As The Royal Park Kensington Gardens is to London, Tuileries Garden to Paris, Tiergarten to Berlin, Laxenburg to Vienna – so is Maksimir Park to Zagreb. For 220 years, generations of Zagreb’s citizens, from their first baby steps to retirement, find their joy, peace and rest in a big city park – Maksimir. It used to be a big park forest at the outskirts of the city that merged with the slopes of Medvednica and fields on the east and north and today this park is a constituent part of Zagreb City. Maksimir is the first and the oldest public park in southeast Europe. It had been founded by the Bishop of Zagreb Maksimilijan Vrhovac in 1794. He could not complete the renovation of the park due to the dramatic developments of that time. He was accused by the Viennese court of conspiracy against the monarchy, since the park had been decorated in French style and they claimed that he was Jacobin, mason and atheist. This is why the park had been named Maksimilijan’s peace (cro. mir) – Maksimir.
Master peace of garden art
The golden age of Maksimir started with the first Zagreb’s Archbishop and Cardinal, benefactor and patriot Juraj Haulik. His efforts made the park a master-piece of garden art with features of a romantic English landscape garden. Haulik commissioned the top European masters of that time: architect Franz Schücht, constructor Leopold Philipp, sculptor Josip Kressmann and stained glass artist Anton Kothgasser. All of them were called in from Laxenburg in Vienna and were led by gardener Franjo Serafin Korbler.
Large areas were cleared, meadows, roads, paths, streams, lakes and bridges were made, the main entrance was built as well as the Gazebo, Swiss house, Bishop Haulik’s Villa, Gatekeeper’s cabin, Peaceful and Birch cottages, Echo and Bellevue pavilions, Lantern and Public temples and Umbrella and Glorieta pavilions. The statues of Reaper woman, Group of children and Fisherman as well as a sculpture by the Viennese master Anton Dominic Fernkorn – St. George kills the Dragon were put up. Opposite the main entrance a restaurant was built, and in the park there was a brewery. Rowing boats, sailboat, even a steamboat sailed in the lakes. The economic facilities included silk factory, dairy, beehive, orchard, hen-house, pheasant and deer farm and a pond for breeding leeches in medical purposes. The Chapel of St. George was built and this is where Haulik wanted his final resting place to be. Park got a new name. At the time, it was called by his creator – Jurjevac and Jurjaves.
Labor Day celebrations
Still, Juraj Haulik was buried in Zagreb Cathedral and the park was taken over by new masters and the troubled age to come. Many of the sights from Haulik’s time are gone, but new ones were created. To the east the Faculty of Agronomy and its farms were built. In 1925 Park got a ZOO. Of all the statues only the Fisherman remained, while St. George had been moved into the city, at the Croatian National Theatre building. In the middle of the park a stage was built and the first Labor Day celebration was held the same year as elsewhere in the world – the Croatian National Theatre performed “Dubravka” by Gundulić and “Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Shakespeare. Labor Day celebrations have become a tradition. In 1925 Maksimir Mogila was built where the former Umbrella pavilion used to be, in memory of a thousand years of the Croatian kingdom. It was designed by Zagreb architect Alexandar Freudenreich and a mound was constructed with lumps of soil from 155 Croatian historical locations: the fields where the first Croatian king Tomislav had been crowned, Gubec’s lime-tree in Gornja Stubica, the Old Zrinjski Town in Čakovec, Strossmayer’s birthplace in Osijek and Gvozd where the last Croatian king had died…
Haulik’s Gazebo, Swiss House, Echo pavilion, Gatekeeper’s cabin, the Chapel of St. George, broad meadows and wide open spaces, lakes, bridges, shady paths, forest tracks and pathways still remain in the park. There is also an obelisk – the Archbishop Haulik had it placed in what was then the Valley of Dahlias when the construction of park Maksimir had been completed. On a brass plate Haulik’s dedication was written in Latin:
For the worthy with hard working hands,
To raise the craft of citizens,
To promote fairer gardening,
To honor the capital,
And make the country proud,
And for those tired from work,
Sad or depressed,
May the innocent joys of nature
Refreshed and uplift them.
Maksimir is still a pleasant place for walking, sitting on a bench, enjoying green surroundings and birds singing, playing and taking the first student’s lesson in nature or for a visit to a ZOO where about one thousand animals and 200 species from all over the world reside. In respect to Maksimir Park Zagreb has been in Europe for centuries. As the Royal Park Kensington Gardens is to London, Tuileries garden to Paris, Tiergarten to Berlin, Laxenburg to Vienna – so is Maksimir Park to Zagreb.
Written by: Mladen Gerovac Photographer: Hugo Blai