Inscription on the entrance: To the King of Ages Whom Everything Lives
Peaceful and inspiring, Mirogoj is a unique graveyard with specific artistic and architectural value and historic significance – one of the most attractive places in Zagreb! Mirogoj is the biggest achievement of Croatian sepulcher architecture and considered one of the most beautiful European cemeteries.
Maybe it is too far away from the core area of tourist attractions? Maybe it isn’t commercial enough? This is all to your benefit if you would like to go, as it will assure you a more peaceful visit without mobs of tourists.
I opted to walk there (twice, actually). Thirty minutes through shaded, leafy streets to arrive at what is said to be one of the most beautiful cemeteries in Europe. I had pre-packed a bottle of sangria and a sandwich, and on both visits, I spent hours wondering the cemetery and admiring the architecture of the buildings as well as the multitude of sculptures on some of the locally famous tombstones.
If you enjoy fantastic art with a bit of peace and quiet, and you don’t mind the company of countless silent, maudlin, and forlorn angels and cherubs, then this cemetery is for you. (What a strange sentence to write.) But it is true. After a couple of hours of strolling the grounds, I sat on the steps of one of the buildings and had some sangria with my sandwich, and continued to admire my surroundings. I had all of this amazing art around me, created and installed with the sole purpose to give comfort to the dead.
Mirogoj Cemetary was designed in 1876 by Austrian-born architect Herman Bollé, who created the most iconic buildings all around Zagreb, including both the St Mark’s Church and the Zagreb Cathedral.
Unlike the older cemeteries, which were church-owned, Mirogoj was owned by the city, and accepted burials from all religious backgrounds. You will see different areas for Christians, Jewish, and Muslims made evident by the headstones.
The story of Mirogoj cemetery actually started around 1850, when Ljudevit Gaj, a Croatian reformer, poet and Illyrian Movement leader bought a small forest and vineyard on the hill north-east of Zagreb. During the following years, Gaj bought several neighboring plots and expanded his property. He had the land leveled, filled in all the ditches and gullies and cleared the part of the vineyard and forest, had a road constructed and built a beautiful garden. This part of the land, where he spent the final years of his life, he named “Mirogoj”, after the former owner of part of the land Miroslav Herkul Mirogojski. Unfortunately, the cost of the project left Gaj in substantial debt, so it was arranged that his land should be auctioned after his death.
After Gaj’s death in 1872. the city council of Zagreb purchased the whole property on an auction, kept its name Mirogoj, and respected Gaj’s wish that gardens should be preserved. Additionally, along the roads, the city council decided to plant chestnuts, limes, maples, spruces and other kinds of trees.
The Mirogoj cemetery was officially opened on November 6th, 1876, it was divided according to religion, and to three different classes. Mirogoj was to serve as “joint cemetery”, a burial site for all regions, which was pretty advanced for the time. Each of the religions received a specific area, depending on the number of followers and each religion shared equal rights within the cemetery. Most spaces were designated for the Catholics, then for Orthodox, Jewish, Protestants, and later Muslims, and each was guaranteed “full and unlimited performance of religious burial rituals at the funeral of the deceased.”
As most everything new in Zagreb, new cemetery got its own share of debates. For some it was “inappropriate” and for others, it was “awfully distant from the town center” (Mirogoj was initially visited on foot, while those wealthy used a carriage). Both statements weren’t true and Mirogoj soon became the most beautiful cemetery in Croatia.
The first funeral was held on November 7th, 1876 and it was magnificent! Not because the deceased, the fencing instructor and gym teacher Miroslav Singer was a well-respected man, but due to the grandness of the occasion.
The Mirogoj arcades, the most recognizable part of the cemetery, were constructed according to the plans of Herman Bollé. From 1879 to 1917 he raised the North and South arcade, in 1886, built the morgue (on the spot where Gaj’s summer mansion was), and in 1920, he made plans for the central dome that would connect the arcades, but he didn’t live to see it finished. The central part of the arcades, the portal, and the chapel were completed in 1929.
The final result is beyond impressive – 500 meter long neo-renaissance arcades with 20 domes and one of the greatest projects of European historicism overall that survived the earthquake in 1880, completely intact. More than 1700 houses in Zagreb were heavily damaged, while the arcades, close to the epicenter, had any damage at all.
Mirogoj is a resting place of many famous names in Croatian history. Men and women who shaped modern Croatia, made it recognizable in the world, and left their heritage for a better tomorrow. You may recognize some of them:
Dr. Franjo Tudman (first president of Croatia), Ljudevit Gaj, Milka Trnina, Vatroslav Lisinski, Anton Gustav Matos, August Senoa, Ivan Mazuranic, Miroslav Krleza, Marija Juric Zagorka, Dusan Dzamonja, Herman Bolle, Tin Ujevic, Eduard Slavoljub Penkala, Ivana Brlić-Mazuranic, Dragutin Tadijanovic, Ante Topic Mimara, Drazen Petrovic, Ena Begovic, Edo Murtic, Vladimir Nazor and many more.
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