A broad, flagstoned expanse flanked by cafés 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’ll want to see. It’s also the biggest tram stop in Zagreb, standing at the intersection of seven cross-town routes, and the place where half the city seems to meet in the evening – either beneath the ugly clock mounted on metal stilts on the western side of the square, or right on the corner of the square and Gajeva (a corner colloquially known as “Krleža” after the bookshop that once stood here).
At the square’s centre is 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 Jelačić 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 dismantled on the night of July 25, 1947. Its constituent parts were stored away in a basement until 1990, when it was restored to its rightful place – although the statue now faces in a different direction to that intended. Originally positioned with Jelačić’s drawn sabre pointing north (a gesture of defiance to the Austro-Hungarian imperial order), it now points southwards, as if to emphasize the historic rupture between Croatia and her Balkan neighbours.