Croatia’s greatest (and most tragic) love stories

Ljerka Šram and Milivoj Dežman
Milivoj Dežman and Ljerka Šram; Image by Zagrebinfo

Like any other country, Croatia has its own notable love stories that have been retold over and over for generations.

Some of these love stories are legends, but a few are real love stories that happened to real Croats. Most have tragically Shakespearean endings, so prepare yourself.

Jump to a love story:

The facts are these…

Croatia’s greatest and most tragic love stories

#1 Veronika and Fridrik, Veliki Tabor/Desinić (LEGEND)

The legend of Veronika Desinićka (Veronica of Desenice) dates back to the 15th century. It is a love story between poor girl Veronika from Desinić in Hrvatsko Zagorje and Count Fridrik (Frederick), a son of Count Herman Celjski who often stayed in his father’s castle of Veliki Tabor.

Fridrik visited the neighboring village Desinić, where he met Veronika. Although he was already married to Elizabeta (Elizabeth) for 8 years, Veronika and Fridrik fell in love. Fridrik lost his mind and couldn’t let go of Veronika. He killed Elizabeta and then married Veronika two years later.

Count Herman was terrified by his behavior, so he had his son-in-law Zigmund (Sigmund), a Hungarian-Croatian king, sentence Fridrik to death. Fridrik’s sister, Queen Barbara, came to his defense, so Zigmund instead pardoned him and sent him to Celje in Slovenia, where he was imprisoned for 5 years.

In the meantime, Herman captured Veronika in Ojstrica, Slovenia, and accused her of being a witch in front of the court in Celje. He claimed she put a spell on his son to get their fortune.

The reasonable court set her free due to a lack of evidence. Furious Herman captured Veronika again, this time in Veliki Tabor, and then ordered his servants to drown her. Veronika was entombed into the wall between the central tower and the entrance to the Veliki Tabor castle.

It is believed that Veronika’s spirit still wanders the Desinić region, especially the old Veliki Tabor castle, which is seen as the eternal tomb of unhappy love.

[Read: Signs that summer has arrived in Hrvatsko zagorje]

#2 Dobrila and Miljenko, Kaštel Lukšić (LEGEND)

The legend of Dobrila and Miljenko is referred to as a Croatian version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

The story takes place at Kaštel Lukšić near Split in the 17th century. Dobrila Vitturi and Miljenko Rušinić came from noble families fighting over rural peasants’ feudal rights. They fell in love but had to meet secretly. After their families discovered them, they tried to separate them.

After many scandals, Dobrila and Miljenko got married, but her father couldn’t deal with it. After the wedding, he shot Miljenko with kubura (flintlock) in front of his castle in Kaštel Lukšić. A few months later, Dobrila lost her mind, got sick, and died.

Dobrila and Miljenko’s graves are located in Saint Ivan’s church on Rušinac in Kaštel Lukšić. Vitturi and Rušinić castles are open to visitors.

#3 Nymph Kalipso and Odisej, Mljet island (LEGEND)

It is believed that the island of Mljet is the mythical island Ogigija (Ogygia), the location of a famous love story from Greek mythology. After a shipwreck, the sea brought Odisej (Odysseus) to the island – home to the Greek nymph Kalipso (Kalypso).

She fell in love with him and wanted him to stay with her forever. In return, she would give him immortality and eternal youth. Odisej refused, so she trapped him on the island for 7 years until Zeus ordered her to set him free.

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Did you know?

There is a cave on the island of Mljet in Croatia in which the Greek nymph Kalipso allegedly lived. This cave is called Odisejeva spilja (Odyssey Cave). The island of Mljet is a Croatian national park.

[Read: Visiting Mljet National Park]

#4 Ljerka and Milivoj, Zagreb (TRUE)

The most famous love story from Zagreb was between actress Ljerka Šram and Milivoj Dežman. He was a leader of Croatian modernism and editor-in-chief of the Croatian political magazine called Obzor (Sight) at the end of the 19th century.

Milivoj and Ljerka met in childhood, as he was a friend of her brother. Milivoj fell in love with Ljerka. Nevertheless, he went away to study in Graz.

Milivoj and Ljerka sent letters to each other, but after a while, Ljerka stopped responding. His mother discovered that Ljerka became an actress in the new theater set to open soon in Zagreb, Hrvatsko narodno kazalište (Croatian National Theater).

[Read: Croatian National Theater: HNK Zagreb]

Milivoj’s mother also noticed that Ljerka had a new surname. While Milivoj was abroad, she married Aleksandar Isaković, president of the First Croatian Savings Bank. Although Milivoj was devastated, he came to the HNK’s show to see Ljerka perform. Everyone made fun of him, but he believed Ljerka would return to him one day.

In the meantime, he dedicated himself to his career and became a doctor. He also became a notable Croatian writer and the leader of Croatian modernism, a literary period built on the inspiration of this turbulent love.

After a while, Ljerka’s husband was accused of embezzlement in the savings bank, so he fled and left her alone with their son.

Finally, Ljerka and Milivoj reconnected and lived together until her death. Ljerka died from lung disease in a hospital in Brestovec, where her spirit still wanders.

#5 Izolda and Leon, Split (LEGEND)

This legend from the 14th century is a story about young unfortunate lovers from Split’s patrician families.

A city judge called Alberti had a daughter named Izolda. While she was still a child, he selected the boy whom she would marry, when she was old enough, Lucijan (Lucian). Throughout their childhood and adolescence, Izolda became more passionate and feminine, and Lucijan became more good-looking but also shy, which Izolda didn’t like. As they got older, they grew apart.

When a Venetian captain visited Split with his attractive son Leon, Izolda and Leon instantly fell in love. To hide their love, Izolda and Leon would disguise themselves in white Benedictine garments and meet at night in the graveyard.

Their late-night meetings drew suspicion from the city guards, and so they were discovered. Izolda’s parents sent her to the Benedictine monastery to isolate and separate her from Leon, but they continued to meet secretly.

Lucijan was still jealous and wanted Izolda back. To get Izolda’s attention, he decided to participate in a bullfight. He wanted Izolda to watch and be won over by his display of manliness. However, Leon participated in the bullfight as well. He knocked down the biggest bull and, again, turned out better than Lucijan.

Devastated Lucijan stabbed Leon in the heart during a celebration and escaped from Split. Izolda isolated herself in a monastery and died of grief for the fallen Leon. She was buried in a wedding dress.

#6 Marija Terezija and Franjo Trenk, Kutjevo (LEGEND)

Hungarian-Croatian empress Marija Terezija (Maria Theresa) traveled to Osijek, where she met Baron Franjo Trenk (Franz von der Trenck), an Austrian soldier in Kutjevo’s castle. To impress her, Franjo presented her with various tasty wines.

Dazed by wine, they isolated themselves together in a basement and made love for a week. After a while, servants entered the basement and saw a bunch of empty bottles and 70 dashes engraved on the wall.

It is believed that each time they made love, Marija Terezija and Franjo left a dash on the wall. They also left an imprint on a stone table, which is said to be of Marija’s behind, created during lovemaking. Women from the castle believed the Empress could melt even a stone with her love and passion.

This stone table lies between the wine barrels in the basement in Kutjevo to this day. There is still a belief that it has miraculous properties. If you leave your palm prints on the table, your love wish will be fulfilled in a year.

#7 Cicibela and Roko, Split (TRUE)

Plaque for Roko and Cicibela on Matejuska pier in Split, Croatia
Plaque honoring Roko and Cicibela on Matejuška in Split

This true story from the beginning of the 20th century is about Roko and Dujka, who went by the nickname Cicibela. Both were from Split. Cicibela from Veli Varoš would go to Matejuška to wash clothes where Roko was fishing.

Soon they fell in love and got married. Since they were poor, they lived on an old abandoned fishing boat. One cold morning, residents of Split found them together, frozen on the beach of Matejuška.

Roko and Cicibela proved that nothing is more important than true love, not even money. Nowadays, Matejuška is a hangout for the youth of Split.

Here is a song from legendary Croatian singer Oliver Dragojević called Ća je život vengo fantažija (What is life than fantasy), about the love of Roko and Cicibela.

[Read: Croatian music guide: Oliver Dragojević]

View our other love articles

5 najljepših ljubavnih legendi iz Hrvatske by Explore Croatia
Najpoznatije ljubavne priče iz Hrvatske by
Pronašli su ih zagrljene, zaspali su zauvijek by ShowBUZZ
Najpoznatija zagrebačka ljubavna priča by Zagreb Info

Please note: Information provided by Expat in Croatia is only for the purposes of guidance. It does not constitute legal or financial advice in any form. Croatian laws and bureaucratic rules often change, and each personal case is individual, so different rules may apply. For legal advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian lawyer. For financial advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian tax advisor or accountant.

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