Untold Stories

A walk in the company of whales and historical rebels

Widespread on the north side of Zagreb, mount Medvednica holds the city in its arms, her green slopes resembling a warm embrace that keeps us all safe. Watching from a distance, you can still easily spot a massive pale shape that interrupts the greenery of the forest. It’s the fortress of Medvedgrad watching down at the city from its heights.

Interestingly, Medvedgrad wasn’t the only fortress on the slopes of the mountain. The most accessible one is the once mighty Susedgrad town.

Whatever you do, never ever try to translate the names of the medieval fortresses on mountain Medvednica. The literate translations sound so funny. Medvedgrad - that would be bear-town. Susedgrad is neighbor-town. Well, let’s visit the Neighbor today, shall we?

If you decide to walk to Susedgrad, you will start from the part of town called Podsused (meaning: under the neighbor.... didn’t I tell you not to translate? It sounds a amusing, doesn’t it? In Croatian, we’re quite used to it as a placename so forget about the translation, pretty please. Why did I even bring this up?) 

Right there, in Podsused, you will find another curiosity - the monument to the whale. 

Monument of an actual whale. Doesn’t this seem like a promising start? 

Have you heard of stories about secret treasures buried under old medieval towns? In the case of Susedgrad, the stories turned out to be true. In the area below the old town, a true treasure has been found: many paleontological remains of international relevance - even a whale! That sounds incredible - how on earth would a whale end up in Zagreb? It goes back to the times of the great Pannonian sea. In fact, the fossils of that particular specie were found in just a few locations. Its scientific name is - the whale of Zagreb (Mesocetus Agrami - Agram being one of the old names for Zagreb). The whale is not the only prehistoric finding in the surroundings. The nearby Veternica cave treasured prehistoric human and animal remains. Later on, the Romans left some of their treasures. More precisely, a Roman helmet was found in the nearby river. Anyway, once you spot the whale, search for a trail nearby that leads to Susedgrad. 

The start of the trail to Susedgrad is next to this enchanting fence wrapped in decay. 

Once you reach Susedgrad, you will be overwhelmed by the feeling of its lost might. It’s almost impossible to imagine the old town in all its glory. There are hints, though. The remaining walls stand tall and proud, as the last line of defense against the army of time and nature. Their joint forces still haven't conquered it, despite decades of attempts. 

The first known mention of Susedgrad goes back to the 14th century. The town changed owners over and over again. Many of those owned a mere ruin, as it started turning into one in the 1600s. 

Susedgrad was owned by the nobility up until recently. This grave at the main Zagreb cemetery proves it: countess Sermage of Susedgrad and Medvedgrad.

However, the most famous owner was very...well, infamous. The name still sends chills down Croatian spines. Even now, 450 years after his death. It was Franjo Tahi. You could still use his name in everyday speech as an attribute to a boss from hell. Oh, no! Here comes Franjo Tahi! - I’ve heard people referring to their pushy friends.

Franjo Tahi took the fortress from previous owners by force, and this takeover caused great dissatisfaction in the region. That was one of the causes, combined with his legendary cruelty, of the great 1573 peasants' revolt. The uprise is one of the most significant events in Croatian history, and its leader Matija Gubec is known to be a true hero. He ended up punished and executed for his deeds in the most gruesome way. The extent of the revolt was incredible. It became an organized movement across the region with rivers of peasants fighting for their rights with forks and rakes, probably knowing deep down they didn’t stand a chance against the armies with horses and real weapons... still, it stirred the social concepts of the era jeopardizing the feudal system across the region. Even now, writing this, I get goosebumps. The great serfs' uprising started exploding right here under the walls of Susedgrad.

All that’s left of the old town Susedgrad. Video by Ivan G. 

A walk from the heart of the neighborhood of Podsused to its garden - the park around Susedgrad - makes a great excuse to get off the path and explore the western part of Zagreb. Just be careful and don't step into some wormhole. You would find yourself in the most unexpected company. Whales, Roman soldiers, and angry serfs would all be swimming and marching by your side. Together, you would be going to the top of the small hill, until you reached the remains of the old town of Susedgrad. A bunch of stones is still here to remind us of the only constant thing in this small corner of the world: that nothing lasts forever. Not the fortresses, not the power, not the obedience... Not even the seas! Nothing lasts forever, so don't wait. Dive into the exploration of Susedgrad. 

Header image & Author: Iva Silla