Medieval Free Royal Towns

“If you were to lose all your freedoms tomorrow, what exactly would you lose? “

What can we learn from an old document from 1242. called the Golden Bull / Zlatna bula of Gradec, the medieval Zagreb community?
Today, we easily take for granted the freedoms we have, as if they fell from the sky! In fact, everything we have today is the result of a very long development. No freedom goes without obligations and especially not without responsibility, but we are forgetting it today. And I am constantly amazed by my tourists, whom I regularly ask this question from the title, at the entrance to Gradec, that is, in front of the Stone Gate of the Zagreb Upper Town.
How do we (guides) interpret our heritage? I am personally convinced that every material heritage hides the stories and truths about the intangible heritage. During sightseeing, I always encourage discussions and an exchange of opinions and knowledge. When I talk during the walk, I try to do it more as an introduction to a conversation, to a debate. So, in front of the Stone Gate, I develop my first presentation of medieval Gradec (Zagreb Upper Town) based on several facts, hoping to hear questions from my guests or a new discussion 🙂
When asked „If you were to lose all your freedoms tomorrow, what exactly would you lose?” most people can’t answer when unprepared! Then, after some thinking, the vast majority says: free speech! But, is the freedom of speech really the greatest and most important freedom? I’m afraid today we call it freedom to avoid being held responsible for all kinds of slander and gossip!

Back to the Middle Ages and the freedoms of Zagreb Gradec!

Gradec (Zagreb’s Upper Town) received its freedoms in 1242. And as it is written in the introductory part of the document called the Golden Bull: “These are, therefore, the rights and freedoms of citizens who live and dwell on the before mentioned Hill, which they themselves wrote and we approved” …
Zagreb City Muesum gives a link to the transcript in Croatian here, the original is in Latin:

„The free royal town of Gradec, on the Zagreb hill“ received certain liberties or freedoms and rights that are just one link in the chain of the development of today’s freedoms. This document i.e. freedoms and rights did not fall from the sky! Even in dark Middle Ages there was a development, there was a handing over a relay baton from one point to the next. In the process something was lost and something was gained. This is the development process – learning from each other, using various situations, trade and fairs, war conquests, pilgrimages, etc. to pass on the information and knowledge and to acquire new ones. Many cities that meant something in the Middle Ages are forgotten today.
Zlatna bula 1242. signed by the king Bela IV, photo form Wikipedia, Neoneo13 – Croatian State Archive, Public Domain,

We have always been moving towards globalization, but this movement has been so slow that it has not been noticeable during a single human life. And it accelerated so much in the 20th century that we witnessed great leaps during one human life! Today, with the deliberate neglect of education, we do not realize how much as a humans we had to work and create to have today’s level of democracy and freedoms.

What freedom catches your eye from the Golden Bull?

We, guides, interpreters, are constantly educated, and every one of us will interpret the Golden Bull differently, depending on which freedoms are closer to our hearts. My attention is drawn to the fact that Gradec was a well-organized community that cared about individuals being free to work, and on the other hand, cared of their community and their city as a group, sometimes sacrificing some personal freedoms.

However, we should take great care that measures that we witness today during the Covid-19 crisis are not abused, we have seen that in the past. Professional and qualified journalism would come in handy here!
The freedom of speech that is constantly brought up by my clients, is it really the fundamental freedom? Personally, I do not think so. The freedom of choice would be for me a freedom of higher priority. That was also the most important freedom given to the citizens of Gradec, Zagreb’s Upper Town in the 13th century.

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