Zagreb may be the only city where “mosque” in local jargon doesn’t actually mean mosque. Zagreb has a proper mosque too, but when locals mention “mosque” usually they mean the Meštrović Pavilion, which got its colloquial nickname after a dark episode from WW2. T
his monumental, temple-like circular building served several functions throughout its history – it was built as an art exhibition venue in 1938 according to a preliminary design by the great Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović, was converted into a mosque under the fascist regime during WW2 (when three huge minarets were built in front of it), and then turned into the Museum of the Revolution after WW2.
Only at the beginning of 1990s was it restored to the Association of Croatian Artists and since then it’s been hosting art exhibitions. The building looks unusual enough from outside (in the period when it was constructed, it was a unique exhibition hall in the region and wider), but its highlight is its magnificent interior, especially a reinforced-concrete dome with inserted round glass tiles, through which natural light fills the pavilion.
The main entrance leads into the central exhibition hall (Barrel Gallery), spacious circular space intended for exhibiting sculptures. On the first floor there are two circular, concentric exhibition halls, the inner one opening into the main cylindrical space and offering an impressive view of the entire space. I enjoy seeing exhibitions here because this powerful architectural setting, the unusual mix of the monumentalism and modernistic asceticism, enhance the entire experience.