Baroque

These days, we tend to think of ‘Baroque’ as symbolising stylishness. In fact, the word was used as a term of derision by those that felt it was excessive and quite simply too loud. Whereas the Renaissance drew its inspiration from the Classical, with its rational straight lines, Baroque was colourful, curvy and just a bit too loud for some tastes.

Baroque survived, however, and not only did it survive, it thrived. Germany, Austria and Russia proved to be centres for the style and it is not too difficult to find Baroque architecture in most European cities. Even sober Englishmen like Wren and Hawksmoor could not resist a touch of Baroque in their designs.

With so many examples to choose from, it is not an easy task to reduce the list to a mere handful, but the buildings described below are, in our opinion, among the finest.

Kyiv

Baroque caught on in Eastern Europe and is quite often found in Ukraine, Russia and neighbouring countries. Churches, in particular, are a popular building for the style and there are many wonderful examples in Kyiv.

St Andrew is not only Scotland’s patron saint, but that of Ukraine as well, and the church dedicated to him is one of Kyiv’s best. It was designed by the great Baroque architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli and nowadays is the patriarchal cathedral of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. The building was completed in 1767. As with many Orthodox churches, the interior artwork is stunning and features a lavish, three-tier iconostasis, also designed by Rastrelli.

St Andrew's

St Andrew’s

Also worth a look, though sadly one cannot go inside, is the Mariinsky Palace, designed by the same architect. This lovely blue and cream building is an excellent example of the Russian Baroque style. It was built in 1755 as a residence for royalty visiting Kyiv.

Mariinsky Palace

Mariinsky Palace

St Petersburg

The fingerprints of the ubiquitous Rastrelli can be seen all over St Petersburg, never more evidently than in the Winter Palace and at first sight, the visitor might assume that St Nicholas Cathedral was another Rastrelli classic. In an indirect sense, it is, having been designed by one of the Italian’s pupils, one Savva Chevakinsky, who was also the architect responsible for the rebuilding of St Petersburg’s first museum, the equally lavish Kunstkamera.

Kunstkamera

Kunstkamera

The cathedral is quite unmissable, a giant turquoise and white wedding cake set amidst trees and gardens. The interior is just as decorative as the external appearance. It has a long association with the Russian Navy and is sometimes referred to as the Naval Cathedral.

St Nicholas

St Nicholas

St Nicholas - tower

St Nicholas – tower

Across the Neva River stands the Peter and Paul Cathedral, designed by Domenico Trezzini (who also designed the Twelve Collegia, the main building of St Petersburg University) and completed in 1733. The bell tower is the tallest of any Orthodox church and the lavishly decorated interioor houses the tombs of most of Russia’s emperors and empresses.

St Peter and Paul

St Peter and Paul

Istanbul

Istanbul’s varied and turbulent history means that there are buildings of varying styles and, in some cases, a mixture of styles. The city does not lack for beautiful buildings and one of the very best is the Dolmabahce Palace.

Designed by Armenian architects at the behest of the Europhile Sultan Abdul Mecit, the palace was completed in 1856. It is not a modest affair; the waterfront façade is 284 metres long and the building contains 46 reception rooms and galleries. Everything is magnificent, from the highly ornamental gates to the Paul Garnier-designed clock tower, added 30 or so years after the construction of the palace.

Dolmabahce Palace

Dolmabahce Palace

It was, though, the sheer extravagance of the palace that helped bring about the downfall of the Ottoman Empire and it was from the Dolmabahce that the last emperor fled into exile in 1922.

Zagreb

Visitors in search of fine buildings make a good start if they arrive at Zagreb’s main railway station. Like many of the stations on the route of the Orient Express, it is a stylish affair. Outside the station, the view across King Tomislav Square is of lawns, flowers and a large fountain, behind which stands the elegant Art Pavilion.

St Catherine's Church

St Catherine’s Church

It is, though, up the hill in the Old Town, that the visitor needs to be to enjoy Zagreb’s magnificent Baroque St Catherine’s Church, a 17th-century construction in shimmering white and featuring gloriously outrageous pink stucco on its walls. It is located close to St Mark’s Cathedral, with its famous chequer-board roof tiles.

St Mark's Cathedral

St Mark’s Cathedral

Prague

Prague may have an extensive collection of Gothic buildings and at least one renowned Art Nouveau structure, but there is a lot of Baroque around. Indeed, the Czech Republic is something of a feast for lovers of Baroque and most churches in the countryside are built in this style.

Prague Castle, like many medieval strongholds, has been rebuilt and reconstructed many times down the years, resulting in a mixture of styles. While its cathedral is unmistakeably Gothic, there are Renaissance and Baroque structures throughout the whole complex. The Matthias Gate is believed to be the very first Baroque construction in Prague.

Prague Castle

Prague Castle

Another Prague landmark, the Charles Bridge, is noted for its Gothic towers, but one should not overlook the collection of Baroque statues – some 30 of them – on the bridge itself. The statues, by various sculptors, were added in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

St Luitgarda (Charles Bridge)

St Luitgarda (Charles Bridge)

Prague has many Baroque churches, the most famous being the Church of St Nicholas, built in the 18th century on the site of an old Gothic Church. Its architect was Christoph Dientzenhofer, who was also responsible for the rebuilding of the imposing (and Baroque) Břevnov Monastery. The monastery is known as the oldest brewer in the Czech Republic and Benedictine beer is still brewed today.

St Nicholas

St Nicholas

Eastern Europe is a happy hunting ground for lovers of Baroque and one of the pleasure is to see the variances in style from place to place.

Zagreb – Strawberries and Stout

It was spring and there were strawberries everywhere. Little stands on just about every street sold punnets of them. The vast farmers’ market in the city centre was overloaded with them. The prices varied, but only between cheap and very cheap. If you’re ever suffering from a craving for strawberries, then Zagreb in springtime is the place to provide relief.

Market

Market

There is, of course, a lot more to see in Zagreb than strawberries. The city is essentially in two parts, the Upper Town and the Lower. Gornji Grad, the upper part, is Zagreb’s historical centre with its great Gothic cathedral, Croatia’s tallest building.

Like Venice, Zagreb has a St Mark’s Square. This is also in the old town and houses a number of government buildings, evidenced by the slightly sinister looking collection of men in black that hang around the area. Rather smaller than the cathedral, but no less striking, is St Mark’s Church with its chequerboard roof that portrays the Croatian flag. The flag is a three-part affair that comprises the flags of the Kingdom of Croatia (red and white), Kingdom of Slavonia (white and blue) and Kingdom of Dalmatia (red and blue). Nature lovers should look out for the pine marten, the symbol of Slavonia, that scampers across the middle of the flag.

St Mark's

St Mark’s

The other significant church in the old town is the elegantly Baroque St Catherine’s. Many of the buildings around it were the property of the church, but are now secular. Several are galleries or museums.

One of these is the Zagreb City Museum, housed in a former convent. First impressions suggest that it’s not particularly interesting, but it gets better as you go further into the building. It does very much as its title suggests, taking you on a tour through the history of Zagreb from Roman times to the present day.

This is very mainstream, of course, but this being the Balkans, expect something a bit odd to turn up. Not far away in the Old Town is the Museum of Broken Relationships, a positively mad collection of items donated from all over the world. The theme, rather obviously, is of those things that are left behind after failed love affairs.

Zagreb also has a Railway Museum, which has an eclectic assortment of photos, videos and equipment. If the collection is a bit haphazard, so too the opening times. They don’t always seem to have staff available to keep the place open, but train buffs can console themselves by walking a little further to the superb, Neo-classical railway station just to the south of the city centre.

Station

Station

The Archaeological Museum is well worth a look, packed with ancient artefacts and hosting a substantial Egyptian collection. Check out the ‘Zagreb Mummy’, taken home from Alexandria by a Croatian official from the Hungarian Royal Chancellery. It’s not so much the mummy that is interesting, but the wrappings. These were discovered to be covered in Etruscan writing, so unusual that the text is, for the most part, untranslated, so little being known about the language.

The city is straightforward to navigate and is, generally, quite flat. The Upper Town, if we can state the obvious, is uphill, but it’s not a huge hike and there is a little funicular to help out. Beyond the Upper Town, there is the opportunity to escape from city life, with plenty of green space and some pleasant woodland walks.

Funicular

Funicular

The Lower Town has its own escape area in the shape of the botanical garden. It’s not the biggest around, but it’s a nice place for a stroll or a sit down. On a hot day, it’s a welcome haven in which to cool down under the shade of a tree. There are set opening times, but it won’t cost you anything.

Duck Holiday takes a swim at the botanic garden

Duck Holiday takes a swim at the botanic garden

Zagreb does not lack for cafés, restaurants and bars, and there’s no need to spend a fortune on refuelling. Croatian wine is mostly for the internal market, which is something of a shame (not for locals, obviously), as it is very good. There is also a decent range of beer, with some excellent dark stuff among the Pilsener-style lagers.

Duck Holiday, having a significant proportion of Irish blood, is not very keen on so-called Irish pubs, believing them to be something of a travesty. Most rules, however, have an exception, and Sheridan’s Bar in Zagreb is one of them. For one thing, it is run by a man from Offaly. For another, it sells terrific beer. O’Hara’s Stout, from Carlow, is a proper stout, unlike the pasteurised chemicals served up by the likes of Guinness, Murphy’s and Beamish. Sheridan’s also serves ales from independent breweries in England, Scotland and the US, along with more localised stuff. Unlike most pubs of this ilk, this one is well worth an evening of anyone’s time, the only caveat being that it’s a bit more expensive than ‘local’ pubs.

Yes!

Yes!

Further down the same road, if you fancy a change of scene, is the Bikers Beer Factory. This is, as you might expect, big on motorbike memorabilia. You don’t have to be a biker to enjoy it, though it probably helps. An enthusiasm for beer is more important, with the selection being more of a local nature. Beware, though of the Tomislav. This is a dark beer that could easily be mistaken for a 5% porter, but is, in fact, a rather vicious 7.3%.

Bikers Beer Factory

Bikers Beer Factory

One thing worth noting is that the airport is a fair trek from the city. There is an airport bus that is pretty cheap (about three or four quid) and certainly a great deal cheaper than using a taxi. The latter option would set you back about ten times as much. However, the bus station is a bit out of town, so if you’re staying in the centre, allow yourself plenty of time. If you need to get to the airport very early, as Duck Holiday did, a taxi to the bus station and the airport bus will do the trick. The fares work out at about the same for each journey, so it’s still an economical option.

Spring is a nice time to visit Zagreb. Temperatures are warm without being overpowering. If it does get a bit hot, taking shelter in the botanical garden or slipping under an umbrella at a café is a nice option. You can sit out in the evenings with a glass of something and watch people rushing around. If it rains, there are plenty of things to keep you amused. And, of course, you can indulge in those strawberries.