Croatia: A Cradle of the European Culture
Croatian architecture, sculpture, poetry and many other arts have spread across Europe.

When some days ago, Croatia joined the European Union, Europeans began discovering a peculiar region of our continent, which historically played an essential role in the development of the European culture.

Croatian culture is characterized by a mix of different artistic influences and traditions imposed by various dominations. For this reason today the country can be proud to represent several artistic styles and trends. Even though a strong national identity developed in the last decades, it’s not possible to completely erase the historical and geographical divisions that culturally divided the coastal region (Istria and Dalmatia) from the continental region (the inner part of the country). 

In these three areas distinct artistic currents developed . The inner regions of Croatia underwent the influence of the Hungarian culture, since Hungary controlled those areas from 1102 to 1918, while Istria and Dalmatia were under Italian influences. 


Croatia is divided in three main geographical and cultural regions.
Istria, at the North-West of the country. Dalmatia,  at the West, across most of the coast. And Slavonia (Continental Croatia), at the North.

Continental Croatia

The inner regions, were considered peripheral zones of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and for this reason, those areas don’t show an artistic development of particular uniqueness, except for some interesting monuments built in the Renaissance and Baroque styles.

One of the greatest cultural expressions in the continental area is represented by the urban design of Zagreb, historically comparable to the largest and most developed European centers.

Another interesting example of artistic development in the same area, is the city of Karlovac, built in 1527, following the plan of an "ideal city".


Karlovac is a Renaissance and Baroque-inspired town.
The urban plan is based on the "ideal Renaissance pattern", according to which the city is situated inside the lines of a star and all structures are created in defined geometric blocks.

Coastal Croatia

Both Istria and Dalmatia felt under the control of Venice in the year 1000 AD, and from this moment on, the coastal towns of those regions referred to the great Venetian art. This is clearly visible in several historic monuments, which have are typical examples of Italian styles of the time, such as Romanesque, Italian Gothic and Renaissance.

What is less known today, is that in both Istria as well as in Dalmatia, the Venetian influences were not just absorbed, but were also further developed. Artists in that area were able to create a local mutation of the artistic styles that came from the other side of the Adriatic Sea. Eventually Dalmatian culture gave an important contribution to the entire artistic development of the Mediterranean areas.

In order to understand the magnitude and importance of Dalmatian culture of the fifteenth century, it is sufficient to mention some protagonists of the time. The architect and sculptor Giorgio Orsini, known as George from Sibenik, who was active on both sides of the Adriatic, the sculptor Giovanni Dalmata, but also Andrea Alessi, Niccolo Fiorentino and Luciano Laurana. The latter contributed to revolutionizing Italian architecture and sculpture in the fifteenth century, with the achievement of one of the most important emblem of the Italian Renaissance: the Palazzo Ducale in Urbino.


The stunning Palazzo Ducule in Urbino, is one of the most important monuments in Italy, and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A prominent fortress-builder, Luciano Laurana, from Dalmatia, contributed to its creation.

Modern Croatian Culture

From the twentieth Century Croatian culture was deeply enriched by painters and sculptors such as: Ivan Mestrovic, a great sculptor considered one of the greatest phenomenon among contemporary sculptors, but also the Impressionists M. Kraljevic, J. Racic and V. Becic and the naïve I. Generalic and I. Rabuzin.

Nowadays, after a difficult period due to the end of the empire of Yugoslavia, Croatia is a land of great contemporary artistic movements: young painters, sculptors and especially performers, who exorcise through art the Croatian dramatic history, giving us moments of rare intensity.

Some artists are internationally recognized, such as: Svjetlan Junakovic and Mirko Zrinšcak.

Some other artists are better shown below.

Miroslav Krleža is considered the most important Croatian writer of the last century. Born in 1893 in Zagreb when the town was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was a novelist, but also a poet, playwright, essayist and literary critic. When he was young he entered the military academy in Budapest, but he soon distinguished himself for his anti-militarism. In the monarchic Yugoslavia he was one of the best-known writers, but his unorthodox attitude, the anti-dogmatism and his refusal to apply the directives of the USSR forced him to play a marginal role in the party and in 1937 the writer was expelled from the party by Tito himself. During the Yugoslavian civil war Krleža’s position was in favor of a united Yugoslavia, seen by the writer as his homeland, and for this reason his works were less popular during last years of his life and after the Croatian declaration of independence.

Krleža died in 1981.



Augustin “Tin” Ujević was born in Vrgorac (Dalmatia) in1851 and he was considered one of the greatest Croatian poets. He completed classical gymnasium in Split, spent some time in France during WWI and studied in Belgrade, where he lived for 10 of his most fruitful years. He was a political activist of Yugoslav nationalism (1912–1916). Ujević lived his life following the “politics wanderer” idea, travelling in many cities and many countries and taking part in some important riots, such as in Belgrade, Sarajevo, Mostar, Split and Zagreb. He is known as an essayist, poet and translator, translating numerous works of poetry, novels and short stories into Serbian and Croatian (Walt Whitman, Marcel Proust, Joseph Conrad, Benvenuto Cellini, George Meredith, etc.).

The poet wrote more than ten books of essays, poetries in prose and meditations.

His poetics was particularly influenced by the Western poetic tradition: Dante Alighieri, Goethe, Charles Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Whitman and Ezra Pound, but also the most important Croatian poets including Marko Marulić and Ivan Gundulić.

Ujević’s subject varies from pantheist mysticism to humble Christian spirituality, from celebration of corporeality and ecstatic unity of the human, non-human and the divine to meditative repose and from the ironic verse making burlesque of modern technology-driven civilization to the tender verbal music hallowing ancient Dalmatian hamlets. Some of his masterpieces are: Lelek sebra/Cry of a slave, 1920, Belgrade (in cyrilic, ekavian), Kolajna/Necklace, 1926, Belgrade (in cyrilic, ekavian), Skalpel kaosa/Scalpel of chaos 1938, Zagreb. Ujević held a post in the Independent State of Croatia in which he worked as a translator, and continued to publish some material. Because of this, the communist regime in Yugoslavia prevented him from continuing with his literary career for several years. Ujević died in 1955.


Ivan Meštrović was born in 1883 he is considered the greatest Croatian sculptor of religious subjects since the Renaissance. He was born in the village of Vrpolje and he spent his childhood in Otavice (Dalmatia). At the age of sixteen, a master stone cutter from Split, Pavle Bilinić, noticed his talent and he took him as an apprentice. His artistic skills were improved by studying the monumental buildings in the city and his education at the hands of Bilinić's wife, who was a high-school teacher. Soon, they found a mine owner from Vienna who paid for Meštrović to move there and be admitted to the Academy of Fine Arts. In 1905 he made his first exhibit with the Secession Group in Vienna, noticeably influenced by the Art Nouveau style. His work quickly became popular. In 1908 Meštrović moved to Paris and the sculptures made in this period earned him an international reputation. In 1911 he moved to Belgrade, and soon after to Rome where he received the grand prix for the Serbian Pavilion at the 1911 Rome International Exhibition. He remained in Rome where he spent four years studying ancient Greek sculpture. During WWI, he declared his political opposition to the Austro-Hungarian authorities. He continued travelling also during the war to make exhibitions in Paris, Cannes, London and in Switzerland. Some of his most interesting monuments are: the statue Gregory of Nin in Split and  Josip Juraj Strossmayer in Zagreb.

He died in 1962.Statue-of-Bishop-Strossmayer-600x300.jpg

Svjetlan Junaković (Zagreb, 23 January 1961) is a Croatian artist known for his illustrations of children's books. He has received numerous international awards for his illustrations and has participated in exhibitions throughout Europe. He graduated from the Brera Academy in Milan in 1985 where he specialized in sculpture. He works as a painter, sculptor, illustrator and graphic designer and is also a lecturer in illustration at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb and the International School in Sàrmede in Italy. Junaković has won many international prizes. In 2001 he won prizes at the Biennial of Illustration Bratislava for Mit Pauken und Trompeten (With Bass Drums and Trumpets) and Roter Frosch, grüner Flamingo (Red Frog, Greener Flamingo). In 2008 he was nominated for the Hans Christian Andersen Award by the Croatian IBBY section. In 2009 he won the Levstik Award for his illustrations in 100 + 1 uganka (100 + 1 Riddles).Svjetlan-Junakovic-Penguin-Pips-207481.jpg

Author: Santino Santinelli

Editor: Ivan Botoucharov

Find out more about Croatia, and it's ambitions, politics, economics, society and new relationship with the EU, at our debate: Croatia in the EU: Challenges and Opportunities

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