During my Zagreb city tours, when we’re passing through the street of Tkalčićeva, I sometimes hear my guests whispering “Mary Poppins, Mary Poppins…”, as we are approaching the statue in the middle of the street. Sorry to disappoint you, but that’s not Mary Poppins…

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But, she is Mary – Marija Jurić Zagorka (1873 – 1957), one of the most popular and widely read Croatian writers. Many people forget that she was a big women’s rights supporter and the very first Croatian professional female journalist – she founded “Women’s Papers”, first newspapers not only in Croatia, but in the whole region to focus on women’s issues.

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Zanimljivost za sve ljubitelje Zagorke: U Zagrebu postoji i Društvo Marije Jurić Zagorke. Postanite članovi ili se pridružite Zagorki u šetnji gradom. Više informacije na info (a) drustvozagorke.com, duda.vidovic (a) gmail.com.

Interesting fact for all Zagorka fans out there: There is a society of Marija Jurić Zagorka in Zagreb. You can become a member or join Zagorka on her walk through the city center. Zagorka’s city tours are available only in Croatian. For more info, you can write to info (a) drustvo.zagorke.com or duda.vidovic (a) gmail.com.

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Zagorka’s life as well was almost like a novel, with so many ups and downs. She was married early in her life to a much older Hungarian man. It was a marriage full of harassment, but she managed to escape to Zagreb a couple of years later. She was of course forced to check in into the mental institution where they declared that the young woman is perfectly fine – she just wanted to divorce.

As a journalist, she was quite often mocked and ridiculed by her male colleagues at the beginning of the 20th century. Some thought it was a cultural and moral scandal having a woman journalist in the newsroom. They even made a special little area in the office for her. “Ah, that’s so sweet, special area for her”, maybe you’d say. The idea was actually to put her somewhere in the building where she would not be seen by the people passing through the newsroom. On occasion, she would choose to write under a male pen-name. She worked in “Obzor” for 22 years and then she quit when they refused to give her the same salary as her male colleagues got.

But, her career as a writer flourished. She was fascinated by the history of Zagreb, mixing the rich history of our town with romantic elements. Her most famous work is a cycle of seven novels under a common title The Witch of Grič (Grička vještica, Grič being the Zagreb Upper Town). Set in the 18th century, it combines mystery, romance and adventure in a story about a young girl being accused of witchcraft. First novel in the cycle, Secret of the Bloody Bridge, functions as some sort of a prequel and it starts with a set of mysterious serial murders where each body is found under the Bloody Bridge.

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The statue of Zagorka that we can see today in Tkalčićeva Street (made by Stjepan Gračan) is actually located quite close to this “Bloody Bridge”. Today, it’s a small street but once upon a time there was really a bridge connecting the two settlements, Kaptol and Gradec, that only later united to form the modern city of Zagreb. The name of this street is Bloody Bridge / Krvavi most, even today and even though the bridge disappeared centuries ago. The stream of Medvescak, the natural border of Kaptol and Gradec, is today an underground stream and the whole block, including Tkalčićeva Street, was built on top of it. If you look a little bit closely to the statue of Zagorka, it will seem to you as if she’s walking towards this Bloody Bridge.

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But maybe it’s better to let Zagorka speak for herself. Her work is still not translated in English. Luckily, there are always some enthusiastic translators like me, so I found this translation of the first chapter of the “Secret” online. Maybe that’s a plus – I hope you will read this short part and be so caught up in the mystery of the Bloody Bridge, enough to decide to come to visit Zagreb, stay here, live here, learn Croatian and read the book.

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