A Taste of Socialist Zagreb

more than a year ago

It’s natural for a first-time visitor to Zagreb to wonder “what was it like here under communism?” There are few visible traces of that time in the city, one reason being the gentler mode of socialism that Croatia, as part of Yugoslavia, experienced compared to its neighbours.

Whether in Zagreb or Moscow, Budapest or Prague, however tough the face of totalitarianism may have been, you’ll find people, young and old, who feel sad at the loss of some things from those days. For many, life was more secure and more innocent than it is today. Though some freedoms were curtailed and many consumer goods weren’t available, people had more time for each other and for fun.

We’ve put together this quick guide to ​IZagreb’s socialist past to give you a taste of what life was like under that doughty leader of the non-aligned world, Marshal Josip Broz Tito.


To mention the words “socialism” and “architecture” in the same sentence is to conjure up visions of dreary avenues of concrete blocks. However, socialism spawned quite a few buildings which are admired by their residents and the cognoscenti alike.

In post-war Zagreb architects often favoured designs inspired by the “father of modern architecture”, Charles-Édouard Jeanneret - Le Corbusier. Appalled by the poverty he saw in Paris in the 1920s, this famous utopian designed “machines for living” which should make life pleasant for their residents and transcend class divides.

One example of this style is the block that straddles numbers 35 and 35a on Zagreb’s Avenija Vukovar. It was designed in the mid-1950s by Drago Galić, who was inspired by Le Corbusier’s Unité d'Habitation modernist residence in Marseille. The residents in Vukovarska live in what experts claim is one of the most human-friendly buildings around. It has duplex flats and studios for singles in the attic, great views, a caretaker and a communal laundry.

Much of Vukovarska dates from the post-war period when massive numbers of migrants flocked to the city. Also see: the City Hall; the building where a branch of Raiffeisenbank is now housed; the People’s Open University and the apartment block on the corner of Držićeva whose flats boast a better design than many built today.

Drago Galić was the protégé of another well-known Croatian architect, Drago Ibler, who is responsible for “the Wooden Skyscraper”. You’ll see it on Iblerov trg: a low-rise section with business premises with an eight-floor residential block on one side. Its innovative design makes it one of Zagreb’s most famous buildings of the era. Residents can enjoy a terrace with a wooden pergola covering the whole of the top of the block.

Nearby, in Laginjina ulica, is a building famous for its harmonious incorporation into the city. Colourful panels and sliding sunscreens cheer up the south side of the building. However, as with all of these building, the condition isn’t great: let’s hope the city council finds a bit of cash to help spruce up these icons of the Modern age.

For a little retro “commie”-chic seek out the building of the erstwhile Central Committee of the Union of Communists of Croatia – known as the “kockica”, or “cube”. Designed by Ivo Vitić, you’ll find it on the banks of the Sava at Prisavlje 14. Today it houses a brace of government ministries.


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