Despite evidence of Iron Age settlements on top of Gradec hill, the history of Zagreb doesn't really start until 1094, when Ladislas I of Hungary established a bishopric here in order to bring the northern Croatian lands under tighter Hungarian control.
A large ecclesiastical community grew up around the cathedral and its girdle of episcopal buildings on Kaptol (which roughly translates as "cathedral chapter"), while the Hungarian crown retained a garrison opposite on Gradec. Both were significantly damaged during the Mongol incursions of 1240-42, prompting King Bela IV of Hungary to rebuild the settlement on Gradec and accord it the status of a royal free town in order to attract settlers and regenerate urban life. The settlements prospered from their position on the trade routes linking Hungary to the Adriatic, despite the growing Ottoman threat that began to emerge in the fifteenth century.
By the sixteenth century the name Zagreb (meaning, literally, "behind the
58 hill" – a reference to the town's position at the foot of Mount Medvednica) was being used to describe both Kaptol and Gradec, although the two communities rarely got orr – control of the watermills on the river dividing them was a con- scant source of enmity. The biggest outbreak of intercommunal fighting occurred in 1527, when the throne of Croatia was disputed by the Habsburg emperor Ferdinand II (supported by Gradec) and the Hungarian noble Ivan Zapolyai (supported by Kaptol), a conflict which culminated in the sacking of Kaptol by Habsburg troops. With the Turks in control of much of Slavonia and the Adriatic hinterland, and the Venetians pre-eminent on the coast, by the late 1500s the Croatian lands had been reduced to a northern enclave with Zagreb at its centre. Because of Zagreb's growing importance as a centre of political power, the separate identities of Kaptol and Gradec began to disappear. The Croatian parliament, the Sabor, usually met here from the sixteenth century onwards, and Croatia's governor, the Ban, resided here more or less permanently after 1621.
Much of what remained of Croatia was reorganized as the Military Frontier - a belt of territory running around the Habsburg Empire's border with Ottoman-controlled Bosnia - and taken away from the Sabor's control; with real political power concentrated inVienna and Budapest, Zagreb increasingly became a provincial outpost of the Habsburg Empire. The Sabor was moved toVaraMin in the mid-eighteenth century, and Zagreb may well have lost its pre-eminence in Croatian affairs permanently had VaraMin not been almost totally destroyed by fire in 1776. It wasn't until the mid-nineteenth century that the growth of a Croatian national consciousness confirmed Zagreb's status as guardian of national culture.The establishment of an academy of arts and sciences (1866), a philharmonic orchestra (1871), a university (1874) and a national theatre (1890) gave Zagreb a growing sense of cultural identity, although ironically it was an Austrian, the architect Hermann Bolle (1845-1926), creator of the School ofArts and Crafts, Mirogoj Cemetery and Zagreb Cathedral, who contributed most to the city's new profile.
With the creation of Yugoslavia in 1918, political power shifted from Vienna to Belgrade - a city which most Croats considered an underdeveloped Balkan backwater. Things improved marginally after World War 11, when Croatia was given the status of a socialist republic and Zagreb became the seat of its government, but the city still resented the extent to which it was overshadowed by Belgrade. A major period of architectural change came in the 1950s and 1960s, when visionary mayor Večeslav Holjevac presided over the city's southward expansion, and the vast concrete residential complexes of Novi Zagreb were born.
Zagreb survived the collapse of Yugoslavia relatively unscathed - despite the rocket attack on President Franjo Tudman's offices on Gradec in October 1991 - although there's little doubt that the long-term effects of war, economic stagnation and post-communist corruption have left their mark. Politically, Zagreb entered the 1990s as a stronghold of the HDZ, but drifted towards the opposition (as did most of urban Croatia) as the decade wore on. A coalition of antiTudman parties thought that they'd won city elections in 1997, only forTudman to block the appointment of a mayor until sufficient numbers of city councillors could be cajoled into voting for the HDZ candidate.With the city deprived of a convincing political life during the Tudman era, symbols of civic pride tended to lie outside the realms of "official" culture. Prime among these were the Bad Blue Boys, the supporters of football team Dinamo Zagreb having boycotted their team's matches after the politically motivated decision to change the club's name to "Croatia Zagreb", these fans still enjoy the respect of people who have never followed the sport in their lives. Much the same could be said of popular local radio station Radio 101, whose brash style and anti-establishment stance made it a thorn in the side of successive regimes. Radio 101's moment of glory came in November 1996 when, in a clumsy attempt to extend government control over the media, they were denied a licence to broadcast.Ten thousand people staged an impromptu protest in central Zagreb that very night, and the following evening saw a 120,000-strong rally of support.The government backed down and gave Radio 101 a new lease of life, eventually awarding it another franchise in November 1997.
Since the death of President Tuđman in December 1999, political passions have become far less important in shaping the city's identity. With Croatia speedily rebuilding its commercial links with the rest of Europe, the capital's citizens are more interested in business than ideology, and have clearly benefited from economic change more than anyone else in the country – a fact which has given Zagreb a stylish, prosperous and optimistic sheen.