The first mention of Zagreb in the historical record comes from 1093, long before Grič (Gradec) and Kaptol united in the nineteenth century to form the modern city, but human settlement in what is now Zagreb goes back much, much further. It should come as no surprise that the city has its secrets. Uncover some of the more chilling tales and visit the sites yourself in this hair-raising post about haunted Zagreb.
One site was a bit close to home . . . literally
While I love a good spooky story, my interest in the Zagreb’s underworld piqued when I discovered that a creepy plaque in the building where I stayed marked one of Zagreb’s more mysterious haunted sites. Did I mention that the marker was right next to my kitchen window? Eep.
I decided to investigate areas believed to be haunted, as well as sites related to Zagreb’s infamous witch trials, which make Salem’s seem like a quaint bedtime story (I once lived in Salem, too). This post has what I uncovered.
A spooky walk, doable in an afternoon, for free (or take a tour)
If you dare, you could easily visit these sites in one long spooky walk around Zagreb’s oldest areas. Walking these sites costs no money. See the map below to help you plan your visit. I’ve included tips in the post itself for visiting each site . . . if you dare.
You could do this walk at night, however, I stuck to visiting haunted sites during the daytime as a solo traveler—I didn’t want to be caught up in any otherworldly mischief.
If it’s running while you’re in Zagreb, I’d consider checking out the Gornjogradske coprnice tour, which would take you to most of these sites, providing more fun and additional context. Alas, it was not running while I was in town.
Haunted Zagreb Video
Haunted Zagreb sites
Do you dare visit these haunted Zagreb sites? Let us know in the comments below which ones scared you the most!
Demetrova 3: The grave of Paul David Von Vakanovich
What would you do if you discovered that your Airbnb was haunted? My lovely Zagreb, Croatia apartment was in a beautiful eighteenth-century complex built right into the medieval city walls. The walls perhaps held their own secrets, but the courtyard holds the most chilling site. Watch the video above to experience it for yourself.
I noticed the grave marker my first night in Zagreb—you don’t really miss a skull and crossbones mounted on the wall as you walk into the courtyard. My kitchen was dark—the only natural light came from the back window facing Tuškanac forest—and I always felt a bit unsettled in it, preferring the light in the living area.
An eerie courtyard
At night, I would rush through the courtyard, eager to reach my door before the light went out, and not just because it was hard to see. It felt like something was there. One night I dreamt of the presence, waking with a start, convinced that it was actually there in the kitchen.
I put it out of my mind until I looked up the history of the beautiful building.
And then I read the tale of poor Paul David von Vakanovich, aged 4.
The grave of Paul David Von Vakanovich
The inscription, written in German translates as: “Here rests Paul David von Vakanovich, who died on June 21, 1818 at the age of four.”
Rumors swirl about this poor young boy. From a conflation with a vampire haunting a cemetery that we’ll get to below, to an association with the Zagreb witch trials (one of the investors served as a civil judge for a time with the trials, the grave in the courtyard of Demetrova 3 has fascinated locals for years.
A Wolt delivery driver exclaimed, “I’ve heard of this place! Is the kid really here?” when he delivered my takeout ćevapi. I made sure the light would stay on, and then I followed him out to show him. He snapped a photo, eager to tell his friends that he’d really seen the grave.
A tale perhaps more sad than sinister
From what I could gather in my web search, the full story of how little Paul David came to be buried in the wall of Demetrova 3 is less sinister, and more sad. He had not died violently, nor in the building. His grave had been moved there by his mother to keep him close by.
Still really freaking creepy.
Ilirski trg: Meet at the crossroads
Very close to Demetrova 3, just outside the walls, across from Kavana Palainovka (a lovely spot to get a coffee), there’s a crossroads with a tiny chapel built on it, known as Ilirski trg (Illyrian square). The chapel is on the very spot where witches are said to have danced naked, enticing hapless passersby to join them. Other legends say that you may see devils driving carriages.
The Chapel of the Holy Cross, built perhaps to dispel the perceived wickedness of the place, doesn’t do much to quell the creepy factor.
Groblije Jurjevesko: The most haunted cemetery in Zagreb
I confess: I did not dare to go to this place at night, and I stayed very much on the path, because Grobilje Jurjevesko, dating back to at least the fourteenth century, is indeed eerie.
Even in daylight, I found myself rushing through it a bit, as I felt watched. The crumbling graves, some with hearts, exude an aching loneliness, and the open shrine felt downright forbidding (I did not enter).
The “Old Chestnut” cemetery (also known as St George’s Cemetery) had been a cemetery for those unable to afford a better burial place. Like some other haunted places in Zagreb, this one is distinguished by having graves that were not moved to Mirogoj cemetery when it was opened in the 1870s, and the spirts there are said to feel abandoned.
Among the spirits said to roam the cemetery include a four-year-old boy who became a vampire after a horrible death (I wonder if little Paul David was associated with this place?) and a “lady in white.”
Park šuma Tuškanac and Zagreb’s witch trials
My back window looked out onto a beautiful old forest park, Tuškanac park, a forest in the heart of Zagreb. Out the front door, after rushing past poor Paul David, I would enter the rabbit warren of Old Town streets, and out the back, I had the woods. I loved it, but those woods hold a very dark past.
Tuškanac was the place where accused witches (also known as coprnices )were executed by being burned at the stake.
Zagreb had some of the more notorious witch trials in Europe, taking place from the fourteenth century, with over 325 women accused of witchcraft and 106 burned at the stake until the practice was ended in the mid-eighteenth century. Salem’s witch trials almost seem quaint in comparison.
Park Grič and a hidden cemetery
I loved Park Grič for the sunset views, for its peaceful decorations during Advent Zagreb, and for the crumbling ancient walls. As historical markers indicate, this site has had human settlement for ages. And, it turns out, human remains. Park Grič was built in part over a graveyard. Nearly 200 souls lie buried beneath the park.
Maybe just don’t go there alone at night?
Markov Trg (St Mark’s Square) and more hidden bodies
In the days since the earthquake and the decision to cordon off the square to use as a parking lot for government officials (the president’s residence and parliament are in the square), St Mark’s Square has lost something of its grandeur. I lamented it, but don’t get my lovely Airbnb host started.
So, you will not be able to walk the square, but know that when you’re looking past the gates to Zagreb’s famous colorful church that you are also looking at a graveyard. Upper Town was apparently not very good about exhuming bodies before paving over places, which would help explain the eeriness of the place at night.
Lotrščak Tower: A medieval torture chamber
When you ride the funicular—said to be one of the world’s shortest—up to Grič, you will exit right in front of Lotrščak Tower. Famous for firing a canon every day at noon to commemorate an accidental warding off attackers, Lotrščak Tower hides another past purpose. It served as a medieval torture chamber.
The tower also had bells—the name translates to the Bell of the Thieves. The bells warned that the old city gates were about to close, and the good citizens had better get home. Outside? The thieves would lurk, perhaps hearing the screams of the tortured victims inside.
The Stone Gate and a witch-catching mace
Zagreb’s famous Stone Gate—the last remaining gate from the old city walls—is known more for the shine of the Madonna and Child than the gate itself. You’ll often see people praying and lighting candles, once I saw a ceremony with chanting and people holding banners. The painting gained its miraculous qualities after surviving a great fire.
However, there’s another interesting thing to see at the Stone Gate. It requires you to look up from the entrance. At the top, you’ll see a spiky mace. That mace was said to ward off witches from entering the city walls. They would get caught on the spikes, and the good towns people would be spared from wickedness.
Statue of Marija Jurić Zagorka, author of the Witch of Grič
Tucked away on Tkalčićeva Street is a statue honoring Marija Jurić Zagorka, a journalist and novelist who wrote the beloved Witch of Grič, a tale about the Zagreb witch trials (I found an online translation as part of a dissertation [the translation starts on page 99], but, to my knowledge, this hasn’t been published elsewhere).
Zagorka’s tale takes the true story of Barica Cindek, who was accused of witchcraft, apparently for rejecting a suitor. Barica found herself imprisoned, awaiting trial, but was then able to bribe her way out of trouble.
However, Barica remained deeply angry about the whole ordeal and a few months later, she sought justice through the court. While her fate isn’t one-hundred-percent certain, most sources indicate that this bold act cost Barica her life.
Zagorka’s tale, however, gives Barica a better fate in the Witch of Grič, and her tale has become one of Croatia’s most beloved stories.
Plan your haunted Zagreb visit
These spots are all fairly close together and could potentially be done in a spooky afternoon. See the map below for locations, noting that many of these sites are within the city walls.
Wear good walking shoes, and bring your courage.
Map of Haunted Zagreb
Which haunted Zagreb sites have you spied?
Have you visited Zagreb’s spooky sites? Were you creeped out? Let us know in the comments below!
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