Castles and manor houses in Medvednica, Prigorje and Zagorje

The tempestuous 13th century in these parts was marked by fierce invasions of light cavalry nomadic hordes from the east, which the feudal, predominantly infantry army could not match. People sought protection behind the stone walls of fortified strongholds dominating inaccessible hilltops. That period saw the construction of the castles of Medvedgrad on the central, Susedgrad on the western and Zelingrad on the easternmost part of the mountain. Later on, this system of fortifications played an important role in preventing the Turkish invasions further to the west.

Thus in the Middle Ages life centred around fortified strongholds, the seats of the Medvedgrad and Susedgrad-Stubica manors, and in the settlements huddled around them. That was the time of the first written records, mostly in the connection with churches and parishes, of the villages which still thrive today on the foothills of Medvednica, such as Čučerje, Donja Stubica, Marija Bistrica, Bistra, Vrapče, Mikulići, Podsused, Markuševac, Vidovec and Bidrovec. Their inhabitants cultivated crops and vineyards, cut wood and worked in stone quarries and mines for the feudal lords in return for military protection.

The feudal lords of Medvedgrad, Susedgrad and Stubica were often cruel to their serfs and sometimes their “protection” was even worse than the invasions of Tatars. Peasant revolts were frequent in the Middle Ages. The most important of them was the Great Peasant Revolt of 1573. Under the leadership of Matija Gubec, peasants had risen against the cruel lord of Susedgrad, Franjo Tahi, but eventually were utterly defeated by his army.

The violence of the lords of Medvedgrad also often caused conflict with the people living in its shadow. The most notorious ruler of Medvedgrad was the countess Barbara of Celje, known in the lore as the Black Queen. Dreadful stories about her can still be heard on the foothills of Medvednica. The conflict between the last lords of Medvedgrad, the Gregorijanac family, and the townsmen of Gradec was depicted in the novel “The Goldsmith’s Gold” by August Šenoa.

Changes in the way of life came only in the 17th century with the end of the Turkish wars, when many noblemen left military service and returned to their family estates. They started to build new manors and summer palaces at the slopes of Medvednica, surrounding them with beautiful parks. The life in them was rather modest in the beginning. But with time, the country residences of landed gentry were becoming increasingly stately and luxurious; the true centres of economic, social and cultural power.

The abolition of serfdom in the 19th century brought about the decline of large feudal estates. Curias and manors were gradually abandoned, only to be revitalized for the entirely new purposes in the 20th century.