The Petar Preradović Square in Zagreb, better known as the Cvjetni Square (The ‘Flower’ Square), is one of the rare Squares within the Donji grad (Lower Town) center and socially-wise certainly the most important one. The Cvjetni Square meets both the morphological-aesthetic (closed and protected space, exemption from the center, architecturally-wise attractive facades, monuments along its fringes…) and functional (closed off for traffic, available and has access to equipment – benches, shops in the vicinity..) free criteria that the renowned Vienna architect and town planner Camillo Sitte set for squares back in the late 19th century. Or, more precisely put, it had been meeting those requirements. But not anymore. The Cvjetni Square has lately been losing some of its aforementioned features and has for the most part morphed into a consumerist place.
*Cvjetni trg today
A large part of the Square is cluttered with café terraces, mostly with those big oversized decked chairs, for the most part spreading further and further with each passing Spring, so that now the stone bench set along the Orthodox church’s south wall isn’t available for sitting any longer, as two café’s tables are crammed right next to it. If you take a look at pictures from just a few years ago, you’ll see how much more free space there was on the Square. Whereas upon counting all the remaining benches on the Square today, you’ll quickly come to realize that there’s space sufficient for a mere thirty or so people to sit for free. Some of these metal public benches have been completely swallowed up by the tables in front of the former Zagreb Movie Theater so you have to forcefully jostle your way through the café crowd to get a ‘free’ seat on one of those benches, but then there’s the issue of café owners “letting” you get past them in an attempt to exercise your right to a free seat at Cvjetni Square. One of these “entrenched” benches was even removed.
*The stone bench set along the Orthodox church’s south wall isn’t available for sitting any longer
*Metal public benches have been completely swallowed up by the tables
We attempted to find out what area range of Cvjetni Square may be covered by café terraces, and if there’s any kind of prescribed quota in regard to this issue, why access to the bench fronting the Orthodox church was blocked, etc., so we contacted the City Office for Physical Planning, Construction of the City, Utility Services and Transport, but alas, the Office didn’t deign to reply to our questions even after a period of seven days had passed.
We also asked town planner Zlatko Uzelac for his thoughts and opinions on the appearance of Cvjetni Square: “When you take a look at Cvjetni Square today, it functioning as a big consumerist lure for the most part, it’s clearly visible that the process which started during the first transformation of the Square’s surface area has come to an end. Said transformation was put in motion during the nineties when the very character of the Square was radically changed by Mihajlo Kranjc and Berislav Šerbetić’s project. It was palpable even back then that this one and only bona fide community square was headed towards implosion. It’s just a continuation of the process of phasing out historical spaces in the city center. While the town is expanding, its center is dwindling away concentrating on a miniature pedestrian zone with its hub within the small Cvjetni Square. And now this lively hub is being dissolved into a consumerist-based square.”
*Cvjetni square, few years ago
In regard to the shopping center’s facade, which is set to open soon at Cvjetni Square, Uzelac reminds us that there has been talk from the very beginning that this particular shopping center building would significantly scale down the Square itself, which eventually proved true. In view of the architecture itself he’s of the opinion that it’s average, but holds that isn’t the key issue here, rather the fact that the whole Square area has lost its sense of intimacy.
Let’s delve into its historical development considering all the controversy surrounding the Cvjetni Square which has frequently provided grounds for manipulation in view of its beginnings, how it came into being, and its general net worth.
To begin with, certain parallels can be drawn between the past and today’s situation. This Square had started developing in the late 19th century, while some sort of trading place existed even a few centuries prior along the then Saint Margaret church, which was located here until the second half of the 18th century. When the Orthodox Church was erected here according to the architect Franjo Klein project in the 19th century, the old St. Margaret Square, as it was called then, was covered in developments, as art historian Snješka Knežević writes in her book “Zagreb u središtu”/”Zagreb at Its Core.” Thus, there were once buildings where we currently sit or stroll. It’s interesting to note that disputes between the City and its citizens in regard to issuing building permits to local members of the establishment and tearing down old houses were going on even back then. Namely, the owners of houses in Margaret Street (today’s Preobraženska Street) and Svilarska Street (today’s Margaret Street) were pushing for the removal of existing buildings in order to make place for a Square, but City authorities didn’t concur as the spatial regulations back then hadn’t anticipated a square in that particular place, and there were insufficient funds in the city treasury as most of the funding was going towards remodeling the Zrinski Square into a public park. However, they allowed a new palace to be built in the place where the citizens wanted to build a square – a rental for the wealthy named Siebenschein after the investor. Franjo Klein designed this historical building which we recognize today (with a changed facade) as the building located at the south border of the Cvjetni Square, where once a bookstore resided, and is today occupied by T-com. Snješka Knežević writes that this monumental building brought a new standard and aesthetic charge to the area of the future Square. Make no mistake, not to say we’re comparing its importance as a Square to that of today’s shopping center at Cvjetni.
*Cvjetni square in 1897
However, some work methods at this venue are reminiscent of those surrounding the shopping center. Namely, authorities allowed the slow but sure removal of houses south of the Orthodox Church, while Josip Siebenschein himself requested the City government to speed this process up, going so far as lending the City authorities funds necessary for the demolition of the first house. The difference being that numerous citizens were in favor of this – the Square was opened at their initiative – but it’s still a fact that Siebenschein managed to forcefully tear down buildings so as to erect a square in their place. The development of the square was further accelerated by the decision to build a theater in its vicinity. The theater was first envisioned within the area where today’s streets Ilica, Bogovićeva, Petrićeva and Margaretska meet. According to records, “a bazaar with common pottery and a string of corner establishments of the lowest order were there, while behind these architectural walls were wasteland gardens with little buildings where domestic animals were kept for lard and roasting.” However, it was still decided that the theater be built on the bazaar, the City donated the land and it was carried out.
It was finally decided in 1895 to fully renovate the Margaretski Square. Two years later all houses were torn down so the development could be carried out. The square was renamed Preradović Square, but Lenuci didn’t allow the monument to be moved from Strossmayer’s Square as the square back then “wasn’t distinguished by any structure that would be prominent enough to support a monument in its midst…”
*Cvjetni square in 1906
Hermann Bolle submitted a proposal for the square’s adaptation, but wasn’t accepted, while the Orthodox Church dome was the only thing carried out as per his project. Houses were starting to crop up on the square’s brim (the Josip pl. Vancaš First Croatian Savings Banks Palace, the Farkaš Offices Hönigsberg & Deutsch Palace…), and developments continued all the way into the late 30’s of the 20th century when Antun Ulrich’s modern seven-storey building was erected in place of a low-rise where a movie theater was located up to then, and today a shopping center resides next to it. There were various ideas: that the fruit and vegetable market be relocated there from Jelačić Square, and the fish market from Kaptol, but it didn’t come to pass, as did not the tender released for the Square’s adaptation. Still, trade took hold at the Square and it wasn’t until the thirties, as Snješka Knežević writes, that it became a lively and populated urban hotspot. A farmers market (of mostly flowers) was situated there, a taxi stand, a gas station, while the houses’ ground floors were adapted as stores. And last but not least, the monument to Petar Preradović was moved there in 1954 and for the most part that’s how the Square has looked, with some changes, up to 1995. And the rest is history.
photos: David Kabalin and scans of Zagreb archive photos