The medieval-renaissance-baroque historic nucleus and the Old Town of Varaždin has features that are remarkable even in comparison with other sites in the greater European setting, and it is an exceptional location in its own country.
The old and preserved grid of streets and squares is lined with noble baroque palaces and smaller buildings used as dwellings and it is crowned with an interesting layer of medieval-renaissance-baroque set of buildings of the Old Town (the Castle) located on the north-west corner of the town centre. The baroque seal of this urban entity rests on the town parish church of St. Nicholas and three independent sites holding the Franciscan church, the Jesuit church and the church of St. Ursula with their monasteries in the centre of the historic nucleus. Two baroque churches, of St. Florian and St. Vid, and another, Capuchin monastery, are located on the rim of this site and another two votive chapels, St. Rok and Sts. Fabian and Sebastian on the access roads to the town. The town panorama is marked by their church steeples that can be seen from afar. The dominating architectural impression is one of baroque, giving Varaždin the right to be called the most baroque town in the continental part of the Republic of Croatia.
Even though most of the buildings in the old part of Varaždin had acquired their present appearance in the 17th and 18th centuries, the facades and some of the churches have had built into them another five hundred years of older history. However, there is a prevailing harmony between the various parts of the town structure. The assimilation of newer urban features into medieval and renaissance street network has not meant wiping out of the past, and it has helped to make Varaždin a uniquely exceptional example of cultural heritage in the area.
The area proposed for inscription consists of the inner city of Varaždin, an almost rectangular area of 52.5ha, delincated by four main streets and the buildings along them. This protected core area is suraunded by a bufer zone of 69.5ha, extending about one block further in the present-day urban fabric. The proposed site comprises the forified Old Town ( the Castle) in the north-west, the former fortified inner town (civitas interior), the wide moat area and the walls around it (in mid-19th century systematically “planned” and “urbanised”) and the medieval peripheral road Via fossata ambiens with its suburban architecture.
The shape of the old urban historic nucleus of Varaždin is an irregular quadrangle with a fort - Old Town in its north-west part.
The historical and cultural evolution of the place is reflected in the well preserved spatial organisation, structure, materials, and form of the present town.
The present-day Old Town is in its preserved architectural and constructional features a stone fort surviving since the 12th century; it was transformed in the Renaissance, becoming an outstending example of 16th century defence systems in this part of Europe, still well preserved in its wall structures. Originally, it was the seat of the prefect, then it was owned by the counts Celjskis and the Ungnad family and, finally, by the end of the 16th century it was acquired by the counts Erdödys who had become hereditary prefects of Varaždin county and owners of the fort and, later, owners of the castle till 1925. The gothic quadrangular tower from the early 15th century had with time become the centre around which the Old Town had developed. In mid-16th century this fort had been subjected to radical transformations, from a late-gothic fort it was turned into a renaissance Wasserburg with high earthen walls and moats filled with water. This shape - an irregular elongated plan with circularly planned towers and the main square gothic tower, still stands preserved to this day. During the 17th and 18th centuries significant architectural interventions were made when the fort was turned into a residential castle, and with this baroque restoration the construction of the Old Town as a gothic-renaissance-baroque whole was completed.
As a sort of counterpoint to this fort, the craftsmen and tradesmen’s settlement developed along the main Roman road Poetovio-Mursa, and medieval thoroughfares marked by prominent sacral structures. Today, Parish Square (Župni trg) is dominated by the parish church of St. Nicholas of which one of the 18th century documents says “that St. Nicholas’s church, in existence for 584 years, has fallen to ruin...”. It is likely that the oldest parish church with cemetery (rebuilt in gothic style in the 15th and erected as a baroque building in the 18th century) was originally erected in Romanesque times to which testify the discovered architectural elements made of stone, while the tower dates from 1494. Another important church is located at Franjevacki Square. Analysing the present town nucleus one notices the situation and the elongated shape of the square, practically only a wider street. Namely, it is situated on the route of the old west-east road passing from Via militum across the present-day Kukuljeviceva Street and on towards Medimurje. The odd position of the present-day Franciscan church indicates that the church had in old times followed this old traffic route thus revealing an older medieval urban structure.
In the mid-13th century the Franciscans took over an older church of St. John from the Knights’ order of St. John (ivanovci) which they extended over several centuries, replacing the medieval structures with early baroque ones. In the 17th century (1626-1655 the new monastery was built; in 1641 the church bell-tower was completed; 1650-1655 the new church was built. The interior of the early baroque Franciscan church is characterised by the exceptional baroque inventory; pulpit, dated 1670, alters, various paintings, stucco and unique church tableware; 1678-1687 the hospital with pharmacy was built. The Franciscan pharmacy was frescoed in 1750 by Ivan Krstitelj Ranger, one of the most significant baroque artists of that period, which in itself confirms the importance of Varaždin as the center of croatian art at that time. Furthermore in the 17th and 18th century, Varaždin became the home of some of the most respectable gold and silversmiths such as Georgius Belle, Juraj Kunic (Georgius Kunich), Antun Török, Antun Szartory, Ivan Pan as well as others. In addition to the above mentioned artists, Varaždin was also the dwelling of several celebrated sculptors from the 17th and 18th century such as Ivan Jakob Altenbach, Joannes Pittner, Ivan Adam Rosemberger, Ignatius Hohenburger, Josephus Klekner, Franciscus Orian, Joannes Riedl and so on. The artists mentioned, based on their education and artistic creations, were part of the central European cultural circle
The counterpart to Franjevacki Square is the smaller Pavlinski (Pauline) Square, today called Pavlinska Street. Here the Jesuit order, who came to the town in 1630s, built the church of St. Mary’s Assumption in mid-17th century, present day Varaždin Cathedral. It is one of the most important early-baroque churches in northern Croatia (single-nave with side chapels and galleries in the nave). In contrast to the simplicity of the church’s exterior, the interior is elaborate; the altar, the pulpit, statues, the altar paintings, the Blaž Gruber frescoes dated 1727, as well as luxuriant stucco decorations in two chapels. The Capuchin church of the Holy Trinity (Sv. Trojstva) was erected outside the town walls on what is today Kapucinski Square. It is a simple old structure, typical of this monastic preaching order, finished by 1705. Its stylistic features and architectural design are of the same type found in other capuchin churches in Croatia, but also in the neighbouring Styria. Immediately after the capuchins, a female order of St. Ursula also came to Varaždin around 1705. Their church was built on the old north-south traffic route (Dugi konec - Long thread) which connects Zagreb with the Old Town by way of Draškoviceva and Uršulinska Street. The Ursuline church of the Birth of Jesus impresses with its harmonious proportions, elongated high facade and slender and elegant steeple (completed in 1726), making it one of the most noteworthy sacral buildings.
In 1715, at the end of Dugi konec (today Zagrebacka Street) the chapel of St. Rok was built as a votive offering of Varaždin citizens to the saint who would protect them from the plague. On the other access road to the town, i.e. the old Via magna, today called Optujska Street, the church of Sts. Fabian and Sebastian was built, undergoing a late-baroque transformation in the 18th century. The church rightly deserves the epithet of one of the loveliest small-sized churches, characterised by nobility of spirit and interior beauty. It was originally built as a wooden church by Varaždin’s craftsmen, between 1669 and 1672, in the north suburb (on the town road Via fossata ambiens) and later rebuilt in masonry in 1733. The St. Vid church in the south suburb, built on the square of the same name, is mentioned in documents before the 14th century. The church as we know it today was rebuilt in 1780, when the steeple was added onto it.
It is important to stress that Varaždin churches had largely preserved their interior decoration dating mostly from the 18th century, with individual fragments incorporated in the new baroque ensembles.
The Town hall - old stone house, a Romanesque-gothic Domus lapidea, inherited by Juraj marquise Brandenburg (his mother was the sister to king Valdislav and wife of the Brandenburg prince Friedrich Hohenzollern) from his wife Beatrice Frankopan, widow of the Croatian duke Ivan Korvin, who bequeathed it to the town in 1523, from which date it has served as the town hall. It is partly a Romanesque building with a visible gothic arch over the former entrance (looking onto the old road). It was rebuilt in the 16th century, finally acquiring its present appearance in 1793. In that year the facade and the tower with their late-baroque and classicist forms were completed. The carved portal with balcony and the town’s coat of arms were the work of master carver L. Vieter in 1792.
The town’s historic nucleus is characterised by a great number of palaces built mostly during the 18th century. One of the most valuable features of these palaces rests on the fact that (scaled down) they bring contemporary mid-European baroque and rococo features into, till then, craftsmen and tradesmen’s environment. Before the 18th century, i.e. in the 16th and 17th centuries, only very few members of nobility (counts Draškovic, Vragovic) had homes in the town, and their houses were not much different from the other stone structures erected by more respectable citizens. The preserved palaces are those of the Prassinskys (later Sermage) from the end of the 17th century (M. Stancic Square 3) and the Zakmardy seminary built from 1668 to 1672 (Habdeliceva 4).
Varaždin palaces, built in the period from about 1730 to 1776 belong, architecturally and stylistically to the Styrian-Austrian cultural milieu. They are mostly two-storey buildings with tasteful facades, unobtrusive choice of decoration made of stone or stucco, carved-stone staircased, festive halls on the upper floor, wide hallways with open arcades on the ground and the first floor, stucco-decorated attics and main entrances emphasised by lavish and well-executed carved-stone portals. From the architectural point of view, the most valuable are the following palaces: Zagreb Kaptol palace (Draškoviceva Street 2), Keglevic palace (Nazorova Street 14), Patacic palace (Franjevacki Square 5), Draškovic palace (Kralj Tomislav Square 3), Prassinsky - Sermage palace (M. Stancic Square 3), Erdödy-Patacic palace (Kapucinski Square) and palaces from the post-fire period either newly built or with unique new facades. These are: Herczer palace (Franjevacki Square 6) from 1791, Nitzki palace from 1796 (Ban Jelacic Square 5), Erdödy-Oršic palace from around 1805 (Preradoviceva 17) Patacic-Putar palace (Zagrebacka 2).
Apart from the church-monastery complexes and palaces, the greatest part of the Varaždin nucleus is taken up by residential houses, naturally so when we know that the town was, from its beginnings, the centre of crafts and trade. Typical examples of middle-class residential houses from the 17th century are found in preserved houses in Gajeva 13 (Sieber house), ground floor of the houses in Gajeva 11 and 15, one at Freedom Square 6 (Trg Slobode) (Soehnel house) with a good example of a larger patrician house built on Franjevacki Square (once owned by trader Bonicelli), the so-called Bužan palace. This middle-class architecture is characterised by simply designed facades with elegant decoration, open galleries on the first floor and occasionally on the ground floor, and long and spacious vaulted doorways. As trade always caters to the customer and buyer, it does not come as a surprise that the greatest concentration of shops was in the very centre of the town - at Kralj Tomislav Square, Franjevacki Square, Freedom Square, and in Gajeva and Gunduliceva Streets (the latter was once called “shopping” street) and, since late 18th and early 19th centuries, in Kukuljeviceva and Ban Jelacic Square. The original appearance of the shops from the earlier centuries has not survived, but the shops built after the fire of 1776 have. The typical Varaždin shop, as preserved in its original form acquired in the second half of the 18th century, had one larger room looking onto the street for trading, and frequently a smaller back room. The rooms were mostly vaulted, while doors and windows had carefully carved stone frames and iron shutters. One of the loveliest shops stands at Kralj Tomislav Squre 6, preserved in its original appearance dating from immediately after the great fire of 1776. It was owned by the “materialist” (early name for traders) Daniel Jaccomini, who built a new two-storey house with a shop on the ground floor in 1776. The interior is vaulted and decorated with stucco depicting “God’s eye”, an anchor, the owner’s initials “DI” and the year 1776. The inventory of the old shops has mostly disappeared as fashion and taste changed but, to this day, the original inventory of the town pharmacy has been preserved dating from the late 19th century (Kralj Tomislav Square 2). Of the older shops from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries the following have preserved exteriors and interiors: Kralj Tomislav Square 4 (18th c.), Kralj Tomislav Square 6 (1776), Franjevacki Square 1 (17-18th c.), Franjevacki Square 4 - Bužan palace (1785), Franjevacki Square 5 - Patacic palace (1764), Gunduliceva 4 (17-18th c.), Gunduliceva 15 (18th c.), Gajeva 11 (18th c.), Freedom Square 6 (18th c.), Freedom Square 7 (18/19th c.), Ban Jelacic Square 6 (early 19th c.), Kukuljeviceva 14 (mid-19th c.), Franjevacki Square 11 (2nd half of 18th c., secession), Franjevacki Square 13 (2nd half of 18th c., secession). History of Varaždin goes back to the 12th century, the first mention of the fort, castrum comitis is from 1181. The settlement was granted privileges of free royal town by the Arpad King, Andrew II, in 1209, as first of all croatian towns. The site was located at a crossing of Roman and medieval roads, wich has also conditioned the form of the later urban ensemble. Next to the early fort, there developed a esidental settlement prolonged on both sides of a Roman road (via exercitualis or via militum), still readable in the urban fabric today, and crossed by the via magna from the sauth at the present town centre. It was at this point that the first religios complexes, the parish church of St Nicolas, the monastery of the Knights of St John, and later a Franciscan church, were built. The town itself developed in two seperate entites. One consisted of the old fortified nucleus; the other extended outside the fortifications. In the 16th century, however, under the treat of Turkish attacks, strong defences were built, making Varaždin a major stronghold on the Slavonian border and an important link with Styria. The master builders brought in the first influences of thr Renaissance. In this period, a new town centre was formed around the central square, wich became the forum civitatis, with town hall. In the 17th century, with devel opment of crafts and trades, the wealthy guilds became a strong and organized force in the comunity. With the arrival of the Jesuits and the Counter-Reformation, building acticity had new incentives, resulting in new churces and monastic complexes, a Jesuit grammar school, the Zakmardy Seminary and palace, and a monumental Jesuit church. From 1756 to1776, Varaždin was the seat of the Croatian Royal Regency Council, bringing in noble families, whose palaces and religious buildings adorned the centre with the most important examples of Baroque and Rococo art and arhitecture in this part of Croatia. The centre of town, formerly inhabited exclusively by craftsmen and tradesmen, became the home of the nobility, the legal profession and the accompanying administrative and clerical personnel, with Zagreb bishop, Zagreb Kaptol and other nobility erecting their new palaces either in the centre or in the suburbs. At this time, Varaždin enjoyed its economic, political and artistic climax. The best proof of this brilliant but brief period is the baroque nucleus with a series of lovely palaces, adapted to the ambience and general conditions, that demonstrate excellence in our local baroque building, later merging into a harmonious architectural and aesthetic whole with the classicist - biedermeier period of middle class architecture built in the 1st half of the 19th century.
A new urban square was created, the forum novum, today's Stancic Square, with its splendid Prassinsky-Sermage Palace. Determined by medieval elements (town fortifications and Old Town fortifications) this square is predominantly baroque in character. On three sides it is closed by buildings whereas the forth side (north) is open towards the entrance to the Old Town, acting as a proto-space and offering one of the most beautiful vistas of Varaždin. At the time of the town’s highest level of cultural, political, economic, urban, architectural and artistic development, it was struck by a disastrous fire of 1776, which destroyed much of the town and halted its speedy growth. With the departure of the government and part of the nobility, Varaždin had from the richest and largest town become once again a small town of craftsmen and tradesmen, the type of town it had always been in its long history. The post-fire period is marked by lively building activity inside the nucleus, aimed at restoration of damaged buildings and erection of new ones at the sites of the ones burnt down in the fire. New and excellent construction began along the peripheral road around the nucleus. The most important event concerning the town’s urban development that changed the picture of the fortified town took place in 1807 (lasting until 1851) when town walls and fortifications were beginning to be pulled down, the moats filled in and levelled, and the area developed. By mid-19th century, the final merging of the inner town and the suburbs had taken place. The nucleus, the suburbs and the newly developed areas resting on the pulled down fortifications, walls and moats became a single urban and administrative organism.