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Ljerka Šimunić-Društveno-povijesni kontekst

Ljerka Šimunić

Varaždin, 21/07/2023


Social and Historical Context of Varaždin

Just before, during Construction and after the Opening of the Theatre Building

At the beginning of the 19th century, Varaždin experienced an economic boom in which its people took the initiative both in economic development and in the organization of the social and cultural life of the city. Along with Zagreb, Karlovac and Osijek, Varaždin was the bearer of the progress in continental Croatia, which was an integral part of the Habsburg Monarchy. Capitalist relations are slowly penetrating the conservative structure of society, which was based on craft and manufacturing production and trade. Varaždin is located on important roads that connect Slavonia with Austrian countries, and the construction of a bridge over the Drava near Varaždin increased traffic with Hungary. After the great fire of 1776 and the crisis caused by the Napoleonic Wars (1790-1815), which exhausted the inhabitants of the city and the surrounding villages, there was recovery and economic growth thanks to the beginnings of industry and increased trade within the Habsburg Monarchy with Italian cities, Dubrovnik and the countries under Ottoman rule. Rich merchants invested their capital in manufacturing production, the forerunner of the first industrial plants, and in their way of life they tried to imitate the nobility. They are actively involved in the creation of all segments of city’s life, from social events such as parties with dances, salon evenings filled with music and poetry, theatre performances, to encouraging concern for education, better health conditions and care for the weak and needy through charities.

At the beginning of the 19th century, along with Zagreb and Karlovac, Varaždin was the only major city in Civil Croatia with a predominantly urban population. In 1839, it had 9,026 inhabitants, while for comparison, Zagreb, as the largest city in Croatia, had 12,231 inhabitants.

Until 1807, life inside the city centre was spatially rather cramped. Due to the centuries-old threat from the Ottomans, the city was protected by a system of defensive earthen ramparts with ditches, towers and stone walls. With the end of the Turkish threat and the need for new spaces for new residential and commercial buildings related to growing economic and social development, the need for expansion and urbanization of the city became evident. It was inevitable to connect the feudal old urban municipality, the city proper and the outer suburbs into one whole. For this purpose, a detailed plan was drawn up for levelling the land after demolishing ramparts and walls and filling in ditches, as well as regulation of water drainage from ditches by building a canal system. The manager of the works was an engineer, Ignac Beyschlag. New streets and squares were established, and twelve residential units were formed through subdivision, which harmoniously merged with the old core into a unique urban space. The City Beautification Commission was established to take care of the appearance and layout of newly constructed public and private buildings. The area of the southern moat had been landscaped in 1815 and 1816, and a few years later the doctor Wilhelm Műller built a house with a garden and began shaping the first large public park on the opposite side of the newly renovated street. The development of the southern part of the city was completed by the seventies of the 19th century with the construction of imposing high school and theatre buildings.

In the period between 1850 and 1860, the merger of Erdödy’s old urban municipality and the free and royal city of Varaždin was completed, which resulted in a single city administration with a list of streets and squares and numbering of houses. The contractors of the intensive construction activity were mainly local masons: Urban Greiner, Gregor Lopich, Franjo Arnold, Vincent Dankh, J. Reich and F. Arnold. Newly built large residential and commercial buildings are characterized by harmonious volumes, prominent façades with profiled details, sculpturally shaped portals and rationally organized interior space. They were built in neo styles within the framework of historicism. Increased construction in the second half of the 19th century was made possible by the economic prosperity of Croatian cities, including Varaždin.

With the maturing of awareness of national identity, the spirit of Enlightenment and the need to create one’s own literary language spread, because until 1830, Latin was used in public administration, and German in everyday life. Many families were of German origin, which explains the fact that in addition to Varaždin’s Kajkavian language, German was also spoken. People of different origins, occupations and professions were involved in the revival efforts; nobles and citizens, merchants, artisans, clerks, writers, students, entrepreneurs and landowners. Famous Illyrians lived or often stayed in Varaždin and its surroundings: Ivan Kukuljević Sakcinski, Count Janko Drašković, Ljudevit Gaj, Mirko Bogović and Metel Ožegović. Ožegović is responsible for the founding of the Illyrian Reading Room, which after the ban on the use of the Illyrian name was renamed the National Reading Room or Dvorana / The Hall.

In 1821, Ivan Sangilla opened a printing house where books were printed in German, as well as works by local writers in the Croatian language. He published the Lizimakuš Playbook in a New View by Tomo Mikloušić1, Rožić’s textbook The First Foundations of the Vernacular Language for Students, Ebner’s history of Varaždin in German, the Croatian Calendar and the long-lived Warasdin Schreib calendar, which was published from 1826 to 1898. From 1833, and for the next hundred years, the printing house was led by Sangilla’s son-in-law Josip Platzer, who expanded the business to include a lithographic workshop and bookstore. The size of Platzer’s printing house is indicated by the fact that in 1843 it had sixteen employees.

Varaždin was considered the seat of Kajkavian literature, which contributed to the development of theatrical life. Nikola Batušić (1985:107) believes that this was influenced by the tradition of performing plays in Kajkavian, which flourished in Illyrian times as part of a revival programme.

Ivan Padovec (1800-1873), a guitar virtuoso and composer, extremely respected in Croatia and abroad, lived in Varaždin along with the musician and composer Leopold Ebner2. He composed compositions in a patriotic spirit that were performed by local musicians. He dedicated the Croatian folk songs to Ljudevit Gaj, who lived in Varaždin for some time. In 1827, the Music Society (Musikverein) was founded, under whose auspices the following year, in 1828, the Music School, a nursery for future musicians, began its work. A rich social life also took place on Varaždinbreg, in the vineyard houses of wealthier citizens. Albert Leitner and his wife Terezija took the lead in organizing concerts, literary evenings and amateur theatre performances, who for this purpose built a summer house on Mali Vrh with a summer stage, a theatre hall and a lawn. Among the many visitors, Dragutin Antolek Orešek, one of the initiators of the construction of the new theatre, was a frequent guest.

In revolutionary 1848, Croatian Ban/Viceroy Josip Jelačić gathered an army of 50,000 soldiers in Varaždin on the eve of the campaign against Hungary (Horvat.1993:308). The citizens welcomed him with enthusiasm, and sent a request to the court in Vienna to convene the Croatian Parliament and unify all Croatian countries. With the introduction of Bach’s absolutism4 and dictatorship, the newly awakened political and social life died down. Despite this, construction activity in the city was in full swing. In the sixties and seventies, several buildings were built in the historicist style. Neo-Renaissance villa of the Oršić family. In the newly routed street that leads from the centre of the city to the railway station, the neoclassical villa of Koloman Bedeković was formed by the reconstruction of Dr. Müller’s house with an entrance porch with classicist columns and an attic. A little further, in the direction of the station, a synagogue with two towers on the main façade was built in 1860. On the main city square, two two-story buildings, a savings bank building and the house of the wholesaler Schlenger at the beginning of Gajeva Street impose their dimensions, while the new gymnasium/high school building becomes a dominant visual point in the eastern part of the city.

In 1873, the theatre building, designed by the Viennese architect Helmer, was completed and opened to the public on the site of the former southern borough moat, next to the city promenade, which dominates the entire space with its location, dimensions and decorative plastic motifs. Demanding tasks related to tenders for the selection of architects and construction contractors, securing finances, equipping with inventory and decorations, up to the organization of the grand opening were entrusted to the Theatre Construction Committee. It is hard to believe that the city administration of a city with about 12,000 inhabitants had the vision and courage to finance two public purpose buildings (a gymnasium and a theatre) with city funds, each of which in its own way will contribute to the educational and cultural development of the city in the future.

The nineteenth century in Varaždin was marked by two new media that would enrich civic life: journalism and photography. The first Croatian humorous newspaper the Podravski Hedgehog11, edited by Antolek-Orešek, shut down after the first issue due to small circulation and satirical content. The People’s Friend was published eleven years before its ban. This was followed by Varaždinski glasnik, Hrvatska straža and Varaždinski viestnik. The news published in the gazettes were the events of discussions in coffee houses, inns and lodgings with interesting names: To the Golden Lion, To the Wild Man, The Town‘s Beer Tavern and To the Lamb. People drank, ate, socialized, danced, played cards and even acted on amateur basis there, sometimes with the staging of the so-called living images. In the time of political and economic renewal, Croatia followed the emergence of new achievements in Europe. Varaždin is not lagging behind in these efforts. About ten years after the invention of photography, portraits of Varaždin residents were taken in the studios of Stjepan Lypoldt, Herman Fickert, Herman Weidner and Rudolf Mosinger. They do not only film indoors, but leaving the workshops they recorded the motifs in the streets and squares, festive events such as the dedication of the fire brigade’s banner in 1869, important people, historical and cultural landmarks, and in this way preserved for us the images of the city of their time.                

Krešimir Filić (1929:1) writes about the daily life of Varaždin residents in the middle of the 19th century based on the accounts of Karolina Jaccomini, born Hertl, wife of city councillor Srećko Jaccomini. She remembers the city roads, which in her time were still partly unpaved and without sidewalks, and narrow, dusty and muddy roads led along the walls with ditches. City streets had Croatian and German names, such as today’s Gajeva street, which was called Gentlemen’s Street, or Herrengasse, and Shopping Street, or Gewölbergasse. The main traffic took place along Optujska street towards Slovenia and Austria, Drava Street towards Hungary and Slavonia, and Dugi konec towards Zagreb. Carriages were used for public transport, and journeys were long and arduous due to bad roads. In the city centre there were wells on the main square, in front of the Franciscan church and in Gajeva Street, and to this day only the well on today’s Stančić Square has been preserved. The streets were lit by oil lamps. The Cemetery of St. Vitus was abandoned around 1840, and today’s city cemetery has been gradually renovated. Only a few stone monuments and iron crosses on some of the graves have been preserved from that time. The morgue was built in 1867. As in the second half of the 19th century, in addition to baroque palaces and simple town houses, large residential and office buildings appeared, the simply decorated interiors of houses and apartments were replaced by larger and more lavishly equipped residential premises, depending on the possibilities of the owners. In the Biedermeier era (1820-1850), according to the fashion of the time, the furniture was, in accordance with the taste of the time, of simple shapes and decorations, usually in brown and black colours. In the second half of the 19th century, furniture and decoration imitated earlier styles, and Altdeutsch furniture was especially appreciated. At social events, ladies wore simple dresses decorated with silk ribbons and ornaments. Only noblewomen and wealthy citizens wore silk dresses. Fashion accessories such as hats, fans, purses embroidered with silk thread and jewellery completed the fashion dresses. The girls wore white or bright dresses. From the middle of the century, crinolines with wide skirts supported by metal springs were in fashion. The dark-coloured tailcoat and top hat were an indispensable part of men’s fashion, and with the Biedermeier, lighter tones entered fashion. We learn about the type of dances from preserved dance routines, the most common dances were the polka, the waltz and the mazurka.