Osijek is located in the fertile plain of Slavonia, 20 kilometers from where the Drava River meets the Danube. It is the largest and most important city in the eastern Croatia and probably the 'best hidden gem' in the continental part of Croatia.
Indeed, Osijek's beauty in many ways captures the attention. It is the greenest of the larger Croatian cities, with as many as 17 parks, encopasssing area of nearly 400 000 square meters. Baroque Fortress is the best preserved complex of its kind in the country, the magnificent Cathedral stands alongside Zagreb and Ðakovo Cathedrals, which are known as being the most beautiful in continental Croatia. Art Nouveau palaces might make you feel as if you are walking the wide streets of Vienna, while the beautiful river promenade is located almost in the center of the town.
Osijek is famous for one means of transportation - the tram. It is, along with Zagreb, the only Croatian city on whose streets this electric vehicle drives, and was the first city in Croatia that has got, at that time, this fashionable means of public transportation.
History of Osijek
Osijek is a city with a very rich history, which it largely owes to its 'ungrateful' position. For the most of its history Osijek has been located near the borders of various countries, kingdoms, empires. That often brought war conflicts to Osijek and famous Tvrđa (Fortress) is a magnificent witness of that time. Tvrđa is a huge complex that was completely surrounded by great walls less than one hundred years ago. The reason for building of this beautiful fortress was protection against the Turks, who had held the city under occupation for more than 150 years.
The most recent war memories are those of Croatian Homeland War, when Osijek was exposed to Greater-Serbian aggression and experienced a severe struggle for freedom. More than 1 600 soldiers and civilians were killed. Much of the city was destroyed, and the damage has still not been fully repaired. For example, the Cathedral was directly struck by numerous grenades and it is still partly being restored.
At the beginning of the Homeland War (on June 27, 1991), Osijek caught the attention of world media for one now iconic event. It is the famous smashing of red little Fiat, which one Osijek citizen left at the crossroads, wanting to stop enemy tanks that rampaged the city. One of the tanks ran over Fiat, and this event eventually became a symbol of the beginning of defense of Osijek and the rest of Croatia. Exactly 20 years after the event, the monument was erected at the intersection of Vukovarska and Trpimirova (Vukovar and Trpimir) streets, where everything happened in 1991, but with a small difference - now Fiat runs over the tank!
One graffiti is also connected with Croatian Homeland War, probably the most famous in Croatia. It is located at the intersection of Trpimirova and Divaltova streets, with the message - 'Osijek - Unconquered City', and eventually this term bacame often used as a nickname for Osijek, to commemorate the heroism shown in the defense of the city in the early nineties. Since year 2012 that graffiti is protected as a cultural monument of local importance.
Significant people from Osijek
Many famous Croats were born in Osijek or spent part of their lives in it. Matija Petar Katančić, one of the most famous Croatian enlighteners and author of the first complete translation of the Bible in Croatian language, spent there a big part of his life. Two famous ecclesiastical superiors - Cardinal Franjo Šeper and Bishop Josip Juraj Strossmayer, who had a major role in the incentive for building of Osijek Cathedral, have been born in Osijek.
Osijek is also proud of the fact that two Croatian Nobel laureates - Ružička and Vladimir Prelog spent parts of their lives in this city. Famous violinist Franjo Krežma and painter Bela Čikoš Sesija were born in Osijek, too.
Osijek is a city with significant cultural and historical heritage and a very interesting story, but it has not yet been sufficiently recognized among potential visitors. However, increased investment in various valuable sights, primarily in Tvrđa, could change it very soon. Above all, if Tvrđa gets inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List (it is on a tentative list at the moment), it could certainly be a real turning point for the largest city in the east Croatia and a game changer for its tourism sector.