altIt's a short walk north up Cirilometodska to the heart of Grades, Markov trg, a restrained square of golden-brown buildings which serves as the symbolic heart of Croatia.Though it's not obvious from their modest facades,

the buildings on the western side of the square house the Croatian cabinet offices, while those on the east include the Sabor (national parliament) and the so-called Banski dvor (Ban's Palace), originally the seat of the Habsburg-appointed governor and now used by the Croatian president for formal receptions. Markov trg has always been an important focus of government ceremonial: rulers of Croatia were sworn in here from the mid-sixteenth century onwards, a tradition renewed by President Tuđman in the 1990s, while in 1573 peasant leader Matija Gubec was executed here in a parody of such ceremonies by being seated on a throne and "crowned" with a band of white-hot steel. Nowadays, however, you're unlikely to come across any signs of political activity aside from the occasional purr of a ministerial Mercedes or the furtive glances of sharp-suited security men.The main focus of the square is the squat St Mark's Church (Crkva svetog Marka), a much-renovated structure whose multicoloured tiled roof displays the coats of arms of Zagreb and Croatia to the sky – and, it would seem from opening any book on Zagreb, dozens of photographer

The emblems adorning the Croatian coat of arms (the one on the left as you face it) symbolize the three areas which originally made up the medieval kingdom: north-central Croatia is represented by the red-and-white chequerboard known as the .Šahovnica – a state symbol since the Middle Ages; Dalmatia by three lions' heads; and Slavonia by a running beast (the Kuna, or marten, Croata's national animal) framed by two rivers .  Sava and Drava. The church itself is a homely Gothic building, originally constructed in the fourteenth century but ravaged since by earthquake, fire and nineteenth-century restorers - though some parts. including the south portal, are original. The Baroque bell tower was added in the seventeenth century, while the interior decorations, by the painter Jole Kljakovic and the sculptor Ivan Megtrović, date from the 1930s.

Kljakovic frescoes are imposing but rigid, portraying huge, muscle-bound Croatian king caught in dramatic mid-gesture; Meštrovic's Crucifixion is more sensitive, merging sympathetically with the rest of the church.Slightly downhill to the west of Markov trg at Matoševa 9, the Croatian Historical Museum (Hrvatski povijesni muzej; Mon-Fri 10am-5pm, Sat & Sun 10am-lpm; www.hismus.hr), in one of the more crumbly of Gradec': Baroque mansions, houses prestigious temporary exhibitions relating to Croatian history. A few steps to the north at Demetrova 1, the Natural History Museum (Hrvatski prirodoslovni muzej; Tues-Fri I 0am-5pm, Sat & Sun 10am-lpm; www.hpm.hr) is remarkable as much for the style of the display as for the exhibits themselves, with objects laid out in a succession of old-fashioned cabinets that haven't been significantly reorganized in over half a century. The history of the world's fauna on the second floor is particularly atmospheric, with visitors proceeding through a narrow corridor lined with corals, skeletons and creatures in bottles. There's an impressive range of stuffed mammals at the end - although pride of place goes to the eight-metrelong basking shark caught in the north Adriatic in 1934.


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