altA broad, flagstoned expanse flanked by cafes and hectic with the whizz of trams and hurrying pedestrians, Trg bana Jelačića ("Governor Jelačić Square") is as good a place as any to start exploring the city, and is within easy walking distance of more or less everything you're likely to want to see. It's also the biggest tram stop in the city, standing at the intersection of seven cross-town routes and the place where half the city seems to meet in the evening – either beneat the tall clock on the western side of the square, or at the Znanje bookshop (colloquially known as "Krleža" after Croatia's greatest twentieth-century writer, Miroslav Krleža) on the corner of the square and Gajeva. In recent years the square has occasionally provided the venue for mass outbreaks of Croatian solidarity, most notably on February 25,2002, when thousands assembled here to greet downhill phenomenon Janica Kostelić, who had returned from the Winter Olympics at Salt Lake City with a record haul of medals – three gold and one silver – to her credit.

Originally a vast open space known as "Harmica" due to its use as a collection point for local taxes (after the Hungarian word harmincad, meaning a thirtieth), Trg bana Jelačića was laid out as the city's main square in the 1850s and has been Zagreb's focal point ever since.The elegant pastel blues and pinks of its surrounding buildings provide a suitable backdrop for the attention-hogging equestrian statue of the nineteenth-century Ban of Croatia Josip, Jelačić, completed in 1866 by the Viennese sculptor Fernkorn just as the Habsburg authorities were beginning to erode the semi-autonomy which Jela6ic had won for the nation. The square was renamed Trg republike in 1945 and the statue – considered a potential rallying point for Croatian nationalism – was concealed behind a wooden shell covered with communist propaganda slogans. Party agitators finally dismantled the statue on the night of July 25, 1947, although its constituent parts were saved from destruction by a local museum curator, who stored them in a basement of the Yugoslav (now Croatian) Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1990 the square was renamed Trg bana Jelačić and Jelačić restored to his rightful place, although his statue now faces a different way. In the 1860s it was positioned with Jelacic's drawn sabre pointing eastwards, indicating the direction in which Croatia's then enemies –the Hungarians – were to be found. Now it points southwards, as if to emphasize the historic rupture between Croatia and her Balkan neighbours. On the eastern side of the statue is the Manduievac, a small, stepped depression –named after a stream which used to run through the area – concealing a modest fountain, built in 1987, when the whole square was repaved in preparation for Zagreb's hosting of the World Student Games.

West of Trg bana Jelačića, trams rumble along Ilica, the city's main shopping street, which runs below Grades hill. South of the square is the popular modern pedestrianized area around Gajeva, where the glass facade of the Dubrovnik hotel serves as a futuristic backdrop for passing shoppers or the drinkers seated outside Charlie Brown's, the cafe where most of the city's political elite seem to gether for conspiratorial chin-wagging on Saturday and Sunday lunchtimes – even in winter, Zagreb's movers and shakers would rather freeze to death drinking coffee outside Charlie's than risk not being seen. A sharp right here leads into Bogovičeva, a promenading area full of cafes and shops which culminates in Preradovičev trg, a lively square known for its cinemas and pavement cafes. It's still referred to by most locals as Cvjetni trg ("Flower Square") after the flower market which used to be held here unlltil the area was cleaned up in the 1980s – a few sanitized florists' pavilions stisurvive. Watching over the scene is Ivan Rendi6s 1895 statue of Petar Preradović (1818-72), an ethnic Serb from Bjelovar in eastern Croatia who served as a general in the Austro-Hungarian army and wrote romantic poetry which, although it's no longer widely read, contributed to the development of an evolving Croatian literary language. Behind the statue rises the grey form of the Serbian Orthodox Church (Pravoslavna crkva), an unassuming nineteenth-century building whose icon-filled interior, rich with candles and the smell of incense, is worth a quick peek.


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