On the southern slope of Medvednica, at the top of the hill Mali Plazur, nests a picturesque medieval castle which has been watching over Zagreb for eight centuries.
It was built in 1254, after the catastrophic invasion of Tartars who had raided and devastated this area, burning and razing to the ground the two settlements now included in Zagreb: the burgher’s Gradec and the bishop’s Kaptol. Although built in order to protect the burghers, the bishop and the ecclesiastical treasure, castle Medvedgrad commanded such a perfect strategic site that it was perpetually in the centre of proprietary and political turmoil. In its history it changed many lords, either winning or losing it through marriage, purchase and sale, intrigue or even plotting. Even though magnificently fortified and always ready for battle, Medvedgrad was never attacked. On the contrary, the lords of Medvedgrad often filled their coffers and storehouses by plundering neighboring villages, and sometimes even, either by political or armed force, reached after Zagreb itself. The most notorious of them were the counts of Celje, who in the mid-15th century terrorized the town to such extent that many townspeople of Gradec had to flee from their homes. Even today the scary stories about the countess Barbara of Celje – the ill famed Black Queen – circulate about the villages at the foot of the mountain.
Medvedgrad was abandoned in 1590, after the fortress was devastated by a terrible earthquake, and its last lords moved to their much more modern and comfortable manor in Šestine.
Since then the castle at the top of the hill has been left to decay. It was visited only by adventurers and treasure hunters, searching for the treasure which, according to lore, was hidden there by the Black Queen.
The systematic archaeological research had started only in 1979, and since then the walls have been conserved and some parts of this best preserved Croatian medieval castle have been reconstructed. Thus from the ruins emerged again the octagonal chapel of St. Philip and Jacob, the south defensive tower, the residential palace and some other parts of the ancient fortress.
In 1994 a monument named the Homeland Altar, work of sculptor Kuzma Kovačić, was erected under the southern tower, burning an eternal flame in the honor of all Croatian heroes.
Nowdays the visitors of Medvedgrad can explore this ancient castle on their own or with a guide, and elucidate the “dark” Middle Ages. They can find a souvenir of their visit in our little souvenir shop in the Great Palace.
In the near future the construction of a visitor centre is being planned, which will bring a new life to this picturesque medieval castle on the mountain.