History of the city


Bjelovar was officially founded in 1756 by the decision of Empress Maria Theresa, but the story of life in this area begins much earlier.

Sites from the Younger Stone Age

The oldest sites of signs of life in the Bjelovar region date back to the Younger Stone Age. It all started when a dugout was found during the construction of Josip Horvatić’s house in the Ždralovi settlement. The site is part of the Starčevo culture, dating between 5000 and 4300 BC, and it is the westernmost discovered site with this type of Neolithic culture. Sites of the Korenovska, Sopot, Lasinjska and Vučedol cultures were also discovered in the vicinity of Bjelovar.

Development during the Roman Empire

Life in this area began to flourish with the arrival of the Romans who arrived here in 229 BC. The main intersection of the two roads was built exactly where Bjelovar is today, and a little later, between the 2nd and 4th century, a settlement developed here. Archaeological remains from the wider area of the city, as well as those from today’s Matoš Square and Stjepan Radić Square, bear witness to it. One of the artifacts from that era, a stone relief depicting the mythological scene of Iphigenia on Taurida, was built into the portal of the Cathedral of St. Teresa of Avila during its renovation in the 19th century.

Trade in the Middle Ages

Records about life in the Bjelovar area in the Middle Ages are rare. However, it is interesting that in the 13th century, the settlement of Jakobova Sredica (the area of today’s Velika and Mala Sredica streets) is mentioned for the first time, which is believed to have been named after Wednesday, the day when trade fairs were probably held. Therefore, it is assumed that the city center was located there.

The arrival of the Turks

In the 16th century, the Turks made their way into the region of Bjelovar. With their arrival, although not thanks to them, the development of the settlement was encouraged. This happened after the establishment of an administrative and military system of defense against the Turks, better known as the Military Frontier, within which the Bjelovar region is geographically located. From the beginning of the 17th century, Bjelovar was a military guardhouse, and after the uprising of the soldiers of the Military Frontier, i.e. the Severin Rebellion in 1755, it became clear that there was a need to form a new administrative center from which better control would be exercised.

The foundation of Bjelovar in 1756

A year later, by the decision of the Austrian Archduchess Maria Theresa, the first and only woman to rule the Habsburg Monarchy, the city of Bjelovar was founded. In that year, the land was purchased and a permit was issued for the construction of a new city center led by Baron Philipp Lewin von Beck. Since that area was called the Varaždin Generalate during the Austro-Hungarian era, Bjelovar should have been called Novi Varaždin, and considering that its function was supposed to be primarily military, military facilities were built first and the military population settled there.

Construction of a church and monastery

The only non-military buildings built in that period, more precisely in 1765, were the parish church of St. Teresa of Avila and the Piarist monastery and school. It was the decision of Empress Maria, who believed that Bjelovar needed education, so she brought two Piarist monks, Hubert and Ignac Diviš, to the newly formed town, who opened the first public school in the same year. With the construction of the church of St. Teresa of Avila in 1772, the parish of Bjelovar was officially founded, and by that time Empress Maria had already given Bjelovar the status of a privileged town in the Frontier region, which resulted in demographic and economic progress.

Expansion of the city and establishment of the county

Bjelovar began to expand beyond the originally imagined borders at the beginning of the 19th century, and when the Military Frontier and the Varaždin Generalate were developed in 1871, a new Bjelovar-Križevačka County was formed with its seat in Bjelovar, while the city itself received the status of a Free Royal City three years later. The new status opened the need for new functions. This is how the Royal County Court Table was opened, in which the prefect, county secretary, county and district school superintendents, doctors, veterinarians, chief forester, and district engineering officer acted. All this led to the rapid progress of the city, where new roads and a modern railway sprang up, and the number of inhabitants doubled by the end of the century.

Industrial development

At the beginning of the 20th century, the economic growth in Bjelovar was noticeable and constant, and according to the data of the Zagreb Chamber of Commerce and Crafts from 1906, at that time there were 118 commercial and 313 craft companies operating there. In 1894, the first industrial plant in the city, Paromlin, was opened. Dragutin Wolf’s bakery was founded, which later grew into the Koestlin company. There was the meat processing workshop of Josip Svoboda and the coffee substitutes factory Kinfo Franck and sons. In terms of economic activity, at that time Bjelovar was the fourth city in Croatia, right after Zagreb, Varaždin and Karlovac.

The burden of the First World War

With the beginning of the First World War, the economic situation and food shortages worsened, and thanks to its military history, Bjelovar proved to be an important asset for the recruitment of the male population, care for the wounded, transport of soldiers and other assistance. When the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was declared at the end of the war, Bjelovar retained its status as the center of the Bjelovar-Križevci County, but already in 1921, with the Vidovdan Constitution, it lost it and was placed in the Osijek circle, retaining its status as a city.

In this period, the city continued its pre-war economic growth. A new football field of the Bjelovar Academic Sports Club was built, the first swimming pool, the city swimming pool, and Stjepan Radić Square were constructed in a style that has been preserved to this day. However, numerous merchants who were active in the city at that time felt the burden of the Great Economic Crisis of 1929, after which they were further pressed by the declaration of the Independent State of Croatia.

World War II

The Independent State of Croatia was officially proclaimed on April 10, 1941 in Zagreb, and two days before that, from the balcony of the city hall, which today houses the Bjelovar City Museum, the then mayor, Dr. Julije Makanec, proclaimed the Independent State of Croatia. Although the city itself did not suffer much in the years of the Second World War, it was a difficult period in Bjelovar’s history. The country was divided again, now into 22 parishes, which made Bjelovar the seat of the region again after 17 years. Economic growth was halted, numerous surrounding villages were destroyed, the Bjelovar synagogue built in 1917 was closed, and almost all Bjelovar Jews tragically perished under the terror of the fascist regime.

The end of the war and modernization

With the end of World War II, a new period of prosperity began. The reconstruction of industry, communal infrastructure, increased construction of apartments and other buildings for public needs. The architectural outlines of the city were changed during that period, but despite this, the historical core was included in the Register of Immovable Heritage in 1962 and is today under the protection of conservators. During that period, numerous new buildings were built, including the new Elektra administration building, the Children’s Department of the Bjelovar Hospital, the new building of the III. Elementary School, the new Maršal Tito Elementary School with the associated School and Sports Hall, and the Medical Center was expanded with a new building that had 200 new beds and new specialist departments.

In the post-war period, an industrial zone was formed in the city. It is home to the famous factories, Koestlin, Tomo Vinković, Česma, Sjedinjeni paromlini, Tehnogradnja and Elektrometal. And Bjelovar soon became one of the key economic centers of northwestern Croatia.

The founding of the Republic of Croatia and the Homeland War

In April 1990, the first multi-party elections were held in FR Croatia, and the power in Bjelovar was won by the newly formed Croatian Democratic Union. Not long after that, the Homeland War broke out, in which Bjelovar played a significant role and suffered losses. The biggest conflict in this area took place on September 29, 1991, in the final attempt of Croatian soldiers to seize the barracks with the storage of war reserves of the 265th motorized brigade of the Yugoslav People’s Army. All three warehouses located in that area were prepared for chain mining by the Yugoslav People’s Army forces led by Major Milan Tepić. However, members of the Croatian army reacted well and cut the connection between the southern warehouse with the central and northern ones, and on September 29 they entered the central complex from the northern side. They were then opened fire, three soldiers were killed, but they managed to break through to the eastern side, where the members of the Yugoslav People’s Army began to surrender. Major Tepić refused to surrender peacefully and activated the mines, but due to the severed connection, only the southern warehouse exploded. Instead of 1,700 tons of explosives, only a few hundred exploded, but even that was enough to leave a large piece of forest heavily damaged.

Before the members of the Yugoslav People’s Army peacefully surrendered, dozens of missiles were fired from the barracks at the city, which resulted in human casualties and damage to the historic core. In doing so, 437 residential buildings, 169 commercial buildings and 25 public purpose buildings were damaged, including the Orthodox Church of St. Trojica, Catholic Church of St. Teresa of Avila, buildings on the main town square, hospital, police, retirement home, post office and Prerada silo. Six years after that terrible event, the City Council of the City of Bjelovar declared September 29 the Day of the City of Bjelovar, while 10 years later, the same date became the Day of the Bjelovar Veterans.