Explore the heritage and culture of Osijek

The historic city of Osijek in eastern Croatia is a hidden gem in the truest sense. Flourishing since the time of the Romans, the city benefits from a waterfront position on the Drava River, one of the main tributaries of the Danube. It’s this prime location that has helped the city grow and prosper over the centuries, and today it stands as the fourth largest city in Croatia, and one renowned for its traditions and heritage.

Compact and accessible, Osijek is brimming with architectural intrigue. After the Habsburgs introduced the Baroque to Osijek in the 17th century, successive rulers and regimes have each added their own architectural flourishes to the city – from Art Nouveau mansions to socialist-era housing blocks.

Osijek may not strictly be on the River Danube, but its history, beauty and welcoming locals make it worthy of a day’s diversion up the Drava River. At Emerald Waterways, we love the authenticity and rich culture of Osijek, and so have arranged a handful of exclusive excursions and events for our guests to enjoy in the city.

Learn more about Osijek and our immersive local excursions in our city guide below.

The history of Osijek

Osijek has a long history dating back to ancient times, with evidence of Celtic tribes inhabiting the area. The great Roman city of Mursa once stood on the site of the current city, though subsequent wars mean that little of the city’s Roman heritage remains today.

Instead, much of Osijek’s visible history dates from the Middle Ages, when the city grew into a wealthy merchant and crafting town. The first recorded mention of ‘Osijek’ dates from 1196, when it was known in Hungarian as Eszek and in German as Esseg. Throughout the powerful Croatian-Hungarian Kingdom period, the town flourished thanks to its position on the River Drava, close to the point where it meets the influential trading passage of the mighty Danube.

In 1526, the town was captured by the Ottoman Empire, and remained under Turkish rule until the late 17th century. After the Ottomans were ousted from central Europe, the town became a part of the powerful Habsburg Empire – beginning its architectural and cultural golden age.

During the Habsburg period, Osijek was rebuilt in a classic baroque style, and many of its most celebrated buildings originate from the era, including Holy Trinity Square, St Michael the Archangel Church, the General’s Headquarters and the imposing City Walls and Water Gates, which still remain in a wonderfully-preserved condition today.

In the 19th century, Osijek continued to grow and develop, experiencing a cultural and economic boom similar to that of Budapest. This was the time when the city grew to become one of Croatia’s biggest and wealthiest destinations, and several important buildings emerged during this period, including the County Palace, the Croatian National Theatre, and the Co-Cathedral of St Peter and Paul.

After WWI, Osijek, like the rest of Croatia, became part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. This, in turn, became the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia following WWII, with Osijek becoming one of the many towns and cities in Eastern Europe to fall behind the Iron Curtain.

After the fall of socialism, Osijek was re-opened to the world once more, and the city has since re-emerged as one of Croatia’s must-see heritage destinations. Many Danube river cruise itineraries take the short passage up the Drava to visit Osijek – such is its magnificent architectural beauty and authentic feel of real Croatia.

Osijek is a city with a truly rich and unique culture, with traditions passed down from generation to generation. The city’s locals are fiercely proud of its standing as capital of Slavonia – a region which has contributed much to Croatia’s arts, folklore and heritage.