Old City Hall History


Entrance to the City Hall, Ulica sv. Ćirila i Metoda 5, facade detail (City Institute for the Protection of Monuments of Culture and Nature)
Zagreb as a single city was administratively united by the Imperial Patent on September 7, 1850, and the city representatives, 30 of them, were elected for the first time in 1851.
Then the free royal city on the Gradec hill and Kaptol, Nova Ves, Vlaška Ves and Horvati were united into one city municipality - the Royal City of Zagreb.
Although modern Zagreb has been mentioned as a unique city since the 19th century, the city dates back much further, and the City Hall itself has been mentioned since 1439.
The Old City Hall is a popular name for the building complex in the Upper Town, which consists of three historical buildings located between Ulica Josipa Kuševića to the south, Ulica sv. Ćirila i Metoda to the east and Ulica Josipa Freudenreicha to the north, which have been used since the end of the 19th century for the needs of the administration of the City of Zagreb.
The corner of Ulica sv. Ćirila i Metoda and St. Mark's Square is the historical location of the building of the city hall of the free royal city of Gradec, which has been mentioned since 1439 as the "house of the council of Gradec of Zagreb” and in 1614 it was enlarged and converted into a city hall.
Historical sources show that around 1787 the city hall included prisons, shops and a basement.
Then the city hall expands further when the town municipality purchased the Erdödy-Oršić Palace from Count Adam Oršić in 1803, built in the first quarter of the 18th century, located at the corner of Ulica sv. Ćirila i Metoda and Ulica Josipa Kuševića.
For the needs of the city magistrate in 1833, the second floor was built at the masonry palace Erdödy-Oršić (built by Antun Cragnolini), and the old ruinous building of the city hall on the corner of Ulica sv. Ćirila i Metoda and St. Mark's Square was demolished. In its place, along with the extension to two plots on Ulica Josipa Freudenreicha, a new theatre building with a theatre and ballroom was built.
The first purpose-built theatre building in Zagreb was opened in 1834 and the theatre institution operated there until 1895. Numerous important cultural, artistic, social and political events took place there.
After 1895, the theatre ceased to operate, and the city hall was again expanded to the area of the former theatre and the ballroom.
During the time of the Zagreb mayor Adolf Mošinski, the city took over the old theatre building and in 1897 adapted it for the needs of the city administration (builder Đuro Carnelutti).
The city hall and the old theatre building are connected, a two-sided staircase with an iron fence and candelabras is kept (in 1879, the Grahor and Klein project) and a new, representative common entrance is built in Ulica sv. Ćirila i Metoda. In Ulica Josipa Freudenreicha, on the site of the theatre and the stage of the old theatre, a new two-storey office building was built with an entrance on the north side (1897, the Aleksandar Seć project).
The ballroom of the old theatre has been completely preserved and converted into a hall for the sessions of the City Assembly, and it is known that the benches and three chairs of the presidents, which are still in use today, were made by the Zagreb carpenter and city representative Antun Kontakt.
The history and significance of the Old City Hall complex is evidenced by the memorial plaque on the facade of the building in Ulica sv. Ćirila i Metoda which was placed in 1917 by the Braća Hrvatskog Zmaja Society. Considering its cultural, historical, architectural, and artistic value, the building is an individually protected cultural property registered in the Register of Cultural Property of the Republic of Croatia. (Scan the QR code for more information)
In the first half of the 20th century, the building of the Old City Hall was extended towards the street and courtyard side, while in 1941 the attic areas were converted into office rooms. In 1958, with the construction of a new building, on Stjepan Radić Square 1, the city administration leaves its old headquarters, and the sessions of the City Assembly are held in the Old City Hall.
The last thorough reconstruction of the building was carried out in the period from 1968 to 1975 according to the projects of academic Andrija Mutnjaković.
The complete renovation of the building complex of palaces and buildings that make up the city hall was performed by the academic Mutnjaković using digital technologies. He also applied digital technologies in the restoration and renovation of this area of the city hall, and began to apply them in 1969, so due to such an approach he is considered a pioneer in Croatian and world architecture.
The reconstruction and revitalization of the Old City Hall in Zagreb can be called a combination of modernist and neoclassical concepts by the style of reconstruction. A large assembly hall, three smaller halls on the first floor and two wedding halls on the second floor were furnished at the time, and the ground floor was renovated. Three smaller halls have been preserved, but they have different purposes. Today, they hold sessions of the working bodies of the City Assembly of the City of Zagreb.
The building was also decorated later - on the ground floor there are two new wedding halls instead of the halls on the second floor, which have been converted (Grič and Kaptol halls), and the Gallery of Kristofor Stanković has been decorated as a memorial to the builder of the theatre building and in which a series of exhibitions and concerts have been organized since 1999. (Scan the QR code for more information)

Theatre building in the Upper Town
The first purpose-built theatre building in Zagreb is best known as the “Stanković Theatre” after the name of its investor, Kristofor Stanković. It was located between St. Mark's Square, Ulica sv. Ćirila i Metoda and Ulica Josipa Freudenreicha.
In the same building complex, while the theatre was in operation from 1834 to 1895, there was a redoute ballroom, which was also used to host the audience during intermissions. On the ground floor was the vestibule, a barbershop, a pastry shop, and other areas intended for visitors.
As the city developed, a new building more suitable for the theatre was needed, especially after an earthquake had damaged the old theatre building, which lacked the technical equipment to meet the growing demands of the theatre. Therefore, in 1881, the Croatian Parliament passed a Law regarding the Construction of a new State Theatre in Zagreb. However, it was not until 1895 that a new theatre building was built in the new location. Thus, the theatre built in 1834, called the City Theatre, continued its work as the National Theatre, then the Croatian State Theatre, and finally as the Croatian National Theatre.
The interior of the theatre
Since there are no surviving photographs of the theatre hall that was demolished, it is only possible to somewhat reconstruct the appearance of the interior of the Upper Town's old theatre based on the blueprints by Alexander Freudenreich.
The theatre and the stage were separated by a grand curtain, decorated with a fan-shaped illustration containing a scene from the painting The grandfather, the grandson, and the fairy, attributed to the Croatian painter Vjekoslav Karas. The curtain is the only preserved piece of stage equipment from the old Upper Town or Stanković Theatre.
The theatre could accommodate over 750 visitors in the auditorium arena and three rows of opera boxes.
The stage spanned 200 square meters, and under it was a storage room for the stage props. The theatre was not small for 19th century Zagreb, but over time it became uncomfortable and insufficiently equipped.
It was lit by candles until 1864, by gas until 1894, and then by electricity, which significantly influenced the direction and acting, which had to be adjusted due to poor visibility further back on the stage.
Historical Events on the Stage
The Upper Town Theatre hosted performances in the seasons of 1834 to 1895, and its stage and dance floor witnessed some of the most significant events in Croatian history at the time.
From the first performance held on October 4, 1834, to the last, held on June 16, 1895, significant cultural and artistic events took place on this theatre stage, and significant social and political events took place in the redoute hall.
As today's building of the Croatian National Theatre did not yet exist, the Upper Town theatre hall hosted historical premieres of dramatic and opera pieces. Many things took place for the first time on that very stage.
The Croatian language was first heard on a theatrical stage in 1835, when Ljudevit Gaj’s reveille, Još Hrvatska ni propala (“Croatia is not in ruin yet”), was first performed: that is considered to be the first artistic performance in the Croatian language in front of a jubilant audience. Then, on June 10, 1840, the first Croatian-language theatre performance was held: a staging of the drama Juran i Sofija ili Turci pod Siskom (“Juran and Sofia or the Turks under Sisak”) by Ivan Kukuljević Sakcinski. 1846 saw the premiere of the first Croatian opera, Ljubav i zloba (“Love and Malice”) by Vatroslav Lisinski.
However, it was not until 1860 that the Croatian language settled into the stage, after a German-language performance was interrupted by protestors on November 24, 1860: a historic day for Croatian theatre.
Since the building of the Croatian Parliament did not exist in its present form in the mid-19th century, the ballroom hosted some sessions of the Parliament throughout history.
At the Parliament session held on May 2, 1843, Ivan Kukuljević Sakcinski was the first representative to speak in his mother tongue, Croatian, and in his speech, he made a proposal to introduce the Croatian language into official use instead of Latin. In 1847, a session was held in that very same hall, during which the Parliament adopted his proposal.
Significant figures on the theatre and dance hall stage
During the 19th century, those involved in art and politics in Zagreb fought for the right to use the Croatian language as an official language in all spheres of life, advocated for the development of Croatian institutions, for the creation and performance of art in the Croatian language. Members of the Illyrian movement were very active in the political and artistic spheres, but apart from the followers of Illyrianism, several other notable figures of this time period appeared in Zagreb and in the theatre building itself. Along with the leaders of Illyrianism, such as Ivan Kukuljević Sakcinski and Dimitrija Demeter, also worth mentioning are August Šenoa and Nikola Tesla. With their stay and appearances in the town hall and the theatre building, they gave this place additional historical significance.
August Ivan Nepomuk Eduard Šenoa (Zagreb, 1838) - Zagreb 1881) was a Croatian writer who marked an entire epoch, named after him the “Šenoa era”, and he had held multiple functions in the Upper Town theatre. He was the artistic director of the theatre from 1868 to 1870, as well as a theatre playwright, theatre critic, translator, playwright and member of the Theatre Committee.
In 1881, he was proclaimed an honorary citizen of the city of Zagreb.
Ivan Kukuljević Sakcinski (Varaždin, 1816 - Tuhakovec, 1889) was a writer, historian, politician and one of the founders of the Illyrian movement. He was present on the theatre stage as the author of the play Juran i Sofija ili Turci pod Siskom (“Juran and Sofia or the Turks under Sisak”), which premiered in 1840. He also appeared as a Member of Parliament and gave the first ever speech in Croatian. From 1851 to 1858 he was the president of Matica Ilirska, and in 1876 he was the first president of Matica Hrvatska and the first conservator of artistic monuments in Croatia and Slavonia. With his prolific activities, he significantly influenced the development of Croatian politics, culture and historical sciences.
Nikola Tesla (Smiljan, 1856 - New York, 1943) - scientist and innovator, resided in Zagreb in 1892. On that occasion, Tesla advised the city authorities, led by the then-mayor Milan Amruš, in the former redoute hall, to build an electric power plant because matter of electric lighting had already grown out of its experimental phase.
On the facade of the Old Town Hall there is a memorial plaque with the figure of Nikola Tesla, as a reminder of this historic address: „I consider it my duty, as a son of my country, to help the city of Zagreb in every way with both deeds and counsel.”
In memory of the great scientist, in 2006, a formal session of the City Assembly of the City of Zagreb was held to commemorate 150 years since the birth of Nikola Tesla and 114 years since his stay in Zagreb.
KRISTOFOR STANKOVIĆ - how a winning lottery ticket brought Zagreb a theatre
Kristofor Stanković (Zemun, 1793 - Zagreb, 1867) lived and worked in Zagreb. He was a well-respected entrepreneur and a prominent participant in the public life of the city of Zagreb. At the suggestion of the first mayor of Zagreb, Janko Kamauf, he became a city representative.
However, he has left a permanent mark on the history of Zagreb as the man who built the first professional theatre. That is why the Kristofor Stanković Gallery was set up in the Old Town Hall, as an homage to the person who donated the city's first purpose-built theatre building. A number of notable concerts and exhibitions were held in the revitalized, representative space of the Gallery.
Kristofor Stanković, who had won 30,000 ducats in the Vienna lottery in 1833, decided to invest this money in the construction of a theatre and a redoute dance hall if the city gave him the land on which the historic old town hall was located, which he had planned to demolish.
The city magistrate gave him the desired construction site, and in return, obliged him to renovate and upgrade what remained of the building after the demolition of its oldest part. In the mid-19th century, alongside the renovated town hall, the city was enriched by a theatre and a ballroom in the same palace complex.
The "Stanković Theatre" opened in 1834, and for over 60 years it was the most significant social hotspot for the citizens of Zagreb. The events that took place in the theatre had an impact on all aspects of political and cultural life in Croatia.
The theatre institution remained in the old building in the Upper Town until 1895, when a new theatre building was built. The old building was remodeled to suit the needs of the city administration, but the ballroom was retained with minor adaptations and still hosts sessions of the City Assembly of the City of Zagreb.
Stanković also found himself a part of the Illyrian movement, which gave context to the activities of numerous notable persons who encouraged the construction of important institutions in the mid-19th century, and his decision to build the first purpose-built building for a professional theatre for the people of Zagreb earned Stanković a place of great honour.