Nikola Subic Zrinski, the Man Who Saved Europe (and got an awesome park in Zagreb)

Zrinjevac is one of the most gorgeous parks in Zagreb, a place for respite from the frantic city life and often a venue for many great outdoor events. Zrinjevac is also a place of remembrance, named after one of this nation’s greatest hero and the way his deeds changed the world.

Zrinjevac is not the park’s official name but an abbreviation of Nikola Subic Zrinski square. Zrinski is one of Croatia’s greatest heroes, respected for his prowess as a warrior throughout Europe and Japan (we’ll get to that later). He proved himself from an early age in battles against the invading Ottoman empire, earning awards from emperor Charles V at the age of 21.  When he saved Pest from the invading forces with 400 Croats, king Ferdinand I proclaimed him the ban (viceroy) of Croatia, giving him the region of Medimurje as his own land. He later gave up the title but continued to fight against the Ottomans until his death.

That death came in an epic battle in 1566 that stopped the Ottoman empire from invading Vienna and Europe as a whole. Suleiman I gathered his army, 100 000 men and 300 cannons strong, for the march on Europe, invading all in his path, until he came to Siget. There waited Nikola Zrinski with his 2 500 loyal knights and soldiers, many of whom were hardened in battles past and heroes in their own right. Soon after the siege started it was apparent no outside help was coming. The king was preparing his army for the defense of Vienna. When his men asked Zrinski about reinforcements from the king, he allegedly replied ‘God is high above and the king is far away’. Left alone, they all gave an oath to defend Siget until death. The siege started on October 5th and lasted for a month. During that time, Suleiman threatened Zrinski with the execution of his captured son Juraj, but he did not yield. Suleiman then offered him rule over Croatia. Zrinski refused.

Suleiman the Magnificent died on September the 4th. His last order was for the army to retreat, fearing the empire would fall to chaos with internal struggles for the throne, but his great vizier kept that order a secret. Three days later, hard pressed and weary, Zrinski and his men decided to go out in a blaze of glory, rushing the invading army. He allegedly burned all his posessions, keeping on him a hundred ducats so that no man who slays him can say he found nothing of value on his corpse.

They charged the vast army head on, Zrinski leading the attack, cutting trough the ranks with his sabre. He was shot three times before he fell to the ground. His most loyal knights surrounded his corpse and defended it until death. Out of 2500 men defending Siget, only four survived. Around 30 000 ottomans lost their lives during the siege. Without an emperor and with heavy casualties, the army retreated. Vienna, and Europe, were saved.

Zrinski is celebrated as a hero to this day in many forms. One of the most peculiar can be heard in Japan (we said we’ll get back to that). During the Great War an Austro-Hungarian battleship with Czech (not Croat, as many think) sailors got stranded in Japan. There they taught the local collage choir to sing U boj, u boj, an aria from Nikola Subic Zrinski, one of the best Croatian operas. The aria is sang in Japan to this day and Zrinski is respected for his samurai-like death.