Croatia – Osijek

Osijek is the fourth largest city in Croatia with a population of 108,048 in 2011. It is the largest city and the economic and cultural centre of the eastern Croatian region of Slavonia, as well as the administrative centre of Osijek-Baranja County. Osijek is located on the right bank of the river Drava, 25 kilometres (16 mi) upstream of its confluence with the Danube, at an elevation of 94 metres (308 ft).

The origins of human habitation of Osijek dates back to Neolithic times, with the first known inhabitants belonging to the Illyrians and later invading Celtic tribes. After the conquest of Pannonia, Mursa was under the administration and protection of the Roman 7th legion which maintained a military Castrum at the colony and a bridge over the river Drava. Roman emperor Hadrian raised the old settlement of Mursa to a colony with special privileges in 131. After that, Mursa had a turbulent history, with several decisive battles taking place at its immediate proximity, among which the most notable are the battle between Aureolus and Ingenuus in 260 and especially brutal and bloody Battle of Mursa Major in 351. These battles, especially the latter one, had long-term consequences for the colony and the region which was already under ever-increasing pressure from the invading Goths and other invading tribes.

The earliest recorded mention of Osijek dates back to 1196. The town was a feudal property of Kórógyi family between 1353 and 1472. After the death of the last Kórógyi, King Mathias granted it to the Rozgonyi family. The city was almost completely destroyed by the Ottoman conquerors on 8 August 1526. The Turks rebuilt it in Ottoman oriental style and it was mentioned in the Turkish census of 1579. In 1566, Suleiman the Magnificent built a famous, 8 kilometer-long wooden bridge of boats in Osijek, considered at that time to be one of the wonders of the world. In Ottoman Empire Osijek was part of the Budin Eyalet.

Following the Battle of Mohács in 1687, Osijek was liberated from the Ottomans on 29 September 1687.

Habsburg Empire

Osijek was restored to western rule on 29 September 1687 when the Turks were ousted and the city was occupied by the Habsburg Empire. Between 1712 and 1715, the Austrian authorities built a new fortress, outer walls and all five planned bastions (authored by the architect Maximilian de Gosseau) known as Tvrđa. It is a unique urban and military complex that lies in the heart of the town. Its main, central Holy Trinity Square is closed on the north by the building of the Military Command, on the west by the Main Guard building and on the east by the Magistrate building (presently Museum of Slavonia). In the middle of the square there is a monument to the plague which was erected in 1729 by general Maximilian Petras’ widow. The Gornji Grad (Upper Town) was founded in 1692 and Donji Grad (Lower Town) followed on 1698 settled mostly by the inhabitants from swampy area of Baranja. Tvrđa, Gornji, and Donji grad continued as separate municipalities until 1786 when they were united into a single entity. In late 18th century it took over from Virovitica as the centre of the Verőce county. The Habsburg empire also facilitated the migration and settlement of German immigrants into the town and region during this period.

Secessionist architecture

In 1809, Osijek was granted the title of a Free Royal City and during the early 19th century it was the largest city in Croatia. The city developed along the lines of other central European cities, with cultural, architectural and socio-economic influences filtering down from Vienna and Buda.

In the late 19th century and early 20th century, Osijek was the seat of the Virovitica County of the Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia.

During the 19th century, cultural life mostly revolved around the theatre, museums (the first museum, Museum of Slavonia, was opened in 1877 by private donations), collections, and printing houses (the Franciscans). City society, whose development was accompanied by a prosperous economy and developed trade relations, was related to religious festivals, public events (fairs), entertainment and sports. The Novi Grad (New Town) section of the city was built in the 19th century, as well as Retfala to the west.

Twentieth century

The newest additions to the city include Sjenjak, Vijenac, Jug and Jug II, which were built in the twentieth century. The city’s geographical riverside location, and noted cultural and historical heritage — particularly the baroque Tvrđa, one of the most immediately recognizable structures in the region — facilitated the development of tourism. The Osijek oil refinery was a strategic bombing target of the Oil Campaign of World War II.

Immediately after the war, the daily newspaper Glas Slavonije was relocated to Osijek and has printed there ever since. A history archive was established in the city in 1947 and city library in 1949. The Children’s theatre and the art gallery were open in 1950.

As a continuation of the tradition of promoting national heritage, especially in music, society of culture and art “Pajo Kolarić” was established on 21 March 1954.

Osijek has been connected with the Croatian republic’s capital Zagreb and the previous federal capital Belgrade by a modern paved road since 1958. The new Drava bridge to the north was built in 1962.

The first faculty opened in Osijek was Faculty of Economy (in 1959 as Centre for economic studies of the Faculty of Economy in Zagreb), followed immediately by a high school of agriculture, later renamed as Faculty of Agriculture and Faculty of Philosophy. The Faculty of Law was established in 1975. thus becoming the first new member of newly established University of Osijek.

As part of further development as a regional food industry and agricultural centre, a major (working) collective for agriculture and industry was established in 1962.

During the 1980s, a new pedestrian suspension bridge over the Drava was built. A regional centre of National Television JRT was also opened.

Croatian War of Independence

During the war in Croatia, from 1991 to 1995, the city sustained damage, especially to the centre and Co-cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul and to the periphery. About 800 people were killed in the shelling of the town that occurred from August 1991 to June 1992. Overall, a total of 1,724 people from Osijek were killed over the course of the war, including 1,327 soldiers and 397 civilians. On the other hand, at least five Croatian officials were condemned for war crimes against Serb civilians in Osijek, including General Branimir Glavaš. While some buildings still have mild damage, most often the occasional superficial pockmark from artillery and mortar fire, the city’s façades are generally in good shape, due to extensive restoration in recent times, preserving the charm of its intricate Austro-Hungarian Baroque architecture in the older quarters of town.