At the centre of Gradec is Markov trg (St Mark’s Square), a restrained square of golden-brown buildings which in many ways serves as Croatia’s symbolic heart. Though it’s not obvious from their modest facades, the buildings on the western side of the square include the so-called Banski dvor (Ban’s Palace), originally the seat of the Habsburg-appointed governor and now the seat of Croatia’s government, while those on the east include the Sabor (national parliament). 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 – he was seated on a throne and “crowned” with a band of red-hot iron.

St Mark’s Church

The main focus of St Mark’s 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 photographers. The emblems adorning the Croatian coat of arms (the one on the left as you face it) symbolize the three areas which originally made up the medieval kingdom: north-central Croatia is represented by the red-and-white chequerboard known as the šahovnica – a state symbol since the Middle Ages;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, Croatia’s national animal) framed by two rivers – the Sava and Drava. Originally constructed in the fourteenth century, the church has since been ravaged by earthquake, fire and nineteenth-century restorers, though some parts – including the south portal – are original. Inside, Jozo Kljaković’s frescoes portray huge, muscle-bound Croatian kings caught in dramatic mid-gesture; Ivan Meštrović’s Crucifixion is more sensitive, merging sympathetically with the rest of the church.

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