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1900s Beyoncé, Chocolate, Zagreb Cemetery

This is my first post on this blog about Zagreb and it seems a little bit strange to start at the very end, with Zagreb central cemetery called Mirogoj.

I’m not particularly fond of graveyards (who is?), though I enjoy seeing the faces of my guests when I tell them that our next stop would be the cemetery. However, Mirogoj is an architectural wonder and one of the most beautiful cemeteries in Europe.

I could talk in this post about the organization and architecture of the cemetery or various Croatian political figures that were buried there. Some of their graves are certainly more noticeable than the one that I’m writing about. I’m not a big fan of opera, but there is one 19th century soprano that I like and her name is Milka Trnina (or Ternina). The reason is quite simple – I live in the street of Milka Trnina in Zagreb. I love my city, my neighborhood, my street and therefore I like the person who gave the name to my street. So, when walking through Mirogoj, I always like to make a short stop by Milka’s grave. Her name is on my ID so we’re practically family.

Milka was born in 1863 in a small village near Zagreb, Vežišće. She made her operatic debut in Zagreb, but by the end of the century she was praised all over Europe for her excellence in acting and singing, mostly in Wagner’s musical dramas. In 1900, she made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Trnina famously sang the title role in Giacomo Pucini’s Tosca in 1901. The composer described her interpretation as “ideal”, cementing her position as one of the top performers of the international music scene at the turn of the century. She was considered like some sort of “Beyoncé of the 1900s”. In 1906 Trnina suffered an attack of facial paralysis which affected her eye area and she was required to retire from the stage. But her legacy lives on.

Allegedly, chocolate manufacturer Carl Russ-Suchard was a big fan of Trnina’s singing so he decided to name his brand of chocolate “Milka” in her honor. Today it’s one of the most famous chocolates in the world so, in a way, Trnina managed to  stay in our hearts forever. Maybe not everbody is a fan of opera, but we all like chocolate. In the National Park of Plitvice Lakes, the waterfalls between the lakes of Milan and Gavan were named after her as well.

She died in 1941. You can find her grave at the main entrance to Mirogoj Cemetery, in Field 3, just a couple of steps from the tomb of Franjo Tuđman, first Croatian president.

Mirogoj is beautiful in all seasons, but it is the most splendid in the first days of November. On 1st of November, on All Saints Day, we visit our past loved ones, light a candle, decorate their graves with flowers… A walk through the cemetery on this occasion is filled with tranquility, nostalgia and beauty.