Čakovec, Croatia

Once the site of the first-century Roman town of Aquama, itself a marsh, a military post, and a legionnaire camp, the Croatian city of Čakovec is a great place to stop if you’re road-tripping from Hungary to the coast.

We rocked up about 8am after a 90-minute wait at the border at Letenye. Note duly made to self NEVER to cross the border on a Saturday in July. It was as if the entire country were heading for the coast. Madness.

The Hungarian name of Čakovec is Csáktornya, and for once, the Hungarian name translates into something I can understand – Csák’s tower – so named because of the man who built a timber tower in the thirteenth century.

The city owes its fortune to Nikola Zrinski IV, from Szigetvár, on the Hungarian Balaton. We’re in the mid-fifteen hundreds now. The castle is still there in Zrinksi Park and is now home to the Međimurje County Museum.

A run of bad luck in the 1700s saw the city dealing with an earthquake (1738) and a fire (1741) and then another earthquake in 1880. It was around this time that the Festetics family connection was established and the town morphed into a large estate with the beginnings of industry and trade emerging. Hungary lost it between 1918 and 1941 but got it back for three years until April 1945 when it was captured by the Soviets. [This reminded me of a book I worked on for Norman Davies where he told the history of Poland through postage stamps. It was mindblowing to realise that between the time a postcard was mailed to a town in Poland from the USA and when it arrived, that town was no longer Polish.]

My favourite building was the twentieth-century secessionist style Trgovački kasino (commercial casino). I came across a comment on Trip Advisor that makes an interesting point.

Some websites and guide books claim the architect was “the notable Ödön Horvath”, but as Ödön von Horvath was a famous writer, this seems improbable! Maybe his name was confused with Ödön Lechner, who was perhaps the greatest Hungarian architect of the period (sometimes called the Hungarian Gaudi). I haven’t found any evidence for this but I suppose it is just possible.

That set me off on another tangent of discovery. I’d never put a name to the creator of so many stunning art nouveau buildings in Budapest but now I know.

We were a little too early to catch the Zrinski guard, keepers of the Zrinski heritage. Apparently, the costumed guardsmen and artillerymen and their accompanying drum orchestra are quite the sight. We also missed seeing Pozoj, the dragon who is said to live underground and stretch from the castle down a far as the Church of St Nicholas in the town square. That’s some dragon. Pozoj met his match in a grabancijaš dijak (sorcerer’s apprentice) who studied at what was called the Thirteenth College. That’s where you went back in the day to learn the magic needed to rid your town of dragons. It makes for fascinating reading.

 

The Church of St Nicholas is what you’d Intrigued by the photo of Blessed Leopold Mandić (now St Leopold and the patron saint of those suffering from cancer), I was curious to know if he had any connection to the city but I couldn’t find any. He ranks up there with Padre Pio as a Saint-Confessor, often spending 15 hours a day hearing confessions. I can’t begin to imagine the level of concentration that would have taken.

At the personal request of Pope Francis, Mandić’s remains were brought to Rome for veneration during the 2015–2016 Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. He and his fellow Capuchin friar, Pio of Pietrelcina, were designated as saint-confessors to inspire people to become reconciled to the Church and to God, by the confession of their sins. Their bodies were available for veneration, first at the Basilica of Saint Lawrence outside the Walls, administered by the Capuchin friars, then at St. Peter’s Basilica.

Perhaps most moving of all though was the permanent photo exhibition in the park of those who died in the Homeland War – the Croatian War of Independence.

I was surprised to read of the use of chemical weapons. And even more surprised at how little I knew about it all. 1991 isn’t so long ago. I wasn’t in Europe at the time so maybe that explains it? Now that I’m so close to Croatia though and it all having happened in living memory, it makes it all the more real.

Some of those in the photos died at the Battle of Vukovar in November 1991. Nenad Zoroja died in Novska in December that same year and is buried in Varaždin. As recently as 2014, what happened in Novska was being monitored by the Centre for Peace, Nonviolence, and Human Rights. As in all wars, there was bad on both sides. This was the first of many references we’d see to the war. So young. So sad.

We had a quiche breakfast in the lovely garden at Bistro Beška (recommended) and had we been sticking around, I’m sure we’d have caught some live music at the Fox Bar. Loved the crazy loos.

If you’re driving from Hungary down to the coast, it’s a perfect stop-off place. And if you’re there end of July to early August, you’ll catch the famous Umbrella Festival. Am tempted. Am tempted.

 

 

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