Morning in Zagreb, with a focus on the Harmica

This morning I shopped in Dolac market, walked through the Harmica to Trg bana Jelačića, and returned home.

Dolac Market is a market in the center of Zagreb, where vendors sit under bright red umbrellas showcasing vegetables, fruit, herbs, nuts, and honey. The outdoor market sits directly on top of the indoor market, and one can navigate between the two through sets of stairs. Today I shopped (as I always shop) in the outdoor market. It’s a Saturday, so it was especially bustling, bumping into Croatians and tourists in the too-narrow aisles.

After buying some tomatoes and garlic for dinner, I walked down the stairs of Dolac market and into the Harmica. The Harmica is a strange passageway that connects Dolac to the Trg bana Jelačića, which is the jumbly, difficult-to-pronounce name of the central square. Recently I have been rather drawn to the Harmica, because it contains the most interesting, eerie, spiral staircases. It feels like a disturbing relic of Communism, some decaying scrap of the non-charming past. An attempt at Modernism, but too cold to suffice, incompatible with the Western canon. It contains the strangest cylindrical lighting fixtures, which protrude perpendicularly from the ceiling. It seems there are never more than a handful of working lights in this space at a time.

Walking in from Dolac towards the Trg:

Looking back through the Harmica towards Dolac:

Aside from this overwhelming structure, there are also strange shops in the Harmica. One is Vladimir’s jewelry. You can see a small glimmer of this space in the lower photo, the warm illuminated windows below the stairs. The jewelry here is an assortment of flamboyant costume necklaces, rings, and earrings.

The parallel but oppositely-ascending (see top photo) spiral staircases in this space are always closed by large, white, metal gates. I doubt I will ever be able to see Harmica’s contents beyond the ground floor. I read somewhere that the upper levels contain apartments, but I have yet to see evidence of this. Often I stand in the center of the Harmica, in the space exactly between the spiral staircases, and look upward to see the stacked layers of curved, criss-crossing stairs. It all forms a concentric pattern, repetitive squares with rounded corners. A window in the ceiling of the Harmica allows me to see the full extent of this pattern, but it also proves too bright to gaze at for long.

I exit and reach the Trg bana Jelačića. Here, there is a massive statue of General/Count Josip Jelačić on horseback, triumphantly raising his sword. Looking backward, the internal harshness of the Harmica is disguised by a beautiful, pale yellow exterior. In the photo below you can see a sliver of the General, and you can see the frilly, lemony exterior of the Harmica. The tiny archway directly above the red-coated woman’s head is the entrance to the Harmica, the portal to Dolac.

There is something about the Harmica that seems to summarize the entirety of Zagreb. The internal macabre relic of Communism, the beautiful, traditional, European exterior… Zagreb is full of awkward visual clashes such as this, the mesh between charm and grimness.