Tales of the Sava Riverbank
Many of the world’s great cities have a river running through them, from the River Thames in London to the Yarra River in faraway Melbourne. Zagreb too has its own Sava River, a symbol of the city that has over the years shared its ups and downs with Zagrebians. As opposed to many other rivers, the Sava River is not located centrally, but rather on the outskirts of the city. It is one of the three longest rivers in Croatia running a length of 944km, whilst the width of the river spans more than 100 meters in parts. FYI, the Sava River along Zagreb is neither navigable nor drinkable, mostly because of industry and waste water treatment; yet despite this, it’s common to see some fishermen hoping for a catch along the riverbank.
Turning back the clock, the first public beach was opened in 1926 by the then mayor Vjekoslav Heinzel. The water was crystal clear back then, drinkable in fact, and in addition to swimming, the beach was a place where one would stroll, play cards, sing, mingle, socialise, play games... The area known as ‘Babinjak’ was primarily a sunbathing area where many of Zagreb’s ladies would catch a tan. The swimming area had about 900 cabins, with one end including the so-called ‘Gospodarić's baths’ where wealthy citizens unconcerned with admission prices would seek leisure and refreshments.
Things turned for the worse in the 1960’s when a huge flood engulfed one third of Zagreb in 1964. The flood destroyed many of the beach structures and with contamination detected, bathing in the river was prohibited and so the beach was only used for sunbathing.To make matters worse, a large number of cars began to invade the city at the time and the Sava River served as a ‘car wash’, it even became fashionable to wash your car from top to bottom alongside the river. How eco-friendly is that?
In this day and age, you’ll be happy to know that swimming and car washing are strongly prohibited but in juxtaposition, there is an abundance of ‘sports and recreational activities’linked to the Sava River embankment and Lakes Jarun and Bundek.
By walking the river embankment you can spot the so-called ‘Kockica’ building that was built in the early 1960’s, a thorough example of socialist architecture. It was built according to a project created by the great Croatian architect Ivan Vitić. Also, the ‘Croatian Radio and Television’ building isn’t hard to miss. The ‘Alley of Sculptures’ is the largest open-air gallery in Zagreb with 11 sculptures of Croatian sculptors to choose for that perfect selfie. Also, the Sava embankment has a view of the ‘greenbridge’ or Savski Most (Sava Bridge) which Zagrebians know as the ‘Hendrix’ bridge because of the graffiti dedicated to the rock legend which has been written on it for years. Despite the number of times authorities have repainted the bridge, graffiti artists always manage to respray the sign in its rightful place. In addition to the aforementioned bridge, Zagreb’s Sava bridges are a set of road, rail and pedestrian bridges that connect the left and right banks of the Sava River.
The Sava River embankment also offers many opportunities for sports activities where one can walk, jog solo or join an organised running group. Eager beavers who love to cycle can ride all the way to Sveta Nedelja along a route that is 16km long (route details can be found at www.svetanedelja.hr ).
There’s fun for everyone along the left bank where there are several landscaped grounds for tennis, football, and basketball. And on the embankment itself near the suburb of Savica, one can find 2 iron bikes and we dare you to head down in the early evening hours and pedal the iron bikes for a lamp will begin to glow, oh so cool! If you love horses, then you definitely need to visit the racetrack hippodrome which is located on the right bank of the Sava before the Most Slobode (Bridge of Freedom). A kids corner is perfectly placed next to the Boćarski dom with a large playground filled with slides, see saws, trampolines and more.
Fancy a putt! Fans of golf can take a swing at the well-kept golf courses at the Golf & Country Club Zagreb (www.gcczagreb.hr) located near the Sava River. Fishing fans won’t be disappointed because the waters of the Sava River are risen with many fishing spots reachable by car. The riverbed is rocky with deposits of sand and gravel. One secret hotspot is perfect for špineraši (Spin Fishermen), where the Eastern district Heating plant was reconstructed with a stone dam over which rapids are created. Fish varieties include bleak, chub, dace, nose carp, barbel, bream, carp, pike, catfish and perch. Thanks to the diversity of fish species, fishing is possible throughout the year. For any additional information about fishing and licenses, visit the Sports Fishing Association Piškor or contact them via mail or phone (www.srdpiskor-zg.hr).
On the right bank of the Sava River after the Most Slobode (Bridge of Freedom), there is the exquisite Lake Bundek and park where one can enjoy various sports activities (cycling, inline skating, roller blading, walking and jogging). Barbecues and small wooden cafes are about! Whilst on the left bank of the Sava and before the Savski Most there is the Sports and Recreational Centre Jarun. At Lake Jarun visitors can row, sail, cycle, roller-blade, jog and do much more. The Sports and Recreation Centre Mladost is just before Jarun and a top destination all year round with both indoor and outdoor pool facilities.
If you’re feeling peckish and fancy a meal, there are several eateries along the Sava River and its embankment. For those wanting pizza and pasta, there is Stara Sava (Savska Street 208), or Pizzeria Helena Jarun (Županići Street 1). For something a bit meatier or off the BBQ, meaning meat rolls, burgers and kebabs, definitely visit NK Sava (Gredice 157). Feel like some Italian cuisine, then visit the Restaurant Pizzeria Oliva (Jarunska 5), or visit the restaurant Balon located near Boćarski dom (Prisavlje 2). Once dinner is done, coffee and dessert is calling and you can choose from the numerous cafes in and around Park Bundek, Lake Jarun and Boćarski dom.
As for Nightlife on the river Sava, the once popular clubs on rafts ‘Papilon’ and ‘Sidro’ are in poor condition and not in function. But, there is a retreat and that is in the newly renovated‘Brazil Boat’on the River and its open from Wednesdays to Saturdays, more information can be found on their Facebook page. For those craving something purely heavier to alternative in terms of music, there are lots of gigs and live performances to exhibitions at Club Močvara (Trnjanski nasip bb). Event details can be tracked down at: www.mochvara.hr or Pogon Jedinstvo - Zagreb's Centre for Independent Culture and Youth (Trnjanski nasip bb ), www.upogoni.org/wp/.
Finally, see one fun filled part of Zagreb at the city’s largest flea market named ‘Hrelić’ which takes place every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. The quickest way to get there is via bus number 295 which runs daily from Zapruđe Station, the timetable can be seen at www.zet.hr.
All in all, the Sava River still gives Zagrebians and its visitors so much to do and see, so take the time to visit the lifeline of the city. Have a picnic, or go for a walk, either way, it’s a nice way to see an integral part of the past and present!