Intrigue, Jealousy and Witches in Old Zagreb

Intrigue, Jealousy and Witches in Old Zagreb

Just a few hundred metres from the central square and epicentre of Croatia’s capital, Ban Josip Jelačić Square, lies the vibrant Tkalčićeva Street, full of quaint restaurants and cafés, which holds the statue of one of the most significant Croatian authors and first female journalist, Marija Jurić Zagorka.

Marko Vrdoljak / TZ Zagreb

The stories of intrigue, jealousy, mysticism and tragedy begin in the shadow of the sundial (Sunčana vura) on the wall of one of the houses in Tkalčićeva Street. In them, various Zagreb landmarks and monuments provide the perfect backdrop for the romantic endeavours of Zagorka’s heroes – the Manduševac fountain, St. Mark’s Church, the tower of Mesnička Street, and the hills of Grič and Kaptol that make up Zagreb’s Upper Town area.

Following the Trail of the Infamous Zagreb Witch

“The Witch of Grič” (Grička vještica), a product of Marija Jurić Zagorka’s rich imagination, became a favourite piece of Croatian literature among its populace, while the character of Countess Nera brought lots of joy and grief to many generations of Croatian readers. To create her masterpiece, Marija Jurić Zagorka used manuscripts from the rich history of Zagreb, and her inspiration for Countess Nera came from manuscripts on witches dating back to the 18th century.

 

The witch of Grič, or coprnica (a slang word for witches in Zagreb), was actually a beautiful baker called Barica Cindek, whose only sins were her beauty and popularity among her numerous customers on St. Mark’s Square in Upper Town. As the widow Barica turned down every suitor that came to her door, even the more distinguished ones, the men she turned down began spreading rumours about her heading a group of witches who were in cahoots with the devil. As the general population was very superstitious at the time, it didn’t take much convincing for everyone to believe the stories. Barica’s fate was sealed once she turned down the advances of one of the most powerful notaries in Zagreb.

 

The vindictive Lacko Sale started the process against Barica based on false allegations from women who claimed she was a witch. Although the movement against harassing, torturing and burning innocent women began spreading across Europe around 300 years ago, Barica Cindek had to endure a true torment in her dungeon. She narrowly escaped death when at the last minute she managed to bribe the greedy Sale with the help of her family and friends.

 

However, only three months after the process ended, Barica Cindek decided to make a bold move, which would ultimately cost her her life. The innocent baker decided to seek justice before the court, accusing the powerful Sale of taking a bribe, inciting fornication, and searching for the devil’s seal on her body. The common baker stood no chance against the rich notary, and was soon burned at the stake according to one source.

Julien Duval

Marija Jurić Zagorka didn’t want her heroine Nera to meet such a tragic end. After all the trials and tribulations, the Countess had her happy end alongside Captain Siniša, in the novel “The Witch of Grič”. Remember the legend while you enjoy the different fragrances, flavours and sounds of Tkalčićeva Street, right next to two symbols of Zagreb – the statue of Marija Jurić Zagorka and the sundial behind her.