Croatia towers above many other countries with a long and rich literary history. Despite its small size, this Mediterranean nation teems with centuries-old libraries and quaint bookshops. In this article, I am going to share the top literary destinations of Croatia – a must-visit for any bibliophile.
In the early 16th century, Marko Marulić (1450 –1524) – a famous renaissance writer, also known as the Father of Croatian literature, authored the first-ever Croatian epic poem called Judita.
He finished the epic on April 22, 1501. Five centuries later, Croatians celebrate the day as the Croatian Book Day. Coincidentally, it precedes World Book Day on April 23.
Croatia became an independent state in the ’90s, transferring from socialism to democracy. However, the war of independence was devastating. The combat years and the global economic crisis impacted the country’s cultural heritage.
In the post-communist period, libraries in Croatia restored their past glories and also evolved to the tastes of modern-day bookworms. Today, against all odds, Croatia is one of the most exciting literary destinations in Europe.
Here goes my list of the best literary destinations in this Mediterranean jewel for all you bookworms out there.
1. National and University Library in Zagreb
The National and university library in Zagreb has a long history that goes back to 1607. Firstly, it was a Jesuit library based on Gradec.
In 1995 the building on Marulić square was transferred and is now famous for its glass cube design made by four renowned Croatian architects (Neidhardt, Krznarić, Hržić, and Mance).
This library is undoubtedly the jewel of modern architecture and holds a central place in Croatia’s culture and science.
The National and University Library in Zagreb is the oldest and largest library in Croatia. It stretches across 44.432 square meters and has more than 130 kilometers of shelves holding around three million items.
The library has 1100 seats for users, primarily students who study and enjoy the view of a beautiful park with fountains in front of this magnificent building.
2. Central City Library Marko Marulić
If you ever find yourself in Split, do not miss one of the best public libraries in Europe. It is the main library in Split, which borrows its name from the famous author Marko Marulić.
Preserved as an important cultural center of Split, this library reminds you of the era gone by.
You can spot the building, thanks to the beautiful statue of Marko Marulić made by Ivan Meštrović in 1925.
On Papalić St., you can visit the Marulić family house. Today it goes by the name Marvlvs Library Jazz Bar.
Just a couple of minutes down the street in the Papalić Palace, you will find the Split City Museum where the Split Humanist Circle used to meet back in their day. Among many exciting exhibits, you can also find one of Marulić’s books.
Literary tourists love this library because it is spacious and quiet with a friendly staff. Besides books, you will find an extensive collection of movie DVDs and music CDs.
3. City Library Zagreb
Founded in 1895 and built by famous architects Leo Hönigsberg and Julije Deutsch, the City library Zagreb is located in the very city center, very close to the Central Train Station, a few minutes from the main square.
The exciting thing about this one is that it’s located in the Memorial House of Dr. Ante Starčević, a writer and a politician, also known in Croatia as the Father of the Country.
City Library Zagreb boasts of impressive literary collection spread across three floors within the building. There are lovely reading rooms and study spaces, plus two main exhibition areas and galleries.
You can find the collection of rare books and manuscripts on the first floor.
The rare collection contains incunabula dating from 1487 and valuable editions of the Croatian and European heritage. The collection includes many Glagolitic scripts from the 16th century.
Adjacent to the main library building, you can find Music Department and Department for Children and Young Adults, founded in 1950 as the first children’s library in the country.
4. Library of the Franciscan Monastery in Dubrovnik
The library of the Franciscan Monastery in Dubrovnik is certainly a real-life attraction. I can easily argue that this library actually works as a monument of history and tradition.
The earthquakes and the unrelenting, direct bombing during the war in 1991-92 pushed this magnificent library to the verge of obliteration.
In recent times, the library sprang back to fame when Game of Thrones was filmed here, among other locations in Croatia.
The library is surrounded by a beautiful cloister garden filled with orange trees. The serene atmosphere despite being placed in the heart of the old city adds to the
It works as an unexpected oasis of green within beautiful historic architecture.
In this sacred place with a small museum of artifacts and paintings, you will find more than 70,000 volumes, including 216 incunabula, church hymns, and over 1000+ ancient manuscripts of great value.
The library includes the only preserved copy of Marko Marulić’s first edition of Judita and an early transcript of Osman by baroque poet Ivan Gundulić.
Apart from an extensive collection of volumes in the sciences, this library is also home to Croatia’s most essential musical archive.
Fun fact: On the left side of the church’s entrance steps, you will spot a stone owl head rainspout. According to the legend, if you can stand on it and take your shirt off without falling, you will be fortunate in love.
5. Public Library “Fran Galovic” in Koprivnica
The public library Fran Galovic is situated right in the Koprivnica town’s main square and today works as the center of culture, information, education, and leisure in the city.
Tourists adore this library. It carries the charm of the town’s living room.
“Fran Galovic” public library is actually the first licensed TEDxLibrary in the EU. It houses 140,000 books and clocks over 125,000 visitors every year.
The mission of this library is to promote and stimulate reading. It fosters lifelong learning by using cutting-edge technology and by taking under its fold the vulnerable parts of society. This can clearly be seen in its slogan “Library opens to everyone.”
Apart from the centuries-old traditional libraries, Croatia has many other hit literary locations as well. Most of them are located in the capital, Zagreb.
6. Pod starim krovovima
The legacy of the legendary poets Anton Gustav Matoš and Tin Ujević turned many Zagreb cafés into exciting, vibrant artistic hubs.
Founded in 1830, “Pod starim krovovima” (Under the old rooftops) is one of the top literary destinations in the country. You can’t resist its old-world charm, especially, during regular poetry and live music events.
Called “Knjiga i kava” (book and coffee) is a two-story café nicely decorated with pictures of old Zagreb.
Locals like to call it Milčec after the writer Zvonimir Milčec who founded and ran this place for decades until his death in 2014.
8. Cafe U Dvorištu
This literary location holds excellent events, including reading workshops, and creative writing courses for book lovers.
U Dvorištu is artistically designed and blessed with a peaceful atmosphere that literary souls in Zagreb enjoy very much.
9. Villa Rein
In the elite neighborhood of Tuskanac in Zagreb, you will find the Villa Rein. The legendary Croatian writer Miroslav Krleža lived here for decades.
Nowadays his apartment is used as a museum. Here you can sneak a peek into his private life shared with actress Bela Krleža.
10. Memorial Apartment of Marija Jurić Zagorka
This tiny apartment situated at the heart of Zagreb looks over the lovely Dolac market, one of the Zagreb citizens’ favorite places in town.
Zagorka was the first-ever female journalist in Croatia and author of novels that beautifully captured the Upper Town’s mystical spirit. Lotrščak Tower or Bloody Bridge street which connects Radićeva and Tkalčićeva streets, now serve as tourist attractions.
Croatia has several extremely popular independent bookstores and antique shops apart from traditional libraries and literary buzz cafes. I promise, if you browse them long enough, you could find some rare editions, maps, and various trinkets.
If you ever find yourself in beautiful Zagreb, make sure to check out antiquarian bookstore Biblos. It is the place to go for rare historical tomes, maps, and books.
Jesinski & Turk is a second-hand bookstore you should not miss, and the same goes for Vuković & Runjić bookstore. For modern international fiction lovers, there is the popular Ljevak, situated on Zagreb’s main square.
I must mention the Bibliofil bookstore in Palmotićeva street. It’s a prominent antiquarian publisher that stocks rare, first edition art and literature books. You can take in the magnificent photography and poetry collections, too, while you are there.
Croatia is a small and young country with a vibrant literary tradition. Literary gems hidden behind the thick walls of old, beautiful buildings will make any bookworm very excited.
Visit one of these literary destinations, pick your treasures, and read them on one of the many beautiful Croatian beaches. It really does not get better than that!
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