-era utilitarian), expanding outward from the city center. Only a few hours further north, in Zagreb, by way of contrast, there is little Ottoman influence to be seen. The Austro-Hungarian influence, however, is vast. What a difference geography makes.
The Cathedral in Zagreb is magnificent. (Most Croats are Catholic). It made me think of my thrill in visiting the National Cathedral in DC my senior year in high school, while I was studying art history. “Look, Ma – flying buttresses!! How cool!”. So back to Zagreb, the Cathedral is artistically and architecturally gorgeous, and very different in style to the few others I’ve visited -- e.g. the Cathedral in Mexico City which is Mexican baroque with a vengeance (this is not meant as a criticism, I have a very soft spot for the place), very different from the more subtle dynamic at play here. (I don't have pictures that could do any of the above mentioned Cathedral's justice, but do a quick google search if you're interested to get a sense.) One of the things I love about visiting cathedrals is experiencing another culture putting its best foot forward – this is the way it wants to see itself. The other thing I love about it is something that is both intentional and unintentional at the same time. From my perspective, a great Cathedral is truly awe-inspiring, as it was designed to be, but for me the awe has a more human than divine focus. Look what beautiful works mankind can do when energy and talent are put towards building something lofty!
Along the same lines, I have also visited several art museums while in Zagreb. It’s a great city for art galleries as there are many – private collections and public, including collected works from Europe and around the world and local artists. Today I visited Meštrović Atelier, the home and gallery of Croatia’s most famous native sculptor Ivan Meštrović, and it was very much worth while. I can appreciate Greco-Roman sculpture in theory -- it is designed to be aesthetically pleasing --, but it is not very interesting. The people often seem very reserved. Meštrović's sculptures are perhaps less perfectionist of the human form, but more emotional, and I found some of them to be quite compelling, and almost all of them to be interesting.