Osijek. The town marks the crossing point of several cultures, and so it has some other names as well. The German name is Essegg (also Esseg), auch Esseg), to Hungarians it's known as Eszék.
Osijek stretches along the right bank of the river Drava, which is one of the biggest tributaries of the river Danube. The latter is only 20 km away east of the town. The area around Osijek is called East Slavonia and marks the narrow north-east strip of the Croatia. To →Serbia in the east it's only around 20 km, to →Bosnia & Herzegovina in the south it's less than 60 km and to →Hungary in the north it's 35 km. The Croatian capital →Zagreb lies west of Slavonia and is around 200 km away as the crow flies. East Slavonia is a large, fertile plain partially characterized by extensive marshland. The border to Serbia is very interesting. Once, the meandering Danube marked the border, and so the border followed the meanderings. During the centuries, the Danube changed it's course. The border didn't.
Around 105,000 (according to older statistics!). This makes Osijek the fourth biggest town of the country. At the beginning of the 20th century, every fifth citizen was German. Additionally, many Serbs settled in or around Osijek. It would be interesting to get to know about recent statistics...however, at least most of the Germans left the town many decades ago.
Osijek occupies a rather long but narrow strip of land along the river, which has historical reasons. Since the left (northern) bank of the river consists of marshland and is periodically flooded, the town was built on the right bank. The railway runs parallel to the river. The train station and the adjacent bus terminal are almost one kilometre away south of the city centre. Everything south of the train station and the railway is industrial area. The modern centre of town is called Gornji Grad (Upper Town), the old centre is known as Tvrđa (castle district) and lies east of the modern centre.
|The centre on the left bank of the river Drava|
The distance between the two districts is surprisingly big. There are many parks in town and a pleasant riverside promenade. However, not many historic buildings survived in Osijek. It would be an exaggeration to say that the centre of Osijek is highly interesting, but it's worth a stopover and the surrounding area is nice.
The history of Osijek already started a long time ago, when the Romans created the province of Pannonia. Therefore, an important bridge was built in present-day Osijek. At the same time, the Romans erected a heavily fortified settlement called Adelia Mursa, but later on the entire settlement was destroyed by the Huns.
The name Osijek itself first appeared in the year 1196. Actually, the new town was built some kilometres west of the Roman colony. The castle district marks the oldest part of medieval Osijek. In 1526, advancing Ottoman troops invaded and destroyed the town in order to build a new one shortly after. They'd not just built a new town but also an 8 km long wooden bridge spanning the river and the marshland. Chronicles say that it only took three weeks to complete the structure. Thanks to the bridge, Osijek became quite famous. Until 1687: The Austrian Habsburg monarchy 'liberated' the town and, unfortunately, destroyed the bridge. Ever since, until the collapse of the Monarchy in 1918 as a result of WW I, Osijek remained in Austria-Hungary. The Austrian emperor ordered the colonization of East Slavonia, and so countless Germans and Serbs settled in the area. The Germans were called Donauschwaben (Swebians of the Danube), but almost all of them were expelled after the World War II. Since 1918, Osijek is an important town in Croatia resp Yugoslavia. Nowadays, it's the administrative centre of the region Osijek-Baranja. During the war between 1991-95, Osijek played a strategically important role (see below).
Getting there / transportation
Osijek is an important transport hub and even has its own airport south-west of the centre. However, the airport was heavily damaged during the war, and I'm not sure whether it was already reopened. Every train from →Zagreb via →Novi Sad to →Belgrade in →Serbia stops in Osijek. Additionally, there are some more trains running between Osijek and Zagreb. There's another international train connecting →Budapest with →Sarajevo which also stops in Osijek. Another option is to take a local (and very slow) train to Beli Manastir, a quiet provincial town north of Osijek, and then to →Pécs in south-west Hungary. This takes around three hours, the fare is 94 Kuna.
All buses start from the bus station next to the train station. Several buses run to →Vukovar. This takes less than one hour, the return fare is 37 Kuna. There are also buses to Tuzla in northern →Bosnia & Herzegovina. This takes up to 3-4 hours, the fare is 14 KM (€ 7). There are even direct buses from Germany and other countries to Osijek.
Everything in Osijek is within walking distance, but there's also an efficient tram and bus network.
The modern centre of town can be found around almost triangular Trg Ante Starčevića (trg=square), which also serves as the point where the two tram lines meet. Next to the square is the large zupna crkva sv. Petra i Pavla (Peter & Paul Parish Church), which was built around the year 1898. Not just because of the fact that the church is by far the tallest building in the centre, but also thanks to the red bricks it's a real landmark. From the central square, it's only a few hundred metres to the north to get to the yacht club Zimska Luka and the broad river Drava.
|The tall parish church in the centre|
The riverside promenade is quite beautiful except for the large and ugly concrete block (see picture, now housing a hotel) and definitely worth a walk. When walking down the promenade to the east for a while, you will first pass a very large park on the right and then, behind the park and in front of the second bridge over the Drava, come to the above-mentioned castle district called Tvrđa. This part of town mainly consists of an almost closed row of old buildings surrounding Trg svetog trojstva (Holy Trinity square). The square got its name from the column in the middle of the square. Outside the castle district, there are some beautiful art noveau buildings and the Slavonian museum, but that's already about it. However, just to see the big difference between the (also Croatian, which is almost unbelievable) towns of →Dubrovnik or →Split etc make Osijek an interesting destination. Yes, that's also Croatia.
During the war after declaring independence from 1991 to 1995, Osijek and the surrounding area became a battlefield and the target of ethnic cleansing. The Krajina-Serbs didn't manage (or didn't want) to capture Osijek, but the town was hit by heavy artillery. Many Serbs fled the area, esp after some of them were murdered under dubious circumstances. Nothing in the city centre reminds of the shelling, but the war has left its scars in the suburbs and the area east of Osijek.
The marshland north-east of Vukovar is one of the best-preserved marshland areas in Europe - and one of the biggest. A short trip to →Vukovar can also be recommended, although the vista of all the battle-scarred buildings is quite awful.
When we visited Osijek in 2001, only three hotels catered to visitors. The number seemed to have increased, and now there's even a tourist information. Due to the lack of choices, we had to stay in the expensive but beautiful Hotel Central Osijek. The hotel is inside a beatuful building from around 1900 and faces the central square. The price for a double room is 420 Kuna. There are several restaurants nearby and also a hotel restaurant. Address: Trg Ante Starčevića 6, Tel.: 031-283 339. URL: www.hotel-central-os.hr (English version available).
- www.osijek.hr The official website of Osijek. There's also a German and an English version. Useful.
- www.tzosijek.hr Website of the local tourist information with some pictures. Unfortunately in Croatian only (welcome, you ignorant travelers!)
Do you have or do you know a good website about Osijek? Don't hesitate, let me know! After checking it, I would love to add it to the link list. You can submit a link by using the →contact form. Note that commercial websites will be treated differently.