Veronika of Desenice – the Rose of Zagorje Whose Only Sin Was Love

Veronika of Desenice – the Rose of Zagorje Whose Only Sin Was Love

It only takes one visit to the Croatian Zagorje region to fall in love with its tame green hills, which look as though heaven’s best chefs decided to make their finest specialities on them. While driving down the road above Grešna Gorica hills, which snakes around the hills like a skilful dancer, the hero of our story will fleetingly appear before you – this is the Veliki Tabor castle, located about 40 kilometres from the town of Krapina. It will then disappear behind a hill for a moment, only to reappear minutes later, like a mischievous little boy playing hide-and-seek.


With each kilometre covered and each new view, the castle becomes bigger and more impressive, until it appears before you in all its glory, sitting like an old, wise man on top of a hill that offers a “million-dollar view” of the quiet pastures and forests. Tabor represents a war camp built for defence purposes, primarily against the Ottomans, and today it is a monument of the highest category protected by UNESCO.

Sergio Gobbo
Its most famous owners were the Counts of Cilli, who are associated with the well-known legend of Veliki Tabor, that of Veronika of Desenice. The story begins in the 15th century, when Frederick of Cilli was riding through the vast green expanses of Zagorje, where he met the beautiful, but poor peasant woman named Veronika, who lived in the village of Desinić near Veliki Tabor.

Forbidden Love Ended Within the Walls of Veliki Tabor Castle

Their great love was born at first sight, and the young nobleman decided to marry the beauty despite his father Herman II’s disapproval. Determined to marry, the couple decided to run away to the town of Friedrichstein (or Fridrihštajn) on the border between Croatia and Slovenia, not far from Gorski Kotar. They held their wedding there, in the shade of the idyllic forests, but their happiness was short-lived. The powerful Count Herman II was determined to break up the relationship between the nobleman and the peasant woman, so he sent an army with the order to arrest the lovers.


While the troops surrounded the town, Frederick managed to save Veronika, and told her to run as fast as she could to the village of Sveta Margita, where she would hide at a peasant’s house. Herman’s followers soon arrested him and took him to Veliki Tabor, where his father devised a cruel punishment. He sent his son to Cilli (or Celje), where he was walled up in a tower with no doors or windows, with only a single opening through which he was given food and drink.


Herman II liberated him after four years, but the unfortunate young man was completely incapable of leading a normal life after having endured such torture. The same fate came to his lover, who was soon found by the count’s soldiers.

Oton Iveković / Arhiva Dvor Veliki Tabor
The powerful lord initiated a trial, accusing Veronika of being a witch and putting a spell on his son Frederick. The hearing lasted 48 hours, but the judges were unable to find even an ounce of evidence that she was guilty of such terrible charges. They relayed their decision to Herman II, but the vengeful count still decided to execute the lovely girl in a barrel of water, and then wall up her lifeless body in the castle’s walls.
Morgan Matijević / Arhiva Dvor Veliki Tabor

Ever since then, during stormy nights, the castle sometimes echoes with the sobs of the poor woman whose only fault was loving Frederick.