Zagorska hiža: The traditional wooden house of Hrvatsko zagorje
A traditional Zagorje house called zagorska hiža is the most common cultural feature of Hrvatsko zagorje. Zagorje houses represent how Zagorje peasants lived during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Although they weren’t big enough for the needs of the numerous former families, these modest houses with an intimate interior were gathering places. Their whitewashed wooden walls, thatched roofs, and tiny windows create a feeling of warmth in your heart.
Due to their construction method and building materials, the charming Zagorje houses perfectly blend into the surrounding green hills of Hrvatsko zagorje.
In this post, we cover:
- What is zagorska hiža
- Architecture of traditional Zagorje house
- Similarities between Zagorje and American/English hall-and-parlor houses
- Ethno village Staro selo, Kumrovec
The facts are these…
Zagorska hiža: The traditional wooden house of Hrvatsko zagorje
The architecture of each Croatian region is distinct and unique. Hrvatsko zagorje is a Croatian region situated in the northwest part of Croatia above Zagreb – called Zagorje for short. Zagorje’s architecture from the 19th and early 20th centuries is known for its adorable wooden houses called zagorska hiža in the Kajkavian dialect.
Zagorska hiža (Zagorje house) is usually built out of wood, straw, and sometimes stone and even sand and mud. Although these houses were small, the families that lived there were usually large since Croatian peasants had many children, often more than 10.
Today, only a few traditional Zagorje houses are still preserved. Some of them are private properties, and others are part of the ethno village Staro selo in Kumrovec, which is a protected cultural property.
If you pass through smaller villages of Hrvatsko zagorje, you will stumble upon at least one traditional Zagorje house. Sadly, most of them have not been adequately preserved. Many are abandoned and falling apart, which is a big cultural loss. However, some have been restored and converted into accommodation or restaurants.
A traditional Zagorje house is usually a modest, wooden house and rectangular in shape. In the middle of the house is an entrance area called lojpa. Right behind the entrance, there is a kitchen called komen. The kitchen is surrounded by two rooms, each on one side of the kitchen.
Traditional Zagorje houses often had two doors. The first door was the entrance and the second at the back of the house.
Some variants of traditional Zagorje houses may also have a porch called ganjka. It is a basement built under only one part of the house. Some houses also have a high ground floor or first floor. However, these cases are quite rare.
In the Kajkavian dialect, the kitchen of a traditional Zagorje house is called:
- Kuhja (kitchen)
- Črna kuhnja (black kitchen)
- Črna hiža (black house)
The kitchen is located in the middle of the house. However, it does not have a role as the central place of gatherings. Kitchen walls were often built out of stone to protect the house from fire. In some kitchens, only two walls were made out of stone, and in others all four.
A room furnace was situated in the kitchen. In front of the room furnace, there was a high masonry fireplace that was used for cooking. The smoke from the furnace freely circulated around the kitchen. Older houses had roofs made out of straw, so the kitchen had a vault that served as fire protection. Chimneys were built later. Roofs were covered with tiles later in the 20th century.
Off the kitchen were two rooms. The larger room usually faced the road. This room is called hiža or družinska hiža. Hiža means kuća in Kajkavian dialect and družiti means to hangout. Hiža is a central place for gatherings.
On the other side of the kitchen is a smaller room called komora. Komora is used as a bedroom.
The forests of Zagorje are rich in oak trees – a high-quality wood. Peasants used oak to build their traditional Zagorje houses. They used stone to build the foundations of the house, but also the walls around the foundations, basements, and ground floors. Rye or wheat straws called šop or škopa were used to cover roofs.
Floors were built out of compacted soil called ilovača (loam) which is a common type of soil in Zagorje. Interior walls were plastered and bleached with lime milk. Exterior walls were coated with a mixture of loam and chaff called pljeva. Pljeva was used as a protection against decay, which extended the lifespan of houses. Traditional Zagorje houses are also called hiže mazanke (mazati translates as to coat).
In some cases, peasants used modra galica (cupric sulfate anhydrous) to paint the walls in blue or green color. Modra galica is a substance used to protect grapes and vineyards from downy mildew (peronospora).
Mud and sand were sometimes used as binding materials.
Other buildings in the yard
These traditional homes were located in dvorište (yards) often surrounded by orchards called trnac. The most common trees that grew in orchards were indigenous species of plums, apples, and pears.
However, other types of buildings of different purposes were also built in yards. They served as auxiliary facilities.
Komora is a house with a ground floor and first floor. Their ground floors were used as storage for agricultural products. The first floor had two or three rooms for young married couples.
Štagalj or škeden is a house that also has a ground floor and the first floor. It was built out of wood or a combination of wood and stone. These houses were used for housework and as storage for agricultural tools and baskets and work related to harvest and mowing. The ground floor was used as štala (stable), svinjac (pigsty), or kokošinjac (chicken coop). The attic was used to store hay.
Kozolec is a wooden building that was used for drying hay.
Koš-kukuružnjak is a wooden building that was used to store corn after harvest.
Svinjac (pigsty) is a building where pigs were kept.
Klet is a small wooden vineyard house that is used for the storage of wine. They were usually located next to vineyards on Zagorje hills. Today, Zagorje residents still hang out in these vineyard houses, but the traditional versions of klet are very rare.
Wooden klet were replaced with ones built from modern materials over the decades. However, some people are trying to preserve this part of Zagorje culture. My father is one of them, so we still own a small wooden traditional klet built in the 19th century. Zagorska klet is also a common motive used in poems and songs.
Although traditional Zagorje houses and their architecture are unique, they can be compared with early American and English hall-and-parlor houses. If you pay enough attention, you will notice obvious similarities when comparing their floor plans, the social use of each room in the house, and their furnishing.
However, Hrvatsko Zagorje took its major cultural influences from Austria and Hungary, since it was under their domination for centuries. These similarities are likely coincidental, yet still intriguing.
For example, both traditional Zagorje houses and early American houses were built according to the three-room plan. In both houses, the kitchen is placed in the middle of the house, with a room on each side.
The main room of the Zagorje houses called hiža can be compared to the English multi-purpose room called hall. The other smaller room was used as a bedroom/parlor in both cases. In some cases, the main room of the traditional Zagorje houses was built first and then improved later if the family’s socio-economic status improved. A parlor was additionally added to some early American houses.
In both cases, a house had the main entrance which is called lojpa when talking about traditional Zagorje houses, and lobby when talking about English houses. At this small entrance, access to the garret used for storage is situated.
With regards to the form and function of the house, traditional Zagorje houses are most similar to middle-class houses of early Americans of English descent in New England.
Another thing to mention is hižni tram, a supporting element for the ceiling that was placed in the main room. Croatian peasants often carved the date when the house was built on this beam. I remember that my grandma used to do this in our old house where she was born and raised in the first half of the 20th century. However, hižni tram can be compared to the American summer beam.
In a traditional Zagorje house, a fireplace is built in the kitchen and it is connected to the tiled stove in the main room. This fireplace can be compared to the English and American central chimneys. However, the kitchen of a traditional Zagorje house didn’t have a chimney.
Last, but not least, is a similarity related to the furniture of both houses. Many items were designed for multiple uses in both Zagorje and American cases. The furniture from the main room of a traditional Zagorje house had a multi-purpose function. For example, with a bit of modification, beds were sometimes used as tables as well.
Hidden between the green hills of Hrvatsko Zagorje in the city of Kumrovec, you can find the open-air ethno museum Staro selo. Staro selo translates as The old village. This historic village consists of 40 preserved traditional Zagorje houses.
Staro selo is located in an area of 128.107 square meters which makes it the biggest on-site museum in Croatia. The village perfectly portrays how peasants from Hrvatsko zagorje lived at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century.
Staro selo Kumrovec covers:
- Restored old town of the Kumrovec village
- 21 traditional Zagorje houses
- Traditional elementary school
- 10 outbuildings
- 2 pigsties
- 2 corn storages
- 5 wells (bunar)
- Vila Kumrovec (Villa Kumrovec), a residential building of the former president of Yugoslavia Josip Broz Tito and associated arboretum
- Late Baroque curia of the Counts of Erdödy
- Arable land
If you are visiting Zagreb, I deeply recommend a one-day trip to this museum. Kumrovec is only ~60 kilometers from Zagreb, which is about a one-hour drive. You can visit the museum even when it rains and explore the traditional Zagorje houses, their additional buildings, furniture, and customs. [Read: 17 things to do in Zagreb when it rains]
Zagorje accommodation houses and restaurants
There are some accommodation houses and restaurants in Hrvatsko zagorje whose interior and exterior are designed according to the architecture of traditional Zagorje houses. Some of them are located in restored Zagorje houses and others are modern inspirations.
#1 Lojzekova hiža
Lojzekova hiža is a restaurant with a rich offer of traditional Zagorje dishes located in the small village Gusakovec near Marija Bistrica and Gornja Stubica. They offer a congress hall and accommodation.
Restaurant Purga is a recognized restaurant that offers traditional Zagorje dishes located in Zlatar Bistrica. They also offer accommodation in modern rooms that are designed according to traditional Zagorje houses.
#3 Zagorska hiža Cecilija
Zagorska hiža Cecilija is a rural modern holiday house designed on a model of a traditional Zagorje house. It is located near Marija Bistrica.
#4 Etno kuća Zagorska hiža
Ethno house Zagorska hiža is located in Dubrava Zabočka. Its ethnographic collection contains more than 400 antique objects that were used by Croatian peasants. The house is in the process of being declared an intangible cultural property.
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- Hum, Istria: Smallest city in the world
- Croatian mountain huts of modern architecture
- Premužićeva staza: A diverse and unique hiking trail on Velebit Mountain
- Treehouses of Croatia
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