As to when the city was founded – we do not exactly know. We know it was a long time ago, sometime during the Middle Ages. We are also aware during industrialization in the 19th century until today, Varaždin has always been a city loved by its inhabitants, and admired by its visitors for its beauty and unique spirit. Varaždin has played many great roles during its extensive history, and its contemporary importance should not be overlooked. Varaždin is a small yet influential cultural, economic, educational and tourist centre of northwestern Croatia and one of the important urban points of the entire continental part of the country.

Varaždin

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The City of Varaždin is found in the northwestern part of Croatia. The city is at an altitude between 169 and 173 metres, with an average annual temperature of 10° C. The city lies along the Drava River on a fertile alluvial plain that slopes towards the River Drava from the southwest to the northeast. The plain slightly elevates in the Haloze region and Varaždinsko Topličko Gorje hills.


Varaždin is positioned on the crossroads of the historical regions of Styria, Međimurje, Zagorje and upper Drava Valley, without belonging to any of these regional cultural circles. Varaždin is, simply, Varaždin; a special micro-region with its own, Varaždin identity, traditions and cultural patterns.

The first mention of the City of Varaždin

The first written reference to Varaždin, its name, inhabitants and the names of Varaždin counties are revealed in the document of King Bela III issued in 1181. The city was then called Guarestin (Garestin), its inhabitants were called Guaresdienses, and the names of the prefects were Beleé and Motmir. In that document, the king adjudicates in the dispute between the Zagreb Chapter and Varaždin County Prefect Beleé over the property in the nearby thermal springs, Varaždinske Toplice.


Exactly what the city looked like at the time and how people lived here is hard to say. The city originated as a settlement of craftsmen and merchants along the medieval castrum at the crossroads of ancient Roman roads on the stretch of today’s streets Optujska, Končareva, Vrazova, Zagrebačka, Braće Radića, Franjevački trg and Kukuljevićeva street.

The Charter of 1209

Shortly after the first mention in 1181, Varaždin received another significant document – a charter granting citizens the rights of a royal free city. Varaždin therefore became the first city in continental Croatia whose citizens could choose their own ‘Rihtar’ (Judge) and were not obliged to pay taxes.


The charter was issued by the Croatian-Hungarian King Andrew II, who, in that turbulent period of Croatian and Hungarian history, was detained for some time near Varaždin, so the citizens (obviously) made his prison days somewhat easier. As a gesture of gratitude for the hospitality and support, the king granted them this right that was of crucial importance for Varaždin, and on a symbolic level, the people of Varaždin are extremely proud of that even today.

Varaždin as the capital

The status of a free royal city enabled the accelerated economic and social development of Varaždin throughout the Middle Ages. Its importance was confirmed in the middle of the 18th century, more precisely in 1756, when it became the seat of the ‘Ban’ Franjo Nadasdy, who brought together the political, economic and cultural elite of the Croatian Kingdom. This led to the decision of Empress Maria Theresa in 1767 to establish the Croatian Royal Council, i.e. the Government and to explicitly designate Varaždin as the seat of that body.


Varaždin thus became the capital of the Kingdom of Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia. Political power significantly changed the city with noble houses and palaces springing up almost overnight in the former settlement of craftsmen and merchants.

The Fire of 1776

As we know, less than ten years after obtaining its capital status, Varaždin abruptly lost it – due to tobacco.


On the 25th April 1776 fire broke out on the city’s thatched rooves, due to the negligence of a local boy who was allegedly chased by a hungry pig, with his disgarded burning tobacco falling on the hay, setting fire to homesteads. The fire rapidly spread to houses outside the city walls, as the city was engulfed as the wind carried the flames. Gunpowder concealed in the basement of a merchant’s home exploded and caused even more destruction and panic among citizens. The fire continued destroy the city until the third day, when the fire was eventually extinguished. The inferno decimated almost 80% of Varaždin’s homes and buildings.


Many abandoned Varaždin including The Ban, the Royal Council, the Parliament, nobility, numerous citizens and craftsmen, in turn ending the story of the capital for good.

Volunteer Fire Department

Fires have always been a common occurrence in this area. However, something good came out of the trauma that Varaždin experienced. Namely, in 1864, whilst extinguishing a fire in the Jesuit College, the firefighters came up with the idea to establish a fire department. The Brigade was founded in May 1864 and remains the oldest volunteer fire department in this part of Europe. The people of Varaždin eagerly joined the Brigade, which soon gathered an impressive 200 members.
The story of the history of Varaždin and Croatian firefighting is told by the unique Museum of Croatian Firefighting, which you should not miss.

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Countess Marica

The middle of the 19th century is a kind of European golden age. La Belle Époque, French for ‘Beautiful Era’, a period of peace, economic and social prosperity in Central Europe. Progress and development also manifested in culture, symbolized by merry salon parties, Viennese waltz, gramophones and newspapers, fine manners and aesthetically high criteria in all areas of human life.


Fashion, culinary and musical novelties appeared in Varaždin almost at the same time as in larger European capitals, and coffeehouses became central places for gathering and socializing. Varaždin’s main square had one such city café. Above it lived the composer Emmerich Kalman who allegedly knew a certain countess named Marica, so when the time came to write his famous operetta, he named his work after her.


Not only did he name his operetta after his Varaždin girlfriend, but he also dedicated the biggest “hit” of that work to Varaždin, the song Komm mit nach Varaždin, which was listened to, sung and performed (with different variations of lyrics depending on the occasion) in the entire Habsburg Monarchy and beyond.


A café named after the composer’s friend Countess Marica still stands today and with its decoration, as well as the offer of coffee and sweet desserts, it preserves the memory of Varaždin’s Belle Époque.

OPEN CITY

Varaždin has always been a city open to the world. Since it originated at a crossroads of ancient Roman roads, and developed into a trade and craft centre, people from all over Europe came to Varaždin to work or make it their home. This open spirit has remained in the form of a network of partner cities stepping far beyond the borders of Europe.


The Partner Cities are Auxerre (France), Bad Radkersburg (Austria), Montale (Italy), Koblenz (Germany), Ptuj (Slovenia), Ravensburg (Germany), Schaffhausen (Switzerland), Shaki City (Azerbaijan), Trnava (Slovakia) , Zalaegerszeg (Hungary) and Wuhan (China).

Did you know?

Did you know that Varaždin is the only city to have an extremely valuable lexicographical work - its own dictionary?

This is not crediting linguists, but to the great Varaždin actor Tomislav Lipljin, who, "as a true Varaždinec", constantly expressed in word and deed his love and loyalty to the local Kajkavian dialect. His “Dictionary of Varaždin Kajkavian Speech” is a rare and valuable contribution to the study of urban Kajkavian.
Did you know?

Did you know that Nikola Tesla visited Varaždin?

Tesla's uncle lived in Varaždin and Nikola was close to him. Two years after his mother's death, he finally managed to visit his uncle and stayed in Varaždin for two days, which is considered a long time, taking into account his travel habits when visiting local regions. Legend has it that while staying with his uncle, he drank the so-called noja, a wine made from a special grape variety known for its potency. He liked it so much that his favourite uncle sent regular shipments to America for the rest of his life – shipments Tesla eagerly awaited.
Did you know?

Did you know the link between Ivana Brlić Mažuranić and Varaždin?

Her grandfather from her mother's side was a pharmacist at the Franciscan Pharmacy. Instead of aspirin he accidentally gave a patient the poison strychnine – causing him to flee to Bulgaria. His daughter, Ivana Brlić Mažuranić's mother, inherited the house on Halić, a hill near Varaždin where the family spent holidays until she was 16, until the house was sold. However, Varaždin and nearby Halić remained firmly etched in Ivana's memory, as she wrote the prose text Jaga-baba na Haliču (Baba Yaga on Halic Hill), discovered in 2012.
Did you know?

How can a tailor’s apprentice turn a cemetery into a “green lobby of paradise”?

Herman Haller, the famous cemetery manager who turned Varaždin's last resting place into the wonder of urban horticulture, was actually a tailor's apprentice. As a young tailor, he travelled across Europe, but instead of cutting fabric, he ended up using his scissors to cut thuja, boxwood, magnolias and yews - making the cemetery a place where serenity resides.
Did you know?

How can one live on the island of Brač, and paint Varaždin and not the sea?

If you are Miljenko Stančić, the great painter for whom Varaždin is both "measure and pattern" – then you certainly can. Perhaps the most beautiful square in Varaždin with a magnificent view of the Old Town was named after him. Staničić was in love with the scenography of his hometown, which accompanied him wherever he went and created his art, even at sea.
Did you know?

Do you know why thujas cry in the cemetery?

The Greek god Apollo, the epitome of youth and beauty, was often accompanied by young gods. One of his closest friends was Cyparissus (a descendant of Heracles). Apollo presented Cyparissus with a magnificent stag as a sign of affection. One day Cyparissus was partaking in a hunt when he accidentally threw his javelin at the stag - killing it. Apollo turned the poor animal into a cypress (thuja) tree, a symbol of mourning, whose sap forms droplets like tears on the trunk.
Did you know?

Do you know the story of Varaždin’s Romeo and Juliet?

The Pokupić family had two sons and a beautiful daughter Anastasia. The sons were soldiers who defended Croatia from Napoleon, while Anastasia, called Stazica, played in the gardens of the Old Town. The lively girl almost drowned in the canal, but Captain Milić came to her rescue. Love blossomed between them, but, as it often goes in sad love stories, the spark was soon extinguished by a family tragedy. Anastasia's father was executed for political reasons on their wedding day. So overwhelmed by grief, she fell ill and later died. Anastasia and Milić were married on her deathbed, and following her death he lived in solitude visiting the cemetery every day – in search for her. This story was immortalized by Ksaver Šandor Gjalski in his short story Ljubav lajtnanta Milića (The Love of Lieutenant Milić).
Did you know?

Why is the balcony of Sermage Palace rounded?

Count Sermage wanted his daughter, dressed in crinolines, to stay carefree and crease free when enjoying the view of the city from the balcony. With this in mind he built the then unusual, curved balcony, which is today a distinguished decoration on the playful facade of this distinctive Varaždin palace.
Did you know?

Did you know Varaždin, although small, among its many churches and chapels (12 in total!) has as many as two with the same name?

These two churches are the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Heaven (also known as Varaždin Cathedral), and the Parish Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Biškupec. The latter was originally located in the village of Biškupec near Varaždin, but over time as Biškupec became part of the city itself – it became one of the city churches.
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